Putting on gigs

I got an email today via last.fm from a lovely chap who saw me play at the Spitz a few weeks ago, and is wanting to bring over a band from Germany, and was looking for some tips on putting on gig. I got on a bit of a roll with the advice, and so thought I’d copy it over here as the ideas are pretty much applicable across the board. And, in reading them, you can see why house concerts are the way to go – minimal overheads, built in marketing network, bespoke venue, and great place to form cool relationships with your audience (assuming that, like me, you find meeting the lovely people who connect with what you do as interesting as playing it to them).

Anyway, here’s the letter…


Putting on gigs is tough, as it’s affected by so many variables. obviously your first thing to add up is how much it’s going to cost in absolute terms – so that includes all travel, accomodation, fees, equipment rental, additional staff needed and venue costs. Obviously, the smaller the band, the more chance you’ve got of keeping those costs down. Anything with a drummer becomes exponentially more complicated, due to the need for a much more complex sound system, and larger stage area in the venue. Travel from mainland Europe to here can be very expensive too, especially if the musicians are bringing instruments – consider the hand baggage and checked baggage limits on the airlines being considered when you’re looking at costs.

Once you’ve looked into that, you need to find a suitable venue. There are some venues that can be had for free – often they are the back room in a pub – but they rarely come with their own PA, and very rarely ever have any kind of built in audience or promotion channel/ticketing mechanism.

As an example, the Recycle Collective is run as cheaply as possible – over time i’ve built up a relationship with the owner of the venue, Darbucka, who now lets me book pretty much whatever I want – at least partly because I have a polite sit-down wine-drinkin’ food-eatin’ audience, who spend way more per head than club-night patrons do. I own a PA that works for what I book (there is one in the venue, I just don’t like it), and I book musicians who are either a) local or b) already on tour. I promise them no guarantee in advance, but split all money equally amongst the performers, minus tangible expenses like congestion charge… For this reason, almost all the musicians I ever book live in London, have their own gear and transport (if someone is getting a taxi each way to the gig, that’s probably going to eat up half of what we’ll make on the gig!)

The alternative is to find a night that already exists and will book them – like the Arctic Circle night that booked Hauschka and Max Richta – while I hadn’t heard of either of them, they clearly have a substantial following that Ben was able to tap into and put on an amazing night, but again, his events have a history and a certain level of ‘regular clientele’ – it’s really tough to put a gig on that makes money without that.

As a bench mark for some of the potential costs involved, 5000 A6 double-sided colour flyers costs about £80-£90 – you might be able to split the cost of that with the band’s record label if you put an ad for their latest album on the other side – you then need to get those distributed, either in bars/clubs/restaurants that have flyers available, or by standing outside targeted gigs, giving them out to people who will hopefully be interested.

Contacting the press is also tricky if you have no pedigree – I’ve finally started getting good write-ups in Time Out after years of them being largely indifferent to what I did, but I think it’s because someone who was already a fan of mine is now handling the jazz listings there.

So who to talk to? Ben Eshmade, for sure. Might also be worth approaching The Vortex in Dalston – they might be interested in helping out. And any other venues where you’ve seen similar gigs – Notting Hill Arts Centre, the Arts Depot, Cargo, The Bill Chill House, possibly the Regal Rooms in Hammersmith…

Bottom line, you can never do too much research, but make sure that you’re not promising something you can’t deliver on – in my head I cut in half the projected audience that anyone says they can bring in if they are putting on a show featuring me – people who like my music always overestimate how interested the general public will be in what I do… They do tend to love it when they get to hear it, but trying to get people out to gigs by people they’ve not heard of before is REALLY difficult.

upcoming live album in process..

So we’re finally getting round to listening through and editing the tracks for the Steve and Lobelia album. Very little is needing to be done to it, thanks to the fact that we recorded it during a ‘house’ concert at Powerbase Studio in Wisner Nebraska, which has the most amazing live room, and the recording equipment is top class. Dan Kane, the owner of the studio and engineer on the tracks did an amazing job, especially considering these are just two track recordings. You can tell that we’re at the end of a tour, as we’re both playing really well, and the looped vocal stuff is particularly special. There’s also a really great live take of MMFSOG and an all-fretless version of Jimmy James that I’m partlcularly pleased with…

You can hear two tracks from the recordings already, one on my myspace page and one on lobelia’s, though I’m not sure that the version of Black Hole Sun will make it onto it, purely because the logistics of releasing cover versions on albums that are going to be downloadable is a total nightmare.

Anyway, hopefully we’ll have it all edited in the next couple of hours, and then we can work out a strategy for releasing it… what fun!

Last night's Recycle Collective gig…

Ah, it’s good to be back Recycling! :o)

It took Lo. and i ages to get to the venue, thanks to nasty south London traffic, but we’d left plenty of time, so no panic. When we got there, Cleveland was already setting up, Sarda and Kari were downstairs, Oli was sorting out the venue, and all was familiar. We set up, and just listening to Cleveland soundcheck made me realise how much I’ve missed hearing him perform in the last 9 months – for all of 2006, he was doing the Recycle Collective every 2 or 3 months, so I got to both listen to and perform with him a lot. He’s definitely one of my favourite solo looping performers anywhere, and he gets more proficient with the technology every time I see him play.

So the gig itself started with me solo, with a couple of improvs, including the now-fairly-regular one based on Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G, and then I got Andrea Hazell up, for a big sprawling open ambient piece – Andrea’s voice lends a gravitas to everything she sings on, as noted before. Lovely stuff.

We then finished off the first half with some trio improvs, some cool funky stuff with Cleveland beatboxing, and some more spacey ambient things.

Second half started with Cleveland on his own, but he very quickly got Andrea up to join him, and their duo segment was really really wonderful – their voices combine so well, and the juxtaposition of his funkiness and her operatic poise was beautiful. I really hope we get to hear more of that!

