Bands, Promoters, or Venues: Who's To Blame When A Show Tanks?

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Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Fan,
I work as a promoter for a club in the Midwest and I've found there's a real disconnect between what some bands and venues expect--what each of them see as each others obligation to promote a show. Whether or not you play for money, glory or the love of art, there are people involved whose livelihoods depend on the show doing well. Besides the venue-owners, bartenders can have a great night or a lousy night depending on how well a show is attended. Door attendants, bar-backs and security might not even be scheduled if a band is booked who has a reputation of not having a following. Some bands seem to prefer to let the chips fall where they may because if they don't really try, they can't really fail.

Do you think a band should be responsible to bring the whole force of their following to every show, even if they aren't headlining? Should these things be outlined by the promoter/venue in advance? What show promotion tactics are best for bands?
Signed,
Please Keep My Name Out of It, I Have Already Complained Too Much

Dear Please Keep,
Assuming it's the promoter or club's job to get people to the show is one of the common fallacies of young bands. It's the clubs job to promote the show in all the ways they normally would--distributing concert calendars, flyers, and ticket giveaways. It is the bands duty to get their fans out. As I have said here before, bands should always work on the assumption that clubs/promoters are totally beleaguered and expect little to nothing of them. This isn't a slight, or saying that promoters are flakes, but just an acknowledgement that people who are putting on shows for small-medium sized local bands are perhaps the most put-upon and over worked people in any scene. Their list of tasks is infinite, they are already haggard from doing it "for the love" for years.

It is a bands job to promote their show to their friends, to applicable press and radio, make a decent poster or flyer and put them up (as well as pass some on to the venue/promoter to post), post it on their Facebook page, etc. Sometime bands complain that they are musicians, not marketing people, that promotion doesn't fall under the artist's job description. This is a totally fine attitude to have, but if that is the case, the band should eschew anything beyond playing house shows, and stay out of the more for-profit pursuits and just do it for the art and not for achievement. Because the last thing everyone needs is some whiney band that is unwilling to work for themselves being a burden on the system, so to speak. Do not expect other people to work for your band's benefit, if you are not willing to do that work yourself.

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6 comments
blankdrug
blankdrug

jessica hopper's response strikes me as misinformed.  the primary gauge of success in a musical artist does not necessarily include high attendance at a show.  that is a goal of many musicians, but some see market consideration as a waste of time they'd rather spend focusing on all the other aspects of life from which one can draw inspiration or, you know, practicing. 

jaysamuelli
jaysamuelli

Why should someone be to blame?  How could you even tell in most cases? 

GentleRobot.com
GentleRobot.com

This is all based on the fallacy that a band playing a show must have fans. It's a catch-22. You can't get fans if you're not performing, and your performance fails if you don't have fans.

Promoting means almost nothing if you have no following. Your girlfriend and her brother are following you on twitter, and your dad liked you on facebook. People see your flyer and they have no idea who you are.

This is the same with the venues. They work their asses off to put their calendar on the website, in print ads, radio, etc and no one has any real reason to go. Who are these bands and where is this club? People look at flyers to see names they recognize. If they love a band, they'll drive two hours to see them perform at a landfill on a Tuesday.

It's easy to demonize the bands in this situation, but it comes down to one thing: do you have a lot of friends who like going to see local music? If so, the venues will love you. The venues don't care if you spend hours putting up flyers, tweeting or whatever you can to get your name out there. They care if people show up.

Guess what? So do bands.

jondom22
jondom22

I think this is a little off base for a number of reasons.

If you're booking local small bands at a small-medium sized venue in the midwest, most of these bands probably have little to no following (facebook/myspace/twitter fans does not guarantee real fans who go to shows). The whole point of having a rock club that caters to small/local bands is that the venue is providing an atmosphere for people to hang out, see local (and usually new) bands, and drink. How can this club expect a band that has no real press/label/buzz/etc even on a regional level bring even 20 people to a show (let alone 50-100? Furthermore, how is a small local band thats just starting out expected to gain fans if they're playing to empty rooms?

While I agree that the bands should be using social media and making flyers to try and get people to the how, at this level, it really falls on the venue and promoters to get people in the door. First off, if ur calling urself a promoter, the whole point of u even being involved in this is to promote the event. The promoter needs to have a solid following, contacts with different popular local music blogs, and use social media and email lists to promote the events to their followers. Otherwise, all ur doing is taking a cut of the money (usually a lot more than each band member gets even on a good night), for simply booking the show.

Ive seen this and experienced promoters like this many times before. Why would a band want a promoter to book this show if the promoter has no clout and doesnt bring people to the event?

As for the venues, if they want live music with young local bands and want business, they need to develop a built in customer base (just like a fan base, but for a venue). if ur booking 4 local/new bands on a bill 6 nights a week, most likely ur gonna have a lot of inexperienced, new, or bad bands playing ur venue, most of which have little to no following. thus, unless ur the only venue in town, most likely people are not going to see shows at ur venue unless its their friends band. what the venue wants is to build a reputation for putting on good shows and having solid bills, plus a cool scene, which then creates a built in fanbase where people would go to the venue to hang out and see a show on a whim, even without knowing any of the bands, because they know that the venue usually has good bands playing and is a fun place to be. my suggestion for the venue is to limit the number of shows a week to 2-3 and do a better job with booking bands that sound good and tight (even if its their first gig). it sucks paying $5-10 to see a bunch of crappy bands with only a handful of people at the venue when u could be at a fun spot getting drunk with a bunch of people.

altogether, yes bands share in he responsibilty of making an effort to bring people to their shows. however, in this situation (small club, local/small/new/unknown bands), its up to the venue to create a solid scene and a built in crowd who come regularly (even if it means cutting down on shows), and its up to the promoter to create a following of their own where the promoters fans are interested in going to shows booked by the promoter cos they trust his/her taste, and they know there's gonna be a bunch of people at the show.

freeters
freeters

Why would people think it's a promoter's job to promote? Please Keep, I'm afraid you're only a booking agent. Start calling yourself that and maybe the bands will stop treating you like a promoter. 

blankdrug
blankdrug

@blankdrug good lord I didn't read a crucial sentence in there.  my apologies to ms. hopper and ms. landers.

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