Promoting & Booking 101:
Venues typically work in a few different ways:
1) In House Talent-Buyer:
Some venues have an internal staff member who handles booking. This person is typically paid directly by the venue and works for the venue. Mid sized to larger rooms will often have a talent buyer. They handle the booking of (usually) national touring acts. They are the one responsible for dealing directly with national agents. They also handle booking the local talent. Sometimes as openers for the nationals shows, other times (especially for the mid sized rooms) as all local bills. For smaller venues the owner himself may function as the rooms talent buyer.
2) Outside Agency:
Some (usually bigger) venues will bring in outside companies to handle booking their national acts. Examples would be Bowery Electric or The Knitting Factory. There are many different ways venues handle hiring outside agencies. They may pay them a flat fee, share in the gains and revenue from the events, or a combination. Regardless, their is always a cost to the venue for using an outside agency. Many venues use this model simply to outsource all or a portion of their booking and leverage the relationships these agencies have with national agents.
3) Outside Promoter:
The Promoter is typically someone who books shows at the local level. This is the person most local acts receive their shows from, other than directly from the venue. The promoter does not work for the venue. He or she may work with one or various venues within and across markets. Some promoters also deal with booking national acts. In the outside promoters case, they typically have to pay the room where they are putting their show, as well as the national agent. As explained below, their costs may be higher due to the deals they get and their rooms costs as an outside promoter.
Most rooms will allow bands to contact them directly to book a show. They will also rent their room out for functions and other events. The person renting the room may be involved in the industry or may just be someone that wants to host a function such as a bachelor/bachelorette party, birthday party, dance party, etc. These costs vary. (More below on door deals, splits, bar deals, and room fees)
Most rooms use some sort of combination of the above. Venues that have outside agencies or in house talent buyers will often still allow outside promoters to book their room for a fee.
Mixing Terminology | Promoter vs Booking Agent:
A booking agent, also known as a talent agent (not to be confused with talent buyer), typically represents a band or many bands. They are the one a promoter would negotiate with in order to book an act (usually at the national level). An example would be The Agency Group, The Windish Agency, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Paradigm Talent Agency, and many more. Some specialize by genre, others cover a broad spectrum of clientele. As you can see by their job descriptions, a promoter is not a booking agent.
If a local promoter wants to books a particular national act he or she would typically contact the artists agent. For national touring bands their is actually a bidding process that takes place. A bid/offer is placed with the agent. This is a legally binding process. Sometimes it is done formally. Other times not so much. There is an element of who knows who. Sometimes an agent or act has been working with one particular venue/talent buy/promoter for so long that they will strike a deal with no more than an email or phone call without a competitive bidding process.
A lot of factors go into determining cost of a national acts. There is a major difference between a band that had a hit in the 90’s compared to an act that is currently in rotation. Some bands are simply past their prime, on their way up, or at their peek. Pop artists at their peek playing stadiums can command anywhere from 250k to a million, whereas a band with a hit a few years back may only cost a few a grand to book. Also, the cost of the the national act may vary depending on the market. It is not uncommon for there to be a few thousand dollars difference between what a national can fetch in a primary market as opposed to a secondary market. Even the day of the week the event falls on can factor in to price. Ultimately, like anything else, the price (or the value of the band) is what someone is willing to pay.
Most promoters starting out try to stay under the 5k mark. But some will go up to 10k or a little above. Venues that can seat a few thousand people will often be in the 20k to 100k market. In addition to costs such as the national bands guarantee, the size of the room, expected draw, and ticket price-point are obviously critical factors.
The issue for the local promoter booking nationals is he or she is the smallest person fish in the pond. There is a lot more than just the money (though that is at the top of the list) that factors in. An agent needs to know they are working with someone competent who has (a respected) history. Established venues and talent buyers usually have a reputation in the industry. Often times a promoter must be willing to pay more for an act than the talent buyer or other venues are willing to do in order to get the bill.
