This entire article may or may not apply to you. This is based on my personal experiences with music in the northwest of the UK. I come from an events management background and every time I've ever gigged with a band I've felt that gigs are run badly. These are the two biggest reasons why in a very long winded manner.
1. Entry fees are too high.
You have to pay the bands. You have to pay the sound guy. If you're a promoter you have to pay yourself. The thing is though, that doesn't mean anything. Just because to break even you have to charge X doesn't mean anyone will be willing to pay that. Sure, it's reasonable to try and break even, in fact it's pretty much the bear minimum you'd want from a business. Thing is though, that argument isn't going to get you anywhere with a customer. I love music, and I pay to support it. I buy CD's all the time and I go to gigs of people I've never heard of just because it's a band. I'm on the verge of stopping though, because I can no longer afford to go to gigs. A 3 entry fee may sound cheap for 3 bands, but it means that by the time I've got to the bar and ordered a drink I've hit a fiver. By the time the bands have tried to convince me to buy their EP I'm down a tenner.
I don't mind spending money on music, but here is where the problem lies. Most local bands aren't yet worth any money at all. There is a reason you're not signed. There's a reason you don't have a following and the reason is that you're not that good yet. I've been to see loads of bands and lot's of them were fine. They were tight, they were musically sound, they were nice guys. They didn't move me though. I didn't want to jump up and down, I didn't want to go and buy their CD. There are millions of bands on the scene that are good enough to play as a band, but the simple truth is that I don't think the vast percentage were good enough to be paying for.
If I went to see a band night this week, I would be willing to bet that 2 bands would be fine but boring and one would be good. If I'm going to spend a tenner on the night though, why not just buy a CD of a band I already like? This is what promoters are up against, and also the reason cover bands are so popular. Music is not safe, because you make an investment of time and money to it. Downloading music is safe because it's free, but most people will buy the albums that they really love, when they know they love it.
The truth is, live music is a hard sell. It's got an above 50% chance of being a boring night because most low level bands just aren't that good yet. The only way I think you can do it is for free. If you do this, you'll lose money. But you might gain some fans, and truth be told, that's more than anyone I've met is doing so far.
It's time to question the business model. Rather than playing bars, why not play house parties? Instant crowd, free to play, friendly audience. They might actually come to a gig in future, they might tell a friend about the party with the full band. If you're going to run a night in a bar and charge for it because you want to break even, that's cool. I respect people who want to pay everyone involved, but simple truth is, you have to question whether it's ever going to work as it is. If the amount that you have to make to break even is higher than the demand can provide, then you are running a business with no future. At that point, the question is are you doing this to break even, or are you spending money on a hobby?
2. Bands are required to sell tickets.
I hope to never again have the following conversation with a promoter, 'you're playing the 9.30 slot ahead of the headliner who's on at 10.30. If you send me your address then I'll send your tickets. They're 6 each.'
I've done that. I hate it.
Some promoters are good. They try and get people to gigs, they run the gigs as cheaply as they can, they understand the hardships of being a band and trying to get a limited fan base of people to gigs multiple times when you're trying to gig a lot. Our fan base was probably about 150 people that we could get to a gig. However, getting them to any random gig was nearly impossible. If you have a show every week, and you're trying to break into a new city then that means they have to spend an amount of money on a ticket, and then however much the transport costs. When we played Manchester this amounted to 20 for the two.
My band tried desperately to get people to the gig and we sold out our share. We got to the venue and we welcomed our friends, we bought them drinks, we chatted. We played our set to our friends, we finished our set, the following band came upstairs and played their set and their friends watched them while our friends sat downstairs in the bar. Why did our friends not watch the other band? Because they're not that bothered about music. Why did the other bands friends not watch our set? Because they're not that bothered about music.
In trying to fill a quota you get people who aren't interested in music to come along, and then the only person that gets anything is the promoter. The band loses money travelling to a new city, they don't gain any fans because they were watched by their friends and maybe 2 other random people and theres no atmosphere because you can't fill the place by yourself. All that the ticketing system does at a low level is cause bands to burn through their friends favours. . . and wallets.
At a higher level, ticketing is obviously necessary, but at the local level selling a pre set amount of tickets is just another form of paying to play. Bands that are good will pick up fans. There are other ways to advertise yourself. They are rare, but try and find a bar where you can play for free with it's own crowd. Try and get onto free bills, but don't fall for the idea of it being your big break if you can bring 20 people to a gig.
I'm not saying this will work for everyone. Certain types of music has to be played constantly in bars to 5 people everywhere picking up a fan at a time to be considered legitimate and this is based on my personal experiences, but I propose a changed attitude to music. People are blamed for not coming to see live music and support bands, but the truth is, it's not just one way. It's hard to support live music because gigs at a lower level are run without any thought for how people consume music. Make music gigs an occasion - something people want to go to and maybe they'll come.
If you gig once a week, it's hard to convince someone to come to your show. They could come next week. They won't but they could. If you gig once every 3 months and make it a massive blow out party where you invite everyone personally, not on FaceBook and you find a free venue to host it in that's easily accessible to all your fans, then you might just get a better response. If you cut the amount of supply, the demand may just increase.
What's the evidence? Our album launch was May 19th 2011. It was free entry and we gave 300 people a personal invite. We gave the gig a party theme and brought twister and drinking games. We brought over 100 people, we sold out of our album and we made about 375. All it cost our fans was the price of drinks and if they wanted one, an album which was priced at just 3. It was a memorable gig for everyone who came and everything fell into place.
You can't have an event like this every week. There isn't the demand for it in most local music scenes, but if you play less and put everything into it, then you just might be able to make it work.
The biggest problem with local music is that it's expected that a band should merely turn up and everyone should fall at their feet to worship them. It doesn't work like that. You're selling you're band, so make it worth it. Give someone a reason to come to your gig and maybe they will.
If you liked this, I have a blog you can follow, which is www.cobenb.blogspot.com, but like this it's mostly just written to get my head onto some virtual paper and is based on my experiences so it probably won't be even moderately relevant to you. If you want to talk to me then I have a website which is www.coben.weebly.com. I like talking about guitars, event running and the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.