The BBC Music Award crowning of Adele, as winner of the Best Live Performance in a year where the only live show she did was a (cough) BBC special, has caused no end of controversy among those who promote live music in Britain day in, day out, for a living. And it’s easy to see why they consider it a slap in the face to an entire industry.
At its best, live music offers a visceral, primal thrill, a coming together of family, something almost tribal. Preparation for that starts months in advance, well before the point when tickets go on sale and fans make a decision to spend money on a certain show, or festival.
Promoters, agents and artist managers work hard, over time, to build their reputations. Relationships have to be built between suppliers and customers, in the same way as they do in any other industry.
In some ways, the weekend where 20,000 people are standing in a field is the easy part. Months of logistical planning goes into reaching that point and a lot of it, like sourcing fences and toilets, or finding volunteers to carry out crucial tasks, is far from glamorous. But it’s all necessary hard work.
Far less heralded in the period living up to the BBC awards shindig were the UK Festival Awards. An annual event which celebrates the best in the music festival industry at all levels – from enormo-fests like Glastonbury to grassroots events like the little-publicised Beautiful Days in Devon – it has the credibility of being supported by the industry.
Their Best Live Performance award for 2015 went to Fleetwood Mac – a show heralded by critics globally as one of the all-time great festival appearances. You can’t help but compare and contrast that with Adele’s sanitised hour-long TV special, interspersed with cosy sofa chats with Graham Norton, and you’ll have your own view of which constitutes a live performance.
The problem for promoters and organisers is that the BBC has all the resources, and the power to anoint its personal favourites. Every year it saturates TV, radio and online with coverage of Glastonbury – another decision which brings howls of anguish from the people behind the thousands of other festivals which take place up and down the UK every summer.
But all is not lost. There’s still space in the market for festivals to shine, and prove themselves successful even without the glare of national TV coverage.
Here are our top five tips for publicising smaller live music events and festivals
1 Know where your audience gets its information. There are dozens of specialist music magazines, websites and blogs out there, all run by people who are as enthusiastic as you. Target those, instead of hoping the BBC will pick up on your PR.
2 Get your ambassadors involved. The best advertisement for gigs and festivals is the people who go to them. Almost all festivals rely on volunteers who are willing to do stewarding or car parking free of charge in exchange for weekend tickets and food vouchers. Harness that resource to help with your publicity too – whether it’s handing out flyers or running a social media account.
3 Target your local press. This is somewhere the BBC might be able to help, through its network of around 40 local radio stations and websites. The BBC Introducing project champions grassroots music.
4 Be appropriate. Tailor your message to the intended audience. If your local newspaper’s music page usually prints 300-word pieces with quotes and a photograph, send them something that fits the bill.
5 Be imaginative. Look beyond the musical line-up as a mechanism for gaining coverage of your event. The media love a human interest story – talk to your crew and find out who’s got a great tale to tell.
To talk to us about effective PR for festivals and live entertainment, get in touch here.