MUSIC INDUSTRY SERIES: INTERVIEW WITH PROMOTER KUNAL SINGHAL OF CHAOS THEORY MUSIC
First Published 6 March 2014
Live performances have become an instrumental part of the music landscape in recent years. With the changes in technology and people having easy access to tons of music online for cheap (or free), bands are focusing on their live performances in order to offer a more cohesive experience of their concept and also to generate income.
Words: Ivan David
Kunal Singhal has been organising shows with underground acts for some years now. He founded Chaos Theory (http://www.chaostheorymusic.co.uk/) in order to create a promotional platform for adventurous and forward thinking musicians. The Facemelter is one of the events that they host on a monthly basis, which features heavy bands with fresh visions and ideas.
We had a chat with Kunal about the current music climate, his experiences as a promoter in London and the risks of working with great (but adventurous) bands.
Tell us about the concept behind Chaos Theory, how it was conceived and your prime objectives.
“Chaos Theory is a promotion I started purely to find a way to promote new and underground musicians of many genres in the current climate. I’d wanted to have an underground label of the same name for a few years, but after answering an ad for sub-promoters in London, I found myself so appalled by the way so many unsigned gigs were run here, that I decided to try to run my own promotion in the way that I thought it should be done.
“As it’s grown and taken on the help of a lot of decent people, I’ve learned so much that my goals have become a lot clearer. We want to put on great bands and make great lineups, but we also want to use the gigs to promote the bands before, during and after with loads of online content and by trying to reach out to the media. We want to appeal to people who are well tuned into whichever scene they’re into, but also draw in new crowds who may not know where to see live unsigned music in London that is actually as awesome as the stuff they’d pay for in major venues.
“It’s also about showing the world that London’s DIY music scene is thriving as much as ever creatively. If we can create an organised platform for these musicians, then maybe we can get some money into the scene from the base level and get the musicians more exposure to new crowds and more influential people in the industry.”
“The Facemelter” is Chaos Theory’s monthly event devoted to heavy genres. But it is a different experience from a regular Metal gig. Can you talk about The Facemelter, how it works and why it stands out?
“Well, I’m not sure that it stands out exactly, London’s DIY metal scene is thriving and there are some great nights out there that have popped up in the last few years. Or I just know about more of them now. One or the other.
“I guess with The Facemelter, it still is very varied regarding genres, albeit still within the realms of rock and metal. The lineups vary from month to month, so you might see a bunch of progressive metal bands one time, then see post-rock the next, prog bands next and so on. Some other nights try to have bands of different genres of metal or rock in one lineup, which keeps the gigs really interesting and varied, and we try to make sure that each band will stand out, but I guess I try to make the lineups more complimentary to each other.
“The theory is, that if you like one band on the lineup, then you should like them all, or at least pick up on one other band that you weren’t there to see. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, it’s just that’s the way I operate.
“Also I compere the events, which is weird for a heavy gig. I’ll go onstage and introduce the bands and after their sets I’ll give the audience any information about their merch, next gig and website. It’s just because so many people love a band they don’t know, the band are often too shy or aloof to promote themselves on stage and I want to give the people every possible chance to find and follow that band.
“I’m not very good at it though; as soon as someone steps up who can do a better job then it’s theirs.”
After several shows at The Miller in London Bridge, Chaos Theory is now starting to set up shows at The Black Heart in Camden Town. How do you feel about this move and what can we expect from future events there?
“This is a huge deal for us. I’ve been going to gigs at The Black Heart for about a year and a half and it is up there with Café Oto as one of my favourite venues in London. They only programme great music, take care with the rest of the pub as a venue, take pride in their bar, play cool music downstairs, have great staff and promote the events themselves instead of just booking out a room and expecting the promoters to do all of it.”
“You can expect to discover lots of great bands at The Facemelter on the first Friday of every month. There is no downside to this move.”
When artists complain about promoters only paying attention to the amount of people a particular band can get into a venue, Chaos Theory has a reputation of really caring about the bands and artists you work with. What are you looking for when you get approached by a band? What are the Chaos Theory requirements?
