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.