Thursday, 28 November 2013

Performance Agreements

A performance agreement is something a lot of bands have never even heard of.
Most gigs are booked on a handshake, a phone call or an email.

But what happens when it all goes wrong?

What happens if you are booked to play a big gig this weekend, the promoter has spent thousands on advertising, stages and production and at the last minute your singer has an accident and can't sing.

If no performance agreement is in place, the promoter is left out of pocket and you will be left with the worst reputation in the world.

A performance agreement details everything that will and could happen so that in the event something goes wrong (trust me, one day it will), then you are covered and everyone knows what will happen. You will walk away from the situation with an intact reputation as a band who does what they say they are going to do.

Performance Agreements are a legal document that lay out...
  • Who you are
  • Where you are playing
  • What time you will arrive
  • What time you will start playing
  • How long your breaks will be and how many you will take
  • When you will finish
  • When you will pack up
  • How much you will charge
  • How and when you will be paid
  • Any other costs (transport, accommodation, GST)
  • Any other benefits (meals, drinks).
As well as these things, it details softer things like:
  • What happens if the venue cancels the gig
  • What happens if you cancel the gig
  • What happens if the gig has to be cancelled due to weather or safety
  • Who is liable if something gets damaged or stolen
Its all scary stuff, but it happens every day and bands get caught out and end up in a world of pain.
Plenty of bands can tell stories of going up to a bar to get paid at the end of the night only to find the bar wants to doc $100 bucks off their fee because they didn't play for as long as they said they would, or the bass player drank a whole pile of beer.

A good performance agreement avoids all doubt and eliminates uncertainty for all parties.
It makes you look professional and above all else, it will get you loads of gigs and filter out a load of shit gigs. If a venue is not prepared to sign a performance agreement then its not worth playing at that venue (ie they are probably going to screw you).

I spent a lot of time putting together a bulletproof performance agreement for a band I used to play with called Deaf Lemon, this should give you a good starting point for developing your own. This document got us loads of great gigs and saved us on a number of occasions when things went wrong.
Get it here.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Getting the Gigs

Summer is coming and that means its the busiest time of year to be in the music business.

Or is it?

I still get the odd person mention that there aren't enough local performers in the lineup of summer events.
As someone who deals with most of the local concert and event organisers and many from out of town as well, I campaign local performers wherever I can. However, there is still a big gap between what Wairarapa performers offer and what event organisers are being offered from out of town performers.

This has nothing to do with musical ability and talent or even if you are local or not.

Its professional business cards, its promo packs, its media packs, its professional quality DVD demo videos.
Its references from clients and glossy brochures.
Its photos of large audiences having a great time dancing to them.
Its promotional offers, discounts for payment in advance.
Its bands operating as GST registered companies.
Its professional riders, professional equipment and a professional attitude.

Its making it easy for an event organiser to book your band.

If you don't do the things above, it makes it just that little bit harder for you to get booked.
Event organisers want a safe bet.
They want to book a band they know have a lot to lose if they screw up the gig or don't turn up.
They want to book a band that has a vested interest in making the event a success, because their event is their next reference for getting the next big gig.

Reputation counts for a lot and event organisers are an extremely conservative bunch who avoid risk at all costs.

They want to know that the band are going to bring along a big crowd with them and they will have heard of you or even better know your music.

Put yourself in the shoes of an event organiser running an event with a $200,000 budget...
You are running the event as a GST registered business and you get offered two bands.

Band A is a local band, they have done a few gigs and have a good local following. They quote you on the phone 'about' $800 cash to do the gig but will knock $100 off if you shout them beer during the gig. They can get down to your gig after the drummer finishes work about 2 hours before the show.

Band B is from Wellington, they courier you a pack containing a DVD presentation and a glossy brochure.
Inside are references from major outdoor concerts and corporate clients.
They provide you a written quote of $2500 + GST with a 5% prompt payment discount if you pay in advance. They have a written performance agreement that details what they will do and provide, when they will turn up and what rights you have in various scenarios (perhaps if the bass player get sick and can't play).

Who do you book?
You don't even hesitate booking band B.
Band A doesn't have a shit show in hell of getting booked for this event.

Its not about cost or talent.
Its all about risk.

Band A are a bit risky while Band B presents very little risk indeed and if you are running a $200k event, you don't want any risk when it comes to entertainment. You would far sooner pony up a bit more cash and sleep easy at night knowing that side of it is under control.

Next week, I'll detail the guts of a professional performance agreement so you can see the sort of thing that needs to be agreed in advance of a gig.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The real music industry

Musicians sometimes like to kid themselves that they are the ones with the product.
Musicians write and record material and sell it to music consumers, right?

Maybe this is how it used to be, but the tables have now turned and Musicians are now the customer.

Globally, Musicians spend in excess of $17 billion dollars per year on musical instruments and equipment.
The music services industry is a multi billion dollar industry on top of this and focuses on selling musicians websites, promotions, recording studio services, equipment rental and a myriad of other services that have sprung up to help musicians 'make it big'.
All up this industry is estimated to be worth in excess of $18 billion annually.

Now the sad part, Globally, music sales and performance rights for music came to a little over $10 billion in 2012. But that's not even the sad part, the musicians themselves only make a fraction of this $10 billion, most of which goes to the record labels and producers.

That means musicians spend well in excess of $35 billion dollars a year in order to make back a tiny percentage of a shrinking pool of $10 billion.

In case you hadn't noticed, you are the customer.

The Spotify story tells it all, there are more than 20 million songs on Spotify but only 6 million paid consumers.
There are more musicians than listeners and we wonder why the music industry is in trouble.

Most musicians have second jobs and work long hard hours to spend on their music.
This makes them an appealing target to sell to because they are passionate about music and willing to spend whatever it takes in order to 'make it'. Musicians are prepared to live on the bones of their arse while shelling out thousands of dollars to major corporates for new guitars and amplifiers, drum kits etc. Don't forget websites like Reverbnation that take millions of dollars off musicians in order to promote them to consumers.

