Promotion through live music performance

distant singer on stage just visible between the upraised arms of the audience

© iStockphoto.com/Nathan McClunie

Whilst popular music has depended upon the record industry and mass media to achieve global impact, live performance continues to play a significant role. For many, live performance is a central part of the experience of being a musician or a music fan. It is also important for musicians who want to build up an international or even global audience and following.

In the UK live music has grown in importance over recent years as the record industry has become more unstable. The number of annual festivals has increased significantly. At the same time new arenas have been built such as London's O2 and the Liverpool Echo Arena. It is now common to see major acts from the past reform to take advantage of the new interest in live music. Led Zeppelin, for example, created huge interest when they reformed for one London gig in 2007.

The importance of live performance can be seen in the rise to prominence of Live Nation, a new style of live event promotions company. Founded in California in 2005, the company promotes live performance events all over the world. It has also bought performance venues, allowing it to offer musicians lucrative tour deals. The company has become so successful that it has extended its activities to record making, with Madonna and Jay-Z as the first major signings.

The media, and more recently the internet, have helped to make live music events seem unmissable. Appearances at these events can help musicians to gain international and even global recognition. In the UK the broadcast of such events is a feature of summer television - with near-simultaneous transmission of, for example, the Golden Jubilee concert, Oasis at Wembley and the Glastonbury festival. Some events - most notably Live Aid (1985) - have been broadcast to audiences all over the world, linking up live performances staged simultaneously in different countries.

Playing live and going on tour can also help musicians to gradually build up a national and international following. The rock bands Franz Ferdinand (from Glasgow) and the Wombats (from Liverpool) recently found fame after playing to festival audiences over a number of years. During the 1950s and 1960s Liverpool beat groups - including the Beatles - regularly toured venues across the UK and Europe. This practice continued during the 1970s when Liverpool rock bands routinely played in different parts of continental Europe. For instance, Colonel Bagshaw's Incredible Bucket Band worked a lot in Germany, whilst Pepperbox were popular in Norway and Belgium. Although those two bands hardly ever recorded, another local group, Supercharge, toured Australia and Germany after making albums for a major record company (Bolland, 2006).

Today it is possible to see live music every night of the week in major UK cities, often in a number of venues. National chains of music venues, such as the Carling Academies and Barfly, are well-established and regularly bring national and international touring acts into large towns and cities. A staple part of these national networks is the local support act. Liverpool rock band the Wombats used their contacts with local promoters to become the support act for a number of headlining artists. This has helped them to gain exposure to local audiences. With the help of the internet they built on this to develop their appeal to wider international audiences. Live music performance venues are therefore places in which the national, international and even the global meet the local.