Communication is the name of the game; switchboard operator Chris Murtagh tells how to get in touch.
Looking for a band? Searching for a gig? Save yourself the run-around, as Chris Murtagh suggests, and go through a Switchboard...
A Musicians Switchboard is a central contact/information service for players of all ages and types. It saves the often fruitless search around the music shops for other musicians capable and willing to join forces on various musical projects. It also saves on the expense of advertising in the press, where a good deal of time can be taken up sifting through dozens of enquiries, without the certainty that the advert will reach the right people in the time it has to run. Of equal value is the compilation of information regarding the local and national music scenes, which is not readily available from any other one source.
These are the basic functions of a Switchboard; in the current set-up they are offered to any musician in the United Kingdom for £1 per month. They are operated on a non-profit basis by volunteers, making a minimum charge to cover running expenses. They are organised as a loose association, each Switchboard complementing the others, gathering and passing on information. It is hoped that if the Switchboards develop into a national, or even international, organisation with an operator in every town it will be possible to keep musicians in contact with each other wherever they may be in the country.
You may well ask if this service is not already provided by the Musicians Union. The British MU issues a yearbook containing a list of all musicians registered with them that year. As a guide to finding musicians it tends to be of use only when employed to find those musicians who remain in the same place all year. The tendency with a large percentage of musicians is to move about to where the work exists; therefore, for those musicians, the yearbook is obsolete from the time it leaves the printers. It also contains only registered MU members and in the experience of the Switchboards a large percentage of musicians are not in the Union, making the yearbook not a comprehensive guide as to where to find the most suitable musicians for a project in a specific area. The MU has, on its own admission, been slow in dealing with the special circumstances surrounding rock musicians and has only in the past two years gone some way to alleviating the problems in this sector by appointing a Rock Organiser, Mike Evans.
Those involved in the Musicians Switchboards see the ideal solution to their lack of resources at the moment is to have their service incorporated in the facilities offered by the MU, or as an integral part of the Social Services. The MU's main objection to this is having non-members of the Union being able to use the service offered. They do understand the benefits of such a service and how that could benefit their membership, but for the time being are just prepared to observe how the situation develops.
There is a strong argument put forward as to why the Social Services should take an active role in offering some service for musicians. At the moment, if an out of work musician registers with the Department of Employment in Britain, there is nothing they can do to find him or her work as a musician. As there are thousands of musicians who do not want to be anything other than musicians, it would seem worthwhile for the Social Services to operate along the lines of the Switchboards and provide employment for musicians.
The Switchboards in operation at present in the United Kingdom are a carryover from those already well established in the United States. The lack of any similar facilities in the UK prompted the establishment of the service, the main differences being that the British Switchboards operate on a non-profit basis and are attempting a national link-up operation. In effect this would go some way to providing an extension of the Social Services to include musicians, much in the same way as the operation in Scandinavia helps musicians.
The initial reaction to Switchboard advertisements was very encouraging. In at least one area there were more members registered with the Switchboard than with the Musicians Union. Comments like: 'Why hasn't anybody provided this service before,' further convinced the operators that such a service was necessary.
The registration of a musician can be handled over the telephone and does not require face to face contact or an office. Anybody with a telephone who can organise a filing system can operate a Switchboard. Of course it does help if that person is also involved in the music business in some way and can operate on their own initiative. As the Switchboards are operated by volunteers who have their own work to do during the day or evening, it means that the Switchboard services can only be operated at specific times in most instances. This does not prove to be a problem, with the advertisements for the local Switchboards stating during which hours they will be in operation. This arrangement appears satisfactory to both operator and musician.
Other services operated by the Switchboards depend on the initiative, incentive and particular interests of the various operators. One idea in operation is to offer the facility of being able to sell or exchange musical instruments and equipment through the Switchboard, which again saves the need for individual advertising. A 'What's on Where' service is operated by another Switchboard which also attempts to co-ordinate various promotions. Because of the immediate contact the Switchboards have with musicians, promoters and the organisations involved in the music scene, they are in an advantageous position to organise pressure groups and attempt solutions to problems otherwise left to the individual musicians themselves.
One such case involved a number of retired people who were also musicians and registered with a Switchboard in the hope they could find others like themselves who would like to get together and play 'socially', just for the fun of it. The solution came from just such a retired person in that the Switchboard should contact the breweries and eating-houses to see whether they might prefer one or two of these people to entertain their clientele, as a change from piped muzak. The idea was passed on by the Switchboard and taken up by the breweries and eating houses; the musicians were enthusiastically greeted.
