Do you think that it is fair for artists to be expected to bring the audience to their gigs? Who should handle the promotion and how much of it?
I get job postings all the time from promoters putting on gigs in London. These nearly always come with a minimum audience requirement. I.e. you must guarantee that you can and will bring a specified number of people (usually around twenty-five for small venues). If you don't, you don't get booked again.
Sometimes promoters will pay you for each attendee after 'x' of your guests. I.e. You have the chance to make money only from your tickets, and only after the threshold.
This brings up a number of issues:
Artists have been moving towards a DIY approach more and more, particularly since the Internet took off. If you're a small, unsigned artist, you're able to handle almost all of your graphic design, online presence, tour booking, career direction, production, marketing etc. but now you're expected to promote as well? What is the 'promoter' doing if you are responsible for promoting the gig? He may have put the cash up upfront for booking the venue but that doesn't mean he should sit back and not do any work while you earn him money.
From the promoter's point of view, the ideal may be that your name is big enough that the promoter can use it to handle selling your tickets. This isn't always the case with smaller acts. The artist has his website, Facebook, mailing list, and phone-book and, the smaller the artist's fan-base, the more likely that it is contained within these databases. To whom is the promoter going to sell tickets if the artist can already contact everybody that knows his name?! Perhaps there is a solution that isn't as ludicrously far off as London's music scene would have you think. What if the promoter were to develop his own name and a following by consistently putting on fantastic music events? Then, the venue could develop their own name by consistently hiring high quality promoters. This method has always been a recipie for success. If you don't believe me, think of a venue/festival stage/event that is always at full capacity and has a reputation for great music. Why else could it have this level of success?
Money isn't the only benefit. Personally, I'd say that it ticks all of the 'idealistic boxes' for 'why we got into promotion' as well as all of the 'realistic boxes' that are crucial to survival. If you're a promoter, consider the following benefits of this method:
This approach all too often is not considered. The artist often ends up doing a large chunk of what is conventionally supposed to be the promoters job. Of course, promoters for small gigs are usually doing several different jobs not to mention all of the organisation and curation but this is a different issue.
It is important to consider the promoter's point of view. If nobody turns up, it is him (and probably the venue) that will lose money. Do you expect that the promoter should be responsible for all the audience? Maybe you are confident that you can bring the numbers required and don't have a problem with doing so. The important thing is that you are both clear about what you expect from each other. Working with flat fees (not door splits) can instantly make it clear that the risk is down to the promoter. Personally, I stopped taking gigs offering door splits because, if I was going to take the risk of losing money on a gig, I'd want to put it on myself.
The best way of looking at it is by being aware of the value of what you already have and how much time and effort you are willing and able to put in. If you can fill a 250 capacity venue in a particular city once every three months, you'll be able to charge a little more because there is less risk to the promoter. If a promoter demands that you bring at least twenty-five people you should only accept if you are confident that you can. Then, you should consider charging more than you would for a gig that you wouldn't need to promote as hard; you're being asked to do more work and those twenty-five fans aren't going to come to see you tomorrow night.
Gigs with minimum audience requirements take from gigs that don't
If you had two gigs in the same venue, in the same week, but only one had a minimum audience requirement, would you put more effort into promoting the one that did? How about putting less effort into promoting the one that didn't? (Neither of them add up). Is the solution to this really that you shouldn't gig in the same venue/city twice within a certain space of time? I've seen gigs with a 'three-week rule'. Perhaps it depends on the size of your name. However, I've gigged twice in the same weekend, in the same city, to packed venues many times. I remember once having a great evening with four gigs in the same night. It would be a real shame to sacrifice several great gigs for the sake of one. I'd say that it's fair to rely on someone else to draw the audience if this is understood by both sides. There are plenty of gigs with an almost guaranteed turnout: birthday parties, street parties, festivals etc.
Promoters and venues are sacrificing their reputation for a quick buck...but it never adds up
Your friends and family will probably support you and come to your first gig even if they wouldn't normally listen to your music. They might see it as 'doing you a favour'. Even if they like your music, they will never build you up to be the demi-gods that they consider their favourite artists to be. This can make it really difficult to get numbers down after the initial stages where everyone is enthusiastic but before the later stages when you are established and successful. This leaves a lot of talented bands out in the cold.
