An under-priced industry
posted on February 1st, 2012

In the past few weeks I’ve written and deleted this a bunch of times but now I’d better force myself to finish and publish it because I keep flaming other people’s discussions on Facebook, so desperate am I to make the points. So.

I am convinced there is a major under-pricing problem for live music events at small UK venues – and this is doing critical unseen damage to the live industry as a whole. It’s caused primarily by the mixing up of the small but heavily hyped ‘up and coming’ scene with the much, much larger but less exposed world of professional, lifelong gigging. So obviously (since I am in that industry) it’s hard to write, without sounding greedy or pompous.

First the exceptions: local bands; ‘first time outers’; and certain genre sub cultures (Americana and trad folk, for example). Apart from that lot, take a look across the board at ticket prices, they should be approximately doubled for most evenings of live music in <250 capacity rooms. Specifically I’m talking about the crazy prevalence of £3-£5 entry, which absolutely should be £6 or £7 in advance, rising to £8-£10 on the door. The ‘step’ above that is bad too; where tickets are now £6-£7, they ought to push towards £12-£14.

People react badly to this thought, until they start comparing an evening of live music in a small venue to any other kind of cultural experience, or even any other kind of evening out. The cinema is more expensive. The theatre’s a ton more expensive. Sometimes even medium sized ‘selling’ art shows are more expensive, although they’re in themselves a shop window. A lineup of non-famous stand-up comedians playing to a similar sized crowd for a shorter amount of time (and with lower running costs) will be 1.5 times as expensive.

It’s wrong for the following reasons: (and please assume I’m not including free gigs / parties etc. in this bit of the argument, they’re an entirely different issue)

If you pay so little for something that it’s meaningless money – pocket change – then you’ll expect it to be worthless and value it as such. As much as punters and staff, this includes promoters and artists themselves.

Therefore, however much they deny it, people who’ve paid negligible entry are less interested in the music and are simply less good audiences. They’re more likely to use the gig as a meeting place and end up thinking of the music as background to their social occasion.

Which can reduce performers to having to ‘work the room’ to draw attention and win them over, instead of performing our craft or show. I’m the first to agree stagecraft (this ‘working the room’ business) is a crucial skill for ‘first-time-out’ artists to learn. But forcing our hand like that, dealing with a bunch of disinterested people, lets down the fans who’ve come specifically to hear music.

It also doesn’t work economically: any belief that reducing entry price will attract significantly higher numbers (to the point of being more lucrative overall) is simply a myth, it doesn’t work. Even when it does bring a few more people to the show, the figures never add up to an improved overall take. And I’ve just explained why those extra people are useless for the atmosphere.

If a promoter sits down and does the sums for a second, it’s bloody obvious: say you need to make £350 to break even. Charge £7 and the 50th punter puts you in the black. Charge £3 and you need 117 people before you’re at the same financial point. The difference between those two break-evens in small-scale / small-town gigging is enormous.

Worse (this may sound counter-intuitive but) the economic truism of ‘supply and demand’ balance is screwed too and I believe this is a core of the problem in the UK:

People increasingly stay away from ‘small’ live music I believe because they think of it as a cheap and nasty experience. Partly, the entire live industry is skewed by over-attention on the ‘up-and-coming’ circuit. These are young, ambitious artists, working hard to get heard but at this point in their ‘career’ (rightly) not remotely earning a keep from the music they make and still learning their trade. They have a 20-30 minute set. Their reasons for being in the game are multitude and often temporary. Now that sub-set is the most highly publicised bit of the small venue circuit, yet it is forgotten that – by number of performers and shows at least – that sub-set is actually tiny compared to the vast swathe of lifelong professionals swimming in the same pool. The ‘first time outers’ drag down the price because they’ll do fucking anything to play. Then when someone puts a gig price up to a reasonable rate, exhausted gig-goers think that show is uncharacteristically, noticeably expensive compared to the general scheme of things.

Funny thing is, the hopefuls are only ever in that ‘first time outer’ role for a very short period of time, yet in that period they drastically undercut the circuit for the huge majority – including themselves in the future, if they continue to make music beyond their first burst. By the way, oddly, the same is true of big stars at the other end of the industry: musicians in big name bands who sell out arenas usually only do that for a very few years, before they drop back to the same circuit. If they want to be life-long working musicians, in the vast, vast, majority of cases, this paradigm I’m banging on about is where they’ll likely spend the rest of their days.

To sum up; the assumption that it’s only cheap because it ‘has’ to be cheap falls flat as soon as you observe how the entire country has been brainwashed into mis-perceiving small shows as being in that ‘up and coming’ category. You pay £3 for three hyped bands, four times out of five you get newbie shit barely worth £3 with an audience chatting through it and the venue stinks and the sound is awful. Why would you go back? Making music has become cheap because it has become easy – and it has become easy because it has become cheap. Too many providers in it for the wrong reasons. Raise the price, raise the quality, separate the wheat from the chaff.

From a personal perspective, if I’m truly honest about it, if you’re the sort of fan who would come to my gig if it was £3-£5 but wouldn’t pay £7-£9, then I’m not bothered if you stay away. Regardless of the recession, if people argue they “can’t afford it”, does that mean they’re not buying a bottle of wine or a few beers either?

Off on tour, then as soon in your career as humanly possible, please ask to be paid for your show. At the very least get expenses covered, otherwise you’re effectively paying to play. Then if you’re relying on a door-split and my argument about the economics has convinced you, have the balls to tell the promoter what you want the tickets to be priced at.

