The web is awash with useful advice for musicians and terrifying tales about those who exploit musicians, but not so much is out there for the benefit of music consumers. In an attempt to redress the balance, this feature is designed to help those who attend gigs, and takes as its inspiration an internet phenomenon known as life hacks – a term for the improvised shortcuts and lesser-known tips that make everyday tasks easier.
So, in the words of every pop star ever, this one goes out to the fans.
Your so-called friend has bailed on you at the last minute, or you love a band so much that flying solo is a sacrifice worth making, but either way you’ve circumferenced the gig venue and there isn’t a familiar face to be found. You’ve got your own company for the next three hours, which isn’t so horrendous when you’re watching the headliners or the support(s), but how do you fill the agonising stimulation void when there’s nothing to look at on stage? The most obvious time-killing distraction is your mobile but after a while even that is tedious (only a parent uses the ‘A’ word) and, worse still, non-existent reception could leave you on the dreaded Infinite Address Book Scrolling Loop.
Fear not: salvation resides at the merch table. There, you’ll find a friendly lackey manning the desk who is usually bored and unbusy until the headliners finish. Ask them how they got their job and, by the time they next draw breath, several minutes will have been shaved off the between-bands deadzone.
There is another solution, but be warned, it is extreme: Find another gig loser loner and strike up a conversation.
The key point to remember is that your motivation is NOT pant-removal. Unfortunately, the other person doesn’t know that, and you know they don’t know that, so you better make sure your opening gambit is unweird and antisexual. This comes as second nature when talking to randoms of the same gender. Girls can recite that unthreatening favourite, “Love your shoes, where did you get them?”. Guys can wheel out the trusty, “Do you know the [insert football team] score?”. However, if you’re looking for ice-breakers for the opposite sex in a gig setting, you’ll need to customise your flow a bit more. “Hey, do you know who the support band are?” is fail-safe, but have a follow-up ready. Questions that demand more than a yes/no answer are going to get the chat zooming along and before you know it you might be exchanging email addresses, which brings us on to…
THE SECOND EMAIL ADDRESS
This goes against all your instincts, but adding your email address to the mailing list of every band you like is a good thing. In fact, The Pop Cop recently profiled an enterprise called Sofar Sounds who woo audiences to invite-only monthly house gigs in cities around the world solely through their mailing list.
By and large, musicians/labels are savvy enough not to harass you with trivial updates for fear of losing you to the Unsubscribe button, but even still, it’s worth setting up a secondary account to handle these sorts of emails and keep your day-to-day inbox uncluttered. You’ll soon reap the rewards when you get that important band update Facebook neglected to flag up, or receive an exclusive song download, or first dibs on pre-sale tickets, which brings us on to…
SALE AWAY, SALE AWAY, SALE AWAY
Tickets are sometimes put on sale a couple of days before they go on sale. Which makes no sense written down. But such is the brainwashing power of marketing that Apple persuaded tens of millions of people to buy an mp3 player which compulsorily shuffles their tracks. So let’s put logic to one side and discuss when ticket pre-sales can work in your favour.
If you estimate that the demand for an artist is at least double the capacity of the venue they are scheduled to play in then taking advantage of a pre-sale is a worthwhile endeavour. Likewise, if the gig is seated, pre-sales will often grant access to tickets with the best views before the free-for-all of a general sale.
Pre-sale links can be found via various sources: artist mailing lists, promoter mailshots, social media pages or sites such as Beat The Touts. Glasgow venue The Hydro offers pre-sale tickets for concerts 48 hours in advance through its SSE Reward scheme which is only accessible to customers of SSE, Scottish Hydro, SWALEC, Southern Electric, Atlantic and Airtricity. O2 customers can use the mobile network’s Priority Tickets service to purchase tickets up to two days before general release for shows at all of their O2-branded venues including the ABC and Academy in Glasgow. However, with most pre-sale offers it’s actually better to stick than twist, which brings us on to…
TAKING THINGS AT FACE VALUE
Paying the face value of a ticket is such a rare possibility these days that it really ought to be called the two-faced value. Many booking fees are unjustifiable, compulsory postage costs are inaccurate, and don’t get me started on the shameless firms who charge a supplement for e-tickets that you print at home. That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to make a saving on your ticket price whenever you can.
The best chance you have of avoiding all booking fees is by going direct to the venue in person at least a day before the show and paying in cash. In Glasgow, for example, this method works at the SECC box office (who also sell The Hydro and Clyde Auditorium tickets), ABC box office (who also sell Academy tickets) and King Tut’s bar.
This is one of the reasons you should think twice about jumping at pre-sale offers, another being that such tickets are often sold via an agency called CrowdSurge who charge more in fees than competitors Ticketweb and Ticketmaster, which brings us on to…
Did you know that websites who direct traffic to Ticketmaster can get paid a referral fee of 25p per ticket if it results in a transaction? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why you’ve been sent to Gigs In Scotland for information about tickets even though they don’t actually sell any… well, now you know.
Here is a way that you, the paying customer, can earn money every time you intend to use Ticketmaster. Sign up for a free account with cashback firm Quidco or TopCashback, use either to search for Ticketmaster then click onto the site and purchase your ticket(s) as normal. After a few weeks, a percentage of the ticket cost (1.5% for Quidco / 1.57% for TopCashback) will be deposited into your cashback account, and you can instantly transfer the readies to your bank. Never forget that the internet exists to serve you, not the other way around, which brings us on to…
CALL ME MAYBE (NOT)
The most common queries that punters have on the day of a gig are: “What time do the headliners start/finish?”, “Will tickets be on sale on the door and, if so, what price?” and “Who is supporting?”. It’s just as well that all venues, artists and promoters know* they have a shared responsibility to make these details public, so check Twitter instead of becoming that Very Irritating Person who called up the venue for information that was two clicks away.
