Tag Archives: Promotion

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.)

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.

seatsThat’s as big as this image gets, sorry. You should still be able to reuse it if you want – it’s a CC0 image from Pixabay.

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!

Measure Your Marketing

If you want to be smart about promoting your band and your shows, you need to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

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.

I do NOT subscribe to the notion that “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist.” I think there’s all kinds of room for things that are experienced, undertaken, and managed at an intuitive level. There isn’t a single thing wrong with saying, “this seems to be working really well, so let’s go with it.”

At the same time, though, I’m a proponent of quantifying things when there’s freedom to do so. This freedom seems to come along after you get to a certain comfort level.

Sometimes, a DIScomfort level.


You get to a point where things either seem to be working, or they seem to not be working, and you get a second to step back, scratch the ol’ noggin, and try to suss out the whys and wherefores. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in an artistic, technical, or business discipline – you eventually reach a state of needing (or wanting) to get at some underlying science.

You know. Numbers. Stats. Correlations.

When it comes to doing promo for your band’s recordings and shows, I’m of the opinion that it’s better to start figuring out the numbers early. If nothing else, being willing to take “the hard look” at what’s working and what isn’t can save you both money and effort in the long run – and who doesn’t want to have more cash and more free time?

De-mystifying Advertising Analytics

When I say the word “analytics,” it may be pretty intimidating. I’m a pretty tech and science savvy dude, and it was a touch intimidating to me when I hadn’t really gotten into it. The reality, though, is that being analytical about your promo comes down to one basic concept:

Each piece of your promotion should have some way to unambiguously self-report on its effectiveness.


Okay. Let’s rewind.

Think about some ads that you’ve seen lately, especially if they were in some “traditional media” channel. It doesn’t matter what they were for. Did the promo say anything about “mention this ad and [some reward will be offered to you]?”

If the answer was yes, then the advertisement was set up to self-report on its effectiveness. The advertiser offered a special incentive for a customer to mention that specific ad campaign, with the goal being to keep track of how many people actually mention the ad. If a ton of people mention the ad and claim the incentive (“Two For One!” or whatever) then the advertiser knows that – at some level – the ad campaign was effective in reaching an audience. Either the tallied number of people saw the ad and responded, or a smaller number of people saw the ad and passed on the information to their friends.

Now, if they’re really smart, the advertiser will keep track of how much each incentive-claimer bought, and whether or not the aggregate profits offset the cost of the advertising. This is why all the big retailers have reward cards and other ways of invading your privacy. They want to gather as much data as possible, and then correlate your buying habits with their profit and loss statements. In real time, if possible.

I could get into what it means if you answered “no” to the question “Was an incentive offered for mentioning the ad,” but that’s not really germane to this article.


The point is that figuring out whether or not your promo is effective means embedding a measurement strategy in the promo itself.

Embedded Measurement

So…how DO you embed measurement into your promotional efforts?

The most immediate way is to use promo channels that already have measurement and reporting built in. Even at the most basic level, you can make observations about Facebook likes and shares, or Twitter favorites and retweets. You can then compare those numbers to all kinds of different things – when you sent out the Facebook post, what wording you used, when and where the show was scheduled, etc. Counting the number of responses you get is obvious, and I’m sure you already do it. However, you might not already be trying to correlate those “measures of engagement” with the various strategies that you try.

This is all fine and good, but what if you’re trying a promo method that isn’t web-based? For instance, lots of bands post flyers, but I know of very few bands that know if they actually work or not.

Mostly, I think bands post flyers because other bands posted them in the past. It’s a tradition!


This is where an incentive program can come in very handy.

For instance, you could have some special merch (like a free CD and sticker) to give away to anybody who comes to the show and brings a flyer with them. If you’d rather not have people pulling your flyers down, you could also make the same offer for anyone who comes in with a cellphone picture of the flyer.

You do need to be careful that you can afford the incentive. You might need to put a limit on the number of redemptions, if the incentive is relatively “spendy.” (“The first 10 people to bring in a flyer get a free shirt!”) It’s fine to get people in the door with a promo, but if the cost of the campaign outweighs the benefits of a larger audience, then the promotion wasn’t worth it.

You also need to be aware of whether or not your incentive actually focuses on your music, or if it focuses on something else. It’s perfectly fine to make a deal with a venue where people with cellphone pics of your flyer get a discount on a hamburger, but you need to be aware that some folks will take the picture and make the trip only for the food. On the other hand, incentives for band merch and cheaper admission make the promo solely about your band and your show.

