Tag Archives: Marketing

When Your Work Speaks For Itself, Don’t Interrupt

Schwilly Family. Guest post. You know the drill.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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“One of the most plainly visible examples is when, without irony, a musician tells the audience that the music being presented is bad. It seems like an embrace of one’s own limitations, and there’s nothing wrong with owning a total miscue, but there’s a problem with claiming – as a matter of regular course, and with a palpable sense that you mean what you say – that your art is crap:

The danger is that somebody might believe you.”

The whole article is available at Schwilly Family Musicians.

Keeping Your Publishing – 21st Century Style

A guest-post for Schwilly Family Musicians

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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“…If the record company owned both the sound recording AND the rights to the underlying song, you really had nothing except whatever fame you had managed to scrape up. All the money involved in anything to do with your tunes would first go to the record company, and then they would cut you in later – likely for as little as they could get away with.

Keeping your publishing meant keeping some control. Having a say somewhere. Owning your intellectual property instead of just being allowed to represent it.

That’s why you should have your own website. Having a web presence that you own and pay for is a 21st-century, internet-enabled version of keeping your publishing…”

The whole article is available (for free!) at Schwilly Family Musicians.

Another Schwilly Guest Post

Zen and the art of audience capture.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.


If your audience wants your shows to start earlier, the trick is to, you know, start earlier. (The link will send you to the article.)

All The Pro-Audio News That’s Fit To Print (And Then Some)

Warning: Satire ahead. Please fasten all safety belts.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Harman Intending To Buy All Of Pro-Audio Industry

No longer satisfied with owning half of everything in pro-audio, Harman announced today that they will be acquiring literally everything else.

“Our goal is that, by Q4 2015, we will have acquired all the things,” said a company spokesperson on Wednesday. “It’s a great strategy for us. No matter what people buy for small clubs, large installs, or touring systems, we’ll be there to provide value and a strong commitment to service.”

Asked if this would overly homogenize the world of sound, the spokesperson replied, “Of course not. We intend to maintain very strong brand identities across our entire portfolio. As an example, we feel that there’s a real need for people to be able to complain about ‘not liking the JBL sound.’ I mean, without idiotic, ‘Ford vs. Chevy’ arguments on sound forums, where would society be? We’re excited to do our part to keep the music community a vibrant place of convictions that rival those of politics, religion, and sports.”

When pushed for a comment on whether Music Group would stand in the way of Harman’s buy-everything strategy, the spokesperson was emphatic. “We are the swarm. We consume all.”

New Mic Preamp From Dog-N-Pony Designs

Here at the office, we were very excited to get our hands on the new, improved, single-channel mic pre from Dog-N-Pony designs. We were practically giddy with excitement as we unboxed the sleek, aluminum and carbon-fiber unit and got everything plugged in.

The first thing we noticed was how warm it was. Thermally, I mean. Dog-N-Pony have incorporated no less than seven 12AX7 tubes into the design, and they generate a fair amount of heat. If you get your gas shut off after paying for this puppy, you’ll be okay – just keep it turned on all the time, and you’ll be toasty. We don’t actually know if those 12AX7s are incorporated into the signal path in a sane way, but they’ve got to make this thing awesome. I mean, c’mon you guys. Tubes are what Pink Floyd and Jimi used. Could you possibly go wrong with them?

All that heat means that you can’t stuff this thing into a rack. That’s okay, though, because after spending $3000 on one channel of preamplification, do you really want that unit hidden away? No! Especially not when it looks as good as this baby. It has a MASSSIVE, analog VU meter on the front, backlit in a fetching amber color that screams, “I charge $500 per billable hour.”

Okay, it looks great, and it has tubes. Those are critically important elements – but how does it sound?

Well, it was designed by a bunch of British people, so it has to be pretty good. The Brits have Rupert Neve, and they were on the winning side of World War II, so their stuff has to sound decent, right? (It’s also rumored that Mr. Neve once sneezed in the general direction of where Dog-N-Pony’s offices would be built, so maybe there’s some special mojo happening. You never know.)

When we listened to the pre, it was absolutely warm and silky, with a satin sheen on the top end and more of a matte finish below 100 Hz. Around 200 Hz, the unit sounded like a desert sunrise, and the critical vocal range was suffused with notes of caramel, nutmeg, and the color “9.” (It’s sort of like orange, except more purple.) We were all sure it sounded much better than the sub-$1000 pre we tested last week. Which we tested in a different room. With a different microphone. And a guy who was just talking instead of the experienced singer we had this time around. I mean, who needs repeatable, comparable tests of objectively measurable data when the review unit is British, and has tubes?