The issue here is others have determined that the price point they would have to pay is just no longer profitable. They determined the event not worth the risk. In other words, the local promoter often makes bad deals. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes the other venues may not have bidded on the national act because the date falls on an event they already have or they simply may not be interested in the show. Regardless, the local promoter is typically at a disadvantage in the process. Besides over paying for acts promoters (and even venues) can get stuck with bad deals in a variety of other ways. Just like as at the local level some look at the talent buys and promoters as the “gatekeepers” the same is true for agents at the national level. Agents typically represent many bands so a promoter often finds his or herself doing favors and booking shows they really didn’t want. They do this to build a relationship with the national agent. Also, most promoters have to work their way up and book some of the smaller acts the agent represents in order to round off a tour for the agent. A promoter may do this for a show they weren’t interested in in order to get the agent to consider them for the bigger acts. Also, it is not uncommon for an agent to say something like “If you want <awesome band> in September I need you to book these two acts we represent in August.” This is why you’ll often see a promoter known for one genre with an unexpected bill outside of what they normally work with.
All of this is why promoters (who book nationals) tend to be the ones most up in arms when local artists begin to organize and speak out against unfair practices. They have the most to lose. They spent (sometimes) years building relationships and doing favors and often losing money on bad deals to get themselves to the point they can land better acts. Yet, they are still the most inconsequential in the game. If they get a bad reputation in their market to the point locals and venues won’t work with them then the national agent can simply continue working with other venues and talent buyers directly or move on to the next local promoter on the block.
I Want to Open For A National Act:
First, I hope after reading this you will be a bit more cautious about what you agree to with promoters knowing that a common practice is for them to make many bad deals they think will later benefit them. But here’s how the process typically work for local support.
National touring acts come in a few varieties. Sometimes a national act (depending on their level or popularity) may not have any opening acts, others come as a package with openers, and many come needing local support. When a national bill comes ad a package the openers could be anything from a band (often a newer act) that is represented by the same agent, on the headliners label, or may have bought on to the bill. Yes, pay to play is common at the national level and independent artist will often “buy on” to either an entire tour or to select shows and markets. The national may use a portion of this money to offset tour costs like hotels and travel expenses. There are resources available that list what acts are touring with available buy on spot available and contact information for independent artists. The “value” the act buying on is they get to get in front of the nationals crowds often in new (to them) markets. So in other word, “exposure” is the common reason. Independent acts will often try to offset this cost buy selling merch at these events.
(Tip: If you ever pursue this option work out all the details ahead of time. Read contract thoroughly and know what you are signing up for. Bands have often agreed to these deals thinking they could sell merch and shirts at, for example, 10 bucks only to find out there is a clause that their merch prices can’t undercut the national acts. They may then be forced to sell shirts as high as 25 or 30 dollars. This can financially cripple an independent act on tour. People will often support an opening touring act who they liked by buying a shirt at 10 bucks but may not be willing to spend 3 times that on a band they really don’t know.)
The Cost of Doing Business:
Overhead is simply the cost of the event. It’s the amount financially that needs to be covered before a profit can be made. This could be tens of thousands of dollars for bigger national bills in bigger venues when the cost of a the tour package; staff, including sound personnel, door person, security, etc.; any rentals, and even taxes and insurance. For a smaller bill it may only be a few hundred books. Overhead depends upon the size of the venue, the amount of staff needed, the cost of the acts (including local openers).
Understand that there is different “overhead” for everyone involved. The venues “overhead” can the include the costs associated with just being open including lights and electricity. The promoters overhead may just be the cost of the sound guy for the night.
