A friend of mine is gigging in Europe during the Holidays. He sent me an email telling of a guitar find he found at a shop amply named Rare and Vintage Guitars. He said it was in an area with a lot of music shops on Denmark Street that crosses Charing Cross Road in London.
While there he became the center of attention when it was discovered he was from Alabama. The British Invasion of the ‘60’s was triggered by their discovery of America’s southern-based blues. So southern music is not new to the English. They wanted to know about the Alabama Shakes, the Secret Sisters, Drive-By Truckers and The Civil Wars. These guitar sellers are people that are in the music business and know what is happening in their music world. At this point he decided to call me knowing my interest in all things concerning Alabama music. I told him before he departed to let me know the things that would help fellow musicians that have yet to embark on their European adventure. He did not want me to use his name, nor the bands name, in this article. (Sounds like a band change coming to me.)
My friend was surprised by their knowledge of southeastern US music. He was told that the British have long loved a form of music called skiffle. They told him that skiffle is a type of popular music with jazz, blues, folk, and roots influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments. Skiffle originated in the southern US in the early twentieth century. In the US there were many names for this type music played by jug bands or juke bands. They used instruments such as the washboard, jugs, gourds, tea chest bass, cigar-box fiddle, musical saw, spoons, stovepipe and comb-and-paper kazoos, as well as more conventional instruments, such as acoustic guitar and banjo.
He said the way the British see the evolution of music goes back to the blues. African-Americans create the musical style. European-Americans adopt the style for their own use. The most adventurous African-Americans abandon the style and create a new one. This new one of course is rap and hip-hop.
He also said that the music scene is very healthy in London. Most venues do very well. Some have a packed house 7 nights a week. The 12 Bar Club showcases around 4 acts a night, 7 nights a week, from solo performers through to full bands. All genres of music are offered with American acts included. Tickets for large venues offering The Black Keys, Kings of Leon and Jack White were selling while my friend was there. From the big name acts to a 4-piece band from near Huntsville, Alabama all seem to have a place in their ever-changing music scene.
I asked, how they got booked there. He said they were playing a military base in Germany and an agent approached them. I asked, how they got the gig in Germany? He said they started by Googling “music booking in Europe.” The best advice he can give, find a travel agent (preferably one that has set up band tours) before you start booking shows. There are obvious language, currency and voltage differences. Another factor he says that needs to be considered, jet lag.
The expanding global music market and cheaper air travel make world travel more appealing. The Internet has enabled music acts at all success levels the ability to tour extensively outside of their own country. Wireless broadband Internet is common in all parts of the European mainland. Most venues, hotels, cafes, airports and fast food restaurants will have wireless coverage.
My friend also warned against cell phones. The roaming charges can be horribly expensive for a US-based cellular phone owner touring in Europe. As a US resident you can buy an International GSM cell phone for only $50 from Mobal. You purchase the phone and pay only for calls – there is no monthly fee. Another solution is to buy ‘pay as you go’ SIM cards for each country you are in.
He also said that you would have to pay a performing musician tax in every country. They had to pay 25% of what they were paid in Germany because the sum was over $1,000. Customs in different countries ask about their financual condition. The cost of shipping your musical equipment is another area my friend says is very expensive. Ship your equipment because the airlines are costly.
I asked what was the biggest difference that he encountered? Without hesitation, he answered, “The audiences! They are more attentive. They respect musicians in Europe. They don’t mind paying for good music.”
More markets outside the USA are opening up; new facilities are being built, and more people in more countries can support higher ticket prices. You’ll also get to see countries in ways that tourists never do: you’ll hang out with local people who don’t find you annoying (yet), eat local cuisine that wasn’t in the tourist guide, and, in the case of European countries at least, eat way better bread and drink way better coffee, wine & beer than we ever get at home. Better still, if you open yourself up to your hosts and people who have come to hear your music, you will find yourself building lasting international friendships.
Published in February 2013 issue of Tannehill Trader