|The Business of Live Performance
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront
Media & Music - March
Back to Music
Live performance is glamorous and exciting. But performers often
forget that club owners have a different perspective on music than musicians do. For venues, it's business, a very
serious business, fraught with risk and considerable competition. The question for you to keep in mind when approaching
the booker of a live venue is; why does this club book certain artists, and not others? What is the criteria to
get a gig at this venue? The bottom line for club owners is they need to make a living at their profession, and
the only way they can do that is to book acts that fill their club.
Artists who wish to get booked should have a list of their accomplishments to present to a booker. The booker needs
to see your promotional kit. The promo kit contains a cover letter, a bio, a photo, a selection of press clips,
possibly a Fact Sheet, and, of course, a CD (CDR) or tape of your music.
When sending a demo, always be sure to put contact information on the label, and the J-card or cover of the CDR,
(as well as every other part of the promo kit). Only three or four of your best songs should be on the demo. The
demo for a club can be a live recording, unlike studio-produced recordings sent to radio station specialty shows.
If you send a CD, mark three or four songs that are most appropriate for the venue.
Types of Venues
There are many kinds of live venues. Besides clubs, there are:
bars and taverns conventions
coffee houses music conferences showcases
festivals industry showcases
fairs non-profit charity organization shows
concert halls association functions
schools street corners
book stores house parties
record stores frat and sorority gigs
shopping malls restaurants
How many more live music venues can you think of?
This is just a partial list; the point is for you to think about all the alternatives you have for playing your
music in front of an audience. If you do well at non-traditional venues, the nightclubs may be more inclined to
book you - especially when they know people have been coming to your shows in droves.
When dealing with venues, keep in mind that many have a business agenda that may determine whether or not you're
qualified to perform at their venue. Each venue is out to achieve its mission or goal…get people to have a good
time and drink a lot of refreshments, and/or eat a lot of food, or donate to some worthy cause. Your job is to
convince them that your music will help them achieve their goal.
Artists who are just beginning to perform live have a tough time getting their first shows. You can't get a gig
unless you've gotten other gigs, and you can't get other gigs until you get that first gig. So be it. Everyone
has to start somewhere, and many artists frustrated by this situation have simply rented a space, gotten a permit,
rented a sound system, and put on their own show. At least then they can say they have performed live.
Things to Think About
o It's the job of the bookers to be aware of what new acts are causing a stir in their own backyard. It's also
their job to listen to the demos that come in the mail by the dozens every week. This brings up the issue of protocol.
Yes, there is an etiquette for all areas of music marketing, and the protocol for dealing with bookers is: mail
the promo kit, wait a week to ten days, and then call the booker to ask for their response to your kit. Believe
it or not, politeness and respect are fairly uncommon virtues in the music business. Make sure not to interrupt
meetings. Ask the person if now is a good time for them to talk. If they request a call back, do so at the time
o Artists and bands that think they're ready for prime time may not be. It's a good idea to have at least two or
three hours of prepared material that can be performed live. If you have only half-an-hour or an hour of songs,
the clubs will not likely be interested in booking you. Different clubs have different needs. Some offer special
nights for open mikes, or showcases for unproved acts. Be sure to check the booking policy of each venue.
o It's a good policy to not be too picky about what venues to play. The more resistant venues may become friendlier
if your act is out in the local scene and your name is listed on radio station concert calendars and print media
calendars. The venue bookers check out their competition. If you're out there playing gigs, the bookers will eventually
take notice. That's part of their job.
o Once a venue books you, they add you to their schedule and include you in their press releases, calendars, posters
and flyers. This doesn't mean that you should leave the promotion of the concert to the venues. On the contrary,
you should notify your fans with a mailing notice, print up your own posters and flyers, and promote your shows
in any creative way you can think of.
o The music business is very fond of contracts. The record, publishing, merchandising, and management sides of
the industry are contract crazy. In the performance arena, there are indeed contracts, but in the beginning they
are more of the handshake or verbal variety. When your act gets more established, you can rest assured that the
written contract will be around. This doesn't mean that a beginning act shouldn't try to get something in writing.
o The verbal contract between a club and an artist may simply be an agreement that the artist will perform on a
certain date, at a certain time, for an agreed upon length of time, with what specific other act, and how much
will be paid. Many venues require some kind of written confirmation of a verbal agreement made over the phone.
This is to the advantage of the artist anyway.
o Without a doubt, the single most contested area is how the artist will be paid. The act may receive a flat fee,
a straight percentage of the door or ticket sales, or a flat fee plus a percentage--where the artist receives a
guaranteed fee plus a percentage of the door after the venue (or promoter) reaches a break-even point. Remember,
the venue is concerned with making and not losing money, so the break-even point for a show is based on the costs
of putting on the performance, which include promotion costs and any "guarantees" that may have been
made to the artist for their performance.
Here's the information you'll need to complete a live performance contract:
o Name of Purchaser or Buyer (Name of the Club Promoter):
o Name of Artist :
o Terms of the Deal: The deal you accepted and the amount of money you'll get paid.
