Struggles of Booking Shows In The Modern Era
April 13, 2015 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Hi! Are you a music promoter or work for a music venue? Do you throw a weekly showcase, or have you set up a small festival in the past 7-8 years or otherwise had a regular need for finding musicians to play and managing a schedule of musical acts performing in a space? If so, what is it like these days? What struggles do you have and how do you decide who say Yes to and who to reject? And aside from "I know some people" how do you find acts to book?

I am helping to brainstorm ideas for a suite of software that could help promoters and show-bookers for music venues. To make us more informed I'd love to hear from folks who often book musical acts (from any genre or size of show, from a single person playing in a coffee shop to a EDM festival) and any range of experience (from doing it professionally to doing it once a month for a summer a few years ago). I do want to limit it to music rather than comedy or theater since that's a different animal.

Again my main questions:

How does a booker person find people to book these days, aside from "Knows them personally"?
What is the biggest pain point for you these days? What is working really well?
What are some other issues facing a booker right now (or just general details about your day-to-day life) that most people outside the industry wouldn't know about?
And finally: how is business? We keep hearing that live music is the last profitable section of the music industry: is that true for you or the venues you work(ed) in? If not, what's hurting the business the most? In your opinion.

posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The problem is not finding musicians that want to play, the problem is finding musicians that will be a draw enough people to make the event successful at a price the promoter/venue can afford. Bands need to make an increasing amount of money from events rather than music sales and audiences can be extremely fickle. It feels like an increasing number of people at events talk to each other the entire time or stare at their phones, so it's easy for them to decide its not worth going out to a show rather than a hipster bar or stay in and drink there on the cheap. It can be a challenge to even get more than a few hundred people to show up for free concerts with known acts.

Are you looking at local level acts or touring ones? A lot of those bookings go through management companies. Either a promoter will decide they want to book a specific band and contact the promoter or the agent will have a band going through an area on tour and will try to find venues that will have them. Some venues have working relationships on an ongoing basis with agents and will have multiple acts from the same company come through at various points of the year. Companies like Live Nation own venues and do promotion of artists they contract with.

If the promoter's the one reaching out, they consider what they like, what's getting buzz in the social and traditional media worlds, talking with promoters they know in other similar markets, etc. There's some bands and promoters doing well, but it's pretty rough out there on average.
posted by Candleman at 2:56 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A few more details:

how do you decide who say Yes to and who to reject?

As previously indicated, it's mostly about the drawing power of the group. Depending on how bad it is, a band can find themselves persona non grata even if they do bring in attendees if the band or in some cases their fans are offensive in ways that could damage the reputation of the venue (e.g. racism), engage in dangerous or criminal behavior, flakiness or lateness, damaging the venue, or being abusive to the staff. Sometimes groups that have limited commercial potential but are loved by the promoter will get opening slots. Sometimes when there's a corporate sponsor and the corporate liaison has favorite bands, they'll get chosen for that reason.

I've rarely seen things like weekly showcases or single person performers be very successful as a commercial venture. Sometimes the people doing them have enough fun that they'll do it for free or next to free, but generally they collapse from public disinterest.
posted by Candleman at 6:56 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not a talent booker, but I've spent 20 years interacting and working with bookers on all sorts of levels and in many different contexts.

Seconding everything Candleman says.

how do you find acts to book?

Yeah, finding acts is not likely to be a problem - as soon as a venue or festival announces their existence they're likely to be drowning in band demos and promo packages. Maybe small local festivals in their first coupla years might have to find bands by looking at who plays similar events in their area and approaching them.

Finding and developing acts that will regularly draw enough people to keep the lights on is a whole other matter.

A lot of times this just means "keeping your ear to the ground", so to speak - figuring out who's getting hot on social media, who's getting a lot of YouTube hits or iTunes/Amazon downloads, who's getting songs on TV shows or movies, whether any of this is applicable in your local area or if it's all just NYC and LA buzz.

If bands book their gigs through booking agents that info will be on their website.

We keep hearing that live music is the last profitable section of the music industry: is that true for you or the venues you work(ed) in?

The A#1 thing you have to realize is that from the venue/talent buyer/promoter perspective, a huge percentage of the time the profit is in alcohol and food sales. They break even or actually lose money on the ticket sales, but 2000 people buying beer at $6 a bottle adds up to a healthy chunk of change. And a club that runs music 6 days a week is going to have a different, more diffuse strategy for staying in the black than a promoter who only does 10 shows a year.

Pollstar Magazine is THE industry trade publication for the live music industry (at least in the U.S.) and every promoter I know has a subscription. (I believe that if you pay for a subscription you get access to more info than is available on their public website.)

(or just general details about your day-to-day life) that most people outside the industry wouldn't know about?

Every day is "the same, only different." Which means that a lot of the industry still relies on paper to a huge degree, AFAIK. Contracts, tech riders & hospitality riders get emailed back and forth, and get printed out and things crossed off or added by pen and then signed and scanned and emailed & snail-mailed back, and negotiations happen over email and phone calls.

Which is to say I'm pretty curious about what you're thinking the software package should do, because every show is different from the one before, even if it's the same act you had a year ago. Data entry and databases start to seem kind of pointless if you just have to enter all new data for every show. Some more details about your goals for the software might get you some more detailed answers or some ideas about things talent buyers might find useful.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:03 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: this is all very useful already soundguy! I wanted to leave it free form to see what people might say. I had never heard of Pollstar, I'm going to pick that up right away!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:53 AM on April 14, 2015

Mmm. Well, TBH, I've seen quite a few festivals and venues (both for- and non-profit) organize their band booking and schedules with a fairly simple Excel spreadsheet, maybe tied with an accounting program like QuickBooks for sorting their budget. So whatever software package you're offering would have to provide a pretty significant advantage over a handful of programs that most small businesses are likely to already have and know how to use.

I dunno - in a lot of ways booking bands is kind of the simplest part of putting on shows. It's all the other stuff around the bands that's the tough part, like ticket sales through multiple outlets and parking and security and providing for the acts' technical and hospitality needs and figuring out who you need on staff for a show and organizing their schedules and actually promoting the show and getting people to know about the show and then actually get off their butts and attend. Those are the kind of things that can take some complex organizing and/or results tracking that might benefit from a dedicated software package.

You should probably look around for "event planner"/"event management"/"wedding planner" software to see what kind of similar offerings are already out there.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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