The general lack of amenities for live music performance is one of the major problems encountered by any Switchboard. The Arts Council of Great Britain was established as a means of providing amenities in areas where none exist. To this end it has done a great deal for the furtherance of the 'Arts' and has brought classical and jazz music to a wider audience. However, when contacted by a Switchboard in order to find out if they could be of any assistance in suggesting venues which could be suitable for rock music, one of their directors responsible for live music replied that they were unable to be of any assistance in that field of music and suggested that the Switchboard seemed the ideal organisation to tackle such problems. Unfortunately, the Switchboards do not have the resources of the Arts Council and it took a lot of time and effort for them to accumulate the necessary information and to start to tackle the problem. This illustrated the problems faced by a particular type of musician and the lack of any organisation to represent them.
Similar situations arose where again it was difficult to find any other one body which could organise even the most basic facilities for musicians. The provision of rehearsal space is a problem with most bands. The Switchboards were able to compile a list of places in their area mainly by asking their own membership, then passing on that information. Although very comprehensive guides exist to recording, for a lot of musicians and groups it is often too expensive, albeit necessary. It is a comparatively easy task to arrange with recording studios for reduced rates for two or three bands who can be called in at short notice to record during the studios' off-peak times.
Information on transportation, road crews, and equipment hire are all available from the Switchboard. Photographic, publicity and printing facilities are all listed, if not directly handled, by the Switchboards. The ideas on what the musician needs comes from the musicians and is implemented by the Switchboards.
The idea of a national network of Switchboards is part of an attempt in Britain to achieve some further decentralisation of the music business from London. Having to some extent helped in finding some of the best musicians in the country, without the necessity of going to London, the Switchboards are in the process of trying to establish a managerial, promotional link with London and the provinces; as far as most musicians are concerned, this is well overdue.
With the situation at present being that the music business is centred, some would say entrenched, in London, the developed musical talent outside the city has little chance of receiving the type of management or promotion which they may deserve, unless they make the trip to London. In practise this scheme works admirably as far as the record companies, managers and agencies are concerned, as they need move no further than London to see the country's musical talent displayed, with only very occasional expeditions to the provinces.
The effect of this situation on the bands and musicians themselves can mean that they never achieve the recognition they merit, or they are forced to leave the relatively stable environment of their locality and try to sustain themselves in London. Although it may be said that the best of the bunch do eventually surface, it must also be understood that much worthwhile musical ability is denied the chance of any real help because of the operation of this system.
The Switchboards in Britain hope to be able to provide that missing link with London. They hope to do this by becoming involved in promotion and being able to arrange a venue or venues in their areas and to offer facilities to artists and bands from other parts of the country. In return, however, the musicians involved, or the local Switchboard in that area, will have to arrange reciprocal facilities for any arrangement of this sort, on a basis of: 'We'll arrange some venues for your bands to play in our area, so they can at least cover their costs, but you must do the same in your area for our bands.'
These reciprocal arrangements with other towns also extend to London. Therefore, if a Switchboard is able to arrange some venues for bands from the London agencies, then those agencies will be asked to accommodate a local band from the provinces in London. This type of arrangement can make it easier for a good local band not only to visit other towns, but also to play London on a break-even basis. All that is required by the Switchboard operator is cassettes from their local bands to send to another Switchboard operator in another town to see if any venues could be found to accommodate any of the bands. The problem at present is the lack of a contact in any particular town who would know the venues that exist for all types of music, and who could co-ordinate the promotions for a visiting band, giving both band and promoters a good package deal, so that neither loses.
These then are some of the ambitions of the Musicians Switchboard network in the UK. What is needed now is for individuals who are interested in music and receptive to musicians' ideas, and have sufficient initiative and incentive, to be able to operate a Switchboard in their town to join forces with those Switchboards already in existence in a loose association of co-operation. Of course, this development should not only be limited to the UK, and it would be interesting to hear of any organisations throughout the world who are pursuing this sort of activity — a worldwide Musicians Switchboard set-up would really be something.
Chris Murtagh, (Contact Details)
Services: Switchboard; rehearsal, transportation, recording, publicity, promotion, and photographic information; hire; sale and exchange of equipment.
Brian Gellatly, (Contact Details).
Fee: £3 per three months.
Services: Switchboard; buy and sell equipment; new equipment at up to 20% discount for members; tuition contact; rehearsal information.
SAM Distribution Music, (Contact Details)
Fee: 10% for booking gigs.
Services: Distributing records for non-commercial organisations in Sweden and Scandinavia; gig-finding; musicians information centre.
Musicians Contact Service, (Contact Details) or: (Contact Details)
Fee: for initial listing.
Services: Switchboard; musicians work; musicians for bands, managers and agents.
Lorna Poolsen, Musicians Contact, (Contact Details)
Fees: 10% for booking gigs
Services: Gig-finding; musicians information service.
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Feature by Chris Murtagh
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