There are people in this industry, they don’t need to be called out by name, who ask for far too much in the name of ‘helping out the bands’. These are the agents or bands who try to ask for $1000 for a show that can’t possibly have more than 25 people through the door, the people who try to price t shirts at $30 because “Iron Maiden” do it and the people who refuse to play when no one shows up because “Why even bother at this point?” And I get it. I really do. You want the best for your band so you ask for more than you are worth because you want to keep growing and for a lot of bands to do this they need money. They have a shorter time horizon and don’t incorporate all of the factors that come into play and end up shooting themselves in the collective foot, and that just sucks. So how DO you deal with that sort of madness? I wanted to pick apart why asking for too much can be a bad idea and how to develop more actionable ways forward.
First and foremost I think it’s important to look at why bands think that they can get away with asking for too much. Most of the time they claim that they are doing it for the scene and that they only want serious people to be working with them. They would rather play one gig for 500 bucks than 10 for $50 because they would rather have that sense of exclusivity – or at least that’s what they tell themselves, and that logic definitely has its appeal. Beyond that I think is the idea that by showing up with a rider and a demand for cash beyond what they could feasibly earn they think that the promoter or label or whoever will try and meet them halfway. This attitude is especially prevalent among shitty booking agents with large rosters, they have enough of a monopoly that they can squeeze you out. They force you to take shows on that you know you will lose money on because they also represent big money interests. It’s a shitty way to be, but they justify it as trying to make a buck.
So now let’s look at what’s wrong with that attitude. First and foremost you shouldn’t actively be trying to make someone losing money with the hope that this will push them to be better ever. If you compromise your ethics then you’re hurting yourself more than you’re helping because when it comes down to it, people fucking remember. People remember if you went out of your way to screw them or acted entitled and that only hurts you. The odds are that the promoter doesn’t need your help or your band to play their show, especially if you’re going to have a shitty attitude. By the same token labels don’t need to sign you if you’re asking for too much. In almost every case there are dozens of bands trying to access the same opportunities as you in this industry and if you make it hard for the powers that be to want to work with you then they are just going to keep on going down the line and work with a band who don’t give them a hard time and who are grateful for the unique opportunities that they are able to provide.
By the same token don’t ask for too little. This is a tricky one too because it’s so easy to push a little too hard and come off as a dick. A good general rule of thumb on a tour is to ask for about $10 per head that you realistically will draw. For a local show, that money should be going to the touring bands – that’s a totally different ballgame. By the same token if you’re hoping for money from a record label, first of all realize that’s not how it works anymore, then also realize that even arguing over percentages and stuff just makes you look like an asshole. With those situations you should argue over minor side things in order to make off with the most money possible. The point I’m trying to make is know your value, and be sure to ask for that value. A good way to make sure you get that value given to you is to set stuff up well in advance. For example – if you’re putting together a show at the last minute it doesn’t matter if you easily draw 100 people in a given market, you are losing money because of the inconvenience. The longer your time frame the easier it will be.
I’ve written about this before, but one of the trickiest things in the music industry is figuring out the power balance. You want to be able to push people to go above and beyond for you but you also don’t want to accidentally alienate them. This is part of why it’s good to have some form of representation – these people usually know about negotiating and can make some cool stuff happen for you just by virtue of that. I think that it’s also important to realize that you need to have a certain amount of charisma too. Your bandmate with the weird sense of humor, for example, probably shouldn’t be the one trying to settle up with a stressed out promoter at the end of the night. Instead realize that most people doing this are trying to help out the entire community and the more you try to act self serving the more you will alienate them.
This isn’t an easy article to write and it’s one that has advice that’s even harder to properly realize out there in the wild world. You just need to respect the opportunities you have and then collaborate as much as possible in order to create a better and brighter future for not just yourself but all of your peers. A lot of the time the hardest part of working with a band is figuring out there value, because they simply don’t know it and I need to spend time to figure out what exactly they should be getting. It’s a struggle that goes from top to bottom and one we all will wrestle with every day. Just do your best to ballpark it and don’t dick people over – ya feel?