Original Band - When to ask for pay
Playing original music is tough these days, I get that, so I figure a new band should demand pay immediately from venues. My though process was that my band should play a few gigs in different places, play some parties, and do that sort of thing gratis for a while to get our name out there.
Now I'm starting to wonder, at what point do you start demanding pay? Is there a certain threshold a band should cross to become 'legitimate' enough to starting getting some returns on their investment?
Why would someone book you for free today, and pay USD 300,- tomorrow? He'll book the next bunch of morons for free.
You're worth about as much as you ask for, if that. Ask nothing, well ...
Bars are in business to make money, and they hire bands to sell beer. If you don't have a reputation, then you can't say you will draw x number of people, so it isn't worthwhile for a bar to pay you. What I have done in this kind of situation is to ask for a percentage of the bar for the time the band is playing. That way we get paid something and the bar doesn't risk losing money in the deal. It isn't perfect, but it is at least reasonable. It also helps that I play with other day job types and we can afford to do this. For private parties, it is a different story, especially if we are supplying all the equipment.
For a new band, asking for a % of the bar is reasonable. Once the band is a proven draw, you have more room to negotiate a guaranteed fee upfront.
Luckily I'm not trying to make a living at this either, which is good because playing originals seems to be the hardest way to do it. But I figure I am putting my time and gas money into playing a show, so I should get paid for that time and my expertise. Plus, since a lot of people come and go so much at these small clubs between bands (meaning they come to see one band then leave), that tells me that they are only making money off of what the bands bring in. They are even charging me for my drinks.
On the other hand the fact that I'm not having to pay to play seems almost like a deal since that's how things go around here (Los Angeles).
Everything about the music biz is so fuzzy.
If you ask for a % of the bar for while you are playing, doesn't that work against you since people are watching you play, not ordering drinks? Or would you set a block of time like 30 minutes before you are scheduled to play and 30 minutes after?
You get the deal you negotiate. Not the deal you deserve.
That being said the market for originals bands without a name has always been tight. Put together a CD and develop a web presence.
If you're in a college town it might be better. Hit the frats etc. Get the radio to play your tunes if you can. If you can't bring 100 people to a bar it's not the best thing. So make sure you can do it.
There are A LOT of other things to do here besides music, competing against those things makes it difficult. You are also competing against hundreds of other bands, hence my dilemma about how to negotiate payment. Here you don't necessarily get the deal you negotiate because the counter offer may easily be "go $%& yourself."
At the bars/clubs we play, it's common for us to get 10% of the bar for the entire night not from time X to time Y. Usually we are playing on a 2-3 band bill, so all bands are splitting that 10%-15%. Not ideal, but that's the cards we've been dealt.
This Saturday we are the opening band on a 4-band bill (two local bands and two international touring bands) at a larger venue that we've never played before. We are getting a very small flat fee for a 30-minute set. We're hoping the exposure will lead to other larger gigs. Here's the Facebook events page for it if anyone happens to be in Bangkok this weekend.
If your band entertains it's worth something. Even opening bands.
If no bands played that night how many people would come in and drink all night? My guess is the answer would be, "not enough to stay in business". If only the headliners played, would that improve? Probably not much.
Supply and demand gets in the way. Lots of half decent bands are willing to open for exposure. I don't know what you can do about that except succeed to the point you can headline your own shows. That's down to good marketing.
As someone in your situation in roughly the same saturated market (Austin), I can tell you that it's much more complicated than just putting together a CD and a web page. My band has all that, is pretty established and are even endorsed by Orange and we still play for free alot. The truth is that shows have become so routine in places like Austin and LA and there are so many bands that venues don't do any work any more as far as promoting ,because they know if your band doesn't draw then there are 100 more emails they got that day from other bands wanting shows. That said, most venues have a decent overhead-bar staff, sound guys, paying the bills, etc, so asking for guarantees, especially at local shows when you're not a proven "we can draw 60 people regularly" is pretty unrealistic. Most shows here we play for free because the venue won't charge a cover, and at this point we are more concerned with sharing our music with as many people that will watch and hear than making a few bucks. If you want to make any decent sum of money at the get go then don't play originals is what I've learned.
Now, if there is a cover and you bring 50-100 people, yes, you damn sure should be getting paid. We also always at least ask for gas money for out of town shows too, but are usually prepared to not get paid, other than what we sell in merch. Merch Merch Merch. That is the key way to make any sizeable profit. Try to find some nice shirts people will buy that you can make for $5 a shirt and sell them for $10. Same with CD's, stickers, vinyl, hats etc.
