Don’t leave your music business in the hands of other people
It began, as so many of these things do now, on Facebook.
A well-meaning person posted a question in a musician’s group.
ARE THERE ANY BOOKING AGENTS AROUND TO TRY AND BOOK OUR JAZZ TRIO. THANK YOU [name and email removed]
I’ve already written about a number of problems with this scenario in my The 3 Secret Problems with Jazz post on guitarchitecture.org, but the main problems with this specific scenario are the following:
- These gigs don’t typically pay well.
- These gigs don’t typically draw. If your jazz group brings 100 people to a restaurant on a Tuesday night, you won’t need a booking agent because you’ll have an open invitation.
- No one in a band wants to book these gigs, because booking requires a lot of leg work.
- No one outside of a band wants to do the legwork because there’s no money to be made.
From a music business perspective, it’s a Catch-22. If you have to ask for a booking agent, you probably don’t have enough of a draw to get a good one.
Still, I wanted to be helpful and not draw direct attention to the real issue at play. Here was my (heavily edited) reply.
My best suggestion is to look at it from the booking agent’s perspective. Do you have a big enough draw to make enough money to make it worth the booking agent’s time to call all the places he or she will need to to set up a gig?
If you can show that you have a draw and that there’s money to be made, you’ll probably find that the resources will present themselves to you.
This was met almost immediately with the following response:
Or you can find a club owner that knows how to market his club. You entertain HIS customers.
To be fair – he’s right.
Club owners should promote music acts.
But clubs are notoriously bad at promoting music, jazz clubs are almost non-existant, jazz is usually relegated to lounges, bars or restaurants of some type and music acts are usually the Hail Mary pass of a restaurant.
(i.e. “Geesh, we only had 20 people here tonight. Maybe if we got some live music and did a happy hour type of thing…”)
In other words, it’s usually an afterthought.
When I was in Boston – I remember the exact moment when I saw the death knell for a local live music career there.
It was a Friday night on Landsdowne Street, there were lines outside every door, and every club had a DJ instead of bands.
I thought about it from the venue’s perspective and came up with the following.
- The draw is better with a DJ than it is on most band nights.
- Dealing with a DJ means dealing with (and paying) one person instead of dealing with 3 bands and 12-15 people.
There wasn’t much incentive for them to book local live music. As a live musician, that’s a substantial problem.
Looking at it from the other side of the equation, we come back to the topic question:
Do you want to be right or do you want to be paid?
If you go to a venue and rely on their promotion alone, you are playing dice with the house and in the end the house always wins. Sure, you get to say that you’re playing a gig but playing to an empty room can not only be a huge kick in the teeth, but it also won’t convert many in the audience to coming to see you again.
Being right and not getting paid means that regardless of whatever’s happening that you’re wrong. Sometimes you have to move past who is right and who is wrong and get to the central idea of we – as in coming up with an answer to how do we both get what we need out of this?
If you like this post, you can find The 3 Secret Problems of Jazz (and a number of other music business posts) in my kindle e-book, Selling It Versus Selling Out.
You may want to also check out my Indie Musician Wake up Call e-book as well!
As always, thanks for reading!