News flash, Reverbnation has 2.5 million paid members who are all musicians trying to get noticed.
Pretty much the only people that visit Reverbnation are other musicians trying to get noticed.
So you pay Reverbnation a fee so you can get noticed by other people on Reverbnation who are also trying to get noticed.

Man, I wish I had have thought of that.

Revebnation is just one example, there are hundreds of others, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Youtube, Ampcast, TheMusicSocial, PromoteIt etc etc etc even Facebook is now vying for your dollar.

My point in all this is, be careful.
Be aware that making it in the music industry is now next to impossible simply because of the volume of other people who are also trying to do the same thing.
Be aware that the music industry is now more about exploiting musicians who are trying to make it than what it is about actually selling your music to consumers.

Add up how much you have spent on music and then add up how much you have made back from CD sales and royalties and you will see what I mean.

You are part of a $35 billion dollar industry that is focused on taking money off musicians in exchange for selling them the chance at the dream. Be careful and don't get sucked in. Most of all have fun and don't take it too seriously and then at least you won't die of depression.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

What is good?

I went and saw a band the other night (who will remain nameless).

They were ok.

The thing that struck me was the drummer.
He was both awesome and terrible at the same time and here is why.

As a standalone drummer he was great, technically highly proficient, perfect timing and he knew all the tricks. The problem was that he used all the tricks all the time. It was a constant barrage of flicks, drops and rolls which during a drum solo would be cool but all the time through the whole song was totally distracting.

It was almost as bad as this guy:

I've always thought that the mark of a really great musician is that you only notice how awesome they are when they stop playing. Overplaying is a bad habit to get into and is usually the mark of someone trying to prove how awesome they are.

I personally love it when a great musician does really simple things exceedingly well and then every now and then when you least expect it pulls something out of the hat that is just pure genius. Its like toying with the audience, holding it all back and then letting it all go for just long enough for you to be blown away and then pulling it right back again to simple.

The empty space in music is just as important as the notes that are played. The odd trick here and there is cool but if the entire extent of your musical repertoire is a constant stream of trick after trick it soon becomes tiring. Not only that, it detracts from what the other musicians in your band are doing. In the video above, the bass player is actually really good but nobody will remember him for his performance because the drummer stole the show. If your playing constantly steals the show, then you are unlikely to be called upon to play with other musicians very often and your career as a session musician is unlikely to grow.

The most successful session musicians make it their priority to make the rest of the band look and sound amazing but every now and then do something that blows you away. More often than not this involves the absence of things as opposed to filling up the mix with notes.

Probably one of the best examples of this is the bass player Pino Palladino. Pino is one of the most highly regarded bass players in the world. He is the most famous bass player you never knew because his name is rarely in lights. He plays with everyone who is anyone, in the bands of some of the greatest, yet you will hardly seem him in the live videos and you will rarely see him do a fancy solo with a million notes in it.

Are there more technically competent bass players in the world - undoubtedly.
But Pino is an absolute master in simplicity. He is amazing because you know that if he wanted to he could bust out the most technically complex bass lines you have ever heard, but instead has the self control to not play where others would go nuts. It is this self control that see's him get call after call from the very best of the best musicians in the world asking him to play session bass in their bands.

Rather than filling up the page with more words, I'll let Pino do the talking with his amazingly bass playing.

Here he is showing how empty space and simplicity make a great bass line.

Now for something completely different, here is playing session bass with "The Who" and check out the bass solo.

A total style flip again playing some R&B with D'Angelo.

You might struggle to see him in this one, but he is there playing bass with David Gilmour / Pink Floyd.

Hiding out again, this time with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and Phil Collins.

Here is one of the few occasions where he totally lets loose and shows how stunningly good he really is.

So next time you are tempted to do some blisteringly complex technical riff all over your band mates, ask yourself. What would Pino do here?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A small rant

Its time for another rant, this time aimed at Guitarists.

Quad guitar stacks suck (I'm talking about the classic 'Marshall Stack')!
The level at which they suck cannot be adequately expressed in words on this page.
They are more sucky than a very sucky thing.

They seem like such a good idea when you are standing in a music shop being egged on by an eager salesman keen to pocket the extra commission and who name drops a list of artists who use that particular amplifier on stage with an 80's rock video playing on the screen behind you.

Here is the thing, those artists might actually have those amps sitting on stage but I'd put money on it that they aren't plugged in. They are paid product placement and the real amp the artist is using is more than likely out the back in a noise booth and is considerably smaller. No 'A list' guitarist anywhere in the world worth their salt actually uses a quad stack that is plugged in.

The thing with quad stacks is that they are all show and very little about them is good for producing great guitar tone. In fact if you were going to set out to design something to do a poor job at being a guitar speaker cabinet you would struggle to design something worse than a quad.

Firstly, the arrangement of the 4 speakers basically creates highly directional narrow beam of sound that goes everywhere you don't want it to go and nowhere you do. Most guitarists point their amps out into the crowd. A quad amp has a focal point nearly 20 meters in front of it so that means while you are stuggling to hear and are constantly turning it up, the poor people in the 10th row are being blasted while your sound engineer sits out the front cursing the bajeezus out of you. Quads would be the ideal cabinet if your ears grew on your knees.

Quad cabinets are incredibly efficient at converting electrical energy into sound pressure. If you were building a PA system this would be a good thing, but in a guitar cabinet this is actually a really bad thing. Guitars sound best when the amplifier is working really hard and generating lots of harmonic distortion. This only happens when the tubes are really working hard. The problem with a quad is that it is so efficient that you can never turn the amp up loud enough to get to that great harmonic generating level because it blows your eardrums out. If you do, the rest of the band turns up creating a wave of noise, blowing any siblance of seperation out the window and basically destroying your sound.

Here are some traits of the ideal guitar amplifier, you will notice they are almost the polar opposite of a Quad:

  • it has a single small speaker (5" to 12" max).
  • the speaker is particularly inefficient.
  • the amplifier section itself is not that powerful (10w to 15w is ample)
  • it can be tilted easily so that it points at your ears, not at your ankles.
  • it can be turned up to full volume without exploding or being insanely loud.
  • it has as few knobs as possible and doesn't have 'digital' anything.

