Music Awards

26th March 2014

This is an archive post; it is not current; it’s here for the record.

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LEICESTER MUSIC AWARDS

NB: the idea of the Leicester Music Awards was never followed up and nothing was ever done about it.  This article won an award: Annual Apathy Prize for 2014.

Should awards be given to celebrate the music of Leicester? This article discusses this question.

First, some background. Society in general celebrates and honours achievements in many ways. The Queen confers honours in the form of OBEs, MBEs and CBEs. Awards and prizes are given in the world of sports, the arts, films and television, literature, science, engineering and so forth.

Second, in the world of music, there are several well-known awards, including the Brits, those given by magazines such as NME and Kerrang and others which celebrate popular music generally. ‘The Barclaycard Mercury Prize promotes the best of UK and Irish music and the artists that produce it. This is done primarily through the celebration of the 12 ‘Albums of the Year’.’ Likewise there are awards made to specific genres of music, such as The Urban Music awards which ‘recognise the achievement of urban based artists, producers, club nights, DJ’s , radio stations, record labels and artist from the current Dance/R&B, Hip-hop, Neo Soul, Jazz, and dance music scene.’

There are awards for classical music, music made by young people, opera, choral music, and so forth. Some awards are given by the big national music industry organisations and some are geared to independent music. The company that manufactures Orange Amps sponsors awards in the world of classic rock as it also does for ‘prog’ music.

These are all national-level awards. At the local level, there are far fewer examples but a few do stand out.

The Liverpool Music Awards ‘honours the heroes of the music industry in our city: not only local musicians, but also those behind the scene, who facilitate and inspire others to create and perform on Merseyside. While the scope of the awards provides opportunity to celebrate musical achievements which have gone beyond the borders of our city, at their core the awards are for those who are currently active in Liverpool.’

In Brighton, the BMA is about ‘Celebrating the best independent music from Brighton and across the region.’

The Manchester Musical Awards honours the world of musicals.

In Nottingham, Nusic selects an artist of the month. The Nottingham Music Awards is about ‘Celebrating the vibrant and eclectic Nottingham Music Scene.’ The Nottingham Music Awards – also known as the Notty’s – will look to celebrate the achievements of the great musicians, singers, promoters, managers and others who play a part in what is a boom time for the Nottingham music scene.’

The giving of awards, prizes and honours is a widespread and long established aspect of human life across all fields of human activity.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicestershire published a Band of the Month to highlight the work of local bands and did this from 2008 to 2012. Later Music in Leicester website continued this by publishing a band of the month. Both also published an annual Gigs of The Year article to recognise outstanding live performances.

What would be the benefit to Leicester?

If Leicester was to follow the example set by other local cities and to create its own set of awards for popular music, what might be the benefits?

My stance on this is that there would be two sets of gains: the national and the local. It is possible that local music-markers would enjoy the recognition of receiving a gong for their endeavours and in particular new bands and rising artists could be given a boost and encouragement from such acknowledgements.

More importantly, in my view, there would be benefits for the music community as a whole. The existence of awards for music would boost the notoriety of Leicester as a centre of musical excellence. Many people have commented that music is one of Leicester’s “best kept secrets” and that much more needs to be done to gain acknowledgement of our music at national level.

In principle, such an initiative would confer benefits far beyond the confines of the city. However laudable it might be to recognise and honour musical achievement at the local level, what stands out for me is the celebration of our music at national level.

There are course a lot of dependent factors in this: not least who is selecting and judging the potential winners. Some of the judges would be local people who have followed the various genres of music in the locality but alongside these should be those who bring a wider perspective – people in the East Midlands region and those who know music at a national level. Local people patting themselves on the back might be good but if there is an equally weighted group of people with a wider take on music, who also have a part in honouring the city’s bands and artists, then this gives the whole thing added credibility.

Some awards allow music fans to vote on nominated acts but, in my mind, this counts for less than the judgement of music professionals. At national level, it might well be fine for the public to vote in large numbers for a music artist but at local level voting reduces favour to popularity and the size of an act’s following. That can be fair enough for local competitions, although some have argued that this is inherently unfair because there is no necessary equation of musical ability and local popularity.

