People start bands all hoping for the same thing: to rehearse, play shows, grow, and then ‘make it’. Why, Dave Grohl has never had a music lesson in his life and look at him now! However, times have changed since then, and the industry is now harder than ever to crack into. So, how do young bands now try to achieve these dreams? I’ve spoken to three budding bands local to Brighton about their trials and tribulations with the music scene, to try to discover just what lengths our fresh-faced, optimistic new bands have to go to just to get that sweet recognition they desire.
Brighton is home to a very diverse music scene: venues such as Concorde 2 and The Brighton Centre are popular tour venues for a lot of bands, whereas the sheer amount of pubs and clubs that thrive in the town centre and along the seafront are also perfect stages for bands and acts to promote themselves in. With all of this a simple bus ride away, surely it must be a great place to be a band looking to make an impact on the world? Charis Nathan, admin member of the Brighton University Music Society and lead singer of her band ‘Sticky Twitch and the Scant Whiskers’ has seen some success in Brighton due to the amount of opportunities available. When asked about gigging in Brighton, Charis said: “Our live opportunities come from the music society organising them. Venues like that we’re a music society because we can promise that we can get enough people to turn up. So as for gig opportunities, we can kind of always find someone from the society a gig if they want to play.” For Sticky Twitch and the Scant Whiskers, playing live is for the enjoyment – for people to get involved, which is why the music society has gifted them with the opportunities in Brighton. The fact that her society can fill venues helps her band to get noticed on the local scene, as Charis herself adheres to by stating that venues “need a lot of people to be there to buy drinks because that makes it worth their while. If just a few people turn up and buy a couple of drinks, then the venue has made a loss.” When asked if she thought her band could ever progress further however, she admitted that without this tie to the Universities’ music society, it would be tough, particularly considering the life of a student and how term times affect their ability to practice and organise regular gigging.
As well as talent within universities, Brighton is also home to one of the few ‘British & Irish Modern Music Institute’ (BIMM) colleges in the UK – which is brimming with young musical talent. Brighton BIMM has seen incredible success stories come through its ranks such as James Bay, Royal Blood, The Kooks and Tom Odell but to name just a few.
With this in mind, you’d think students here would have the perfect platform to stand on and make some noise. However, Chloe Freer and Sam Duff of blues rock/ acoustic soft rock band ‘Marcela’ speak of all the troubles they have had trying to become a regular fixture on the Brighton music scene. When asked about whether BIMM has helped them in trying to get a foothold in the industry, drummer Sam was very quick to jump in and respond: “not at all,” explaining “they have not helped us out at all with anything other than lessons [training in their instruments].” This baffled me. An institute as prestigious as BIMM not trying to set their students up as well as possible for a shot at success just does not compute with me. However, Chloe explained to me that “If you haven’t got that James Bay sound that BIMM thinks will make them a shed load of money, or that Ed Sheeran sound, they don’t want to know you at all. Because we’re blues rock, they don’t want to know.” So instead of going through her college, as Charis had done with such success, Chloe and Sam ring promoters and venues and ask – and are accepted under the same promotional condition: bring people with you. But even then, because of her genre, she doesn’t often find luck: “As a generation, I think, nowadays, people just don’t want to venture off into the new stuff, they don’t like change.” So how do they still get to perform? They pander to the wants of the promoter. Chloe described trying to get gigs with her fully amped blues rock band as “really f*cking hard”, and so changed her band’s style to acoustic soft rock – allowing them to perform covers and not overwhelm new audiences, which has seen them perform more regularly: “We’ve started to get gigs from walking into pubs – he’s taken his cajòn (acoustic box drum) and I’ve taken my guitar and going look, we’re this, we do this, we’ll play you a couple of songs and if you want us it’s going to cost you £200 for the night – and that seems to work.” They seemed hopeful when speaking of this successful method, but upon asking them that question of whether they could break into the industry… it wasn’t as optimistic. They instantly admitted that they probably couldn’t with their desired sound, but that with their acoustic soft rock, they have a chance: “it appeals to more people to have that acoustic soft rock whereas the minute you have amps and have distortion people can be like: ‘oh god no!’ and then just walk out.”
Interviewing these bands made me begin to fear for the future of the music scene. If a place as open and diverse as Brighton doesn’t have adequate room for a band such as these – not even particularly on a local level – is there much hope?
Then I spoke to the ever-optimistic lead guitarist come business manager of local big shots Oceans (a band who met through BIMM), Conor Hyde. Catching him just a few hours before Oceans were due to play their fifth big gig in Brighton in the space of a month, I got to understand that to begin to make it you just have to grit and bare the frustrating early periods of being in a band trying to move mountains. Reminiscing on his bands’ journey, he told me that “you need to be packing out those hometown gigs with everyone you know, as there’ll be other people there will take note that you’ve packed a venue out. Promoters will be more entitled to putting you on,” before admitting that “promoters are far more interested in packing out a venue than they are putting on a genuine, good band.” Interestingly, Conor also mentioned how vital networking and social media has been, crediting Facebook in particular as being an “essential part of being in a band starting out.” His immaculate network of promoters and contacts has now led to them contacting him asking if Oceans could be available to play. So with this stellar reputation in Brighton, does Conor think they can breakthrough? “I firmly believe that if you just put the time in you are guaranteed success. A regular job is say forty hours a week, so there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t put forty hours or more a week into your band. If you put that time in, you will get there.”
So, is there still hope for bands starting out? Maybe. If the desire, determination and talent is there – absolutely. Please check out the Facebook pages of Oceans and Marcela linked above, and give their music a listen. Everyone has got to start somewhere!