The attitude of many promoters has created big problems for artists, venues, gigging scenes and the promoters themselves. I see so much crap from inexperienced bands and, while I advocate that they should continue performing and develop their act, perhaps open-mics would be a bit more suited to them until they're ready. When I see this crap, it's usually because I've stumbled across it. It's not the kind of thing that will encourage me to come back to that night next time it's on. The promoters probably don't care too much; next month, they'll have a new set of bands that can bring a new set of mates to the gig to hear their crap music. Maybe the audience will even spend more on drink because it's so awkward!
Capacity is not necessarily conducive to talent. If you place capacity above talent, you will suffer in the long run.
There's a pub in central Bristol called The Old Duke, also known as 'The Jazz Pub'. They only ever have a door charge on New Year's Eve. Their bands have residencies and there is music every night of the week. By 10pm each night, the place is nearly always packed. The Old Duke works by having it's own reputation. Bands know that people love the pub and that it will be packed. The pub knows that people love the pub because the music is always good. How can anybody on either side not view this as a million times better than booking a crap band and both the band and the promoter working ten times as hard to fill the capacity through Facebook spam, worrying that it won't pack-out, and then seeing the audience slip through their fingers so they have to do it all again next week? The Old Duke could put on any amazing band from anywhere in the world and people would be there and enjoy it.
Minimum-Audience-Requirement gigs aren't a sure fire way for the promoters to make money either
A new band may genuinely believe they can draw numbers that they can't. It's easy to see how this mistake is a common one to make when a hundred people turned up to their very first gig!
Whether or not you bring numbers, you're still working
Performance is work. Composing is work. You handle writing killer material that got you noticed in the first place, you handle delivering killer performances. Some artists, even 'small names' prefer to spend as much time as possible focusing on that and then to let the promoters handle getting the numbers down. Why shouldn't this be an option? Isn't that the point of giving somebody else a chunk of the money from ticket sales?
The more people that you can bring, the better, but is it really fair to expect it of you? The answer to this is probably yes and no: Yes it's fair if that's the deal that is on the table. If you don't agree, don't take the gig. Yes it's fair that part of the effort should come from you if you're in a good position to promote effectively. No it's not fair that so many venues put too much responsibility for numbers on the artist; this will only burn bridges as, even if you don't take these gigs, somebody else will and it's the scene and the viability of making a living as a performer that suffers.
Gigging to 'your own audience' means that you're not making new fans
You'll probably agree that there are some gigs where a fanbase is crucial, e.g. your album launch. Once you become more established, it's more beneficial to use your 'big name' and more reasonable to expect you to do so; you are fulfilling more roles than just 'an entertainer' when you progress beyond a certain size.
Minimum audience requirements for smaller bands and artists mean that more of the audience already know you. This can also make progress slow and hard to find a strong foundation to begin. This can work both ways; if you don't bring people, you aren't introducing your fans to the venue, to the night, etc.
The promoter may have more expectations of you than you have of him
Say you need to bring at least twenty-five people, how many does he have to bring minimum? He may be just a middleman. What's his value? Maybe it's just that he's offering you a gig. Artists are often in a good position to bring numbers to a gig but I don't think that you should be expected to bring a minimum amount. Generally, if you can't bring an audience, it should be up to the promoter to figure this out by communicating with you. If he's not convinced, he can book somebody who can.
Make sure, through communication, that you both know what you expect from each other. If the promoter is just a middleman, you might as well rent out the venue yourself. You can really help yourself out by putting effort into promoting your gigs but, ultimately, however many turn up, turn up.
Promoting your gigs is not just about getting numbers down; it exposes your name and possibly your music to more people. You could get your name out to 300,000 people from the marketing campaign of one small gig. I find that, when I get booked, it helps if the promoter has already seen my name about.
Minimum audience requirements have been killing the potential for medium sized bands to do medium sized gigs for a long time. It has also been exploiting naïve artists for a long time. I once saw a post for an open-mic night with a minimum audience requirement of fifteen people! 'For the potential of getting paid gigs'. I couldn't believe it. That must be a poor venue if they can't even attract audiences to an open-mic night. You know that the atmosphere there is going to be sour.
Although London is famous for having this kind of stingy music scene, there are still plenty of places in London that work without requiring numbers from the artist. They have to have a great reputation for talent. These places should be rewarded and you would probably rather bring your fans to a night where all the acts are good rather than one where it's you and a load of noobs.
Is this a fair take on it? I'm sure a lot of places in London are backed into a corner with high costs and it's a shame. The simple rules for me are, keep it clear, don't be lazy and, if it's unfair, just don't do it!
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