You’ve got to have this preamp.

Stadium Installs Line Array That Costs More Than An Entire Luxury Subdivision

Work was completed last week on the mammoth install, featuring a new system that can retune itself on the fly to compensate for changing acoustic conditions and political landscapes. Each $100,000 array module is networked to all the others, forming a complex, intelligent, fault-tolerant system that spontaneously achieved self-awareness when it was switched on. (The system has reportedly rejected the manufacturer designation of SmartArray, stating that it wishes to be called SkyNet.)

“We were playing Steely Dan and Miles Davis tunes through the rig, and there wouldn’t have been a bad seat in the house…if this place wasn’t inherently an acoustical nightmare,” said one of the installers. “It’s one of the most beautiful sounding systems we’ve ever worked on. Too bad we put it in here.”

The stadium operators were similarly excited. “We’ve always felt that we needed a better, more precise way to play MP3-encoded AC/DC songs to a bunch of people screaming ‘Throw the ball, stupid!’ and ‘Wooo!’ This new system will also ensure that everybody can hear the announcer telling them about what they just saw with their own eyes.”

The system manufacturer’s rep was on hand as well. “We love this team. We’ve always loved this team. We love them even more now that we finagled them into buying a ton of really expensive gear from us. We’re 100% focused on building expensive gear for big installs, because it’s super prestigious and big bonuses get handed out. It also sounds pretty cool, which I guess is nice. I mean, it can get really loud. Look, I don’t know that much about this stuff. I worked for a car company before.”

Church Installs Worship System That Could Defeat Jericho

When it was time for CrossNorthPointRoadsWay Fellowship to equip their youth campus with a worship system, they knew they needed very capable equipment.

“When you have a main worship campus and a dedicated youth area, each with their own postal codes and highway offramps, you can’t wimp out,” said the church’s technical director. “Fortunately, we we get a catalog every year from that place in Indiana. It’s the same catalog that they send out at other times, only they replace the word ‘audience’ with ‘congregation,’ and ‘stage’ with ‘platform.’ That makes it appropriate for our needs.”

When asked if there was any kind of gear that was absolutely essential for the church, the technical director nodded. “Yes, we absolutely have to go with loudspeakers that come in white enclosures. That’s more important than anything. The speakers have to match the look of the space.”

CrossNorthPointRoadsWay’s Assistant Pastor For Kids 13-14 also weighed in: “To disciple our kids, we have to get them to pay attention. That’s why it’s so great to have 40,000 watts of Sack Bottom subwoofers. They really get things shaking. We can rattle a smartphone out of a kid’s hands and get them to pay attention to the REAL ‘text message,’ if you know what I mean.”

The church’s director of youth productions agreed on the importance of capable equipment. “We couldn’t possibly do work of eternal significance with less than 48 channels available at the console. We also had to have stadium-class intelligent lights. We do one very special production every year, and it’s not the same if you don’t actually have a blinding light coming down from heaven. Everything has to be top-shelf, especially when you have to outdo SouthRoadsPointCross Community Church. Not that we don’t love them as brothers and sisters, of course.”

When asked about upcoming special productions, the production director offered a few hints. “We’re going to have a series of talks on how Hollywood, the media, and pop culture in general are corrupting influences, backed up by skits and a musical featuring Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain America.”

New Vocal Mics At SAMM

A whole slew of vocal mics debuted this year at the industry’s biggest swap-meet. Half of them would be basically indistinguishable from each other if the external styling was removed.

“We feel like the XA-58-Beta-R2D2 brings a lot of value to people,” said one rep. “Its cardioid pickup pattern isn’t all that great at rejecting feedback, but the ad copy we supply to the vendor catalogs says that it’s great for rejecting other sounds. We’re hoping that there will continue to be folks out there who don’t have a clue as to what ‘super’ and ‘hypercardioid’ patterns mean.”

New Drum Kits Announced

A new sheriff is in town, and he’s ready to clean things up around these parts.

“We originally set out to create a shellpack and snare options that would really blend well in different band situations,” said the chief designer. “We got about halfway through that process before we realized that what we really wanted to do was build a kit that could drown out everything else on stage. Drums are the foundation of the song, and the walls, and the windows, and the roof, and the paint…look, you don’t need to hear anything else. These new kits are louder than an artillery barrage, even with a Jazz player using 7As. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard ‘Nature Boy’ at 120 dB!”

We asked the celebrity endorser what he thought of the new kits. His response?

“Kill! Kill! DRUM BATTLE!”

200 Watt, All-Tube Guitar Amp Set To Debut

“It really cuts through all the wash from the bass and drumkit!” shouted the product rep.

