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Five Bucks

I met up with a group of music industry professionals this afternoon, and as we were chatting, we got on the topic of the problems that exist in the area of live shows.  I’m not talking about soft-seater or stadium shows, I’m talking about gigs in small, local venues.

It’s clear that there are lots of different opinions on what works and what doesn’t, but right as we were wrapping up, I made a comment that I think warrants publishing, and it’s this:

There’s nothing that bothers me more than shows that cost $5 to get into.

Five bucks, in my mind, is WAY too low.  When I played in bands in my early twenties (about 10 years ago), shows cost five bucks THEN. You know what else cost five bucks? A pack of cigarettes. Try finding a store that sells you smokes for under $10 now. (Note: I’m in Toronto, Canada, so your prices may vary depending on where you live).

The live music scene – and again, I’m talking about club shows, here – has sort of backed itself into a corner.   How often do you hear this:

“You’ve got a show on Friday? Cool! What is it, like, $5 to get in or something?”

People have gotten so used to charging $5 at the door, simply by default, that if you charge more, patrons tend to be surprised. But the cost of guitars, amps, strings, gas to get to the venue, food, and virtually everything else has gone up.  Why hasn’t the price of seeing bands?

No business in the world can survive without raising their prices at some point. Nobody likes doing it, but imagine if a can of Coke still cost a nickel, or hotels (nice ones) were still $10 a night. They would have gone out of business ages ago.

Of course, just doubling the price to $10 to get in (where it should probably be by now) isn’t the solution.  Like one of the artists I was talking with pointed out, they’d rather have 40 people at $5 than 20 people at $10, because it’s the head count, not the dollar amount taken at the door, that the bar cares about when deciding to have you back.  Fair enough.

If we had been raising this incrementally all along the way, however, maybe today $10 would be second nature – the ‘going rate’ if you will – and younger bands would be in much, much better shape.

So my solution? We can start now. Surely, raising your prices to $6 or $7 probably wouldn’t cause that much of a dip, if any, in your attendance.  More importantly, however, is that the price continues to go up in line with the cost of doing business (and we all agree that running your band like a business is vital). It’s not a price gouge, it’s smart business, and it’ll help keep you afloat for longer.

Everyone – bands, promoters, venue owners, and supporters – need to be open to change in order to find the right price for a night of live music.

$5, as a default, just isn’t cutting it.

Scott Honsberger is chief blogger at Your Band’s Best Friend , and Founder & President of the Toronto Music Industry Association


Reader Comments (9)

$5 is better than free. seems like alot of locals everywhere are willing to play for free. kills the working musician all the time...

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterRanch

A few things to consider, though this is an extremely subjective topic, both from band to band, town to town and venue to venue.

1. 10 years ago when your band was playing for $5 there weren't as many bands fighting for your attention via so many different avenues. The entire landscape has changed in even just a decade. People don't consume recorded, or live music the same way they did in 2002.

2. For every band that will play for $10 there will be another band who will play for $5 or less, and depending on the venue situation, street traffic and people who aren't there to see you are less likely to even bite.

3. If you're talking about club shows, it's the chitlins circuit, and honestly also a litmus test that measures your salt as a band or an artist on the road, and it's a rite of passage for most. I've played a lot of matchbook sized stages in a no name towns to thankless audiences, some of those efforts led to getting an agent (or better agent), better guarantee and all the things that go along with that. It's a process.

4. Promoters and club/bar owners don't care. Why? less money someone has to pay at the door means more at the bar and that's how they get paid. Period, end of story. Even if they take a cut of the door, the value added there is negligible compared to the markup on booze.

5. Some things got cheaper. Gear got more expensive due to inflation sure, but now you can buy it used and/or discounted ebay, or closeouts online. You can Priceline your hotels literally from the road and get it at a 1/4 of the price it would be, flights can be found discounted too. Your gps and phone is all you need to tour manage yourself and handle logistics.

Businesses and music have survived and thrived through much worse conditions and times, I'm not saying that this is an easy time for music, this is gutwrenching. But in my opinion talent, passion, time and perseverance are still the deciding factors in anyones success (whether they need a day job to support that or not).

March 19 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

There's some missing logic here. If you can't sell out a venue at $5, then there isn't enough demand for your band at any higher price point. However, if you can sell out a venue, you can raise the price much higher because of demand.

A band needs to build its fan base, its quality of live performance, and its discography first. A low price point allows low risk for potential new fans to check out new music. Building the audience is priority over getting money. If you see dollars over fans, you're dead in the water for building a lucrative attendance later.

If you have no audience, charging more won't get more people. It will, however, chase them away.

And I've seen these same small venues that normally charge $5 raise their prices to $15 to $20 for a band that can sell out the venue. Chase the audience first before chasing the cash.

In Canada if you're doing original songs, you need to charge $6 or more to get live performance money from SOCAN

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

In most smaller towns where the economy is still in shambles, $5 is the limit that most people are willing to pay for a bands they have probably never heard. That's a fact. Where I live in Rockford, IL, there are few artists that can demand over $5 at the door and most people have no problem walking away if they see a cover anywhere around $10 or above.

Every locality is different and I'm just talking about our music scene here, which is pretty blah right now. We have no mid-level venues and we also reside in that netherworld between Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee which people overlook when booking tours. It's really hard to get people out as well partly because our local media does an abysmal job of covering original music. They tend to focus on cover bands that play songs the audience already knows.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterChip

Firstly, I am surprised by how many opinions there are over such a small amount of money. But I think what is boils down to are two sides of the story:

Attracting potential new fans fans via not charging VS charging.

If you decide to charge, I agree with 10 bucks. If people are so worried about the price being 'doubled', then try some new things. EG. Have a policy at the door. All fans without iPhones pay half. Or all fans that post pics live during the gig to the facebook page get a drink ticket.

Anyone tried these things with their bands and artists?

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Lixel

Everybody acts like it's a big mystery, why the music scene isn't what it was 20 years ago.... The Baby Boomers have all gotten older..
We used to rule the world, by shear numbers...

Nowdays the kids have 1,000 other things to do, and there's a lot less of them to do it.... and if seeing a band is on their list of things to do, the music is splintered into so many different genres...Rap, Metal. Pop, Death Metal, Math Metal, Hip-Hop, Emo, Shoe Gazer..etc...etc....

All we had was Rock, Disco & Country to contend with...with a smidgen of Punk & New Wave

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterUnka Rick

Twitter Followers and Facebook Likes Services?

A friend of mine said he uses a service to boost up his followers and likes and he's real happy about it. I'm just a little ambivalent about it though. I just wanted to see what other people thought about it. Have you used this kind of deal? This is the one my friend told me about

I can understand the argument that people like to see that other people like your page, the whole social proof thing. Any input is appreciated.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterJonesyWilson

I agree with the OP, which if I'm not mistaken, didn't even mention the cost that venues charge bands. $6 or $7 is a good place to start.

January 17 | Unregistered Commenterderekp83

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