If the choice should rest with a panel of industry experts, it is vital that there is a cross-section of backgrounds that reflects the scope of the music scene. If we opt for a generic Music Award (even one that is focussed only on popular music including rock, indie and urban genres and not classical or choral) then the judging panel must draw in those from a wide spread of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As with most Awards, there are likely to be categories and prizes that celebrate specific kinds of music-makers, including bands, singers, rappers, instrumentalists and so on. It is possible that certain kinds of music outputs might also be worth honouring, including best recorded tune or song, best lyrics, best music video, best live performance, etc.

Where general Music Awards are concerned, most would want to honour long-established acts as well as emerging new talent. Some scope also exists to honour the music industry that brings their work into the outside world – venues, promoters, recording studios and so forth.

What I personally do not approve of is a competition in which music acts have to perform in a series of heats and semi-finals in order to gain an award. It think it is much better that judges base their approvals on performance over a period of time, look at the live gigs, recordings and output of the acts, basing their assessments on what an act has achieved over time and not on a single series of live gigs.

Is it worth it?

Any award-making initiative depends, for its success, on a range of factors that must be got right at the very start. Who will be chosen to be the judges is the most important factor, but it is also necessary to factor in elements such as sponsors, backers, financiers, publicists and a plethora of people who can contribute to the whole thing being worthwhile and successful. The kudos of being granted an award might be beneficial in itself but if the awards also confers other forms of value – cash prizes, recording contracts, publicity – then people might see it as being more widely worthwhile.

The potential down-side of sponsorship is corporate domination; independent awards avoid the kick-backs from big commercial organisations using the process for their own agendas.

The critical factors are not just who judges but what criteria they use. This has to be transparent. It’s all very well awarding a prize for the ‘best band’ but the value of that is not obvious unless the criteria is very clearly stated.

The worth of a Leicester awards initiative rests, in my view, on what the music scene as a whole gets out of it. It also has to be an annual process in which its value grows year on year.

Promoting artists

How do you promote an artist? By promote I mean publicise, market, shout, plug, etc.

I thought I would blog about this as it is something I have been doing for some time, for bands and for individuals.  There are some basic things that I have been doing.

Promotion is often about getting an artist’s name known. It’s about pushing that name around, largely on the social media, primarily Twitter, Facebook, Reverb Nation, Myspace or what ever else comes to hand that seems to work.

You believe that an artist is worth promoting or you see the potential in a band and you want to give them a helping hand.  I promote acts through my magazine Arts in Leicestershire. That sits at the centre of a web of social media connections. Bear in mind that Leicester/shire is a place brimming with musical talent of all kinds and beyond that many artists who work in comedy, dance, digital arts, photography, painting, poetry, writing and so on.

Apart from shouting about a named act or artist, I also have to say why they are good.  We do this through setting up profiles and through reviews of their work. If they bring out an album, EP or track I promote that. If they have show, gig or exhibition, I push that out too.

Apart from Internet-based work I also issue press releases and plug songs with radio DJs. True, most of this happens on the Internet but there is still a big world of paper-based newspapers and magazines that will take material about artists and their work. We can’t neglect this, no matter how powerful, the web is, people still read paper and listen to the radio.

So why do I do this? There are plenty of people out there who do their own publicity and some of them make a very good job of it. I still think that an independent voice has some value. There is always an advantage in a third party saying how good an act is. It’s good that an artist believes in themselves and can tell the world how good they think they are.  Some weight does, however, attach to an independent voice agreeing with that and proclaiming why they think this act is worth looking at.

When I say I am indepedent I really mean that. I do not manage bands, singers, actors, dancers or anyone.  They do not pay me to be their press agent. I do it because I am genuinely passionate about their act or work. I do it because, as an editor and journalist, I am driven by the same passions about arts, whether I am writing about them or promoting them.

It’s a little dream that I have, that I could play a small part in getting a band or a singer to the top and giving them a bit of a leg up the ladder of success.  I don’t do this because I have to do it; I do because I want to do it. In a city so rich in promising talent, which ones do you choose?

