The opportunity costs of creating your own venue

Creating your own venue offers lots of opportunities, not the least of which is Control. Are you a control freak? All the better. You will probably have control over lots of things:

Show Details – you determine what bands are going to play, who goes on when, for how long, etc.

The Door – you decide what (if any) cover will be charged, who collects the cover, and how the bread is split. But don’t forget about carding and security issues. More on this in a minute…

Promotion efforts – it’s all in your court. Are you going to post flyers? Run an ad in Westword? If the venue location is a place that doesn’t normally generate a crowd, you’d be better be highly proactive with the promo efforts.

Butts in seats and risk
It’s no great secret: if you can guarantee paid attendance, you will be master of your domain. You have the potential for unlimited income and good times. It’s the “if” part that trips most people up. You see, booking is an easy task – promotion, not so much. And there are other reasons to be wary when in DIY mode, such as basic liability.

Has everyone signed a liability waiver?
Has everyone signed a liability waiver?
Wherever you set up shop may or may not carry liability insurance. Moreover, specific event liability may be necessary depending upon the circumstances. Now you may be saying to yourself “so what?” at this point. “It’s not that big of a risk to basically throw a party with live music!” But consider these scenarios:

*The crowd rushes the stage and a PA speaker tumbles on top of a fan.
*A fire (a la White Snake) breaks out when the opening act, unbeknownst to all, steps up their show with pyro-techniques.
*A Cirque de Soleil moment occurs (i.e. death or injury from inexperienced players).
*Alcohol and automobiles are mixed. Remember that parking and traffic are an integral part of most events.
*Underage drinking – this one can happen anywhere. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is not a light charge so make sure you don’t have a lax door guy.

Three great ways to minimize risk:
1) Buy event insurance. It can be a one-time purchase, or even an annual fee to cover future events (cheaper in the long run).
2) Have all participants sign a waiver upon entry into the venue location.
3) Don’t invite Hell’s Angels to the show.

Does the idea of buying insurance put you off? Welcome to the world of business. So often, musicians want to fly by the seat of their pants and just take a chance, skip a few steps, save some coin. But it only takes one unforeseen mishap to ruin a whole music career.

Creating a music venue

The best way to understand a venue (or booking agent’s) perspective is to attempt the project yourself. Then you will fully appreciate the opportunity and opportunity costs involved. Suddenly dollars and sense will all come together.

Theoretically, you can create a venue anywhere, right? Bars, restaurants, hotels, community centers or libraries, house parties, in the great outdoors…or even at existing venues. The bottom line – more venues means a better ratio of bands to venues. Here are a few immediate issues to think about:

Where the people are
One of the aims for most musicians is to get in front of a large audience – the bigger the better, of course. Keep that in mind while seeking a suitable place. Any built-in traffic is a major blessing.

An extra warning: think twice before renting out an “events center” or any place that wants to charge you for the privilege of occupying their space. You’ll be in an uphill battle from the start – making up the rent, getting people in the door, possibly providing drinks and/or food at a place that also wants to charge you for security staff. The parking attendant might even make more than your band. And…on top of everything else you may have to drag a PA (and sound tech) into the joint.

Restaurants can sometimes make for good venues, but note that the business of happy diners is more important to the owners than having live music. Very often, you’ll be better suited as background music at many of these establishments…so make sure you’re getting paid!

If you’re hosting a birthday party, a reunion, or other soirée where you know you can get the people in the door, finding the right venue should be that much easier to accomplish. Perhaps you even take over a regular venue, but during an off hour/day/evening, which helps the venue become fully utilized.

This Century Band rocks the house.  Perhaps a little light show or fog to perk things up?
This Century Band rocks the house. Perhaps a little light show or fog to perk things up?
House Parties
House parties are one of the easiest ways to create a venue. You’ll have plenty of control when it’s your own place. You also have the opportunity to personalize the event out the wazoo, from decor to whatever smells are going to permeate the room. Pot lucks are a great way to include the audience.

House parties have also become more common for touring acts, if you’re into hosting those. Any stop where the band can get a comfortable place to crash plus some breakfast the next morning is always welcome. But keep in mind that liability still comes into play (even more so) when it’s your own home.

What could go wrong? Let’s see…

Seven solid ways to book your band

A lot of bands bitch about the booking process…

AngryJBlack“The owner never calls me back!”

“They want the band to prove itself on Tuesday, to get to Wednesday, then Thursday…!”

“They won’t commit to a date!”

“They still haven’t listened to our demo!”

“He said ‘call back tomorrow!’”

Do any of these sound familiar? You may get angry and want to point a finger at the venue, but most of these comments above are just symptoms of a break-down in your own booking process. In other words “you’re doing it wrong.” In re-thinking your strategy, here are seven simple ways to get booked sooner:

1) Have quality music, and have it readily available for them to sample. While the CD is on its last leg, this is still an acceptable way to be heard for review. Online samples can work just as well, and if you incorporate them with clever video (DVD) you make the package that much more appealing.

