Music festival experiences and why I’m mostly not a fan these days…

The last major music festival I attended was many moons ago and was the Pink Pop festival in Holland. It was a great line up and my favorite band was Morphine who opened the festival. I also got to see Crowded House and Bjork who were both superb. A few decades on, I’m less enthusiastic for a variety of reasons both as an attendee and/or a performer.

Great menu, but not perhaps the best “meal?”

One of the advantages of attending music festivals is that you get to see a whole host of acts all in one place. That can also be a minus, when the set lengths are usually pretty limited. As a music fan I like to see a full artist set and usually festival sets are massively reduced in terms of length and there’s not a great opportunity for proper sound checks. As a performer a very short set length can be challenging, which it itself is not a bad thing, but the set is under 30 minutes, these days I’m not really a fan. This is because everything tends to be a bit hyperactive in terms of artist changeovers and my own research suggests that the public also are not fans of really short sets.

A good example of this was playing one of the ukulele festivals in 2016 and 2017. It was a good experience for the band as an early outing, but on both occasions there was an issue with sound on stage. As an artist its extremely frustrating to be squeezed into doing a 20 minute set and find you can’t hear your own instrument and/or vocal!

This way of working in booking loads of artists for real short set lengths may be great for promoters who can show a big range of acts on a poster, but its in my view not the best experience for artist and attendee. Yes, you can argue that festivals remain very popular, but I would respectfully suggest that often the primary focus is not musical enjoyment, but rather a social gathering. That’s 100% a valid reason to attend, but not my personal preference!

Good value for money?

Another reason why I’m mostly not a fan is the cost of attending such events. Even the small niche music events can be 50 – 60 sterling for to get in, but then there’s often also additional costs in, accommodation and food costs. Some of these events charge extra for workshops (which can be just 60 minutes which is not ideal for any actual learning) and so costs start to crank. Quite quickly this can become a three figure cost, which is tougher in these economic times. Of course this is 100% a personal view and clearly many will be happy to pay what I would consider huge amounts of money to stand in a field where the sound of the artists is not great. The alternative is an indoor events can also be not ideal in this covid era. I may have had a different view twenty years ago, but these days I’m far more picky!

Super fans?

In relation to UK festivals, research suggests 28% of festival goers are festival super fans, attending an average of four festivals a year. To define the true festival super fan, its useful to look at several factors including their average festival ticket spend, how many festivals they attend, how influential they are in getting friends to go, how often they go back to the same festivals. The following stats are interesting to say the least –

  1. Festival Super Fans (28% of all festival goers; attend an average of four (3.9) festivals
    each year)
  2. Moderate Festival Goers (34% of all festival goers; attend two festivals each year),
  3. Casual Festival Goers (38% of all festival goers; attend one festival each year).

The effect of covid

Although covid 19 is not highlighted so much in the news, covid remains a real problem for many artists. Here are just some of the artists in 2022 who have cancelled festival appearances – https://www.billboard.com/business/touring/2022-concerts-canceled-festivals-covid-19-1235017924/

In recent discussions with Jim Glennie from James, Jim confirmed how covid remains a real problem for major artists. As Eric Clapton discovered, regardless of your vaccination ideas, the virus really doesn’t really care and you can find your entire schedule cancelled often at short notice.

Conclusion

Of course these are totally personal views and I’d rather be say in The Village Vanguard with 125 capacity, all seated and excellent acoustics! On leaving the event I can hail a cab in 5 minutes and not be queuing for hours to exit the festival location! My interest is always for the love of music and seeking out the best environments for this. I’m not ruling out attending any such events or playing at such events in the future, but I’ll be pretty selective in my choices.

Audience with hands raised at a music festival and lights streaming down from above the stage. Soft focus, blurred movement.

