Cloth Cat are a not-for-profit social enterprise which provides opportunities for disadvantaged people to get involved in music. Every Thursday, they install themselves at The Chemic Tavern in Woodhouse and provide one of the most eclectic open mic nights available. Leeds Unsigned went to speak to the projects directors and experience it first hand. It didn’t disappoint, between magicians, story tellers, singers and bands, Cloth Cat have covered every base with startling quality.
Mike Jolly, Director, said: “It’s about using music and the performing arts as a vehicle for change.”
As discussed in the previous article. Earning a living as an unsigned musician can seem impossible. Most musicians will have part-time if not full-time jobs which pay the bills as they write and try to make it in their free time.
However, if like Jimmy Weaver, you don’t mind so much about the fame and the glamour – you can still carve out a life within music, which pays.
After arriving in Leeds in 2008, Jimmy has sought out music related jobs which he can fit around or even incorporate into his passion for music. He does this by subsidising his income from playing music by working at a practice rooms, promoting shows, doing live sound and helping touring bands (either bands on tour in Leeds, which he’ll put up for the night, or bands from Leeds who are going on tour, which Jimmy helps book shows elsewhere using contacts he’s built up over years.)
I spoke to Jimmy about his chosen career path and the challenges which face new artists today. I did this because wherever I turned in Leeds (specifically in the punk scene) I was told he could probably help me out.
Leeds Unsigned: There’s a lot of negativity surrounding job prospects and pay for musicians, do you think that’s fair?
Jimmy Weaver: It is if you’re looking to just play music but some of the negativity is caused by people not really thinking through how they’re going to fund themselves. Bands will spend too much money on advertising before they’re actually known . Also, bands need to have recordings, some don’t but if you’re gigging people should be able to listen first nowadays.
LU: What’s your opinion about online sharing and giving music away for free or even at a loss?
JW: Exposure’s key. Gigs earn money, then come tours and merchandise, then you can start looking at being profitable. Until that point, I think you should be okay with sending stuff out for free. Basically the best thing any new band can do is gig as much as possible. If people know who you are, you become a go-to person.
LU: Is being a go-to person your niche at the moment? Or are you just doing what you enjoy?
JW: I am doing what I enjoy and if I didn’t have bills and stuff, I would do this for free. That should always be at the heart of it. It’s not an easy option. I work several different jobs to keep afloat but ultimately, I’d rather this than a 9-5 which paid well but didn’t involve music.
As for the go-to guy question: I suppose I am a bit, but this just comes back to the first point. You have to get out there and be a friendly face. A fair chunk of my work comes when something’s gone wrong and a promoter or venue needs something at the last minute, by being approachable, you end up getting that work.
LU: So, where specifically do you work? And what do you do there?
I work at 309 studios, where I set up rooms, help bands with anything they need and generally look after the place when Kev (the owner) isn’t here. I also work at The Chemic Tavern, where I do the sound and promote gigs, as well as working on the bar – which is great for meeting musicians, the pub’s very music focussed. I also help at Sound Off Promotions which is a company based in Glasgow and Leeds, we help touring bands and put on gigs in both cities.
LU: So, from your experience, the music business is not a baron, jobless wasteland?
JW: Definitely not. I mean, I play in bands as well and that doesn’t pay particularly well, but I do that for the love of playing anyway. You can do all sorts, including writing, promoting, just be ready to help out and do favours and eventually it comes back around.
On the 6th February, FACT in Liverpool will host an Open Discussion about fair pay for musicians, organised by Bido Lito Magazine. The point is a hotly contended one, with the ever-present quandary of ‘is ‘exposure’ and doing what you love enough?’ Or should those enjoying or profiting from your work chip in for petrol money and practice rooms?
The digital boom has brought with it countless dilemmas for unsigned artists. Spotify, for instance, pays per streams, this means that a record label which owns the rights to, say, Nirvana’s back catalogue, gets the same kick back as a new artists who’s used their own money to produce an album which will get comparatively few streams, therefore earning them very little. On the other hand in an age where ‘no online presence’ is tantamount to ‘non-existent’, artists that choose not to participate will suffer from the lack of exposure.
In order to ensure some return for their investment in the online market place, some bands go straight to iTunes, that way they get paid for digital sales. However, as there is no open sharing site (like Spotify) that is free and widely known, the initial problem of being heard still remains.
In an interview with Leeds Unsigned, Victor Comben, (who’s just starting out as a singer songwriter after years in bands) said: “You want people to listen, that’s the main thing, otherwise you’re just playing to yourself. The thing is that making, producing and promoting your music is time consuming and expensive, if you’re getting nothing back from that, it’s just not possible to keep going. Eventually your rent becomes more urgent than your album sales.”
