Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Booking Bands: A Labour Of Love

I spend a lot of time talking about bands and what they're doing, while rarely focusing on those around them. Those who provide them with opportunities to get their music out there to new people, to play new places and to build followings. I'm talking about those people who book bands for gigs, tours and even full-scale festivals.

Misconception: You may think that those who book gigs are stinking rich and pay bands shedloads to play. You're wrong! Excluding the agencies that organise shows for multi-million selling arena bands, there are people who exist below the mainstream. People who pay out of their own savings to put  bands on in their local towns or cities from the UK and abroad, who book entire tours for bands and even organise festivals. The common theme amongst all of these people is that they love what they do and they love music.

I caught up with three individuals from within the heavy music scene to find out how they got involved in live events, why they do it and to hear their experiences.

Introductions:

Adam Szewiola (Mausoleion/Ex-DSDNT) - I've known Adam for pretty much as long as this blog has been going for. I wrote about his old band DSDNT and similarly about Mausoleion more recently. As well playing in bands, Adam puts on plenty of gigs in Leeds and has had the pleasure of giving bands like Cowards, Exhaustion, Employed To Serve and many others a place to play. He's been kind enough to provide his perspective on booking DIY shows.

Edd (The Bloated Corpse Of Punk/Human Cull) - Edd plays in UK grind/crust band Human Cull and is also part of The Bloated Corpse Of Punk, who collectively put shows on in the South of England and books tours for bands from mainland Europe and further afield. Again, Edd has been kind enough to share his experiences and like Adam, how he approaches booking shows based on what he has learnt from seeing things done from the other side.

Paul Farrington (Damnation Festival) - Paul is one half of the team that each year organises one of the UK's best known underground metal festivals, Damnation. It's now a British institution attracting the biggest names from all over the world and Paul has kindly taken time out of his daily routine to talk about the festival and his experiences at the business end of it.

Adam Szewiola


TNIO: First off, describe how you got involved with booking gigs?

Adam: A few years ago me and my friend Harry (who helps out with a lot of the gigs I do) saw Let it Die support Witch Cult and wanted to bring them back to Leeds so we decided to start putting on gigs. We already played in bands so we sort of knew how to approach doing it so we just thought the next logical step would be to start bringing bands we liked to Leeds.

TNIO: What process do you go through when deciding which bands you want to put on and how do you go about arranging things? Do you deal directly with bands, do you deal with booking agents/tour managers or other?

Adam: I usually get emailed by either booking agents or bands looking to fill dates on a tour and if I like the band and think I can do a good job of promoting it I'll respond and then we'll move onto discussing the guarantee, accommodation and other requirements like food and drink and back line.

TNIO: What frustrates you the most about arranging gigs? On the flipside, what is most rewarding about it?

Adam: There isn't really anything frustrating as such, other than not necessarily knowing how well a gig will do until the night. Last minute gigs can be very frustrating to organise, but that's just because of the time frame and venues most likely already being booked up. I think getting to watch some of my favourite bands is rewarding enough but it's pretty awesome getting to meet and make friends with like-minded people from around the world. Also when the bands you have put on are made up with the gig, that's pretty cool.


TNIO: Describe a time when a gig has not gone as expected?

Adam: At the last gig I put on the backline was stuck on the motorway and then the pa broke and so that was pretty unexpected. I once put a gig on the same day as a festival and was completely blown away with how good the turnout was, but then also one or two have had disappointing turnouts.

TNIO: Living close to Leeds, I’ve been able to attend various gigs you’ve put on or have helped to put on. When you confirm a gig and start to advertise it, do you do all the promotion yourself or do you also get help from participating bands and booking agents or tour managers?

Adam: Usually everyone involved with the gig helps out in some way, be that the venue, bands, booking agents (more for pushing a tour as whole) and even people who are attending help out by sharing on social media. I usually do most of the physical promotion myself though, going round putting posters up and handing out flyers at gigs. I'll also use Facebook groups and forums to push gigs. I'm also really lucky to get massive amounts of help from friends and other promoters which is hugely appreciated and I try return the favour when and where I can!

TNIO: Following on from that previous question. How do you think gig attendance could be improved, especially at DIY/local level?

