CMU asked Andy (I should probably stop referring to myself in the third person) some questions about his background, recent history, and what he thinks of the live music industry in the UK.
This is what happened:
Andy Inglis has been working in the music business for over two decades, primarily in artist and venue management. He is perhaps best known as co-owner of The Luminaire, the lovely North London venue that operated from 2005 to 2011, picking up awards like ‘London Venue Of The Year’ and ‘UK Venue Of The Year’ along the way.
Now running music-focused project management company 5000, Inglis manages artists, tours and other music project, and also regularly lectures on the live sector. In that latter role, he has developed the ‘Get Plugged In’ training course with MusicTank, the latest edition of which is currently running in London.
Never shy on sharing his viewpoints on the music industry, and especially the live sector, Andy regularly blogs on issues for his own site and MusicTank. CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke caught up with Andy to discuss his current projects and the state of the grass roots live music industry.
CC: Let’s start at the start – how did you end up working in live music, and what led to the opening of The Luminaire?
AI: In 1990, when the dance scene was at its height in Scotland, I was running raves, booking live PAs and began managing bands and labels, so I was around the live scene from my first year in the business. The Luminaire came about through seeing a gap in the market for a customer service-led venue that did bizarre things (for London) like giving artists money, clean towels and food, generally making them feel like we wanted them around, and treating them and the audience with respect. We saw it as the ‘anti-venue’ in some ways. I got together with a gentleman named John Donnelly who – as well as sharing my objectives and love of music – was patient enough to see it through with me
CC: You talk a lot about your experiences running The Luminaire in the MusicTank course – what were the highs and lows?
AI: I like to think we made a difference for the six years we were open. That’ll do for the high. The low was sacking ourselves and fifteen members of staff when we announced the closure. That, and finding a box that Carl Barat had vomited into in the DJ booth. “At least he got it in the box”, said his tour manager. I tried to sell it on eBay. Turns out there isn’t a market for Carl Barat’s vomit after all. Pity the same can’t be said for his music.
CC: Other than developing the MusicTank course, what have you been doing since The Luminaire closed?
AI: Weeping openly. Once I’d stopped, I continued what I’d been doing alongside running the venue, ie managing Hanne Hukkelberg and Civil Civic, consulting for Jenny Hval and other Nordic artists who fancy a crack at the UK, and tour managing some friends of mine in a new band called Savages. I still do some promoting too, but only very occasionally, on account of it not being especially enjoyable. I’ll be dead in 40 years, I’ve not got time to do things that don’t make me happy or are only good for making me money. I’m not much interested in making money.
CC: Where did the idea of launching the MusicTank course come from? How does it work?
AI: A friend of mine, Sally Gross, teaches Music Business Management at Westminster University. She asked me to write and deliver a live music module for her. I left school at seventeen and went to work, so I didn’t know what a ‘module’ was. I also have a pretty bad stammer (‘severe, covert’ they call it) so public speaking was frightening, but I accepted, partly because I wanted to conquer the fear, and partly because I felt morally obliged to give something back after 23 years in the industry.
I think we have a duty of care to those who’ll follow us, though so far as I can tell, many of my peers feel a duty of care toward bartenders. We rarely invest in our own business, and this is how I do it. It took a bit of handholding initially, but now I lecture in various parts of the UK and the Nordic countries. What I like most about it is what I learn. After every lecture I find myself re-adjusting my position on something, or re-writing a section to reflect an alternative perspective that one of the attendees has given. I’m not an expert in anything; I just have experience, like everyone else.
CC: We’ve been told for a decade now that the live music industry has been booming – but beyond the cash cow arena tours, you sense that’s not the full story. At the more grassroots end, how is the market doing, and what are the challenges?
AI: The challenges are legion. Hoping you sell enough alcohol to pay your staff and suppliers, trying to work out who stole that SM58 mic last night, raking around online to find the best price to replace it. And constantly replacing towels that bands steal. I think I’d rather they stole the microphones. At least I can understand why they would. We must have spent £600 on towels in the venue’s life.
The market in London is completely different to the market in Newport, Dundee, Stoke and Norwich. We need to realise that each venue has its own particular issues because of where it is, what’s around it, how its treated by its neighbours, local authority, bank and suppliers. We can’t just come out with staggering myopic phrases like ‘the live music industry is booming’. You first need to qualify what it is you mean by ‘the live music industry’.
CC: In 2012 the wider live industry seemed to have a more challenging year, especially in the festivals sector. Why do you think that was?
AI: They’re just businesses operating in one of the worst economic climates in history. It’s no surprise that some are struggling any more than some newsagents are struggling. I honestly don’t think it’s much more complicated than that. People still seem – inexplicably to me – to want to watch the same ageing headliners year after year, and those who don’t can go to End Of The Road Festival, or any number of great, smaller events. Though the one thing I’d really like to see change in the festival market is the wearing of fancy dress. I think it should be smashed with an iron fist.
CC: While much of the music industry welcomed last year’s Live Music Bill, reducing the red tape around small gigs, you’ve expressed reservations about all the celebrating. Why is that?
AI: It was a whitewash. Perhaps if the music industry had the first idea of what it takes to keep small venues open they wouldn’t have been so quick to create the conditions that allow the emergence of up to 13,000 venues that can now stage live music for the first time (a figure that comes from UK Music’s own Baseline Study). I’ve asked both UK Music and the Musicians Union – both vocal supporters of the Act – where the people needed to populate these potential new venues were going to come from, and where these people would find the money to financially support these potential new venues. Describing their response as ‘wooly’ would be to disrespect sheep.