I blame the 80s for the tendancy for modern guitarists to still buy quad stacks.
80's bands used to try outdoing each other by having rows of quad stacks across the back of the stage.
The reality was that none of them were actually plugged in and often they were just an empty shell stage prop.
The real guitar amps were hidden under the stage and mic'd up.
This caused every teenage boy in the world to want to own a quad stack despite the fact they made the worst guitar amps in the world. The manufacturers lept onto this trend and saw it as an opportunity to sell over-priced equipment to the masses.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Technical Talk - Riders

As a Sound Engineer, I get to see a lot of technical riders.
Some are good, most are astonishingly bad.

For those that don't know, a technical rider is a short document that explains all the technical aspects of your band. A basic tech rider has the following information.
  • A simple diagram showing where you stand on stage.
  • A list of your instruments and vocalists as well as how many 'channels' each uses.
  • A list of any specific or unusual requirements.
Most bands severely underestimate the importance of having a good (and up to date) technical rider.
It is a bit like a CV, it tells the sound engineer and tech team a lot about the band and what to expect before you even show up. If you do a poor job with your tech rider, the sound engineer is likely to write you off in advance and not put in the care and effort required to achieve a great sound. It also may mean when you show up at a venue or event you don't have everything you need to put on the best show possible. This causes stress. Stress if not your friend.

Being up to date is also important, I have lost track of the number of times I have received what looks like a great tech rider and then spent hours setting up a system to the exact technical specs that have been sent only to have the band turn up with several different instruments, 2 extra singers or a comment such as "where did you get that rider from, its really old, we all go on opposite sides of the stage now".

This makes your sound engineer mad.
Making your sound engineer mad is never a good idea because they can make or break your performance.
An competent and engaged sound engineer can be the difference between a ho hum performance and a standing ovation so never under estimate the importance of making your sound engineer happy.

Sending through a poorly written or just plain wrong tech rider will not only make your sound engineer mad but it will also likely cause them to stop caring about your best interests. If your band doesn't care about the technical side of your performance, then why should they?

Here are some tips to creating a standout tech rider that makes your tech crew happy and will ensure you have a great gig.

  • Put a date on it, right up the top there and put an expiry date on it stating that if the rider is older than a certain date they should contact you to get an updated version.
  • Put the phone number and email address on it for someone who understands tech stuff. Don't put your booking agents number or your promoter or the number of a flat you used to live at 3 years ago. Promoters and agents don't give a toss about technical things other than how much they cost and when a tech rings these people they are more likely to get the wrong answer to a question.
  • Draw an accurate stage layout and mark on it where vocalists stand, how many monitors you need, what instruments go where. This is important as your tech team will spend a considerable amount of time preparing the stage to ensure you are not tripping over cables and that the stage looks good. Changing things around after its all set up increases the chances of something going wrong and usually ends up being messy.
  • List your instruments and how many channels each use. If you only use two tom drums then state it on the rider. There is nothing worse than having "Drum Kit" written on a rider and then have the drummer turn up with 7 tom drums. This will be a major headache for your tech crew as they will likely have to re-patch the entire mixing console or may not have brought enough microphones.
  • Don't be too demanding, unless you are Iggy Pop you probably shouldn't go too overboard with your requests.
  • If your singer is a douche-bag, then drop a subtle hint that this is the case so that the tech team can be prepared. For example.. "Our lead singer has been known to drink too many bourbons and spill drinks into monitor wedges so we recommend taking precautions". This kind of stuff is highly appreciated as steps can be taken to avoid issues during the show.
  • Clearly state what equipment you are bringing and what equipment you need to be provided. Ambiguity is not good in this section and will result in last minute panic.

Finally, when you advance the show, tell the tech team what time you expect to arrive and when you will be available for a sound check. On the day, if you are running late or early, call the tech team to advise this is the case. Techs do not like surprises and they especially don't like getting a call 40 minutes after you were supposed to arrive to tell them that you are running 4 hours later.

Here is an example of an international quality rider, obviously yours does not need to be this detailed but it gives a good indication of the level of clarity required in a good rider.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The game is about to change

Spotify is a game changer. Its a disruptive technology that has massive implications for the music industry and unless musicians realise that and change their approach, we are going to struggle in this new world. Spotify is also the best thing for 'real' musicians since the invention of the CD.

In the old days, people used to buy music before they had heard it. There was a buzz before an album came out. Reviewers often got it in advance and added or detracted from that buzz.

Then, the album hit the stores and thousands of people went out and bought it before they had even heard it.
How many products to you buy these days without knowing what they are going to be like?

Precisely none, you don't go to the supermarket and buy a carton of milk and get it home hoping its going to be a really great carton of milk only to open it and find that it wasn't as tasty as the last one you bought. Every carton of milk you buy is the same and you know what you are getting in advance.

The old industry model was great for the record labels because to be quite frank, they could sell complete shite music and make a bundle of money out of it. Then when everyone realised it was shite music, the label would move onto the "next big thing" and pedal that shite. This is how the "One hit wonder" was born.

Those days are gone.

In the future, people will not buy music, they will rent it and artists will get paid for the number of times that consumers play their tracks instead of buying it upfront.

Now consider your own CD collection. How many albums do you have that you played a few times and then relegated to a dusty CD rack never to be played again. But, I bet you have a few albums that are absolutey brilliant that you play again and again and never get tired of.

This is why the rise of Spotify is so good for the art of music.
The new model incentivises the creation of really great music instead of mediocre throw away crap.

Artists and Labels will have to start thinking long term instead of just aiming for a place on next months chart then dropping off and moving onto the next big thing.
A good quality song or album could continue to generate income on Spotify for decades while a crap throw away song might generate a few bucks for a week.

This is good news for good musicians and also good recording studios and producers who have all suffered under the iTunes model where it is possible to pedal sub standard music recorded in your own garage. Those days are about to be over and songs and albums that take months or even years to develop into masterpeices will rise once again.

