Song, by Toad


A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along

During the interview for his Toad Session I asked Johny Lamb from Thirty Pounds of Bone about the antipathy that exists between promoters and bands.  His response was sort of awkward –  like most bands I presume he’s known a lot of really nice promoters in his time.  But his answer was nevertheless both telling and one I have heard echoed by almost every band I have ever spoken to about the subject: “as a band, promoters fuck you over more than anyone else.”

This, to be fair, is almost certainly true.  I’ve heard awful stories from almost everyone about zero promotion being done, about empty rooms, refusal to pay what was described as a ‘guarantee’, promoters sneaking off before the end of the night, subtracting things like towels, food and beer from a band’s fee and then not providing them, and occasionally asking bands to pretty much rep a whole night for them and even pay the other bands on the bill from the door money.  And there have been countless others I am probably forgetting.

Having said that, since I have become a promoter myself, albeit a little reluctantly and of course at a very small scale, I can promise you that a lot of bands have pretty damn unrealistic expectations of promoters.  ‘How many guest list can I get, where’s our rider, can you provide us with instruments, when do we get fed?’ These questions are valid enough at a certain scale, but the music industry has a very long Long Tail indeed, and the majority of people are futzing about playing gigs attended by under a hundred people, where these sorts of demands just don’t match up with the scale of the money being generated.

The thing is (ignoring the lazy, dishonest promoters and demanding, entitled bands, who will always exist) that neither side’s complaints against the other are entirely unreasonable. The problem is that the sums on one side and the sums on the other just don’t match up.

Now, in Edinburgh (and Glasgow I believe) you are expected to have three bands on a bill, and you can just about get away with charging seven quid if they’re small bands people haven’t heard of, but I personally would feel nervous doing so, unless we were in the Caves or somewhere like that.

I understand that these norms are culturally specific, and it may be different in other parts of the country, and I also accept that even around here they are very much open for debate. If anyone can correct me on any of the stuff below, please do speak up, because I have only been promoting shows for a little while and as such accept that I am very much a beginner.

As a promoter you are expected to do the following:

Hire a venue.  Around here this costs roughly £100.  It’s a hundred for the Wee Red, a bit less for Sneaky’s and a bit more for Henry’s.  You can always use a community or church hall instead, but then you have to hire in a PA and pay the sound engineer yourself which, unless you are well connected, can come to a lot more. These venue fees go down as you build a relationship with the venues and they start to cut you some slack, but starting out, those are on the cheaper side of reasonable around here.

Actually promote the gig. Some of this is free.  Emailing places like The List, The Skinny and blogs who do listings is (or should be) a given. As should setting up a Facebook event page, sharing it to your profile at judicious intervals, posting the event to the band’s own pages and harping on about it on Twitter. Bands can be very bad at helping with this, actually, and it always stands out when a band at least try and contribute. A band shouldn’t be responsible for the promotion of a gig, but it is just good practise to at least make some effort.

It’s not all free, though. Posters cost money to make.  Only about £10/£20 if you stick to black and white, and less if you sneakily use the work photocopier, but they have to be put up as well.  Less regular promoters can do this themselves, but given I tend to put on a couple of gigs a month I just don’t have the time, so I pay a postering company to do it, which is £20-£40, depending on the numbers I ask them to distribute.

Printing flyers also costs, as does getting them out there if you can’t do it yourself. So just simple promotion costs, assuming online isn’t enough, which it really isn’t if you want more than twenty or thirty people to turn up, will set you back about £40-£60, and that’s if you’re really doing it on the cheap.

Provide creature comforts. Touring bands always expect to be fed, and all bands expect to be given beer, but I get the impression that surprisingly few of them acknowledge that it costs money to do this, and this is part of the cost of putting on a gig.  With three bands on the bill, four people in each, say it can cost you £30 just to provide a couple of beers, and more if you want to be a little more generous.

Feeding people is tricky, too.  Touring bands get in, soundcheck and then sit around, and that is when they want to be fed. Taking them to a restaurant – even a chippy – would be financially crazy, so we tend to cook for them at home, but then they only get that after the gig.  And even home-cooked food costs at least £20 to feed a hungry band. More if you want a few beers or a couple of bottles of wine in the house to help them wind down.

Provide kit. This one kind of annoys me. I don’t mind spending money, but I don’t like to ask people for favours.  One band asking to use another band’s amps and so on has happened to me so often I assume it is standard practise, but I have had a lot of drummers ask me if I can source breakables for them.  This is something I hate asking my drummer friends to lend me, but what other choice do I have?

Actually pay the fucking bands. I know a lot of promoters don’t do this, but I have yet to hear a compelling argument why not.  The ‘I didn’t make enough money’ excuse is bollocks, because you are basically asking the bands themselves to subsidise your night.  We pay bands a standard £40, £50 and £60 for the three slots on the bill, and will always try and increase that for touring bands.  The biggest fee we’ve paid a touring band is about £180, and we lost a lot of money that night.  So I am absolutely guaranteed to spend £150 on fees, and usually it’s at least £200, because we usually have at least one touring band on the bill.

And, the sums.  So, for a cheap night (i.e.: no touring bands) my guaranteed outlays are: £100 for the venue, £50 for promotional costs, £30 for beer, £150 for band fees.  If there’s a touring band, you can add at least an extra £50 for fees, as well as £30 (minimum) for extra food and booze.  So, £330 for a cheap night, and over £400 for a lineup where someone has had to travel.

Going back to the fact that I feel uneasy charging more than a fiver to get in, and that means I need between sixty and seventy paying customers through the door before I do anything other than lose money.  That doesn’t sound like much, but I assure you, that’s a lot of people.  I have seen decent touring bands play Cabaret Voltaire to a lot less.  I’ve put on gigs where we got about thirty customers through the door, but between guesties and band members it still felt like a busy, successful night.  Except it cost me almost two hundred pounds.

But let’s look at the last part of that sum again, the band fees.  Now, compared to some promoters £40-£60 for a hometown gig is great, I know.  Lots of promoters try and shirk that responsibility altogether.  But in the grand scheme of things, it’s an absolute fucking pittance, really.

As a Band, What Does it Actually Cost to Play?

Caveats first: I am not actually in a band, so this list will necessarily be incomplete, and may well be slightly off the mark in its emphasis as well.  If you’re in a band and I have left something out or made some other mistake, just let me know.

Travel. This is pretty much the big one, I think.  The number of bands I know where no-one has a car is amazing.  Without this, even playing a hometown gig is expensive.  Imagine you’re first on a bill at a Toad night.  The whole band is getting paid £40 – you could pretty much eat that up in taxi fares getting people’s amps and kit down to the venue and back.  If you’re from as close as Glasgow, which gets treated as ‘local’ to all intents and purposes, then just a return train fare costs you £12 per person, and that’s assuming you can travel at off-peak times, which isn’t always possible.

If you’re playing outside your hometown, it’s even worse.  Our van is pretty efficient, but to get to London and back is at least £200 in fuel costs alone, so when I ask bands from down South to play in Edinburgh, and really go out of my way to offer them £150, which I often know I won’t make back, they are still losing money just getting here. And that’s assuming they have a reasonably-sized car, or know people who can lend them a van.  If they have to rent a vehicle, it becomes a complete non-starter. No wonder there are so many solo acoustic singer-songwriters – at least they can feasibly get the Megabus, no matter how uncomfortable.

Accommodation. This too can be a killer.  Travelodges are great (by which I mean shit, but serviceable), but rooms still end up costing £30-£40 a night, even if you get in relatively early, which isn’t always possible.  And you can maybe try and get everyone in one room, but if you get caught, you’re fucked.  So just an overnight stay in a strange place can cost a band £70, and I’m not sure, but I think that’s low-balling it.

This doesn’t apply to hometown bands of course, but for a promoter, particularly one with a family, finding the space to accommodate bands, and friends to help when you run out of space is a major, major headache.  And if a promoter is anything other than a rank amateur, with all the disadvantages that can bring, they seem to be unlikely to offer to arrange accommodation unless really pushed to do so.

Time off work. To a degree I think bands complain about this too much. If you think of a band as a startup business, then taking time out of your regular job to work unpaid in the one you are trying to kickstart is simply part and parcel of the undertaking.  Starting the record label involved me using unpaid leave, every last bit of holiday and every last bit of spare time I had, that’s just the nature of the beast.

Unless you’re saying it’s just a hobby, in which case the argument about taking time off work to do something you are doing for fun is even less valid.

Where I do have some sympathy, however, is the difficulty of coordination.  It’s not just one person: usually several people have to get the same time off, and that can put people in really, really awkward situations.  I am not sure about expecting financial compensation from a promoter for this, but there are times when irrespective of fees, bands simply cannot play gigs, and both the promoters trying to book them and the bands themselves need to acknowledge this.

