Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You Are Not A Music Promoter

Today I want to solve a mystery. If you are in a small-time band, you are no doubt familiar with this type of person: someone who will spam your inbox with exciting opportunities to play venues all over the place, call themselves a "promoter" or a "booking agent", and possibly have some sort of fancy company name. I'd been getting bombarded with these for a while, so for a laugh I replied to one and asked what the payment structure was for the bands at one of these venues. Here is the reply that I got in return, broken down piece by piece so that we may examine exactly what each section is saying:

Ok, the first thing we notice here is that this paragraph is completely in troll caps. Note that the author felt the need to yell at me right from the start like I'm some kind of moron who needs to get it though my thick skull that this shit is serious. For Christ's sake, its not like I dissed Ronald Reagan in the comments section of the Fox News website, so how about we take it down a notch? That said, the request isn't really unfair at all. Sure, bands should make a facebook event to promote their shows. After all, why wouldn't you? Its free. There's nothing particularly obnoxious about that . However, stringing together a bunch of poorly worded demands in all caps lock is disrespectful and annoying. Plus, I'm pretty sure bold type is an option in most modern email sites. Moving on.

Load in: Please load in at least 1 hour before you play. There is no sound check - just a line check before your first song. Load in thru the main entrance.
Great. This means your band is guaranteed to sound like shit and nobody at the venue will care or, more likely, be able to do anything about it.  But at least you get to bring all of your shit in through the same door that all the bar regulars are simultaneously leaving through, because lets face it: they're not there to see your band. Or any band. So why does this place even have bands? But that's a question that we'll address later. On to the good stuff.

Payment: Admission is $10 at the door; $8 in advance. Bands are paid $5 a head starting with the 16th person (or $3 a head for anyone who has pre-paid for an $8 ticket), but you must draw at least 25 people to be paid. The door person will ask every attendee the name of the band they are there to see. To offer advance discount tickets to your fans, I need to set up an account for you -- contact me at xxxxxxxx@gmail.com to do so (at least 2 weeks before the show). I am not paid by the club, nor do I receive a cut of the bar, so it’s imperative that you take promotion seriously and bring people, so that I may cover all costs to the club including sound, security, door person, etc.
The mysteries here abound. Ok, let's try to unravel this payment structure math. So we get $5 per person after the 16th person, but nobody gets paid til the 25th person. So essentially, persons 17-24 are meaningless for our purposes unless persons 25+ show up. So if person 25 happens to break down on the freeway, we essentially forfeit $40 that we are supposedly owed from person 16 onward, making this a largely symbolic offer. But really, that's just the tip of the iceberg of stupidity that is this payment structure. For example, we have the option to set up some sort of account and offer discounted tickets. Great news for the fans! Except for the fact that the discount comes directly out of our share, dropping our cut from $5 to $3. So this begs the question; Why would we bother to set up an account to fuck ourselves in the ass? Why would we ever do a bunch of paperwork so that we can make less money while you make the same amount, whoever you are? In what world would someone agree to a deal like that? That has to be the stupidest...
Which reminds me, who the fuck are you again? What exactly is the job description of the person with whom I'm corresponding? They've just said that they are not paid by the club in any fashion, but are in fact indebted to them to cover a sound person (who does not perform sound checks), and a door person. It is imperative that I promote and bring people, so this person is not a promoter. So, they don't work for the club, and they're not a promoter, and in reality all they've done to this point has been to spam my inbox with bullshit and offer to set up an account whereby I can get cheated out of money. So what does that make them? I'm not sure exactly, but the phrase "con-artist" comes to mind...

Guestlist/Reduced Admission: We are unable to offer this due to our costs so yes your girlfriends/husbands/mothers must all pay the full cover.
God, really? My girlfriend/husband/mother can't get on a guest list because of your costs?  I've played a looot of hole-in-the-wall dives, and all of them that even remotely take themselves seriously as a music venue offer a guest list, even if it just comes out of the band's cut at the end of the night. I'm not asking for miracles here. My band is going to spend everything we make at the bar and then some, so just let my god damn girlfriend slide on the $10 because she fucking carried half of the equipment. Oh, but wait, you don't get paid by the venue, so the fact that a bunch of wild rockers are neck-deep in $3 PBRs means absolutely nothing to you. In fact, so far there's been so much pressure for me to cover your costs that I'm starting to wonder exactly is my motivation for playing this club instead of throwing a kegger in my basement, where I'll make my own guest list and put my mother on it, thanks.
Where's the beer pong, pussies??