The new target will become "Long Term Popularity" instead of "Chart Success".

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Whats your backup plan?

I recently caught an episode of "The Voice" and was somewhat astounded to hear both Seal and Joel Madden tell a poor young Med Student with great vocal talent that if she wanted to be successful in the Music Industry, she can't have a backup plan (referring to her Medical studies).

I have a problem with this.

You see, for both Seal and Joel, this approach worked fine. They had no backup plan and this caused them to work hard and keep going until they succeeded. Their thinking was that because it worked for them, the only way to be successful is to cast yourself out into the world, with no other consideration of ever being anything other than a huge international hit. They had no consideration for the possibility that they could just as easily have not made it.

My problem with this is that not having a backup plan does not automatically guarantee that you will  be successful. In fact I'm a far greater proponent of the possibility that luck has more to do with anything in the music industry than hard work.

History is littered with thousands of chart topping hits from people and bands that could barely string 3 chords together and you only have to take a stroll through the pubs and clubs of any major city on a Friday and Saturday night to see thousands of incredibly talented musicians churning out April Sun in Cuba to hoards of barely interested drunken louts.

How many times have you heard someone say "That person has so much talent, they should be huge".

Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime of disappointment for musicians to realise that commercial success has little to do with talent and mostly to do with luck.

Think of it this way, the most talented sperm does not make it to fertilise the egg.
Sure, it has to be pretty quick and strong, but there are thousands of others just as good there at roughly the same time. Its just the luck of the draw as to the one that makes it through.

So what does this mean for you as a musician?

It means ALWAYS have a backup plan.
A good education will ensure that IF you don't succeed as a musician, you have something to fall back on. A good education might also increase your chances of being successful in the first place.

Set yourself some clear musical goals and give yourself a time limit to achieve them.
Don't make them impossible but each should be slightly more aspirational.
Set a time limit on each goal.

For example, after recording an album you might set some goals such as:
  • 3 months - Solid local radio play
  • 6 months - Opening for local concert.
  • 12 months - Regular National Radio Play
  • 18 months - Support act for National Tour or opening for regional concerts outside your local area.
  • 24 months - NZ on air funding or signed to label
  • 36 months - 10,000 units sold per annum, National Tour booked.

Quite often what seems to happen is that you will experience some initial success and then things stagnate or go backwards. You might get to the National Radio Play stage and then 12 months later find its not there anymore and you are back to trying to 'get your name out there'. This is where you need to give yourself a fixed time limit to get to the next stage or 'call it a day'. If you are more than 6 to 12 months behind on a specific goal, the chances are, that you are probably unlikely to go much further.

Its at this point you pull out your 'Backup Plan' and relegate music to your hobby with the realisation that you are probably not going to be an International (or even national for that matter) Superstar.

There is nothing to be ashamed about by being a hobby musician, its loads of fun and can be extremely fulfilling. By removing the disappointment of 'not making it' you can enjoy your hobby much more.

Don't forget that even if you aren't going to make it as a Superstar, there are loads of well paying jobs in the music industry that can be just as fun. You can teach music, work for a radio station, work in the production / technical side of the industry, work for a label or in promotion / advertising. Even jingle and backing track production can be lucrative business.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Its time to get a promoter

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the relationship between a professional band and its consumers (the people who listen to your music), its customers (the people who pay you to play) and its suppliers (the people who supply you goods and services).
Last week week we looked at how the game changes when you start taking the door and how this subtle change in relationship has a big impact on how successful your gigs will be.

This week we take it up another notch and look what happens when you start dealing with a Promoter.

Promoters sometimes have a bad reputation, mainly due to some pretty dodgy things that have gone down in the past and occasionally continue to do so. That doesn't make them all bad, it just means you have to be weary and know how to get the most out of a promoter.

Lets say a promoter rings you up and wants you to play at a concert they are promoting in a few months, lets call it "La De Day Out".
What is the relationship between you, the Promoter, the Venue and the people that come?
Who is responsible for Marketing and Promotion?

Lets start with the Venue...
The Promoter is the Venues customer. The Promoter pays the Venue for using the Venue to hold their event.
The Promoter may get the Venue to run the bar and may or may not get a cut of the bar or sell the rights to run the bar depending on the terms of the deal. If the promoter gets a cut of the bar, then this still makes the Promoter a customer of the venue and this would generally only happen on very large events.

The Promoter sells tickets to the event, the people that buy tickets are the Promoters customers.

The Promoter hires bands for the show, the Promoter is the bands customer.
The band is not selling music, the band is renting the bands Brand to the promoter.
The Promoter uses this brand to make their event look attractive enough for people to pay money to buy tickets.
This is why some posters have bands highlighted in bigger letters than others. The more valuable your brand is at selling tickets, the bigger your name will be on the posters and this is a really good way of telling how good your Marketing is working. The most valuable brand is called "The Headline Act".

The Promoter pays you no matter how many people show up.
The Promoter sells tickets to the show for however much the Promoter likes because they are taking a BIG risk.
If nobody shows up, they still have to pay everyone. If its a full house, then the Promoter can make a truckload of money (note, this rarely happens).

The people that come to the event because you are playing are your consumers.
The people that come to the event because another band are playing and have never heard of you before are your potential consumers. The people coming to the event are also the Venues consumers.

The Promoter is 'renting' your brand for their event, that means its in your interest to Market this brand as hard as you can to make it as valuable to the Promoter as possible.

The Promoter is responsible for "Promoting" the event, all they are doing is advertising the Where, When and Who. They may also do some Marketing of you but this is squarely aimed at Promoting the event and is not entirely genuine (they aren't doing it out of the goodness of their heart and it may not have a long term impact, they are doing it to increase the value of your brand beyond what they are paying you). In other words, it is far better that you do the Marketing because Marketing that you do is worth something to you, Marketing that the Promoter does is worth more to the Promoter.

Where it gets confusing is that the Promoter may also do another type of Marketing as well. If they have a regular or annual event, they may Market this to make it more appealing.
For example, for "La de Day Out", they will run advertising, facebook messages to try to create the image that La De Day Out is the best annual festival in the country. This increases the value of the events brand which may result in people buying tickets no matter who is playing.

