Why aspiring musicians are going back to the pub
There was a time, not long ago, when any fool with a guitar, a camera and an internet connection could feasibly get a record deal. Of course, it's never been as simple as "post it and they shall come", but if said fool had talent and persistence, they could build a loyal fanbase for little cash — almost purely from their home.
It's not that gigging had lost its relevancy or importance, but musicians no longer had to rely on it as their main source of gaining new fans or potential recognition from those who happened to be involved in the music industry and also liked the lasagne at The Nag's Head.
The rise of early social media and video sharing sites gave musicians a chance to build a loyal and passionate fanbase whose promise to buy their next album would be kept. It allowed those who were lucky enough to become superstars on these platforms to skip the pubs and start playing to people who cared what they had to say.
It is difficult to remember that the thought of someone getting a record deal or establishing a career in music off the back of a few cover videos was once an extraordinary idea. Now it has become a common occurrence, making the internet feel much more like the pub. It was once a unique opportunity for those who were savvy and committed enough to make a go of things — no matter their financial or personal circumstances — then the music industry caught up.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the change took place, but there has been a noticeably different atmosphere in the past 18 months or so. Perhaps it was the launch of high-profile, giant-company-backed streaming services such as Apple music. Or maybe it was the global push from social media platforms to ensure longevity in a highly competitive world through 'subtle' monetisation.
I once had a trending track on SoundCloud. Two, in fact. Difficult to imagine now there are promoted tracks, premier accounts and visual benefits for all artists on major labels. Are you going listen to my little song or the one with a bright yellow background?
And what about YouTube? What about Spotify and the aforementioned Apple Music? We get paid for those if we get enough streams. The problem is, it has become increasingly difficult to get people to those places in the first place. Unless you have a load of mates or you know the right people, the lack of reach and engagement you achieve across social media without paid advertising can become disillusioning.
Since big businesses discovered there was a lot of money to be made, they encroached upon places that were once as much the territory of the independent artist as the established. Now we're all in a big hall shouting over the top of each other and begging for a chance to be heard, and it's getting harder. More people are entering the hall, and it's even charging a £9.99 per month admission fee now. Or so I hear.
So that's why we're all going back to the pub. Possibly not just to perform but also for a drink. Personally, I'm unsure whether I want a career in the music industry and I'm certainly not so full of myself as to think that any label who saw me sing one note would sign me in a heartbeat, but those who want to live off their music are giving up on the label dream and getting out there again. In the fresh(ish) air, next to two people on a hen do and opposite a bloke eating a ready-meal chicken korma. It's not that they didn't bother with pub gigs and open mic nights before, but rather that they sold more records and earnt more recognition online. You can get the landlord of The Red Lion to give you a couple of tenners for your performance, but you can barely get someone to listen to your album right now online, let alone buy it! You might get someone to turn away from the fruit machine for five seconds if your music takes their fancy, but you can't get someone to click on a link anymore. *tragic sigh*
If we can take anything positive out of this, it's that people have begun to appreciate the benefits of playing in front of people who don't care. People who might heckle you or worse, ignore you completely as you pour your heart out. But it's where we have the opportunity to smooth out the cracks. To develop as an artist and find our feet doing the thing that we love. To continue to push the limits of what we can achieve as individuals. If you are playing the pubs, embrace and enjoy it. It is an extraordinary feat for a human being to create a piece of art and showcase it in front of a group of other humans. Whether they care or not.
But please, someone make a decent platform for fools like me with our guitars.