Disclaimer; the views expressed herein are purely my own and are not necessarily representative of the collective beliefs/feelings of MTAT Records.
My intention is not to throw anyone under a bus; that would be an exercise in counter-productivity; and it is not my place to make judgments pertaining the booking practices of others. This piece is purely from my own perspective and any beef should be directed towards me (email please) and not my comrades.
There seems to have been a lot of talk and controversy on the internet recently about charity gigs and benefit festivals. It’s not just been one or two people talking about it, it seems to be a polarising topic and many people across the punk and wider music scenes have been engaged in debate about the rights and wrongs, do’s and don’t’s, yes’s and no’s surrounding charity events and benefit gigs. I’m not here to tell anyone that they’re right or wrong, people are free to do as they wish, but I aim to address how we do things with Book Yer Ane Fest.
Hosting Leatherface at Book Yer Ane Fest V was one of the highlights of my life. When we started BYAF back in 2008, there was never any goal in mind; we just put a show together for Joey Terrifying that ended up as an all-dayer. We wanted to contribute positively to a local charity that meant something to us, that cause being Safe-Tay, following on from the great work done by our friends the PCC that they had started with the two Motionfests in 2006/7. The fact that things have evolved and developed as they have is equal parts good fortune, serendipity, perseverance and hard graft; “be good to your punk scene and your punk scene will be good to you” and such capers. Sometimes when you gamble, things turn up trumps. Other times, you’re in the shitter. As I seem to be fond of saying; ye cannae enjoy Premier League glory every week, there will always be the shitty 0-0 away games in the rain in deepest, darkest February; not every show can be a 300 troops through the door sell-out.
We always strive to support charities that mean something to us personally and, specifically, we aim to work to benefit charities that work in our locality. Yes, we have done (and will continue to do) benefit shows for wider international organisations such as Doctors Without Borders, the Haiti Earthquake Appeal, Skateistan and many more, but I feel it is equally, if not more, important to engage with charities that do essential work on our doorstep; Safe-Tay, Tayside Mountain Rescue and Dundee Foodbank specifically (check out TINS FOR TUNES for more information). We also aim to do benefit shows year-round, rather than just on isolated occasions. This is something that was always been woven into the fabric of what we do and something that we will unapologetically continue to do. It’s not about scoring points or being seen to be doing something, it’s about engaging with and supporting local and national communities and the people who undertake the often thankless tasks associated with charity work. I have volunteered for charities for most of my life, donate personally to charities that I support and do everything I can to support those that need supporting. This has nothing explicitly to do with punk rock or music but with who I am as a person. This doesn’t make me any better than anyone else, it’s just my view of the world and something that I personally feel needs done. It’s also not something I feel compelled to crow on about at length, so I’ll leave that part of it at that.
However, when it comes to charity shows, specifically BYAF, it’s a slightly different kettle of fish. As things have grown and evolved, our expenses have grown. It’s a fairly tricky operation to book, accommodate, feed and water 40 odd bands from across the globe, many of whom may be on tour, and keep everybody happy and fulfilled when you’re trying to make money for charity. Sometimes we’ve had success, sometimes we’ve been met with failure. Some BYAFs have made a couple of grand, some have barely made a couple hundred. In total, we’ve raised over eight grand for Safe-Tay and the causes they support. We also continue to do shows and work with them throughout the year; from including literature from the Samaritans with our merch orders to hosting awareness-raising shows. This is something we will continue to do without an end in sight and for nothing more than the desire to do so.
To address the point at hand; to me, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to booking bands for charity benefits. Obviously the aim is to make as much money and create as much awareness for the cause as possible, but it’s also imperative to remember that there is no benefit for anyone involved if there aren’t the bands playing that people want to see. From my (our) end, the aim is always to provide an interesting, diverse yet complimentary line-up that is reflective not only of eclecticism but also cohesion of message and intent. There are bands that we’ll never book (insert countless thousands of names) and we’ll never book bands aren’t in some way knowledgeable about what BYAF is all about, or at least interested in developing an understanding, as it’s hardly quantum theory, it’s a fucking DIY punk benefit. Essentially, any careerist bands that are looking to make fat cash can get fucked as it’s never going to happen. On another point, local bands generally know what they’re getting involved in and we strive to be unambiguous with all bands when it comes to booking BYAF; it started as a local charity all-dayer and in my heart of hearts, that is exactly what BYAF remains.