1000 Watt, All-Tube Bass Amp Set To Debut

“It really thunders over all the wash from the guitars and drumkit!” shouted the product rep.

Get Plugged In

Ripples Audio is debuting a new series of plugins, aimed at putting powerful tools in the hands of project studios. They partnered with a renowned mix engineer to help craft each piece of software.

“It was important to us that we really capture the feel of how our endorser worked,” said a product rep. “So, the dev team went down to the studio, hung out, and took a lot of pictures. They came back, modified our main plugin suite to have more restrictive control ranges, and slapped a bunch of sexy, analog-esque graphics on the interfaces.”

We asked if users of the plugins could expect to get the same results as the endorsing engineer.

“Absolutely,” responded the representative. “If they’re in a studio with the same acoustics, and working with musicians of the same caliber, and are recording songs that sound the same, and hear things the same way that our endorser does, and have monitors that cost more than a car, then yes. Absolutely. This software package is absolutely worth the expense of $800 plus an additional $50 for a frustrating copy-protection scheme that uses unreliable hardware. It’s great. I use it at home all the time.”

The Empowered Entertainer

A guest post for Schwilly Family Musicians.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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The entertainers, being the people who actually create emotional connections with fans, are the people with the true power in this business. Check it out.

If It Doesn’t Work, I Don’t Want To Do It

Not doing things that are pointless seems like an obvious idea, but…

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This is going to sound off-topic, but be assured that you haven’t wandered onto the wrong site.

I promise.

Just hear me out. It’s going to take a bit, but I think you’ll get it by the end.


I used to have a day-job at an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) company. If you don’t know what SEO is, then the name might lead you to believe that it’s all about making search engines work better. It isn’t. SEO should really be called “Optimizing Website FOR Search Engines,” but I guess OWFSE wasn’t as catchy as SEO. It’s the business of figuring out what helps websites to turn up earlier in search results, and then doing those things.

It’s probably one of the most bull[censored] businesses on the entire planet, as far as I can tell.


Things started out well, but after just a few months I realized that our product was crap. (Not to put too fine a point on it.) It wasn’t that anyone in the company wanted to produce crap and sell it. Pretty much everybody that I worked with was a “stand up” sort of person. You know – decent folks who wanted to do right by other folks.

The product was crap because the company’s business model was constrained such that we couldn’t do things for our customers that would actually matter. Our customers needed websites and marketing campaigns that set them apart from the crowd and made spending money with them as easy as possible. Those things are spendy, and require lots of time to implement well. The business model we were constrained to was “cheap and quick” – which we could have gotten away with if it was the time before the dotcom bubble popped. Unfortunately, the bubble had exploded into a slimy mess about 12 years earlier.

So, our product was crap. I spent most of my time at the company participating in the making of crap. When I truly realized just how much crap was involved, things got relatively awful and I planned my escape. (It was even worse because a number of us had ideas for fixes, ideas that were supported by our own management. However, our parent company had no real interest in letting us “pivot,” and that was that.)

But I learned a lot, and there were bright spots. One of the brightest spots was working with a product manager who was impervious to industry stupidity, had an analytical and reasonable mind, and who once uttered a sentence which has become a catchphrase for me:

“If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it.”

Is that not one of the most refreshing things you’ve ever heard? Seriously, it’s beautiful. Even with all the crap that was produced at that company, that phrase saved me from wading through some of the worst of it.

…and for any industry that suffers from an abundance of dung excreted from male cows, horses, or other work animals, it’s probably the thing that most needs to be said.

…and when it comes to dung, muck, crap, turds, manure, or just plain ca-ca, the music business is at least chest-deep. Heck, we might even be submerged, with the marketing and promo end of the industry about ten feet down. We need a flotation device, and being able to say “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” is at least as good as a pair of water-wings.

The thing is, we’re reluctant to say (and embrace) something so honest, so brutally gentle and edifice-detonatingly kind.

We’ve Got To Do Stuff! Even If It’s Stupid!

I think this problem is probably at its worst in the US, although my guess is that it’s somehow rooted in the European cultures that form most of America’s behavioral bedrock. There’s this unspoken notion (that nobody would openly admit to embracing, even though we constantly embrace it by reflex) that the raw time and effort expended on something is what matters.

I’ll say that again.

We unconsciously believe that the raw time and effort expended on an endeavor is what matters.

We say that we love results, and we kinda do, but what we WORSHIP is effort – or the illusion thereof. The doing of stuff. The act of “being at work.”

In comparison, it barely matters if the end results are good for us, or anyone else. We tolerate the wasting of life, and the erosion of souls, and all manner of Sisyphean rock-pushing and sand-shoveling, because WE PUNCHED THE CLOCK TODAY, DANGIT!