I think alot of what your asking is subjective to the market. In places like Austin and LA there are tons of shows at tons of venues every night, so shows unfortunately are so common that people rarely go because there is a signed, touring act playing down the street. I've always thought my band would do alot better if we moved to a smaller city where we could be the big fish in the pond instead of the minnow in the ocean. Sorry, now I'm just ranting. Bottom line, play a few shows over the span of the next few months without worrying about getting paid and see what your bands average draw is. If you guys end up packing the house, try and rebook the same venue for a few months later, this time with a guarantee because you can justify it.
I did 90% of the booking for my old originals band. We did a few local shows to test the water. A few only gave up a chance for tips and we did ok. We started charging a flat rate after those few local shows and did it till we broke up. Do not expect allot and since you are trying to get off the ground take what you can get. Most festivals pay a flat rate and rarely is there room to haggle a price diff. Just do some homework and get out there and book.
Just remember, every single time a band plays for free, or does pay to play, the music scene dies just a little more.
Why should bars pay anyone when people are willing to play for "exposure?"
You know, nobody else is working for free. Not waitresses, not bartenders, not bouncers, not cooks.
This is when having pro management makes sense. They know the market and the competition. They have industry connections to get you into the venues that make sense for your particular situation.
If you aren't good enough to get a management deal, well then...
I'm in a genre band that plays originals, and I've been in a few others in the past decade or two. Its hard to 'get going' if you don't have a following or a crowd, and if you don't have a reputation from past projects. I can tell you what we've done to get the ball rolling with my current band and where we are now.
We started out with a couple 'soft' gigs. Like a 'rock' oriented coffee house that we're friends with the owner & staff. We offer to split door with other established bands, and promote hard, and we try to keep door around 5$. We also knew that there probably would only be a few bucks in it (say 75-100 after sound) but it would get us in front of a college crowd. At the beginning of the school year, we hit the place with a FREE show...no door and we 'donate' our time. That gets freshmen out who don't know the party scene yet and can't get into the bars. It 'seeds' a new fanbase of around 150 people who are going to be around for 4 years, even though we're not getting cash up front.
Next we do similarly at a couple local bars...play with other bands as opener, build your following get a cut, but don't expect much. Many of those gigs we considered 'practice in front of people'. Its in town, so no real travel time, a 45-60 minute set and not a lot of effort in the door. Again, for that stuff, we would walk out with 75-150ish. Not much, but it pays band rent (we have a dedicated rental space for rehearsals).
^^^^^What you're doing here, is getting people interested and also getting your band used to playing together in front of people. You're working your material, making arrangement adjustments, removing songs that are vibe sucks from the set and working new stuff in.
***Also, take benefit shows. We love a good cause, and we're not getting lots of bucks anyway, so play them, get in front of a whole bunch of people who wouldn't see you. We usually end up scoring more shows by playing these and always get some fans. For instance, one theater benefit show last spring ended up giving us 3 small outdoor festivals last summer. All paid in the 300$-500$ range.
At the same time, we worked into a bunch of opening slots for either minor national touring acts or large local acts at a local theater (again, not a ton of money, in the sub-300 range, but bigger room, more people, and each show nets us another couple hundred or more that haven't seen us)...
...all the while, we're working on new songs, tightening down the old stuff and we're booking bars, pubs and clubs that will pay us 300 to split the bill or sometimes for up to 3+ hours of material and up to 500$. These are the places that will book you well ahead of time and for repeat gigs. One place has us booked every 6 weeks through November 14, another place has us twice in the spring, then every two weeks for all of summer, another has us every month or so for the next 4 months...mix that in with one-off shows, gigs offered from other bands, etc. and its sort of off and running.
Don't be afraid to share a bill with another band and trade gigs. Its an awesome way to get out of your town and into another town in front of a similar crowd. We have a handful of regional friends who are always looking for shows and willing to reciprocate.
This is the pattern my old band (now defunct) followed (the band FB is still active and has 12K+ fans internationally) and my current band is working in the same direction, but is having a better time of monetizing it.
***we're up front in the band that we're not doing this for a living. Most guys/girls have day jobs. At first we were happy just covering rent, now we're on to covering rent, saving money for a decent studio recording and also paying out.
If you think your worth to be paid do this:
a) Rent a venue.
b) Rent the PA
c) Hired a sound man
d) Make your merchandise: Tshirts, cds, dvd, etc. And sell it in the venue.
e) Sell the tickets and keep 100% of the income.
Hired a promoter than can get you paid gigs.
Paid gigs = Business, You want to make money so others do. Nobody will paid you unless that person can make some money with you.
Ask for pay from show one. If you don't think you're good enough for pay then don't play out.
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