Working with a venue to book an artist?
May 31, 2019 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I want to book a relatively well known artist to play a venue in NYC. I have no connection to the venue or artist. Would a venue booker be willing to work with someone in this situation? I am willing to pay some of or potentially all of the artist’s booking fee.

I don’t know if this is something a venue booker would even consider, but I am extremely interested in making this happen. The artist is better known in England but still popular here. I’m fairly certain the booker would know who they are. They’ve played recently on the West Coast in similarly sized venues to the one I’m interested in (500 - 1000 capacity). They haven’t played on the East Coast in 10 years, which I think would be a good selling point. The artist seems to be particular about the type of venue they play in, and I think this one would be a good fit.

Complications: I live in Philadelphia and the venue is in New York City. I’ve been to the venue but don’t know anyone who works there. As I said, I’m willing to pay some of or all of the artist’s fee, but I would want a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales, so I could at least break even if the tickets sell well. I would want the booker/venue to still be in charge of everything as I have no experience. Essentially I would be “sponsoring” the concert, and OK with the fact that I may lose money.

Is any of this in the realm of possibility or would I just get ignored or laughed at?
posted by ataxia to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have friends who have done this, but it's been with artists who were currently touring, and they (my friends) put up the money to basically rent the location, and were prepared to deal with the losses. Neither of them lost money, but one is a booking agent for a university and knows what he's doing, and the other has booked enough of his own shows to be know the risks.

I arranged for a well-known graphic designer to give a talk, but he was already touring so getting him here wasn't an issue. I put up the money to rent the location, and we sold tickets on eventbrite. I was confident that he would bring in enough people that I wasn't concerned about putting up the money to rent the facility. But an out-of-town club is a different kind of thing. You'll either need to find a NYC-based promoter to to arrange things, or see if you can rent the place, and be prepared to lost money. a 500-1000 seat venue seems SUPER risky when you've never done something like this before. If they're not currently touring, you'll have to cover travel and lodging (well, you would anyway, but it could be cheaper if they were already in the area).
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:13 PM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

You are basically proposing to become a small-time (one-time) concert promoter. This is how many shows are put on, though typically not by first-timers at this scale. It's not impossible but it's likely to be quite a bit more expensive and labor intensive than you might expect.

On the artist side, this is going to look much more like "rich person hires Sting to play their birthday party" than "concert tour" -- the economics of touring are predicated on doing several back-to-back shows to amortize both the risk and the activation time/money associated with going out on the road. My music group does shows for about 1/5 those attendance numbers and we'd require a pretty significant up-front deposit to hedge against the risk that you as a first-timer would mess the whole thing up. There are a million details that a normal promoter would know how to take care of (eg, do these people need visas in order to get paid for a gig in the US? I've seen more than one tour scuttled just on those grounds). Presumably you already know how concerts work on the back-of-house side but if not you might as well be entertained too and start with the (in)famous Iggy Pop backstage rider. It is presented in taking-the-piss format but contains a ton of practical health-and-welfare issues that many promoters forget (or "forget") about.

On the venue side it's a little more straightforward, just expensive. Most venues have an office that handles hiring out the venue, so you just work out a deal with those folks. Deals look something like a flat fee, plus hiring their staff (you're probably not in a position to outside hire, and lots of venues won't allow it or limit it), plus some chunk of the gate. Fees are going to vary by date and time -- it's a lot easier to get a venue for a 10am Tuesday show, less easy to get an audience for one. It doesn't matter that you don't know anybody at the venue; they have a business office that handles this and they can tell you straight-up if it's possible or not.

So all you have to do is manage a bazillion details and negotiate with both sides simultaneously to find a date that works, and convince everybody involved (using the language of dollars) that you, a first-time promoter with no connection to the origin or destination cities, can make this pay off for them. Not impossible! Just extremely difficult. It's probably worth watching both Fyre Festival documentaries as supplemental info.
posted by range at 1:16 PM on May 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you both! I have obviously not thought this through enough. I would definitely need to hire an experienced promoter to handle everything. I will probably wait until they tour the West Coast again and see if I still want to attempt this.
posted by ataxia at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2019

Add “New York City” to the equation and it raises the complexity and cost of everything. I co-produced a club performance by a Canadian Indigenous hip hop group at a small club on the LES last fall and it was a prodigiously expensive undertaking that didn’t need to break even. Remember that housing the band, hiring a union sound and stage crew, etc. are costs that make a one-off show in NYC very challenging compared to outside the city.
posted by spitbull at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've seen a lot of shows that seem like they should be no brainier successes to inexperienced promoters fail, leaving them tens of thousands of dollars in the hole. Nthing hiring a promoter that knows the venue and local market.

The venue is also going to be interested in more than just having the artist's guarantee covered. They make most of their money through concession sales, so if they're at 1/5th capacity they're losing money, even if they're not paying the artist anything.
posted by Candleman at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

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