Here are the four most common deals you will encounter:
Flat or Guarantee Example: $ 300
Versus Example: $ 300 versus 30% door
(which ever is higher)
Plus Example: $ 300 plus 30% door
Points/Split Example: 50/30/20 of Net
o Date of Event:
o Set Length:
o Deposit (if any):
o Who will pay to whom, how much, and when:
o Admission Fee (Ticket Price):
o Capacity of the Venue:
o Act of Nature (Force Majeure):
The force majeure (literally "superior force") clause is applied when there is an unexpected event that
causes performance of the contract to become impossible; it releases one or both parties from their rights and
o Cancellation Fees;
o Recording by Permission Only::
o Promotional Commitment: This, for instance, specifies the minimum amount of money you, the band, expect the club
to invest in advertising the show.
o Merchandise: How much the club takes from the gross of merchandise sold.
You won't need a booking agent to book your local or regional shows. Booking agents (for the most part) are people
who make their living off established artist and bands who have a steady stream of income coming in from touring
regularly. You may be attractive to an agent's services when your live performance career has grown to the point
that the attendance at your shows and the amount of shows you are doing are taking up more time than you can handle.
Once you've accumulated a solid list of accomplishments, it's possible that agents will be interested in you and
may even seek you out. It's also possible that you will be approaching them.
In other words, when you can prove to an agent that you are a money making act, then they be interested in working
with you. An agent will (help you) decide which markets to hit on which route, select and book clubs, take offers
and negotiate deals. The agent is responsible for you having venues to play at on your tour.
Here are some important points to remember when considering signing a contract with a booking agent.
The agent often asks for a contract of three or more years; you will want to keep it to one year. Shorter is better
for you, because you can split if things don't work out, or squeeze the commission down if things do. If you give
more than a year, make sure you have the right to get out after each year if you don't earn minimum levels. Note
that there's a very good chance you will never sign any papers at all. This varies with the policy of the agent.
When you are a new act, it may be difficult to give an agent less than worldwide rights. However, as you
move up the ladder you can sometimes exclude territories outside the United States. This is often beneficial, because
you can use agents in Europe or elsewhere who are skilled in those markets. In fact, many U.S. agents often employ
a local subagent for foreign territories and you can thus eliminate the middleman. On the other hand, the U.S.
agent doesn't just sit idly by while a subagent does the work. The agent oversees the foreign agent and makes sure
the shows are properly promoted, that you get paid on time, etc. (Please note that-at any time and level-you might
want to reserve the right to book local shows yourselves.)
Agent's services are primarily to book concerts and they are only paid for the area where they render services.
So never give your agent a piece of your income from records, songwriting, or publishing. Usually agents
don't even ask for this, but be careful of union forms. Agents are regulated by unions; such as the American Federation
of Musicians and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The maximum these unions allow them to
charge is 10%. The AFM and AFTRA printed forms have a place for you to initial if the agency commissions your earnings
from records. Watch out for it and never do this.
Each of these agreements has a clause saying you can terminate if the agent doesn't get you work for ninety days.
You want to make sure that the bands on the agent's roster play the same type of music you do. You ensure that
the agent will book you into clubs that are appropriate for your music and you'll be saved from embarrassing experiences.
Also, make sure that the agent does not have too many bands on his roster. If there are more than six to eight
bands on your agent's roster, your band will probably not get enough attention.
An agent should be genuinely enthusiastic about you and your music; a persistent person who fights for his clients.
Remember, you don't necessarily have to like your agent's personality!
Check out the Pollstar Agencies Directory or the Recording Industry Source Book to research more agents.
o A good habit for young acts is to have a member of the band's team count the ticket stubs collected at the door.
This is a fairly common task that assures you of getting a correct count of the number of patrons who came to the
show. More established artists who are dealing with booking agents can demand as much as 50% of their performance
fee up front, before they perform. Even more established acts can demand their whole fee before they perform.
Do's and Don't's for Dealing with Booking Issues:
o Research the venues you think are appropriate for your music. Read the local music papers and magazines and check
out the venues in person.
o Network or talk to other artists that have a similar style and ask them where they have played.
o Put together eye-catching and creatively designed press kits. Always make sure that your contact number is on
your CD or cassette J-card and labels.
o Doing the mailings and making the follow-up phone calls can be tedious. If you've got more than one person in
your group willing to help with booking, split up the grunt work for follow-up calls.
o Write up a general cover letter to include with your press kit that answers some additional questions a booking
agent will want to know; your style of music, what your draw is and whether you are looking for an opening spot
or a headlining spot. What kind of guarantee or terms are you willing to accept, and most importantly what are
you going to do to help promote your show. Will you send out mailers to your mailing list, put up posters,
handbills, and buy any media print ads?
o Send press kits out well in advance. Most venues want two to three weeks time to review your music before they
will even talk about booking you.