2) “Them” are the Decision Makers. They are not always the owners. Find out the proper booking contacts and the proper channels for reaching them. Some will want an email, a text, a BJ (yes, joking here), but you will have more success when you approach them the way they want to be approached.

3) Don’t forget about Decision-Influencers. These are the rest of the staff: sound techs, door guys, wait staff, perhaps even the booking agent’s friends and family, and some of the “regulars.” They all could carry clout – don’t spurn anyone!

4) The best way to converse with a booking agent is in person. Go to their shows. Buy food and drink to support the venue. Don’t get drunk. Don’t grab someone inappropriately or start a fight. Do compliment the venue but don’t kiss up. Do mention that you’re in a band (that would like to play there).

5) Don’t over promise and under delivery. Be realistic about your band’s draw, your promotion efforts, your stage experience, etc.

6) Network with other bands. Sometimes you don’t even need to speak with the booking agent to get a gig. Find some partner bands that you could work well with and support each other. Find bands that are better than yours and ride their coattails. Offer to do the dirty jobs, like promotion, and then be true to your word.

7) Create a venue. Then you become the booking agent. What do you need? A room (with good acoustics). A PA (and capable sound tech). And a little entrepreneurship. We’ll talk about that next…

Chris Daniels inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame

Tomorrow, Chris Daniels will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, and for some very good reasons. He’s a perfect case study for what it takes to develop that “long arc” career in music…

Chris' early days with Magic Music
Chris’ early days with Magic Music
A songwriter nearly 40 years in the making, Chris started his career at 17, back in ’71. He moved west for college and fun with a band called Magic Music in the mid ‘70s and eventually (10 years later, circa 1984) formed Chris Daniels and the Kings, the vehicle that would spur him on for the next 28 years.

He has played with a ton of great talent, all around the globe (toured Europe 16 times), canning multiple albums, featured on commercials, and then on to assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver at the College of Arts and Media. Whoa! You can bet there have been many moments of doubt and euphoria along the way, including some very public health and legal battles, but Chris keeps moving with his mantra “forward!”

Not wanting to complicate his celebrity moment, I recently asked him three quick questions…

Q: What do you think was your biggest success over the years, or the watershed moment?

Chris: I think I would go for watershed moment, and that was getting to Europe for our first record deal and tour over there in 1991 – that led to our getting a deal back in the States with Rounder/Flying Fish and later with Virgin/France.

CD's 8 record gig with Choice Cuts Deal
CD’s 8 record gig with Choice Cuts Deal

Q: What would you have done different early on if you could change a few things?

Chris: I was not in charge with Magic Music so there was not much I would have had the ability to change…it was a group effort. As far as CD & The Kings goes, it took me a long time to learn show dynamics…Gatemouth Brown and David Bromberg were the best at teaching me that.

Q: Lastly, what do you still most want to accomplish in your music career?

Chris: There are two projects in the works, (a) a real Magic Music record that will come out next year produced by Tim Goodman and (b) an album with the Kings and Freddi Gowdy of the Freddi Henchi band – good ol soul music. But what I would like to accomplish myself is to do one more songwriter album and really get to the core of honest with it. What I mean by that is to strip away all the production and get to the core of the songs…and write the best songs I’ve ever written. OK, that might be asking a lot, but you asked and that’s what I would like to do, assuming I get some time on the planet to do it.

Congratulations, Chris! And thanks so much for the inspiration!

CD, opening for the Doobie Brothers in the summer of 2013.
CD, opening for the Doobie Brothers in the summer of 2013.

The different paths of a “working” musician

It’s often assumed that because you play an instrument or sing, you should be out performing in public. That’s how you are going to make your money, right? But not so fast…the average part time performer makes below the poverty level, and most of these are musicians knocking out covers. Touring bands often lose money or make very token income.

There are other ways to make money as a musician and some of the more lucrative ones do not even involve playing for a live audience. Consider:

*Writing songs for other artists

*Creating music videos

*Acting solely as a recording artist

*Selling your recordings to be played as TV or movie soundtracks

*Novelty acts (like Flight of the Conchords or Weird Al)

Bret and Jermaine - the library tours...
Bret and Jermaine – the library tours…
Of course, with any of these options you still have the opportunity to play in public or tour to some extent. But what if live performance was the last item on the bucket list? How would that change your orientation to your craft?

For instance, touring can burn out a lot of would-be acts. Beyond the financial toll is the physical and mental one. Life on the road can be brutal. Making profit often simply means cutting costs (like crashing at a fan’s house…at every stop). At a bare minimum, a band should at least have quality recordings or other vehicles to promote before even thinking of leaving town.

If more emphasis is on the recording process, you will also be able to tell if you have a quality product to offer right from the get-go. You can even pre-test the marketplace before hoisting sail. But most important, you will then have something tangible to sell. Combine this with some thoughtful merch and you’ll have an actual storefront.

You may also decide to play out very infrequently, capitalizing on the buzz factor that occurs when you finally do make a rare appearance. Your band could play very select events or high visibility festivals without worrying about compensation, since you’re already making far more as a recording artist. Think about last year’s compensation playing out…and then think about what you want this next year to bring.

