The Role Of The Local Promoter vs. The Local Band

image from www.oakparkhistory.comGuest post by Lance Tobin (@ltliveboston) who runs a musician-based tax accounting firm and is an independent concert promoter in Boston.

One of the most advantageous relationships an artist or band can have is with a promoter. At the local level, there seems to be a mystery as to what exactly the promoter does. "Does the promoter promote? Shouldn't the promoter be responsible for bringing all the people if I'm putting everything into the music end?" These questions resemble those I hear from local artists on a semi-frequent basis. While that logic may seem like it makes a lot of sense, it can ultimately hurt the artist in the long run.

To answer the question; yes the promoter promotes. However, the promotional push varies at different levels based on the expected effectiveness of the promotion. For example, a large national act or regional touring band has a recognizable name. If I'm promoting a show with a headlining act with a solid fan base, investing in print ads, radio spots, and other means of advertising may make a lot of sense. The average concertgoer will see that name and make it a point to go to that show. The context of the promotional push is much less important at this level. Whether you see a Facebook post from your favorite band or a flyer at your bus stop, you're going to that show regardless of how you found out about it.

At the local level, it may be a completely different story. Local promoters frequently encounter bands that are looking to get their foot in the door and are still working on building a solid fan base in their hometown. They're completely focused on the music, and spend 99% of the time before their scheduled show practicing and honing their sound. Of course, practicing and putting on the best show possible is something that should be a primary focus. However, it goes back to the saying "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" This is the same premise with a live show. If a band plays a flawless set, but the only people there to hear it are bartenders at the venue, was it really a live show? Truthfully speaking, you may be able to salvage some kind of benefit from this scenario, but it's almost as if you just moved the location of your practice onto a stage, and that has very little benefit to your band.

The reality of the situation is that the local band developing their fan base lacks the notoriety of a regional or national act. The fans most likely to go to see this band are people who know the band, be it family, friends, classmates, or co-workers. This is where most bands start. At this level, it makes much more sense for the band to reach out to these people rather than the promoter. The band knows EXACTLY who these people are, and can reach them more effectively. If the promoter makes the same push for the local act as they would for the regional or national act, it may not have any added benefit. For this type of show, the promoter may scale back and do things like flyers and "let-outs" (waiting until a show is over and passing out small handbill flyers to each person who leaves.)

The local promoter makes his money off of his share of the door sales, and possibly off a percentage of the bar sales, if they're lucky. The typical split I use with local artists is 80/20, where the band receives 80% of the total ticket sales. The first question most often asked is "Why does the promoter take a percentage if I'm doing all the work promoting the show?" Think of the promoter percentage as a return on investment. Their job is to rent the venue and give you a great place to host the live music for your fans. The room rental fee must be paid whether the show makes or loses money. In this sense, the promoter is taking a risk on your band, and they believe in you to put on a great show and bring out enthused fans. If the show flops, the band lives to fight another day.

While it hurts to play for an empty room, they're not liable for the room rental costs, and they most often take much less of a financial hit than the promoter. That loss may severely impede the promoter's ability to rent rooms, pay guarantees, and pay the bills. When thinking of it in that context, 20% is a fair percentage for taking the risk on the band. The successful promoter can single out the local acts that are less risky, and have a firm grasp on what it takes to bring people out and expand their fan base. However, every band has to start somewhere, and most local promoters have to take a chance on a new band every once in awhile.

By pushing your shows and doing your part as a band to bring fans out, you'll build a solid relationship with promoters who can really make things happen for you. The most lucrative concerts for a local promoter are with touring bands with a large fan base in the area. More often than not, these bands are looking for the promoter to build a solid bill of local support that can help sell the room out. These headliners are often paid bonuses at sellout capacity and take a large portion of the ticket sales. The more people that come out, the more the headliner makes. Once your band has developed a large enough following, the relationship with the promoter can gain the necessary exposure to make some things happen.

In the new music business, artists truly have the opportunity to take charge of their careers and expand their fan base. The sooner they can single out who their fans are and reach out to them in the right way, the sooner they will take off and gain the ability to perform as a full-time job. The role of show promotion is something that should be shared between the band and the promoter. At the local level however, the band generally has much more leverage in bringing the fans. Make friends with your local promoter and show him you can bring fans out. Your dream of playing in a band as a full-time job will become much more tangible.