Overhead and room costs are determined and negotiated between the venue and the the outside promoter. No artist should ever hear the word “overhead” when locking up a bill. Promoters have many options in terms of where they put their shows. This a business decision. Their deal with the venue is a business transaction. Both the promoter and venue decide if they feel the event in question is worth the financial risk (and possible gain). Once this is all determined the promoter will reach out to acts that he or she feels g
This is VERY important. It is the promoters job to know the market he or she is working in order to determine if a certain artists is right for their bill after factoring all of their costs and risks. By the time the band is contacted the promoter should have done their research. Their
However, don’t confuse a promoter who is lamenting their “overhead” aloud in order to get you agree to some deal that may or may not unfairly benefit them as someone that gives you information as full disclosure. It is not uncommon for a promoter to tell a band “I have to pull 100 out of the door for sound and then the rest of the door revenue will be split among the bands.” This is actually the type of promoter you want to work with. The red flag to look for, and the promoter you don’t want to work with, is the one outright telling you they are in over their heads and are essentially trying to pass the buck (or a portion of costs) to the artist. No professional will ever go into too much detail on the behind the door dealings with agents, venues, etc. If they do, expect their follow up line to be asking you for a “deposit”, to agree to X amount of tickets, or to outright pay for your slot.
Many businesses operate much the same as a venture capitalist would. They make many deals knowing some will end up being a lose, some will break even, and some will be a home run.
The promoter tries to insulate themselves against their bad deals and shows that happen to go bad nobody’s fault. This model undervalues the artist. Here the promoter is trying to minimize downside risk by having artists absorb some of their risk and costs yet they are the ones who enjoy the upside potential. When the promoter has that home run show where a few grand profit was made, even if he is a decent promoter who honest about the nights numbers with the local artists (something else to be cautious of) he or she knows that most bands are pretty happy to receive a few hundred bucks. This is only because the bar has been set so low and artists are quite accustomed to pay that equates to the cost of a pizza or gas money for one member. The issue here is the band absorbs much of the risk on previous shows, limiting the promoters downside, but the promoter receives far more of the upside when it’s there.
Normally, I would say band gets paid what they get paid and that’s the end of it. Traditionally, a band shows up, performs, gets paid, and that’s it. However, when the promoter has decided to bring the artists (knowingly or unknowingly) into their business model as a buffer against risk they have now partnered up with the artist. They cannot just partner up to share the nights expenses and possible loses and then not so the same with the successes. This, at it’s core, is what the scam is all about. In other words, it’s not a zero sum game. The model disproportionately favors the promoter even though his role and risk has been limited profoundly.
Making Good Deals | Making Bad Deals
Classic Pay to Play:
Variations on Classic Pay to Play:
Pay to Play in Disguise:
How p2p Is Bad For Venues:
The Free Market Argument:
The “Exposure” Fallisy:
Strategy For An Artist Looking For Gigs (National or Local):
We are going to list this in order. Your strategy should be to pursue your options in this order.
1) Contact the venues directly.
MUCH is to be gained by working directly with the venues. The obvious is you cut out the middle man, i.e. the local promoter. But building a relationship with various venues yield more results. When you contact a venue they may have an event with an open slot that you can jump on or may give you your own date to book. When you do this your value to the venue just skyrocketed. You’ve gone from just being a band looking for a bill to someone willing to work, get their hands dirty, and bring the venue business. You essentially now have the value of both an artist and a promoter. When a band does this successfully for a period of time they earn the venues and communities respect. They are the first the venue will want to give an opportunity to if that venue also books nationals.
IMPORTANT: Building a relationship directly with the venues will lead to bigger shows and supporting national acts. So for both local and national gigs your best strategy is to work directly with the venues. If you work, promote, and bring something to the table early on, it will pay dividends in the end.
Build relationship with local radio stations:
In Providence, many stations like 95.5 WBRU, 90.7 W , 94 HJY, and others are very active within the local music community. The same is true for stations in other markets. These stations often book and/or sponsor local events, as well as sponsor the bigger national shows. A good relationship with them will actually lead to better events, as well as possible promotion for your smaller events and releases.
This is why we advocate being a relentless networker. Promoters often prey on younger bands who haven’t yet developed many relationships or even bands that have been around that seem to have few options. You are absolutely in control of your success at the local level. There is a directly relationship between how much work you put in and the results you will get out of all this.
Work With Promoters Who Don’t Book Nationals:
As described above, promoters who book national acts are prone to bad deals and often have the stress of thousands of dollars on the line for one event. This is always on their mind and absolutely affects their local bills. If a promoter took a bad hit last week on a big national show he is hoping his local show next weekend will start the process of making up for that hit. In other words, the local community is nothing more than a casino for most promoters working with national agents. This is why they are the first to advocate for derivative p2p models, even at the local level.
