Anatomy of A Concert

Artistes are often critiqued for their absence in the live music scene. They are often blamed for not going on ‘tours’ or performing ‘consistently’ as is the norm abroad with artistes who have strong, loyal fan followings. I am of the opinion, however, that before critiquing an artiste for lack of concerts, one should delve deeply into the details regarding the anatomy of a concert and how that applies to the local music market.

There is little doubt that a concert solidifies the bond that exists between a musician and his/her fans - watching a live performance encourages interactivity between both - and it is also an opportunity for the musician to display his musical skills (whether vocally or with an instrument) on improvisational techniques, thereby displaying a side to him/her that may not be apparent in a music video or album. Organizing a concert or going on tour isn’t exactly a piece of cake.

To begin with, there are massive costs involved in organizing a concert. They include renting the venue, arranging the sound system and lighting, preparing the venue for attendees (arranging seating, if any, and so on), costs of hiring musicians, hiring a stage manager, printing the tickets, and the costs that go with the overall promotion of the concert: advertising in newspapers, billboards, radio and in some cases, even television. These costs are doubled when a musician goes on tour: add expenses incurred for food, travel, and accommodation for not just the musicians, but their manager, their roadies, their backup band - in short their entire team or entourage.

So, in a ‘regular’ concert, who pays for all of this? Most of the time it’s either the record label that is interested in promoting its artistes, venues who are interested in hosting the event, and then you have other parties such as event organizers and firms interested in hiring these artistes. In a ‘regular’ music industry, where there are established (and implemented) rules and regulations of how the industry is to work, record labels and venues often cover these costs and make profits out of them via adequate ticket sales, album sales (yes, musicians are paid proper royalties for their albums), etc., and can then in return afford to promote their artistes not just locally but also worldwide.

In desi land, although it’s in-the-making, we don’t have such a system in place. Record labels, unless they’re backed by an electronic media such as a television channel or radio station, cannot afford the financial costs incurred when organizing massive and numerous gigs in order to promote their artistes - no matter how much these gigs will benefit them. With the un-surety that is prevalent in any new venture (and re-booming industry) it’s simply too much of a financial risk for them to take.

Says Danish Khawaja, the vice-president of The Musik who is also overseeing their record label, The Musik Records: “One of the primary reasons that record labels are not doing gigs is because, in the true form, record labels launch an artiste and make money from album sales. We’re hardly able to cover our costs by that due to piracy. For a record label there is no other way to recover costs.

“Record labels have never been an organized industry in Pakistan. In the last year or so we’ve seen the emergence of record labels, backed by electronic media. Surprisingly the biggest record label of yesteryear was the biggest pirate and they didn’t need to promote their artistes by gigs."

“Every artiste has his own niche which has to be catered intelligently. We’ve arranged launch shows, album signing, and have been putting artistes on television. That’s how we’ve been covering our costs; we’ve not been making money from album sales anyway. Also, the market for the kind of pop music that we’re tying to promote is very small. The only artistes who have a massive market are Abrar-Ul-Haq, Jawad Ahmad, Rahim Shah, and so on,” adds Danish with finality.

And then there is a severe lack of venues. Karachi has the Bahria Auditorium and perhaps the Finance and Trade Centre where only moderately-sized concerts can take place, and in Lahore there is the Alhamra Hall. When it comes to Peshawar, you either have the PC Peshawar which charges an exorbitant amount for a booking or you have the Peshawar Club, which comes under the army but which also requires ‘special permission’ for an event such as a concert. Our concert-going audience isn’t big enough to consider booking a stadium for and what about venues in other cities? There are hardly any.

A major hurdle that one comes across when organizing a commercial concert is ticket sales. In a country where a Rs. 750 ticket is considered to be expensive, how do you expect to sell enough tickets to generate enough revenue to cover basic organizing costs? Most importantly, where do you sell these tickets? There are no proper ticket booths from where you can buy tickets or firms that specialize in such.

In the US, firms such as TicketMaster are responsible for selling and distributing tickets for events taking place in a host of venues across the country and, in some cases, internationally as well. In Pakistan, you have nothing of the sort and organizers often resort to placing tickets in popular super stores and fast food franchises.

In the face of all of these hurdles, one party that is considered to be the mother of all evils where artistic creativity is concerned comes to the rescue: sponsors. Sponsors provide the organizers the financial backing needed to execute a plan for a concert. They’re also the ones who enable an artiste to expose themselves to their fans by performing a series of concerts in different cities. Keeping that in mind, it should also not come as a surprise that most events comprising a performance by artistes are gigs catering exclusively to different corporations.

Also, prior experiences - where gate-crashing, riots, and misbehaving with female attendees is the norm - have discouraged most organizers from working on commercial gigs. Most large-scale gigs are also an invitation-only affair. Nowadays, there are very few individuals who are ready to take risks with organizing a ticketed concert.

When it comes to the musicians themselves, who wouldn’t want to perform onstage as much as they can? This, of course provided they get a team of organizers willing to pay their band fee and who are interested in hiring them for a concert. How did bands such as Junoon manage to perform numerous gigs in the early 1990s? They didn’t have any competition to begin with as there was no other alternative other than perhaps Vital Signs, but then that’s another story altogether.

Until and unless we have an industry where paying for and attending a concert becomes an accepted norm among the masses, where piracy can be curbed to a greater extent, and unless we have an infrastructure from where a record label and/or venue can expect to profit out of the promotion they give to their artistes, we cannot hope to have ‘touring’ musicians as part of the music industry norm or ‘consistent’ gigs for that matter. Till then dates for gigs will always depend on when the organizers can manage to find sponsors to back them and whether the date is agreeable with the sponsor and the band-members themselves.

When it comes to ‘niche’ artistes, Co-VEN - the latest bang in the industry - has been performing gigs consistently from the day of their album launch, both in Karachi and Lahore. Overload has managed to perform approximately 60 gigs around the country last year out of which 12 were in Karachi. They have several other gigs planned out in the next couple of weeks. Sajid and Zeeshan have performed several times in both cities and have three major gigs coming up in the very near future.

Recently, it was mentioned in a section of the press that these artistes are ‘missing in action’. There might not be a definite uniformity where the gaps between concert dates are concerned, but keeping all of the above in mind, can anyone put the blame squarely on these bands for missing from the live-music scene?

Madeeha Syed
May, 2007
The News International, Pakistan