Food and drink.  This is a funny one.  A lot of bands say things like ‘well they aren’t fucking paying us, the least they can do is provide a few drinks’.  This is very much true.  But we do pay bands, just… well, not nearly enough, if I’m being honest.  But if you’re asking someone to do something you should at bare minimum cover the cost of your request, and while travel and accommodation do fit under that banner, food and drink do not – people have to feed themselves every day of their lives, irrespective of whether or not they’re playing a gig.

Having said that, eating at home can be beans on toast for a quid.  Eating somewhere reasonably near a venue can be eight quid each for a shit burger, depending on how lucky you get.  These are costs which, whilst I am not sure who I think ‘should’ pay them, add up very fast for either band or promoter. If there’s four of you and you have to eat at a pub or restaurant – or even a chippy, these days – the costs can get up to £40 in the blink of an eye.

And, the sums. If I invite a band up from Manchester and don’t give them a place to crash, what does it cost them? At least £100 for petrol, assuming they can find a big enough car.  At least £100 to rent one if they can’t.  £70 for overnight accommodation.  £40 to eat out, near whatever venue I might have chosen.  So even if we pay them £100, feed them and give them somewhere to sleep, they still only break even by a whisker.  And that’s just covering costs – bear in mind that for the promoter or the band in this scenario ‘breaking even’ still means your actual labour and time have been donated for free.

Basically, it just doesn’t add up.  The scenario I’ve described – getting fifty people along to a local gig in a small venue is pretty normal.  I’ve seen bands on Matador, Domino and Bella Union play that kind of show and actually, if the venue is right, fifty paying customers can make for an awesome gig.  But fifty people means, almost by definition, that unless they’ve managed to cut corners elsewhere, the promoter loses money.

It also means that the band don’t get paid anything like enough to cover the costs of simply turning up.  The only alternative in that case is to cut corners – for the band to play a stripped down, more portable set, if they can, for the promoter not to feed people, not to provide a rider, cut down on promotion costs etc etc etc… and suddenly you can see why there is often so much resentment between band and promoter.

As soon as you outgrow playing for free just because you’re kind of amazed anyone took an interest in the first place, you have to make an awful lot of progress before you get to the point where you can consistently attract enough people for the amount of money generated to really make it fair on anyone.


93 witty ripostes to A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along

  1. avatar

    This was really useful – if depressing – to read, especially as putting on a gig is on my List of Things To Do Before Turning 30 (which will still make me the last blogger to do it…).

    Lots to get my head around. Thanks Matthew.x

  2. avatar

    damn. Good post.

    last time i booked into a Travelodge i found the door to my room open, shower room tap running and a suspect brown smear along the wall. Clean sheets though

  3. avatar

    Having been both promoter and band in the past the part that can lead to the most problems in my experience is providing the kit. I’ve found that if possible it is good to get the bands in contact with each other before the day so they can arrange who’s going to provide what. This is doable if for example the bands know each other, but it is problematic if you get a band who just won’t reply to emails. I agree that drummers should always bring their own breakables. It definitely helps to get reasonable communicative bands and promoters. I had an experience of turning up at a venue who had said they had a bass amp which turned out not to be true and having to ask the band we were supporting if we could borrow theirs, who just refused…

  4. avatar

    @Marko I once nicked the FAQs explaining why there was nothing else in the room worth nicking from a Travelodge. Best to let potential houseguests know what to expect.

  5. avatar

    Pretty much summed it up on both sides I think. From the bands point of view, it is so important to get a good agent, who will then negotiate contracts and guarantees, as this allows incomings and outgoings to be managed properly, and you can see what you can and can’t do. The %10 odd they take is more than made up for on the upping of fees and dealing with firm contracts, riders and meal buyouts.

    Another big cost you missed on the bands front is the costing of a sound engineer. This is essential if you are touring as I don’t think you can inherantly trust a house engineer. Some will be great, the majority won’t give a fuck who you are or what you do, so you can add from £60 to £160+ a night for this (but well worth it).

    A big problem in people downloading music for free, is that a lot of the time, bands are given touring support by a label to subsidise the shortfall at the begining, thus allowing small bands to get out and tour (speculate to accumulate etc.). These days this is getting harder and harder to justify for labels, and thus makes life extremely difficult for startup bands (first record tour). If you have to pay this out of your own pocket as a start up business, you will be bankrupt before the second week of the tour!

  6. avatar

    I really want to contribute constructively to this, but it is hard. It is very hard.

  7. avatar

    If I were to say that wasn’t 100% food for thought I’d be lying…

  8. Excellent post.

    I think, for the most part, bands know the costs involved in putting on a gig, as most have had a crack at putting their own on.

    I can only speak from personal experience, but tensions only seem to arise when the bands don’t get paid and phrases like “admin fee” and “misc. promotional costs” start getting bounced around by promoters like they are ticketmaster or something.

    We have played plenty gigs where we have been justly rewarded financially, and plenty where there is simply not enough dough to go round. If anyone in a band has the view that this is anything other than the reality of gigging at this level, they need a serious outlook readjustment.

  9. avatar

    Great post. I suppose the cost of rehearsing doesn’t count here as this is about gigging, but most bands will be paying out over £100 a month to rehearse something good enough to play at a gig.

    Personally I’d rather have cash than a rider as long as this was explained beforehand- I think it’s perfectly reasonable, and a band can channel cash into many more important things than they can a box of beer. And the beer is never one you want to drink anyway.

  10. avatar

    Speaking as a band, I can see that a lot of bands make things hard for promoters. I think small bands playing too often must be a big problem for promoters. Bands (and we did this at the start) just assume that a promoter has a crowd and a gig is just a chance to show off their wares rather than a collaboration to build and maintain an audience. When we first started out, we got a gig for PCL supporting two bands on a national tour. “Awesomes” we thought, “Guaranteed audience, payment, free beer and there’ll be industry types there.” What someone should have told us is that as the local band, we needed to bring some people in and playing a free “warm-up” gig three days before to all our mates was not the best way to convince them all to pay £5 to come see us again. The moral of the story is more communication is required between promoters and bands to avoid misunderstandings and to explain why, for example, more established promoters don’t want you playing gigs for a period either side of your gig for them.

  11. avatar

    Jamie – “Another big cost you missed on the bands front is the costing of a sound engineer. This is essential if you are touring as I don’t think you can inherantly trust a house engineer.”

    Yeah, I do very much appreciate this, but it depends a lot on how tricky your sound is to engineer and what your budget is.

    Also, if a band is actually touring, they really do need their own van, the cost of which is astronomical. And then as soon as a gig gets cancelled they need last minute hotel bookings, which can be a total disaster to an entire tour.

    “a lot of the time, bands are given touring support by a label to subsidise the shortfall at the begining”

    Indeed. For a label our size we don’t promise any tour support because we simply can’t find a way to make that money back, ever. We always try and provide what we can anyway, but it’s basically a gift, not a business expense.

    Stephen – “I think, for the most part, bands know the costs involved in putting on a gig, as most have had a crack at putting their own on.”

    Actually, I think a bit of work experience for everyone in the music industry spent doing the jobs of everyone else would result in a dramatic improvement in relations all round.

    Andrew – The cost of rehearsal probably goes the way of the costs of the intern (if you have one) sitting up all night addressing mailouts and stuff like that. In terms of hourly rate it just boggles the mind how financially unsustainable a business this is.

  12. avatar

    As a band we’ve pretty much always promoted ourselves. It’s not hard with the services on offer these days and we almost never loose money. Definitely the way forward for band with a small following.

  13. avatar

    Particularly on your home turf I think this is a very, very good idea. You can keep down the costs you think are less important and you know for a fact that money isn’t being wasted or lied about.

  14. It’s just as well we don’t do it for the money huh?

  15. avatar

    Matthew, it sounds to me as if you really don’t want to be a promoter and that you’re doing it because you feel that you need to in order to benefit others (indeed, you used the phrase “reluctant” when describing your approach).

    Promoters really fucking have to want to do what they do, otherwise it’s almost entirely pointless. Paying the bands well, feeding and watering them, making sure they have the basic things they need in order to feel comfortable and play the concert you’re putting on is something a promoter should be striving to do in all circumstances. If I took a heavy financial hit, yet audience numbers were healthy and the bands were all happy with their experience, then I was a delighted promoter. For me, promoting a show was all about co-ordinating a really good bill of music that I loved, full of bands that rarely played in my area. I budgeted for all the associated costs and then developed a marketing strategy based upon the break-even line. The minimum I tended to offer an out-of-town band to play in a city approximately half the size of Edinburgh (and certainly half as diverse!) was £100, and even then I was aware they could be losing out financially. The most I paid one band was £550 + food + beer + accommodation, and I made a profit on that gig, even after paying the two supports more than I had gauranteed them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I certainly feel this old cliche applies to promoting. In Edinburgh, there is the potential for small-scale concerts to get audiences of 200 plus, but sadly most promoters largely stick to online promoting only, thus alienating the majority of their potential audience. Especially in Edinburgh – there is no “go-to” place for gig listings online, so I always just look out for gig posters and flyers at street level. It’s probably why I don’t go to many gigs in Edinburgh – I simply don’t know about them. Facebook can be an excellent tool for promoting concerts and raising awareness, but promoters do tend to rely on it a little too much. And besides, typing out an event page on Facebook and pressing “Invite” too about 500 people is considerably less fun than designing a flyer and going out on street level and distributing them.