Image via OakParkHistory

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  1. So what are your thoughts when it comes to pre-sale tickets for local artists? Often times I see with the artists I work with promoters requiring 50 pre-sale tickets to be sold (price depending on the show of course, but usually averaging $12-$15), and a band receiving sometimes as low as $1 per ticket sold.
    Then there’s the aspect that if a band can not sell all 50 tickets, they don’t get to play. Even if they’ve sold 25 out of 50. The promoter still is allowed to collect the money from those 25 sold, but the band either has to cover the rest of the cost out of pocket, or not play the show.
    And there’s little to no promotion from the promoter via Facebook, or locally around their town.
    Now obviously, if a band isn’t confident in selling 50 tickets then they shouldn’t accept this deal. However, I’m seeing this practice more and more with just about every venue I come into contact with in cities where metal/hardcore/rock bands play. To which forces a band in the position to accept deals like this if they want to play, since every venue in their town operates like this.
    This also limits the amount of shows a band is allowed to play. Everyone who’s ever played in a band knows playing in a live setting is the best chance to truly perfect your sound and presence. It’s where you learn to become a functional band. Yet if every time you go to book a gig you’re forced to sell a certain amount of tickets, this eventually will limit how often you play, since most direct fans of local acts won’t go see the band repeatedly each month. It also eliminates the frequency you can play with other acts and hopefully play to their audience and gain over new fans.
    I run into this when booking tours and searching for local acts who would fit perfectly on a bill, but are unable to because they’re already to focused on selling tickets for a show three weeks prior to the show I’m booking.

  2. There are disadvantages and advantages to selling tickets and promoters have numerous reasons why they do this. One reason they make you sell tickets, is to pay for a headliners guarantee. You pay up front for the tickets when you confirm for the show, they take the money from all the bands, give it to the headliner to confirm the deposit section of their contract for the show, and your band gets to open for a “major band.” The other reason they make you sell tickets is to cover rent and expenses, as Lance stated, while maybe taking a little bit for themselves (everyone has to eat right!).
    Now there are promoters that will take a little more than they should, which is the ones you want to stay clear from. If time after time you and your group do shows for them, and you sell all you tickets without issues, then there is a chance that promoter is taking advantage of you and you should continue business with someone else. Remember if you are playing in the same market (city) more than 1 time within 1.5-2 months, you are hitting that market too often. There are always more promoters out there. Band’s shouldn’t be wankers about how the “promoter screwed them over” and talk s*** about them over the internet because there is a big chance it could come back to bite you in the ass.
    Bands are marked, in the booking realm, of how many tickets they are worth. If you aren’t worth 50 tickets, then you shouldn’t be on the bill as you understand, Justin. The point of having support bands is to provide support (aka: heads) to the headliner.
    amplifiedsteve’s comment about “paying to play” is not the same as doing ticket sales. If you are giving money to a venue (and not renting it out) to play a show; that is wrong. If you are paying for a clump of tickets to play a show, that is a guarantee to the promoter that people will be there, or it will be your ass to blame.

  3. “The most lucrative concerts for a local promoter are with touring bands with a large fan base in the area. More often than not, these bands are looking for the promoter to build a solid bill of local support that can help sell the room out. These headliners are often paid bonuses at sellout capacity and take a large portion of the ticket sales. The more people that come out, the more the headliner makes. Once your band has developed a large enough following, the relationship with the promoter can gain the necessary exposure to make some things happen.” <--- This only works for a few years unless you're LA, Nashville or New York. Large acts want/get a guarantee. The promoter then lines up local supporting acts on a ticket minimum. The large act benefits from the local band's hard work and fanbase. The club also benefits from alcohol sales and, depending on how many bands are on the show and the ticket minimum, their overhead is covered whether anyone shows up or not. Over time, the seasoned local acts figure out the game and look for other avenues and avoid pay to play situations. We've watched it happen in a lot of venues that are now struggling to pay touring acts because they've hung on to the pay to play format too long and have driven away all of the good local bands.

  4. I’m an independent promoter and don’t receive any portion of the bar sales. When I rent the room, the money covers the staff wages (which aren’t much), and they still rely on people to come out and drink as well as tip. The seasoned local acts I work with sell tickets because they know it helps bring more people, not because they have to.If they have a solid draw and choose to not sell tickets, that’s fine also. My article was more focused on the band that is 1-2 years old and doesn’t understand how it works at the local level. I NEVER do pay to play and I don’t believe in it. I never charge for tickets, I just require the bands to bring me the unsold tickets before the day of show.

  5. Bands never pay up front for tickets, and there is no minimum required. However, if a band is opening for an ideal act to maximize their draw and don’t sell tickets and their draw at the door is low, I may never work with them again, or relegate them to a smaller show to prove they can promote and bring people out. I try to be as fair as possible. If I’m booking a band in the first place, they know there is an expectation to draw for future opportunities. Many times bands ask for weekends, but I always like them to prove themselves first on a Sunday-Wednesday, which are the slower nights in Boston.

  6. If the headlining band can’t sell the venue out, then pick a smaller venue. This article is the biggest lie I’ve read in a long time. You will NEVER succeed as a young artist if you allow yourself to get sucked dry by these “promoters”. Play for guarantees, not % of the door, not number of tickets sold. If the business you’re “promoting shows” has no natural clientele, LET IT GO OUT OF BUSINESS. It’s just sucking the artists dry and then going out of business anyways because the owners thing you can get something for nothing.
    I have personally played over 1000 shows with contracted guarantees, and I can first-hand say that you will NEVER get anywhere playing these pay-to-play scams. Lance Tobin you’re dead wrong and a parasite on art & entertainment.

