By David Lowry
One of the major issues that we deal with booking whether it be as a talent buyer, booking agent or manager is a band that just doesn’t get it. As a band you have to understand your worth (not what you think you are worth, but actual worth) or whether or not you are relative to the area based on where you are playing. So many bands think they are worth more than they really are which can make it much harder for them to book themselves. This can be a big problem with an act that has success in the past, but hasn’t done much in the last 10 – 20 years. In a perfect world, we would all get paid to play but this isn’t a perfect world and everyone in this business is only as good as the last show or deal. If you aren’t producing the kind of numbers that determine what you think you should be getting paid you won’t. Never out price yourself because you make money in certain markets. What you make at a rally or festival is not what you are going to make at a club.
I think most of us have seen the picture of world-class violin virtuoso Joshua Bell playing at a subway for hours and only making $40. As sad as that is, that was his worth to the people walking by in that area. Why, because people don’t know who he is, they don’t understand his level of talent and he wasn’t entertaining as a spectacle. Was he brilliant in his performance of the music? Absolutely. Did the public care? Absolutely no, they did not. I have told this to many of my bands or friends in bands. Go stand on the street corner and perform to the best of your ability and what you walk away with is what you are worth. Because that is the level of value you brought to the public. If you did great, captured and audience that really stayed and watched you performing and threw money your way then you are on to something. If you only made $40 bucks after hours of street performing well then guess what, you haven’t found the formula that draws people in to actually pay you money because they loved your music and they were entertained. If can’t capture the crowd on your own merits without all the lights, venue and hoopla then the venue is right to not really pay you. All that stuff is just there to enhance your performance. There is no truer test than being without all the lights, speakers and comfort zone standing in front of a crowd and seeing the response to your music.
Please understand this is rarely if ever about how good a musician you are. It’s about how well you perform, entertain, write music, promote and how smart and shrewd a businessperson you are. If it was about talent almost all of would never make a dime compared to the classical, jazz and opera singers out there. They are the most brilliant musicians in reality. The rest of us are just well, musicians.
This is what venues are looking for. They are looking for you to entertain the public and crowd you bring in. This is really effective with a frontman or woman that really knows how to work the crowd. When you do, people have a great time, spend more money and talk about what an awesome time they had listening to your band at that particular venue. That means the venue can now expect this to happen more often and then the price they pay you will go up. It looks good for you, the venue and the crowd now have another place to hang out and spend their money for entertainment. If you don’t wow the crowd that reflects on you, the venue and the public is left wanting more. This would preclude the venue to not book you again or if they do, not pay you well or at all until you can bring what they are looking for.
When it comes to booking yourself, make sure you can do the above better than anyone else. When you start talking to new markets about your band, don’t assume because you get $1,500 in one market, you will in another. Some venues will pay this, most won’t because they don’t know you, they don’t have any experience with you and if you have never played in the area before, well then you won’t be bringing a crowd either so why should they pay you what you make elsewhere where the opposite is true.
Most often when breaking into a new market you have to take your lumps and work up to your normal fee for performance. You might get your rate, or a bit below or maybe just a door deal because the venue doesn’t want to take a chance on you. This may not be fair to you but it is to them. Please leave all the venue is ripping me off talk out of the equation. All you can worry about is what you can do, bring to the table and make sure you promote very, very well. Don’t assume the venue or promoter will. You worry about you. When you are big enough, in your contracts you can put promotion guidelines other then that, the venue is paying for advertising in their local rags across the country. Most bands don’t pay to promote at all, so don’t say they aren’t promoting. Could it be done better? Yes, but usually by everyone involved not just the venue.
Out pricing yourself because you think you are worth more then you are is the quickest way to lose the gig. This is also very hard on whoever might be booking you and eventually they will just let you go if you don’t get it as it reflects on them and they are putting in so much work to help build you a business just to constantly here you say no. You have to warm up a new market like everyone else when you don’t have radio play or some other major thing happening in your career on a national level to draw attention to you. Learn to be flexible with your pricing and prove to the owner/talent buyer your worth and you will get paid as soon as you knock it out of the park.
Sidenote: If a couple people tell you how great you are, that isn’t enough. Sales must be up, attendance must grow and everyone must be all over you. Don’t let the hype of a couple fans let you think you are doing better than you are or make bad decisions. Be honest with your performance that night and do you best to track your market by getting the numbers on the night if the venue will give you the information.