Self-Promoting Shows Instead of Playing Bars

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by bluesbass99, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. bluesbass99


    Jun 14, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Like most bands in this area (ATL), getting bar gigs is increasingly becoming more and more difficult. Our band plays fairly frequently (covers primarily). Some clubs we do okay in and get invited back. Primarily, these are clubs that have a built-in base of customers who appreciate good music. Others, we don't, and those are clubs that depend up bands to bring in their fans. Outside of family, we really don't have any fans that would travel to see us at different clubs.

    The trouble I have is that there are not too many clubs around that have that built-in audience there to hear the music. Most clubs book dates depending upon how you answer the question "how many people can you bring in"? I understand their concern since these bars generally don't stay in business for the long haul.

    I'm surprised more bands don't try to promote their own shows. I've been thinking about getting three bands together, buy some radio spots, along with a couple of print ads and putting on a show. I'm not Bill Graham, so there is a lot I don't know, but on the surface it sounds viable, but since I really don't know anything about doing this, I know there are pit falls out there. I'm just not smart enough to know what I don't know.

    Has anyone had any experience in this area. Obviously, the venue would be very important. Also, what about beer and liquor sales? Would a license be required, or is this something I could contract out like they do at weddings?

    Any input would be greatly appreciated.
  2. We kinda kicked this idea around a little bit at one time. Like you, there's a whole lot we don't know about how to pull it off. Our original idea was to put together, like you, three local bands, advertise, rent a hall, and sell tickets. On the surface, it seemed like a great idea. But in the end, we didn't do it because there were just too many ways to lose, and lose big. Financially, it was a risk. Everything hinges on how much you can sell the tickets for and how many people, realistically, will come to the show.

    Let's just run some numbers here, hypothetical ones. A lot of these numbers I came up with just doing internet research.

    The local Elks Club, or Knights Of Columbus, or whatever hall you choose will rent to you for a night. Let's just say they get $500 for the night. And in a lot of places, this would be pretty cheap. A nice place can cost thousands, depending on how swanky it is. But let's go with $500. Advertising through social media is free, to people you know or follow you. Promoting posts costs money. If you're going to run a radio ad, then you are looking at more money. A fifteen second radio ad on a local station may run $10 per spot. So if your ad runs 5 times a day for a week, you're looking at another $350. If you want to run it for two weeks, $700. But, let's go with one week at $350. Now you are up to $850. Then the cost of flyers, if you are/are not going to print tickets, etc. Maybe you can hammer out a deal to get a cut of the bar, but it's unlikely. It's like renting a hall for an event, maybe a wedding. The wedding party doesn't get a cut of the bar sales. And since you've sold tickets (or charged a cover), and the hall has been rented, there's no way they're giving you any of their money. So now you have to consider what to charge to get in. $5? $10? $20? A lot depends on how popular you are, how well the show is promoted, and what the people will pay. In my estimation, at least around here, $10 is kinda the max that people will pay to see anyone other than a "name brand" act. But if you are good and well know, you could maybe get $20 or $30. But let's go with $10. So as it stands now, you have to bring in 85 people just to offset your initial investment. Let's say you wind up bringing in 200 people, so your sales are $2,000. But that means each band has to attract roughly 70 people. Do you think you would? Do you think the others would? After paying expenses, this leaves $1,150 for the bands and players. Three bands, maybe 4 people in each band, 12 players, getting $95 each after all is said and done. Not awful, but not great either.

    I think the real key is to be completely honest in realizing how many people actually would come to the show. If it seems good and you want to give it a whirl, go for it. But you should not do it unless you can reasonably pay all the expenses even if nobody showed up. Because that's possible.

    I think there's a lot more to it than what I wrote, but these were my initial thoughts and what came out of the conversation when my band entertained doing the same thing.
  3. Checkout the Vet buildings - you can usually get them for pretty cheap and many have liquor licenses and will work with you, and don't forget security and insurance too - and tell the local police/sheriff about the event in advance too. Oh and get a local radio station onboard with you - maybe, make it a partnership type sponsored event - where they in part host the show, give away some free tickets over the air, etc - maybe even broadcast the show live. In other words - get others involved so you don't have to spend anymore money than necessary.
  4. -Kramer-


    Dec 9, 2003
    Charlotte, NC
    I have done this type of show with a former band. The difference was that the location was a bar with a good PA. The bar charges you $200 for the sound guy. They keep all bar/food sales and the band(s) keep everything above the $200 for the sound guy.