I use my instincts.  If I see an act that is  established and everyone else is coo-ing about them then I feel confident that I am probably right to also add my voice to the chorus.  Sometimes, I see a new act, as yet rather rough and raw, but I sense a potential. I see something beyond the inexperience, the lack of professionalism, I sense something in that band or act which looks like it could grow and get somewhere.

I have often stuck my neck out and given the thumbs up for someone when everybody else has ignored them.  That’s because I see something that they don’t see. It does’nt always work.  It’s not just about artistic ability.  The acts I tend to get behind these days are those that believe in themselves, the ones that really want it, the bands or singers who have a dream, who see themselves making it in the music business or in the world of comedy, and so forth.

I have also met people who clearly were born with talent but who, for what ever personal reason, will never make a go of it because they lack the two vital things that are needed to run alongside natural ability:  self-worth and determination. Not everyone has this. I’ve tried pushing people because I think they have real ability. They have got no where because either they are lazy, have no ethic of self-sacrifice or because they really could not hack it.

The arts world is full of people who spend years muddling through, doing what pleases them, wallowing in self-gratification but have no concept of a personal career, no sense of path or direction.  There is no point spending time promoting acts or artists that clearly don’t really want to get to the top.

To be successful in anything requires generous slabs of self-discipline and more importantly self-sacrifice.  Many people, me included, have to make painful sacrifices in the cause of success.  Often. OK, maybe not always.  Some are happy with this, however uncomfortable it feels at the time.  Others, however, are either too timid or lack the confidence or sense of personal security to defer some of the things their friends are enjoying in order to get rewards later on.

I love watching those interviews with young athletes who dream of Olympic gold. They undertake punishing regimes of training, get up at stupidly early hours of the morning, train relentlessly for months on end, forgo so many of the things their friends are enjoying, just to stand a chance of getting a medal hung round their necks.

The arts do not generally impose such rigorous deprivations. Even so, there is no gain without pain, even in the world of rock music. Whilst I deplore cheating – whether in athletics or in music – I can understand why some people see that as being the solution for them. I don’t believe in fast tracks to the top. Making it into the big time requires years of dedication. Singers who get catapulted into stardom, by record labels or by TV talent competitions, often come part and can’t cope with the pressure.

As I have often said, acts that go somewhere have two assets:  themselves and those who are ready to support them. Behind every rising act there is an (often unseen) iceberg of supporters, street teamers, publicists and, not least, fans who are egging them on. Tips with no underlying iceberg sink very quickly.

 

 

 

Major new music festival showcase for Leicester?

At the Mayor’s Arts & Culture discussion tonight, held at CURVE, I asked Sir Peter Soulsby if the city would support a major music festival in Leicester to showcase our amazing local talent to the rest of the world and of course to the people of Leicester.

Sir Peter’s reply was predictable:  yes he would support the idea but don’t ask me to fund it. A city making cutbacks can’t afford to fund a major arts festival of any kind.

Here are some of my ideas to take this concept further.

(1) The city council controls the parks and open spaces where an outdoor music festival could be held. LCC normally charges for a whole range of costs in mounting any event held in its parks.  Could the city council support such an event by minimising the costs due to itself? Rather than providing funds, can the council support it in kind?  Would the Mayor support approaches to private sector investors to take the idea on board? Can the council give added value to potential businesses if they supported the festival?

(2) There are several major national live music companies that already run outdoor music events.  Putting on a music festival is feasible if the right private sector backers could be found to meet the core infrastructure costs.  We could even discuss the idea with the Arts Council.

(3) Leicester has a huge wealth of talent across all genres of music. An inner city festival next year could attract enough of a crowd to fund an event through ticket sales, given reasonable ticket prices.  In an ideal world we would all want to see a free event, like the one that took place a few years ago that was paid for by the BBC’s Radio 1 and attended by a crowd of 100,000 people.  Admittedly this was headlined by big named acts but even Leicester now has some national level acts from our own city that could draw big crowds.

