The Death Of The London Music Scene, Part 1.
by Jimmy Mulvihill
14th February 2015
The music industry is one of the most competitive industries imaginable, and London is it’s epicentre. For hundreds of years many acts from all over the world have travelled here to use the capital as a launchpad for their careers, and there are also numerous bands fortunate enough to have been brought up here. Many of which are our customers, and typically their locational fortune is not lost upon them. Like a goldfish that grows to it’s bowl their ambitions grow to the size of their potential market, and considering their market is more than 10 million people, this means that we deal with a lot of bands who have grand ambitions and a focus to match, and this genuinely makes working in a rehearsal studios one of the more enjoyable jobs that we could imagine.
Yet progress is not always easy, and the vast majority of bands that come to Bally will talk to us about the band is progressing for them. We are also thankful that many bands feel that they can be honest with us, with many of these conversations being focused on the immense challenges that they face as a band – like how they only managed to pull 18 or 19 people to their last gig, just under the amount needed to get paid, but how they are hopeful that their next gig will be more successful, or how the promoter of the show had failed to even try to match bands with their stylistic counterparts. We see bands working hard getting flyers printed, with money being saved for new recordings, new songs being worked on, and demos being placed on the desk for other bands to take, and this entire process is based around one simple idea – progress: writing songs that are better, getting more people to come to concerts, getting better recordings made, getting more press coverage, etc.
Although the bands work hard and there is a genuine abundance of talent amongst them, it would be a lie to say that the rewards that the average band gets for their efforts is anywhere near what they hoped, or that is it even approaching what they deserve. In the majority of cases their progress is stunted and they fall short of their potential due to factors other than their musical ability or dedication to their craft. Based on what we see, the biggest stumbling block bands have is not based around their talent, work ethic or focus to their music. Instead, it is everything else apart from the actual music that they find the most challenging – things like getting people to come to their gigs, getting radio play, making enough money from gigs to cover their costs, and finding the time in their busy schedule to rehearse.. There are some bands that have come to us that have gone on to be very successful, while other bands that were equally as talented never made the same progress as they were simply unable to get the same breaks . When people hear their music the reaction is positive, it just so happens that not enough people hear it in the first place.
Amongst all of this hard work and struggle there is genuine hope and optimism, bursts of progress here and there and a mix of successful and not so successful gigs, but thankfully, in the case of the vast majority of bands, they also tell us how much joy being in a band brings them and how they are happy despite their lack of commercial success and critical acclaim. It’s great to hear from bands who have this attitude, not only because it shows that they are in a band for the right reasons, but also as it means that the entire fate of the band does not rely on factors that are out of their own control. Yet it is still very frustrating to see so many bands not get the commercial success that they deserve, and the worst part of it is that in most cases it is down to reasons other than the quality of their music.
If a band made poor music and never became successful that would be fair, but when you see bands make great music yet end up being held back because they do not have enough money left over after paying for their rent, transport and bills to invest in the band, or how their fan-base cannot afford to come to gigs despite really wanting to as they have increased tuition fees, or they cannot afford the transport to the gig, it becomes incredible depressing. Sadly the only conclusion that we can come to is that as London becomes more populated, more expensive and more gentrified, it is also slowly becoming an awful location for a band to be based in.
Every now and then you also get glimpses of huge optimism of what London can offer bands who, until recently, were also just starting to make their way in the music scene. During the Christmas period we read this article about Bombay Bicycle Club playing a sold out gig at Earl’s Court, with Dave Gilmour coming out on stage to play two songs with them, one of them being Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
It’s something that most bands could only dream about, and it’s great to read these success stories to balance the stories of less successful gigs. To see a band that first started rehearsing at Bally as teenagers, who were talented, hardworking, lovely people getting such success fills us with hope that other bands can also hope for the same, and that somehow all of the effort that bands put in will be rewarded. One minute they were washing their own cups in our 99p plastic washing up bowel, the next minute they are playing to 10,000+ people. It helps to encourage bands that such success is still possible, and that there is some kind of correlation in the efforts that bands put in, and the results that they get for this effort.
It would have been great if that is what the article had been about, but sadly it was not a congratulatory pat on the back for them. Instead it was about how it was the last ever gig at Earls Court, a music venue that has stood since 1887 but is now being demolished to make way for a property development that has 0% affordable housing, with flats that will be sold from £545,000 in the first phase. It would seem that as housing is worth more than music venues, the music venues have to go, and it further bring home just what a challenge bands have, particularly in London. Of course more housing is desperately needed here, but to lose so many historic music venues to do it shows what scant regard there is for the music scene in the capital. The people who are making the decisions as to what direction London goes in seem to have given no concern at all to it’s musical heritage. None at all. Bands are entering and investing lots of their own personal money into an industry that is deemed expendable and irrelevant by the powers that be, despite it bringing in £3.8 Billion into the UK economy in 2013-2014 and being such an integral part of the UK’s culture and identity.
New bands based here have so many challenges: both the smaller and larger venues are being closed down, rehearsal studios are being bulldozed, noise regulation rules are cutting the opportunity to set up their own studios, while the rise in the cost of living makes it harder for them to find the time to create such great music, and harder still to sell it to their fan base who have less disposable income to spend. Their fan-base are working longer hours and so have less chance to see bands live, and musicians can barely find the time to build up a buzz about their band. The odds are stacked against them, and when you work in a rehearsal studios you get to see many more of those challenges when you chat to bands. We have seen numerous bands give up, loving the process of making and playing music but growing tired of having so many other challenges to overcome. Speaking honestly, there are so many bands that we talk to that share in the same frustrations that it is clear to see that this train of thought is becoming more and more common.