So, for new musicians, what are the options? The first is to get all your music on Spotify and iTunes, you pay for the priviledge but if all goes to plan, you’ll end up in profit. This is a risky strategy for those who play music instead of earning a reliable income though as an unsuccessful campaign of this type will leave you shouldering the costs of all the production, the time of writing and the cost of being on iTunes and Spotify, without you actually having an income – in fact, you’re probably in the red already just from making the album.
Option 2 is to only get on Spotify, then sell albums privately , like at gigs or using Bandcamp. If you do this you need to be putting an album on there that will be listened to repeatedly, over a long period of time. You get a smaller payout per/stream on Spotify then the larger one-off payment yielded by digital sales.
Which leads us to option 3; only iTunes. This seems the most profitable as you don’t need as much attention to make your money back, but you need people to have heard you first and if you’re not on streaming sites, you may struggle to create the buzz needed to release a profitable album.
20th February 2014
Following the discussion, Leeds Unsigned spoke to Christopher Torpey, Editor of Bido Lito Magazine who chaired the event.
Leeds Unsigned: What were the main talking points of the discussion?
Christopher Torpey: We had 10 or 12 points laid out that we wanted to address. In order to do that we invited people from all corners of the industry. We had promoters, a representative from the Musicians Union, musicians and ourselves. We weren’t out to get anyone so we wanted a balanced debate. Mainly, we were talking about how musicians and promoters can best work together, there did seem to be a battle line drawn in the sand between the two, usually over one off events where someone feels they’ve been ripped off.
LU: So what came of the debate?
CT: We weren’t out to find solutions, we just wanted to get as many people involved together at one and talk about it. Every case is different and should be treated as such. I think one point which was agreed by all was that musicians need to put an accurate value on their work. Whether this means asking for more money or knowing not to ask for too much. Likewise, promoters have to keep everyone informed about what’s going on when it comes to pay.
LU: Was Pay to Play mentioned?
CT: It was, that was part of the reason we invited the Musicians Union. They reiterated to the musicians that they should be asking for money to play. They spend time and money getting to even the local scene and should be rewarded. Some young bands don’t like asking for money or don’t know they’re being exploited by the promoters. That said, they also have to be realistic, it’s unlikely you’ll get a rider and travel costs if the promoter’s had to spend a lot on headliners, venue and sound.
LU: What would you personally like to see change?
CT: I’d like to see more transparency. Bands should know what they’re getting paid before hand, if the night’s a success, the promoters can pay more. I’d also like more of these discussions – maybe not in this format but just more communication. Musicians and promoters are equally reliant on each other, you can’t take one element out without it all falling down. Also, with online music sharing being so prevalent, gigs are now often a bands primary source of income so it’s more important than ever to co-operate.
Bido Lito also live tweeted and created a Storify for the event, which can be found here: https://storify.com/BidoLito/work-and-play-are-musicians-fairly-paid
The Wardrobe was the lively, vaguely industrial setting for the announcements and celebrations as a crowd (itself a microcosm of the festival) of suited arty types, indie kids and confused regulars gathered to toast the coming of another Live At Leeds. The festival showcases both signed and unsigned acts across a faithful legion of Leeds’ venues and will play out from the 2nd to the 5th of May.
Leeds Unsigned will be covering the festival, so naturally attended and as someone with little experience of Live at Leeds, here’s what I learnt.
Over 100 bands will play across a variety of venues including Brudenell Social Club, The Wardrobe, The Cockpit, The Library, The O2 Academy and Leeds Met among others. As well as music, the festival also comprises fringe acts, crafts and the infamous 5-a-side tourment to finish, in which bands play for the Champions Trophy, on Monday the 5th.
Among the bands announced (a full list can be found at http://liveatleeds.com/) are Albert Hammond Jr (formerly of The Strokes), Blood Red Shoes, Pulled Apart By Horses, The Hold Steady, Johnny Flynn and local favourites I Like Trains. Unsigned acts will also be out in force, with notable locals including Blue Laurel and Allusondrugs.
Live At Leeds isn’t just about music and football however, an intellectual presence adorns the festivities in the form of The Unconference. This will be held at Wardrobe on Friday 3rd May and is a panel discussion. Subjects earmarked for examination so far are: Music consumption in a digital landscape and networking. The Unconference also serves as a means for bands to have their music evaluated by the panel. The demo panel will give tips to bands on recording and also the business end of the industry but this also doubles up as an opportunity for bands to be spotted by managers, journalists and labels.
The evening will culminate in a gig, free in to Unconference attendees and Live At Leeds wristband holders. Stoner rockers Black Moth, award winning blues rock duo Wet Nuns and local chaos merchants BearFoot Beware will provide an undoubtedly fitting, climatic end to what promises to be a day of variety and top drawer entertainment.
THE Independent Music Venue Week begins on January 27th and the official nights are hosted by venues in 18 major UK cities for unsigned music.
