A wish list for pub gigs in India: From timeliness to special F&B menus and loyalty cards

Amit Gurbaxani

Oct,07 2018 11:19:32 IST

Now that we’re into October and concert season is well underway – there are at least six album or EP launch shows and two festivals in my home city of Mumbai over the course of this week – I decided to look back at the past nine months and realised that I can count the number of gigs I have attended at pubs (as opposed to festivals) this year on one hand. A decade ago, that figure would have been five a month.

One of the main reasons for this, of course, is that I’m much older and my tolerance levels have fallen. When I was younger, I could look over much-delayed start times, bad sound, audience chatter and, to an extent, even substandard musicianship. (Though I should admit that after having seen several performances through a phone screen, I’ve given up and joined that annoying tribe of people whom constantly photograph and film shows.)

It’s not just me but most of my friends, all in our thirties or older, have greatly reduced the number of gigs they catch at pubs. Maybe we’re just fed up of watching them in places where live music is an afterthought, and treated mainly as a vehicle to drive F&B sales on a slow weeknight. Ironically, many artists continue to play spots without a proper stage and sound set-up because they pay better than venues that were built to host concerts.

Representational image. Reuters/Adeel Halim

Representational image. Reuters/Adeel Halim

As for us thirty-plus fans, we limit our gig going to festivals where the stadium sound is loud enough to drown out the noise, or to house concerts, which are frequented by those who are there for the music above anything else. This realisation led me to, somewhat randomly, come up with a wish list of things that I think could benefit all those involved in a pub gig, from the acts and venues to the audience.

Starting within half-an-hour of the listed time

I know many friends who would go for a gig a week in their twenties but now barely venture out to shows on weekdays because they start only after 10 pm and end close to 1 am on working nights. The listed time, however, will be as early as 8 pm in some cases. The most common reason for this practice is that the venue hopes attendees will get there early and spend a couple of hours fuelling up at the bar while the band hopes that the room will gradually fill up and they will avoid performing to a sparse audience.

In my experience, this rarely happens. If an act is popular, the space will get crowded ahead of the listed time because fans want to ensure they get a good spot. If they’re relatively new, the number of people is unlikely to increase. My recommendation is for shows to start within half an hour of the listed time, especially in a city like Mumbai where distances can be long and traffic can be heavy. This window gives those who like to get a drink before the concert starts enough leeway to grab their tipple.

No service during the performance

While this might seem at odds with the bar sales-oriented approach of most venues, stopping service during the performance – which some joints have done for big-ticket international acts – would go a long way in reducing chatter while the band is on stage.

As most gigs run for about 90 minutes, the musicians could take a 15-minute break at the halfway point to allow people to order or refill their drinks. While the concert is on, some people might move to other parts of the establishment where they are serving food and booze but it would let the band and the venue know just how many genuine fans the act really has.

Merchandise sales

I have often wondered why most artists only sell merchandise at festivals when a stand-alone gig is the most likely place they’ll find hardcore fans. And when they do sell merch, typically a band member asks the audience to find him or their manager in the crowd after the performance, when most people are rushing home. Just like international acts have begun bundling merch with albums, Indian independent music artists could start bundling it with entry fees, as was done with the recent Gully Fest in Mumbai where the handful of tickets sold (it was a free event for most) got buyers a T-shirt. While that show was backed by a sponsor, Red Bull, for a regular club concert, an act could charge slightly higher amounts, says Rs 500 instead of Rs 300 per person and include a piece of merch – anything from caps to keyrings – in the mix.

Special menus

Gig-goers often complain that the food and drink at pubs is too expensive and venue managers often complain that F&B sales fall on such nights but rarely, if ever, do the two entities work together to help change this. For special shows like an album, EP or video launch though, it would be great if artists and establishments could collaborate to create special menus for the night. They could pick a few items off the existing menu or work with the chefs and barmen to create one-off items, such as appetisers and cocktails, which have a connection, however loose, with their music, and offer them at happy hour rates through the duration of the concert.

Loyalty cards for regulars

The price of a cup of coffee is often used as a point of comparison for a number of products. The entry fee for the average gig is almost the same as the cost of a cappuccino and just like coffee shops have cards that reward you with a free drink for every nine you buy, I’m surprised no venue has thought of starting something similar for shows through which attendees get free entry for every tenth concert they patronise at a particular pub. This would work even better for chains such as Social that have multiple outposts in a city and are popular with cash-strapped college students.

These suggestions, as mentioned above, are totally random ideas that might be harder to execute than I imagine but if at least a few venues were to experiment with them, we may just get out of this status quo where hosting gigs by original acts is considered a risky proposition.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2018 14:26 PM