“So, first and foremost, I have to love the band’s music, or at the very least respect their musicianship, ideas and techniques. If they’re doing something interesting and I feel that it could be potentially influential if it had a wider audience, then that’s the first thing I look for.
“The next thing is how a band or musician presents themselves. If they have some sort of website which they update with all of their news, good quality music and gig dates, engage with their fans regularly and have essentially made a package of information which is easy for people to get at and makes them want to know more about the band, then that makes it very easy for me to promote them to Chaos Theory fans who may not know them so well.
“At our first Facemelter in the Black Heart in February, obe and Mayors Of Miyazaki shared all the links for the tickets and the online event to their fans, used the poster art and listed the event on every single one of their sites. They in turn sent me lots of artwork, full press release style blurbs, which we edited together until we were all happy, and sent me press quotes. All of this allowed me to create detailed newsletters, website listings and press releases to send out to my own contacts and promote the bands as best as possible.
“On top of this, obe sent me some rough tracks from their unfinished album a few months ahead, just so that I could get a feel for the sound that they were going for and programme the event accordingly. They also sent me a secret link on Soundcloud so that we could embed their album on our website the week before the gig, allowing people to get to know the songs and get fired up for the album release show.
“They compromised nothing about their sound or DIY ethos, but with that level of simple organisation and collaboration, we had a gig packed with people excited about the bands and all of them sold lots of merch.
“So yes, ticket sales are important, but it’ll only really work if everyone involved communicates and works together on pushing the event. No one needs to compromise themselves in any way. If your musical project is more than just a hobby, then start doing what all the bands you love do. Even elusive musicians like Tool and Jarboe had their tour dates listed on their websites somewhere. You’ve just got to ask yourself, “how much are my listeners willing to hunt for my music and tour dates?” and use that gauge to balance your levels of mystique and accessibility.
“If you do all of that, the numbers will come and you won’t even have to worry. There really wasn’t any pressure about this gig, we all just did what needed to be done and it worked.”
You are certainly giving opportunities to bands that are unusual and more experimental as well. Do you think taking risks in the current music environment with unusual bands is important?
“Hell yeah! What’s the point of only putting on music that’s safe and has a wide appeal? Everyone does that. I had family members asking me when I started this thing, ‘why don’t you book some big name commercial pop or indie artists and make a lot of money on their concerts instead?’ Because that music is fucking shite.
“I don’t want to promote for the sake of it, I want to put on gigs that I’d actively want to go to. I was so shocked when I moved to London and met so many so-called promoters who were actually taking the piss out of bands that they’d booked themselves. But as long as the very band they were making fun of brought 100 people, their pockets were lined so who gives a fuck about whether they actually take pride in their night?
“To those kinds of promoters, piss off, you are a fucking joke and you are ruining the scene for everyone. We have decent musicians playing to the same crowd of 20 people everywhere they play in London because they aren’t being given decent opportunities, while other potential fans of live music but who don’t know where to look, are put off unsigned or DIY gigs in general because of the pure level of shoddy, thoughtless random overcrowded lineups and disorganised gigs that they’ve seen. That shit needs to stop. There are literally thousands of new mindblowing musical projects in London alone that need to be heard.”
Are words like originality, authenticity and innovation important for the evolution of genres like Metal? Some fans seem to stick to what they know, but where to go from here?
“Aren’t they important for any type of music? I love hearing bands that play great music that reminds me more of a sound created by another band I’m a fan of, but in the back of my mind, I’ll still be comparing them to the first band that came up with the sound. That said, you see some bands trying to make up a new sound for the sake of it, which seems to result in a pretty soulless sound. I think the most original bands I’ve encountered tend to listen to a huge range of music and take influence from all of it.
“The pioneers of all sounds don’t try to make a new sound, they just explore ideas that they have and make something that they enjoy, so a new sound emerges organically. I don’t think Ephel Duath said, ‘we’re going to try to find a new way to fuse metal and jazz to appeal to a wider audience’ when they were writing Painter’s Palette, it just happened as a product of the time.
