Musicians’ Union: 5 Things You Should Know When Starting Out In Live Music

Learn how to make the most of your live opportunities whether it be connecting with fans to getting yourself heard...
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Nothing can compare to the buzz of performing live and it can be a hugely valuable part of your career as a musician.

It allows you to connect with your fans, create experiences and get your music heard. But what are the key things you should know before setting out in the live world though?

Here’s our advice…

The promoters

It is always nice to receive contact from promoters/venues regarding gig offers, but to maximise your chances of getting live bookings you should also be contacting them directly. Do some research and think about the grassroots venues you wish to play in as well as the promoters you would like to work with.

You can quite often find contact details for bookings on venue websites and social media pages.

It is a good idea to create a well-presented email setting out details of you as an artist/band, what sort of gig you’re looking for and an easy link to your music.”

You can then send this to promoters, although you should tailor each email to boost your chances of a response. A personal approach goes a long way so if you can find out the name of the booker, do address the email directly to them. If you are a fan of the venue or the work they do, then tell them. If you went to a show they put on and had a great time, then tell them.

The Musicians’ Union’s (MU) Fair Play Venue scheme invites venues from across the UK to declare their support and endorse the principles of our Fair Play Guide. The scheme’s database includes information on how to get a gig at each venue and provides contact details in order for you to approach them directly.

It is important when booked for a gig that you try and work with the promoter/venue to promote the gig. You should both play an equal part in promoting the event. and although their key role is to boost audience numbers, you have direct access to your fans and should be doing as much as possible to make them aware of the gig. At the same time, you should not take sole responsibility for promoting the show. If you feel the promoter is not doing enough then approach them to discuss their plans and work together where possible.

The deal

When it comes to live bookings, whether a promoter/venue has approached you or the other way around, it is hugely important to get the terms and confirmation in writing.”

Ideally you would both sign an MU Live Engagement Contract, but at the very least there should be proof of a clear offer and acceptance of all the agreed terms in writing. This will go a long way to help if you find yourself with an unpaid fee or cancellation claim. It is obviously

very difficult to prove a verbal agreement so if you’re booked on the phone, follow up with an email to confirm details.

Terms should be set out at the earliest possible stage and you should not be afraid to try and negotiate on an offer if you feel necessary. This includes requesting a fee if they haven’t mentioned one. The MU contracts feature the important terms you should have in your agreement including fee, set times, payment method etc, so do refer to and use them!

For grassroots bookings, the MU’s Fair Play Guide offers advice to both artists and promoters on co-promotions, ticketing deals, showcases and competitions, so that musicians can identify when a deal is fair. The MU advise against deals that are “Pay to Play” or require you to sell a certain amount of tickets in order to be confirmed for the show. Refer to the Fair Play Guide for more details.

For professional bookings or functions we also have MU minimum rates which are always a good base to negotiate your fee from for those particular events.

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The essentials

Tech Spec

We often get asked about what to include in a tech spec. The info you send out to venues, production companies or just the couple who book you for their wedding is really important.

It is good to have an up to date list of requirements that can help make the gig go smoothly and the ‘get in’ and soundcheck less stressful. See our Guide to Tech Specs plus a sample of a more detailed Tech Spec.

Insurance

Employers, local authorities and the like increasingly require written evidence that musicians are insured against Public Liability before they are able to perform somewhere. Public Liability Insurance comes with MU membership to a current level of indemnity of £10 million per individual member.

This Public Liability Insurance protects musicians from the financial consequences of claims against them for bodily injury and/or damage to property of any person not your employee while performing either solo or as part of a group/band/orchestra and/or while teaching in a public or private place (including at home).

Members of the MU can also access Musical Instrument and Related Musical Equipment insurance of up to £2,000 against loss, damage or theft anywhere in the world, subject to the terms and conditions.

PRS for Music and licences

Live events generate songwriting royalties, which are collected and distributed through PRS for Music. When artists register their songs with PRS for Music, they can then collect the royalties generated when the material is performed at gigs. Set lists should be submitted to PRS online, regardless of whether artists are performing original material, or covering other artists’ songs.

Small venues in England and Wales can now put on live music without a music licence thanks to the Live Music Act. Venues are covered under the terms of the act if:

  • They are based in England or Wales
  • There is an existing alcohol licence
  • There are fewer than 500 people in the audience for amplified music. There is no audience limit for unamplified music.
  • The live music will not take place between the hours of 23.00 and 08.00

This is great news for grassroots music, especially in pubs. A study by PRS for Music reports that bars putting on live music see an increase in ‘wet sales’ of 44 percent over the weekend, peaking at 60 percent on Friday and Saturday nights, and are on average three times less likely to close.

Many, though, are either not aware of the act or are still wary of putting on live music. The MU therefore developed the Live Music Kit for you to take into local venues and start a conversation about hosting live music. The Live Music Kit outlines the terms of the Act and explains how a live music programme can enhance a business. It also advises on the legislative, practical and creative elements involved in hosting live music, and features a range of resources, including performance contracts, health and safety issues, promotional advice and useful contacts.

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The venue

The UK’s vital network of small and medium-sized music venues is continually under threat, with an estimated 40 percent of UK venues forced to close their doors in the last 10 years alone.

Small venues are hugely important to the careers of musicians and places where you will spend valuable time honing your craft, connecting with audiences and creating memorable experiences." 

The MU is working hard, along with partners including the Music Venue Trust and UK Music, to protect venues from continuing threats which can be caused by licensing/planning issues, noise complaints and increasing costs/property prices.

Our collective lobbying helped make the Agent of Change principle law, which we hope will go a long way to protecting venues from planning and licensing issues. The Agent of Change principle will mean that if someone moves in next to a venue or a developer builds homes next to one, it is their responsibility to provide their own sound proofing. They are the “agent of change” and not the venue. In many cases noise complaints from people moving in next door to a venue have led to forced closures, which is why the principle has been developed. It is hoped the Agent of Change principle will help protect venues in these situations going forward as it is adopted nationally in planning law. You can find the latest on that here.

There is still a long way to go and many more challenges facing the UK’s small and medium-sized music venues, but movements are being made!

There are still a large number of great venues out there for you to be linking up with and working in, so don’t be disheartened. Make sure you are continuing to support your local venues and fellow musicians to create the best opportunities! Also, don’t forget to check out our Fair Play Venue database for venue details.

Find out more about the MU and how it can support you via theMU.org.

You can also stay up to date with the latest MU news, events and campaigns via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Thinking about joining the MU? Full-time students can join for £20 a year.

Read the MU’s previous ICMP blog article on their five essentials to do before embarking on a music industry career.

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by Sam Jordan
April 4, 2018
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