“Caveat Emptor” – A cautionary tale about music promoters

In recent times I’ve become increasingly aware of individuals setting themselves up as “festival and music promoters” who in my opnion (I’m being polite here) lack skills in making such events viable. Of course this is I suspect a minority, as there are many great, experienced professional promoters, but as the old saying goes “You couldn’t make it up”

What follows is a cautionary tale…

Pesky details…

A friend of mine was asked to find acts for a festival and started to leverage his contacts to ensure that the event had the best available artists. Anyone in the music business will appreciate that professional artists will usually be booked up during most weekends, so its important to book well in advance. In this instance he only had two months to help out this promoter, who had left it to the last monment to secure musical entertainment. Organising musicians is a bit like herding cats at the best of times, but those of us who love music mostly enter into such activities out of love for music promotion rather than financial interest.

My friend’s alarm bells began to ring when the promoter started ducking answering basic questions that any booker and/or artist would ask in such a venture. Lets be clear, we are not talking about forensic detail here, but rather common sense considerations for appearing at a festival. I know from running Music for the Head and Heart showcases how important it is to define expectations which of course is standard business practice in any industry including the music business.

The main website for the festival looked great on the surface but had no actual detail about what was being offered at the event. The homepage suggested “75 classes and activities” as well as “music” would be available, but I still can’t find any actual details of who or what will be appearing on the weekend! There are also no previous festivals of this name, so no momentum from days gone by to ensure good audience attendance. Of course its possible that people will flock to this first time event simply through word of mouth, but in my opinion that would be highly unusual…

Checking online for promoter’s credibility and experience

In this internet era its easy to check the credibility of any business online and for musicians its essential to check how and what you will be paid for your own peace of mind. The first alarm bell rang when the promoter was shifty about confirming in writing to artists rates of pay. He’d confirmed verbally to my friend, but ducked putting anything in writing to artists who were interested in playing. This does not inspire confidence and now the real danger is that my friend the booker could be left having to deal with the financial aspect of paying the artists, especially as artists were asked to invoice after the event had completed!

The second alarm bell was when I looked into the financials for the company which claimed to have been trading for 7 years and had run a series of events. The reality is that the company had only been incorporated in March this year and had zero trading history. The head of the company also was misrepresnting himself on business social media in this respect stating he’d been owner of this company for 7 years.

The third alarm bell rang when I looked at social media for this guts promotion business and found very little activity and/or engagement.

If it looks like a duck…

As the old saying goes “If it looks like a duck, has a beak and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck”

The lesson here is to scan for what I term “the elusive obvious” Its possible that a weekend festival could be really successful and attract a lot of exhibitors and artists without any contracts, marketing and promotion, but in my experience that would be a first. The reality is that any event, even if its an evening, never mind a full weekend, needs a great deal of work and attention to make it happen. In this instance neither is in place. As the saying goes “fail to plan, plan to fail”

These days many people are still apprehensive about attending any events even outdoors, so its crucial to make such opportunities attractive and that means giving detailed content on what you can expect

Good manners make for good outcomes

I come from a background in business and appreciate that we can all have different opinions, but good manners are always useful for good outcomes. When a promoter asks for help and then adopts a “don’t bother me I’m too busy to talk to the likes of you” approach, then that;s not good manners or good business.

In this instance the promoter has lost the goodwill of my friend the booker as well as all the artists who were willing to support the event. Its a perfect example of self sabotage and I note that one of his previous business concerns was dissolved in days gone by. Its a shame and a missed opportunity as this character managed to wonderfully snatch failure from the jaws of success. He would have had (note past tense) a host of different well connected artists promoting his event for FREE, but is too unaware to grasp the opportunity.

The lesson in all this is to define expectations and although we may agree to disagree, its always those pesky details that are important to ensure the success of any venture…

STOP PRESS – The terms and conditions for this festival have this clause

“If X festival is cancelled in its entirety due to any unforeseen circumstances for example covid related lockdown, Ink Events Ltd has the sole right to reschedule the event or issue partial total refund or NOT ISSUE ANY REFUNDS

Note “any unforeseen circumstances” is pretty vague and most people will not dig into the detail here. To not issue any refund is highly unusual. Two words spring to mind-

Stop Press!