    On the topic of bands requiring remuneration, I think it’s entirely fair if the band are being invited to play a show (please note the phrasing here; I don’t mean a band asking for a show…specifically if the band has been approached to play without any prompting) which requires them to take unpaid leave from work. Especially if this show is a one-off occasion. Promoters in London inviting a Scottish act down to play on a Tuesday night have to expect to offer the band suitable financial recompense; they just can’t expect bands to take a personal financial hit. Regardless of the situation or context.

    However, if a band are actively looking for shows and are approaching promoters, then the situation is entirely different. A band almost has to take what they can get in those circumstances. It then comes down to their own decision-making and level of judgement. A band or booking agent should always be able to get a feel for the promoter before confirming a show, and be able to judge if the promoter is trustworthy and suitable.

    All that said, if a band asked me to provide them with drum breakables, I’d tell them to get a fucking grip.

  16. I have to be very careful what I say on this as my beat combo is still banned from a venue in both Edinburgh & Glasgow for my comments on a similar subject nearly a year and half ago…… In general we’ve not had that much bad luck with promoters except one dude in Hull who said he hadn’t agreed to put us up anywhere when he actually did and we ended up having to drive to Leeds to find a Travel Lodge at 1am after we’d played. He did however give us £40 towards it, but only after I got really angry with him.

  17. avatar

    This was great to read, I became known as a promoter almost by accident when bands started to want to play at the club night I was trying to launch with a few others… Due to good nature and wanting to support the local scene as much as we could, we all fell into a bit of a trap with it, the momentum of the night needed to build and it became a very difficult thing to stop, even though it was a money pit and numbers were dwindling, I kept thinking that if I exhausted all my passion and energy on it it would grow into something, all that you listed above happened to me… I’ve basically ended up really depressed, untrusted, turned against, and ultimately quite lonely…. Sounds a bit heavy, but the expectations of what I could achieve as a promoter when I didn’t even want to be one! Wore me out… No matter how much I believed in the bands I was putting on before my club and all the compulsory guesties I had to give out, none added up…. I honestly think… Looking at both sides, amongst the biggest offenders (if any)… Are the venues that are absolutely raking it in behind the bar on these nights and showing the promoters absolutely no support in filling their venue… As as well as me I know others that really just wanted to spin a few tunes…. Not end up in ridiculous debt, and become a leper of the scene…

  18. avatar

    truly excellent post. really, really enjoyable (and harrowing in parts) read.

  19. avatar

    Someone asked me quite recently how much money I’d made from the gigs I’ve put on. I’m fairly certain they thought I was a liar when I replied with a negative amount. Anyone that thinks there’s some untapped well of cash to be had from putting a gig on will pretty quickly find out how wrong they are.
    If I didn’t enjoy doing it, even the nervous breakdown which always seems certain in the days before the gig, I’d have chucked it ages ago. I think everyone that has played for me is still on speaking terms with me though, thankfully.

  20. avatar

    Good post Matthew. Having done a lot of toruing, off my own back much of the time, I thought I’d chuck in how it works for me.

    I think the biggest problem is lazy bands, far more so than promoters. Buy your own frickin’ beer. Do your own promo. Bands often expect to be given everything on a plate. If you work hard you can tour and make a profit.

    First, I think you need to charge more for your tickets (I’d say a tenner is fair – that’s three pints these days, or entry to a terrible dive of a club, both of which most people don’t bat an eyelid at spending).

    When I tour, I don’t use promoters, I book the venues myself. So, I take all the risk, if no punters come down, that’s me losing £400 a day, which over a 14 date tour is, well, a lot of money. Nothing like these sorts of figures to focus the mind. If you haven’t sold enough in advance, you can always pull the show anyway – although that’s not advisable, obviously.

    Across a UK tour you will get the odd night where there’s only 20 people, but others will have a lot more, so overall you will usually break even or make a small profit. To be honest, the objectivbe of touring for me is promotion, so to break even on a promotional exercise is an achievement. Make money in other ways. I have to pay the musicians in my band too, so the sums for me work like this on an average / not great night attendance wise.

    £10 a ticket

    30 punters = £300
    Sell 12 CDs = £120
    INCOME = £420

    Venue hire – £100
    Band session fees = £150
    Accom = £60 (two Travelodge rooms, booked well in advance, £29 a room, two rooms, 3 in a room, that’s 6 of you)
    Petrol = £40 a day
    Splitter van hire = £70 a day
    COST = £420

    PROFIT – £0

    So, even if you have to pay your musicians and have a not so great night you can break even. What you need to do is work your backside off promoting online and make sure the venues do the listings and put up your posters. That’s why some bands are successful and others are not. The music is not enough. You have to work for it. And that means doing things you would rather not do.

  21. avatar

    This just in from an ‘unnamed’ source (yes, I’ve been phone hacking again – next up, Amy Winehouse’s secret suicide call to her hermaphrodite lover in New Orleans):

    “A recent horror story. After bringing a full drum kit across town in a taxi for another band, the promoter of the show turns out to have done no promo (despite the headliner being pretty famous), and 15 people show up…mostly people I know…promoter legs it half way through the night leaving us all with a full drum kit and no money in a sketchy part of town, and refuses to answer his phone. Sends me a text at 3am to say he was doing us all a favour (how?) and we’re not getting paid…and hasn’t answered any emails or calls since. Brilliant, eh?”

  22. avatar

    Brilliant article and totally realistic. Even before a band starts to gig money needs to be invested in gear, rehearsal time, recording time, graphic design, promo photos, gig photos, websites and merch is also unbelieveable. If one member of the band is skint, should the others cough up the cash? I have seen musical people trying their best to become a jack of all trades. What also amazes me in this YouTube era is that unsigned bands are now paying to have their own music videos made. This must be costing them a small fortune!

    I’ve came across my fair share of shite promoters, but I have also came across lazy/shite bands. Both can be as bad as each other.

  23. avatar

    Nobody – I’d never really considered the difference between bands being invited and bands seeking tours before.

    I think you’re right about the desire. Personally, as wearing as it is I take great personal satisfaction when bands come to town, we get a surprisingly good turnout, my wife or I cook them food and get them pished, and they leave saying what a great time they had.

    Mostly I get this because of our bands going off on tour, hating it, and often being treated quite badly. It still means a lot to me to try and prove that being in the music industry doesn’t mean you have to take ruthless advantage of others and treat people like they are something you stepped in. I don’t always achieve it of course, but that’s the intention, anyway!

    So you’re right, I got into it because I felt that it needed to be done, not because I particularly wanted to. But having said that, over the last few months, with one notable disaster, pretty much every show has been great fun and now that the inevitable “ZOMG NO-ONE’S COMING” promoter anxiety is fading a little, I am really enjoying it.

    Alex – you’re a brave, brave man indeed touring without using external promoters. I sincerely applaud you for it, but there is one definite flaw in your sums there.

    You cannot add merch sales into your tour budget. The manufacture and sale of merch comes from a completely different pot to touring expenses. Money recouped from the sale of merch goes into the manufacturing of said merch. You can’t pay to manufacture something and then allocate the sale of that thing to a different budget altogether, unless you’re saying that CDs are a promotional exercise as well.

    And do you have or pay support bands?

    I also agree that maybe we are charging too little for our gig nights, actually. I know a lot of people who would howl in dismay, but putting the price up to £7 doesn’t sound unreasonable, and that could add another £100 to the income, assuming attendance doesn’t plummet as a result.

  24. our e.p launch we put on in July was a veritable success (it sold out!) and we payed our supports (matthew loch awe I STILL have your fee) but we did start promoting it 3 months in advance. We paid about 30 quid for full colour posters from here – and tried to get it listed in every listing we could think of.

    I just dismay when promoters just don’t essentially do their job and ‘promote’ a show. It’s not that hard!

    Great post matthew!

  25. avatar

    Scott, it’s a lot like an album release, really. It takes a little to get your head around properly, but once you do it’s a relatively straightforward, sequential list of things to do. None of them are complicated, but a lot of them require a bit of graft.

  26. avatar

    Nobody: “you’re doing it because you feel that you need to in order to benefit others”

    I kinda see what you’re getting at, in the rest of your argument, but, really, critiquing someone putting time, money and effort into helping bands who otherwise might not be treated all that well (do many promoters go into this level of soul-searching about the ethics and aesthetics of what they do, let alone air them as transparetly as this?!) seems a bit uneccessary.