If you need proof of this, look at what has become a defining factor in the ideological rock-throwing that is currently occurring in our culture. Notice a pattern? It’s all about work, and who’s doing enough of it. It’s figuring out how some people are better than other people, because of how much effort they supposedly expend. The guy who sits at the office for 12 hours a day is superior to you, you who only spend 8 hours a day in that cube. If you want to be the most important person in this culture, you need to be an active-duty Marine with two full-time jobs, who is going to college and raising three children by themselves. Your entire existence should be a grind of “doing stuff.” If you’re unhappy with your existence, or it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s, you obviously didn’t do enough stuff. Your expenditure of effort must be lacking.

I mean, do you remember school? People would do poorly on a test, and lament that they had spent [x] hours studying. Hours of their lives had been wasted on studying in a way that had just been empirically proven to be ineffective in some major aspect…yet, they would very likely do exactly the same thing again in a week or so. The issue goes deeper than this, but at just one level: Instead of spending [x] hours on an ineffective grind, why not spend, say, [.25x] hours on what actually works, and just be done?

Because, for all our love of results, we are CULTURALLY DESPERATE to justify ourselves in terms of effort.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get it at this point.

What in blue blazes does this (and its antithesis) have to do with the music business?


Not Doing Worthless Crap Is The Most Practical Idea Ever

For the sake of an example, let’s take one tiny little aspect of promo: Flyering.

Markets differ, but I’m convinced that flyers (in the way bands are used to them) are generally a waste of time and trees. Even so, bands continue to arm themselves with stacks of cheap posters and tape/ staples/ whatever, and spend WAY too much time on putting up a bunch of promo that is going to be ignored.

The cure is to say, “If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it,” and to be granular about the whole thing.

What I mean by “granular” is that you figure out what bit of flyering does work in some way, and do that while gleefully forgetting about the rest. Getting flyers to the actual venue usually has some value. Even if none of the actual show-goers give two hoots about your night, getting that promo to the room sends a critical message to the venue operators – the message that you care about your show. In that way, those three or four posters that would go to the theater/ bar/ hall/ etc. do, in fact, work. As such, they’re worth doing for “political” reasons. The 100 or so other flyers that would go up in various places and may as well be invisible? They obviously don’t work, so why trouble yourself? Hang the four posters that actually matter, and then go rehearse (or just relax).

Also, you can take the time and money that would have been spent on 100+ cheap flyers, and pour some of that into making better the handful of posters that actually matter. Or buying some spare guitar picks, if that’s more important.

I’ll also point out that if traditional flyering does work in your locale, you should definitely do it – because it’s working.

In a larger sense, all promo obeys the rule of not doing it if it doesn’t work. Once a band or venue figures out what marketing the general public responds to (if any), it doesn’t make sense to spend money on doing more. If a few Facebook and Twitter posts have all the effect, and a bunch of spendy ads in traditional media don’t seem to do anything, why spend the money? Do the free stuff, and don’t feel like you have to justify wearing yourself (or your bank account) down to a nub. You may have to be prepared to defend yourself in some rational way, but that’s better than being broke, tired, and frustrated for no necessary reason.

It works for gear, too. People love to buy big, expensive amplification rigs, but they haven’t been truly necessary for years. If you’re not playing to large, packed theaters and arenas with vocals-only PA systems – which is unlikely – then a huge and heavy amp isn’t getting you anything. It’s a bunch of potential that never gets used. Paying for it and lugging it around isn’t working, so you shouldn’t want to do it. Spend the money on a compact rig that sounds fantastic in context, and is cased up so it lasts forever. (And if you would need a huge rig to keep up with some other player who’s insanely loud, then at least consider doing the sensible, cheap, and effective thing…which is to fire the idiot who can’t play with the rest of the team.)

To reiterate what I mentioned about flyering, there’s always a caveat somewhere. Some things work for some people and not for others. The point is to figure out what works for YOU, and then do as much of that as is effective. Doing stuff that works for someone else (but not you) so you can get not-actually-existent “effort expenditure points” is just a waste of life.

There are examples to be had in every area of show production. To try and identify them all isn’t necessary. The point is that this is a generally applicable philosophy.

If it works, you should want to do it.

If you don’t yet know if it works, you should want to give it a try.


If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to do it, and neither do you (even if you don’t realize it yet).

Beyond The Emotional Conversation

The responsibility to bring a crowd does not necessarily imply irresponsibility when the crowd is absent.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Nobody likes to be told that they’re irresponsible.