The Terms and conditions have now been amended. The event has now been flagged as “sold out” but still there is zero mention of any actual workshops or musical artists. The promoter when questioned becomes extremely defensive. Make of that what you will…

STOP PRESS 2

Unsurprisingly the event is now cancelled, according to a post on FB, BUT the event is still live on the promoters site and shows as “sold out” They now promise a return for 2023. Its a masterclass in ineptitude and a perfect example of how not to promote events. Here even basic elements were never in place for this to be remotely viable. CAVEAT EMPTOR!

Selecting future live appearances in the covid era

Covid 19 put the world on pause and for the last few years. After many years of playing local gigs, UK festivals and overseas festivals and gigs, I’m now rethinking opportunities for playing live. There’s a real joy to bringing music to a live audience and to date we’ve had many superb live opportunities with different ensembles, including playing at The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal, a number of sold out album launches and some solo appearances in New York and Nagoya.

One live gig is worth eight rehearsals

My producer Carl Rosamond always chanted the mantra “One live appearance is better than 8 rehearsals” I never really understood this until we started to play out in live venues. Its been a fascinating journey from the initial baptism of fire, when after a few local gigs, I found myself on the main stage at an international music festival. On that occasion, I learned more in 45 minutes than in the first year of rehearsals. When I look back at the footage, aside from playing everything at speed, the performance even in these early days was pretty solid.

Less is more

In the last two years, I’ve only to date so far arranged one live outing, this time with the new Heartache ensemble. This was an opportunity to try out some of the new material. I’m pleased to report that the set was well received and the material stood up really well in a live setting. One of the benefits of playing live is that you discover very quickly how well material is received by the general public, especially if its not your typical fan base.

To date its been fun playing local venues, but it can be a lot of work and crank up some costs, especially if you have a policy of paying the band regardless of income from any venue. The benefit is mostly a massive education in what its like to front a band to entertain an audience. I’m lucky to be playing with many superb musicians, which has meant that I’ve really had to up my game musically, especially as I am fronting all these ensembles and we are playing original material.

Selecting future venues and creating “musical events” v gigs

After a number of years playing the local circuit, I now far prefer to organize much bigger live opportunities, through the Music for the Head and Heart and Green Eyed Records platforms. This means starting to host more established artists and providing evenings of entertainment, rather than simply doing gigs. This doesn’t preclude doing future gigs, but now I’m adopting a policy of “less is more” and being more selective about where and when we play. This means a great deal of planning as great venues are in short supply and established artists will plan ahead for live appearances. Also this means a lot more personal investment in signing contracts with artist’s managers who understandably want the assurance that events of properly marketed.

Previously I ran two Music for the Head and Heart events pre covid and am now planning a series of much bigger musical evenings starting with a showcase event October 7th with Jon Gomm.

Creativity through collaboration

In keeping with the Green Eyed Records “creativity through collaboration” I am delighted to be offering Towse from California as well as my own Heartache ensemble. In April I already have signed another major international to play in Leeds as part of the forth Music for The Head and Heart showcases, with one of my ensembles supplying support.

We’ll be looking at “The Old Woollen” in Leeds again, as it is covid friendly, has free parking, full bar, fully seated and crucially a superb sound system. Crucially we have a great sound engineer for these events and none of the constraints in terms of curfew and audience limits which in my opinion hamper playing at some other venues in Leeds.

Debut live outing for Nick Cody & The Heartache

We just completed a short 30 min support slot in Leeds to try out some of the new Heartache material for the first time. Below is the first outing for “That gal’s as cool as fuck”

This was the first time I have played electric guitar live as opposed to playing acoustic instruments. The Supro comet did not disappoint and I used two hardtail Stratocasters with graphite necks that sounded terrific. Its also the first time I’ve ever played with a second electric guitarist, although with the above track I stick to simply doing vocals. This was a “toe in the water, 30 minute support slot” and we deliberately chose 6 varied songs to test out the new material. A live setting is always the best way to measure how well material translates with a live audience and I was pleased with the results.

