Bringing together a band is no small feat. You have to find the right members, you have to write a set of originals, you rehearse, you spend hours posing in front of the mirror with your guitar, and you work hard to hone your sound.
All this effort isn’t for the sole appreciation of your rehearsal room’s back wall. Sooner or later you’ll want to take to the stage and perform for an audience. The rush of playing live is hard to beat and it’s the best way to win fans. Building a strong fanbase is the sure-fire road to success, the more in demand you are the more doors open up for your act.
The support of loyal fans is the momentum that drives a band, but money is needed too. Being a musician isn’t cheap, you find your cash being syphoned away to pay for instruments, studio time, and those excessively tight jeans and guyliner the lead singer insists on wearing.
On top of that, being a musician doesn’t always pay well, an act can consider themselves lucky to come away from a gig having broken even.
The starving musician is a cliche for a reason.
We spoke to Fergus, percussionist of Skerries’ band Dem Fools, ‘We’ve invested every penny we’ve made back into the band. Playing a gig in the city costs us 50 odd euro. It adds up fast and it’s money we’d much rather put toward studio time, instruments, festival kitties, etc! Bigger venues charge for the room and that’s justified, but it’s hard to build a fanbase when it costs you to play each show…’
There are opportunities for a band to earn some much needed money, but often they involve a degree of compromise, as Fergus goes on to tell us;
‘We play suburban gigs for regular paychecks, but very few of these venues want original music, they want pop covers or Neil Diamond tributes, so this makes it almost degrading for us. We’ve done some of our best shows to dead crowds who only want to hear the latest Killers single.
People have literally interrupted Ais (Vocals) mid verse, pulling at her sleeve croaking, “would ye not play a song we could all dance to?”, while we play through the 25 covers we had to learn for the privilege of squeezing 6 or 7 originals in.’
Teaming up with a promoter is one of the more certain ways of ensuring a steady supply of gigs. A good promoter can be a real boon for a struggling band, a reputable promoter could kick your group’s progress into overdrive
As with anything there are pitfalls, and sometimes promoters don’t necessarily play fair.
‘In 2013 we began doing gigs for a promoter. The nights were mainly held in Fibbers and Sweeneys.’ Stephen Young and the Union informed us.
‘We did maybe 6 overall. By about our 3rd show in late 2013 we were told by the promoter that she would like us to play whatever festivals she got booked for.
By May last year then we were confirmed to play Jimmie Lees Juke Joint at Electric Picnic. June passed with no more word, by July we received an email saying the festival organisers were “reviewing” the acts she had chosen for her tent, that it’s probably standard procedure and not to worry but also refrain from announcing that we were playing the Picnic.
By August we were informed by email then a phone call that 5 of the 12 bands originally confirmed were now dropped “by the organisers”. Obviously we were as annoyed as you could be.’
A spot on a festival’s lineup holds an obvious allure. It’s the opportunity to play for a varied audience, a plethora of new fans who may otherwise never see you.
Slots are hotly contested and disappointment is, sadly, a common outcome.
‘I applied for a few – most times no one gets back to you,’ Kevin Wade of Dun Laoghaire band, Screefy, informed us, ‘Which means you’re not what they want, that’s fair enough, but they should acknowledge the fact that you bothered to enter.’
Increasingly, it can feel like your act is being judged on the weight of its social media presence rather than on the quality of your sound.
‘I think a lot music is judged on social media popularity and Facebook likes’ Kevin continues, ‘Which can be bought if you are inclined to do that sort of thing, apparently having 10,000 FB likes means you are popular.’
It can sometimes feel like a hopeless task weathering a barrage of rejections and fighting for every show you play. However, despite all the difficulties and rejections none of the acts we spoke to felt defeated.
‘We just pick ourselves up and motor on, but it’s a frustrating game!’, Fergus told us.
However overall, there’s many people out there who truly want to see a band succeed. There are dozens of avenues a band can pursue to publicise themselves and share their music.
A band is a labour of love, all of the acts we interviewed are in it because they are genuinely passionate about music and they’ll persevere.
If they hold the line there the results are positive, ‘Lately we’ve had more and more positive responses, and that outweighs the negative’ concluded Fergus.
Written by Kyle Mulholland