Once you have your incentive program operating, you do need to remember to count. At the very least, make a note of how many people took advantage of the incentive and when. (This can be as simple as marking a tally on a sheet of paper with a date at the top.) When you relate this information to other numbers that you already have, you can start to get an objective picture about your different promo activities.

The ultimate goal is to figure out what promotions get attention AND actually make you more money. It’s not that making more money is the only worthwhile goal. It’s that turning a profit is one worthwhile goal among many…

…and measuring your marketing is very helpful in achieving that end.

Promotion Pie

Show promotion is an expense like any other: It shrinks or grows based on risk and reward.

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.

Music folks of all kinds, from instrumentalists to vocalists, sitar players to sound guys, are often their own worst enemies when it comes to the business side of the…er…business. Maybe I’m just trying to flatter myself, but I don’t think it’s because we’re mentally lazy or incapable of analytical thought. No, I believe the root of the problem is that “business” is a discipline that’s separate from music and production, and so it doesn’t get developed to the same extent.

Or it doesn’t get developed at all.

As such, music humans can get bamboozled by business myths, or easily blinded by “gussied up” portrayals of how the industry works.

One of the areas that seems to be the most opaque is that of promotion. There’s no shortage of people who provide services related to it, and you can’t swing a stuffed-toy marmot without hitting someone on the Internet who dispenses advice about it. Promotion suffers from “mythology” as much as anything else I’ve encountered over the years, and I myself have blundered into believing fairy-tales.

Let’s just say that it took me until only a few years ago to realize that show promo isn’t a magical process. It’s entirely understandable to me that frustrated musicians and techs, having worked their tails off for a night that was poorly attended, will begin to say that someone “should have promoted more,” or “those people over there should have spent more money on building a buzz for the show.” There’s a belief (that I shared for a long time) that promo dollars bring people to performances in predictable ways.

It’s a false belief, but it sticks around because massive, sold-out stadium gigs get a lot of press. We make the mistake of thinking that correlation implies causation (it doesn’t), and so we figure that all that press brought a ton of people to the show (maybe it did, maybe it didn’t). We also reckon that if we did press on a similar scale, more people would come to our shows (maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t).

Before going further, I should point out that I am still an outsider to the show-promotion world. I’ve made a good number of observations through the years, and I’ve even gained some hands-on experience with show promo and marketing in general. However, I have never been on staff with a firm that did concert marketing as its core business. As such, when it comes to things like numbers and percentages, I have no choice but to make educated guesses.

My defense for these guesses is that they seem to line up with actual realities that I’ve experienced. Those actual realities have played out in a way that suggests that promotion is a slice of the overall “pie” of show production costs, and that the slice’s absolute and proportional sizes are dependent on a number of factors.

More Pie For People Who Like The Filling

Like I said before, show promo isn’t magical. If there’s any foundational theory that the rest of this is based on, it’s that idea of non-magic. Lots of people think that promotion “creates” show attendees, but it actually doesn’t. Show promotion is just like other marketing effort, in that:

Show promo is primarily the act of informing a band’s existing, invested fanbase that an appearance by the group has been planned.

The key words above are “primarily,” “existing,” and “invested.” Sure, there are some folks that might see the promotion and get intrigued by the mere fact that something’s going on, but the main purpose is to connect with the folks who are already tuned in. Marketing ISN’T to reach the indifferent masses – it’s to reach the people who you’re very sure will go, “Shut up and take my money!” People run big, generalized campaigns for TV sets, because vast swaths of people are interested in buying them. People don’t run prime-time TV commercials for mic-preamps, because most folks don’t give a rip about ’em.

To bring this back to show-promo, though, think about a superstar, like Taylor Swift. Whether you like Taylor Swift or not, she packs stadiums. She also has a lot of promotional effort behind her. Now – here’s the question: What percentage of the people in that stadium were indifferent to Ms. Swift, yet came to the show solely because of the promo blitz?

That percentage is probably tiny. Yes, there are some folks in the crowd who are indifferent (or even dislike) Taylor Swift, but are there because a friend or family member dragged them along. Their presence is not a direct result of the promotion for the show. The fans who are invested – who are singing along, dying for a chance to see Ms. Swift up close, and are ready to buy a TON of merch – those are the people that the promotion was aimed at.

