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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Independent Venue Week: Why We Need It

Sunday, January 22, 2017

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Independent Venue Week title

Back for its fourth consecutive year, Independent Venue Week (23rd to 29th January) will span 120 venues in the UK (check out the list here), supporting the grassroots music scene, offering special shows with local and International artists.

I wrote an editorial piece back in 2015 on how the (all too regular) closure of independent venues damages culture and society as a whole, leaving less outlets for creative public expression and less engagement of the arts in the community.

Music Venue Trust are doing great things in calling for more support of music venues and the appointment of Amy Lamé as London’s first Night Czar is certainly a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.

I thought it’d be a great idea to have a conversation with independent venues around the UK to see what Independent Venue Week truly means to them, what is to be expected and the reality of the risks facing music venues the country over.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Mig Schillace (The Louisiana, Bristol), John Davies (Komedia, Bath) and Nick Stewart (Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh) on the importance of Independent Venue Week. Here’s what they said:

The White Stripes at The Louisiana in Bristol
The White Stripes at The Louisiana

Sunny: Straight in. What does Independent Venue Week mean to a venue such as your own? 

Mig (Louisiana): For us, it basically means that music venues, regardless of size, support each other and that, through this support we can let the powers that be know how important grass roots venues are for music in the UK.

Over the years we have had the likes of Coldplay, Muse, The White Stripes & Amy Winehouse play The Louisiana and without which, it would have been harder for these acts to grow a fanbase and go on to play bigger venues etc.

IVW also highlights just some of the great acts we have in and around Bristol.

John (Komedia): It's a great opportunity to showcase local, breaking and national acts in what is a traditionally slow month for independent venues.

Nick (Sneaky Pete’s): It's a great chance to celebrate what we normally do, putting on great shows, but it's also a great feeling to feel that we have peers across the UK working hard to make shows at grassroots music venues as good as possible.

Sunny: What would you say the biggest risk is for venues? And how do we fight it?

Mig (Louisiana): Biggest risk is lack of financial and legislative support from local / national government. Also, people complaining about noise coming from music venues. 10 years ago we had to sell the family house (we are an independently family run venue) due to noise complaints. The money we made from selling our house covered extensive soundproofing to our live room. Any profits we make go back into the venue. We are constantly trying to improve the sound and making it a better venue for acts that play.

Nick (Sneaky Pete’s): Tours are getting shorter and increasingly only metro cities get the shows, however I think having really good quality venues with great programming can buck that trend. If you make live music appealing then audience development is a lot easier, and where you have new audiences for music, the bands will want to play.

John (Komedia): The Internet. Apathy. Devaluation of music. Saturation of small spaces that put on music. An increase in music business academic courses. Increase in popularity in music festivals. I don't know sorry.

Live shot from Sneaky Pete's in Edinburgh
Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
Sunny: All very good points. So what about social media? How has that changed the promotion of your events? Is it easier or harder now?

Nick (Sneaky Pete’s): We find it a bit harder. Having a social media presence (whether you're paying for ads or not) creates a situation where people are surprised if they haven't heard about the latest show, and yet many feel that you've interrupted their social space if you tell them about shows. It's a catch 22. Similarly, people used to search to see what shows are on, but now they expect you to come to them with your listings on whatever platform they choose to use, so you have to cover all of the bases. Just doing listings is a big chunk of a full time job for a staff member here; at least it is if you have as many shows as us!

John (Komedia): It's difficult to get your message through the huge amount of digital communication that is out there. I wonder what would happen if you actually stopped doing any digital promotion.

Mig (Louisiana): Social media has made it a lot easier to promote shows. We still distribute posters and flyers. Social media makes it easier to hit a wider audience.

Sunny: To me, it still feels like we’re in a transitional time, trying to make sense of promotion in a social media world. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. What changes would you like to see in order to get more support?

Nick (Sneaky Pete’s): I'd like to see more government and council grants given to venues. On a city or national level, the strength of a music scene is an advertiser for the quality of life in that place. But more than that, going to see music is part of a life properly lived; music venues that know how to do that best should be given financial help to provide those facilities to citizens. As there are libraries, so there should be music venues.

Mig (Louisiana): We would love to have financial support, whether it is from our local council or arts-based charities. We get none of these. Also, venues need more protection against people who move in next to venues even though they know that they're moving near a music venue. The Government in general needs to understand the income that music in the UK generates and support venues such as us. I read somewhere that the live scene in Bristol generated over £200 million in the year 2015!

Live shot from Komedia in Bath
Komedia, Bath
Sunny: I certainly agree with that. It drives me mad that housing developers can build near a venue and then demand the venue to change when their tenants arrive. I completely understand the need for housing, it’s a consistent priority in the UK, but there has to be more protection for existing venues or businesses.

What about you John? 
What changes would you like to see?

John (Komedia): I wouldn't want any support from the Government. To rely on funding indicates that the need for the space isn't there. There is a bigger picture about society as a whole that needs to be addressed.

Sunny: I totally get that. The behaviour; the mindset. The 'value' of live music.
Okay, finally, what gig of yours, from the last year or two, stands out and what made it so good?

Mig (Louisiana): BBC 6 Music festival which was held Feb 2016 just showed how great Bristol is for live music. All venues that took part were sold out. The festival ran for 3 days and over 2 floors at The Louisiana. It was a great advert for Bristol based artists and showed that they are as good as the national acts we have play The Louisiana.

Nick (Sneaky Pete’s): Bob Log III crowdsurfing on a rubber dingy and bouncing against the dancefloor walls here - on only his second tune - has to be a highlight for me.

John (Komedia): Public Image Ltd. Was the stand out for me. It was just great seeing someone who changed the face of music performing at Komedia.

Sunny: Thanks so much to all of you for your time and all the best for your upcoming events.

Make sure you check out local listings to support Independent Venue Week near you. With little to no Government financial help, it is up to us, the music community, to protect and invest in these vital venues who tirelessly support upcoming and established musicians.

As always, please share this post on social media tagging me in where possible. Opening up these conversations about the Music Industry and the Independent Music scene is vital in ensuring its survival. Do your bit, attend a show, bring a friend and support new music. Never take these venues for granted.
Independent Venue Week: Why We Need It - Sunny Stuart Winter


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