If you can offer an audience a longer set of decent quality material, that some of them already know and love, and/or a show that will enrich peoples’ lives in some way, perhaps have an opinion on the ticket price when you’re first booking the show (or discussing the tour with your agent). I’ve taken too long to learn this, only just got it figured out to think about door price, even though I’ve been expecting to be paid for over a decade.

The question is: who really won’t come if you stick a couple more quid on the ticket, in order to cover the expenses of the support band? Please, please, book with your heads as well as your hearts: if you can’t make the gig work, don’t do it. As a touring artist I would *much* rather you turned my show down at the first email, than I show up, 300 miles from home and the night doesn’t work and you don’t want to pay the pre-agreed amount at the end because you didn’t know how to make a proper poster. As I posted in a (good) promoter’s discussion thread on this subject recently, one key uplifting thing to remember if a night has gone horribly wrong is: at least you get to go home to your warm house, partner, cats. The touring band looks forward to another night in a cheap motel, or worse on someone’s floor, before having to drive on to the next show.

Venue (especially bar) owners.
Please don’t rip off young promoters and bands by sticking them in a corner unpaid while you rake in beer money from their mates. If you’re using live music to improve booze sales, respect and value that music too. Be picky. Be generous with fees and pay what was agreed. Think about long-term reputation, not just for our sake but for your own. If everyone’s calling you a dick behind your back, chances are it’ll never reach your ears, you’ll just be putting on worse and worse bands. And conversely there is nothing better in this world than being known as a special place to go see (and play) live music. Everyone wins.

If a gig is £8 please don’t fucking moan about it, if you’d happily drink £8 in two hours out after work. I would rather you went to fewer shows overall, were a bit more picky, if it means you’ll go see things you’re prepared to pay properly to see. If you really, truly can’t afford to see live music, the solution is to get involved. The very first method of payment for helping out at any level in the live music industry is free entry. Stick some posters up, do some Facebooking for the promoter or email the artist and offer to help with merch. Nine times out of 10 your help will be welcome. Or start a zine and blag in free that way. We need you guys, not the moaners who think shows should be £2.


  1. 5:57 pm on 2/1/12

    I /broadly/ agree with this. But, I would add:

    > Part of the problem with the perception towards cheaper shows / smaller venues are the 7-night-a-week venues – the ones that operate on the Dublin Castle model of shoving four, unrelated bands onto a bill every night of the week, and the eternal shuffle of each band’s 20 friends around the venue. The profligation of such places, particularly in London, but also I imagine in other major cities, completely devalues the bottom end of the live music industry for those who tour professionally.

    > Saying that, though, up here in Edinburgh, there /is/ a noticeable price difference between a touring band playing Sneaky Petes (generally £7/8) and one of those types of venues (£5). But that might just be a unique local dynamic, as Edinburgh has a lot of people but terrible attendances for a lot of shows at the bottom end.

    > You mention the cinema. There’s a key difference between cinema and live music, because you can replicate one at home. As it goes, the cinema at, say, £8, is too expensive for me, because the experience can be easily replicated at home for a much smaller amount. Live music priced around the same I’m fine with. A couple of quid more and I probably would have to think again, irregardless of the benefits for the touring artist. But then I’m a full time student, and right now 3/4s of my ‘income’ goes on rent. So, you know, maybe not entirely representative.

    > As an ex promoter, the way it works in small venues is utterly bollocksed. A lot of smaller venues don’t do much inhouse promotion, because (a) they’d need to pay someone to do it for them, and (b) attendances can vary SO MUCH. So it’s shipped out to idealistic independent promoters, who have fixed fees with the venue, and often fixed fees with the artist, but also completely fluctuating audience numbers that it’s really really hard to predict. I’ve done shows in the past that have sold out completely unexpectedly, and I’ve made money on. More often than not, I’ve done shows that nobody at all comes to (often because the label/PR drop the ball with a release) and I’ve lost hundreds of pounds on because the venue want £100 and the band’s agent wanted £200 and a hotel room and meals.

    I think there was another point but I’ve forgotten it.

  2. 5:59 pm on 2/1/12

    Oh yeah – quite often smaller touring bands, especially those on their first albums, turn in really really short sets. I saw one late last year who played for thirty five minutes, and were done by 9:40pm.

    Whilst I’m not going to try and equate length of a set with value for money, at £8 that barely felt worth leaving the house for. £2 more and I would’ve felt pretty ripped off.

  3. 6:13 pm on 2/1/12

    Some very good points Chris. As someone who has been playing the small gig circuit for many years I have tried all sorts of methods of getting a good crowd and a decent fee. It really comes down to how well the gig is promoted and how much effort is made by both the band and promoter / venue.

    You’re right, in these days when a pint can cost anywhere between 3 and 4 quid, a £6 /£8 entry fee is not in the least expensive. Most bands are happy to just cover expenses, maybe a few beers and enough for a cheap takeaway.

  4. R
    6:49 pm on 2/1/12

    I ‘promote’ charity gigs – in other words, I volunteer for a charity (I work full time and run a small business, as well as singing in 3 bands.) and try to get my friends to come to gigs I charge a fiver for. We’re all under no pretence that it’s really just a night for people to come, listen to some music they might not enjoy, and help out a charity that really needs it. I very rarely have a lot of time to do proper promotion, but I’m honest about this. I think the gig price reflects that.

    What people forget is that music is, as it well should be, a way of people making a living. Yes, being in a band is fun, but if you’re willing to turn up and play for buttons, it’s destructive to a business. I’m a crafter – I work hard at what i do, and when i turn up to fairs where people who make things ‘just as a hobby’ charge pretty much cost price, it ruins my day. It makes people undervalue what I do. Isn’t underpricing gigs the same sort of thing?