(By the way, in the above paragraphs, I’m lumping all promotion together. Expensive traditional media, essentially free social media, and middle-cost self-managed web presence are all in there.)

It makes sense, then, that promotional efforts need to be large enough to reach the audience that is expected to be listening, while not being so large that they’re wasted on people who aren’t:

The “promo” slice of the production expense pie grows in proportion to the number of people expected to be listening intently for the promotion’s message.

It might not seem like this busts the “if we only would have promoted more…” myth, but it does. You can’t promote a show into success if nobody gives a hoot about the act to start with. Taylor Swift gets a ton of big-dollar promotion because she has a ton of fans already – her act is “generally” marketable.

Pie Is Cheaper When You Make Your Own

Another myth of promotion is that more work or more expense gets better results.


More effective and more targeted promotion gets better results. Expense and/ or effort is mutually exclusive. This is because of the previous points above – promo is about getting the news to the people who are ready to listen.

Before the era of high-speed, high-availability data and social networking, you had to use traditional media for promotions. The traditional media outlets had defacto control over who could reach an audience, and a good amount of cash was required to gain access to that audience. Part of the reason for that expense and its justification was because of the massive coverage that the media outlets had. They would quote all kinds of demographics to potential advertisers. They would supply every kind of table and chart to illustrate how many thousands or millions of people they reached, how many of those people were in certain age groups, how many bought some product last year, and all kinds of other things.

Even so, it was all a game of averages. If you spent the money to do promo via a massive outlet, you hoped that the gargantuan audience held enough interested people to make the expense worthwhile. If you weren’t sure about the mass appeal of what you were promoting, you saved money by going with more niche media. Still, all you had was a hope that someone might hear the message and respond in some way.

Particularly for artists, there was a way around this:

The fanclub.

The fanclub was a list of people who you knew were listening for information about you. There was almost no uncertainty at all – they had raised their hands and said, “I want to be informed about every concert and every release and every poster and what the band had for breakfast and…”

With this information in hand, a band could do laser-targeted promo at a very controlled cost. Postage was non-trivial, but you knew that the message was going directly to someone who wanted to hear it.

The modern fanclub is social media.

Social media isn’t perfect. To some degree, the service provider (Twitter, Facebook, G+) still exerts a certain amount of “gateway” control. At the same time, social media allows a band to promote their shows directly to an audience that has actively declared their interest. The cost involved is even less than postage, in terms of cash required to reach any individual recipient. Even better, the “post” message engagement is measurable. You can see things like retweets, likes, and shares. There’s a much more readily measurable indication of what worked and what didn’t.

The “promo” slice of the production expense pie can actually shrink as the ability to directly reach an invested audience grows.

Again, I’m going to use Taylor Swift as an example. A few days ago, she (or her management) posted to Twitter that she was going to play five shows at the O2 in London. When I looked, that tweet had 9000 favorites and 11,000 retweets. The tweet probably took someone a minute to compose. It was sent out for free – no postage required. Nine thousand people thought it was cool enough to favorite, and 11,000 people thought it was so cool that they sent it along. If each of those 11,000 people only has 10 followers, that means that the message has reached 110,000 people.

At no major cost to the artist, if at any direct cost at all.

And it’s all a lot more trackable than an ad on radio, TV, or the newspaper. I’m sure there will be promotion via those outlets for the shows, but will it be more effective than one tweet just because it was more expensive, or took more work?

I doubt it.

You Have To Save Enough Pie To Actually Eat

The final part of this discussion is the bit that’s easiest to get wrong. It’s easy to get wrong because of the myths surrounding the issues that have already been put on the table.

It’s the idea that all promotion generates more profit, so greater promotional expenses are always justified. If promo were “magic,” then this would be a safe assumption, but it isn’t, so it ain’t.

It would be great if it WAS true. Believe me, when I was a venue operator, I would have jumped at the chance to get $2.00 back for every buck that went into promotional efforts. Heck, I probably would have been on board if it was even $1.50 or $1.25 per dollar.

But, that’s not how it works.

For traditional media, there are a lot of “minimum” costs. The first minimum cost is the barrier to any entry at all – how much money does it take to get any ad space? The next minimum cost is the barrier to effectiveness. The barrier to effectiveness is the money required to get an ad with placement that catches the attention of your hoped-for audience.