When it comes down to it, we will never pay any band more than we paid Leatherface for BYAF, hence the “Frankie Stubbs School of Economics”. I’m not going to discuss specific sums of money but Leatherface came out for a fraction of their usual cost and were absolute gentlemen about the whole thing. Leatherface are also one of my favourite bands of all time and if ever there was a band that I’d have made allowances for, it would have been them, but they responded positively and were more than happy with what we offered. If it’s good enough for Frankie Stubbs, it’s more than good enough for whatever flash-in-the-pan indie rockers that are this month’s flavour or some broken down rehabilitated punk dinosaurs that were barely relevant in the first place.
Bands for benefit shows have to be taken on a case-by-case basis; there’s a world of difference between the need to have expenses covered (a basic necessity of the touring band) and bands being money-grabbing arseholes. I know for a fact that a well-known band took a four-figure sum for a recent festival that actually lost money. To me, that’s bullshit, especially when said band took to social media and crowed on about how great of a cause they were supporting. So great of a cause that they saw fit to deprive the charity of any profits for the festival. To me personally, as a “musician” and “promoter”, such actions are unconscionable. I understand all the “but they’re professionals and need the money” blahblahblah; I call horseshit on that as no band NEEDS a grand to play a show, whether it’s a one-off, part of a tour or otherwise. That said, we’ve had instances (rare, to be fair) at BYAF when bands have “held us up” for more money than was originally guaranteed; those bands will never be asked back and are on the shitlist. Most bands, however, are more than keen to support the cause and get involved, and most are more than happy to be involved.
I often get asked about how best to get bands on BYAF; for locals it’s simple – come and get involved in your local music community, contribute something positive other than bitching and moaning, and actually do some research before getting in touch (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve posted the FAQ). For touring/national/international bands, it’s case-by-case. If we can make it work, we will, but no one band is bigger than the festival itself. BYAF is generally a “cowpunk family” affair; it takes more than just one person to make this shit work. We also don’t book bands for BYAF that we wouldn’t book a regular show for. For me/us and everyone else involved, ye have to be sensible and realistic about things, but that works two ways. For example, we collectively need to realise that it’d be foolhardy to book Flavour of the Week and The Tasteless Scoots for a grand and hope for the best while only paying Respected Punks and The Internet Darlings fifty quid to drive from London or wherever.
Anyways, long story short; it’s called Book Yer Ane Fest so I’m in no position to tell people what to do and what not to do when it comes to booking their own shows/festivals/benefits/whatever. What I can say is that we strive to be open and honest with the bands that comes to play for us, let them know in plenty of advance what it is we are doing and what we are trying to achieve and that they’ll have a rad time with an attentive (and appreciative audience), will be well taken care of and their presence greatly appreciated. Finances (or the lack thereof) are always negotiated well in advance so there are no surprises for either party. If any band, regardless of “status” has issue with it, we just won’t book them. It’s that simple really.
We aim to provide a quality weekend of diverse DIY punk/hxc/emo goodness for a reasonable price whilst supporting charities that work within our local communities. I hope that is something that we achieve every year. If we fail in this objective, I feel that we have ultimately failed in our mission. This year the price for BYAF is going to be slightly higher than in previous years. This is unavoidable as we no longer have the run of our own space (that’s an entirely separate issue, which we’ll get to soon), but we still operate on the same premise and the objective remains the same. If bands/punters have any issue with how we operate, then they can feel free to let the boots do the talking and stay away or go elsewhere or, indeed, book their ane fest.
It’s important to be realistic but it’s also important to keep things in perspective. Ye can’t expect Recently Reformed 90s Nostalgia Band to play for a door deal any more than ye can expect Super Hyped Local Rock Stars to be grateful for their slot, but there is a middle ground where everyone can be happy (or at least contented) and everyone, specifically the charity, can benefit. That, after all, is exactly the fucking point of a benefit show; not ego, not earning fat cash, not taking the piss.
With all that said, a limited number of Earlybird Tickets for BOOK YER ANE FEST IX will go on sale on Monday 15th June alongside the announcement of the first batch of bands. Ye can ensure your entry to BYAF IX and all other shows this year by grabbing a MTAT HALF SEASON TICKET for £50. Now that’s a fucking bargain.
As Biohazard so eloquently put it; THERE IS NO BLACK AND WHITE, ONLY SHADES OF GREY.