No-cost ways to promote your band and shows

Here’s a list of ways to promote your band in general and shows specifically with no financial cost. These are listed from least to more effective. Keep in mind- you get what you pay for…

Remember, too, that every time you advertise a show you are also advertising your band. Think about the ways you might promote the band alone and incorporate those into the show promo efforts.

Advertise the band?
Yes, kill two birds with one stone. Always be thinking this way. If you place an internet ad, include a YouTube link of the band, or other links to the music, and/or the band logo. Definitely include links to websites.

Maybe include a free download code for one your songs right there in the ad. If you have some shots from a recent photo shoot, use them. If you’ve got a new song on iTunes, yep, direct them there – there’s room in most ads to do this and those show ads will linger in cyberspace long after the gig.

And now…some no-cost promotion efforts (for a show and the band in general):

The Internet Ad
Don’t fool yourself. This one isn’t highly effective but it is easy to replicate and can also improve your band’s SEO results. Coming up high on Google searches is a good thing.

PostingInternetAnd here are some good places to start: the Westword calendar, the Denver Post calendar, Eventful.com, Craig’s List* and a whole lot more. Create your verbiage on a Word doc, with all of the links you want and then cut and paste your heart out.

*The event page, activities pages, even general community posts are good places on Craig’s List to advertise. But try not to post your shows on the Musicians section – there’s enough junk mail on this section as is. It’s supposed to serve a different purpose and most other musicians will just be annoyed by your blatant self-promotion there.

Another form of the internet ad is the Facebook announcement and creation of a FB event with invitations. How effective are these? Not very. You know it. Your “guests” know it. And only the most loyal of friends will probably attend, and even then…not so much.

What’s more, after you’ve tapped friends and family, your main goal should be to acquire real fans – fans that would come see you because they like your music. This leads us to…

Press Releases
Do you know how to write these? They aren’t as hard as you might think. An attention-getting press release could help you get in the hard print as well as more targeted internet media channels. We’ll talk more about press releases in a future article. But know that you should always be building your media contact base.

Email Contact Base
You should not neglect the process of acquiring new emails and getting the word out. This list is far more important than how many “likes” you’ve got on your Facebook page. Just don’t abuse your list.

If you mass email, be sure you blind copy the recipients. There is no excuse not to know how to do this competently by now. But if you’re still one of the tech-norant, here’s what you do:

Send the email out to yourself (or better yet, your band’s booking email address), then insert the mass email names in the bcc (blind carbon copy) address window. If you’re using an email program that groups emails, you can just plant the group email name in the bcc field.

Want a better response from your email list? Email them individually and offer a personal invite, with a personal note. It’s much harder to say no one-on-one than when you’ve email blasted a faceless mob.

Take it a step further and ask them in person to come to a show. Your odds will suddenly soar. This is the pinnacle effort – ask them in person.

Take it a step further and promise them something if they attend the show ( cd, exclusive poster, T-shirt, etc). Of course, this might cost you something.

One step further…thank them for coming to your last show. This one involves genuine gratitude. Did you forget to thank them at your last show? Tsk! Tsk! But there’s always time to thank your fans, and it doesn’t cost a thing…

What’s a band agreement?

What? You don’t have a formal band agreement? We’re shocked!

Even when a series of drummers suffer spontaneous combustion, the band must go on...
Even when a series of drummers suffer spontaneous combustion, the band must go on…
You’ve probably heard many tales of bands imploding. Ego is often the culprit, sometimes it’s drugs or the intervention of significant others. Sometimes it’s discontentment or mental illness. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault at all. But this is when a band agreement can be incredibly helpful.

Yes, another word for an agreement is a contract, and this word tends to agitate most musicians. And so…no formal agreement is created at the start of the band, in the middle or even post-partum. Guess what happens next? Verbal agreements kick in because there is always some form of “agreement.”

There are many facets of the band that could easily be resolved with an agreement. The Exit Strategy is a biggie. Agreements can also help keep everyone on the same page. So why are original bands usually so bad at creating these?

1) Contracts are perceived as being part of the machine.
2) The band is all brothers…until they are not. And then it’s: send in the lawyers.
3) You are struggling just to find the next bass player…who has time to draft up a hard ass contract?
4) It seems easier just to NOT put anything in writing, especially if you’re concerned that the agreement might not favor you down the road.
5) The shelf life of most bands is so short that the topic never even has a chance to come up.

Actually, 3, 4, and 5 above are basically the same thing: no time. Band life can be a bitch! But sometimes long-term efforts can save a lot of time in the long run. Here’s what a band agreement can do:

1) Make song writing credits perfectly clear.
2) Guide the band through personnel changes.
3) Keep everyone on the same page regarding how often you practice, perform, and how all compensation is divided, and how all costs are absorbed.
4) Layout other band member obligations such as booking, event planning, promotion, and a ton of other chores.
5) Help you set and clarify goals that will further the band’s career.

Your band agreement doesn’t have to be perceived as a negative vortex. It can be composed of principles and goals and lots of lofty stuff to drive everyone forward. It’s also a major step towards declaring that you’re operating like a business.