    The majority of the DIY/underground/struggling (call it what you will) music industry (agents, ha!) is based on people being selfless, taking daft financial, time and emotional risks in order to “benefit others”, isn’t it? And surely – for whatever reason (profit aside) – that people do this, it’s to be celebrated, no?

  27. avatar

    On second read through, maybe we agree more than I initially thought, Nobody…(there’s reasons I don’t comment on blogs…)

  28. avatar


    I couldn’t agree more.

  29. avatar

    RSJ – I didn’t get the impression Nobody was having a dig, although the first sentence did read a bit like that. After all, you don’t start a band or a label or a blog because you ‘feel someone ought to’, and if you did I’d assume you’d do a shit job of it.

    I personally started promoting because the people who were booking bands in Edinburgh that I liked either stopped, slowed to snail’s pace or moved away – Trampoline, Limbo, Gentle Invasion, Tracer Trails, Ruth’s booking at The Bowery, and even the in-house booking that used to happen at Cabaret Voltaire.

    So the motivations were a bit questionable to begin with, and the first few were very stressful, but I am genuinely warming to it. One the face of it, it’s the exact same things as starting a blog, really: “Hey everyone, listen to THIS!”

  30. avatar

    RSJ – also, it’s not just to benefit others. It’s also to benefit the label, the blog and hence me personally as well, so not entirely altruistic!

  31. avatar

    Matthew – yeah, the figures are simplified, but I don’t think you can separate all the different areas of income. If I didnt do the gig I wouldn’t sell the CDs at the gig, I wouldn’t get radio play, there wouldn’t be local press. I have to look at my income overall. But anyway, that’s beside the point – the point I am making in my earlier comment is really that:

    (a) you really don’t need a local promoter* – we have the internet and the venues will do posters; and

    (b) it is definitely possible to tour and break even.

    Even if you do make a loss, is that not a good promotional expense? You know, bands pay for videos to be made, they pay for studio time, pay for pluggers etc., but surely the best form of promotion is a live show. You have just got to do it. There is no choice in the matter, if you want to be successful. I don’t think you’ll see many bands that have made it who decided it was too expensive so they stayed in bed.

    * BUT if you get a good local promoter like you Matthew, you are in for a cracking night – both band and promoter working together = a lot more people come to the gig.

  32. avatar

    ps no I don’t pay support – if someone supports me they get a free audience which is theirs for the taking i.e. sell cds, my fans go to their next gig

  33. avatar

    RSJ – My opening gambit is just the immediate impression I got from reading Matthew’s original post. My post wasn’t really a dig at all. In fact, I was merely contributing to the discussion and developing what Matthew had initially said. I thought that came across, but perhaps I need to develop my communication skills.

    What Matthew is doing is absolutely to be celebrated. It just sounded as if he felt implored to do it by the musical mileau in which he finds himself. I find it odd that a promoter “reluctantly” becomes, y’see.

    It was not a critique at all.

  34. Excellent read, really quite harrowing into what I would one day like to try myself.

  35. avatar

    Alex, I absolutely one hundred percent agree that the only way for bands to be successful is to play live. It’s simply not an option, which is probably why the resentment exists – they know they are being pushed into it, but then have to deal with a lot of really ropey individuals, and often can’t see a way around it.

    A proper, effective booking agent is one, and your approach is another, albeit one I think very few bands would have the balls/wherewithal to pull off properly.

  36. avatar

    Nobody – I didn’t take it as dig, and actually from the looks of it neither did RSJ after he read the whole post more carefully.

  37. avatar

    A well-written post and one which sums up why I’ve been reluctant to get too involved thus far with promoting.

    One of the things I find the most frustrating is the guest list thing, which I had experience of when I was working on doing Tigerfest last year. One night when I was doing the door (but thankfully not responsible for booking the band in question) one band who shall remain anonymous had bought along fifteen people for their guest list, and got very pissed off with Neil when he didn’t pay them very much. I’ve been lucky to get put on the guest list progressively more since I started blogging and writing for Is This Music? but sometimes I think the US hardcore approach of ‘If you’re not playing you’re paying’ has a lot going for it.

    The other thing I have found to be frustrating -and this could apply to putting on club nights as well – is the way that when you are trying to round up friends to come they often only want to come to weekend (Friday and Saturday night ) gigs or clubs; but you often (quite understandably) cannot get these until you have proved yourself during week nights.

    Something I have encountered in London and I really hope NOT to see up here is the way bands or acts have to sell x amount of tickets to even get anything from the door.

    I guess part of it is that if you press up a single or album, you don’t expect to make your money back immediately; it’s make or break pretty much every time with gigs.

  38. avatar

    The other thing that is a fucking pain as a promoter is when band X want to use Band Y’s drumkit but are damned if they’ll share their guitar amps with them. The urge to yell ‘Just grow up and stop acting like spoilt children’ has occured before now when promoting gigs…

  39. Ed, sorry to say selling X tickets before getting anything is alive and well up here.

  40. Excellent post. I particularly agree with the “guest list” part of it. If you are in a small local band, then getting your friends in for free is pretty stupid, I’m sure they’d happily support your music endeavors. I think that as in every field of life, there are bastards everywhere. Luckily, we’ve been mostly lucky with promoters. After playing for a while you can tell who is full of shit and who is doing it for DA LUV of it. kthnksbai.

  41. avatar

    This has been a really interesting blog, with plenty of good discussion following on from it. I’ve been in a couple of bands in the last few years (of varying size!) so I’ve had the chance to see examples of lots of different types of promoters and bands.
    It should definitely be a joint effort to make sure there’s an audience, bands can’t assume that it will all be done for them. Besides, it makes a more interesting night if there are people there to see you. It’s always a shame when band A headlines the bill (sometimes a touring band or sometimes a local band who have not promoted the gig) but band B brought all the audience who leave at 10pm once their pals have played. Having said that, the promoter role does involve promoting! So in order to make the most successful night, everyone should put in a bit of effort. Sometimes you have to take a loss as a band as well, especially when you’re playing further from home. But if you’re clever about things, there are ways to minimise your loss and maybe make a small profit on a local gig so you can play one a bit further away. With any luck, the extra promotion will help spread your music, which is hopefully what we all want.

    I’m really interested in Ed’s comment about sharing equipment. I’m lucky it doesn’t really apply to me, but I know some people who use their equipment for their day job, like people who teach or work with their instrument outside of band gigs. If they are doing a dozen gigs in the space of a couple of months, on three band bills for example, are they expected to share drums/amps with all these other drummers/guitarists? I know how expensive parts are to replace, but I’m not sure what the rules are – if there are any. Just being nosey….

  42. avatar

    If there are any rules, I’m not sure of what they are. I suppose it’s that if you’re sharing equipment with another band by arrangement, then it should be reciprocal as with other areas of life.

    Acts should definitely do some of their own promoting -unless the promoter also has responsibility for the band’s website/myspace/blog/twitter/bandcamp/WHATEVER!! (unlikely in 99.9% of cases, I would have thought) I think a band should make sure they have the gig on there -and if not, I wouldn’t blame a promoter for being pissed off. Thankfully this has not happened with any of the gigs I have been involved with, but I have heard of it happening.

    (Obviously if the act cannot announce they are playing because they have another gig coming up in the same town very soon, then the above does not apply!)

  43. avatar

    I’m not in a band or involved in the music world at all but as somebody who goes to a few gigs in edinburgh this was really interesting.
    some of it is pretty depressing reading but it makes me more determined to support local music however i can. This means going to gigs, buying cds and shouting loudly to my friends about local bands. Hope this helps in some way.

    Keep up the good work!

  44. avatar

    @Alex a few comments up- if you tour successfully with this business model by booking all the venues yourself and covering cost as you describe, but you only promote online and rely on the venue’s posters etc for local advertising, and you don’t pay any support acts as they get the privilege of supporting you, does that not pretty much make you the kind of promoter that people want to avoid?

  45. avatar

    I’m with Lucy on this I think – the promoter is the one who should be getting people to the gig, really, not the band.

    I don’t like it when bands do nothing at all, because that’s just lazy, but in general I don’t think you should expect much more from them than a listing on whatever page they keep their listings, and a little bit of a social media/mailing list push. Not much though, because it is still really the promoter’s job.

    Having said that, I have had bands make a great effort to get people along to gigs I’ve put on and I do really appreciate it.

  46. avatar

    It is absolutely the sole responsibility of the promoter to get the audience into the venue for any show. The band’s responsibility is to turn up on time for soundcheck, be where they have to be and at the correct time, and play to the best of their ability at the time slot they have been given.

    The key is in the name:




    Just my opinion.

    That said, it’s always nice when bands promote themselves, but personally, I tend to actively avoid bands who continually spaff all over my Facebook feed about a show or release ten times a week, or just generally seek attention by announcing the most mundane things. It is seriously tedious.