Adam: I’m not sure how it could be improved to be honest as in Leeds there's always so much going on so people can't afford to go to everything, but as long as we don't take what we have here for granted and support the bands and gig spaces when we can it should be fine and everything will naturally continue to grow.


TNIO: You’ve put on a fair few overseas bands recently, including Outline (Belgium) and Plebeian Grandstand (France). Do you think that overseas bands are tougher to cater for than domestic bands? If so, why?

Adam: Bands from overseas are really organised so if anything they're easier to cater for as everything will be sorted months in advance. Before you even agree to do the gig you will be sent the full tour itinerary which will include everything from stage setup, back line being brought/needed, lighting, size of the touring party, dietary requirements, guarantees and sometimes even recommended local support bands.

TNIO: As well as booking gigs, you’re a member of Leeds-based post-metal band Mausoleion and were previously in DSDNT? What experiences have you taken from playing gigs and dealing with promoters that you’ve applied to your own booking work?

Adam: Pretty much everything, there's no better way to learn. You get to see how everything is set up beforehand, the relationship between bands, promoter and venue and then what happens after the gig has finished.

TNIO: If you could go back to the start in gig-booking terms, what knowledge and words of caution/wisdom would you give yourself?

Adam: I would just tell myself to learn to manage time well and to tell myself not put on a 7 band bill for my first gig!

TNIO: Finally, to end on a positive note, what’s been your proudest moment since you started booking gigs?

Adam: Just being able to bring some of my favourite bands to Leeds. It really is quite a strange thing to be sat at home watching a record made by a band from another country spinning round on your turntable, to then end up bringing that band to your hometown to play those songs in your favourite bar/venue with your friends.

Also a quick thanks to Harry Corben, Mark Smith, Andrew White, David Holmes, Paul Priest, Adam Stockwell, Patrick Buggy and any one who's helped me out with anything and everything. x

The next gig Adam is involved with is taking place on August 2nd at The Packhorse Pub in Leeds. It features Employed To Serve, Old Skin, Ithaca, Lugubrious Children + More -https://www.facebook.com/events/1459994004296763/


Edd (The Bloated Corpse of Punk)

TNIO: First off, describe how The Bloated Corpse Of Punk started?

Edd: Boredom.

TNIO: What process do you go through when deciding which bands you want to put on and how do you go about arranging things? Do you deal directly with bands, do you deal with booking agents/tour managers or other?

Edd: I book DIY bands, mainly bands I'm already friends with. I do not deal with booking agents or tour managers wherever possible, and knowing that there is any kind of agency or business involved will normally dissuade me from booking a gig in the first instance. There are exceptions occasionally.

TNIO: What sort of arrangements do you have with bands ahead of gigs, e.g. contracts; guarantees; accommodation?

Edd: The obvious I would like to think. Turn up on time, food if they want/require it and somewhere to sleep (a sofa or floor), knowing what gear the bands are bringing and what needs to be shared/borrowed. Making sure I know there is a backline. When it comes to contracts I would never sign one, but I will always give bands what I say I will give them ahead of the gig.


TNIO: What frustrates you the most about arranging gigs? On the flipside, what is most rewarding about it?

Edd: I worry that no one will turn up and I will look like a useless twat. Rewards? Having fun, and being able to orchestrate that myself.

TNIO: Describe a time when a gig has not gone as expected?

Edd: London, October 2012, Kill the Client, Feastem tour. We were providing backline from a friends studio in London. Delivery of said backline was delayed until after the show was supposed to begin due to London Traffic. With a total of 6 bands including UK supports we were right up against it. Fortunately we manage to just squeeze every band in with reduced sets and KtC and Feastem got to play theirs in full. Phew.

TNIO: The live scene in UK as a whole is pretty strong at the moment, but how easy it for you to advertise your gigs or tours and what help do you receive from the bands you’re putting on?