Cleveland invited me back up, and we went into more funky, spacey territory with Cleveland launching into a tune from Carmen, which he and Andrea then played around with for a while which was both marvellous and hilarious, especially when Cleveland went into a patois/ragamuffin version – really magic stuff!

And to finish the night, I got Lo. up to sing with us, and she improvised a really gorgeous sound, that Cleveland added harmonies to, and the three of them stacked vocals for a big ambient ending. Lovely lovely music.

It was really lovely to play the vortex, though with the venue shift and the big break from the last show to this one, the audience numbers were down on our Darbucka averages… We should be back with a Darbucka show in October – watch this space, I’ll be booking it ASAP!

write up in Time Out for tomorrow night's Recycle Collective gig…

Once again, we’ve got a really lovely write up in Time Out

“Singularly talented solo looper/electric bassist Lawson moves his long running RC night from Darbuka to a new regular slot at the Vortex. Joining the ambient effects maestro tonight will be bewilderingly versatile singer Cleveland Watkiss, also looping his a capella voice, and Royal Opera singer Andrea Hazell, this will be breathlessly spontaneous, indefinable, music making.”

That’s rather nice, and true, and means you shouldn’t miss it!

Yet more places to find me on the web…

With musicians and listeners alike realising just how useless and archaic the MySpace interface is, a host of other options are springing up for musicians looking for an audience, and audiences looking for new music. One of the best ones I’ve found recently is Reverb Nation – I saw it a while ago when Seth Horan moved his mailing list over to it, and then today, the lovely Lo. re-alerted me to its existence, in relation to how it can be placed on one’s facebook page. So i created a profile, added the facebook plugin thingie, and away we go. It’s looking good.

click here to see my Reverb Nation Profile.

Time to instigate a gig checklist…

Each time something like this happens, I vow to never let it happen again… but it does. For last night’s gig at the Perseverence in Marylebone (that’s in London, worldwide bloglings), I managed to forget all but one of my foot controllers – no midi board for the Looperlative, no expression pedals, no volume pedal… just the two button footswitch that i use for the Lexicon… which did save my arse, as it meant I could still do rhythmic loops, which I could then rerecordf rom the Lexicon into the Looperlative. It made for an interesting gig, which was webcast (sorry I didn’t let you know before…) and I think will be archived somewhere to be watched at a later date… I’ll post the link, once I’ve checked out the general levels of crapness on it…

As it was Lo. played pretty well, considering I was without hoof-controls. And I did a couple of nice improv-y things at the beginning, including one based on Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in G, that I’ve done a couple of times before (with the best version I’ve done being the one at Tuesday’s gig at the Spitz).

So I’ll comment again on the show, once I’ve watched it back. The audience, however, were lovely – almost all friends and some people I haven’t seen in ages, which was particularly pleasing.

But I really have to be more vigilant about what I need to pack for gigs! doh!

Tuesday night's gig at The Spitz.




6-String Bass

Originally uploaded by Schrollum

Got back from Greenbelt on Tuesday morning (more on that in the full GB round-up coming soon), and barely had time for anything before having to pack my stuffs up and head out the door again for the gig at the Spitz, opening for Hauschka and Max Richter. I wasn’t familiar with either musician before the show, so didn’t have any particular plan of what to play.

Before i went on, the event organiser, Ben Eshmade, was DJ-ing, playing some really really beautiful music, which inspired me to stick to the more ambient mellow end of things, so I started with Grace and Gratitude, which morphed into a more electronic drum ‘n’ bassy thing (with that slap ‘n’ pop percussion idea I’ve used on quite a few improvs). I then played Behind Every Word, again, with big improv cadenza and with Looperlative weirdness at the beginning (actually it was MIDI footo-controller weirdness thanks to a pedal getting stuck, but it meant that the loopage didn’t happen quite as planned…) – and I finished up with an improv based around Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major. Much fun, and a fine set, though I say so myself, which was very well received. Hauschka’s music was beautiful prepared piano stuff, quite minimalist for the most part, and his stage persona was most endearing. Max Richter had a two person string section with him and a laptop, and played ice-cool piano-scapes, with lots of vocal samples and backwards stuff. Lovely, if a little to far to the blue end of the colour spectrum (I’m a hapless romantic, don’t you know ;o) )

All in a fine evening (including a delish curry on Brick Lane with Lo, Sarda and Kari). But I’m now knackered and definitely in need of some time off!

Back from Greenbelt

Am back from another fantastic Greenbelt Festival. I’m just off out to play a show at The Spitz, so haven’t got time for full rundown now, but a few highlights would include Billy Bragg, Beth Rowley, Nizar Al-Issa, Iain Archer, Duke Special, and of course getting to play with the great people I was playing bass with – Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski – all lovely peoples and musical geniuses.

More later…

What greeted me on arriving at Greenbelt…




Steve Lawson again

Originally uploaded by jystewart

So I back at Greenbelt; my 16th, I think… We arrived last night, late thanks to some weirdness with a tent that was being posted to us (was sent to arrive Wednesday, ‘arrived’ Thursday but strangely nobody heard the courier ring the bell at the flat, called the courier company, who offered to deliver it on Thursday, no good, what else? can meet driver, called driver, met driver, suddenly we’re 3 hours late leaving London…) – so we set up the tent in the dark. But it’s up.

Anyway, we wander into the contributors area, and find a little display for a virtual greenbelt band – little figurines of musicians that you can compile into your favourite GB line-up… and one of them is me! That’s it in the picture – nice detail with the painted nails… :o)

The gig today with Sarah Masen went great – lots of fun playing on the big big stage. Now we’re settling in for the night, and are off to see Over The Rhine and Billy Bragg. Hurrah!