    Hence why I have “Unliked” acts such as and on Facebook, yet I quite like their music and them as people. But all the shameless public airing of every little piece of related news gets seriously tiresome; to the extent that I lose interest in them as a band and as an artist.

    But yeah, promoters should promote and bands/artists should play music.

    My favourite promoters are those who think outside the box and look to ways that they can directly make a positive impact on attendance. This might be ticket initiatives (eg. if the promotor has numerous concerts coming up and they are musically compatible, then offer reduced bulk ticket prices to encourage attendance at every show for reduced price – not to mention the comfort of knowing that you have sold presales for more than one impending show), sponsorship, radio giveaways, gig poster giveaways (provided the poster is good in the first place – which Matthew has covered) and, generally, having an actual marketing campaign and schedule for the concert(s) they are promoting. Not just creating a Facebook event page and sticking up about 15 posters in sub-par eateries and quiet pub toilet walls around the town. Towns with universities are a God’s send for promoters – these should be flyered and postered regularly and tenaciously in advance of a concert. Look at the average audience at an average Edinburgh concert, for example – the crowd has a relatively high average age compared to most other cities and towns I have played and promoted in. These are generally working people. There is so much room for enticing out the student population in Edinburgh – new audience blood – but there doesn’t appear to be any promoters going down this route. Maybe it’s been tried and tested, of course. But in my experience, that does seem unlikely.

    Yay for proactive promoters!

  47. avatar

    “Hence why I have “Unliked” acts such as and on Facebook”

    My initial draft featured the names of a band and a solo artist, but I know people involved in/with both acts read this blog and I’d rather avoid needlessly upsetting them in public.

  48. avatar

    A fascinating read. I particularly enjoyed nobody’s first post…

    “Promoters really fucking have to want to do what they do, otherwise it’s almost entirely pointless. Paying the bands well, feeding and watering them, making sure they have the basic things they need in order to feel comfortable and play the concert you’re putting on is something a promoter should be striving to do in all circumstances. If I took a heavy financial hit, yet audience numbers were healthy and the bands were all happy with their experience, then I was a delighted promoter.”

    This is pretty much how I approach promoting. I’m interested in putting on artists that I like – artists that I’m motivated to work hard for – and whilst they are in town I’ll try and look after them to the best of my ability (and available funds). I wouldn’t invite a friend round to my house and not offer them a drink, food or a bed for the night if they needed it. Same applies.

    It’s bloody hard work though and a real drain on time if you have a proper job as well, but the good times and the good friends made make up for it.

    And Matthew, you made a good point about travel costs etc – spare a thought for us lonely souls up in the north! It’s even harder for us to get some touring bands (and some central belt artists) up the A90. It’s nae that far really, eh?

  49. avatar

    Nobody, I do disagree with you just a little bit. I do think bands should at least make some effort to get their fans down to a show. For the most part people care about bands much more than labels or promoters, and therefore that’s who they have a relationship with. But in general, yes, it is basically the promoter’s job.

    As to how much Facebook and Twitter spam you can get away with before people unlike or unfollow you, well I think that’s tricky. It’s different for everyone, at the spamming end in terms of how they phrase it, and the receiving end, in terms of how much you like the band in question and how much of that shit you’re prepared to put up with in general.

    Nice suggestions about how to engage with the audience a bit more, though. I am only just coming to terms with the logistics of actually putting shows on regularly, never mind making them more interesting than just three bands in a venue.

    It continually perplexes me how bad more or less all Edinburgh music enterprises seem to be at getting university students on board actually – myself very much included. As you say, the audience here is a lot older than (I assume) almost anywhere else, and I have yet to really figure out why.

    This, however, I think is silly: “If I took a heavy financial hit, yet audience numbers were healthy and the bands were all happy with their experience, then I was a delighted promoter.”

    That’s fine, and I have really loved shows where I’ve lost money, but in the long run, unless you are setting yourself up as a charity, that’s not really sustainable.

  50. avatar

    And Offramp, I entirely sympathise with the difficulties in getting bands up North.

    If you think about it, though, touring down South you can hit Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, London and any of the places inbetween without driving for more than a couple of hours. Come North of Manchester and the population density is so much lower that you can do an awful lot of driving to play to relatively few people.

    I was talking to a Brighton band recently and it is just impossible for us to pay them enough to make it worth their while to come here and play. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get them on a tour in the future, but it’s both incredibly frustrating and entirely understandable at the same time!

  51. avatar

    Perhaps it’s all about expectations. If you expect a band to bring a huge crowd or a promoter to provide you with a big pile of coke and hookers and they don’t, you probably feel a bit miffed. A better understanding of the realities of the situation all round could be good and I think bands are probably as guilty of overstating as promoters, especially in the number of people they can bring to gig. I know some of our estimates have been on the optimistic side, especially when we feel like that’s the only thing the promoter is basing his booking choices on. Although, in that case, it could be argued that it, er, serves the promoter right?

    Although some band experiences seem to be down to chance. I’ve spoken to a couple of people recently who’ve been grumbling about shit treatment by promoters we’ve always found to fine and vice versa.

  52. avatar

    “Although, in that case, it could be argued that it, er, serves the promoter right?”

    Oh yes it does.

    I know what you mean about random. Imagine trying to persuade poor old Husband that the gigs I put on are generally quite good, after they travelled up from London to play to four paying customers and two of their friends.

  53. avatar

    Just a minor thing to add among some fairly scary stories, but something I experienced a lot as a young person working with a young band was venues/promoters often screwing us over in regards to telling us the age limit.

    We once played a gig where on the poster it explicitly stated ‘Over 14s’, then after bringing a crowd of about 20 people (aged about 16-17) on the night we were told it was over 18s only and had to tell all of our fans (who, everything aside, were also our friends) they couldn’t come in.

    Also, as a manager I’ve had a couple experiences of being forced to pay for a gig I booked, which I find absolutely ridiculous (as much as I always do my best to keep myself out of payments etc, there is a minimum).

  54. avatar

    “as a manager I’ve had a couple experiences of being forced to pay for a gig I booked”

    Sorry, I don’t quite understand.

  55. avatar

    Had to pay entry (so buy a ticket), even though I booked one of the bands to play the gig.

    Sorry, that was phrased rather badly.

  56. avatar

    Very interesting, when I started managing Futuristic Retro Champions and Sonny Marvello I made them not play for a few months and then packed out 13th Note and Stereo respectively earning the bands £400+. That way they could afford some cheap studio time and use the money to go to London and elsewhere. I would recommend bands put on their own nights in their local town/city once they have built a decent following to make cash to expand.

    Great blog, I laughed at times and cringed at others. In short, you learn as you go either as a band or promoter.

    I did laugh at the breakables bit – drummers are (rightly so) extremely protective of their gear.

    Bands tend ot help each other out when possible and I think a good promoter is easy to spot with a bit of research.

    Look out for promoters putting on 4 or 5 bands – a sure fire sign that they are doing bugger all and relying on the bands to bring a dozen people each.

    Honest promoters in Glasgow include Pinup Nights, who will help you play to new people when possible, but they are honest and upfront. At first they will pay you depending on who you bring, if you do a good job they’ll invite you back and pay a set fee. That is fair enough, establishing a degree of trust. They poster and flyer the city, use their facebook page (loads of fans), website and considerable mailing list.

    Jamie from Instinctive Racoon is also very good and has started a new up and coming night called Milk that is going well.

    Craig Johnstone at DF is really helping young bands with good support slots if they prove they can bring a crowd and are of a decent quality (there are a lot of good bands). Again, to get in with a high profile promoter like that you do need to prove yourself. You may get a support to an out of town act that are not going to bring a crowd, but if you bring a crowd then you will be rewarded with a better support slot. I think that is perfectly fair, build a relationship, build an element of trust.

    Out of town gigs are hard. I’ve been to London with FRC’s, Sonny Marvello and Miaoux Miaoux and had varying degrees of success with Club Fandango. They now put on too many nights if I am honest, but they do still have a name and can put on some good bills.

    Twa Tams in Perth are very good with payment. Other than that I tend to keep my eyes and ears open and see what I can do.

    Social Media is very important. For example you can get a lot of stats about who likes you where from bandcamp sales or facebook fans. If you have enough then research the local scene in that town.

    Anyway I think that is enough for now. My advice for bands would be – it is great to get out and play, but do a bit of research. Especially in your home town/city or places nearby.

  57. This has been great. I feel there are some basic truths emerging from all of this, but i can’t organise my thoughts properly.

    But, one thing that seems important to me – essentially the relationship between bands and promoters operates as a job market where no one is quite sure who is the employer is and who is the employee, no one is quite sure what the product is, and everyone has different ideas about what the job description is.

    The DIY music scene is never going to be, and should never be, coordinated enough to form a policy on all this, so the only solution to the fogginess around what a band expects and what a promoter expects is to be clear at the start. I think promoters approaching bands should lay everything out – backline, fees, rider or no, what they expect the band to do…all of it. Then if the band doesn’t like it they can say no (or negotiate).