Edd: I’m not sure how you would measure 'ease' in this sense... Basically it's all on your own back. I happen to put on gigs in two cities, one where it is quite hard to reach an audience, as gigs similar to mine are almost non-existent (Exeter) and one where there are regular extreme/heavy gigs (Bristol). In the latter instance it is very easy to spread fliers to potential attendees, as there's crust punk and metal gigs happening all the time. There's also a bunch of places to leave posters and I feel word of mouth carries gigs well in Bristol as it has a good gigging community (perhaps some Bristolians would disagree with me here, but from the perspective of someone in Exeter it is good!). In Exeter there is effectively one venue, The Cavern, at which you can put on a gig of the kind I would do. This means that it's unlikely there will be a bad clash with another show that could split your audience (this is something that requires attention when you book something in Bristol, by contrast. Proper research is always a good idea.) But it does mean that the city feels quite dead gigs-wise, and there really isn't a healthy scene in my opinion. However, the gigs I've done at the Cavern have all been great, and it is a cool venue. You do, however, have a 'captive audience' (see this was going somewhere related to the question!) at this venue, as gig-goers will be there at some point. I make sure I get posters up and go to as many punk/indie/metal shows as I can to flier. 


TNIO: As well as booking gigs and festivals in the South of England and UK tours, you’re a member of UK grind band Human Cull. What lessons have you learnt from touring with Human Cull, that you’ve been able to apply to The Bloated Corpse Of Punk?

Edd: Well, just recently we visited Ireland and the hospitality we received there was incredible and certainly made me think about how I could be a better host of gigs myself.

TNIO: From your experience, do you think there is a North/South divide when it comes to gigs and touring bands? If so, why do you think that is and what could be changed to eradicate it?

Edd: I’ve lived in Leeds as well as the South West and I don't think there exists such a divide, in terms of DIY gigging. If it does exist then I'm oblivious to it, so who cares.

TNIO: If you could go back to the start in gig-booking terms, what knowledge and words of caution/wisdom would you give yourself?

Edd: Just do your best and listen to what people tell you. I don't feel I really fucked up too much along the way. Perhaps a bit more thought towards backline on the first gig I ever did (Basement, Leeds, 2007), but as far as teething issues goes, it was minor. The mistakes you make are important though, and I'm not one for fantasising  them away.

TNIO: Finally, to end on a positive note, what’s been your proudest moment since you started booking gigs?

Edd: Probably putting on Looking for an Answer with a bunch of cool UK grindcore bands in Bristol n 2013. Was just a great show.

Visit The Bloated Corpse Of Punk on Facebook here - https://www.facebook.com/thebloatedcorpseofpunk

Listen to Human Cull here - https://humancull.bandcamp.com Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/humancull

Paul Farrington (Damnation Festival)

TNIO: First off, describe how you got involved with booking Damnation Festival? How did the idea come about?

Paul: The original idea for Damnation came about through an apathy towards the line ups that festivals like Download and Ozzfest were putting together. Like most fans you want the opportunity to see your favourite metal bands and sadly in 2004 the line up for Download just wasn't scratching the right itch.  There were so many good UK metal bands around, like Raging Speedhorn, The Inbreds, Charger and Akercocke that just weren't getting chances to perform at Download which we felt was a huge shame. Rather than just sitting around and bemoaning the lack of bands on bills that we wanted to see, Gav (Festival Director/Head Honcho) decided to do something about it. At the time, we were all regular posters on the Download Festival Forums. Gav contacted a group of people to see if we could put something together. At the time, had it just been 50 people in a bar in Glasgow watching Raging Speedhorn and a couple of other bands, we would have been pretty happy. As it happens things just escalated way beyond any of expectations, and before we knew what was happening, Entombed were booked, a date at Jilly's Rockworld in Manchester was pencilled in and we were up and running. 

TNIO: What process do you go through when deciding which bands you want to book for the festival and how do you go about arranging things? Do you deal directly with bands, do you deal with booking agents/tour managers or other?

Paul: It really depends on the bands we are booking. The bigger bands invariably will be working with booking agents. From our point of view, we will draw up a list of bands we would ideally like to appear at Damnation (Up until last year Bolt Thrower were always at the top of that list), and then begin contacting their agents to get an idea of who is available in November and which bands are viable within the overall budget for Damnation. Sometimes we will get lucky and there is a large band touring Europe/UK at the time of Damnation and we will buy up one of their UK dates. This can be quite good for us because a band may be beyond our budget if we had to say pay for flights for all the band members/crew from USA for a one off show. However if they are already in the UK at the time, this cost no longer exists for us and then they may be achievable. 
With smaller bands, either myself or Gav, will contact the band directly and see if they would like to play at Damnation. The logistics are easier at our end as they will usually be travelling from somewhere in the UK, so the costs will mainly involve contributions towards petrol etc. 