The week itself was born under the same celebratory spirit as Record Store Day and the Awards for Independent Music (AIM) which is hosted by the Association for Independent Music. It has taken significantly longer for the venues to get their respect though. Record Store Day began 6 years ago and AIM has been tipping their hat to independent artists since 1999.
Leeds Unsigned spoke to Richard Watson, a promoter with 20 years experience in the industry, who now runs the weekly 360 Club at The Library and was responsible for The Library’s selection to champion independent venues:
Leeds Unsigned: So how did the Library get the chance to champion Independent Venue Week in Leeds?
Richard Watson: Well there were us, the Brudenell Social Club and the Cockpit in the running but we were chosen because of our commitment to emerging talent really. It’s been recognised that we help bands starting out and offer a bit more in the way of guidance then most venues.
LU: How important is a week like this for unsigned music and the venues involved?
I think it’s brilliant. It’s drawn a lot of attention from the media, from bloggers to national press. It’s also raised awareness of the music scene in Leeds. It can be a bit of a struggle to get people out to see live, new music sometimes and something like this will always help to draw a crowd.
LU: Is this week a reaction to an increase in struggling venues?
RW: It doesn’t seem that way. It is hard though, often a lack of knowledge or experience will be the cause of a venue not doing well. That’s the thing, you have to be constantly working, it’s the same as any business. People like Nathan at the Brudenell, Simon at Belgrave and myself are constantly meeting bands, organising press coverage and promoting by filming gigs as well as the usual social media use. It’s not really enough to just set up a Facebook event I don’t think.
LU: In terms of new artists, what are their major challenges?
RW: Well, we help them to think about media use, how to promote themselves and we make sure everyone that plays gets something for their time. I don’t think it’s fair to say to bands, “you can play if you sell x amount of tickets”, obviously, they need to draw a crowd if they want to succeed and that’s very important to the venue, but we try and do an awful lot of promotion with press and posters and advertising and treat the bands fairly. I think one of the main challenges bands have is not being paid and not promoting properly, that’s often where they need help.
Leeds will be paying homage to a relentless and hardworking local scene at The Library, the eclectic venue on Hyde Park corner. Usually the upstairs events room is home to indie rockers and comedians but on Friday 31st January, Allusondrugs will headline a packed line up of local favourites.
Allusondrugs are an intense noise tsunami, mainly consisting of 90’s grunge, stoner rock and metal, all topped off with a vocal style which is pop infused and catchy enough for them to stay accessible.
Joining them on the bill are, Forever Cult; another local band. They inject chaos into indie, turning it into something closer to punk rock: Being both gritty and catchy.
Fizzler will be providing the garage punk for the evening, although straying into most punk genres along the way and Perfect Crimes provide screeching vocals and heavy riffs, courtesy of the 80’s heavy metal scene.
The Brudenell Social Club has long been the heart of Hyde Park. Situated between two shabby garages, flat roofed and originally, exclusively a working mens’ club, the Brude’ (as it’s locally known) has gradually transformed into a hub of activity. Huge acts including Franz Ferdinand, The Kooks and the Kaiser Chiefs have graced it’s stage – often under a veil of secrecy, using pseudonyms – and it remains the prime venue for touring bands, often outdoing the O2 and Cockpit for a spot on the tour poster.
On November the 30th a celebration will be held to commemorate 100 years of underground bliss. The line-up is suitably impressive. Forward Russia headline with This Et Al reforming for a one-off performance in honour of the club.
This Et Al’s gesture encapsulates the value of the Brude’. Increasingly gigs are being trumped by bigger nights with cheaper drinks. The Brudenell has retained that essential charm that inspires loyalty. The people of Leeds and further afield want the Brudenell to keep blazing a trail, they want it to succeed. It’s rare for a venue to have such importance to its patrons that they feel almost as if they have a stake in it themselves.
The family run business has made all the right moves. The success of the Brudenell can be attributed to a sharp business sense. They offer free pool until 4pm every day, the drinks are cheap with a couple of nice but unusual choices on draught, the atmosphere remains laid back and friendly. It’s an utterly unpretentious pub with an impressive record for entertaining the masses of Leeds.
I went round asking bands, customers and staff how they saw the success of the Brudenell Social Club and which factors they considered important for it’s success:
Blue Laurel (Band)
“It’s just been there so long it’s known. It’s one of the first venues that gets mentioned when you talk about Leeds’ scene and that’s because it’s relentless. There’s always something happening, and somehow this has grown to being a serious venue with massive bands playing there.”
Jake Morton (Musician/Fan)
“It’s far more personal than other larger venues. There seems to be a far better atmosphere when you’re so close to the artist. Even if you’re not overly bothered by who you’re seeing you still manage to get excited about it and I think that has a lot to do with the venue itself.”