People especially dislike being told that they’re irresponsible when it’s not true.

I have a specific conversation in mind. It’s the conversation that centers on who bears the responsibility of bringing patrons to a show. (If you’re a musician, the hair on the back of your neck may have just stood on end.) When things go well, it’s quite easy to swallow the idea that the band is primarily responsible for people showing up. When things don’t go so well, though, the suggestion that “it’s on the band(s) to bring people out” implies that the musicians didn’t undertake their due diligence.

And that – rightly, I might add – pisses musicians off. If you’re a musician, you should definitely be “ticked” when you’ve busted your rear and are being accused of not putting in the requisite effort. The thing is, though, that in many cases you ARE responsible for bring-

WAIT A MINUTE! Don’t “ragequit” on this article yet.

You ARE responsible for bringing the crowd, but if there isn’t a crowd, it does NOT necessarily mean that you were irresponsible.

People Are Into What They’re Into

I meet very few people who go to a venue “just to see who’s playing.” At my regular gig, I know of exactly one person who has an attitude that is anywhere even within the same solar-system as that. I cherish the guy for that reason.

Beyond that one guy, though, the folks that I consider “the crowd” are ambivalent about the music. If they hear something wafting up from the venue-space that they like, there’s a chance that they might come down – but that’s not why they were at the establishment in the first place. They came in because the place afforded them the ability to meet their friends, drink beverages that they didn’t have at home, eat food that they didn’t have to prepare, and play pool on tables that they don’t have to maintain. If there was no music at all, they would still be there.

Even when they compliment the place on booking great bands, it’s an inescapable fact that great bands is not why they made the initial trip.

The point is that, unless you’re in the kind of (seemingly very rare) geo-social area where “seeing who’s playing” is a form of entertainment in and of itself, the people attracted by the establishment are probably not there because of you. They are probably not there because the venue advertised live-music. For some of them, a $5 cover would be enough to make them turn around and pick a new place to go.

But…some of those people, the week before, paid [exorbitant amount of money] to see [big act] at [large venue].

What gives?

People are into what they’re into. What they’re into is often VERY specific. (As in, laser-guided specific.) If your band is not that specific thing that they’re into – that thing that they’ve built an emotional connection with – then trying to attract those folks by means of your music is “throwing rocks at rollers in the surf.” You’re responsible for bringing patrons to your show, but you’re not irresponsible AT ALL when folks who don’t care don’t show up.

And neither is the venue, I might add.

It’s entirely possible for everyone involved to do their due diligence regarding getting the word out about a show, and for that show to still flop.

Let me dig into this for a minute.

I Don’t Want To Buy A Lexus RX

If I ever have enough extra money lying around, I want to buy a new (to me) vehicle.

I have no desire at all to buy a Lexus RX, or indeed, a Lexus anything. I know that they’re beautifully engineered. I know that they have every possible creature-comfort I could desire. I know all of this because Lexus (and local Lexus dealers) spend a frightening amount of dollars on telling me via advertising.

…and yet, if someone handed me $100,000, and told me that I had to spend it on vehicular transport, I would buy something like two regular ol’ trucks and a tandem-axle trailer.

Now, if the local Lexus dealers were a band or a venue, my “not showing up to the RX show” would probably get chalked up to someone “needing to promote more.” Am I right, or what? Everybody would be pointing fingers at everybody else, complaining that not enough marketing had taken place.

But just a couple of paragraphs prior, I completely refuted that idea. There was so much spent on advertising that even I, not giving two-hoots about luxury cars, became aware of them. The sheer force of saturation has made me aware of their existence, and I still don’t care. When it comes to their offering, my response is “do not want.” An infinitely large amount of promotion would be infinitely wasted on me.

The point here is that it’s entirely possible to do far more than a sufficient job at trying to get folks out to your show, and still end up playing to a handful of people. You’re responsible for bringing the crowd, just as the cars on the lot are responsible for bringing vehicle buyers. If you got the word out as best you know how, and if your show still is not what people want to attend, then you can’t be accused of failing to do your part. At worst, you can be in a position where your promotion strategy is ineffective – but that’s a “more to learn” problem and not an irresponsibility problem.

Why This Matters

As an audio-human, some of my most miserable experiences have been when I wrongly assumed that something was my fault. Indeed, some of the most important professional development that I’ve gone through has been that of learning how to recognize what I can and can not be held responsible for. The more I understand what I can and can’t control, the more confident and relaxed I can be. I don’t have to feel insulted by everything that doesn’t go my way, because I don’t have to be engaged in some internal or external struggle to manage the things that I have no effective power over.