o Always plan your bookings well in advance. Booking agents usually have their calendars full by the fifteenth
for the next upcoming month. Also, touring acts will put "holds" on club calendars for two to three
months in advance.
o When doing follow-up calls always have your calendar in front of you. Most of the time you'll be leaving messages
on answering machines. Make notes of your phone calls and messages. When leaving messages be friendly and
brief. These guys get hundreds of calls per week. State specifically what you're looking for.
o Know that the bookers will be calling you only if you bring in crowds and the venue makes lots of money selling
booze and other refreshments.
o Don't give up. If your music is as good as you claim it is, and your audience continues to grow, that is the
best news you can give any booker.
o Calling back to a venue about once every two weeks is plenty and shows your interest and professionalism.
o After you get the details, write a letter to the venue (or fill out a contract) summarizing the details.
o Start planning your own promotions early. Get posters up in the venue and elsewhere a couple of weeks before
o Get handbills distributed around the town. Hit your mailing list the week before. Call and remind your fans,
and be sure to use the internet to promote your shows and send email reminders to your email list.
o Network. Find other bands who are compatible with your music and trade shows with them.
o Be patient about getting the hot gigs. It takes time to get those headline gigs on Saturday night. You will usually
start out with a weeknight gig and work your way up to the headliner position if you draw large crowds.
o Send thank you cards to the bookers after your first show, and after all significant shows thereafter.
o Don't overbook yourself in the same area and spread your audience too thin. Move around. Three or four shows
a month is plenty in one city when you're getting started.
o Spread out slowly to other areas around your hometown. Then define your region, and work that circuit.
o Don't burn any bridges. You may encounter some conniving people in this business, but watch out what you say
about anyone. It could come back to haunt you.
o Remember the venue's priorities - to get a lot of people into their venue so they will make lots of money selling
alcohol and food.
Selling Your Music At Live Shows
As far as a record label is concerned, the sole purpose of supporting an artist's tour is the strong possibility
that sales of the artist's records will increase.For the independent musician then, the cardinal rule regarding
sales at live shows is this:Never perform live without setting up a way to sell your CDs.
Selling your CDs is the ultimate goal of music marketing. All the activities that have been discussed, all
the planning and coordination that a label puts into marketing a record have as their ultimate goal the sale of
CDs. Live performance sales can provide you with the largest percentage of profit, per unit sold, than any other
method of distribution or sales. Make the most of this opportunity, and never even think about doing a live show,
without mentioning to the crowd that your music is for sale at the venue.
The income you receive from your live sales can help pay for any expenses you may encounter while being on the
road. In many cases the amount of money you receive from live sales of your CDs will be much higher than any performance
fees you may receive.
Most live venues allow performers to sell their music releases. Some may ask for a percentage of sales (from 10-30%),
but most smaller size venues just let musicians sell their merchandise without taking any percentage of sales.
So, sell your CDs, Tapes, Vinyl releases and any other paraphernalia you may have, like T-shirts, caps, and other
clothing with your logo on them.
Be sure to have a mailing list available for your fans to sign. This is really Marketing 101 when it comes to taking
advantage of a fan's enthusiasm. There is no better time to catch the emotional high of a music fan than at the
moment of their peak excitement.
It is also a good idea for every member of a group to spend some time hanging out at the sales table. Fans like
to have autographs, and what better opportunity to offer this gift to your fans than when you have them waiting
around to buy your music.
Keep accurate records of each transaction. If you have a laptop computer create a spreadsheet to keep track of
your music product. If not, get a receipt book and write up each sale separately. Remember, you are making money
from each sale, and like every other tax paying citizen you need to report your income from sales to any relevant
local, state, or federal agencies.
I have had many discussions with musicians about live sales opportunities, but one incident stands out. A client
arrived in a city where a major chain store had put up a beautiful display of the artist's latest CD and went all
out to welcome the artist to the in-store autograph party. Later that evening my client called to update me on
the event, and said something like this: " The record store was so nice to me that I have decided not to sell
my CDs at tonight's concert. I will just ask everyone to go to their store after the show". I was speechless
and said, after a long pause, " Why did you hire me? Didn't I tell you that the cardinal rule for live performances
is to sell your CDs at every show? What I want you to do tonight is this. At some point in the show, stop and thank
the record store for their support and then tell everyone that after the intermission your CDs are for sale in
the lobby." The next morning I was waiting in a hotel lobby for my client when I saw her approach. She approached
me and said "Chris, stand up for a minute." I did. " Put out your arms", she said. I did. She
gave me a big hug and said, " I sold a ton of CDs last night, and actually made more money from those sales
than I did from the fee they paid me."
I rest my case.
The business of live music is a world unto itself. The tips I've given here are a basic introduction. Marketing,
for an independent artist or label, means taking advantage of any and all opportunities to reach a potential fan.
I see live performance as a very special chance for recording artists to interact directly with their customers.
I encourage you to learn more about what's involved in live performance.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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