“What I’m saying is that if you listen to music from any period and generally keep your ears open, you can’t help but be influenced by everything swimming around in your head, so just go with it. I once asked members of Opensight and Chromosome Needle what they grew up listening to and their answers clearly demonstrated their influences and the musical journeys that they’d taken to result in them being completely open to new ideas and thus effortlessly create totally original sounds. They aren’t trying to live in the past and they aren’t trying to force a new sound, they just go with what feels right and something special is born.”
Chaos Theory is helping independent artists by organizing shows and giving advice in how to spread the word and bring more people to gigs. Can you talk about the tips and strategies you use when marketing your shows?
There’s the obvious stuff, like listings, newsletters, online events and putting posters up everywhere. Just making a bit of time to do that will make a big difference in the attendance. Essentially, the best thing to do is to go to loads of gigs, meet people and tell them about yours. You now, be a music fan. Rick from Cosmic Carnage is really good at that, he’s just a huge ball of energy who loves all metal and chats to anyone, so promoting his own gig is no different for him than promoting any other gig he’s looking forward to.
“If the lineup excites you, you won’t find it a chore to plug it. That’s why I’m adamant that I love all the music that we put on at Chaos Theory and why I’ll listen to suggestions from all of the team, as they’ll push something that they really love.
“Magda, an integral part of Chaos Theory, brought us Bitter Ruin, who supported Jarboe at her acoustic gig that we did last year and she’s always on the lookout for great Facemelter bands because she’s always at post-rock and math gigs. So the short answer is, be into what you do, you’ll sell it convincingly then.”
Your events are giving more exposure to bands and also helping them to build income streams. What would be your advice for generating exposure and income for bands, especially bands that are innovative and take risks?
“Generating income is tricky but doable. There are some great independent musicians out there who are in complete control of their creative vision and demand a lot from people working with them, but with good reason. Their standards are high, they get results and people are willing to pay for their merch and gigs. Jordan Reyne and Bitter Ruin are some great examples of independent artists who take complete control of their sound and are able to generate income from it.
“All I’d say is, not being a successful independent musician myself, is to keep the standards high. Don’t release amateur phone vids on YouTube, don’t put up music with bad sound and poor mixing online and certainly don’t sell EPs and albums which haven’t been produced to a decent level. Also the music should be good! Make the standard as professional as you can and then start to have some fun with it.
“Make up weird viral campaigns, hide random stuff around town for people to discover that links them to your sites, make really weird packaging, whatever you feel like doing. It’s up to you, express yourselves, engage your fans in a way that would stand out to you in a band you’d never heard and put out work that you would spend money on yourself.”
So how important is for bands to get involved in the business side and market themselves?
“Well, that depends on how much they can afford to spend on good managers and booking agents who are as excited as they are about their music. If they can’t, then it’s worth getting good at simple stuff, like checking your emails every few days, making sure you go to nights, meet bands and promoters and email them with links to your stuff. If you have a gig, then let your fans know about it. Well in advance, not two days ahead.
“I have some extremely good bands sending me dud links, wrong bank details to pay them with, stuff like that. We all make mistakes, but it’s always worth checking. If all the members of a band can muck in and send out a few emails each, post a couple of things on their social media a couple of times a week each, then you’re making your lives very easy.
“Same comes from organising equipment, set times and other details with promoters and bands you’ll be working with. Darkeye even set up a Facebook group for all of the bands and myself to organise times, gear share and discuss promo ideas. No surprise that the gig was packed and went really well.”
How can we stay in touch with Chaos Theory and make sure we get info about your events? Please share your contact details with our readers?
We have a website (chaostheorymusic.co.uk), which Cognitive Dissonance kindly made for us. It’s got a lot of info there, but I’ve still got to put most of the content up there! Upcoming events are on our homepage and you can click through to our Facebook and Twitter.
“There’s a contact form on the website, if you just want to say hey, and you can read about some of the people involved in the team in the Behind The Chaos section.
“Come and say hello at our events as well, even if we’re busy it’s great to meet new people who are into some of the bands at our nights.”