The Trials and Tribulations of Being in A Band

Do you remember the first show you went to? I'm willing to bet there were lots of lights, amazing sound and everything combined to make an unforgettable experience. My first gig was Foo Fighters at Earls Court in London and I remember being blown away. Since then i've seen countless bands and acts between festivals and individual shows.

But for a musician like me, you never forget the first show you played. I was 14 when I played mine at a local school's music showcase evening. It was my first time playing bass. Two years later, I played my first solo show in a small pub in Leigh-On-Sea. Nowadays, my band Counties are lucky enough to play all over Essex and London - and hopefully further afield soon.

It sure seems glamorous - a Friday night spent being the centre of attention for half an hour, and we're lucky enough to get a great response from the crowd more often than not. But what about what you don't see?

1) Bands are at the venue hours before doors open

Doubly true for festivals, remember that when you see a band take to the stage they've likely loaded in hours beforehand. We (Counties) have amassed a range of professional equipment through hard work and significant investment. That gear is driven in 4 - 5 different vehicles to a venue (often requiring leaving work early), unloaded onto the stage to soundcheck, then loaded off stage (not always into a secure area) for the next act to soundcheck. After that it's loaded back on for a performance and has to be taken back off for the next act. Its a constant test of organisation and co-ordination and is something that most people wouldn't think of.

Special mention for the sound technicians who are often there even earlier - particularly those that take pride in their craft. You're the real MVPs.

2) Bands (often) don't get paid

"Do it for the opportunity" is what we're often told as local musicians and its totally correct. You don't earn the right to be paid until you've shown that your product is worth paying for. Sometimes a venue will offer some cash for petrol (totally fair and much appreciated) but if you ask an originals band what they get paid for their 30 - 60 minute set I wager the answer will be "zilch". This isn't a gripe - its just something people should be aware of.

3) Speaking of money

We rehearse at a studio that we rent for at least one evening a week. It also costs petrol to get there so even on non-gigging weeks we're already out of pocket. The thing is, we do it because we love doing it.

4) Live music is dying, and no one is doing anything about it

The sad fact is that local bands play primarily to the sound team and any other bands that are playing. It is a truly sad state of affairs and unfortunately with new music so easy to come by these days through Youtube, Spotify etc, you can get everything you need with a few clicks or a few taps. This means that fewer and fewer people are going to local shows to get their entertainment. It is worth pointing out as well that a live music scenario is always something that feels more personal - you may get the occasional technical hiccup or bum-note, but you're also witnessing someone's passion first-hand. There really is nothing quite like it.

5) Good promoters are hard to find

A promoter's job is to do just that - create an event that people will be interested in and ensure they get people in the door. But they're a dying breed, replaced by people that charge the artist if they don't bring in enough of an audience. While the band should always do their part, if the venue is relatively further afield than what the band considers local, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a lower turnout. We (Counties) were told that we had failed to reach expectations placed on us as a headline band recently - we'd not asked to headline, had been inactive for a year and a half, and are based a significant distance outside of London (where the gig was).

If a promoter tells you to sell 30 tickets and will charge you if you don't sell that many - do not accept the gig. Vote with your talent. As I mentioned before, its reasonable to be out of pocket for a gig but not if the reason is that they aren't doing their job.

6) We're not expecting to be famous

People often ask why I haven't entered X-Factor or Britain's Got Talent and the truth is simply - that isn't my scene. I'd rather be remembered as the vocalist of a band making music I would choose to listen to or the one friend someone has that starts the singalong at 4am after a great night out. We aren't expecting to sell out arena tours or go platinum. We love what we do because it makes us happy.

7) Our bandmates are often our best friends

Speaking personally here, I'm super lucky to have such amazing bandmates. We went on a hiatus at the end of 2015 because I'm a pain in the arse. Somehow, it bought us closer together and made us realise how much we need each other. What you're seeing at a gig is a group of friends doing what they love doing. In our case, we're more like brothers.

So there you have it - next time you head out to the pub to see a band (and I hope you will), keep the above in mind. If they were good, let them know. Ask them where you can get their music. Offer to help lug an amp to their car or off of the stage. Above all else, lets help try and keep live music alive.

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