    Not a bad deal if you can get people out. It can be a great money maker for everyone involved if you can do this as a single band and have a really good draw (200).
  5. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    One benefit to that is that they will often put you under their insurance rider for liability, which is not a swell idea (or legal in many instances) to do without. Same for many bars too.
  6. mancefine


    Jul 7, 2013
    Endorsing Artist: Orange Amplifiers and Spector Basses
    My band was playing way too many shows, and our fan base was getting stretched thin among them. Since you play covers I don't know how applicable this is to you, but what we did was decide to make every show we played locally a big event. We are in Austin so that is quite a challenge. We used what resources we had, which is our endorsement with Orange amps and our own money and contacted a big venue and pitched them the show. They let us book a date and after they get $200 we get 100% of the door. So we booked some big local bands and guaranteed them out of our own pocket, are going to give away an Orange amp via raffle at the show along with other band and Orange schwag, and contacted a local DJ who will drop our name a few times and we also are spending $200 on radio ads to run the week before. The show isn't until May, and there is already a considerable amount of hype for it. I'm hopeful it will go well. If you can show a venue that you can promote and book yourself, they may give you a good night if you can sell them on the fact that you will make them money and your show will stand out.
  7. mancefine


    Jul 7, 2013
    Endorsing Artist: Orange Amplifiers and Spector Basses
    I guess if your goal is to make a living playing music this show wouldn't be considered a success. But any show where each person playing almost makes a $100 would be a monumental success in most markets, I think. We are solely doing our big show for exposure, and are fully prepared to lose money. You have to take risks and explore options to make real progress.
  8. flatbed truck.
  9. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    OK - I'll ask the uncomfortable question...
    If you're playing a bar, it's understood the venue pays ASCAP.
    If you're renting a bare hall - and playing covers - how does that part work out ?
    Do the Elks or VFW pay for the licensing ?
  10. Oh, absolutely. Like I said, it depends on how much risk you are willing to take, and can afford to take. If putting on a show like this could keep you from paying your mortgage this month, it's probably not worth the risk in my mind. But, yeah, the old saying is can't win if you don't play. And big rewards do come from big risks, typically.
  11. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    My band is very unique. We only play in theatres, do our own promotion, use our own lights and sound, our own stage crew, our own soundguy etc. etc.
    We of course do all of our own promotion. I never understood the notion of *any* band, even weekend warrior bands, not promoting themselves as much as possible. Sure, you can hope the bar has a good following, and blame the bar when no one shows up, but IMO, it's just as much if not more the bands' fault than the bar.
    Bands are a business, always. You have to promote your business, position yourself to succeed, stand out among your competition and perform well. If you want to leave the bar circuit and move into your own shows, it's easy to do, but a lot of bands fall on their face here because they have no clue how to promote effectively.
    It's been a long, hard road of learning for us. None of us are business people. At least, we were not when we started. Over the past 4 years, we have learned an incredible amount about what works for us and gets our theatres full night after night (our usual home holds 800, for what it's worth).
    The risk for us is still huge. We rent a theatre for at minimum for two nights (Fri/Sat). Our typical break even is 1,000 or so people in the seats ($20/seat - our show is no joke). Recently, we've moved more to a theatre product schedule and have two or three weekend runs. We're still feeling out where our breakeven is on these, but it's obviously higher.
    If we don't bring in the people, we lose out. If we don't fill the seats, we have a hard time convincing larger venues to take us on for a good rate, as we can't as easily guarantee headcount.

    In the end, it is so, totally worth it. Not only do we make money with it, we're in control of every aspect of the show! We control the sound crew, the light crew, the stage setup, the stage hands and so on. We don't need to play for 4 hours a night to 50 people anymore. We don't need to share stages in multi-band gigs. We have an incredible amount of FUN making music to a big crowd of people who are having fun watching something unique unfold in front of them. If we don't like something, we have the ability to change it - and do, frequently.

    I'm glad I took this step with this band. Sometimes I miss those little bar gigs - and on rare occasion we'll do one just for a change of pace from the big production. Each time we do though, we regret it :smug:.
  12. You know, I was thinking, if you had the time or desire to write something up about how to go about doing this, it would make a great sticky in this forum. Sounds like you have figured a lot of stuff out and could help out a lot of people.
  13. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    I've thought about doing just that from time to time. But it's a super controversial topic here at TB for reasons I can't comprehend. Also, I believe that certain things work for certain bands and geographical locations, but those same things would likely fall flat on their faces in other places.
    Like I said, we're a unique show. We're a heavy metal band. But we have 70, 80 year olds at our shows and ENJOYING them, hanging out with the band afterward saying how glad they were that they came! I think what works for us will only work for a select few bands and situations. I guess I can try to generalize it a bit, but I think it'd lose the impact then.
    I don't know, maybe if I think on it more I can come up with a good presentation of what we've learned and how we make things work.
  14. Well you might have a problem then, who's going to come to your own hall gig?

    Out here there are literally no music venue's that have their own built in crowds. Those kind of places are a dying breed unfortunately.