I’m in a weird flux position as I blog today. No, it’s not a yoga thing. I just finished a ten-day tour with the Liverpool, UK band Triphazard as their tour manager, roadie, chef and driver. I’m about to reprise my role as Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues in pedal-to-the-metal mode. I’m between tides. These intense labors of love both thrill and exhaust me. I couldn’t feel luckier than to have had these experiences. Like all passionate loves, they make you feel lucky, invincible and vulnerable at the same time. You discover you’re defenseless against whom or what empowers you.
I wrote a blog in October 2013 titled “Tour Life: Woe or WHOA!” and I reread it before beginning today’s piece. I’m happy to say it stood up to the road test with Triphazard last week. I’m unsure if they had read it but I must state that this trio earned all my respect for work ethic, energy, professionalism and fun-factor. They played five powerful shows and obviously poured their hearts into every beat. They were pure joy to work with, live with and watch perform for ten straight days. They became the benchmark for all future bands taking a lap on the Gigspots circuit. BANDS: please see blog above.
My only regret of the tour is not putting more money in their hands. Two of our shows were “door shows;” the bands earn a percentage of ticket sales. Two of our shows were “guarantees;” the bands get paid a pre-negotiated fee whether the audience is 200 or 20. Ironically, our biggest guarantee show had the smallest audience and our “hot ticket” shows had lukewarm sales at best. My goal for Triphazard and the other bands who joined us on the tour was to put at least $200 in their pockets after each show. For the two ticketed shows, a three-way split of ticket sales equaled $80 per band. That sucks. These were great shows in great rooms; ask anyone who was there. Each band sold some merch and got offers of future gigs, radio play and other potential support after their sets. But they walked out those nights with gas money and a snack at Sheetz covered.
I first heard the phrase “100 more tickets” and learned about the 10% rule at a festival this summer. The promoter told me his goal for ticket sales was 2,000 over two days. Tickets were $60 for a two-day pass, of which he lost $10 to taxes and fees. He had to sell 900 tickets just to cover grounds rental and sound/stage production. Another 150 would have to sell to cover promotion/advertising costs and 150 more to pay for porta-potties and an EMT crew on stand-by (required by law). That means 1,200 tickets at $50 would have just covered his $60,000 expenditure. Did you notice I have yet to mention any compensation for the bands here? Most played it to be there, to be seen, to network and to celebrate the season, the place and the amazing musical family they’ve become. But all expect “…fair compensation from any profits earned.” I promise that every band played their asses off and a great time was had by all.
Ticket sales this year were around 1,100. Even with sponsorship money and a percentage of the food vendors’ take that meant our heroic promoter and over 70 bands earned nothing. As we were starting the immense clean-up efforts Sunday morning and I asked about the turnout numbers, he said, “100 more tickets. If we’d have sold 100 more tickets, everybody could have had a little something and I’d have covered costs. If it was 200 more, or 10% of my target, everybody would have got a fair amount and I’d have seed money for next year.” All I could think was that if every band had sold two more tickets, 140 more, everyone would have gotten paid and next year would start on secure footing. And it was all brought home to me that 90% of ticket sales at concerts and festivals go to cover costs. If that promoter had guaranteed even $100 to those 70 bands, that plus only the costs I named above would have been $67,000 against his gross of $55,000. I guarantee he had tons of other expenses and I have yet to mention any compensation for his time. He spends over four months organizing this event. It’s not a hobby. This guy works like a machine about 350 days a year and it’s clear his bands love him.
What if my tour had sold 100 more tickets: say fifty each for the “door shows?” That’s an extra $350 Friday and $500 Saturday to be split which meant the payouts those nights would have been $196 and $246 respectively per band. Not $80. These were venues that hold 200-300 people quite comfortably.
I apologize if all this talk of numbers and money bored you. But I just watched a band I truly love work their asses off for ten days at great costs to themselves and barely cover living expenses. And when people ask me about Gigspots, their second question is always, “So, how do you make money doing that?” Here’s the short answer: from you. You have to buy a ticket to a show or a t-shirt. You have to buy advertising, management, agent or writing services from me or become a sponsor of my events. I’m in the entertainment business.
Your short answer: “Everybody wants my money. Why should you get it?” Fair enough. Not everyone finds music, art, cuisine and travel entertaining or worth more than the lowest common denominator. There are a lot of comfy couches and big screen televisions and frozen pizzas out there and I enjoy them occasionally myself. It’s the great irony of Gigspots; I use social media to tell you to turn it off and go see a show. Those 900 videos on my YouTube channel aren’t a substitute for a show. They’re meant to show you what you’re missing or to help you recapture that night at the show.
If William Shakespeare couldn’t sell tickets, you might never have heard of him. He might have starved to death or gone off to work in the mills. People still read the plays but not nearly the numbers of people who still buy tickets 400 years later to witness and feel the timelessness of live performance. I’m no Shakespeare. But you never know; the band I’m encouraging you to see might be the next Beatles.
For instance, my monthly showcases at DipCo don’t cover costs until I sell 80 tickets. There are 100+ seats. If you’ve been there on a night where the band and seating are tight, you know what a joyous, transcendent night it can become. Ten percent of breaking even is eight tickets. I have an amazing season planned and you’re invited. Appearing October 11: Lovers League with a guest set by Bjorn Jacobsen!