    I’m realistic about what people can and can’t afford, so I put my items firmly in the ‘well priced, verging on cheap’ category. I think there’s a middle ground here – I’d say £7 is fair for local bands.

    Apologies for using personal experience to relate, I felt it was relevant.

    The other problem is that I couldn’t name you any half decent promoters in Glasgow (If anoyone DOES know any, please point me in their direction) and because of people being scammed by pay to play, many gigs are DIY, by people like myself who are really too busy to promote gigs properly. We need decent promoters, and people to realise how much hard work goes into music.

    Finally, apologies to Dave, who’s been telling me this for years.

  5. Ben Morse
    7:03 pm on 2/1/12

    Your argument is basically about bars, or venues with bars. What needs to change (and won’t) is the fact that bands are a cheap way to get people in and buying drinks, which as you rightly identify is where they profit.
    They COULD give money to support acts, and morally, I think established venues should. But other than morally, there’s no reason to. They are a business, and again, as you have said, most bands are dying to play. So they accept door cuts or very low pay offs, and the venue either gambles, or makes a handsome profit.

    I’m not defending the process at all – as I said, for popular venues, it’s deplorable. But I think you are focusing on the punter, not the problem.

  6. Mike
    7:31 pm on 2/1/12

    Speaking as a punter rather than an artist, I couldn’t agree more.

    I think the attitude even filters down to DIY shows – I’ve seen numerous occasions at house shows where people have thrown in a few pennies or nothing at all – fair enough that these are hard times, but you’ve got to support the scene.

    I understand the mindset at work here but I sometimes wish people would back up their passion for music with enough cold hard cash to keep the bands and scenes they love afloat.

  7. John
    7:49 pm on 2/1/12

    I want to hear the story about the Oxford bar girl.

    (sorry for flippancy; this post is awesome)

  8. pete the punter
    9:03 pm on 2/1/12

    As someone who goes to shows priced at £3-4 pounds quite regularly and spends a lot more at the bar than on entry I’d like to defend my choice.

  9. 9:37 pm on 2/1/12

    And I’d like to read your defence of your choice, Pete. Go ahead…

  10. 9:05 pm on 2/1/12

    I am, I suppose a ‘punter’ with some knowledge of promoting (helping).

    I wouldn’t go to a gig that cost less than £5 (unless the people were COMPLETE unknowns). I’d automatically assume that the acts weren’t good. I expect that any decent bill of say three bands would need a charge £7-8, for them to pay a touring band and pay local ones at least travel expenses. Whilst as part of a couple that automatically means £16 – which is a lot – I’d happily pay it if I thought even one of that bands was worth it.It may be though that I have seen an above the average amount of really good bands within that price range.

    I think a lot of bands have, on starting up, been so used to playing for nothing or on pay to play schemes that they think they can’t ask for a fee. They can, and any promoter who doesn’t think they should pay a touring band; a)shouldn’t be a promoter and b) isn’t worth working with. I know acts want to play often, but they should say no to gigs they will get nothing out of (though, I think in the beginnings of a music career playing as local support for a very good band and having that to put on you music CV is ok, even if you are paid very little, because you still gain something).

  11. 9:25 pm on 2/1/12

    […] Interesting article about the apparent ‘under-pricing’ of gigs. […]

  12. Marc
    10:20 pm on 2/1/12

    I don’t really comment on much on the interweb these days but this is a good article and that’s worth stating.

    The only thing I would argue is the state and condition of some of the smaller venues. I would resent paying more than a fiver or so at some of these places. I’ve been to countless toilet venues, and they are just that – toilets. They stink of piss (especially since the smoking ban) and the facilities for both band and punters are shocking.

    At least when you visit the cinema or theatre you get to go to a place that has perhaps seen a hoover in the last six month. When you go somewhere like.. ooh.. I don’t know… a small venue in Hull… I genuinely feel like I have to wash myself five times a day for two weeks afterwards just to stop feeling unclean. How can a place like that justify charging more than a fiver even to touring artists? They should pay me for any medical bills for what I might have caught. And that place I am alluding to isn’t the worse I’ve seen… And that says a lot as the last time I went there every toilet was covered in old shit.

    So venues are key to this as well. They are nearly as important as the bands with regards to pricing. Just because a venue is small it doesn’t mean it has to look awful, have terrible facilities and smell like a sewer.

  13. 10:22 pm on 2/1/12

    hahahaha. Marc totally wins.

  14. Chris.R
    10:22 pm on 2/1/12

    I think a lot of live gigs suffer by the hand of promoters thinking that having a poster and putting it up in the venue the bands are playing in is enough (and the standard invite all on facebook), then complaining when no body turns up. Lowering the price is obviously an effort to entice a crowd but really if enough people are talking about it then it doesn’t matter who the band is. I don’t think the problem is ever with the crowd, the venues and promoters are the blame. There will always be an audience but reaching them is another thing.

  15. Marc
    10:40 pm on 2/1/12

    He he. Thanks Chris. And we won’t mention the South London venue where a big old dog slobbers all over the BBQ food you get for a ‘treat’. And the toilets there have the worst smell of all time. I got a tramp to piss on me last time I went so I was more in tune with the venues vibe.

    In all seriousness though I am a 35 year old man. I am not a young buck anymore. These days I like to go to a place where I am not going to smell urine all night. That’s why I don’t mind paying a bit more to watch a play – especially one where a lady may show her boobies in the name of art. It’s also why I go to the 02 and pay £70 to watch a band as it has a Nandos and a Pizza Express. What it doesn’t have is a dog dribbling on a veggie sausage.

  16. GlaikitGowk
    10:44 pm on 2/1/12

    There was a house in New Orleans,
    They called The Rising Sun,
    They paid a wage to working folk,
    Oh lord I know I was one.