The problem, then, is that cost and uncertainty of effectiveness easily overpower a promotions budget.

I don’t know about anyone else, but based on my previous experiences, I would say this:

The “promo” slice of the production expense pie should not usually exceed 25% of the expected PROFIT from the promoted event or group of events.

I printed “profit” in caps because it’s easy to confuse profit with revenue. Back when I ran my own room, my average revenue was about $74/ show. I had a killer arrangement in terms of rent, as I was essentially subsidized by New Song Presbyterian. Seven dollars from each show went out in recognition of that upkeep. I paid myself with what was left over, and took personal responsibility for most supplies, equipment, and other expenses. That amounted to about $26 per show.

The profit, then, was around $41 per event. If we round up, we could say that the maximum prudent budget for per-show promo would be $11.00.

Eleven smackers buys absolutely nothing in terms of traditional media. All of my “promo margin” saved over a year would have been enough to buy exactly one, 8-unit ad in The City Weekly. (I could have purchased multiple smaller ads, but they would have been too easy to miss.) Even if I had gotten that big, omnibus ad, would it have increased my profitability?

My guess is no, because the ad wouldn’t have been specifically targeted. I might have gotten more booking requests, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping the room busy. The risk that spending the promo money would be nothing more than vanity was very real. This leads to another rule-of-thumb:

The “promo” slice of the production expense pie isn’t worth spending if you have little confidence that the expense will grow the size of the entire pie.

The bottom line is that any production expense has to be justified in terms of making the show better, or making the show more profitable. If there’s a huge question mark in the profitability vs. promo area, then it’s far better to spend the promo budget on something else.

If cutting out a piece of a pie is supposed to get you more pie later, and it doesn’t, then you may as well have thrown that slice in the trash.

Marketing And Promotion Isn’t Magic

The idea that more people show up because more money is spent on “broadcast” show promotion is false.

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.

I don’t know if anybody plays “Magic: The Gathering” any more, but that was the best metaphor I could think of.


There is a persistent myth in the music industry that more promotion = more concertgoers. This myth is untrue. (There are true myths, at least in my experience, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another time.)

Now, what IS true is that “the word” regarding an upcoming show does need to get out. Makes sense, right? If nobody knows about your upcoming gig, they probably aren’t going to show up. The problem is making the assumption that, just because someone knows about your gig, they WILL show up without fail. Of course, at an intuitive level, we know that’s not true. Even your best friends – people who love your music, or the venue, or whatever, don’t always turn up when given the opportunity.

For some reason, though, when it comes to marketing and promotion, we shut off this particular piece of knowledge and start acting like dollars and effort will force things to happen. As a result, money and effort is expended out of proportion to the returns it might bring. This leads to frustration, anger, and also less money for other things. Things like gear. And also food.

Fortunately, I think there’s a fix. The fix doesn’t solve the problem of people showing up, but it does solve our internal problem of believing a lie. The fix, like all troubleshooting, starts with understanding what’s broken.

“Broadcast” Advertising Is A Risky Investment

A quote attributed to John Wanamaker goes like this: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Whether or not he actually said it, the quote illustrates the problem with advertising your show, album release, or anything else via traditional means. It’s hard to know if mass marketing is effective or not.

Traditional media is broadcast in nature. That is to say, it gets fired off into the public with no (or minimal) targeting. Sure, a publication, radio station, or TV production may have its own target audience, but the actual delivery medium effectively “radiates” to a general area. With the exception of their streaming services, TV and radio transmissions fly out with minimal directivity. Folks either tune in or don’t, but the signal still arrives at their location if they’re in range. That transmission power is lost if folks aren’t listening. The same analogy applies to print. Sure, The Salt Lake Tribune, SLUG, and The City Weekly target where they put their distribution stands. Even so, once the papers get to those stands, there’s no targeting at all. The “signal” is just out there, and you don’t immediately (sometimes ever) know if it reached any particular person or didn’t.

This is why traditional media advertises their advertising services the way they do. (So meta! It’s like a reflection of a reflection.) They say things like, “We reach thousands of people across the Wasatch Front. A percentage of these people buy from radio/ TV/ newspaper ads. Advertising with us works!”

Think about that last paragraph. Promotion via traditional media is a form of gambling. It’s really nothing more than a bet based on percentages – like Roulette, or Poker. If your product has a general appeal, then the percentage is in your favor. If your product is niche, then you’re making a risky bet.