This is the holy grail for a Promoter because then bands will want to come and play at their event to increase the value of the bands Brand. ie "We played at La De Day Out last year".
This gives the Promoter leverage to decrease the costs of the bands because it is more valuable for a band to perform at the event than what it is to get paid cash.

The bands can then use the fact that they played at La De Day Out to increase the value of their brand and get paid more at all their other gigs. This is where I throw caution to the wind because Promoters are VERY good at talking up the value of their events. If a promoter opens a sentence with "It will be great exposure for you" then generally if someone needs to tell you it will be great exposure, it won't be great exposure.

If you are contracted by a Promoter, you generally don't do any promotion of the event without asking the Promoter first. You are free to Market yourself as much as you like (unless you are planning on doing a controversial publicity stunt that is), but you need to leave the event Promotion up to the Promoter unless they specifically ask you to do something. You might tack an "Appearing at La De Day Out on X Date" at the end of your Marketing initiatives which the Promoter will be very happy about or you might work on a joint press release with the Promoter that combines both Marketing of your band, Promotion of the event and Marketing of the event all in one release.

Working with Promoters represents the next step up on the scale towards "Making It". Next week we will take it one step further.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Call my Agent

Last week we talked about working with Promoters and how this changes the relationship between you, the venue, the consumers of your music and the people who come to the event.

This week, we go  the next step and bring in an Agent into the mix and see what happens.

Firstly, lets try and understand what an Agent does.

An Agent is primarily focused with Marketing and then Sales of your Brand (band).
A bad agent will spend all their time on Marketing and none on Sales or all their time on Sales and none on Marketing. Good agents spend an equal amount of time on both.
Agents usually work on commission but some may ask for a retainer (avoid these). A low quality agent may take as low as 10% of your earnings, a really good one may ask for 50% or more.
In general, you get what you pay for. Remember that a low agent fee out of a low income might be lower than a high agent fee out of a high income.

Some Agents take a low commission and try and represent lots of bands (as in hundreds), they care less about you and are just trying to sell any band that is on their books. They are more focused on events and finding a band for someone else's event (think wedding bands). These are typically the websites you see that list bands for hire, you just sign up and you are listed straight away. These type of Agents want to list as many bands as possible to maximise the chances that someone will pick any one of their bands for their event.
You would be unwise to sign an exclusive agency deal with an individual Agent that had more than 5 or 10 bands on its books.
At the other end of the scale are the high commission Agents that only have a few bands on their books. These guys are working almost exclusively for you and put in long hard hours to get you as much work as possible. If they don't succeed they don't get paid so in general are worth every penny. These are the only agents that specifically want to find work for you (as opposed to anyone on their books).

In the middle we have what I call "The Sharks" and these are the Agents to watch out for. They usually have 10 to 20 bands on their books and they seem to charge a relatively low commission, however, what you don't know is that often they are double dipping.

A classic example of this is as follows:

An Shark goes to an event and offers their services as an "Entertainment Coordinator".
The Shark is contracted and paid by the event to find entertainment.
The Shark then offers up entertainment that just happens to be signed to the Shark for an agency agreement.
The Shark inflates the price of the entertainment by quite a bit.
The Shark then gets quotes for Sound, Lighting, Staging and other production services and slaps a nice big margin on top after screwing down the suppliers.
The event books it all through The Shark who then:
  • Is paid by the event a "Finders fee"
  • Charges the Event X for the bands and tells the bands that they are getting paid Y.
  • Takes a commission off Y as well
  • Makes a profit on the Sound, Lighting and other Production
This happens all the time and seems to be an increasingly common practice in NZ so watch out. It wouldn't be so bad if the Sharks were up front about it. If you are signed to an Agent who you suspect is a Shark, try getting a quote for your band by getting someone else to contact them, then make sure you are sitting down when you see the price.

Now lets take a look at the relationship between your band and an Agent..

Your band is a customer of the Agent.
Your Agents product is your Brand.
Your Agent is a Supplier to you (you are the customer and the customer is always right).
Your Agents consumers are Events and Promoters.
Your Agent Markets your brand in order to try and sell it to its Consumers.

An Agent never does any promotion, that is still up to either you or a Promoter.

Agents can save you a lot of time and a well connected agent can get you some great gigs and opportunities, but watch out. If after signing up with an agent you aren't significantly further ahead after 6 months, you may be signed to a shark.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tickets available on the door.

Sometimes we forget that a band is a business.
To not treat it as such makes it a hobby.
Hobbies are fun and interesting and if you are happy with that, that's great, but if you want people to come to your gigs and if you want your band to be successful, you need to treat it like a business.

Any business needs to fully understand the market for its products and services and exactly who it's customers and consumers are.

If you don't like all that stuff then don't expect to succeed.
A new business that starts up and decides to make 'widgets' will go broke pretty quickly if it doesn't market those widgets to people who it thinks might buy them. If the widget maker just says "All I want to do is make widgets" and doesn't advertise, promote and market their widgets, then how successful do you think that widget business will be?
Most people in business don't want to do all this stuff, all they want to do is make their widgets, but unfortunately Marketing and Promotion is often more important than how good your widgets are.

Last week we determined that when you play in a bar with no door charge and are paid by the bar that the bar is your customer and the punters are your consumers.

Now lets see what happens when we put on a door charge...

If your band takes the door it is highly likely that the bar will not pay you a cent. There may in fact be a venue fee that you have to pay given there is no guarantee to the bar that it will be better than an ordinary Saturday night. If you put on a show and 5 people turn up, then its not just you who loses out, the bar loses out as well because it probably would have been a busier night to let people in for free and have no entertainment. The venue fee covers this risk and also ensures that only people who are serious run an event.

In this case the bar changes to become a supplier and you are their customer.
The punters continue to be both your and the bars consumers, however they also become your customer given that you are now trying to sell them something directly. Oh how this changes things.