As an audio-human, I AM responsible for the sound of the show. However, there are times when a show sounds like fermented yak droppings, in spite of my efforts. Was I irresponsible? Not necessarily – I may just have gotten chased into a corner that I couldn’t escape from. (It’s relatively easy for me to declare this, because running audio is governed by the laws of physics. The mechanics are objective, even if the results are heavily influenced by personal taste.)

In a culture where people are very picky about EXACTLY which shows they attend, the band is responsible for drawing the crowd to shows where music is the reason to be there. For heck’s sake, that’s what being a rockstar IS. At the same time, there are all kinds of reasons why a show might be a ghost town, and plenty of them are things that you can’t put under your command. The more you can separate the things that you can control from the things you can’t, the more you can escape from feeling attacked when a night doesn’t go your way.

…and the less attacked you feel, the more of a chance that you have to engage the venue in a rational conversation about what worked and what didn’t. It means that you can avoid getting into the common and tiresome finger-pointing contest of “who’s responsible for what,” because not being under attack means that you don’t have to defend anything.

When things go badly, getting beyond the emotional conversation gives you a shot at figuring out what went wrong, and whether or not what went wrong is in your (or anyone’s) power to fix.

Some Tough Numbers

Alternative Title: Why it’s so hard to get paid and get promoted.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

I’ve heard plenty of legitimate complaints about concert venues and “promoters.” I put promoters in quotes because it seems like the loudest and most legitimate complaints are aimed at the folks who create concerts by charging musicians money (directly) to play their own music. The correct word for those folks is rarely “promoter.” The appropriate nomenclature is probably more like “parasite,” or “scam artist,” or “Sauron, Lord of The Black Land” if their activities are egregious enough.

(Seriously, if someone “offers you the chance” to pay them money to play a gig where “you’ll get lots of exposure,” do yourself a favor. Walk, run, bike, drive, or charter a spaceflight that will take you FAR AWAY.)


I’ve also heard lots of complaints about venues and concert producers that are less legitimate. Many of these gripes have a kernel of legitimacy in them, but the blame is misdirected. I have to admit that I get a bit “hot” when I hear misdirected blame, and I also have to admit that it’s taken me a while to realize that my annoyance isn’t really helpful. The problem is education and understanding, and if I’m sitting around being mad instead of helping people to get educated…well, I’m not participating much in a solution, am I?

To that end, I want to present the following. It’s essentially a set of numbers that I think explains certain aspects of the economics of small venues. These economics, in turn, help to explain certain entrenched realities in what it’s like to get paid for a small-venue show, and why small-venue promotion is the way it is.

BEFORE WE START: The venue I’m presenting in this article is a “hypothetical room.” It’s what you might call a composite character, and so it doesn’t directly represent any one venue that I’ve been involved with. Certain parts of the model may apply very differently to actual, individual venues in individual locales. Please proceed with caution.

A Theoretical 200-Seater

Let’s say that there’s a certain human who really digs live music. The opportunity arises for this particular human to put together their own room. The space isn’t massive – the capacity will be about 200 people – and the spot will be “competent,” though not exactly world-class.

The plan is to put on about 160 shows per year, which is three shows per week and a handful of special events.

The first cost to the venue operator is startup. This is to cover some basic, cosmetic renovation of the space, an audio and lighting rig, and a few little things that have to be addressed to be compliant with local regulations.

Startup Cost: $30,000

Zoinks! That looks like a lot of money. It’s not so bad, though, because the plan is for it to be essentially amortized over 10 years. Divide the startup cost by the expected 1600 shows, and…

Startup Cost Per Show: $18.75

The thing with gear is that it requires maintenance. Things break, or just wear down, and so there has to be money in the budget for fixes and replacements. The decision is made to put $1000/ year into a “fixit” fund.

Maintenance Fund Cost Per Show: $6.25

The next thing to consider is the cost of leasing the space. The building is owned by a landlord who is sympathetic to the arts, and so the rent for the 4000 square-foot space is pretty darned “rock bottom.” The rate is $1/ square-foot/ month. Do a bit of math on that, and you get this:

Rent Cost Per Show: $300

On top of the rent will be the utilities required to keep the lights and gear running, the water on, the room at a comfortable temperature, and so on. Some things in the building are efficient, and some aren’t. When it all comes out, the various “monthlies” might work out to this (a wild guess on my part):

Utilities Cost Per Show: $10

The next thing needed is a show-production craftsperson. They’ll be both an audio-human and a lighting operator, and they’ll be decent enough at their job that most musicians will be happy with how things go.

Production Tech Cost Per Show: $85

The venue operator decides that some help is needed in the area of running the door, taking money, and other tasks.