PROMOTING THE SHOW: The audience at these shows is based solely on the draw of each band so please post this gig on your myspace page, facebook, etc. Neither the club nor I can bring a crowd to you - you must be able to draw people on your own. If you cannot, please don't play the show. The better you draw, the better the night/venue/time slot I can offer you in the future.

Finally, we end with a paragraph full of lies. "Neither the club nor I can bring a crowd to you." Well that's a bunch of bullshit. The club could, in fact, bring a crowd if they had hired a promoter instead of letting you work pro-bono to do whatever the fuck it is that you're doing, and you could maybe bring a crowd if you were, in fact, a promoter, or, to a lesser extent, put half as much effort into promoting as you did into sternly reiterating the fact that YOU ARE NOT A PROMOTER. I mean, you could at least have put up a facebook event page in that span of time. And furthermore, "The better you draw, the better the night/venue/time slot I can offer you in the future." Well, since you've so forcefully stated that you will absolutely not in any way advertise the show you're attempting to book, what the fuck does it matter what night or venue you put us in, since there is 0.0000% chance of anyone being there besides maybe a bartender and the people I personally brought? Is this supposed to be some kind of motivator? "Hey, if you can bring out 25 people to this empty shithole on a Tuesday at midnight, I'll let you bring the same 25 people to a different shithole on a Thursday at 11:30." Wow, what a deal! Am I fucking rich yet?

So what I want to know is, who exactly benefits from this business model? Obviously the bands lose out because they're getting such a bad shake. You're potentially facing a situation where you could bring out, on a weeknight, 24 of your favorite girlfriend/husband/mothers to a dive bar that they (or anyone else) would never otherwise go to, have them all pay a ridiculous $10 cover charge with NO EXCEPTIONS while they overpay for drinks all night at the bar, and you walk away with literally nothing except the equipment you had to haul and a parking ticket from the PPA. There is absolutely no scenario in which doing this is in any way more advantageous than playing in your own backyard.

But furthermore, how is this a win for the "promoter"? They have obviously agreed to work for these clubs at a risk to themselves, because they are responsible for paying the sound and door people (if their emails are to be believed). Therefore, they send these pseudo-abusive emails in which they feel they need to badger and pressure bands into selling the show before they even know if they've booked a local rock legend or a sadomasichist scat-hip-hop DJ with a Casio keyboard who cuts himself on stage. How is this a formula for success? They shove down your throat that you are responsible for covering all of their costs, and yet they are offering you nothing but an empty room far away from your house that you will lose money getting to. That is, unless you can bring 25+ people on any given weeknight in the middle of the night at the drop of a hat. And let's face it, if that's the case, you can find a better deal pretty much anywhere. So what band that is even marginally successful at drawing a crowd would ever be motivated to work with you? Probably none, so these promoters will be forever scraping the bottom of the barrel, yelling at inexperienced bands with no following to make facebook pages for their shows and bitching about all their costs.

Well you know what? Fuck your costs. When I agree to promote a show for you and draw a certain number of people, do I demand that you cover my costs? Guess what, my bass rig cost $750. That was a personal expense that I needed in order for my band to exist and bring people to the shitty bar that you don't actually work for. That was a financial risk that I took in order to be able to do my job, which, by the way, is not to be a promoter, but to rock. See how ridiculous it sounds when you spin it around like that? And we're all supposed to sit here and sweat the fact that you might take a loss when you a) neither have nor will have done any real work in putting the show together besides the arduous task of spamming pre-scripted emails, b) are offering nothing of any real value except the vague promise of a "better night/venue/timeslot" which, if it actually exists, will undoubtedly enforce the same set of draconian rules you're imposing on the shitty night/venue/timeslots, and c) knowingly took on the risk when you chose to do this. Just because you're able to shaft most bands out of their entire fanbase's admission costs doesn't mean that none of us understand how money works and that, if given the choice, you'd rather not lose it. We fuckin get it. Things are tough all over.