This doubles the difficulty for you because now you are responsible for both Marketing and Promotion instead of just Marketing.

Not only do you need to Market your brand and tell people that your band is super awesome, you also need to Promote the gig and try and convince people who like your brand to come out and pay money to get in. This is why many bands fail when they step up to taking the door because they simply forget to Market their brand and focus solely on Promoting the gig. If all you do is promotion, then you do not create desire and as a result, activities that are more desirable win out over your event.

Often, when people only do promotion, 10 punters come and then the band blame it on the Rugby or the weather or the venue.
I'd be very rich if I got a dollar for every time I have heard bands blame a rugby game for the failure of their show.
Rugby does not stop people coming to gigs, lack of Marketing does. All that has happened is that the Rugby has done a better job of Marketing itself than you have. It is more desirable to watch the rugby.

In this scenario the venue has zero responsibility to promote your gig, its totally up to you (a good venue will certainly help out).

The venue is focused on Marketing itself to bands who it wants to come and hire its venue and bring punters through the door for it to sell drinks. It wants the best bands it can get (and by best we mean bands that have done the most Marketing).

In this model your band only gets paid if people turn up, however your opportunity to make a lot of money is much greater. You are assuming all the risk so you will also make all the profit if you do a good job.

If your door charge is $10 and 10 people turn up then you make $100 and go home depressed. However if 200 people turn up then you make $2000 and are doing much better than the average plumber.

Here are a couple of examples of Marketing and Promotional messages you would use in this scenario:

Marketing: "Band X is a high energy entertainment experience that always gets everyone up on the dance floor, if you come to one of our shows you are guaranteed to have the best night ever"

Promotion: "Band X is playing at Venue Y on the 5th of November"

A good Venue will do everything it can to help with promotion but lets be clear that in this scenario, its up to you to drive the Promotion and the Marketing. If you don't do both equally well your event will be fail miserably.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Marketing vs Promotion

Two weeks ago I posted an article comparing Musicians to Plumbers in skill level and highlighting the pay disparity between the two professions. Then last week I dropped a bombshell describing why it was that Musicians often never get paid what their skill level suggests they should be worth.

Several people wrote me emails about that and linked to articles questioning why musicians should be responsible for promoting gigs, bringing punters to venues and generating revenue for bars. Musicians should "only have to focus on music", was the general tone of the emails and promoting a gig should be up to the bar.

This week, I want to explore that more and highlight why that thinking is so very wrong. I'm going to start with the scenario where a venue hires you to come and play in their venue and there is no cover charge on the door. The venue is making money solely from their bar takings and you are paid no matter what.

There are two distinct concepts that often get blurred into one and that is the source of the problem. Marketing and Promotion. Many people call activities Promotion when it is actually Marketing and many people call Marketing, Promotion. They are different, very very different.

Lets look at a real world example dear to my own personal taste buds.
Coca-Cola has a product, it sells Coke and lots of it, but in general it doesn't sell it directly to me and you. You can't walk up to Cokes office and buy an ice cold Coke. It sells to dairies and supermarkets etc who then sell it to me and you. Coke doesn't do very much "Promotion".
Whoooa, you may say, Coke has one of the biggest advertising budgets in the world.
You see their "Adverts" everywhere.

Coke does "Marketing". You will rarely ever see a Coke ad on TV that says "Buy Two Cokes and get another one free", that's because that kind of message is "Promotion".

Coke has one goal and that is to make you feel that Coke is the best product and that you should buy it from anywhere you can get it.

If you see a petrol station banner that is encouraging you to buy two Cokes for $4, then that is Promotion. It is not saying that Coke is the best product, its simply trying to get people to buy more Coke from that particular petrol station as opposed to anywhere else.

Bands and Venues have this exact same relationship.

Your band is a brand just like Coke and it is your job as the owner of that brand to Market the brand.
Music is your "Product" that you are selling to your Consumers (the people that listen and that come to venues).
BUT your Customers are the Venues and they aren't buying your music, they are buying your "Brand".

Note that subtle difference there... you have Consumers of your Music and Customers of your Brand.
The people dancing on the dance-floor are Consumers and the Manager of the Bar is your Customer.

On the night of the event, your Consumers are also the same as the Venue's Consumers.
The Venue is holding an event and it is therefore the job of the Venue to Promote the event just like a petrol station advertises its "buy two" deals but all they are doing is announcing when you are playing at the venue, its up to you to Market the brand which is what actually gets people to come.

Your Marketing activity is aimed at raising the profile of your brand, discovering the niche audience that your brand appeals to, targeting it and accumulating as much of a market for that brand as you possibly can. This includes web pages, facebook, twitter and even music sales. The more marketing activity you do, the more valuable your brand will be to the venue and the more you will get paid.

When a Venue hires you, they are 'borrowing' that brand for the night. They should run advertisements, put up posters and billboards that says that your brand is coming to their venue on date X. The music itself is 100% totally irrelevant to the venue.

The ultimate insult to a band (and a sure fire sign you have a weak brand) is if the venue simply advertises "Live Music Tonight". That means your brand isn't even worth mentioning in their promotions. It is the same as a petrol station peeling the labels of Coke bottles and selling them as "cold drinks that might taste good".

Your message to your consumers should be.. "If you come to our gigs you will have a great time".
The Venues message is "Come to my venue on this date to see this band (brand)".

If you have a strong brand, then lots of people will come and your brand will be valuable to the venue.
If you have a weak brand, then not many people will come and your band will not be valuable to the venue.

Generally, people that complain about not being paid enough as a musician, have weak brands and have not invested the time to market and build up the value of their brand.

Next week we take it a step further by looking at how these same relationships subtly change when we introduce things such as door charges, tickets and or promoters.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Are you worth Shit?

Last week I talked about the value of a band and compared a musician to a plumber in terms of skill and cost.
This worked out to about $355 per musician for a local nights performance if you were to consider that a Musician and Plumber are fairly equal in skill. Lots of musicians probably thought "yeah, that's what we should be charging".