    Well they would come from far and near,
    Pay the door, their work was done,
    And it didn’t matter who was on,
    They knew they’d have their fun.

    Well I toiled so hard to learn my trade,
    They said it couldn’t be done,
    And I proved that I was worth my salt,
    From the house of The Rising Sun.

    Now Sister when I got there,
    I was far from the top of the game,
    The wiser tricks were fighting,
    For their very own fortune and fame.

    “The wages here are frightful,
    Us workers need to learn,
    If we cast-out all on our own,
    Do you know what we could earn?”

    Well Brother they took their contracts,
    Struck a match and laughed as they burned,
    They plied their trade on the other side of town,
    And the tide of our patrons? Well it turned.

    Well the wages *then* became frightful,
    I did what I had to do,
    I struck out with my very own match,
    And sought my fortune too.

    And now my baby sister,
    Can’t do as I had done,
    Cause each and every one of us,
    We sold what we had won.

    Now I sell myself to a sleazy little man,
    Who trades us by the tonne.
    Would you build a house in New Orleans,
    And call it ‘The Rising Sun’?

    GlaikitGowk 2012

  17. Killian Curran
    11:02 pm on 2/1/12

    While I agree Chris with most points made it is a vicious circle. I like many reading this article have given up on music due to the endless touring, and de-motivation, due to many of the problems you raised, small crowds, dingy gigs in awful pubs and clubs, lack of appreciation by crowds, always being broke the list is endless. Even though I, like all reading this love playing and listening to music I miss it, but don’t miss it as well. Many musicians and bands reach a breaking point where they become so deflated and disillusioned by the whole thing they just have to give up. I earned more money filling in for C/W and Irish covers bands than I ever did playing with my own bands. I felt almost like a traitor doing this, but it did help pay the bills. It is only right as you say that a reasonable price is paid to see a band, as was said two pints is €8.00 gone in about 20 mins, where as you can see a 1 or 2 hour set for the same price. The sad thing is it will probably never change.

  18. Working class
    11:49 pm on 2/1/12

    I’m actually quite offended at this post, how can you generalise something that has such a wide spectrum?
    Why in the bitter ramblings has area not been taken into account? Just because a musician lacks a fan base…. Is that the venue’s/promotors fault? Timings, dates, everyone’s (by everyone I mean, average joe, average income) on the breadline at the end of the month, and who wants to go out and not have a pint and relax midweek (working class again) not many I can assure you!, so for example… Midweek gig, local band,£7 entry, handful of people through the door…… Who loses out? The band?, they have travelled, set up, taken time out and given it all on stage to 3 people, or the venue/promotors who have been obliged to hand over a set fee, a venue with overheads, staff. Most bands I’ve spoken to do it for the love of it, not to deliver a divine message. And as for the windmill, I guess you have made your complaint face to face? Before or after your fee? It’s a cracking venue, It may not have a little person handing you a towel or mint in the bogs after you’ve taken a dump, but it’s got character. If you prefer sitting in a huge lifeless room with thousands of other people chortling at elton johns latest tinklings, and dyson hand dryers, do it! I choose a pissy little hut in the middle of nowhere ANY DAY! AND I appreciate it, because I know how much hard work goes into it. I’m so sick of poor little rich kids (and adults)! Trying to whine their way through life….. If you have fans….. THEY WILL COME !, take your head off your dermatological satin pillow, remove the silver spoon, and stick a mic in it!

  19. andy
    11:51 pm on 2/1/12

    Its another way the internet has effected the industry, promoters rely on facebook far to much which means the gig going public get bombarded with events everyday, so gigs are almost put on sale to compete , whos giving the best deal , this effects unknown acts weather they are starting out or have a good solid career behind them .
    I do think venue’s that want to keep the entry fee low should be prepared to dip into the bar take, twenty pence on a drink does add up over the night and tops the door money up .
    I really do get mad that bigger names wont entertain playing a small venue, small venues need all the support they can, more ‘names’ playing more dates at smaller venues to bring people through the door that will see the posters for other gigs and give local support acts a chance of a new audience of folk who may just like them, it can do nothing but help everyone and add credibility to the venue .

    We let bands set the entry price and pretty much never profit from the door revenue, but if a band set the price high and nobody turned up because of this we would not be in business long, overheads are ridiculous and bills have to be paid.

    I guess the key is to only work with promoters you trust , and get an agreed minimum fee against a percentage of the door, maybe only take the gig if its agreed your paid before you go on stage .

    Come April the law looks likely to change meaning a regulated entertainment license will not be needed for gigs ending before eleven pm and with no more than 5000 capacity, so much shit is going to be put on everywhere, it will be even harder to get people to part with their hard earned to see something credible , unique worth bloody paying for and it is sad but true that people budget for beer first and we are left competing with fucking karaoke and drum n bass bollox twenty people paying ten quid is going to be a better class of audience than forty paying five quid but that isnt sustainable for a venue .
    We have had whole door take gigs that have sold out yet run at a loss because its a week night and over half the attendees buy one coke the whole night , they only thing that we do to pay the bills is sell drinks and we try damn hard to promote arts to folk who know no better than the mainstream dribble , and are now slowly raising the entry fee to meet demand but if we had done that from the outset we wouldnt of lasted the first 6 months , I guess our location is alot to do with it .
    I also think because we know how it used to be we realize how things have changed, we live in a disposable society the days of fanzines and going out to find whats good are over the internet tells kids what to like now, I bet the first thing 90 percent of gig goers do is check the amount of likes or followers before even contemplating pushing play , let alone buy a single or pay to see them live .
    We run a little venue in a very competitive town , Id dearly love to grow a pair and not use the internet at all for promotion or advertising to let the folk that truly want to come to our place for the right reasons – whats on the stage to have something special but I dont think thats ever going to happen anymore because we are lost in a internet of shit and what should shine through and used to shine through gets flushed with the turds .