    So if you think bands should do NO promotion, you can do the gigs where the promoter expects you to do none. If the band really needs that crate of beers they can avoid gigs where they wont get them. etc etc.

    Thats my one clear thought – be clear from the start about what’s expected of both sides of the deal and many of these problems wont crop up.

    I have another clear thought – no promoter need ever provide a rider for us again – its always a total surprise, and i dont like beer.

  58. I also want to add that we have almost never had a problem with promoters, and where we have, its been with the bigger promoters/venues (but certainly not all or even most of them). Things have been pretty unclear quite often. But there is always something more important to get upset about.

  59. avatar

    Love your point about the rider. I’ve always seen it as a bonus. I could well be wrong but it sounds like arrogance to me for someone to assume they’re owed free beer (it’s hardly a necessary expense).

  60. avatar

    I kind of agree. Better just to pay bands, surely, and let them decide what they want to spend it on. I’m just afraid not to because I know a lot of people see it as bad form.

  61. avatar

    Good article. As a band member, I’m long past expecting to get paid for a gig. I just like gigging. I’m in a band in London, and as others have said, if all the bands can get it together to sort out kit-sharing, amp-sharing, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden on any one band and everyone can have a good time.

    But, as a gigging musician, these are my comments for promoters.

    Firstly, do some promoting! All the promoters I play for encourage us to spread the word on our myspace, Facebook, whatever, but I rarely see them doing anything themselves. Have you heard of Songkick? If you add your gig lineup to Songkick it’ll be automatically added to our Facebook plugin. Have you heard of Add events, and add the bands – it’ll show up on their events pages. Stop worrying about myspace – it’s over. Just list your event on songkick and and the info will automagically propagate to the bands’ pages.

    Secondly – think about your line-ups. Try theming them. I play in a garage rock band. What normally happens is that we get put on a bill with an acoustic guitar singer/songwriter girl, a pair of guys with 5 haircuts between the two of them playing microKorgs, and an indie/funk band from Bedford playing their first London show. What happens is that nobody in the crowd sticks around to watch the other bands. Acoustic-girl’s boyfriend feels too delicate, the Korg boys’ mates piss off back to Dalston, and the Bedford boys’ parents pick them up before their 3rd cider, or they get thrown out for puking. Try putting on bands who have a connection, who’s fans might enjoy each other. Our best gigs are where we play with similar bands, meet each other, meet each others fans, make new friends. Not when we’re surrounded by bands that we wouldn’t pay to see.

    I appreciate the economics that you put forward, and I know that it’s tough. So this is my advice to you, to help yourselves.

  62. This is a subject that fascinates me, not least because I witness so many of the (few) dominant promoters in my part of the world doing their chosen job so badly. I’ve attended 150 cap. venue gigs in Cardiff where only 5 people have shown up, when on previous nights around the country these bands had sold out 500+ cap. venues. If the public don’t know a band is coming to town then it’s no use anyone whining about whose fault it is no fucker showed up at the gig.

    Matthew’s post + his conversation with Nobody above would make a superb symposium on the issue. A talking point over a beer with those with vested interests, at least. It certainly makes more sense & presents either case with more insight & understanding than the recent worthless waste of public time & money we got down here.

    A few months back the Institute of Welsh Affairs carried out a Welsh Assembly Government commissioned ‘independent’ investigation into the live scene in Wales/Cardiff, specifically looking at why attendance had fallen/remained embarrassingly low & what the possible solutions were.

    Long story short: IWA teamed up with the Welsh Music Foundation (an infomation shuffling quango), who conducted an internet survey of opinions on the live scene in Wales. Even though it was a free-for-all public poll they pretty much targetted all the WMF-friendly promoters/venues/gig-goers/local bands etc. & so moreorless knew the colour of the response before they totted up scores. No one was going to diss the scene too much. Why? The WMF just so happen to have on their board one of the co-founders of the dominant promotion company in Cardiff (& one of the biggest problems facing touring bands when considering whether to add this city to a tour schedule). Other members of the board include people who also have previously or currently work for the promoter.

    The man in charge of the study & writing a report on his findings was an “I used to be in a band” professor of music entrepreneurialism (How To Make Money From Music-related Stuff, BA Hons. Or something). Co-incidentally he’d secured funding for a new academic foundation course in that exact field, & therefore needed people to fill it. What better way to advertise this course than stick it on a public consultation exercise & call it research? But that’s another story.

    Unfortunately, he fundamentally did not understand the contemporary ‘indie’/DIY/medium-sized promoter game. He certainly didn’t have a clue as to contemporary music/bands/fan expectations/venue expectations etc. He was basing his conclusions on carefully selected examples of extraordinarily obvious & pointless ‘tricks of the trade’, presented by local labels & venues (all of whom have vested interests in keeping the dominant promoter happy).

    One of the mould-breaking examples of ‘thinking outside the marketing box’ was a local band who had simply “reinvented” the band fanzine by making it available in a digital format as well as printed. This, apparently, was “exciting” & “they way forward”.

    The poor, toothless schmuck presented his report, in the naive style of ‘Rock Dad, to a group of invited interested parties, which was the largest attendance for an IWA public meeting they’d ever had. Unfortunately it was also the most depressing thing I’ve ever encountered regarding the promoting game.

    The report missed or failed to adequately address many relevant points, including the obvious subject matter of the potential of local media – print/net/radio/etc. – in spreading the word. Someone eventually brought it to his attention, pointing out it was a pretty big deal in terms of marketing your events for free (interviews/gig listings/puff pieces/etc.). In return he blushed & said “Oops, missed that out entirely. Nevermind. Maybe for the follow-up report…”

    All those factors combined meant the (bad) promoters got off scot free, were patted on the back for their humbling/selfless efforts, & the bands, punters & venues were chastised for not doing enough or expecting too much. Then everyone blamed London.

  63. avatar

    Kudos to any promoter in this city, I say. Edinburgh has always seemed like a tough place to promote gigs, despite its reputation as an international arts destination. A sizeable majority of the population spend all of their ‘culture points’ watching stand up comedy in August, the students don’t seem to give a crap about music, the hispter scene is negligible and the core of Edinburgh gig-goers are all in somebody else’s band. I kid.

    On the promotion responsibility, it seems logical that the promoter’s responsibility is to get folk into the gig he/she is promoting, but ultimately that’s where their obligation to the band ends. The band owe it to themselves to be constantly trying to raise awareness, otherwise they might as well just stick to rehearsing. A gig is another opportunity to engage people with your music – surely you want as many folk as possible in there with your band’s name in their head?

  64. avatar

    I’m neither a musician nor a promoter, but I enjoyed reading this.

    It does seem as though almost all of the possible gripes are down to expectation mismatch. Which is surely avoidable if people just have a nice open chat beforehand. Although I appreciate that it makes it easier for promoters to have a ‘system’ that they stick to, it does kind of seem as though there a one size fits all approach isn’t gonna please most people.

    If a band wants the tesco value gig package with no rider, crash on someone’s floor, and they are prepared to do half the work promoting themselves then obviously they should expect to get paid more than someone who just wants to turn up, play, and be plied with free booze. I can understand that some artistes might not like doing the legwork themselves. That’s fine, but it does need doing, and so you are going to have to pay someone to do it i.e. accept less cash.

  65. avatar

    I don’t think anybody has stated that a promoter is obliged to provide a rider of any sort, per se. I just feel it’s something a promoter should include. Why not make the bands you are booking and promoting feel as comfortable and happy as possible?

    There seems to be this attitude whereby bands should be seriously thankful for ANY opportunity they are given to play a gig, and that payment and a rider are merely bonuses. As a promoter, I would never expect a band to play for free or without any beverages. But then, as a promoter, I was the one approaching the bands to play; not the other way around. I wanted to put them on; I wanted to get a big audience in for them; I wanted to see them play; and I wanted to ensure they were suitably watered, fed, and accommodated. I guess this can differ if a band are approaching a promoter for a show – I rarely put on bands that actually approached me, because usually they were a bit shit and I didn’t like their music (though not always). So I was usually approaching the bands and inviting them to play, which is where a key difference is with people debating that no rider or payment is necessary. If I am inviting them to play, then as Offramp alluded to, it’s akin to inviting people to my home to socialise – and in this situation I would offer them beverages, food, and try to ensure they were as comfortable and happy as possible.

    There also seems to be this myth that if musicians ask for a fee/rider that there’s no fucking way they could be doing what they are doing for the love of it, and it then becomes about money. Nonsense. I don’t believe many musicians at the sort of levels we’re addressing here are doing what they do for money at all. Even a band with, say, 4 members, touring for, say, two weeks around the UK with a £200 gaurantee every night, are likely to be losing a substantial chunk of their own individual cash to ensure the tour works without a hitch. Sure, there are ways to make it work out, but it often depends on the band members’ own individual circumstances.

