Cambridge’s Live Music Scene – The Inside View

Is there still any electricity flickering through live music’s bones in Cambridge? Where exactly is the industry going these days? We’ve been lucky enough to sit down with Quite Great’s very own ‘all things live’ man, Tom Green, who has given us mortals an insight into the real world of live music. Tom has been working in the business for over 8 years now and he understands the finer nuances of what makes gig goers tick, but more importantly, what makes venues tick and what is helping them survive.

Having worked in live music world for a number of years now, what direction do you feel it is going? It wasn’t long ago that small venues were disappearing all over the country- has anything been done to combat this decline?

Tom: “Venues over the past few years did face a worrying decline. Luckily, the Music Venue Trust/Music Venue Alliance was created in 2014 to unite all grassroots venues under one banner and they worked to combat this issue by lobbying the government. This was primarily aimed at working on tax breaks and changing planning laws to make life easier for small venues. Things are back on track on now and I would say live music is a popular as ever! It was a much needed change.”

What challenges would you say the industry is facing at the moment?

Tom: “The industry obviously faces a number of challenges in the 21st Century. Primarily being that there are a far larger number of entertainment choices available to the public. Venues have to ensure that they are offering a one-of-a-kind experience if they are going to compete for people’s disposable income!

Currently, whilst many people may not have thought of it, one of the biggest issues is the increased terror threat level in the UK and the number one priority is making sure venues are safe and secure for gig-goers of all ages. However this doesn’t seem to have put anyone off and this is fantastic to see. For example, IQ Magazine found out in a recent survey that 90% of British festival fans haven’t been discouraged from attending live performances in light of the recent events in London and Manchester. I commend them.

You’ve worked a lot in London which is obviously a hotbed for musical talent and gigs – how does it compare to what we have on offer in Cambridge? Do you think we could be doing more to showcase live music here?

Tom: London and Cambridge operate in completely different ways due to the size of the cities! London has so many more venues, and options to go out to, but there’s way more competition as a result. You might say it’s more cut throat in the big smoke!
Cambridge obviously has less venues, so therefore less rivalry, but what I have noticed is that there seems to be more sense of working together up here, as a community, which I really like.

Saying this, what would you consider our best venues in Cambridge? What do we need more of? How do we get bigger, better acts to come here?

Tom: For me the best venues in Cambridge would have to be the Corn Exchange and Portland Arms. Both have a great range of programs and are perfect for higher level acts, as well as new touring bands.

If venues can guarantee great facilities and sound, the touring acts will undoubtedly come through. It’s about building the right relationships with promoters and agents and keeping that rapport strong.

In your opinion, in what period was live music at its best? Or are we yet to see the best that live music can offer?

Tom: Even though I wasn’t alive, it’s got to be the period from the 60s to the 80s!
From the stories I’ve heard over the years, the money was seemingly unlimited and everyone was just having the best time!

The live music experience is changing in the 21st century with the arrival of new technology and tech companies emerging in the market. Amazon are now offering the chance to see larger artists performing in intimate venues for Amazon Prime ticket holders – it can be pricy, but it’s certainly a game changer!

Virtual reality and live streaming are also playing a part in changing the experience. However, I don’t think you will ever be able to completely package up and replicate the experience of being in a sweaty live music venue and put it online – It would never be the same!

Is gigging still important for today’s acts or are some simply more concerned with online sales?

Tom: Gigging is still the bread and butter for all acts. As revenue streams and label advances have decreased, acts are now seeing gigging as their primary and possibly only revenue stream. This is generated mainly from from ticket fees and merchandise. At the lower grassroots levels, acts learn their craft, get out on the road and eventually become great bands. That’s exactly how Ed Sheeran ended up headlining Glastonbury this year! Whether you like him or not, he did three hundred gigs a year before he got to this point – you can’t knock his commitment and determination!

What do us avid gig goers need to do to keep live music alive?

Tom: Keep going to shows, support the local scene and buy the band’s merchandise! You will always see the best bands at a local show and then they go onto be future headliners – but for this to happen, they need our support!

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