Some thoughts from Hard Working Class Heroes
What the annual showcase for Irish music shows is that developing a band is all about time
All things take time. That’s a point that struck you on several occasions over the weekend as Hard Working Class Heroes hit the streets of the capital for the twelfth time and the HWCH Convention went about its merry way at the NDRC building in the Liberties. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, whether you’re a band or someone who works with bands. Be it Villagers or Hozier, to name two previous HWCH acts, there’s a developmental arc which is plain to see.
Case in point (one): those who spoke at the convention. I chaired a rake of panels over the weekend and usually began each one by asking the folks about their working life to date. Every single one of them had a good yarn to tell about their career path to date, showing that you don’t end up becoming an agent or a booker or a scout overnight. As career guidance went for those in the room, it showed the power of experience
Case in point (two): a band like Cloud Castle Lake. They’re a band who previously played HWCH in 2010 and 2011 and who received a lot of attention in 2010 from blogs like this one (and a band who even had history before all of that with various band competitions), but seem to have completely disappeared from view in the last few years. Then, suddenly, they re-emerged from hibernation in the last few months with a team of people around them, released some music and got a whole ton of attention. They’re still a work in progress judging by Saturday night’s show at the Button Factory, but it appears to be going in the right direction.
Such thinking can be applied to many acts who played HWCH pasts. Have a look at the list of the acts who’ve played the event before – you’ll find all the acts from 2003 to 2012 here – and you’ll see early sightings of bands who went onto bigger things, glimpses of bands who changed their names and even a member of pop group The Saturdays gigging in a very different guise back in the day.
There are probably many acts who will look back at HWCH 2014 in the future as a line worth highlighting in their story. It could be where they met a booker, learned that they could do with the same soundman for all their gigs, heard something at a speed session which stuck with them or simply watched a crowd really get into their music for the first time. HWCH 2014 was not the be all and end all of what they do but, like everything else in their timeline, it was part of what kept them going or progressing (or, indeed, persuaded them to give up the ghost – not all the bands who’ve played HWCH in the past are still together or gigging).
The developmental arc has other manifestations too which are often a lot harder to measure, but are clear to see none the less. Let’s call this one the sussed metric. Over the weekend, several people who participated in the speed sessions part of HWCH (where bands get to meet and pick the brains of bookers, agents, managers, bloggers and industry professionals from home and abroad) commented on the fact that the bands were a lot more savvy than they were a few short years ago. There was less stupid questions and more forensic awareness of what they actually wanted as a band from an event like HWCH. Many acts already had strong stories and narratives in place and were ready for action.
Bands, it would seem, have copped on about what they do and how they should do it if they want to do more than simply write songs and play music for themselves. The latter is brilliant and something which should give a musician immense satisfaction and pleasure for the rest of their life. But when you move to the next level and want to make a living (or some part of your living) from what you can do as a musician, a singer or a songwriter, it’s time to treat it as a business and you have to do the heavy lifting. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you, you’re not owed a living and you’re not due a review or a gig just because you’re in a band. If that’s the only takeaway those who attended HWCH 2014 go away with, the festival and convention has done its job.
Of course, this also leads to a whole raft of other issues – from dodgy management contracts to how you actually make money from hawking your music – and these issues are part of an ongoing self-education process, of which HWCH Convention is just one component. The great thing about being in a band who are serious about the business of music in 2014 is that all the information is out there. It’s all hiding in plain sight so you just have to go dig for it. Yes, this will take time but, as my favourite cliche runs, it’s time well worth taking.