    @marc did a great man once say ”if the toilets dont stink of piss and your feet dont stick to the floor your not in a proper venue?”

  20. JC John
    12:24 am on 2/2/12

    Good article Chris,

    Lots of points and all well put.

    It’s a very expensive hobby these days just being in a band, let alone the touring type with the added costs of travel and accomodation.

    The public want to be entertained by new and decent acts so they should br ready to fork out and help the costs of those artists who are able and willing to come to their local venue (stinky, or not).

    Many pubs want a band, not because they like live music, but simply to attract beer-swilling punters to improve the take over the bar, so they at least should split the (extra) profit with the act who has attracted those extra sales.

    Promoters want to make as much money as they can while at the same time keeping costs to a minimum, but there needs to be a certain ammount of dedicationto that promoting. Advertising posters and flyers, CD signings in local music outlets or focal places in the town before the gig, even an interview on the local radio station should all be reasonable expectations…
    This would cost more, but ultimately make more as more people would be passing the word on about the gig, therefore increasing the chances of filling the venue and thereby making the added costs well worth the effort.

    The acts themselves need to be fair to all, as well, though… 35 minutes for a gig is nowhere near enough, if that’s all the material you have, then stick to an ‘Open Mic’ night in your own local (unless that 35 mins is very, very high quality). If on a multi act programme, chose who you are appearing alongside very carefully, three folk singers followed by a Scandinavian Death Metal band is not a good mix, simply either refuse to perform or ask for another night when there are a good mix of similar genres, if the owner thinks that a folk/death metal mix will bring in both crowds, he is deluding himself! And perform… sounds simple enough but many acts I see (and I do this myself) simply mumble an intro, at best, or say nothing at all about their next number, which leaves the audience wondering what the song is about, let them know a bit about the song, tell a funny story (keep it brief) and you will fill out your act and engage the audience who will associate better with the songs after they feel theknow you better. To play with no chat, is a bit like having the juke-box still on, so the audience will tend to chat themselves, whereas they probably won’t if you’ve chatted them up…

    Last point I’d like to make… ‘up-coming’ acts and ‘fading stars’ all end up on the pub & club circuit as well as long-term tourers. So, don’t abuse it when you’re starting off , make it pay from the outset… and don’t despise it from above, well known acts can promote smaller venues from the stage of the O2, Wembley arena and all the other big venues, big stars have clout and should use their stardom to promote the up-coming acts as they were themselves, once, and probably will be again out on the circuit.

    Well said Chris and I support you totally in this crusade to make the industry (for that’s what it is) pay .

  21. 12:53 am on 2/2/12

    I love your points and I do agree to an extent. However the price of pints being £4 instead of £3 is enough to keep people away from a venue. Same is true of gigs- it is a very competitive market with a surplus. Each venue is competing with each other, it is in their interest to beat the competition. What you are talking about- raising the price of all gigs- is impossible, venues have to be competitive and price is one of the biggest factors.

  22. 11:07 am on 2/2/12

    Hi Chris,

    An interesting article, and I agree with your points.

    It is a weird human thing how people will pay £5 for something but baulk at £8 even though the difference is less than the price of a supermarket sarnie.

    I’m currently promoting my first gig (apologies, a plug here. See the brilliant Free Swim plus Twin Brother and Stick In A Pot on Feb 24th at The Green Door Store and the advance ticket price is only £5 (£5.50 with booking fee and £6 on the door). I set this price as advised by the venue based on what they thought you could charge for local or unknown acts.

    I am committed to paying the bands some money. This isn’t a money making endeavour for me. I want to try and get exposure and gigs for bands I like. Hopefully I’ll make enough money to give them enough to cover more than their expenses, but that would be the very minimum I’d pay them however quiet it is.

    Now I’m in the process it is very hard to make any money at low prices. The venue charge, poster printing, ticket printing etc. all cost and you therefore need a decent crowd to end upo in profit at the end. Hopefully the night will be busy and there will be some money left (which I’ll use to put on another gig later in the year).

    The problem though is making people see the value in the music they love. I know a lot of people who don’t see why they should pay for recorded music. Based on that mindset paying more than a few quid to see a band play live seems like a lot to them.

  23. Paul Waller
    11:53 am on 2/2/12

    I think 35 minutes is the perfect length of a set for a band. For a new band, a first timer 25 mins will be fine. You fill it will an amazing set and I’ll go home happy. If you are new and you play for an hour. Then you suck. Any longer and my boredom will be most evident.

    If your big enough play huge venues then this post is not for you anyway

  24. Pigeon
    12:05 pm on 2/2/12

    I think the point about the perceived value of music is a good one.

    The cost of a ticket to the cinema is now close to £10 per person for a 2 hour film, yet people often pay that for a night of entertainment. Add pop corn and other snacks and you are looking at a £30+ night out.

    Gig’s often last longer – are more sociable – yet have a lower cost.

    I am not sure where I stand on it and feel there are a lot of variables. I love live music and often can’t afford to go to all the gigs I would like to – this makes me go to less, but in a way I appreciate the ones I do go to more.

    I also sit on the other side as a musician who plays gigs and have to weigh up the benefits of playing cheaper gigs to gain exposure VS paid gigs.

    It’s a tough business …..

  25. 12:15 pm on 2/2/12

    Great post Chris. I started reading it thinking I was just going to disagree with it but by the end you make a good argument.

