Door Split Deal? Uh...yeah, let me Ask Mefi what that is first real quick...
August 12, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I've been asked to take over booking for a couple local bands. I've done this quite a bit but we function as a venue so it was from the other side. Can you hope me figure this out?

So, I run a music blog. We're involved in the house show circuit around here so I've dealt with contacting bands and their management to book shows. I've got that down.

However, recently a couple local bands have asked me to assist in their booking. This is awesome! I clearly want to pursue this line of work and booking for local bands will help me build up a resume but, uh...I have no idea what I'm doing. Can you help me figure this out?

For our shows, I contact a band. We discuss their guarantee and what they'll need. Show gets booked, band gets paid, done. So when contacting a venue about a potential show for a band there, what's the proper way to phrase this? I know what these bands are looking for in terms of guarantees and what they'll need but is that necessary information in the beginning? Send along music with the initial email or no? Also, there are quite a few local shows with just one artist on the bill -- is it kosher to write the venue and ask to be added to those shows? Obviously, I'd make sure the band was a good fit for that first but honestly, I'm not even really sure about what I need to say to not sound like a total moron (admittedly, I am that at this stage)...

When it comes to dates, I'll need a few in mind, yes? Should we put together a press pack? Also, I'm sort of confused as to the responsibilities of the band and their management when it comes to a show that's been booked -- we promote it and take on the costs but what exactly does the latter mean? If we get farther down the line in booking talks what do I need to be sure not to leave out? Should my bands be paying to play and what exactly do things like "door split deals" mean? Goodness, this is a heap of questions...

I know this a lot but ask mefi is a wealth of giant knowledgable brains. Where else would I ask this? Any help is appreciated.
posted by youandiandaflame to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I do not have the experience in doing this, but three things come to mind:

1. Find out where the bands have already played to good reception.
2. Knock on doors to introduce yourself and the band. Bring promotional material. Good old personal contact can work wonders.
3. Be available when contacted. Return calls and emails very quickly.
posted by yclipse at 7:11 PM on August 12, 2012

I'm guessing you're mostly concerned with getting your bands into commercial venues - bars, clubs, concerts - rather than house shows, so that's the tack I'll be taking as I try to answer some of your questions.

First, you want to match the band with the venue or promoter, whether locally or out of town. A bar that does classic rock cover bands is probably not going to be too interested in your indie-folk-pop duo. Although it's possible that an independent promoter may book shows in a place that usually has a different style of live music. Do your research and come up with a list of venues or promoters who would have even a slight interest in booking your bands.

Second, while a lot of business is conducted via email these days, I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize the value of actual phone calls. In the long run, a booking agent is successful largely because they have semi-personal "business friend" relationships with club owners/club managers/promoters, and actual person-to-person phone calls are the best and fastest way to get those relationships started and maintained. The phone is your friend.

Third, I think you need to have a real heart-to-heart with these bands about why they want you to be their booking agent. Are they too busy? Too shy? Too lazy? Do you have a friendlier, more outgoing personality? What are the goals they're looking to accomplish? Obviously, running a music blog and booking house shows has given you some level of contacts and reputation and experience, but as you're noticing, maybe not the kind that's directly applicable to getting them shows. Some level of agreement about what both they and you are looking to get out of the relationship is important. You also want to get some info from them about what their past experiences have been in booking their own shows, what's worked and what hasn't worked.

Honestly, I'm a little concerned that they may think you're some kind of money-miracle-worker; you throw a house show and pay Band X $700, and they think, "Shit, look at the kind of money those guys got! I bet she could get us some dough like that if she booked our shows!" But they're missing that house shows are NON-commercial ventures - they don't have liquor licenses, insurance, taxes, leases, salaries, blah blah blah yada yada - and getting money from clubs can be the proverbial "blood from a stone."
posted by soundguy99 at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Moving on to attempting to address some of your specific questions:

Should we put together a press pack?

