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Hunter S. Thompson once said "The music industry is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side."
Thompson, of course, always had a cutting style, but his line dates to long before the internet took over the world of music, and it’s fair to say things have only gotten worse.
The economics of the music industry is complex, and anyone who gets into it for the money is probably more than a touch optimistic. It’s in the industry’s DIY corners, be they store shows or grotty basement parties, where much of the less commercially-driven stuff takes place. Where people host out of love, breaking even is often considered a win and events existing in the first place is the primary aim.
The now defunct Hideaway House - an exercise in suburban back-yard mayhem that existed only in Dubliner Dylan Haskins' back room or barn, and attracted the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar - is perhaps the ultimate Irish example. If you asked Haskins "why?", the answer was simply because he could.
Emmet Conlon, owner of Dublin-based DIY-promoter Homebeat, has a similar angle. "The music industry is like betting on horses on acid," he tells GoldenPlec. "Something like Homebeat is never going to be able to compete with the big name promoters. The difference, though, is the more intimate experience. We have a focus on alternative spaces and on curating, on the overall feel of events."
Homebeat’s Thirty Four cafe - a new enterprise on the South Circular Road that gives the promoter a physical home as well as a commerce aspect - has drawn in some noteworthy up-and-coming Dublin acts, such as Saint Sister and Carriages, but the key is in keeping things personal and community based. As Conlon says, "I am Homebeat, and Homebeat is me." The bands bring customers into the cafe, of course, but ultimately the message is a simple one: character, essentially, sells.
Small Ideas Can Have Global Impact
A more international take comes from Sofar Sounds, a global organisation of music played in front room venues for donation-only audiences. Their shows are filmed, and take place in Parisian bakeries, or Los Angeles beach huts, or some kid’s bedroom in some suburban housing estate. In fact, only the organisers and the hosts know where they take place until the day before they do.
"We are, and always will be, a proponent for the unsigned," Clare O’Hanlon - Team Leader in Sofar Sounds Dublin incarnation - tells GoldenPlec.
While strictly DIY, Sofar Sounds is fast becoming a global phenomenon. They’ve hosted The Overcoats and Bastille, Hozier and Lianne La Havas, and in some cities run a dozen shows a month.
"It's hard work," O’Hanlon admits. "We are fortunate enough that Sofar is recognised globally and people have turned this into a career."
O’Hanlon emphasises the organisational side of things, saying "Build them in advance, always check in with all parties and enjoy the ride. Be involved for the right reasons and not for any personal gain."
"Persevere and make sure you enjoy it," she adds, acknowledging that such events are a labour of love. "Mainly we will reach out to a commercial venue and past attendees will offer their homes, already knowing how the gigs work. The music industry is a small and tough game, but the people are amazing."
Tools To Rise To The Challenges
Of course, there are always challenges to this kind of thing: how to make enough money to cover the costs of an event, how to promote it or how to get acts involved.
A typical problem with a free event, for example, might fall in controlling numbers: if you simply announce and hope for the best, 100 people rocking up at a venue with only a 50 capacity is a risk factor that does promoters no favours, with overcrowding or turning away the only reasonable options. Thinking ahead through pre-ticketing systems, even for free events, is a must, and saves carefully thought-out freebies turning into the wrong kind of publicity.
Self-service ticketing providers like Eventbrite, who offer a solid online ticketing and registration system for free as long as your event is free to attend, are worth bearing in mind to control attendee numbers, just in case the authorities start asking questions about overcrowding. Eventbrite actually makes for a handy one-stop shop for free events in general, offering mobile ticketing, printable tickets, on-the-door scanning and tracking of attendees, especially considering the fact that it’s free to use for free events and offers free promotion options through email and Facebook, the latter being particularly important to event organisers like Conlon:
"Social platforms are something we can use to show personality," Conlon feels. "It’s what makes us stand out, which is important when you don’t have a big budget to throw at it."
It's About Community
Sofar Sounds have just launched in Cork and Galway, and are looking into a big summer event bringing together all the Irish outlets. One of Ireland’s fastest-growing festivals Knockanstockan is the long-term result of a roughshod DIY gig scene, too, while Homebeat’s new cafe seems to get more event-driven and busier by the week. "Even if this all collapses tomorrow, I’ll never regret that I tried it," Conlon concludes. "I’ve been a physiotherapist, worked in radio and been in the family business. What I do now is not very formal and not very industry associated. It’s about community. The audience and crowd like that."
They do, because music isn’t just about overpriced beer and selling thousands of tickets as you blow from city to city. It’s about connection; it’s the sound of our emotions. And great things often come from DIY moments. Feeling inspired to create a unique event?
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