I know the tour finished last week, but I've still not recovered. I'm missing it massively, it really was great fun - which you may think is odd considering what happened a couple of years ago:
In October 2014, I had a tour which I announced would be my last. It was a real emotional time for me. I'd been self promoting (either my old band or myself) since 2007, I was tired, jaded and feeling like I wasn't achieving my dream. I always wanted to be one of those acts that played arenas and stadiums and the huge venues around the world. It just wasn't happening for me, in fact, I was struggling to make my headline tours breakeven after years of all this promotion. I wanted to have a backing band that I could pay to come on tour with me and a crew that were on my payroll. I felt that I was a failure because I wasn't at that level. I was spending so much time promoting myself that I didn't even feel like a musician anymore - so I announced I would do no more.
Of course, the tour was then a whole load of fun and the idea of giving it up perplexed me. I knew that I had to take a break from the self promo so over the last two years I've really cut back on what I've been doing. I spent a long time practising and then doing a lot more covers gigs. I was singing and playing better than ever, and still doing the odd one off gig of my own songs, and Danny Gruff organised his first headline tour for last July and then three dates for us and the Candle Thieves last October, so I kept my toes in the water.
I accepted that the big dream was over, but that didn't mean I had to stop playing music or more important, I didn't have to stop playing my music. There are a small number of people out there who want to hear my songs and the number may be small, but I'm just thrilled they want to listen. Essentially my ego has been reset and I'm now comfortable with the level I'd achieved. Not just comfortable, but proud of it.
This year had been mainly about covers gigs. I'd done my living room tour in February, but other than that, it was other people’s songs... and a lot of those gigs! LOADS of them in fact and I love those gigs, so I was happy. Then Abi (who promotes the Christmas shows I've been doing every year at the Cinnamon Club in Altrincham) and told me that she'd found the perfect venue for me in Salford. We booked the show and she asked who else I'd like to play. I invited Joe McCorriston to do it with me as I'd always wanted to do a gig with him, and then we decided to do a short tour for the first week of September. This was five dates in tiny venues and it was so much fun and while on this tour two things happened.
1. I got an e-mail from Bry asking if Danny Gruff and I would like to support him for his next tour in October. I said yes.
2. I got an e-mail from Dean Lemon from Room 94 asking if I'd like to support them on three shows in October. I said yes.
Suddenly I had a large support tour in October to be excited about and that was fine by me. Support tours are hard to come by, and I used to waste so much time e-mailing agents and venues asking for support slots, but never getting anything. Often not even a reply.
So I was excited. I made online posters and started telling everyone about the gigs. I'd got a new t-shirt designed and made a compilation CD (with some beautiful artwork by Laura Harrison). Things were looking up.
Then Bry got offered a huge support tour and he had to postpone all of his tour other than the London date. This gave Danny and me a little bit of a headache, but we knuckled down and rearranged some dates and put a tour together with the tour of us, with the London show with Bry in the middle and the three Room 94 shows at the end. We were aware that many people had brought tickets for the Bry tour, and we didn't want them to feel like they had to put their hands in their pockets again (even though those tickets would be refunded if they couldn't make the rearranged dates whenever they would be), so we came up with the idea of ‘pay what you want gigs’. Now this isn't a new concept, but it was a risk for us. Imagine hiring a venue in Newcastle for £150, having to pay for petrol to get up there, sort out some accommodation (fortunately someone put us up after every show, which saved us so much money!), to then have the risk of no one paying anything to watch the show. We were only being paid £50 between us for the Bry shows, but we didn't have to hire the venues, so we figured this shouldn't be too difficult. Amazingly, the risk paid off.
Now neither Danny nor I write and perform music to make money, but we have decided to be full time musicians which means we have bills to pay from the money we make from our music. Our covers gigs do a great job of covering this and giving us a safety net that allows us to do our own music and lose some money in the worse case scenario. Yet, we don't think it's a crime to make money from our own music and would love to do it. The pure fact that people are turning up to listen to our songs is huge, but the fact that they then chose to pay us when they didn't have to is even more mind boggling! Now of course there were some who didn't pay or paid very little, but that is absolutely fine, and I was actually having to constantly reassure people that this was ok. I was getting messages from people saying ‘I want to come, but I'm broke and I don't want to be the person who pays nothing.’ I was replying saying ‘We've chosen to do it this way, so it's fine, we just want people to come out. If you end up with some money in future then go online and buy some merchandise or support some other smaller musicians and take a friend, pay it forward, or just spend the day listening to our songs on spotify!’
What happened was that people who we've priced out of our previous tours were able to come, and those who normally can pay, did so. This is the dream come true and hopefully gives us some loyalty amongst everyone who came along. I've now decided that this is the only way I want to tour in future. I can try my best to keep costs to a minimum, which will mean no band gigs I'm afraid, but who knows where this idea will take us.
Now of course, when I get offered support gigs, I have no control in the pricing of the tickets, and it's important I take these gigs in order to try and get some new people listening, but for all future gigs I book (and unfortunately the Christmas party gig was already on sale), I will try my best to make sure they're ‘pay what you want’.
The other beautiful thing about this type of system is that people could bring their friends along and it not cost them a lot of money. If said friends then liked what they saw and heard, there was a bucket there for them to contribute if they saw fit. At our level, this presents a huge opportunity. We're not on the TV or the radio and it's harder than ever to get people to take a risk on an act they've not heard about, but this seems to be a way around it.
So I'm inspired again; inspired to be touring; inspired to be connecting with people with music and my lyrics (I know that sounds pretentious, but it's a great feeling); and inspired to keep doing this.
So for the rest of this year I've got covers gigs and the Christmas Party gigs, in London on 18 December and in Altrincham on 22 December.
But 2017 offers some big opportunities to do more. To begin with, I'm doing four shows up in the north of England with Bry at the start of February, followed by my House Show Tour. I used to always charge £50 a show on these tours, but I've decided that people can pay what they want. I'm just happy to come and play for you and your friends and hopefully it will all work out! If you'd like to be part of the House Show Tour. Please drop me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Plans are in place for a tour in March and maybe July as well.
Thank you for coming out to the shows. Thank you for supporting my music and independent musicians.
Main photo was by Nats Ellis