  7. Does the promoter promote? Shouldn’t the promoter be responsible for bringing all the people if I’m putting everything into the music end?”
    These questions resemble those I hear from local artists on a semi-frequent basis. While that logic may seem like it makes a lot of sense, it can ultimately hurt the artist in the long run.
    That logic DOES make a lot of sense, because it’s correct. YOU non-promoting promoters are the ones ultimately hurting the artists, not their questions.

  8. David you should reread the article. I didn’t say promoters like myself don’t promote. But if I make a full promotional push for an artist just getting their foot in the door, it won’t make a difference. The artist in that situation has a fanbase comprised of their friends, family, co-workers etc. and they’re in a much better situation to reach out to those people. Why would I pay a guarantee to an artist who can’t bring people out? That’s the entire point of a guarantee anyway. If I’m paying you $400, I expect at least to break even (say 40 people at $10). When I bring in an artist with a big fanbase, I’m happy to pay guarantees, door percentages, and make a hard promotional push for people to come out. I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but you should try your methodology promoting shows and see how ridiculous it is to throw money at an artist who makes no effort to promote, when some artist who will work their tail off to bring people out is waiting in the wings. I have bills to pay like the rest of the world. I’m sorry if it upsets you that promoters aren’t in the charity business.

  9. Also David I never said anything about pay to play. If you read my above comments, you’ll see that I don’t believe in it. I give tickets away to artists for no up front money, and I just require the unsold tickets to be returned. There are a lot of self entitled musicians out there who aren’t willing to take advantage of the new music business model, and aren’t willing to lift a finger to bring people out. In the long run, that only hurts the artist. If you expect promoters to throw money at you for playing your instrument to an empty room, you have another thing coming. It’s 2012, not 1985. Use the internet, use the free promotional mediums out there and create conversations with strangers about your music. 99% of people go out to music venues to listen to bands they like to listen to already.

  10. I believe in selling tickets, but not in paying artists $1 per ticket and in pay to play. I would never keep the money from ticket sales if a band isn’t playing. That’s theft essentially. I hope this clears everything up.

  11. No promoter in their right mind would guarantee a band any amount of money if there no prior numbers to look at. David, you may have “played” over 1000 shows, but there isn’t any information on your project on Pollstar pro, which agents and legitimate promoters use to gauge a band’s worth. Put yourself in a promoter’s shoes. Give yourself a $2,000 budget and offer a guarantee to every band that plays your venue (Every band means Sundays and Mondays through Wednesdays) and let’s see how much money you would have actually made. Oh and your venue can’t be in a populated area, nor can it serve food. Do the numbers.
    Why would a promoter throw a few hundred dollars into promoting a band that no one has ever heard of? That doesn’t make sense. Use your budget to promote acts that have a solid fan base that only needs a hint that their favorite band is playing.
    Oh and another thing, major bands/acts still do % deals you idiot. I work at a worldwide agency and if we have 2 offers (one just a guarantee and one % (btw, this can be a Versus or % split), we are going to take the one with the biggest walkaway potential, not just the bigger guarantee.
    Learn the business before you start assuming that your concept of the music industry today is the same as it was back prior to 80s.

  12. Thank you Ben. I’m just trying to let people know that tickets don’t mean pay to play, and promoters do promote. In today’s music business, the promoters and agents are the ones developing artists, and it can be very advantageous to a band to get to know the club promoters in their town. I think a good number of musicians today understand this concept, but unfortunately there will always be some bitter ones out there who may have been burned in the past.

  13. Lance-
    How important is it for a promoter to be putting a banner on stage to promote the branding of the promotion company? What if the band has a certain aesthetic they want to have on stage?
    – anonymous

  14. As a performer and promoter, I see both sides. However, I take what I see as a fairly unique approach to the shows that I put on. I sell advance tickets to my shows, not the acts. I promote the shows through the usual channels Facebook, local press as well as face to face in person with people who I meet who might be interested. I am more focused on building my brand of show and less featured on promoting a particular artist. It’s hard work but the benefits are that I can put on unknown acts as people trust that they will be quality plus I don’t have to rely on artists to promote the show which in my mind is always risky and would mean that I could only book a local bands with a decent sized fan base. As a promoter I want to developer my own audience, one that trusts that I will put on a great show with quality artists that they will enjoy. Otherwise I am starting from scratch every show I put on, hoping that the acts are making enough effort selling the night. Using my method I am confident on making money from my next show because I know that I can get enough people through the door who ever is playing because they know from experience that they will have a great night out. I do ask that the artists promote the night through their own channels but I sell the tickets, not them.

  15. Nick I give you all the credit in the world if this method works for you. My feeling is the bands have more to gain by going out and engaging their fanbase. If I have to sell tickets to the fans of each band, I’m building the relationship with the fans directly, and those fans aren’t necessarily interested in every type of show I put on. The band has more to gain by promoting shows to their fans, and I do everything I can to help them out and promote the show from my end.

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