    I disagree with the first time outers time period and the desperation to play gigs though. I think a lot of bands stay at that level for a long time, years in fact. It can take years for some bands to move up from this level. My bands are guilty of taking low priced and free entry gigs in the hope more people will turn up and I know a huge amount of other bands that are in exactly the same position. From a band’s perspective it’s a tough thing to break out of.

    The first timer and lower level bands are also guilty of playing all the time in the same places. This is something I’ve restricted my bands from doing and I’m trying to leave at least 2 months between gigs in the same town.

    Whilst the mass over-saturation is the cause of a lot of these problems I do think we should look at it from a positive viewpoint though. At least some of the people involved are doing something creative and aren’t wandering the streets causing trouble. That in itself is a good thing.

    I don’t think these low priced gigs are going away though. There will always be a huge amount of very new or to be brutaly honest, not very good bands that will take any and all gigs they can for free entry or for very low entry fees.

    In my experience so far most promoters in the UK want to cram as many bands as they can on the bill in the hope that more people turn up. This rarely works, but it does sometimes. Maybe the promoters and the slightly better bands should work together to build strong line ups of 3 bands and allow all bands to play decent set lengths. Then they could charge a suitable door fee.

  26. 1:08 pm on 2/2/12

    […] reading a fascinating blog post last night from tirelessly hard-working singer of beautiful, underappreciated songs Chris T-T, I […]

  27. 3:26 pm on 2/2/12

    Gigs have to be cheap due to simple supply and demand. That movie you paid £10 to see was also probably shown on only one or two cinemas in the local area compared to the gazillion (approx) pub venues offering live music (and that’s just going to get worse – if more pubs doing live music is seen as a worse thing – now that the Live Music Bill is about to be officially passed at the end of this month, allowing any under 200 capacity venues to put on live music without having to apply for the licence to do so). Cinemas, incidentally, are struggling to survive and having to make money on popcorn and drinks. Hmm, sounds a bit like pub venues to me.

    Since I’ve been working directly for small venues I’ve seen the price of pints go from around £3.30 to £3.80 / £4, and entry cost for shows (gigs AND comedy) has dropped, all in the space of a couple of years. It’s difficult trying to charge £6 on the door when chances are you’ll be able to see many of the same bands in a venue down the road for free a month later. Even charging £4 on the door we still have to haggle with the ‘walk-up’ crowd about coming in, which is unbelievable really, and many end up paying only a couple of quid or, unless they’re a massive bawbag, we just let them in free (protip there for anyone wanting to blag into one of my venues). I’m not worried that charging an extra couple of quid on the door will stop people buying at the bar (it doesn’t – people will still spend the same on booze as they were intending to), I’m worried it stops them coming in at all (and I know there are some you wouldn’t want in, as argued above, but it is my job to make money for the bar and if the talkers don’t like it there’s plenty of room at the back of the bar they can sit in away from the music). And there’s not much we can do about that now so many venues are competing for the same bands (certain bands don’t get booked for a reason – it’s cos they’re shite).
    Unfortunately that does mean I’m trying to book more and more non-music events and actually our biggest regular midweek night now is a spoken word one (non-comedy). As much as I enjoy said event (I pursued them for about 9 months to get them booked in the first place), it’s a shame cos live music has been my passion since I turned 18 (a long time ago).

    I know this is essentially a bit of a rant on a blog but you’re basically asking for a whole loss of businesses / venues closures AND A WHOLE CULTURE SHIFT and perhaps it would be nice to go back to the days when the only venues you could see bands were The Garage, Barfly, Dublin Castle and Bull & Gate (not really but that’s what it feels like) so there’s less competition and fewer people calling the shots but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen is it? And while there are still venues like The Alibi or the trillion others on that Dalston strip offer free or next-to-nothing entry, nothing’s going to change. Just look at all the street-drinkers there are in Hackney. Nobody wants to pay for shit round there, let alone part with money to actually GET INTO those super cool venues they like to be seen in.

    Plus I am going to blame to a certain extent the promoters who put together completely random bills of incompatible genres and then charge £6-8. It’s no wonder casual gig goers have been put off going to shows if they assume most gigs are like this.

    I actually DO AGREE WITH YOU that gigs are too cheap but it just won’t change unless all the ‘industry’ – and that means venue owners, bar managers, promoters et al – actually get together and all agree to inflate ticket prices. I’m already eating popcorn at the thought of that meeting. (Won’t pay for entry though.)

  28. Bob
    3:37 pm on 2/2/12

    Simple explanation – you are basically a non-entity and the reason people don’t pay more than £3 or £5 or whatever to see you is that you aren’t worth it. There’s nothing wrong with ‘punters’ – it’s just that in the world of a lot of music, you aren’t particularly special.

  29. 3:48 pm on 2/2/12

    Adie, some very good points, I totally realise I’m trying to push a huge culture shift simply by asking people to put prices up a little (not get in a meeting and arrange it, just do it when they feel they can).

    But in your case, aren’t a large majority of the acts you put on essentially what I’d define as ‘local bands’, or ‘first time outers’, since you’re in the heart of London and most of the bands that play are upcoming (or long-gigging) London-based acts? I made a specific exception for local bands and ‘first time outers’ at the top of the article. I wonder if you price up for touring acts or more established acts that you know will do well? I wonder if non-music appeals, simply because of the issues I’ve raised, ie. lower running costs versus higher expectations of ticket prices.

    Also, I know you as a lovely, honest promoter who I wish I worked with more often… but I’ll admit, if I was playing for a door-split deal and I found out you’d reduced the agreed door price during the night, just because walk-ups moaned at you about it, I’d be pretty gutted / angry. I suppose that must be gigs where few people have showed up.

  30. 12:19 pm on 2/3/12

    Admittedly I made my rant 24 hours after first reading your blog so I couldn’t remember exactly what I was arguing for or against, but that’s how we do things on the internet, right? 😉

    Yes many of them are the ‘local bands’ and no that doesn’t get us 300 people in each night. We can sell out a Pete Doherty gig on a £25 ticket but those bookings don’t come around too often, what with there being loads of other venues and that. I guess what I’m saying is, even on £4 entry nights we’ll still have people haggling on the door. This is something which wasn’t so common maybe 3 years ago (I think I’m going to blame ‘The Apprentice’ for that one). So if I’ve got a group of 5 people about to walk away cos they don’t want to pay £4 (I know – unbelievable, right?) but I then do them a half price deal, that’s £10 extra towards the bands (as we take no box office money for in-house shows) and more bar sales (maybe) for us. If anyone looks like they’ve come to the venue specifically to blag in though I tell them to fuck off. As business for that particular venue is up by around 40% on last year, I think I’m going to be sticking to this method of getting a few more people through the door for now, unfortunately, as I’d rather they came into our venue and saw ‘our’ bands and drank our booze than go elsewhere (even one of our other pubs, cos i’ve put more effort into this one ;-)).

    Running non music events doesn’t appeal to me more for anything to do with running costs. It’s really not much of a difference. But with the live scene as it is, it wouldn’t be sustainable to just have live music 7 nights a week. But I think that’s going a bit off topic so I’ll shut up now and stop skiving.

    PS. We also have people often trying to blag guestlist for a Saturday night club night which is only £3 entry. So many people think you owe them something. IT’S THREE POUNDS.

  31. 11:55 pm on 2/3/12

    OK, I’m overwhelmed by the response to this piece, thank you SO much. This entry is on 3,000 views!

    I know there’s some housekeeping to do on matters arising from this entry but that’ll have to wait. For now I want to point you to the editor’s piece in this week’s CMU newsletter which mentions this blog entry, contrasting the issues I touched on with Madonna’s insane £180 gig pricing:

  32. 3:45 am on 2/4/12

    I live in Tokyo, and I book a monthly live show here for smaller bands.

    Tokyo is almost entirely pay-to-play. Bands have to guarantee around 20 tickets and make up any shortfall themselves. Venues are custom-made for live music, as opposed to a pub with a stage in the corner. Tickets are expensive (roughly £15 or more for the smallest venue with the most unknown bands), bills usually feature five totally random bands, gigs start while people are still at work, booze is priced the same as at a bar but of the worst quality, and – guess what? – no one goes. At the end of the night, the band has to pay the venue. The house always wins, but the atmosphere is dead and no one (venue aside) is happy.

    This applies to the up-and-comers, but also to bands who have been playing for years, many of whom are staggeringly amazing. They can’t build an audience if no one comes.

    With Bad Noise!, we do the opposite, taking care to build lineups of just three bands who might appeal to one another’s fans, starting late, not charging the band any quota and in fact paying them from door money, and we use a bar with a stage in the corner – one of the very few in Tokyo – rather than a custom-made music venue. They keep the bar money, we get the door money.

    Crucially, we undercut other venues by half – 1,000 yen, or about £7 (though it feels like £4 in relative terms), for entry.

    Our punters thank us for the price. They see the flyer and remark on how cheap it is. And then they come to the show. We get enough money on the door to pay the bands a decent sum (remember, they usually expect to pay the venue, so they’re thrilled), and the shows have a better atmosphere than anywhere else.

    OK, so this is Japan and that’s Britain. But lower prices don’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe some of those “less committed” fans you’re complaining about will come because they can afford it, fall in love with you, and come back to future shows. You say that punters should choose between ticket and beer, but some people do live on the breadline, they do want to enjoy their night out by drinking while they watch a band, and they should be just as welcome at your shows as anyone else. It’s not only about money.

    Oh, and the movie you paid £8 to see at the cinema? That came with a multi-million pound promotion budget. Bad Noise! shows don’t, and I’m guessing Chris T-T shows don’t either. Times are tough for all of us, but people vote with their wallets, and it’s up to promoters to find the best way to get bums on seats and build an atmosphere that benefits the punters as much as the artists.

  33. 12:23 pm on 2/4/12

    Hey Daniel, it’s great that you’ve commented and I love the sound of what you’ve done in Tokyo but there’s no comparison at all, you’re dealing with an entirely different system and scene: in fact, arguably what you’ve done, by taking a leap and working out a new way to put shows on, is exactly what I’m proposing artists and punters and promoters here should think about. By your account, in Tokyo, generally shows are over-priced and you’ve stuck your neck out to counter that.

    You simply can’t compare, say “£7 though it feels like £4” unless you make a detailed fiscal determination of perceived expense. That *is* Japan and this *is* Britain. I wasn’t describing some hypothetical situation where lower pricing is automatically wrong, I’m arguing about a specific, real situation in the UK. Also it’s not simply the price-drop that has made you successful by comparison; sounds like you also do the other things I argue for, improving everyone’s respect for each other. I wonder if, in reality, you’re EXACTLY where I want UK shows to be. £7 is actually £7 after all.

    Is there still a big international touring scene into Japan? In the 1990s, it seemed every band that got to touring level in the UK would get out there fast, ahead of the USA even. But more recently it seems like folks miss it out by comparison to Oz and now even China. Do you think something has changed over the past decade to start a rot in Japan’s importing of touring artists? I get far more requests to play Oz, NZ, even now India and China (though I’ve not been able to afford to go yet) than Japan.

