Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Anatomy Of A Gig

It still astounds me to this day that people are visible riled to pay £4 to get in to a gig. Four bloody pounds. It is a symptom that seems  highly prevalent in the Indie crowd. Folk, Americana, Jazz and the like have crowds willing to pay for quality. But the culture in Indie / Rock has the money disappearing from all sides.

Last November Rhubarb Bomb organised a gig featuring a band we absolutely love. And right here I am going to pull apart the financial figures of that gig to show that no-one is making money out of this live music thing and that goodwill and love of it are the only things keeping it going.

When talking money it’s not too appropriate to mention the band by name, though many of you will know the details anyway and it’s not too hard to find. So I hope they won’t mind.

So, I booked this fantastic band. The Wakefield date was part of a quick three date tour, also including London and Liverpool. The band did not tour that often. They had never played Wakefield before and Leeds only twice in the last four years. Six months previously they had released their second album on a legendary record label and it had received amazing reviews across the board. They aren’t huge by any stretch but as responses on forums confirmed, they are an amazing live band who win followers wherever they go. Their music is accessible and upbeat, on the whole, and isn’t a million miles from the rather popular Indie-Pop bands that were / are seeing some success.

I paid them £250. I also put them up for the night at my house. I spent about £50 getting them a drinks rider, making them a vegetarian chilli and feeding them a fried breakfast in the morning.

I put the gig on at a city centre music venue. As a zine writer, I have good links with local venues and was thrilled that they let me use the venue and PA for FREE. This was essential in making the gig even close to being financially viable. On the whole, for a third party promoter, it is incredible difficult to not lose money when there is a room hire cost because the absolute majority of money made at a gig, by anyone, is across the bar.

The venue at that time had a capacity of 100 people. I spent around £30 on posters and flyers. The poster was designed for free by my girlfriend.

The support acts were not paid. As a matter of rule I believe support acts should always be paid. However, the support acts were friends of the band and were happy to waiver their fee to have their friends play in Wakefield. Also, they were releasing a split EP, so had a chance of making money from that.

So my total costs to put on the gig were:

Headliner: 250
Support Acts: 0
Room / PA Hire: 0
Riders: 50
Promotion: 30
Poster Design: 0
Accommodation: 0
My Fee: 0

Total: £330

I chose an entry fee of £4. This is what the venue would usually charge for a four band line-up of local artists. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, with a capacity of just 100, I wasn’t going to be making any money from this. The only way to make my margins more attractive would be to either not promote it, or scrimp on the riders. A big thing for me when having a band visit is that they have a good time, think Wakefield is a good place to play, meaning they will hopefully come back. So neither was an option.

The night of the gig arrives. We’ve had some presales on See Tickets and across the bar of the venue. Excluding other band members etc, we sell around 50 tickets, so the venue is half full. People arrive to see the gig but when asked for £4 to get in, a couple look at me like I am basically asking politely for their watch, phone and car keys. Downstairs in the venue, a covers band is playing the usual shite. That is free entry.

With that sales figure on the door, let’s see how much everyone involved made from this gig:

Rhubarb Bomb: Lost £130. Promoted the gig and ran the door for free. Imagine if I’d have had to pay for the room or PA aswell?

Headliner: £250 plus merch sales. Split four ways. Minus £40 for petrol costs. Around £50 per person. They inevitably spend money on food and drink additional to the rider.

Band’s Driver: Free entry to the gig and a bit of vegetarian chilli.

Support Bands: Zero, plus some merch sales (the many costs of the record would fill another article, but it is safe to assume those sales amounted to about zero too)

The Soundman: £50 for the evening

The Venue: If we say, on average, every person bought two drinks at an average of £3 then the bar takings were a minimum of £300.

The Barman: £6.08 an hour for about four hours equals = £24.32

Poster Designer: Zero, free entry to gig.

Local Printers: £30 for poster printing

I am positive that when this person on the door hands over their £4 (or not…) they think it goes directly into my back pocket for a pissup later in the evening. The above shows the breadth of people having a financial interest in the gig.

Who does best out of it? Anyone connected with the venue comes out top, as their fee is guaranteed whatever happens. It shows why it is so hard as a third party promoter, even in this case where I was given the room for free.

Next on the ladder is the band themselves. £50 each – not bad? Actually, it’s pretty awful. This is a three date tour. Presuming other gigs run to a similar level that’s £150 a week. This is a band with two acclaimed albums under their belt, on a very well regarded label. That’s not enough to live off. What about additional tour costs of guitar strings breaking, equipment malfunctions, food and water between gigs, cleaning their clothes, toothpaste, taxis to accommodation, let alone something to have a party with after the show. How are they going to pay their rent, let alone find the money to pay for rehearsal spaces to write new songs, or for a studio to record them in?

The local printers is a chance beneficiary. Next on the ladder are the people working for free. The support act were happy to play for free and it is a good show in gaining new fans. But the show will end up costing them, in terms of getting to and from the gig, food and drink for the evening. On this occasion, the whole night was an excuse to have a good time with friends. So as a hobby type thing, it is fine. But it’s not the right kind of support network Rhubarb Bomb wants to create, so they lost out here.

And finally Rhubarb Bomb itself. This article may seem rather negative. Of course it is. But I want to note that this gig was one of the most fun I’ve put on. We had an amazing night. We took the band to Inns Of Court and the Pie Shop afterwards and then they came back to ours and we had a house party til 5am. It was properly one of the best nights I’ve had, with some brilliant people. So for that, it was worth every penny to me.

But looking at it from a position of cold hard logic, the zine lost £130. That’s maybe a third the cost of an issue. That’s a lot of begging for advertising. It’s also a lot of work for zero financial reward. It would make more sense for Rhubarb Bomb to just let the local venues put stuff on – as proper businesses they can take the hit. But can you really rely on your local venues to get those obscure but great bands you love to your town? Or is it the zines and the hobbyist promoters that see the possibility in something that is perhaps a bit riskier financially?

So my point is? Don’t be as obsessive as me, but when you are going to these smaller local gigs, think about where those few pounds you are asked for are going. Because, in an ideal world, it should be going directly to the people on stage, with any leftover going to the person who was willing to work for free to get em to your town. But more often than not, that simply isn’t the case.

And four pounds? It’s just over the cost of a pint. It’s less than the pizza / kebab you get at the end of the night. It’s less than a taxi fare. It’s half a cinema ticket. It’s a quarter of a theatre ticket. It’s a DVD rental from Blockbuster.

Or it’s three hours in a gig venue hearing some wonderful music from far, far away. It’s a way to keep live music going in your town. It couldn’t be easier.

Dean Freeman

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