Okay. So you have bought your tickets and perhaps booked the baby-sitter. You are really looking forward to the gig. It’s going to be great. But spare a thought for the person hovering around, slightly anxious, never settled. This is the Promoter. The person who has turned a thought into a reality. This is the person who have made it all happen. Without their imagination and drive, you are still at home or somewhere else. They are “cultural curators”. And if you want maximum stress personified, go to a gig when the Artist headlining is also the Promoter. Not only do they worry about their performance, they hover by the door, checking the “walk-ups”, seemingly anxious about everything…..
Not only is the Promoter the cultural curator, but also acts as a pivot within the music industry infrastructure. They are a vital cog in the musical wheel. Liverpool Noise had a chat to four local promoters, to get their take on what they do. It proved to be a very valuable insight into what it takes to “get the show on the road”. It was good of Graham Holland (Liverpool Acoustic), Chris Stevens (Heavens Gate), Ian Weller (Stillhet Music) and Iain Tinsley (Softlad Promotions) to give up their time and chat.
Liverpool Acoustic seem to have some sort of event on nearly every day of the week. This year sees this formidable organisation celebrate their 10th year, and the local music scene owes them a massive debt of gratitude. It all started 10 years ago to the month, when Graham Holland and Stuart Todd put on a show at the View Two Gallery to accommodate a young singer from Canterbury – Luke Jackson. Graham and Stuart enjoyed the night so much that they continued – and an institution was born. Its a common thread that promoters usually fell into this through their love of music. Chris Stevens of Heavens Gate started even earlier – 2004 – with his night “Hells Ditch” which concentrated on all things alt-country and roots. It was an added bonus that it also served as a regular gig for his own band at the time, but the night organically grew into one were quality was key, and audience and artistic enjoyment paramount. For Stillhet Music’s Ian Weller who promotes the monthly “Strings and Things” at Studio 2 Parr Street, it was the vision of creating a musical co-operative, to give artists
“a quality stage and venue to showcase their talents free from the pre-gig burdens of pay to play…”
And this is a co-operative in the truest sense, as all proceeds of a night go back to the performers. Softlad Promotions Iain Tinsley has great sympathy with this view point, but is more forthcoming:
“After seeing some promoters treat some bands like crap, I wanted to have a go myself and treat bands fairly…”
This altruism to musicians is interesting and sometimes goes unnoticed by both audience and musicians alike. True, an audience on the whole does not understand, or possibly care, about the logistics of putting on a gig. Indeed, the mythology of the local music scene has its fair share of horror stories involving bands and promoters. However, as a point of journalistic balance, musicians can be bloody difficult and not adhere to contractual obligations either. But “pay to play” is simply disgraceful. Iain Tinsley has some good advice on this – “Don’t do it!. A lot of bands get sucked into an offer of a London Showcase gig”, and what seems like a great opportunity can quickly turn into a financial nightmare. Again, Chris Stevens –
“There is a lot of risk involved in promoting and I can understand promoters wanting to reduce that risk where possible but, to eradicate risk at the expense of the artist is just so cynical and, it ultimately makes the promoters very lazy”
But again, all the onus should not be laid solely at the foot of the promoter – the musicians need to engage as well. As Graham Holland opines
“We also need to be persistent when encouraging artists to help plug the gigs, and adaptable when things don’t go to plan beforehand and on the night”
It’s easy to see how promoters and musicians develop a trust between them, and you often see acts aligning themselves to promoters where a good working relationship has been established. The best promoters take the pressure off the musicians so they can concentrate on giving their best on stage rather than worrying about who’s going to sell tickets on the door. And this relationship also applies to the promoter and their audience; an element of trust and understanding is built up where the audience just knows the gig is going to be good.
When asked about what personal qualities are need to be a promoter, there was one main stand-out response: a passion for music. Without this, the other attributes of tenacity and determination are hollow. It is this passion that keeps them coming back after the inevitable mishaps and disasters – the electricity failing, an audience of one, a snow blizzard shutting down all the Liverpool transport links – you know, the usual stuff. But when it all works to plan, it is magical. The musicians and the audience in a mutual artistic entanglement, an atmosphere that literally fizzes. The creative power is almost tangible.
By the time the audience have got their drinks and their spot at the venue, most of the promoters duties have been successfully completed. After all, the main duty is to get you the audience to attend. But this is a climax to everything else that has gone into this endeavour – tickets and posters, social media, the Mailchimp campaign, the plugs from other supportive members of the local musical infrastructure, the technology and equipment, the artist making it to the venue in one piece. And all the other logistics that get everyone to the venue. And at the end of the night, when its clear that everyone has had a great time, it is now that the satisfaction kicks in. For Graham, Ian, Chris and Iain this is the moment that they have worked so hard for. But it is fleeting emotion, as the next gig is just around the corner, and the process starts all over again. As Ian Weller puts it, he sees this as the overriding factor that “makes us come back and do it again and again: music wins!”
Promoters are vital for the local musical infrastructure. They act as a combination of curator, salesperson, diplomat and impresario. The very best are a useful resource for new musical experiences. Your musical world would be creatively the poorer without them. So support the likes of Liverpool Acoustic, Heavens Gate, Softlad Promotions and Stillhet Music, and by doing so support the venues that they promote from – 81 Renshaw Street, Studio Two @Parr Street, Naked Lunch, the Philharmonic Music Room. Thereby we can all ensure that the local music scene stays vibrant and interesting. As Ian Weller says, let us all make sure “music wins”!