Every few years, promoters and venues begin trying new ideas to make their show successful:
Pay to Play
In the 80’s, “pay to play” was a trend that forced artists to pre-sell tickets for their shows to help made up money lost for shows with a low turnout. This is something that still continues today (especially in Los Angeles, where the movement was birthed) and in the UK. The concept is pretty simple: you guarantee to sell a certain number of tickets for your show. However, if you don’t meet the quota, you’re personally liable for the difference. In most cases, even if you sell the prerequisite number of tickets (it can be 15-50 tickets or more), you only get paid a fragment of whatever you sell above the agreed minimum (usually 50%), not the entire batch of sales.
Due to the backlash against the “pay to play” model, some promoters are now asking for a deposit to secure the show. Usually, they want $75 or $100 for “production costs” which you can earn back after you make at least that much in door sales (very few will allow you to count bar sales). It’s pretty much the same concept except they claim that you don’t have to pre-sell tickets.
Another option that promoters will ask for is a rental fee. Sometimes, they are forthright and tell you it is a rental fee – whatever you make that night, you keep (you just pay a flat fee for the night). Other times, they are dishonest and will tell you that “production costs” are X amount and the initial split of door money will cover that. However, what they don’t tell you is that if you fail to meet production costs, you’re expected to pay the difference. Most venues/promoters are not like this but it’s why the agreement should be clear ahead of time. It also helps to check their reputation: talk to bands who’ve played there, read some reviews.
Booking the Other Bands
Finally, many promoters are now asking touring bands to find local talent for the show. Sometimes, they will only confirm your show if you have a local on the bill. Other times, they want you to book the entire lineup. So now that Myspace is pretty much defunct, how do you find bands in the area that would be a good fit?
Try these ideas:
- ReverbNation: ReverbNation is a great site for bands to find other acts in a certain zip code area. You can sort by genre, get a feel for their following, see what shows they have coming up (if they’re using the calendar widget). If you have a profile, you can contact acts through there. However, not everyone logs in and checks their inbox frequently. I’d suggest going to their website or social media sites and contacting them through those.
- Sonicbids: With Sonicbids, you can still look for other bands by area/genre and find their website/social media profiles to get in touch with them. You can also create a promoter account and list your gigs (if you have confirmed venues) for artists to submit their EPK’s to. It takes quite a bit more work but you can see what acts are proactive in their promotion efforts.
- Craigslist: Craigslist is good for more than finding jobs or a fling: there’s an active music community on there. You can post an ad for bands under “gigs” or you can post directly in the musicians’ community section.
- Local weekly: Another option is to look at the weekly paper for the area and see what bands are playing at the local venues. It’s a good chance to see who is active, who is getting press, and what kind of venues they are playing.
- Google it: If at first you don’t succeed, try Google. For example, if you are looking for bands in a city, try this: “[City Name Here] Bands” Many cities have a website where local musicians are listed, along with promoters or venues in the area.
- Ask Your Friends/Fans: You should be playing in places where you already have a fanbase or local connection. Ask your contacts – chances are, they’re connected with the local scene somehow and might know some local acts that would work well with you.
- Ask the Promoter: This might seem like an obvious one but you’d be surprised at how often people skip this step. When the promoter asks you to put the bill together, ask them if they have any recommended acts to contact!
- Other Social Media: With sites like Linkedin, you can find networking groups who might be able to help you. It’s more difficult to find bands via Facebook but any combination of the above will help get you to the artists’ pages.
Remember, many bands are willing to do show trades or will take a show to make a connection. You just have to prove that it’ll be worthwhile for them: they’ll get press, it’ll be fun, they will get help when they come to you in the future, etc. It’s a two way street.
Booking trends will continue to change. From payout structures to putting more responsibilities on the bands being booked, it’s best if you know what to expect and how to overcome these challenges. As the market becomes more competitive and businesses struggle, more promoters will be relying on bands to do the booking, promoting, media relations, and yes, even covering the rent. With a little education, dedication, and hard work, you can exceed those needs…so when you ask for a show again, the promoter will be more than happy to welcome you, without the extra clauses.
Simon Tam is the President and Founder of Last Stop Booking, author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements, and performs in dance rock band The Slants. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at www.laststopbooking.com. He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam