Time for a change in commissioning and touring new music?

All this week we’re delving into the three key areas that the Joining the Dots project will focus on. Commissioning and touring is one area where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make money which is why we’re looking for new ideas to help reverse that.

Clearly there’s less money to go round which makes people more risk averse. Public subsidy is shrinking leaving venues with smaller budgets than before. So those who do want to encourage the creation and touring of new sounds are increasingly exposed.
And for artists working in beyond mainstream music, where opportunities for career progression are limited, it’s even harder. Many never get beyond the small scale touring circuit, and even legends and national treasures such as Martin Carthy or Courtney Pine continue to play 200 to 300 capacity venues.

It’s a chicken and egg situation; few artists earn enough to secure a management deal, without which it’s difficult to step up to middle scale touring, secure a decent publishing deal, explore ‘sync’ opportunities with advertising agencies etc. Generations of artists compete for the same small scale gigs.

the hub’s Musicians Have Your Say research, commissioned by the Musicians Benevolent Fund, revealed that only around 15 per cent of musicians in this sector earned more than the then national average wage. Anecdotal feedback suggests these figures have at best flat-lined since then. Commissioning organisations are the same – all those we spoke to predicted commissioning fewer or much smaller new pieces of work. We risk promoters entering an ever decreasing cycle of reduced box office take, cost cutting, lower quality audience experience and decline in audience numbers.

Joining the Dots wants to fund and help develop solutions – new relationships, deals or approaches – to make gigs, touring and commissioning more viable. To energise and stimulate the new and live music sector. After all, it’s becoming a much more important as revenue from recorded music disappears down the plughole.

There are alternatives – pop-up shops are now common but what about artist collectives/promoters working with city/town centre authorities to take over empty high street units, creating new ‘pop up’ music venues? Get it Loud in Libraries has created a new circuit where artists as diverse as James Lavelle and Drenge can be found playing between bookshelves – literally you might say!

House gigs are taking off with organisations like Sofar which, just a couple years after setting up in London, now has groups in 42 cities from Beunos Aires to Beijing hosting artists like Wolf Alice and Sivu and establishing intimate new touring circuits.

Rafe from Sofar said: “Sofar is great for artists because fans are ultra respectful – people focus 100 per cent on performers – there’s no talking or texting nor clanging of glasses. Music is what it’s all about.”

“Audiences love the intimacy they get with artists – no ‘green room’ – everyone’s crammed together on the floor, all acts are treated equally. And they like the sense of discovery – someone’s flat plus finding out who plays, since we keep it a secret. ” (Rafe, Sofar)

And “Gig In Your House” founder Zoe Brownrigg says she set up the website because: “There has been a surge in people playing and hosting house concerts, either because they are disillusioned with the regular gig scene, or because it’s a fun and rewarding alternative.”

And what about people commissioning music – sticking their neck out to back an edgy composer or band or fund a surprising collaboration. Shouldn’t they get an ongoing financial return on investment like a built in repeat fee or can we harness individual giving to reward commissioners?
Crowdfunding has worked well for artists for whom the traditional record label system is now obselete. Amanda Palmer got 25,000 people to fund her album, book and tour. Could this work for commissioning new music for small scale organisations too?

Perhaps partnership working is the answer. the hub’s own New Music Plus.. (run in conjunction with PRS for Music Foundation) has partnered 12 independent producers with an arts organisation to co-produce a series of music-led cross-artform events.

If you’ve got an idea that will help regenerate financing of touring, commissioning and presenting gigs then Joining the Dots could help you test that idea with up to £10,000 in funding and expert support. Read our FAQs for more details and apply here.

You may have an idea using digital technology to drive up revenue – which case you’ll find this blog useful. Or if you have an idea which will help get more young people to live events then read this blog.