(4) My idea of a showcase festival is one where all the acts are musicians and artists who were either born here or who have moved here and are now active local residents. This would put Leicester music on the map both nationally and for local people to find out more about our most talented bands, singers and rappers.

(5)  The festival could be feasible if it attracts private sector investment but the city council could play a pivotal role in allowing the event to take place (e.g. on Abbey Park or Victoria Park.) It would also have a role part to play in co-ordinating the range of public sector authorities that must be involved in large events.

(6) I know that Summer Sundae and Oxjam Festivals do provide a platform for local bands and acts to get on stage in front of big audiences but this festival would beexclusively for local music and there is certainly enough talent in this city to make a really good music festival.

I would welcome comments from people about this idea, particularly from the music community.  If there appears to be support for the idea from local people then it can be developed into a proposal for the Cultural Strategy Group that is being headed up by the Major’s Office.

 

Trevor Locke, 16th June 2011

What makes a good live music scene?

13th December 2010

Having just got back from a really good meeting of the Leicester Music Collective, I thought I would commit a few words to paper. Well the digital version of paper maybe.

The nub of the meeting was talking about how we put more bums on seats.  Leicester has seen a massive increase in the number of live music venues and consequently in the number of gigs happening, week in and week out.

Promoters, venue owners and other industry movers and shakers are scratching their heads about how we should try to get more people to come out to support live music events.

We are all passionate about live music. We want to see more people attending gigs because we believe it is a really great way to spend an evening. But how do we do it?

One solution that is being delivered, is to print a monthly listing of gigs across all venues and distribute it as widely as possible. I support this. Even though I spend a lot of my working day pushing out information about gigs –  on the Internet – I realise that there is still a proportion of the population who do not go on the ‘Net every day. Even if they do, they tend to use it just for e-mail and don’t spend time surfing the web sites and social media outlets where they could come across info about live music.

If you do want to know about gigs or bands or music, you don’t have a problem finding it on the ‘Net.  If you might possibly want to go out and ‘see a band’, incredibly it can be difficult to find out what is going in this city. If Leicester has a problem getting the word out about gigs, it’s also likely to be the case that other cities have the same set of issues.

Distributing flyers that list gigs is one part of the solution and a lot of people said a lot of things about the practicalities of making this happen. Happily, someone has made a start on it and a listing is being produced.

Leicester has a profusion of live music venues; it has a huge supply of bands and artists playing every kind of music you can imagine. Live music has been a feature of Leicester life for decades.

There was some really interesting analysis about the impact of the BIG music society on tours, venues, ticket sales and festivals. Interesting though that is, my focus now is on amplifying the crowd for the small venues and the unknown, unsigned bands.

Someone pointed out that people will pay £20 to £40 to see a band they really want to see. Getting people to pay £5 to see bands they haven’t heard of, is much more difficult. But this is precisely where I operate and that for me is the major challenge.

Everyone agreed that it’s about getting the information out there; whether we use high-tech fixes or plain paper solutions, we need to make sure people know about what is happening, where and when.

On top of that there is a harder task of ‘selling’ unsigned, live music.  Why would anyone want to pay £5 to see a line-up of bands they have never heard of  before? Well, after two years of going to gigs, seeing hundreds of new bands and writing about many of them, I really feel passionate about live music. In a world increasingly dominated by recorded music, the difference between the two is immense. For me, live is the best. Live is what brings music to life. I don’t just want to  hear it. I want to see it.

But can I sell that idea to people who just want to plug themselves into their iPod and think that is what music is about, full stop?

I want to shout about the live music experience. I want to convince the public that live is an unbeatable form of entertainment. I want to convince people that going out to a gig and seeing bands playing is much better than watching it on TV or listening to music through ear plugs.

This wonderful group of people which has come together in Leicester has started to take that whole issue on board. The discussion however has focused too much on the supply side and not enough on the demand side of the market.

They did come up with the idea of doing a survey; asking people who go to live gigs what they think about things like: the venue, the ticket price, the transport there and back, what they like best and dislike most about shows and so on and so on.  That is good; we need to know much more about the punters, we need to keep asking questions that might help us to figure out the quality issues posed by live shows.

