Boileroom, Guildford

‘There is no substitute for live music’ - Dominique Frazer, manager and owner of the Boileroom, tells us why smaller venues are more important than ever…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 27 Jan 2015
  • min read
Small venues such as Guildford’s Boileroom are one of the reasons Independent Venue Week (IVW), a seven day celebration of all the UK's grassroots music scene, was set up.

The Boileroom is a local music institution, an essential platform for new and emerging acts to cut their teeth. However, like Manchester’s Night and Day Café, the venue has had to fight to stay alive following complaints regarding noise by local residents. The Boileroom was ultimately saved from closure but its plight was indicative of the challenges many of these smaller stages face. As IVW enters its second day, owner Dominique Frazer tell us why there’s simply no substitute for hearing and watching music played live…

When did you start working in live music?

I started back in 2003, as the co-editor of Spill music magazine. As well as putting the publication out each month, we'd also host one-off shows in Guildford, Southampton, Oxford and London.

How has the business changed since then?

I think the internet has had a big impact on the way promoters and musicians can reach out and connect with their audience. The internet has really sped up the process of buzz band to established artist. It also means bands will often only do a short run in smaller venues before they head for bigger stages - sometimes before they're quite ready.

How have the relationships between artists, promoters and venues changed?

These days, we very rarely deal with artists direct - most of our shows will come through their booking agents; although we pride ourselves in our strong connections to the local acts that play in Guildford and the surrounding areas, and do what we can to support them - be it giving a support slot for a big name artist, hosting their EP launch or just giving advice to help them develop as musicians. After the Live Music act passed, there are a many more places hosting live music so there are more options for promoters in terms of spaces, although the strength of our relationships with promoters and musicians has meant a mutual loyalty.

How have audiences changed?

I think that more audiences are getting their fix of new music for free through blogs and streams, as opposed to coming down to their local venue to check out a few bands they might never have heard of. On the other side of the coin, this does mean that our audiences are becoming more music savvy and open minded, so we can also have more people in to see a greater range of bands.

Why are independent music venues so important to communities and local economies?

Independent music venues don't just provide a stage for people to see established acts play on their doorstep, (who people do travel from miles around to come and see) but they also act as a platform for smaller artists to get their voice heard and to contribute to the arts community at large, breaking down the barrier between artist and audience.

Being an independent business, it's in our nature to collaborate with others. We've built strong ties to local colleges, schools and universities as well as other arts organisations, businesses and individuals to create a real collaborative culture, supporting each other rather than competing, and benefitting everyone involved. More often than not we’re not just 'music' venues either, we regularly host craft clubs, educational workshops, exhibitions and more to help make the arts more accessible to everyone.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an indie venue?

I'm not sure that much has changed in this, but getting people through the doors! With so much music available for free, huge companies with big budgets putting on events, the Live Music act opening up more small spaces to compete with, less disposable income and more, totally effects turnout. There is no substitute for live music so it's communicating this to our customers old and new, making sure we're ahead of the curve to compete with all of the above in such a turbulent industry.

Why did you get involved in IVW and how does the initiative help your business?

As I mentioned we're always been keen to team up with other like minded businesses and organisations, so when we were first approached to be an official venue for the first year of IVW in 2014, we jumped at the chance! It's been wonderful to be able to connect with these other great venues across the country. Being recognised for what we do and having a raised profile has helped to introduce us to a wider audience, as well as giving us the opportunity to bring some really unusual and exciting shows to the table - we have stadium fillers You Me At Six playing to 300 people on 30 January as part of IVW 2015 which we can't wait for!

What can be done to better support and protect the UK's small venues?

A greater recognition that these venues have real cultural value, not just within smaller communities but the country as a whole, would be great.

What advice can you give to artists trying to establish themselves as a decent live act?

Professionalism from the off is one thing we look for. The importance of good communication, arriving when expected, politeness and working with the venue/promoter can't be understated, it makes everyone's working relationship a lot easier. A good on stage energy and enthusiasm always makes a good impression. Looking bored was good for The Sex Pistols but on a local level, not so much. Not overplaying your local area is something that I think people can forget about as well, getting live practice is good but as cliche as it might sound, if you leave them wanting more then they'll be coming to your next show!

Frankie and the Heartstrings and You Me At Six are some of the bands gracing the Boileroom’s stage as part of Independent Venue Week. Visit the venue’s website to see their listings for the week.

Check out our interview with You Me At Six ahead of this week’s performance at the Boileroom.