Now, I'm going to flip the argument completely on its head and offer a totally different alternative perspective and perhaps some answers as to why many bands don't earn that much, or in some cases, earn far far more per night.

Imagine for a minute that you own a bar and you would like to have a band come and play to draw in a bigger crowd on a Saturday night.
Saturdays have been a bit quiet lately because another bar has opened down the road.

You ring around and you find out that all the bands charge the same price. They all charge $1420 + GST as per our plumber calculation last week.
You end up booking two bands for the next two saturdays, lets call them Band A and Band B. Musically and talent wise, both bands are exactly the same and have basically the same sets / song lists.

Band A is a brand new band, they don't have any posters yet and the guitarists sister is currently working on a website which should be up sometime in the next few months. They have a facebook page and have 80 fans which are mostly friends and family because they only started up the page last week.
The band turns up and they are great, perhaps a bit loud, they don't bring in any extra punters and halfway through the night the regular crowd starts to leave because its getting too loud. Total bar turnover for the night is $1200 which is $100 below what you would get on a normal Saturday night. You pay the band their $1420 and start to wonder whether having bands was such a good idea after all.

The following Monday, Band B turns up with 20 posters to put up and wants to discuss whether you would like to do a drinks promotion that they can promote through the week, perhaps a 2 for 1 deal on the first drink. On Tuesday, they announce to their 7000 facebook fans that its going to be a huge night at your venue and that if their fans come down there will be a drink's special on an hour before they play. On Wednesday, they drop a line to their friend who works at a radio station and do an on air interview promoting your venue and the gig. On Saturday, when they turn up, the bar is already full because of the drinks promotion and there is a queue at the door by 8pm. The night sets a record for bar turnover at $5200. Band B are also pretty good, but you actually think that Band  A might have been a bit better.

Now, lets contrast these two bands and compare the situation to the plumber comparison of last week.
Technically yes, the work of performing that the two bands do is worth the $1420 + GST that they charge, but in reality Band A cost the bar $1420. The bars profit from having the band was -$1640. In other words, the bar would have been better off by $1640 if they had not had Band A in to perform.

Band B cost the same at $1420, however they generated an extra $4000 that the bar would not have made if they hadn't been there so the profit that Band B generated was $2480.

Are both these bands worth the same amount. Clearly not, I would be as bold as to say that Band A is not worth anything.
Zip, Nada, the band should in fact be paying to play because they deliver -$100 in value to whatever venue they perform in even if they charge nothing. The only way the venue would be better off having Band A in to perform would be if the band payed the venue $101.

Band B however is worth anything up to $3999. If they charge $3999 then the bar would still be better off by $1 by having them in to play. In reality, their performance might be worth 25% to 50% of this value depending on how consistently they deliver that kind of return. If we run at 50%, then that means that band B would be worth $1240 to $1300 per night to this bar.

What this does is put into context how hard bands have to work in order to justify the fees they charge.
If you just turn up and play, then don't expect to be worth the same as a Plumber. If you do all the promotion and actively generate punters for the venue, then you can expect to be worth something closer to what a Plumber is worth.

Here is the key....
The value of a Plumber is not the years of training they spent learning how to be a Plumber. Its not how good they are and how fancy the sign writing is on their van. Its not how far the Plumber travelled to get there. The value of a Plumber is this and you should frame it...

"At 3am, when your toilet floods spewing shit all over the floor, leaking crap into your carpet and continuing to spew more and more water onto the floor, the value of a Plumber is equal to getting your immediate problem solved."

In other words, when there is shit on your floor, a Plumber is worth as much as you are prepared to pay to come and fix it so that shit stops flowing onto your floor. At that point you don't care about their training, how experienced they are, how flash their van is etc. All you want is someone to come and stop the shit.

Musicians are the same, the people that pay musicians don't care how many years you have been playing, they don't care that you have a fancy PA system or guitar amp. They don't even care if you have a flash van to cart your gear around in. All they care about is a full bar and a full cash register and if that isn't also your number one concern, then don't expect to be paid the same as a Plumber.

A Plumber that can't stop the shit from flowing won't get called again and might not even get paid.
Why then do musicians who can't pull a crowd and don't put in the hard yards when it comes to marketing and promotion, also expect to be paid?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

How much are you worth?

Over the years, I have been in a lot of discussions about how much live music is worth.
The only thing I can categorically state after all these discussions is that:
  • Most bands and artists believe they are worth far more than they really are but in actual fact often charge far less than what they are actually worth.
  • Most venue owners, promoters and booking agents think bands charge far too much but often pay far more than a band is worth.
Is that slightly confusing...

So how do we resolve this.
There are two ways of doing this, a measure based on a good relative comparison, or a measure based on value. I'll look at each, but this week we focus on finding a good relative comparison.

I'd like to introduce you to what I call the "Plumber Test".
In my opinion a good musician requires about the same level of skill as a Plumber to do their job.
Trainee Plumbers spend around 144 hours per year on theory.
They learn their trade over a 4 to 5 year period.
At the end of their training they need to spend about $20k to $30k on tools to do their job plus they may also need to buy a vehicle.

In contrast, a musicians easily spend 5+ hours per week rehearsing (260 hours per year).
It takes at least 4 to 5 years of 10 to 20 hours per week practice to master an instrument.
In order to play in a band, you could easily spend $20k to $50k on your instrument, sound equipment and vehicle.

I think this makes it a fairly valid comparison.

The current hourly charge out rate for plumbers is $85 to $95 an hour. Note this is not the what plumbers get paid, this is how much they charge, in reality they are probably only paid 25% to 50% of this amount. The rest covers tax, ACC, vehicle costs and also a profit for their employer. If they are self employed, they keep this profit.

As most musicians are self employed, a charge-out rate of $85 per hour would equate to around $255 per musician for a 3 hour performance. But what about the driving time to get there and the time to setup, pack down and drive home again. Plumbers usually charge for this time, but they may do so at a lower rate. Lets roll with $40 an hour for non performance time. Say you have a 3 hour gig at a local pub starting at 9pm.