If many of the existing small live venues in England and Wales [where the Act applies] are having a tough time – and I know a lot of them are, because I’ve talked to them – how will this huge dilution of the audience help them? And if we’re about to make it easier for pub landlords to increase their takings by putting some bands on, do we really believe they will go to the expense of providing suitable technical and hospitality facilities for the artists?
And what do we think this will do for the reputation of the UK’s grassroots venues abroad? You know we’re already a laughing stock, right? Globally derided? That we have a few great small rooms up and down the country (and I toured a few of them last summer and was very impressed) does not compensate for the fact that an overwhelming majority of them are an absolute disgrace, certainly when compared to those found in Germany, France, Denmark, Norway and… well pick any European country. It’s worth noting that almost all of those countries have some kind of funding available for small venues to access.
The Live Music Act does have its good points though, of course: it could introduce live music in towns where it does not exist, or greatly improve the quality of the live experience, if a pub landlord who really does give a shit decides to host bands in a decent space and on decent terms, and in doing so puts out of business the guy along the road who gave the bands nothing more than a case of lager to share between them. And it could also create some really interesting new venues in which music can be given the space it needs to fly.
But when you’ve got one of the main architects of the bill telling me, in the reception of City Hall last year, that because my argument is “commercial” (the idea that it might damage existing businesses) it is also “irrelevant”, then you can see why I have doubts that anyone involved in lobbying for the new Act had the first fucking idea about what the grassroots live industry actually needs to enable it to prosper. All this said, we live in a capitalist society. Some businesses will go to the wall and others will replace them, so I should probably just shut up and let market forces take their course.
CC: What could and should the music industry do to boost audiences and revenues (for both promoters and artists) at the grass roots end of the live market?
AI: My last comment notwithstanding: give them money. Hard cash. They need it to improve production levels, infrastructure, staff quality. The public purse is empty. It’s time the top promoters, bands and agents supported those who form the bedrock of the business.
I don’t know why I bang on about this so much – I don’t have a venue and I don’t want another one. It’s not my fight to have. I should keep my head down, and get on with running my business, but it’s hard to keep quiet when those above are wilfully negligent.
While I’m at it, the music business should stop accepting guest list if they can afford to pay in. Enormous amounts of money could be injected into the grassroots if those who could afford to pay stopped bleating about a £6 ticket price. I wrote something about this back in May last year. I figured that we gave away something like a quarter of a million pounds in guest list places at Luminaire.
CC: Is there anything the government could do to help? If you were in charge of policy, what changes would you make?
AI: Government can’t tell their arse from their elbow. Forget Government. The changes need to come from inside the industry. But if I was in charge, I’d hustle £1 million from The Southbank Centre’s £20m annual Arts Council funding and give ten grand each to 100 small venues to buy themselves new sound desks, outboard, mics, XLR cables, and to redecorate their backstage rooms.
Then I’d pull another million from The Royal Opera House and set up a fund to which any small venue could apply for money to improve the experience of artists and audience. That would be the only criteria. Want to build a new stage? Fit a new PA? Buy a sofa and fridge for backstage? Send your staff on a customer service course? Fine. Here’s the cash.
Then, just for fun (my tongue’s partly in my cheek here), I’d pull 50% of the Arts Council funding from The Barbican for one year – which would work out at about £285,000 – and give it to Brixton Windmill.
Just for the record, I love The Southbank Centre and The Barbican (and I enjoyed ‘The Nutracker’ at The Royal Opera House a few years back). They are world class facilities, and a city like London needs world class facilities, and they do good, important work for their local communities, for schools, for those deprived of opportunities, but we disproportionately fund the ‘high’ arts in this country, neglecting other – perhaps less cerebral – forms of music and the venues in which they’re housed. We glorify the spit and the grime, like it’s some perverse rite of passage.
As Nick Talbot of Gravenhurst says: “The enemy hides in plain sight. It calls itself rock n roll”.
CC: What advice would you have for any budding grassroots gig promoters out there?
AI: You’re in customer service. Act like it. If you don’t like customer service, don’t get into it. Don’t do pay-to-play. Smile. Help the bands load their gear in. Be respectful of your audience. Do not oversell the venue. Think of audience safety at all times. But don’t let artists take the piss. You’re not their mum and dad. You’re going to have to do their grocery shopping for them (when you’re sent their hospitality rider) but that doesn’t mean you need to stand in line at the butcher’s because they’ve demanded 28 thinly-sliced cuts of Iberian ham. How the hell we let hospitality riders get so out of hand I have no idea. A hot meal and some drink should do it. Anything else has no place on a rider. Clean socks and cigarettes? £200-worth of food and drink AND eight £15 buy-outs? Fuck off.
CC: What advice would you have for any entrepreneur interested in moving into the live music space?
AI: Everything I said above. And don’t take guest list.
CC: And what advice would you give to new bands looking to get established on the gig circuit?
AI: As I said above, don’t take the piss. Plus, remember the sound engineer’s name. Get on stage on time, get off stage on time. Don’t ask the venue if they can switch off their fire alarms so you can use your smoke machine. Tell your family and friends to pay to get in. If anyone should be supporting you financially, it’s them. Don’t let bad promoters screw you, but don’t sit on your arse and expect the room to be full without your help either. It’s a team effort. Write good music. There’s too much bad music already. And don’t do encores. Future Of The Left don’t do encores.
[this article was originally published by CMU, 6 February 2013]