Yes. This is step one. I hope to hell your bands have at least recorded something - ideally they've even released it to the public.

Press pack being a bio, some photos, a list of whatever sort of accomplishments or recognition they've managed, and a CD of their music. (yes, you still want to send a CD.) Make sure your name, phone number, email address, the band's Facebook/website/bandcamp/SoundCloud addresses are prominent and easily found.

Having identified likely venues/promoters (see above) you mail them the press pack. About a week later you call them, talk to whoever takes care of booking for the venue, and basically just ask if they got the press pack, if they had a chance to check it out, and ask for a show.

what's the proper way to phrase this?

Pretty straightforward would be best, I think. "Hi, I'm youandiandaflame, I represent Indie-Folk-Pop-duo, and we'd like to play your club." As long as the answer isn't a flat-out "no", the rest is just negotiating the details.

I know what these bands are looking for in terms of guarantees

Yeah, well. Your bands can want what they want, but unless they've got a proven track record in drawing people in that club or that town or some other compelling circumstance (video went viral and their music is selling like hotcakes on iTunes/Amazon), there's no real leverage to ask for much in the way of guarantees. $50 and a free six of beer isn't unusual for unknown bands. "Nothing" is also common.

That, I think, is the big difference between house shows & clubs. People put on house shows because they love the artist, love music, love the chance to see an artist in an intimate setting. As far as I can tell, they're not very interested in making money. Clubs are businesses that exist to turn a profit. A lot of people who work in or own clubs that do live music genuinely love music, love seeing live bands, but they have to keep an eye on the bottom line. Ideally, they make money on ticket sales, but at the least they want to make enough off the ticket sales to pay for expenses so they can turn a profit on booze or food. So, basically, they need a reason to give a band a guarantee. Unknown bands don't have much in the way of reasons.

and what they'll need

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Tech stuff like microphones and sound system? Generally a club that regularly does live music will own this gear or have a contract with someone to provide this stuff. They have what they have, and as per the idea of guarantees, a band needs a certain level of clout to get something beyond what's regularly provided.

is that necessary information in the beginning?

No. You don't start by saying, "Hi, I represent Band You've Never Heard Of and we want $500 and a big list of fancy sound equipment." Club owners are going to think, "Who the fuck are these guys? Why the fuck do they think I should pay them a big pile of money? Because they're cute? I'm not runnin' a fuckin' charity here. Fuck them." And those are the nice club owners who won't actually say that to your face.

First you should see if they're interested in booking your band at all. Then you negotiate price. Eventually you will have to send a contract to the club, to be signed and sent back with the details of your financial arrangements spelled out. Tech stuff is attached to the contract as a "tech rider", which often includes a "stage plot".

there are quite a few local shows with just one artist on the bill -- is it kosher to write the venue and ask to be added to those shows?

Mostly, sure, clubs get this all the time. Although, again, PHONE CALL. And only if you've gotten them that press pack so that they have some idea what the band's actually like. And again, don't expect much if anything in the way of guarantees. Generally, being a local opener is an opportunity for the local band to introduce themselves to a new audience and new potential fans and maybe sell some merch. The club has probably worked out its' budget and ticket price based on the headliner's price and expected draw, and not left much cash for the locals.

You should consider context when doing this, though. "An Evening With John Hiatt" at your local theater probably has no local openers on purpose, and isn't interested in getting any (or is contractually obligated to NOT add anyone to the bill.)
posted by soundguy99 at 9:22 PM on August 12, 2012

Round II:

When it comes to dates, I'll need a few in mind, yes?

Well, no, kinda, but maybe . . . .

See, the thing is, when you are booking house shows, you are offering something to the artist.

When you are trying to get a band a gig at a venue, you are asking for something, and the less well known the band is, the more you're in a position of "beggars can't be choosers."

Even well-known bands are at the mercy of the complex algebra of "which promoter, how much money, in what city, at what venue, on what date." That's why tour buses are used - the band can get some sleep while they zig-zag from St Louis to Indianapolis to Chicago to Dayton to Louisville to Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Columbus.