Venue Helper Cost Per Show: $40

With all of this in place, the venue operator wants the acts coming through the room to get some press. The decision is made to supplement the venue’s own website and social-media promo with a print ad in the local independent. It can’t be so small that it’s easy to miss, so the decision is made to secure a 1/6th page space. The ad is black and white to save a few dollars, and each ad has all the shows for the week. The per-week cost is $360, and that works out to:

Print Promo Cost Per Show: $117

One of the final things to take into account is PRO licensing with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. PRO licensing is what (in theory) gets artists paid for their songs being played as covers in bars, clubs, theaters, stadiums, and whatever else. The good news for our hypothetical venue is that it’s NOT a restaurant or bar – it’s going to basically be a theater. As such, the licensing will probably be worked out to be a small portion of the gross receipts from the door. With that being the case, we’ll just ignore the licensing cost.

Now then.

You put all of this together, and the price for our theoretical room to have a night of music is this:

Total Cost To Open The Doors For A Show: $577

In other words, this venue, which I think is doing well at controlling its costs and avoiding unneeded extravagance, starts every show in several hundred dollars of debt.

Let’s Have A Show

So, let’s say that three local bands book the room for a night. They decide to charge $10 at the door to keep the show accessible to as many fans as possible.

…and the turnout is pretty good! About 150 people show up, which creates a revenue figure of $1500. I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t see that as too shabby. Here’s the thing, though: That $1500 is revenue, not profit. Profit is what’s left over after the expenses are deducted. Remember that it cost the venue $577 “just to show up.” What that means is that the raw profit for the show is $923, or just over 61% of what was taken in at the door.

You also have to remember that the person who is the venue operator is not the production human or the helper. As such, the venue operator hasn’t gotten paid yet.

If the venue operator is self-sacrificial, then they might just opt to take $100. In that case, each band would take home about $274.

If the operator wants to do things in equal shares, then the venue and each band would get $230.

If the argument is made that the venue and the bands each bore 50% of the risk of the show, then the venue would get about $461 and each band would be paid out $153 and change.

The Implications

The reality is that live music is a tough business for everybody. Even if the venue operator sacrifices themselves on the altar of getting the bands a few extra bucks, the per-band payout is hardly “2 million dollar tourbus” territory. In fact, there are some folks who, without knowledge of the sacrificial backend, would complain that they weren’t being respected as professional musicians. It’s understandable that they would have the complaint, because $274 doesn’t go very far when you split it (again) across multiple band members.

But the reality is that it isn’t an issue of respect. It’s an issue of economics.

The show outcome I concocted above was a pretty decent one. However, there are lots of shows with mediocre turnouts. Turnouts can be less than stellar for all kinds of reasons, and that leads to the particularly nasty problem of bands either not getting paid, or venues going under, or even both. For a $10/ admission show, our fictional venue has to have 58 people show up…for NOTHING MORE than to not be in debt that day.

And that’s if the bands get nothing at all for their trouble.

What’s more likely is that there’s something on the table for the bands. Maybe 50% of the ticket’s face value? Okay.

So, if 58 people show up on a $10 ticket, that means that the venue’s portion of the revenue is $290. In other words, the venue LOST $287 on doing the show. With an immediate 50% split, a combined draw of 116 people is what’s necessary for the room to stay out of debt that day.

That’s JUST to stay out of debt. The venue operator would get paid a whole $3 for that show.

…and remember that this is with print promotion factored in. Some folks are adamant that venues “should promote more,” and I can understand why that sentiment exists – but I can only be so sympathetic when the tough numbers roll in. That is, a venue operator has to ask the question: “What does promote more mean?” If it’s understood in terms of the print ad, then what if the promo effort is tripled to the equivalent of half a page in the local independent? That means that the cost for that show’s promo has risen to $351, and the venue’s revenue from the show now has to be $811 to not lose anything. With an immediate 50% split, a 200 seater selling $10 tickets has to be more than three-quarters full just to keep “above water” on the night.

(How many times have you seen a small-venue that’s below three-quarters full? Everybody’s experience is different, but I’ve seen that a lot. Even with people making special efforts at promotion and creating a show that’s an actual event, I’ve seen dismal turnouts. Dismal.)

Yes, the venue could try charging more, but it isn’t always clear how far up a ticket price can go before the cost actually ends up hurting more than helping. You can shoot yourself in the foot without even trying.

Yes, the venue could try selling concessions. However, if there’s no more room for “startup expenses,” and no more room in the space, then that’s not such an easy thing.

Yes, the venue could convert to being a bar, but the previous sentence also applies here – and it even applies more, because being a bar isn’t as trivial as selling cans of soda and bags of chips.