Live music is a niche market. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people who like to attend shows. The issue is that there usually aren’t a lot of people who want to attend YOUR show. So, just telling them that your show is out there isn’t going to turn them into a customer.

If you want to boil it down, you can say this:

Marketing and promotion is the process of gaining attention from the people who are already interested in buying what you’re selling. Marketing and promotion are NOT the process of magically turning people disinterested in your product into people interested in your product.

Let me lay a couple of examples of well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective marketing on you.

  • I once did an all-ages show for a band that wanted to make a splash in Salt Lake. The whole night was theirs. They spent money on radio spots, flyers, the whole thing. As I recall, about 10 people showed up to a 200 capacity room. To the best of my knowledge, all of them were existing fans.
  • I once did a show where the venue invested in a “far more extravagant than normal” newspaper ad for the show. It was a good chunk of the page, and in full color. The act came from a good, “name” pedigree. The show night was probably in the top 10 of the slowest nights in that venue.

Of course, I recognize that two examples isn’t a huge sample size. At the same time, I feel that it’s representative of what’s going on.

So…watcha gonna do? Take heart! The news isn’t all bad. Actually, the news is pretty good.

Do What’s Effective, Then Stop. Immediately.

The pretty-dang-good news is that you – yes YOU, you eating the sandwich over there – are your own media outlet now. (Remember my article about that?) On top of that, you’re not just a media outlet. You’re a laser-targeted media outlet.


If the marketing available to bands, artists, and venues were a guided munition, it would be able to home in on a target the size of a cell phone (not one of the big ones, either) in the dark, during a violent hurricane.

…and this isn’t because of studies. It’s not because of polling. It’s not because of statistical genius.

It’s because of social media.

There are a million lectures to be had about the power of social media, so there’s no need for me to repeat very much. What I will say is this:

As a musician, band, or anyone else involved in music, you have the unprecedented power of focusing your marketing efforts on people who have – effectively – declared directly that they are interested in what you’re selling. For this reason, you can get maximum results with a minimum of cost and effort. You just have to give yourself permission.

You don’t have to throw money at traditional media, hoping that someone might listen. You have Facebook likes. You have Twitter followers. You have people who look at your pictures on Instagram. You have people who have decided to listen to you, and you know who they are. Right now.

Yes, I know that capturing the attention of those folks is an issue. That piece of the discussion is beyond the scope of this article, although you might want to check into the resources that Carlos Castillo posts.

The upshot? Spend your precious money and energy on reaching the people that you know are already interested in some demonstrable way. Actually, because social media is effectively subsidized, you only have to directly spend energy. Ask the people who have already taken the trouble to “declare for you” to pass the word. Only some of them will, but the end result is still more effective than throwing a message into the howling, black vortex of broadcast media…and then hoping for the best.

Then, once you’ve reached out to the people who have already said that they want to listen, stop.


I mean it.

Give yourself permission to quit promoting after you’ve done all that will actually be effective.

It’s really hard, surprisingly, so make sure to practice.

Even in the music business, which is supposedly a very free-love, touchy-feely sort of place, there’s this incredible undercurrent of having to do an “acceptable” amount of work on a show. The undercurrent is so strong that people will actually spend time and money that they shouldn’t, doing things that don’t actually work, all to satisfy that sense that there’s a certain amount of “tired and used up” that must be achieved before something becomes legitimate. It’s all part of the competition based on work that I’ve come to deeply dislike.

I urge you not to do things that are ineffective simply to say that you’ve done them.

Do what matters, and then move on. Give yourself permission. Even better – give others you’re working with, like bands on the same bill, and the venue you’re playing at, permission to stop after they’ve done what works.

…and keep track of what works. Flyering (which is a form of broadcast media, I assure you) isn’t something that I see as working very much. However, if you can positively determine that it’s effective for you, with real numbers to back up your conclusions, then go for it! If nobody that follows you on Twitter is actually interested in your shows, then don’t sink a lot of time into marketing your shows on Twitter. If Facebook does everything you need, post to Facebook and then let things ride. Do what works for you, and avoid being lazy, but also recognize that all you have to do to avoid being lazy is to do what’s actually enough. Adding on a bunch of useless activity is just getting tired for the purpose of internal bonus points.

Marketing and promotion for shows isn’t magic. It doesn’t conjure an audience out of thin air. If you’ve done what you can, you’ve done what you can.