You start loading up at 3pm, drive to the venue, load in and setup. A good performer should be able to setup and sound check within an hour so lets allow 1 and a half hours for transport and load in. If you choose to hang around before the gig, that's on your dime. After the gig, there is around another hour of pack out and travel. That gives us 2 and a half hours of travel / setup at $40 an hour and 3 hours of performance at $85 an hour. That's $355 per musician. So a 4 piece band using the Plumber Test comes in at around $1420 + GST for a 3 hour show.

Now, if one person owns the van or one person owns the PA system, you might decide to compensate accordingly, but  this seems about right for a nights work to me.

Referring back to the Plumber Test.. How much would you pay to call out 4 plumbers to your house on a Saturday night when they live an hour away and then spend 3 hours fixing your flooding sewer pipe.
If you got a bill of $1400 for that scenario, I don't think you would feel too ripped off.

So the Plumber test works in most situations, however where it falls down is when one band is considerably better than another (just like some Plumbers are a bit dodgy). Or perhaps one band can pull a massive crowd and another band can't. This is where the concept of value kicks in and our Plumber Test goes down the toilet quicker than a leaky sewer pipe. Next week we will look at value and determine exactly what you are worth.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Speaking of Speakers Part 3

There are many different types of speaker cabinet designs.

Line Arrays

Line Arrays have enjoyed a recent resurgence as the modern 'must have' speaker system. However their roots go back to the days when Town Halls all around the world had old style column speakers hanging in the corners. There is a saying in the sound industry that if you have to ask if you need a Line Array, you don't need a Line Array.

Line Arrays are particularly good at a narrow set of functions which limits their practical use to covering very long distances and covering wide areas. This makes them particularly useful for large outdoor concerts, but not brilliant in other scenarios. Line Arrays are relatively complex to setup and require a minimum of 4 to 6 individual cabinets joined together to work properly. They are also only practical when flown from the roof or a dedicated tower.

There has been a recent increase in small Line Arrays marketed at musicians and bands to take advantage of the buzz around the term. I don't recommended that you purchase a Line Array that you can buy in a music shop.

Passive Mid / High Speakers

These speakers are the most commonly used in the industry for small events.
They consist of one or two Mid Range speakers and a Horn speaker combined in a single speaker cabinet. They can produce almost the entire frequency range apart from the lowest sub bass frequencies. For extra bass they are stacked on top of additional Sub Woofers. There are two modes of operation, Bi-Amp and Passive Crossover.
In Bi-Amp mode, a separate amplifier drives the Horn Speaker from the amplifier that drives the Mid Range speakers. In Passive Crossover mode, a special device allows the entire cabinet to be powered by a single amplifier by splitting the frequencies and directing them to the right speaker.

Passive Crossovers are less than ideal but are low cost. Bi-Amping a speaker ensures that if a large amount of power is required for a split second to drive the Mid Range speakers, that it does not affect the power going to the Horn Speakers. This generally means Bi-Amped speakers are louder and clearer.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Speaking of Speakers Part 2

Last week we talked about speakers in general. This week we are talking about the different types of speakers we might need in a PA system.

Horn Speaker

Horn Speakers reproduce very high frequencies. There are two parts to a Horn Speaker. The horn itself is the visible part that looks a little bit like a giant funnel. The horn driver is bolted onto the back of the horn and actually produces the sound.

There are two types of horn driver, Piezo based horns are relatively cheap and compression horns are comparatively more expensive. The only major difference is the volume (measured in dB Sound Pressure Level SPL). Piezo horns cannot produce high SPL and are easily blown while compression drivers are capable of producing ear splitting loud Sound Pressure Levels.

Horn speakers are extremely directional so you can only hear the high frequencies where you point the speaker. They also require very little power to produce very high SPL's.

Mid Range Speakers

Mid range speakers are usually small speakers (from 5" up to 15" in size) that produce the frequencies below those that a horn can efficiently produce and above the frequencies of a Sub Woofer (120Hz upwards). They are usually a traditional speaker design. Mid range speakers are moderately directional and the higher the quality of the speaker cabinet, the more directional the mid range frequencies will be. Mid range speakers require a moderate amount of power to produce high SPL's.

Sub Woofers

Sub Woofers are usually speakers between 12" and 21" in size and are recognisable by their very large magnets.
Sub Woofers produce a very low range of frequencies in the bass range from 40Hz up to 200Hz maximum. Even though this is a very small range of frequencies, Sub Woofers require a massive amount of power to move the giant cones through the air.

Next week we will look at the different types of speaker cabinet design.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Speaking of Speakers Part 1

Over the last few weeks we have been looking closely at music gear and working our way from the most important equipment in your sound system (cables) down to the least important (speakers).

A lot of people remain surprised at this however there is some quite simple logic behind the argument.
Firstly we must differentiate between the two parts of a speaker system. The speaker is the device inside that actually moves. The speaker enclosure is the cabinet that encloses the speakers. Arguably, the design and build quality of the cabinet is far more important than the speaker itself.

Speakers by their nature are a mechanical device, the fundamental design of the modern speaker has not changed much in the last 100 years.

There are only two major differences between a cheap speaker and expensive speaker.

  • The speakers ability to handle a lot of power
  • The type of magnet used.
    • Old school Iron Ferrite magnets = heavy
    • Modern Neodymium magnets = light
The actual sound quality difference between old and new magnet technology is negligible, the only major difference is the weight of the resulting speaker. Therefore an expensive Neodymium based speaker cabinet may not actually sound any better than a low cost Iron Ferrite speaker cabinet. However, you will notice a major difference when you are loading your van.

Modern speakers may also incorporate improved cooling technology to enable them to handle more power. In practice, this technology makes no difference to the sound quality, it just costs more and means the speaker can go 'louder for longer'.

So, if you have a healthy bank balance or are going to be lugging lots of speakers around 5 nights a week, then it may make sense to invest in some high end speakers, but if you are just doing the odd gig here and there and weight is not a big issue for you, save yourself some serious coin and buy some cheaper speakers.

Next week I'll look more closely at the different types of speaker and also the properties of a speaker we might be interested in.