By Matt Walters
Founder / Director – Parlour
For the past two years, we’ve witnessed the birth of a new live music era in Australia. You’re unlikely to hear about it. But it’s there – bubbling away in the background – in suburbs and towns – all around you.
When we launched Parlour in 2015, we were told by plenty of people that established artists would never play gigs in fans’ houses. We heard every defiant argument against the idea – “too scary”, “too risky”, “not great for an artist's brand”. Slowly, we’ve seen perceptions change. We’ve always known that once an artist experienced playing a Parlour gig – they’d be hooked. Since launching we’ve facilitated over 600 gigs in Aus & NZ with some of the biggest names in the country – from Boy & Bear to Bob Evans.
We regularly espouse the financial benefits of playing these gigs – low overheads = high returns (we pay artists an average of $950 per gig) - but the feedback we get from artists tells us so much more.
Here are a few quotes from musicians that have embraced the platform:
“Firstly, it’s very important to note that Parlour gigs don't just feed your pockets, they restore your faith in humanity. We've done 30 Parlour gigs around Australia now, and they always bring a connection between us and our audience like no other show can.” – Jordie Lane
“It’s the purest exchange of music you can have with someone.“ – Fraser A. Gorman
"The most difficult thing about our show at Green Street was finding a park and getting out through the maze of one-way streets and cul-de-sacs. Everything else was easy. The gear seemed to want to work, and the crowd was receptive and spirited. If we wanted a drink or something good to eat that was no problem either. It makes you wonder why at some gigs everything seems so damned hard." – Mick Thomas
“Playing Parlour house concerts has been a real joy. By the time I leave each house concert I feel like I have spent the afternoon or evening with my own family and friends.” – Bob Evans
Digital technology has made it easier than ever to record and release music. It’s also made it easier to find fans – so are there fewer live performances happening?
Back in time
Sarah Taylor, a PhD student at RMIT University in Melbourne charted the shift in the landscape just a few years ago. (see Sarah's article here)
Back in 1983, it wasn’t unusual for bands to play Countdown (national TV), and go on to play every night of the week. Bands would go suburb by suburb, hitting smaller pubs – and even playing twice in one night if they could wrangle it. Well known, working bands were self-sufficient back then – they often travelled with their own production – PA’s & lights. Anywhere they could play and get paid, they would.
So what changed? Why did artists suddenly play less often?
Through the 90’s, suburban venues began to close due to noise restrictions, pokies and breathalysers and newer venues in the inner city began to open. Touring a band is expensive in Australia, so bands simply began to tour less often. That’s when change happens. Tastes shift. But the impact on the live music landscape has been enormous.
There has also been a shift to hypersensitivity around over-saturation, which, I feel is quite ironic. Artists are encouraged to post every day on social media by their label & management but are way too careful about how many shows they’re playing. It’s a strategy guided by the fear that overplaying will reduce demand for an artist. As a result, artists are spending more time on self-promotion online and less time honing their live show. This is not necessarily a good thing for the longevity of the act. This also explains why an artist's image / social media strategy is often far more advanced than their live show.
Part of the issue is that at present, there is a strongly held belief in the industry that demand for an artist can only be handled by the venues & festivals. With artists lucky to walk away with only 35% of the gross from a venue show, it’s hard to understand why this is the case.
As much as Parlour would not exist without Artists, the amazing people who host Parlour Gigs are equally important to the formula, these are the people opening up their home, bringing people together and supporting local live music. As we’ve gotten to know them – a pattern has started to emerge. So many of these people love live music but they feel alienated from it. Many have families and live in the outer suburbs or in regional areas where there just aren’t quality venues. A trip into town to see their favourite band at the Corner Hotel is an expensive logistical challenge – babysitters need to be organised and transport can be hideously expensive. Many would rather save to attend festivals where the kids are welcome. And so, now we are seeing a return to a hyper-local approach with Parlour gigs.
Artists from all walks of life are starting to go direct to fan. Parlour is appealing to artists because we make it easy – just turn up, play and get paid. It’s also appealing because 95% of gigs are privately crowdfunded by hosts. Recently Jordie Lane played a massive 30 date national Parlour run with us. In Victoria, he played the same suburb half a dozen times over the course of the month – because – why not? The demand was there.
I believe this is just the beginning. In the past 6 months we’ve put together tours for the likes of Holly Throsby, Sally Seltmann, Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Bob Evans, Fraser A. Gorman, Henry Wagons, Oh Pep!, Jack Carty and many, many more. Artists have been known to play 3-4 times a week – some even squeeze in 2 gigs a day if they can. Because – why not? The demand is there.
Artists are ready and willing to take charge again and technology can facilitate the return to a thriving, hyper-local live music scene. Who would have thought that it would all take place in the home?