    If promoters adopt the attitude where they are doing a band or a friend’s band a favour by putting them on, then the whole system becomes a bit fucked. Like I have stated, promoters REALLY have to want to do what they do, and do it for the right reasons.

    Interesting discussion, this. It’s always fascinating to hear how others view the situation.

  66. avatar

    Here’s a contentious point.

    Bands and promoters are effectively free labour for pubs with PA’s, bringing in loads of drink consuming paying customers. So the licensee/s, bar staff, brewers etc all get paid whilst those at the bottom of the feeding chain routinely get zero or peanuts: bands + their managers, promoters, live sound engineers…

    Its a simple matter of supply and demand … in Scotland alone maybe thousands of aspiring acts and who knows how many promoters. In many businesses labour organises itself to negotiate better terms, but in music it appears we have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo which is anything but fair. Perhaps we should be lobbying the Scottish Government to have musicians playing at venues recognised as employees of some form, and guaranteed the minimum wage from load in to load out – and paid by the venue… and the same for promoters.

    It might bring about a big shake up in the grassroots live scene, and quite possibly even the number of licensed premises, but perhaps in the medium term what we would gain is a sustainable live scene where ALL involved are fairly rewarded for their efforts. It could become more difficult for new bands to get onto the live circuit, but it might be argued that when they do they will be in a better position to take advantage. Those venues that support live music will acquire a role of stakeholders, rather than what we have at the moment, which is more in the character of parasitic – relying on acts to bring in the consumers of their primary product: drink.

  67. avatar

    The main problem is that the music industry is really bad at understanding and accepting supply and demand. I’m pretty sure in other industries if everyone’s making a loss, production stops. Sure, a start-up might need a bit of help and there might be a bit of investment and loss-making before things pick up, but in music, people spend far too long thinking that things will pick up for them, that there’s room in the market for their product, and that somehow they’re being hard done by that nobody wants to go to their gigs. The reality is that if 95% of bands and promoters just packed it in and got proper jobs, the other 5% might almost be able to make a living off it. Hypothetically, if there was ONE gig, ONCE a week, with three unsigned-but-really-good bands, tons of people would pay £7 each to see it.
    It’s not just bands and promoters. There’s millions of people out there either trying to have a career in the music industry, or really efficient hobbyists who just make it harder for everyone else. Pretty much everyone who thinks they are part of the ‘scene’ is actually causing its collapse. So let’s have less crummy bands playing less crummy gigs and less crummy bloggers and scenesters and ‘taste-makers’ perpetuating the myth that they’re any good. I know I’m a hippy idealist, but just think, if everybody *only* supported bands they genuinely believe in, and if people learned to see paying for shows/CDs/etc as a very important way of supporting these bands, the majority of the Scottish ‘scene’ would disappear, and what was left could actually do all right for itself…

  68. avatar

    Hypothetically speaking, Molly, of course.

    Sadly, you used the word “industry” to underpin the entire music “scene”, which I feel is a bit misguided. Lower level music (which I think we can all agree is what we’re addressing here – and by that I mean bands and artists who do not earn any sort of sustainable income through music, which I would argue is almost every single band in Edinburgh at the current time) should not be viewed as an industry. It’s a community. And it’s absolutely not exclusive, and it exists because people really want it to. Musicians really want to play music, and the GOOD promoters really want to put on concerts, and there is a huge potential audience out there for it.

  69. avatar

    @ Molly

    Good points. Have you read Mapping The Music Industry In Scotland? Its a bit dated at 2003, but a lot of the points almost certainly hold true in 2011. It found only 189 musicians earning £2500 or more from “creating, composing, performing” original music… thats 1 in 10,000 of the 16 – 44 population of Scotland. Other reports like “Banking On A Hit” show the same picture … modest number of successes, and huge number of strugglers, almost all self funded because venture capital and lenders know the chances of making a profit are miniscule.

    The problem is that there is an industry which thrives on selling the dream, and is very adept at marketing it as something achievable by anybody … hundreds of £millions on instruments and equipment in the UK, and who knows what on related music services (everything from Tunecore to PR to CD replication to demos and DIY albums/singles)… I had a chat with a once prominent member of the music community in Scotland earlier this year, and was surprised to find he’d got out of the biz. In his words “no barrier to entry”. I think there is definitely an argument for trying to make it a lot harder, e.g as suggested above – venues have to treat performers as employees and pay at least minimum wage.

  70. avatar

    @ Nobody

    The thing is, there is an industry which thrives on marketing and promoting its products and services to the music community, with absolutely no regard as to the consequence… 5,000,000 users on Soundcloud gives an idea of the sheer scale of the unsigned / diy scene and rams home the point that with supply so massively outstripping demand, it makes it all the more difficult for genuinely committed and talented acts to break through the “noise”. Google “Tommy Silverman Wired” for a really interesting article with a lot of hair raising stats… or check out Wyndham Wallace or Barry Roberts for some good perspectives at The Quietus.

  71. avatar

    @Cynically (“Bands and promoters are effectively free labour for pubs with PAs”)

    Why not put on a BYOB gig in a church hall? Bands and promoters aren’t as in hock to the pubs as you suggest – the relationship is more symbiotic than parasitic, I’d say.

    If there is only enough money in the game to pay one of the two a decent amount, it is only gonna go one way: while lots of people are prepared to lose money (or at least,not make any) playing their music you will struggle to find barstaff who would work for free, out of the love of good hospitality.

    @Molly (“The reality is that if 95% of bands and promoters just packed it in and got proper jobs, the other 5% might almost be able to make a living off it.” )

    Would it really be a better world if we had 100 full-time musicians rather than 1000 part-time ones? I doubt it. Of course we can talk about how to make it pay a little bit better for those who give so much time and effort to creating/publishing/distributing art. But to suggest that anyone who isn’t quite able to make a full-time job of it should just give up seems a bit wrong-headed to me.

  72. avatar

    More broadly: I think people have been fooled by the last five decades of rock and roll into thinking that being an artist is something like a job, to be done full-time, ideally employed by a big corporation who will cover your exes. This is only the case for a minority, and probably can only ever be the case for a minority. Artists have always had to earn a crust by teaching, or playing in a bad covers band, or doing portraits of rich people, or pulling pints three nights a week.

  73. avatar

    @ Big Fez

    BYOB at local halls etc is a perfectly good route for new bands … but once you get into venues who are making shedloads from acts bringing in punters who consume loads of beer, shouldn’t fairness be the aim? Share some of the proceeds with those that do the entertaining, and those who support them.

  74. avatar

    @Nobody – it’s a ‘huge potential audience’ that doesn’t bite. if gigs are struggling to break even, then the audience isn’t big enough. music folk need to watch the apprentice. at least give themselves a tiny bit of business savvy. if it’s a ‘community’, that’s fine – but let’s stop even talking about the fact that everyone’s making a loss, then. people pay a ton to join a golf club, so maybe the ‘scene’ is just like that.

    @cynically – that sounds like something I should read.

    @big fez – I’m just trying to say that if the good bands get money and the rubbish bands don’t, then we can keep the good bands and all stop wasting our time on the rubbish ones. sure, creativity/taste will always mean there’s some disagreement on what’s good, but if we support less bands and they’re the best ones, then yeah, 100 great full-time bands, with the time and money to become even better is WAY better than 1000 part-time average bands.
    i think the scene is reluctant to admit that people will pay £50 to see band x at the secc because they know they’re going to get a good show, and that even at a tenth of the price, a local show can be more of a gamble. i’m pretty involved in the scene, so i know how many bands i think are worth seeing and how many are just competent but good mates with the right people, and i found myself awkwardly avoiding king tuts summer nights because i knew there’d be at least one band every night who i’d have to make an effort to be on time for and pay attention to that i actually don’t rate at all. empty local gigs can be really awkward for everyone involved, including punters. bad bands and bad promoters make it very difficult for joe average to work out what’s worth seeing – so they stay at home and save up to see the killers instead. so yeah, i really do think the 900 average bands should take the hint and pack it in. hypothetically.
    I agree fully with your point that people need to stop thinking they’re going to live the rock’n’roll dream.

  75. avatar

    Molly – I have never once bemoaned the loss of money in this thread. I just thought I’d point that out. And the potential gig-going audience in Edinburgh IS huge; I just genuinely feel promoters round here need to do more to entice the potential attendees. I’ve been massively positive here, trying to identify the flaws that are evident, and offer ways to encourage the development not only of this discussion but also the promoting game in general. And express how I approached it, and how I feel these things ought to be approached.

    The people are unquestionably out there (as are the bands, frankly); the promoters just need to find new ways of enticing them. They will bite if you present them with food for thought.

