Live Performance And Marketing Music

Live Performance Business Considerations

Live performance is arguably the most important aspect of a music artist's career. Because it is potentially a very glamorous and exciting experience, it is not uncommon for performers to forget that for the clubs and other live venues who book and showcase live music, it is a business, a very serious business, fraught with risk and considerable competition.

The following information on live performance should be studied carefully by every artist before they begin dealing with the club bookers, managers, promoters, and assorted other characters who make up the live performance industry.

  • A good question to keep in mind whenever approaching a booker of a live venue is, "Why do clubs book certain artists, and not others?" In other words, are there certain things that clubs look for in the acts they book, and if so, what is the criteria to get a gig at a live venue? For starters, let it be known that the bottom line for a club owner is that they need to make a living at their profession, and the only way they can do that is to book acts that fill the club. So any artist wishing to get booked should do an inventory of their talents and accomplishments and make a list of impressive data to present to the bookers.
  • The Promotional Kit is the tool that contains the data on an act that a booker of live shows needs to see. The Promo Kit contains a cover letter, a Bio, a Photo, a selection of press clips, possibly a 'Fact Sheet', and of course a tape or CD of their artist's music.
  • A word about demo tapes and CDs. When sending a tape, always be sure to put contact information on the tape label, and the J-Card (as well as every other part of the Promo Kit). Only 3 or 4 of the best songs should be on the tape. Unlike tapes sent to radio station specialty shows, the demo tape for a club can be a live recording, as opposed to a studio produced tape. If a CD is sent, mark 3 or 4 songs that best relate to the music the venue presents.
  • What kind of live venues are there? Many. Besides clubs, there are taverns, bars. coffee houses, festivals, fairs, concert halls, schools, churches, and even book and record stores, as well as shopping malls. Keep in mind that when dealing with venues other than traditional club type gigs, there are still many business considerations to take into account, that may affect whether or not an artist is qualified to perform at the venue.
  • Artists who are just beginning to perform live have a tough time getting those first shows. A certain 'Catch 22' type situation does exist. You can't get a gig unless you have gotten other gigs, and you can't get other gigs until you get that first gig. So be it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and many artists frustrated by this situation have simply rented a space, gotten a permit, and rented a sound system... and put on their own show (at least then, they can say they have performed live before).
  • It is the job of the live venue bookers to be up on what new acts are up and coming, and causing a stir in their own backyard. It is also their job to listen to the demo tapes included in the Promo Kits that come in the mail by the dozens every week. This brings up the issue of protocol. Yes, there is an etiquette to be followed in all areas of music marketing, and when it comes to dealing with bookers, that protocol calls for mailing the Promo Kit, waiting a week to ten days, and then calling the booker to follow-up on the kit. Believe it or not, politeness, and respect are fairly uncommon virtues in the music business. It is strongly recommended that courtesies be extended when calling a venue. Make sure not to interrupt meetings. Ask the person if now is a good time for them to talk. If they request a call back, do so at the time requested.
  • Artists and bands who think they are ready for prime time may not be. It is a good idea to have at least 3 or 4 hours of prepared material that can be performed live. If an artist has only a half hour or an hour of songs, the clubs will most likely will not be interested in booking the act. Different clubs have different needs, and some offer special nights of the week for open mikes, or showcases for unproved acts. Be sure to check the booking policy of every venue.
  • It is good policy to not be too picky about where to play. As long as the act is out in the scene, and they get their name listed on radio station concert calendars, and print media calendars, the more resistant venues may be more friendly toward the act because the bookers check out their competition. If an artist is out there playing gigs, the bookers will eventually take notice of them. That is part of their job too.
  • Once a venue books an band or artist, they add them to their schedule and include them in their press releases, calendars, posters and flyers. This does not mean that an artist should leave the promotion of the concert to the venues. On the contrary, artists should notify their fans with a mailing notice, print up their own posters and flyers, and promote their shows in any creative way they can think of.

Performance Contracts

  • The music business is very fond of contracts. The record, publishing, merchandising, and management sides of the industry are contract crazy. In the performance arena, there are indeed contracts, but in the beginning they are more of the handshake or verbal variety, then signed contracts. When an act gets more established, they can rest assured that the written contract will be around. This does not mean that a beginning act should not try to get something in writing.
  • The verbal contract between a club and an artist may simply be an agreement that the artist will perform on a certain date, at a certain time, for an agreed upon length of time, with what specific other act, and how much will be paid. Many venues require some kind of written confirmation of a verbal agreement made over the phone. This is to the advantage of the artist anyway, so it is strongly recommended to invite the situation.
  • As an act gets more established, the performer will probably stop booking their own shows, and a manager, and/or booking agent will take over the task. At this time the artist's attorney may write up a Performance Contract with the following points to be negotiated:
    1. The name of the venue hiring the act
    2. The name of the artist
    3. The date, place, and time of the performance
    4. The price of the tickets
    5. The fee paid to the artist
    6. How the artist is to be paid (fee system)
    7. The length of the performance
    8. The type of billing the artist gets for the show on the marquee
    9. The order of appearance (if other artists are on the bill)
    10. Food and other refreshment considerations
  • Without a doubt the single most contested area on the above list is how the artist will be paid. The act may receive a flat fee, a straight percentage of the door or ticket sales, or a flat fee plus a percentage, where the artist receives a guaranteed fee plus a percentage of the door after the venue (or promoter) reaches a break even point. Remember, the venue is concerned with making and not losing money, so the break even point for a show is based on the costs of putting on the performance, which includes promotion costs and any 'guarantees' that may have been made to the artist for their performance.
  • A good habit for young acts to get into is to have a member of the band's team count the ticket stubs collected at the door. This is a fairly common task, that assures the artist of getting a correct count of the number of patrons who came to the show. More established artists who are dealing with Booking Agents, can demand as much as 50% of their performance fee up front, before they perform. Even more established acts can demand their whole fee before they perform.
  • One of the most important financial advantages to playing live is the opportunity for an artist to sell their CDs and tapes at all their shows. Most clubs and venues, outside of big festivals and fairs, allow acts to sell their wares in the lobby, or from the stage. Only a few venues take a percentage of the sales. Whatever the case, it cannot be stressed strongly enough how essential it is for an artist to take advantage of this lucrative sales opportunity. One last thought..don't forget to bring a mailing list sign-up sheet to all gigs.

Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.

Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.

He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".

Christopher Knab