In 2022 subject to covid, we’ll be looking at more live options for Nick Cody and The Heartache and working up a much longer set, especially as we have a lot of potential material to showcase! Thanks to everyone who came to the show and who has shared our posts on social media, we appreciate it

The price you pay for “free music”

In doing interviews for Music for The Head and Heart I’m increasingly finding that artists have a real challenge in generating predictable income and many are asked to play charity events, fundraisers and similar live gigs for no remuneration. I have absolutely no problem with charitable events, but one good friend pointed out that perhaps a charity event to support the working artists might be a good plan? This raises the whole question of the price we pay for “free music”

Here are some thoughts

The value from “trades”

With the advent of Spotify and many other music trends the performing artists are increasingly disadvantaged financially. Hobbyists as opposed to professional performers are often favoured by local pub venues and open mic type situations meaning less financial outlay for business owners. Its all sounds great doesn’t it? Free music for the masses? Well any smart person knows, there is always a cost involved in any relationship and this is no different…

” I’m not a fan of artists paying for “exposure” as often its a means for promoters to get free entertainment and in many cases the artists don’t even receive expenses for their work. Every year I have one promoter asking my 5 piece band to play for a charity gig where the artists don’t even receive the most basic of expenses. I think such expenses should always be on offer and then its up to the artists to accept or refuse on a case by case basis. When entertainment is increasingly presented as being available for no financial cost, then people start to devalue what is on offer.

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart Platform to give especially independent artists a voice and a means to connect to a wider public. Artists are invited to appear on the platform and the “trade” is that they get to be interviewed and play some songs which are then professionally edited and promoted to the wider public. The “trade” is mostly in time and for around an hour’s meet up, and with no financial outlay, many performers can have some really excellent footage produced and in some cases be part of one of the live paid showcases. Trades are not always financial trades, BUT ultimately professional performers need to earn a living and that means figuring out how to balance time and money.

Pricing and expectations

“As for the music business itself, the key things have not changed that much. It operates like any business and money still keeps things moving.”
Tom Jones

I’m a big fan of collaboration and reciprocation. I have built up a business reputation over many years that allows me to fund my love of music. I literally put my money where my mouth is and always ensure that artist’s work is valued. This means funding support acts and shows irrespective of whether I receive any income. The reason for this is that if we fail to value creative work then ultimately the quality of what is on offer will diminish as performers can’t maintain a time/money balance.

I’ve previously blogged about how many performers return to paid salaried work as they can’t earn a reasonable living from music alone. This inevitably means that the quality and diversity of what is available is increasingly reduced and I have often joked that all will remain will be open mics and giant stadium gigs with nothing in between.

So what next?

In my view, the best way forward is for performers of like minds to support each other and to create exceptional entertainment for the wider public. Its down to the artists to entertain and to ensure that they don’t give away their skills without factoring in the bigger picture. This is a tricky balance but many music enthusiasts can unwittingly become complicit in devaluing musical entertainment by being to ready to give away their art. This creates an understandable expectation from the public that music “should be free” and that’s IMO a real problem. Promoters and festivals also have IMO a responsibility to ensure artists receive fair pay for their entertainment skills.

I even recall one festival asking what “contribution” an artist might “need” if they are accepted to play one of the stages. I can’t imagine a top chef being asked such a question and in my view its disrespectful to performing artists. As a lover of music, I want to see more great live music and that means artists need supporting in their creative work. Imagine people then decided that they wouldn’t pay to see films at cinemas, the cinema industry would soon start to deteriorate and ultimately disappear. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? All feedback welcome as IMO its an important discussion

2 gigs in 48 hours and filming

We just completed the second gig in 48 hours, both of which were filmed. The band were 100% on form and special thanks to Nick Bloomfield for video work and Carl Rosamond for sound production. This was an intense 48 hours but we have a great turn out for these performances. Over the next 6 months, we’ll be releasing some footage. Special thanks also to Evan Rhodri Davies, Nicky Bray and Stacy Mellor who did support slots and for everyone who came out to see us. Its increasingly a challenge for all artists to get live audiences and we appreciate the support.