But finally, how is this situation a win for the club? Sure, on the one hand, instead of hiring someone to book and promote talent, they have a person whom they don't have to pay (or even really speak to) to try to get people into the door on those pesky weeknights when most people aren't trying to get sloshed. But as with everything else, you get what you pay for. Wouldn't it be better for business to take a little bit of a hit and hire someone who knows what they're doing? Wouldn't it be better to have one great show every week that can be properly advertised than five shitty shows where six people show up to each wishing that their car had caught fire on the way there because the sound sucks and everyone is pissed off and miserable?

Additionally, if you can't offer a sound check, a guest list, or even a back door through which to move equipment, maybe having live music isn't really your thing. It's ok! Not everyone should do it. Maybe you could stick to DJs, or pool tables, or having hot bartenders, or a really cool jukebox. Or, fuck, maybe have good food and drink specials, or whatever the hell bars used to do to get business before all of these con-artist fake promoters showed up trying to turn every last hole in the wall into CBGB's. If you're going to do something, do it right. And remember, its OK to say no.

Or, I don't know, have some other kind of gimmick...

Now, allow me to address some of your predictable retorts.

Hey asshole! I'm one of these promoter type people you're talking about! Bands are all like 'pay me money' and shit, but they usually suck and can't even bring out 5 people to a show! How is it my fault these people don't get paid? If they suck and can't bring anyone out, there's no money to pay! Why don't they understand that? Why do they even want to play a show to nobody?

Well, you're right. Most local bands do suck and can't bring 5 people to a show. Why do they want to play a show? The same reason you want to be a promoter. Everyone wants to be in the scene and nobody can ever come to terms with the fact that they just might not be good at certain things. So, what do you, as the sham promoter, do to filter out bands like this? You ask them what their draw is via email, to which they can tell you literally anything you want to hear in order to get the show. "You need us to bring 40 people on a Wednesday? If I say no we can't play, but if I say yes we get the show? No problem!" One could argue that a better method might be to actually fucking listen to some of the bands you book in order to gain firsthand knowledge of whether or not they suck. Or for that matter, whether or not they've bothered to record a demo. If they can't even dropbox you some rough MP3's, they probably can't self-promote a show very well.

Additionally, at least half of the time, you have the first band to sign on to the show find other bands to fill out the bill! This is absurd on so many levels. Firstly, now, beyond just not being a promoter, you're not even doing the booking! You are literally trying to get money for nothing. "You want a show? Well BOOK IT YOURSELF! I'll be there to take the money." You're one step above spray painting a water-gun and robbing people in the subway station. Have me book the show? Fuck you! Who are you, my life coach? To whom I have to pay an exorbitant fee to get "pointed in the right direction"? I don't think so, pal. You emailed me about a show, not the other way around.

Secondly, even a sham promoter should know at least three to four bands of a similar genre that would make sense on a show together. If all you do is sit around sending emails all day on your breaks from managing a PacSun, maybe you could, I don't know, email some bands yourself. Its good to know bands, since, you know, you're trying to book live music.

And because finally, if you pawn off the last remaining duty of the job you claim to be doing onto your clients, who do you think they're going to fill the show with? Their friends, dipshit. Most likely, a band with limited connections isn't going to be able to reach too far outside of their social circle to find acts that want to play with them. That's where, ideally, you would come in to use your experience to put together an event. But, since every band now on the show probably knows each other from high school, you're looking at a very limited pool of potential fans. That decreases the odds of you covering the costs that you somehow managed to accrue while doing nothing, and makes it even less likely that anyone else will get paid.

At this point you're probably thinking "But I can't afford to be picky! I have to book 30 bands a week just to make any money at all!" Well, that's that whole problem of you not actually being a promoter again. Even if you had had those urges to begin with, its obviously impossible to properly promote a show when you have one 6 out of 7 nights a week. Since doing so would be an unrealistic workload for what is doubtlessly a 2nd (at best) job for you, you leave it up to the bands, most of whom are shitty, to do themselves. You're getting exactly what you paid for, just like the bar that hired you.