In contrast, local promoters that book only local bills are often doing it as a means to give back to their community by putting heads in the venues and giving bands opportunities. Some made an active decision to stay away from the business of booking national acts. These promoters are dealing in thousands of dollars. With most local bills there is typically only a few hundred on the line.
WARNING: This is not to say there are no bad or unreputiale promoters at this level. This definitely seems to be an industry that attacks its share of scam artists. This is why working with a promoter is at the bottom of the list. At the local level, booking through a promoter is almost completely unnecessary. There are plenty of smaller rooms with open calenders a band can contact. And as described above, working with a promoter for national bills is gamble, to say the least. I may be one of the worst gambles a band can make.
Also, this is not say venues can’t be unreputable. There are definitely a few that come to mind. However, most venues understand the business. Just like a local restaurant that doesn’t want bad reviews, the same is true for most venues. Also, in Providence, we do NOT have any pure pay to play venues. In fact, most venues, especially the smaller rooms, are active participants in the community and supporters of local independent arts. Providence is VERY lucky in this regard.
Summation On Booking:
If after pursuing all these avenues and artist still consistently finds themselves without shows then it may be time to reconsider which band member is handling the booking. We know that sounds cold but no one is a victim here. Bands that complain no one will book them are either not working hard enough, have made a bad rep for themselves, or just not good at developing relationships and networking. Also, let’s be honest, as much as we are staunch supporters of our local independent artists let’s some people and bands are just jerks. No one wants to work with a jerk. There are a few really good bands that come to mind that we would never work with and could never recommend anyone else to work with because they just are not the most pleasant of people.
What Venues Look For In A Band:
If you just gig to have some fun with the boys, have a few drinks, and get a night out, while there is nothing wrong with that just be aware that you’ve telegraphed it to everyone, including the people you may want to work with on future bills. For a venue to want to work with a local band consistently they are looking for a few things:
The reality is if you are packing venues you’ll probably never find yourself with a shortage of available shows. Venues stay in business by getting heads through the door and drinkers at their bars. Some would put this on the same level of promoting but is not. Promoting is a close second. If you are, for some reason, filling the rooms without making a single post or flyer you will still find plenty of shows in your future.
2) Promoting. <IMPORTANT>
While this isn’t number one it is very close to it and is a surefire way to get you to number one. You will never increase your draw if no one knows who you are. And you will never get on decent bills to get in front on new crowds if you are known as a band that doesn’t lift a finger to promote their events. It is a cycle that too many bands get caught up in. Some bands have a strange attitude towards promoting. Yet those same bands want good shows. And the shows they tend to get often don’t go very well because again, no one really knew about the show.
Bands often fall back on, “Well, it’s the promoters and venues job to promote.” Well, yes. Yes it is. It is as much their job as it yours. The bands or artist is in the best position to reach their friends, family, and fans. At the local independent level a promoter or band could relentlessly promote a bill but still have band turn out because they weren’t reaching the people that are interested in seeing relatively unknown bands. The most successful shows are the ones where all involved work hard to make the night a success. The venue promotes, the promoter (if there is one) promotes, and all the bands promote.
Greatest response a venue or promoter can give a band complaining about a bad event is simply, “Well, did you tell anyone?” If you didn’t tell anyone you were playing then how could you expect any type of a crowd? This is the start of the cycle. The band has shown that they are not worth the venues time or effort. Not because of low turn out. Many bands promote hard and still have low turn out. But because the band did nothing to help make
The Lie Bands Tell Themselves:
“Well, I shouldn’t have to promote. Bigger artists don’t promote. I should just show up and play.” First, bigger artists spend thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands promoting their events. They even hire agencies who sole job is to promote the band and their upcoming appearance or tours. This cost national artists far more money than what is expected of a local artist on a local bill. Bands that make these statements are the ONLY ones in the entire industry not promoting themselves and their events. In our experience, most local promote their events.