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The importance of grassroots gigs in an unsigned artist’s development

Blog: 3rd October 2017 by Louise Dodgson under Live
The importance of grassroots gigs in an unsigned artist’s development

In recent years, the closure of live music venues has become common news – whether it be a lack of funding, increased business rates, or the ongoing development and gentrification of our cities and towns, even the most established gig venues are at risk, sadly with many having already closed their doors.

Apart from providing entertainment and engagement with the arts and culture for music fans and the general public, gig venues play a vital role in the development of local, unsigned bands and artists. The danger of stifling this development creates a domino effect which ultimately results in a dent in the UK’s long and legendary reputation for producing great music.

Michael Dugher, CEO of UK Music, addressed the closure of 35% of UK grassroots gig venues in the past decade and warned of the crisis that lies ahead: “We are facing a perfect storm that has seen a drastic drop in music in schools and a huge increase in the number of small music venues that have been forced to close down. The combination of these threats has left the UK music industry facing an existential threat.”

Earlier this year the question of whether Glastonbury is running out of headliners was posed and it’s a valid point to make – in future years, if our emerging acts don’t have the outlets to evolve their live performance skills, build a strong following and get noticed, then it’s entirely possible we will see a dip in the established acts of headline-worthy stature.

Music Venue Trust has worked tirelessly since 2014 to protect the UK live music network by securing the long-term future of iconic grassroots music venues. Playing a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills, Music Venue Trust works to gain recognition of the essential role these venues fulfil, not only for artist development but also for the cultural and music industries, the economy and local communities.

Beverley Whitrick of Music Venue Trust tells us: “The UK is already seeing an effect on opportunities for creative young people decreasing due to rising costs and limited accessibility in their locality. Historically a great artist or band could emerge from a small town with a thriving music scene and those artists would move on to Manchester, Glasgow and particularly London to further develop their careers. As more venues close, there is not only a reduction in the quantity of places that emerging artists can hone their skills and meet other creatives who they might work with, but also a shrinking map. The idea that you only get a shot at working as a musician if you grow up in a major UK city is an alarming one. Let's face it, it's very expensive to move there as a young person and make a go of things.”

Parisa East of Acoustickle has promoted regular gigs in Nottingham since March 2009, with the likes of Jake Bugg and Saint Raymond playing on their journey up the ladder to larger scale gigs and audiences. She affirms the importance of playing grassroots gigs and the essential skills that bands and artists develop by doing so:

“These gigs are where you can play your own original music, and that's where the music lovers are. It's important to play in front of audiences that know and appreciate music so you can both get practice and improve as an artist. You develop performance practice, talking to an audience, songwriting, improved singing and playing ability, networking, confidence, and you build a fan base, and learn from seeing other artists playing live.” 

And performing at this level is not only a route to playing bigger gigs and larger venues, it can be an early stepping stone to making music a career you can earn a living from, as Parisa explains:

“What made Jake Bugg, Georgie and Saint Raymond stand out is that they would play any gig I asked them to, and they just wanted to perform, perform, perform. They loved local gigs no matter where, no matter the money, and that rapidly gained them a huge following on and off stage. They are all with major labels now.” 

As well as a live music circuit in steady downfall, many schools have also cut music from their curriculum in recent years – a factor which will also play a part in the number of emerging and breakthrough musicians the UK sees in the coming years.

Beverley at Music Venue Trust comments “The UK music industry has been a world-leader for decades but lots of things that used to work are now facing enormous challenges. To a certain extent the industry is just assuming that artists will continue to emerge. We are making the case that unless young musicians have somewhere to play, future artists will not represent the wealth of talent in the UK, only those lucky enough to have connections and money.”

So what can be done? How can emerging bands, gig promoters and music fans take action to support their local music scenes, gig venues and the exciting talent waiting to be heard? 

Beverley of MVT has a few simple suggestions that will make a difference: “The key thing that anyone can do is encourage more people to actually go to their local venue - saying it's a great place isn't enough! Actually go there, spend your money, have a fantastic time and tell others about it! If you're in a band, support other local bands and help build a local scene.”

“Talk about Music Venue Trust and why the work we do is important. Join our mailing list so you know if something is happening locally you could support and follow us on social media. Ask local venues if they have joined the Music Venues Alliance yet. It's a free association for grassroots music venues and offers them loads of information and support. And if you can, make a small donation towards our Emergency Response Service - this is how we offer legal, licensing, planning, tenancy, acoustics/noise expertise to venues in peril.”


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