    And business savy? On The fucking Apprentice? You’re being utterly ironical and sarcastic, right? I watched the entirety of the last series, and the people were absolute fucking tubes; with high hopes; high egos; average IQs; and very little business prowess, going by the evidence. The Apprentice isn’t a show which nurtures talented business-minded people; it’s a quasi-reality show looking to cash in on clashes in personalities between tedious and single-minded ego maniacs, who will stop at almost nothing to undermine each other.

    Oh wait, I guess that is just business anyway…

  76. avatar

    @Nobody Yes, I know you’ve not bemoaned the loss of money. But it’s the basic root of the problem the original article addresses. If there was enough money to go around, it’s likely most of the other problems would work themselves out.

    I think you could be right that there’s a big potential audience, but as I expressed in my latest comments @big fez, I don’t think they’re going to come in their droves unless they feel they are assured quality, which is something not a lot of promoters/line-ups can provide. Getting a reputation within the ‘scene’ can be hard enough, with so many people fighting for it – but it’s the people who aren’t in the ‘scene’ that you need to get through the door to make profitable shows, mostly…

    Sorry, I’m always at least semi-ironic/sarcastic. That’s going to be hard to spot in this kind of forum. But I do feel like some bands/promoters need Alan Sugar shaking a finger at them and saying ‘What, did you think people would just come and give you money? Where’s your business plan? Did anyone think about how much that would cost?’ Do you know what I mean?

  77. avatar

    Lots of things I really agree with here, and a few I don’t.

    Molly is absolutely one hundred percent one the money to point out that that we should be a little more aware of the business side of it, and just accept that everyone at ‘our’ level is going to get screwed, because there are a million people all giving it their own little go, and nothing like enough money/audience to go around.

    However, Nobody is entirely right to say that there are large parts of the Edinburgh audience who do seem to be neglected. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to get through to them, and they may not care at all if I try, but that doesn’t negate the point.

    As to the few good bands/many bad bands debate, it’s not just about quality. The audiences for the £50 SECC bands are swelled not just by quality, but by the kind of financial backing which can force a level of social ubiquity above and beyond any requirement for the band to be any good. There are large social and economic factors once bands reach a certain level of fame, which transcend their actual ability. Hard Fi, anyone?

    The other problem is not that we wouldn’t be better off with fewer bands/writers/promoters out there, giving more support to the good ones, more than no-one would ever be able to agree who the good ones were.

    We had that scenario when the major labels/national glossies/commercial radio model had the route to market completely sewn up – supply was artificially restricted, and therefore money could be made. I don’t want to go back to those days, thanks.

    Cynically – there are a good few places in London I know who work like that. They give the promoter a budget to get bands in, so people will buy beer. And when I put on a gig at Mono they did a similar thing – the bar was busy and they did well selling beer, so they covered the cost of the PA and the soundguy and didn’t charge us to use the venue.

    If I can prove to Henry’s and the Wee Red that I am regularly able to bring punters into their bar I am sure they will reduce fees accordingly. How much by, I don’t know, but I am sure they’ll be as helpful as they can be.

    The biggest difficulty with music at this level is at the heart of much of the discussion above, I think. We are kind of operating at the cusp of where the hundreds of hobbyists thin out into the handful of professionals, and around that watershed there is probably bound to be more existential panic and navel-gazing than at almost any other stage.

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  79. avatar

    In reply to “If I can prove to Henry’s and the Wee Red that I am regularly able to bring punters into their bar I am sure they will reduce fees accordingly.”

    If you’re putting on a free gig the Wee Red don’t actually charge you to hire it out. This is worthy of recognition.

  80. avatar

    I hate to get political. But.

    @Matthew (“We had that scenario when the major labels/national glossies/commercial radio model had the route to market completely sewn up – supply was artificially restricted, and therefore money could be made. I don’t want to go back to those days, thanks.”)

    Quite right too. High barriers to entry are, or should be, anathema to any kind of artistic ‘industry’. But unfortunately they are a crucial component in making money, as I was just reading here:

    So the ‘making more money vs making more art’ dilemma isn’t some flaw in the local music scene, so much as a feature of capitalism. That’s not to say things can’t be arranged slightly differently, run slightly better etc etc.. But as long as there is a never-ending supply of people willing to provide a service voluntarily (even if it is not *quite* such a good service) then people will struggle to leverage much money out of it. CF poetry, landscape painting, most journalism….

    NB I quite like capitalism, for all its flaws. I am not trying to recruit you.

  81. avatar

    “So the ‘making more money vs making more art’ dilemma isn’t some flaw in the local music scene, so much as a feature of capitalism.”

    I know it’s an inherent part of the system, I am just saying that now things are looser I think they are better. The fact that the gravy train has been upset is why we all have the opportunity to take part.

    The money is spread thinner than ever, which is probably why debates like this even exist, but I think it’s vastly preferable to the days when a relatively small group of people had the clout to give or deny permission to even take part in the first place.

  82. avatar

    Whoops, we were agreeing, weren’t we.

  83. avatar

    Don’t worry, it can happen to anyone.

  84. avatar

    What – accidentally agreeing with you? Or failing to read things properly on the internet.

    Both, really.

  85. avatar

    And here I was thinking that gigging is where a band made the money these days. Really good post, very interesting to a complete “industry” outsider like myself to see roughly how things work.

  86. avatar

    Touring might make you money, but only when you’re a fuck of a lot farther up the ladder than anyone you or I ever listen to.

  87. avatar
    Tim London

    Why can’t you get the students to your Edinburgh gigs? Well, it can’t be Kassidy at Potterow for ten quid… perhaps it’s the same principle that gets P in the Park sold out every year: it’s less about the music and more about the communal happening.

    So perhaps it’s HUGS you need to provide, not a great bill with a free poster. Young people love hugs.

    Or team up with the Alpha Course.

  88. avatar

    You’re right Tim. It’s clearly because they’re cunts.

  89. avatar

    Yep, that pretty much sums it up.
    You can save money by shopping around the venues and getting a better deal on hire, or a residency. If you can do the sound yourself you can save a bit, but I would always pay for a professional sound man if I can afford it.
    I always treat bands right. That was the reason I started promoting gigs. I was annoyed at bands playing for no fee and often being treated like a portable jukebox. Cooking their food and making sure they have some good booze costs a lot, and the time I put in is rarely accounted for, but the reward of a great gig usually makes up for it.
    For most gigs I lose money, but I have a day job that lets me indulge in what I can only describe as a perfect hobby. God only knows how the professionals make a living from promotion, but they’re usually the ones that treat the bands badly.
    Having said that, after about 18 months of promoting in Brighton I’ve come out roughly even.
    Basically it’s a labour of love, and often thankless, but money isn’t everything. The memories are priceless.

  90. avatar

    […] One more recent blog post that hit the nail on the head was Song, By Toad’s look at why Promoters and Bands often don’t get on. […]

  91. avatar

    Brilliant post and brilliant comments!

    I’m originally from Edinburgh, now living in Liverpool, having done gigs in both London and Liverpool a lot of chords are being struck!

    I’ve always put on gigs because I enjoy it – including the invevitable rollercoaster of highs and lows. When people tell you it’s the best night they’ve had out in ages you know you are doing something right 🙂

    I did a benefit gig last week – excellent cause, 10 really good bands, promo via facebook, local radio etc, 35 people show up 🙁

    I think the main problem is that in this brand concious / celebrity obsessed age we live in, most people don’t take grassroots gigs seriously.

    A local folk musician summed it up – she gets played on small radio stations around the world, but whilst her work colleagues were desperately trying to get through on the phone to pay £35 a ticket to see Pink play the local arena, when she offered free tickets to her album launch party, she got responses like “oh well, erm I might think about it if they sell real ale”.

    I decided to start a campaign and got as far as putting the website up so far (scroll down below the gig details).

    Basically I’d like bands, promoters, fans etc to work together to raise the image of local live music, put pressure on local radio stations to perhaps give 1 of their high rotation slots over to 1 local band per week, that kind of thing.

    Of course I’m not naive enough to think that any of this is going to be easy, or even likely, but I do think that if enough of us were singing from the same hymn sheet things could be improved…

  92. avatar

    Great read! Now, as a band, my question is where do we find the good promoters like yourself?

  93. avatar

    I’m just a guy in a band…a band that plays originals, but only plays locally, and we have wives, kids, and day jobs.

    So a band like mine becomes very diy as far as management goes. We have friends who are in other bands, friends who are sound engineers, own venues, do screen printing, etc. We can simply call a friend and ask for this or that. We promote and network via Facebook. I regularly contact my favorite bands and give them my info for future reference. I become their contact for my city when they plan tours. I find the venue, make the flyers, submit to concert calenders, etc. I also usually collect the money and pay the touring band. It turns out well for them and things are run smoothly since I have some control over everything. I am highly motivated to make it a good event since my band and my personal reputation are involved. Occasionally, venue booking people or bands will ask if I’m a promoter. I’m not trying to be, I’m just doing what it takes to make things happen in my little city. And I enjoy being a part of it.

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