So if your bands are pretty unknown, or don't draw much of a crowd, you'll kind of have to see what dates the venue offers. Often, especially for local bands, they'll offer "off" days - Wednesday or Thursday rather than Friday or Saturday.

Not saying you can't suggest dates, especially out of town, where you can present it as, "Hey, we're gonna be in your area around these dates, you got anything available?"

So "dates in mind" isn't a bad idea, but you have to be somewhat flexible about it.

I'm sort of confused as to the responsibilities of the band and their management when it comes to a show that's been booked -- we promote it

I'm a little confused, too - I mean, of course you promote it, on principle, because the band wants people to come see them, but a lot of the reason bands want to play clubs or bars is because THEY have an entire promotional machine in place. They pay for ads in the local paper & free alterna-weekly, they pay for radio & maybe even TV ads, they get the local college radio station to give away tickets, they've got a regularly updated website that thousands of people check out monthly, they've got a bazillion Facebook friends & Twitter followers, they have a "street team" to pass out flyers at other shows, so on and so forth. They've got a system that can promote a show to more people than many bands are capable of.

It sounds like you might already be in a situation where the venue is basically saying, "Well, we'll book the band, but you guys have to do all the legwork." Which is . . . fishy.

and take on the costs but what exactly does the latter mean?

This can be legit. Putting on a show (as opposed to just being open as a bar or even being closed) has concrete expenses. You need to rent sound & lighting equipment (or set aside some money to offset the cost of purchase & wear and tear), you need to pay one or more people to operate said equipment, you need a door person to check ID's & take tickets or cash, you might need some security people, promoting the show costs money (paying for ads, printing flyers or cards). If the show is being put on by an independent promoter, he might have to pay a rental fee to the venue.

If a band is mostly getting paid by guarantee, accounting for these expenses can be kind of invisible - the promoter just says, "This show will cost me $xxx to put on, so $yyyy is the highest guarantee I can offer."

In a splitting the door situation, it's not uncommon for the club to take some (good clubs) or all (not-so-great clubs) of these expenses off the top before any door money gets split between the bands. It can be hard to tell if you're getting screwed in these situations - an ability to do a quick head-count and multiplication is an Important Survival Skill for bands.

Should my bands be paying to play


Which is to say, I know what "pay to play" is, but it's kind of hard to explain - tickets given to the band for pre-sale is usually a good warning sign. Googling for a way to explain it, I found Never Pay To Play, which, while not the prettiest website, actually has some good info on what "pay to play" is and why it's more-or-less a scam. It focuses on some national organizations, but local clubs can pull this shit on local bands all on their own, too.


Given what I've said above about low or no guarantees being common, and given that a low crowd on a door split deal can mean no money for the band, it's entirely possible that your bands will play gigs and not make any money, actually losing money if you take expenses into account. This is not "pay to play," this is just a bad gig. Don't confuse the two, and don't assume that a club where your band doesn't make any money is pulling a "pay to play" scam.

what exactly do things like "door split deals" mean?

Door Split Deal seems pretty much right to me. Instead of a guarantee, the band splits the take at the door with the promoter after expenses are taken off the top.

Variations of this include the venue taking expenses off the top, but all the rest of the money goes to the bands (the venue counting on booze sales to make money) and combined guarantee and door split, usually where the promoter and the band splits the door on ticket sales above a certain dollar amount (i.e. the band is guaranteed $1000, and any money that comes in over $1500 gets split 70/30 between the band and the promoter, so total ticket sales of $2000 means $500 would get divided up 70/30, so the band walks away with $1350 total.)
posted by soundguy99 at 11:57 PM on August 12, 2012

Soundguy99, you are my fucking hero! I'm gonna print this out, take a highlighter to it, and study it like a college textbook. Thanks sooooooooo much, man!
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:29 AM on August 13, 2012

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