Live gigs this week

Lights, Cameras, action!

This week The Caravan of Dreams will be playing two gigs in Leeds specifically to video the band. Increasingly its important to get band performances on video and we have some terrific songs to showcase.

This will be a full band affair on Thursday at The Grove Inn and then Friday at The Chemic Tavern in Leeds.

Both of these are “pay as you feel” events with some great support acts.

These are some of the last planned Caravan of Dreams gigs planned for 2019, before we go back into the studio to start recording new material. The new material will include a number of electric tracks and it’s great to dust off some terrific guitars and amps.

Live gig details HERE

Nick Cave Red Hand Files

I just got back from seeing Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files evening in Manchester. The tickets for this sold out immediately, so I was very pleased to be four rows from the front in the stalls.

I have long been a big fan of Nick Cave and his Red Hand files is a new initiative where he engages directly with his audience on a Q and A session where they can ask literally whatever they want. It takes a very brave man to open themselves up to such a scenario as anything is possible. The first few questions were all about bereavement and I began to think this could be the theme for the evening, three hours of talking about death. Fortunately the questions then opened up to a wider range of subjects including his process for writing songs. I have no issues with questions on death, but three hours would for me been a bit of a stretch.

In between Q and A Nick also played a series of stripped down songs on the piano. This was fascinating as I am used t seeing him with The Bad Seeds which is a powerful sonic collective and it was great to hear songs like “Into my arms” “Papa won’t leave you Henry” and “Stagger Lee” in this format. The Bridgewater Hall maintained their perfect record of problematic sound for the first half of the evening, but fortunately this improved as the night went on. I have always been impressed by the quality of Nick Cave’s writing and the sign of a great song is that it works brilliantly on a single instrument.

the red hand files

We learned a great deal about Nick through the course of the evening, including his admiration for Mark Smith from The Fall, Marc Bolan who he rated above Bowie in terms of lyrics and his meeting with Bob Dylan at Glastonbury. The Red Hand Files is a very different type of audience interaction and only a seasoned performer would be able to truly pull this off. Every question, no matter how daft was met with genuine professionalism. When one audience member shouted “Play some music” and the following one said “I’ll be brief” Nick commented “You take as fucking long as you like”. This type of confidence and professionalism is rare in an artist and Nick Cave remains one of the smartest minds and superb entertainers on planet Earth, always developing his craft in music, film and writing.

The Red Hand Files is very different to anything I have seen before and its refreshing to see an artist pushing the boundaries of what is possible in an age where a lot of the time music has become very predictable and dull.

Flying solo at Mill Chapel

I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at a charity event last night at Mill Chapel Leeds. This is very unusual for me as I usually perform with a band or as a duo and this was an entirely different experience. I decided to pick two tracks, one old favorite “There’s only one of you” on ukulele and “All kinds of crazy” which is a brand new song that I have never player before. This was performed on the superb Collings Waterloo guitar. Both instruments were plugged into a Henriksen Blu amp and the Waterloo was amplified via a Schertler bug pickup which works brilliantly in such situations.

nick cody

This was terrific charity event and a showcase for any young singers who on the night contributed to a magical evening. I was pleased with my own performances and it was a great chance to work up an older track in a new way as well as play “All kinds of crazy for the first time”

The Henriksen Blu is a fantastic amp and I have blogged about this many times. I love that it simply replicates the sound of the instrument perfectly without having to change any EQ settings.

This solo outing was a real light bulb moment for me. Firstly it reassured me that the songs stand up really well. It also showed me that many of these older songs can be reworked in a stripped down format. This fits perfectly with the idea for my next project. I’m increasingly interested in “less is more” I’ll continue to play with the full Caravan of Dreams ensemble, but I’ll also explore more solo and duo formats for playing.

nick cody