Sunday, 2 August 2015

The problem with promoting: you almost certainly won't get rich. But you may have big fun.

DieDasDer talk of many things: of promoters, cabbages and kings...

We take local gigs for granted. There's tons of them; I think we're spoiled. Given the growth of the past few years, the West Midlands (and pretty much everywhere else) is rich in quality bands doing vibrant gigs. This, at a time when everyone's skint, and we're not out of the recession that's hammered businesses and crushed earnings.

So you wouldn't think it's the best time to lay on gigs, especially risky ones. All that planning dates and venues well in advance, sorting PA, insurance, contract and liability issues, covering travel, fees and exes for everyone, usually on a budget you could put under a cup. Crucially, it means being quite ready to put your hands into your pocket if you need to. 

Welcome to the world of promoters. 

Promoters - they're all bastards, right? 

Promoters are generally seen as a rapacious bunch, only too ready to fleece musicians within an inch of their lives; funnily enough, I don't see much of that locally. Mostly - not always - the people I meet with round town are cheerily optimistic risk-takers. That never ceases to amaze me. 

Joining the honourable ranks are cheerful Digbeth collective DieDasDer, who promise a two day band-orgy of indie noise in two weeks for a laughably small amount of money, when they offer up You're Welcome Birmingham 2 at the Wagon and Horses. We talked over frugal half pints - in Digbeth, of course - a couple of weeks back. 

The first thing I need to establish is, given the huge number of acts, that you're not doing this to get rich
Greg Smith: Definitely not! We're quite lucky in that we're a collective of six. If we break even, we're quite happy. If we wind up making a small loss, everyone can cover it. So we're in a strong position. We're not doing this as a full-time job. Bit it's a bit more than a labour of love.
Why did you see a need for this particular festival?
Greg: Before we did our first festival last year we'd done some gigs, and we decided to give ourselves something large to aim for. To stretch ourselves. We looked around at what was going in in Birmingham. And while there were things that appealed to all our tastes, there didn't seem to be anything massively eclectic, on the scale we were thinking of. Lots of niche events: Loud, Heavy, Indie... 
Yes, but there's One Beat each year, and the This is Tmrw guys, who throw All Years Leaving each year. So you're not alone here... 
Paul Broome: No, we kind of see ourselves as a grubby Brummy All Years Leaving. We have a lot of acts that we put on and bring back, mainly local. But we don't see a single act as selling this festival. I attended last year as a member of one of the bands playing, and it was a great atmosphere – bands mixing, a very special event. 

Grubby. Obnoxious. Friendly

And the underlying theme? Indie, pretty damn loud?
Paul: There's a friendly obnoxiousness to it. It's like the dissemination of punk rock – it's flowed into every other kind of music. Even bands like Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam, although they're an indie alternative band, they have a kind of punk rock edge to them as well. And a DIY mentality. 

Who are the gatekeepers here? You pick the bands you want, go for people you'd like, but there will be bands you won't necessarily be able to accommodate. How do you balance that sort of obligation?
Dave Duell: It's easy if you're a working musician. It's a one to one thing. And if a band we like gets in touch cos they've heard about the festival and we're fully booked, we can offer them gigs later in the year. We did that last year. 
Of this year's line-up, is there anyone you'd put your finger on as a breakout band?
Paul: Good question. Last year the two bands were God Damn and Slaves. I think it's fair to say all of them have the potential. And Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam – I've heard bits of their album, and it's immense. 

Can we talk about you guys working as a collective? You've already mentioned, Greg, that if you take a loss, it's going to be shared out. When did you decide this? Or did it evolve?
Greg: It was there from the get-go, from the very first gig we put on, at the Lamp Tavern in 2014. I think. There was an unspoken agreement, from when we were putting on very low-rent diy affairs, that if there were costs incurred, we'd all chip in, and if stuff was left over in the collective pot, everybody got back. As things progressed, and go more expensive, we all geared ourselves up. We meet pretty much every week and see how it goes. So it was an agreement that we didn't agree – it naturally evolved. 

Good will, structure and accountability

You're not incorporated in any way? Not a CIC?
Greg: Yeah. We're basically using the Factory Records template. If it all blows up in our faces, we all basically need to re-mortgage – or leave rented accommodation. 
This is important in a lot of ways. There's an awful lot of groups involved in the Arts, in its widest sense... who expect to get funding. They're predicated on costs being covered, somehow, but not by them. 
Paul: A lot of people ask for funds from PRS for music.
Well that funding bit of PRS hasn't got a lot of money anyway. Personally I'd rather see PRS do the right thing by their grass-roots composer members, but that's another story. 
Greg: And if you take money out of the public purse and you have another set of remits you need to meet. And it's an outside influence. I'm strongly of the opinion that if you're going to create something, start small, build it slowly, but have full control and retain your integrity.
And that means mutual accountability between everyone in the group. 
Chris: Our first couple of shows were free entry shows. Muthers studio very kindly lent us a PA. The first shows, at the Lamp Tavern helped to establish us. Then we did some shows at Muthers itself, and at the Sun in the Station in Kings Heath, where we do our Record Store Day events in April. At the time the festival was something to aim for. It's important to stay realistic. 

The venue: two stages. Really. Elliott Brown, Flickr
I wish DieDasDer well. These are tough times for promoters, especially ones who start up from the grass-roots and try to develop a local brand, building loyalty and trust. The big venues are often closed to newcomers and start-ups, so it's often a question of invention and creativity, charming venues into taking the odd risk, forging alliances and creating reputations. That's exactly where DieDasDer are at the moment, and I think they're doing OK. 

Further down the path are One Beat and This Is Tmrw, and I could list at least half a dozen more respected and established individuals and operators who've got more miles on the road. Probably the most shining example, in a different set of musical arenas, are the Moseley/Mostly team who started out with small gigs, and, ten years on, operate three distinct festivals and strings of associated events. It's a tricky path to tread. I salute those who make it. 


Yr Welcome Birmingham 2: 15/16 August at Wagon and Horses Ticketsellers page
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1 comment:

Daz Wright said...

Really glad to see this happening. If you do want some unrequested advice, get yourself incorporated in some way. It isn't selling out and should only cost a few quid. It will make life much easier for you if you can limit your liability if things go wrong.