The other side of the equation is the bands.  This needs to be on the agenda. In live music, everything is driven by the bands, at the end of the day.  They are the people who make the music. But how do they contribute to making a local live music scene a success?

I am really looking forward to that debate. I already know some of the things that will get said:  what bands thinks of venues and promoters and vice versa. In Leicester, there is an almost endless supply of young men who want to play guitars on a stage. Sorry girls, but the ratio is about 20:1. I have lost count of the numbers of male musicians but I can count the female players of guitars, bass and drums on my fingers. Same is true of vocalists.

I have asked many questions about how bands write music. Who writes the songs, who makes the melodies, how do they choose what style of music they will play, what influences move them, do they ever think about what they look like on stage … and the answers are all invariably the same.

Musicians follow their own musical instincts. When four guys get together, assuming they gel together on the music, they will produce for their band, what they have had as a musical career, what they have grown up with, it’s all about their tastes, their musical passions, their sense of what works.

Ok, I hear you say, but that is also true of every other art form. It’s so obvious it’s hardly worth thinking about. But I also hear musicians talking about wanting to be successful, of making it in the music business.  Having talked with band members (for a few years) about this very subject, I know how difficult it is to get them to think outside of the box.

If a band has real talent and makes music that is good enough for people to pay to hear, what else do they need to do?  Sadly it is not all about the music. Of the 250+ rock bands in Leicester that write their own music, only a tiny few will ever stand any chance of making  it in the world outside. Are they the ones that have their fingers on the pulse of modern music and happen to be writing the best songs?  Not necessarily. There’s a lot more to it than that.

I’ve written about the ‘bands with no fans‘ thing before. I’ve talked about how bands can promote themselves. I’ve gone on about putting fans on floors. It’s still amazing to hear unsigned bands complaining that promoters are not providing them with big enough crowds.

It’s amazing because there is still a lack of ‘mojo’ about what makes live music work. Even if all promoters and venues did a perfect job of promoting shows, it’s still obvious that it is the bands who have the fans. It’s the band who has to put feet on floors. They are the ones who know who their fans are.

It’s incredibly difficult for promoters to sell tickets to the fans of a band. Even though MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are the most immediate conduits to the fans of a band, it’s not easy for promoters to message those people. Bands are not going to hand over their log in details to a promoter and say – ‘ok here are all our fans, you talk to them.’

Promoters can fire out marketing messages to the general body of people who might like  live music. We can put stacks of flyers into what we think are the right places. But the ones who are most likely to turn up at the door, are the people who already know that band. Access to those people is restricted to the bands themselves.

I don’t want to get started on the issue of ‘pay to play’ but the reason that hoary old chestnut won’t go away, is that for many venues and promoters it’s a solution that can work.

In a nutshell:  the promoter sells tickets to the bands. The band members then sell them to their fans. It can and does work but there are many band members out there who do not like it.

Some festival tickets can cost between £20 to £30. If you have to sell, say, 50, that’s £1,000 to £1,500.  For most small bands that’s a load of money to worry about.

Even so, I have heard bands say that they would be willing to pay that kind of money to get on to certain festival stages.

I’m not condoning this; I am just recognising that it happens. If it’s not part of the solution, it’s certainly part of the problem.

If bands want to be successful, they have to play music that people want to hear. They have to put on a performance that people want to see.

They might well have to compromise on their own personal tastes and accept that there is more to being a successful band than self-indulgence.

Moreover, they also have to bear the burden of winning, keeping and organising their fan base, promoting themselves, getting their name known and constantly tapping music industry people on the shoulder.

It’s great to hear stories like “oh, we had this box of 400 CDs and we had to sit down and listen to them all and decide which ones we wanted to sign up.”

As a music writer I sit in the middle of all this and hear both sides of the story. If we want more feet on floors in Leicester then both the promoters and the bands have to work together to achieve that.  No one has the exclusive power to win ticket sales.

We all agree that live music is the best music and we all want more people to join in and enjoy it.  We are only going to succeed if we all work together.

That ‘s what these meetings are about. Not why, but only how and to a lesser extend who.