The points I’m going to make in this article are going to seem super obvious to some of you and make literally no sense to others. That’s because I’m talking about putting others before yourself, and in the music industry of all places. You’re not going to read about this sort of thing going down a lot in music because when there is so little money people feel obligated to fight over scraps. I’m here to tell you you shouldn’t lower yourself to that. Don’t force people to fight over scraps for you and don’t get into a fight over scraps yourself. Moreover – and this is the real crux of this article – be willing to forgo money now in the name of establishing long term relationships. I’m not saying you should be playing for free or anything – but don’t try and squeeze people for money. It’s not going to pay off in the long run, for a few very simple, and hopefully obvious reasons.
What it boils down too is that people don’t like to deal with people who make them lose money – especially in the music industry where money is awlay tight. I know people on all sides of the industry, from venue owners and promoters to booking agents and bands and trust me – on the independent level very few people are making any real money, so even a few hundred dollars can ruin a relationship. Think about it as a long term investment when you take a pay cut on a venue. Sure it’s not great for that particular night but it means that when you come back to that city you will be greeted with open arms by that venue and know that you can continue to do cool stuff with that promoter. If you’re supposed to be making the majority of your money on tour then why would you try and hurt the people who are responsible for a good chunk of your tour income? Sure there will be other promoters, but in the long run that just makes your life harder, having to find new people because you keep screwing folks over, and people will find out about these sorts of things – trust me.
The thing is – these people have the potential to keep paying you for years down the line if you treat them right. And when things aren’t going to great and you desperately need the money then they are going to be a little more willing to have the compassion and help you out. You’re not trying to become the biggest dick swingingest master of the industry here, you’re just trying to be a cool guy trying to help people out and create a better world. If you encourage a culture of abuse and shitty people being shitty to each other then you are a part of the problem and have no right to keep asking for more money. People appreciate people who want to make this last. In an industry that has a tendency to be cannibalistic I am calling you to move above your peers and allow this whole thing to have a real future. If you keep screwing people over with unfair deals and scams then you aren’t going to win yourself a real future in this business.
And let’s be clear. If you ask for significantly more money than you could ever realistically make a promoter in that market it IS a scam. Sure there are exceptions, like jazz clubs with built in markets or special shows that the venue is fully aware won’t make it’s money back via tickets. Some venues are able to really make a ton of money off of drinks at things like that and if they are willing to work with you that’s good. I also understand that agents want to push promoters to do a good job, this totally makes sense. But don’t be willing to scam people for just a few hundred bucks when you have the potential to make literally thousands with those same people by simply maintaining the relationship for a few more years. If you’re not in this for the long run then you might as well not be in it at all because it certainly isn’t in the first few tears where you make money. The first few years are where you make you reputation and you don’t want to be the one known for scamming people.
This is an industry where a lot of scumbags have been able to engage in scummy activities for years with no real consequences. I’ve had to engage in some of them. To some degree that’s just how the industry work and that’s a brutal reality. Still – you need to focus on situations where everyone is a winner, or if they aren’t a winner then at least they can not feel awful about a show you booked with them. Being the guy who tries to make compromises isn’t always easy but it’s the guy you have to be sometimes. I know it’s not easy but you have to be willing to sit down and focus on the greater good. I know that sounds thoughtlessly utilitarian, but in the end you kind of need to make sacrifices on the behalf of some for the greater whole. Of course – a huge part of this is that everyone you work with needs to know that you are about the community and not any single band. The thing is – if someone is trying to take advantage of their community for their band then you can pretty easily see that they are a piece of garbage.
I know this sounds kind of hokey, especially when people around you are trying be cutthroat, but when I look at the people who really last it’s the ones who realize that it’s the long term that matters – not just screwing over some poor sap because it makes their lives easier right now. Sometimes you might accidentally screw someone over -that’s just how life is. People make mistakes and you need to be patient with that, but you also can’t just expect free stuff and good money to fall in your lap all the time. This is not an industry that allows for a lot of time to screw around, so instead appreciate what you earn and revel in the magic of getting to do music.