Wow, for a guy who's supposed to be passionate about music, sure seems like you're obsessed with getting paid. If you're doing something you love, do we really have to hear about how you can't make all this money because of evil promoters?

Well, first of all, I can assure you that any musician around 30 years old who works full time, has commitments, bills, possibly a mortgage or a family, etc, isn't in this for the money, myself included. But there's a big difference between not being greedy and not wanting to be ripped off. The worst thing about these kind of promoters is that they appear legitimate. Now, there are actually dishonest-to-goodness hornswagglers out there who take money from bands for services and then disappear, never to be heard from again. (One day I will burn you alive, "Michael" "from" "Oceanus Tours"). I almost prefer their type though, because at least after they get you they're gone, and they don't have the audacity to pretend they are a legitimate service. These other guys are just some unnecessary middlemen who, for some reason (greed), think they are doing something worthy of payment. I'm all about fairness. If we can produce money for the venue, we deserve a fair cut, not $15 for gas money after our crowd spent $500 binge drinking at the bar after paying a cover charge. Conversely, if you did your job in putting a decent show together, you are also entitled to a fair cut. However, if you emailed me about a show, but I found the bands, I made a Facebook event, I spent money to make fliers and posters,  I made phone calls to get people in the door, and then I played the fucking show, how the fuck are you entitled to any of the profits? You didn't fucking do anything, asshole!

In conclusion, I actually think that the dive bars are still the winners. Look at it from their perspective: get someone to tell five bands they can play a show on a Tuesday night, and bam, 25 people in your bar on a Tuesday night. Who cares if nobody wants to hear their music? People who are serious about their bands, we all need to wise up. You don't need these people. For one, learn which promoters are the real deal. A good indicator is if you can actually talk to them like a person, not just a mystery address on the other end of a pre-scripted email chain. The real ones are busy, and may not respond to you right away. That's not a deal killer. But are they reasonable? Asking that you be able to draw 20 people to a given show or sell tickets is not bad business. Drafting an overly complex payment scheme that makes no sense probably is.

Another option is to not deal with promoters at all. Find a bar or a hall and book it yourself. If you're going to find bands and promote everything anyway, you might as well deal directly with the venue and work out whatever cut sounds good to you. Cut out the fucking middlemen.

And finally, spread this rant around. If you've gotten this far into the post, either you think my prose styling is the stuff of legend, or this hits close to home for you. I'm sick of these flakes, and I'm sick of their bum deals. Send this to the next fake promoter who screws you over. Send it to all your friends in bands.

Let them know that they have no place in the "doing this purely for love of the game" music circuit.


  1. Wow, nice work. This is very accurate. We've been trying to put shows together based on "putting together a good show" as opposed to basing it on "draw". Our hope is that people start coming to our shows because they know its going to be good, rather than coming out to see their friend's band, and leaving before the next band even sets up.

    Awesome article, I'll be sharing

    1. " rather than coming out to see their friend's band, and leaving before the next band even sets up."
      -- THE WORST!!

      I think, perhaps, what would solve this is if bands told fans to show up AT DOORS, not a set time. Also, if bands ENCOURAGED fans to stay for all the bands. Saying "Band XYZ is really great. You'd like them." isn't that hard. It only benefits us all.

  2. This. is. amazing. Thank you for this.

  3. I have received these same exact scripted emails time and time again. We have tried playing these shows and this article has summed up my every frustration with the way these "promoters" "work".

  4. Yep. Got the same exact email. Ain't nobody got time for that!

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  6. While I'm not disagreeing with the rest of your rant by any means but a line check absolutely means you'll sound terrible is only true if your working with a shit engineer. A line check ultimately means that you will start with a rough F.O.H. and monitor mix. the F.O.H. is probably dialed in with in the first tune or two and the monitor mix will be dependent on what the musicians know to ask for. if you don't have a starting place in mind for your monitors of course it'll sound bad.
    My point is by all means gripe and bitch about these fake promoters but the truth is the sound engineer is the only person in this situation that's trying to help you play a good show.

  7. very funny and true, i get the same email word for word every other day.