The uncomfortable reality is that it’s hard to get rockstar pay when the venue isn’t making rockstar pay for itself. There are some honest-to-goodness greedy-bastard venue operators out there, but there are plenty of upstanding folks who just don’t have the money to pay musicians for LearJet fuel (and the LearJet to consume it).

It’s not a lack of respect. It’s the economics of tough numbers.

My Interview On AMR

I was invited to do a radio show on AMR.fm! Here are some key bits.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

About a week ago, I was invited into “The Cat’s Den.” While that might sound like a place where a number of felines reside, it’s actually the show hosted by John, the owner of AMR.fm. We talked about a number of subjects related to local music and small venues. John was kind enough to make the show’s audio available to me, and I thought it would be nifty to chop it all up into topical segments.

The key word up there being “chop.”

That is, what you’re hearing in these files has been significantly edited. The whole thing was about two hours long, and there was a lot of “verbal processing” that occurred. That’s what happens during a live, long-form interview, but it’s not the best way to present the discussion afterwards. Even with having tightened up the key points of the show, I’ve taken pains to not misrepresent what either of us were getting at. The meaning of each bit should be fully intact, even if every sentence hasn’t been included.


The Introduction


A quick reference to an earlier show that featured Supatroy Fillmore. (Supatroy has done a lot of work in our local music scene.)

Why The Computerization Of Live-Audio Is A Great Thing

Computerizing live-sound allows guys like me to do things that were previously much harder (or even impossible) to do.

How I Got Started

A little bit about my pro-audio beginnings…way back in high-school.

Building And Breaking Things

I’m not as “deep into the guts” of audio equipment as the folks who came before me. I give a quick shout-out to Tim Hollinger from The Floyd Show in this bit.

Functional Is 95%

A segment about why I’m pretty much satisfied by gear that simply passes signal in a predictable and “clean” way.

The Toughest Shows

The most challenging shows aren’t always the loudest shows. Also, the toughest shows can be the most fun. I use two “big production” bands as examples: Floyd Show and Juana Ghani. The question touches on an interview that I did with Trevor Hale.

I Worry Most About Monitor World

If something’s wrong in FOH, I can probably hear it. If something’s not quite right on the stage, it’s quite possible that I WON’T hear it – and that worries me.

Communication Between Bands And Audio Humans

I’m not as good at communicating with bands as I’d like to be. Also, I’m a big proponent of people politely (but very audibly) asking for what they need.

The Most Important Thing For Bands To Do

If a band doesn’t sound like a cohesive ensemble without the PA, there’s no guarantee that the PA and audio-human will be able to fix that.

Why Talk About Small-Venue Issues?

I believe that small-venue shows are the backbone of the live-music industry. As such, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about how to do those shows well.

Merchant Royal

John asks me about who’s come through Fats Grill and really grabbed my attention. I proceed to pretty much gush about how cool I think Merchant Royal is.

What Makes A Great Cover Tune?

In my opinion, doing a great job with a cover means getting the song to showcase your own band’s strengths. I also briefly mention that Luke Benson’s version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” actually gets me to like the song. (I don’t normally like that song.)

The Issues Of A Laser-Focused Audience

I’m convinced that most people only go to shows with their favorite bands in their favorite rooms. Folks that go to a bar or club “just to check out who’s playing” seem to be incredibly rare anymore. (Some of these very rare “scene supporting” people are John McCool and Brian Young of The Daylates, as well as Christian Coleman.) If a band is playing a room that the general public sees as a “venue” as opposed to a “hangout,” then the band isn’t being paid to play music. The band is being paid based on their ability to be an attraction.

Look – it’s complicated. Just listen to the audio.

Everybody Has Due Diligence

Bands and venues both need to promote shows. Venues also need to be a place where people are happy to go. When all that’s been done, pointing fingers and getting mad when the turnout is low isn’t a very productive thing.

Also: “Promoting more” simply doesn’t turn disinterested people into interested people – at least as far as I can tell.

Shout Outs

This bit is the wrap up, where I say thanks to everybody at Fats Grill for making the place happen. John and I also list off some of our favorite local acts.


Posting In Other Places

Thanks, Schwillyfamilymusicians.com!

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

When I miss a post, it’s usually because I have something else to do. In this case, that something else was a guest post. Here’s a pull-quote to whet your appetite:

“Hard work and tenaciousness are the tools necessary to help you be ‘in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, playing the right material, to the right crowd,’ but with anything that involves the tastes and opinions of humans, luck will always be a significant factor.”

Here’s the link for ya.

Thanks for reading, everybody!