The other main way that we will book bands will be a hybrid of the two above. In many instances we will have good personal relationships with bands that have previously played Damnation. A great example of this is the guys from Raging Speedhorn. We know John (Vocals) and Gordon (Drums) pretty well. When they reunited this year with the classic John/Frank dual vocal lineup, John had contacted us directly to let us know they were getting back together and would like to make an appearance at Damnation. We of course said yes, as both Gav and I are probably two of their biggest fans, but from that point forwards, we handled the logistics through their agent.  

TNIO: What sort of arrangements do you have with bands ahead of the festival, e.g. contracts; guarantees; accommodation?

Paul: Every band is different in terms of the requirements with regards to specific arrangements. With the lower billed bands, it tends to be quite relaxed. A fee is agreed, a set length is agreed and then we will provide backline and rider for the band on the day. No formal contracts, more of a gentleman's agreement. With the headline bands/sub-headline bands, as they are generally bigger, it tends to be a more formal process with regards to official contracts. There will usually be two contracts, one that we will have for the band and one that the band will have for us as the promoter. They will essentially say the same thing, but it keeps both sides covered so that we are all singing from the same sheet. With regards to sorting accommodation for the bands, that would most likely happen if a band is being flown in for the show. In that instance, it will usually be a requirement of the performance that rooms are provided for the night of the show. Touring bands, will usually be travelling in splitter vans/tour buses that doubles up as home for them for the duration of the tour, and UK bands that are driving to the show, will mostly turn up, perform the show, and drive back home, all in the one day. 


TNIO: What frustrates you the most about arranging the festival? On the flipside, what is most rewarding about it?

Paul: Honestly there is very little that frustrates me about organising the festival. I love doing it. If I had to pick something I guess the most frustrating thing for me can be the periods when you can't book a band to save your life. It does happen from time to time; bands are touring elsewhere in the world at that time; they're in the studio recording an album; one member is getting married that weekend etc etc. There have been periods over the last 10 years, where we have gone quite a while approaching some brilliant bands and just not been able to make it happen. 

What is most rewarding is easy. For me it is being there on the day and seeing 3000 people enjoying themselves. To know that something that a psychologist (me) and a journalist (Gav) have spent 10 months of our spare time putting together, and people going crazy watching their favourite bands, is just amazing. Its the thing that drives me to keep doing this year on year. 

TNIO: Describe a time when a something has not gone as expected?

Paul: That’s every year unfortunately, that there is always something that goes awry. In 2013 our main stage started 30 minutes later than scheduled which threw the whole timetable out of wack. We tried all day to claw back as much time during the change overs, but ultimately we had to cut Godflesh's set short a bit to make sure we could get Devin Townsend's show in before our curfew. The worst incident ever to happen at Damnation had to be the "1349 incident" at 2007's edition. At the start of their set, one of the members of the band was doing some fire breathing (this was never known to us before the show. had we known it was planned we certainly wouldn't have allowed it). It went badly wrong as they ended up burning a fans face. The guy wasn't badly burned but certainly it required looking at. He was really decent about it all considering what happened to him.  But needless to say we certainly we're happy about it.

TNIO: In the early days of the festival, how easy was it to advertise and promote it? Did you have to do all of the promotion yourselves or did you get help from the participating bands and how has promoting the festival changed since the growth of social media?

Paul: Promoting Damnation has always been very DIY from our point of view. We have always produced huge numbers of flyers and will flyer any events we attend, such as Download, Temples and Bloodstock in terms of UK festivals, as well as any local gigs we attend. We also have some really great friends/fans around the UK who are happy to have batches of flyers posted to them, who help get them out in their local cities. That hasn't changed much from our first year to our most recent one. Even this year, we have already been flyering down at Temples festival and will be hitting Bloodstock with the best part of 10,000 flyers and getting them in the hands of as many people as we can. 

From a digital point of view, Facebook has been a godsend. It gives us a direct connection to our fans and we can hit all 25,000 of them in one go with our announcement. I don't see us giving up the physical flyering though because even still, I come across metal fans in the UK, who have not heard of Damnation, and sometimes it takes that moment of handing them a flyer and talking to them about the event, to turn someone into a fan of the event.


