how does the interaction between venues and artists work?
April 5, 2009 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I would like to know everything about how bands interact with concert venues/festivals, including how they contact and negotiate with each other, how their staff interact, and how the money situation works. I'm mostly interested in medium-sized venues (between 300 and 2,000 people). Any suggestions for reading material (or does anyone want to share their knowledge on the subject)? I've included examples what I'm looking for inside.

I'm really interested in the interaction as a whole, but here are some examples of things I'd like to know:

1) Does the artist contact the venue, or does the venue contact the artist (or both)? How does the venue know whether a particular band is a good match, or do they care?

2) What's the pay structure for the band? Is it negotiated and/or is there a standard that most venues use? And what about the opening band (that tours with the main band) and the opening band before that that is usually local? I'm assuming that you get paid less the earlier you play, but how is that decided?

3) Who are the middlemen/representatives from each side?

4) Among the sound, lighting and other jobs, how much of this work is done on the band's side, and how much is with the venue's staff? And is it generally easy for the venue staff to work with the band staff, even if there are language barriers? That is to say, is there a universal protocol for light/sound engineering?

5) Is the 120/240V difference between the US and Europe ever a problem?

etc. etc.
posted by helios to Work & Money (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In the states, in terms of little venues (25-250 people) I can say with confidence that it varies IMMENSELY. Generally in my experience, though, the one constant is the band contacts the venue, either directly or via their booking agent. Often for smaller/indy bands, a music sample is expected.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:28 PM on April 5, 2009

I can't say a lot about the booking side for larger venues, though those I have known in more successful groups than mine (actual record deal, actual management) found the work they were doing inversely proportional to their success. When they were starting, it was entirely a hustle to get places to let them play; as they sold more, it evened out a bit. If you have a platinum album and make your peace with Ticketbastard, I suppose you wait for them to come to you. This was the primary reason bands I knew had management. The manager made thousands of phone calls and sent out countless promo CDs to get them a hundred shows a year in 100-300 seat places all over the country. I'd also be very wary of trying to organize a tour like the one you describe with no prior experience. Everyone on the other end will have that experience and not have your best interests in mind.

And on the tech side, unless you're talking about fairly minimal built-in house lights and such at a venue, that will fall in the bands' hands. And venues will all be different and there will be issues at any given one that require some improvisation. This is why there are roadies. I would say the 120V/240V difference is an issue exactly as often as you bring 120V equipment to a place with 240V power (or vice versa) without a road-tested system for addressing it and something to back that up. Again, roadies exist for a reason.
posted by el_lupino at 3:38 PM on April 5, 2009

I am a former booking agent for a venue on the small end of your estimate in a major metropolitan area. I would say that I was in pretty constant contact with a pool of agents. They would keep me posted about who was passing through the area and when, and I would also make requests for other artists they repped if I was interested in them. Sometimes we took opening acts as part of a package, sometimes we could recommend a local or regional opener ourselves. Sometimes recommendations would come from publicity or radio people rather than booking agents. Sometimes we would book acts with no representation on the strength of their kit along with proof they could move X number of tickets in the area.

We paid a standard percentage of the door, sometimes with a guaranteed minimum that was negotiated. Ticket price was based on any number of competing factors like what other venues were charging for similar acts, how much we needed to bring in to pay the artist what they expected, etc. We supplied sound and lighting staff to cover the simple stuff, and they would work with a sound technician or two brought by the performer if the act was a national tour. My venue specialized in solo acts or small bands, though, so even the

If you're trying to break into this business, your reputation is the key. I would rather have a decent technician who was 100% reliable than a brilliant technician who was 80% reliable. And I would never work with a band's agent more than once if they weren't completely straightforward and honest about their act's ability to draw. There are WAY too many "artistic" flakes in the music business.

You can contact me via mefi mail or whatever if you want to talk specifics.
posted by bcwinters at 4:02 PM on April 5, 2009

I used to book bands at a ~1,000 person venue in the Midwest.


Both. Usually if you have a good report with a booking agent, they will let you know when Band A will be in the area and ask if you're interested in picking up a date. Or if you notice that a band is on tour and you want to book them, you find out who their booking agent is and talk to them. Or a band's agent will call out of the blue and ask if you have a date available and are interested. Or a band (usually the smaller ones) will contact you directly. And finally, as a promoter, TONS of bands will send you unsolicited press kits.

Do you mean, how does the venue know if a band is a good match for their venue? Well, because generally you book bands you know. (Not necessarilly bands you LIKE, but bands you know.) The number one goal of a promoter booking a venue is to bring people in (who will hopefully buy alcohol). So it's not whether you wonder if it's a good match, you wonder if it will bring people in. You might check Pollstar for their concert history to get an idea of how many people they're drawing in cities like yours. But mostly you just know, because you know enough about music and your town and what the people there are interested in.


There is no standard. Pay varies from venue to venue, band to band. I never worked the same deal twice. For all you've ever wanted to know about how bands get paid on the road, including headliner/opener breakdown, check out this thread: The economics of traveling bands. I weigh in on things a few times there.


The middleman from the band's side is the booking agent. They're in charge of finding shows for the band. If you mean the middleman during the actual show, it's the band/road manager. They're responsible for making sure everything is in order, including tech stuff, riders (the food and other personal items bands list off they want in order to play), and the $$$ at the end of the night. The middleman from the venue's prospective is the promoter, or the guy who bought the show from the agent. Then there's also a bar/house manager, who will deal with day-of, hands on stuff like making sure the band has enough towels and whatnot. This is how we did it at the venue I worked at; I'm sure it varies from place to place.


This depends on the size of the band. Larger bands will bring their own sound and light guys, along with their own audio/visual equipment. Smaller bands usually rely on house sound and staff. I never did sound, but I'd say that it's pretty universal. If you're a sound guy that doesn't speak english, you can look at the board and know what you're doing.

Ping me if you have any other questions!
posted by nitsuj at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2009

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