*FAO: every venue, every artist, every promoter – I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but you have a shared responsibility to publicise that evening’s event details, preferably via Twitter, as soon as you have it because 1. You are the only ones privy to this information; 2. Fans have very legitimate reasons for wanting to know; 3. It frees up busy venue staff to do something other than answer the phone, which brings us on to…
You’re much more likely to use your mobile to take a photo than take a call in a gig. And probably in life. Such have been the technological advancements of camera phones that a shot taken with an iPhone finished runner-up in The Pop Cop’s 2013 music photography competition. In 2012, we ran a feature which explained how best to use camera phones at gigs and the advice of the two contributing music photographers is definitely worth repeating here.
By Euan Robertson: You’re unlikely to get a close-up action shot of the performers – the more you zoom in, the more of an issue motion blur becomes. Instead, it’s better to focus on capturing the atmosphere of a show. Watch out for house lights illuminating the audience, catch some silhouettes, wait for the exaggerated moves from the singer (arms in air, etc) to make them stand out.
Utilise the full capabilities of your smartphone. On an iPhone, you can tap the screen to focus and set your exposure (very roughly). For example, tap a dark part of the screen and it will expose for that, brightening everything, and vice versa.
By James Gray: Use both hands to minimise camera shake: tuck your arms into your side or rest the camera on your girlfriend/boyfriend’s head or shoulder. A bit on the short side? Turn the camera upside down and hold above your head – this will give you a few valuable inches. Just rotate the image once downloaded.
Keep the flash turned off. Built-in flash on camera phones will have just about enough power to light the back of the head in front of you, never mind the stage. Getting closer to the action will improve your chances of getting a good shot – and it will it be brighter. If you don’t have manual control, try using the night scene mode with the flash turned off.
Here are 5 other quick tips for the clued-up concert-goer…
KNOW YOUR EXIT
Some venues have exits that only open when a gig finishes, allowing you to avoid the frustrating bottleneck of punters going out the way they came in. Two in Glasgow spring to mind: the Academy fire exit to the immediate left of the stage; and the Barrowlands stairwell to the left of the main bar.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
If the venue is rammed when you arrive, your best hope of finding pockets of space is at the side of the stage that’s furthest away from the entrance. If you end up standing directly in front of someone who is much shorter than you, offer to switch places with them and they will probably become your friend for life.
P’s AND QUEUES
When attending an SECC/Hydro/Clyde Auditorium show, it used to be possible to park for free on many of the residential streets surrounding the Exhibition Centre train station then walk across the covered footbridge to the venue. However, Glasgow City Council recently announced they were introducing permit holder-only parking up to 10pm, seven days a week, so you’ll have to park further away if you want to dodge a parking ticket. Still more appealing than the queues and fees of the venue car parks.
If you can afford it, purchase tickets for the VIP/hospitality area. The quality of the toilets, the food, the choice of beverages, the clientele, the experience… it pays for itself; car sharing is also a good idea – you’ll meet new people and save money; consider a Two Together Railcard or Friends Fare if travelling further afield; take your own snacks as on-site munchies are invariably pricey.
One of your favourite artists has announced they’re coming to town, the on-sale date for tickets is seared into your brain and you’re psyched up in front of the computer, ready to play fastest-finger-first at 9am. What you may not realise, though, is that very few gigs sell out on day one. In fact, a heck of a lot of big shows don’t sell out at all, and when they don’t, that’s when you have the best chance of finding a ticket being resold for less than face value. Unwanted tickets used to be put on eBay but they’ve put a stop to that, so search Gumtree instead.
The latest T in the Park line-up announcement polarised opinions as usual – it was greeted with jubilation from its loyal punters but complaints from critics who feel the festival has become too formulaic.
But what if, I wondered silently, there was indeed a formula for deciding who would play each year? Could I decipher it? Hmmm. I used all my statistical know-how to analyse the last eight T in the Park line-ups and, sure enough, I discovered that the organisers have been working to a secret system to book artists since 2007.
I’m still trying to crack the code for each individual act, but here are the ones I have verified so far (click on the graphic to enlarge):
The Second Hand Marching Band have been a welcome, idiosyncratic presence in the Glasgow music scene for a few years now, so it might surprise you to learn that they’re only just getting around to releasing their first album. It’s entirely understandable when you factor in the logistical challenges of having so many bodies, but talent-sharing is what SHMB do best, which explains why the band can count on as many as six different lead vocalists.
In this month’s Music Alliance Pact, we present an exclusive download of This Is The Story, probably the most upbeat song you’ll ever hear about the destruction of the welfare state. Oh, and check out this They Shoot Music Don’t They video for an idea of what to expect live.
Click the play button icon to listen to individual songs, right-click on the song title to download an mp3, or grab a zip file of the full 26-track compilation through Ge.tt here.
SCOTLAND: The Pop Cop
The Second Hand Marching Band – This Is The Story
For an exuberant folk-pop collective whose membership has been as high as 23, each with an assortment of extravagant instruments in tow, one of the most remarkable things about The Second Hand Marching Band is the fearlessness they show in confining a song to a single vocal and acoustic guitar if that’s what they think works best. In 2010, they gathered some homespun EPs and rarities into a charming release titled Compendium. Since then they’ve been recording in ad hoc spaces to weave their debut album proper, A Hurricane, A Thunderstorm. Out on March 2, it’s a triumph of diversity, veering from bellowing, unpretentious pop to sparse, poignant laments.
March 2, Mono, Glasgow (with Withered Hand and RM Hubbert)