TNIO: Following on from that previous question. How do you think gig/festival attendance could be improved, especially at DIY/local level?

Paul: I think the DIY/local scene is in a real state of flux at the minute. There are more events popping up than ever before thanks to things like Facebook making promotion that bit easier. But at the same time, people are squeezed in their wallets and with more events, people can't afford to go to everything and so will pick the "best" event for them. I think that means that us as promoters have to up our game and really put together great line ups that people want to attend. That said, sometimes I worry about expectations that people can place on events. Taking Damnation for an example... we put on 27 bands for £36; so that equates to £1.33 per band. I completely understand that any Damnation line up cannot be to someone's taste, and I would not expect people to blindly turn up to our event out of loyalty if the line up isn't for them. But what worries me is when people say I like bands 1,2,3,4 & 5 on your line up, but I need more before I buy a ticket. If each of those bands charged £10 for their own shows, that's already more than you'll pay to see them at Damnation. Keeping in mind a Devin Townsend or a Carcass or an At The Gates would be more than that for their headline shows, and Damnation stacks up pretty well in terms of value. If everyone thought like that, then Damnation end events like ours would cease to exist pretty quickly. We have personal experience of this with our sister event Deathfest folding after 2 events because we couldn't get enough people to attend to cover costs. Similarly events like F.O.A.D fest in Manchester and 'kinhellfest in Leeds both call it a day this year for the same reason. If more people committed when they did like "enough" bands and not wait too long to buy their tickets, events would have the money in place, feel more confident and probably be able to make bigger and bolder bookings knowing that they have the people attending to be able to cover their costs. Damnation has never been done to make money for Gav or I. As long as it breaks even, we'll come back the next year and go again. But I do worry about the year that doesn't happen, and we have to stop doing what we love doing.

TNIO:  Aside from Damnation Festival, are you involved in any other musical projects or events?

Paul: Not really. I used to play in some truly awful bands when I was younger but I'm sure every teenager/early 20's metal head did the same. I put on the Damnation pre-show on the Friday night before Damnation which I run and organise independently to the festival itself. Gav promotes maybe a half dozen shows a year in Glasgow under the name Damnation promotions but that's it. Neither of us do this professionally and on the whole, Damnation is our main foray into music promotion each year. 

TNIO:  If you could go back to the start of Damnation Festival again, what knowledge and words of caution/wisdom would you give yourself?

Paul: Christ, what wouldn't I tell my younger self? When Damnation started we hadn't a clue. None. Zip. Zilch. None of us had ever done this before the first event and we didn't have a clue about the logistical side of putting an event on. I think we were hugely naive in the start. We thought we had to bend over backwards to please bands and agents, and certainly people saw us coming and took advantage. I remember running around Manchester during the second Damnation, trying to find an off licence because a band refused to go on stage unless we brought them a bottle of JD. These days they would get a firm no, unless it had been previously agreed and we had simply forgotten. No harm in a band trying their luck, but nowadays, they're less likely to succeed. 

In terms of practical things, I would tell my younger self to hire stage managers. It is a role that we used to do ourselves, but in the last few years we've used professional stage managers. They're much better at making sure the stages run to time, and keep the bands happy. It frees us up on the day to deal with any other issues that might arise and generally makes the day less stressful for us knowing that the bands are well looked after by these guys. They are worth their weight in gold.

TNIO: Finally, to end on a positive note, what’s been your proudest moment since you started the festival?


Paul: I’m not sure if I have one proudest moment. There are certain stand out moments. The first Carcass show in the UK in 12 years at the 2008 edition. Having Bolt Thrower play their first ever UK festival at Damnation are definitely two. But if I can be a bit cheesy about it, I'm proud of every edition we have put on. Damnation has been the best hobby to have over the last 10 years, and I love every moment involved with putting each edition together. Sure it can be stressful, but the stress only makes it feel more worthwhile once it all comes together and everyone is having a great day. Here's to the next 10!!

Damnation 2015 takes place in Leeds on November 7. Make sure you keep up to date with festival news via Facebook here - https://www.facebook.com/damnationfestival.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Adam, Edd and Paul for taking part in this feature and I hope that it's given you an insight into the processes that bookers and event organisers go through to book and organise gigs for underground metal and punk bands. Support your local live scenes and those that are involved.

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