  8. After analyze a couple of of the weblog posts on your world wide web internet site now, and I really like your means of running a blog. I bookmarked it to my bookmark internet site file and will almost certainly be checking once more soon. Please examine out my world wide web site as effectively and enable me know what you feel.

  9. Pay to play has many faces, and the math is different, but there's always the same story, and it even happens on major label contracts and in symphony orchestras:

    Musicians are the last in line to get paid.

    However, we can always say no. Part of the problem is that there are so many musicians willing to be exploited by armies of losers like the one you mentioned (Afton, etc.)

    We all have to educate each other to stick up for ourselves. Here's a start:

    Please share widely -- we'll all be better off.

    If you like it, check out the rest of the site, and consider becoming active in the Fair Trade Music campaign.
    Together, we can send these so-called 'promoters' back to their basements.

  10. Only thing is: I've heard hundreds of bands sound great with no sound check. In fact, I'd say I've heard a hundred or so sound worse because of one.

    Other than that? Spot on :)

  11. Great post! Sure would love to send this to just about every promoter and venue I've worked with.

  12. Great article man! I reposted this on my anti pay-2-play group on Facebook.

  13. Check out this fb page. Join up, all.

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  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. I had to ...

    As a former concert promoter and now pursuing venue ownership ..
    There are a slew of promoters who are not worthy of payment.

    for my events I did what I asked of the bands.

    Its your show ... PROMOTE IT !!

    I made and distributed flyers , and not just at headshops and record stores, but in peoples hands whiel I grocery shopped ect.

    Making an event in FB is like posting a flyer in comments. ... oooh hwo personal ... oohh how that took 5 seconds of your time.

    It does help inform, but it is ... just lacking in the human element.

    After a show, post a comment, say thank you, post a pic of that person, and then plug your next event.

    Shows I booked and bands I booked for each show were genre relevent. Basically where the audience interested in band A may like band B, thus creating a wider fan base for the band, and more options in the genre for the fan.

    If 4 bands draw 15 people each ... nobody is getting paid. The cost to rent the venue is getting paid and thats it.

    Once the venue cost is paid , once I make money bands make money.

    We all make money.

    If you draw 50 people at 5bucks a head your getting paid.
    If you draw 100 people at 5 bucks a head ... your getting 90% of your draws cover.

    A booking agent , should be employed by the venue and paid by the venue.

    A promoter, should be what the title is ...and promote.

    While the basic idea of the guy sending out a expectations list is in the right direction, it hasnt been properly proof read at all, or thought out in terms of what works and what doesnt.

    This will come from experience and time.

    About the sound check .. your not Metallica ... your not getting this 30 minute sound check, no crowd wants to hear that...
    If it sounds crappy with a 5 minute line test ....you have a bad sound guy.

    15 minutes is enough time to have drummer hit drums, guitarist, bassist do check, and check vocal mics then cut em loose and adjust in the first song ..

    volume and peak meters ...use em sound guy.

    go ahead and remove my post if you'd like ...

    the most of your post is valid ...

    however do consider it is on an individual basis.

    damn shame somefly by night promoters have to give all of us a bad name.

    Note to bands, ask questions, before you let anyone work with you, verify history and reputation of the promoter.

  17. I can be verfied at
    and by arizona local bands as well as a couple of metropolis records bands

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  20. This is my Take:

    I live in LA. I've only been here 3 years, but in that time I've met many excellent musicians in town all talented enough to explode at any moment. The sad reality is, in a town so saturated with incredible musicians, the cream isn't necessarily rising to the top as quickly as it would in other cities. Everyone who is great here is on the same level - getting little victories here and there. Some land a major tour and hit the road. Some get signed and go through the major label roller coaster. Some work the YouTube angle. Some make their livings on song placements. Some fly around the country playing colleges. Some get in their car and tour the coast/country on their own. But what all the non-superstar musicians in LA have in common is, when we play a show in town we accept shitty shitty deals. How do I know that these are shitty deals? Well, I've booked shows in nearly every major city in the country and know how other cities do it.

    This isn't going to be a post about LA (as that could fill a book), but rather the issue of "pay to play" clubs.

    Let's explore some of the many scenarios bands get offered by venues and promoters every day...

    Read more... http://aristake.com/?post=79

    Ari Herstand

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