    Do you think the system you describe grew up because lots of ‘western’ touring bands came, and now they don’t come?

    btw the movie promo budget means nothing either: I was quite clearly demonstrating what people pay for certain kinds of entertainment *at the point of use*, not particularly worrying about the process that’s led up to a film being there. You could argue the other way around; that by the time a film reaches the screen, all involved with making the film have already been paid (unless they chose to take points instead).

    One thing Dan, I don’t like the implication that I’m “complaining” about “less committed” fans – I don’t like the slight personalisation. I deliberately kept my piece general and didn’t use case studies because it would’ve been unfair on other artists, but this is across the board, it’s nothing to do with me personally, in fact it possibly affects me less since (for headline shows where possible) I’ve already started very gradually asking for minimum ticket prices and finding different types of place to play – and across the board it is working. So it’s pissing me off that a few folks have taken this piece to be me whining about my own situation, it’s not.

  34. 1:38 pm on 2/4/12

    Chris, I’m loving this article and the responses to it.

    Can I ask how you think I should approach my current situation? I’m in a couple of bands that are moving into a position of not having to take every gig that’s offered to us but most gigs are currently £4 – £5 on the door. We have one all dayer lined up that is £6.

    I’m not sure I personally know many if any bands in our scene that play gigs for higher prices. How would you suggest we increase the door price? Promote our own gig ourselves, book the other bands and sort the door price ourselves or maybe look for a promoter to work with that will set a good door price?

    I must admit it feels odd to play cheaper gigs and then suddenly ask for a much higher admission charge (much higher compared to lots of free entry gigs we’ve played and lower priced ones).

  35. 2:23 pm on 2/4/12

    Thanks for your comment Chris. Some suggestions (just me, others may have different ideas) are:

    Wait til you’ve got a new release and try it then. Make the release brilliant and beautiful and work it hard (try to get radio / press / blogs, take that all seriously). Leave a bit of space before it happens when you haven’t gigged. Then self-promote (or talk with an honest, trusted promoter you know – but *you* set the door price) and run a well publicised launch show for the release, for which the price is slightly higher. I wouldn’t suggest suddenly making it loads more but just enough to make people aware the night is special. From £5 up to £7/£8? Get it organised and advance tickets on sale a good 3-4 months ahead of the date and get people who’ll definitely come to buy advance tickets. Maybe do an early bird ticket around the usual price but then knock it up 6 weeks ahead?

    Can you do 45+ minutes of brilliant music? Play a ‘big’ set, if you’ve got another promoter running the night, make a deal that you get a longer set. Big ideas I love are: alternative spaces, ‘Bring Your Own Booze’ nights or figuring out running your own bar (even a naughty one), throw a party in an unconventional gig space? good ‘brand’ names for your night, self-promoting is perfect if you have time and people power. If you’re a band, give each person in the band jobs according to their strengths to spread the workload.

    Ultimately, the more ‘different’ you make your first ‘step up’ launch-type night, the more memorable it’ll be and, if it works, people will want more of the same. You might suddenly find yourself spearheading an alternative live thing and beginning to change the whole culture locally?

    I hope that’s not just waffle and helps. Think about a gig as a special thing, outside the box and you’ll come up with something magic.

  36. 1:04 pm on 2/5/12

    I TM-ed a tour last year for a support band. In the UK we played toilets. Awful venues, as described above. Random buildings with rubbish access. Some exceptions: universities and some of the Academies. One place didn’t have the right desk (as specified in the apparently unread rider) and another’s gear blew up at souncheck. Or the local “crew” just spent their time smoking outside. Catering was largely non-existent or made one band member puke on stage. As for getting paid? Pennies.

    The EU tour, admittedly with a bigger band, was sublime. Mostly purpose-built venues, dedicated catering, large, secured parking areas, champagne after the show in Reims, professiosal crews, very good security. Superb catering in France.

    Also, a guy I know in the UK who books for a large venue in a provincial town won’t book unknowns as they won’t sell tickets. So how do good unknowns get known? Not his problem.

  37. 3:01 pm on 2/5/12

    People increasingly stay away from ‘small’ live music I believe because they think of it as a cheap and nasty experience.

    Where? Because this isn’t the case in Oxford. So is this a sweeping generalisation applied to the whole of the UK? Or is this a Londonism that only applies to that one place?

  38. 3:23 pm on 2/5/12

    Actually Brennig, it is the case in Oxford. Or you’re welcome to show me some evidence to the contrary and I’ll stand corrected; however promoters, agents and artists across up and down the UK (including Oxford) agree this is the case.

  39. 12:28 pm on 2/6/12

    Brilliant ideas Chris. Thank you.

    If I hadn’t, prior to reading this post, already booked our next album release show at our favourite free entry place I’d be re thinking along these lines.

    Next time round I’ll definitely be using some of these ideas for increasing our door fee.

  40. Andy
    2:13 pm on 2/6/12

    OK, some thoughts from a 52 year old bloke who goes to around 100 gigs and several festivals a year- everything from a handful of people in the back room of a boozer out to massive Arena shows.

    As a punter, I often do feel guilty when I’ve been to a free gig, or one where it’s only 3 or 4 quid for 3 or 4 bands that I’ve got ‘something for nothing’ – but then again, if it was a band (or bands) I liked I’ll always try and leave with a CD. Case in point was a gig I went to on Friday- 4 bands for 3 quid at a pub in Sheffield – 2 local bands, one from Scotland one from the south east. No way on earth that gig got anywhere near paying for itself though 3 of the 4 bands had merch onsale and I came away with 6CD’s – OK, not everyone does, but there was the best part of 30 quid I wouldn’t have parted with had I not gone to the gig,

    Thing is bands sometimes don’t help themselves . I have lost count of the times I’ve really enjoyed a band I’d never even heard of before, then afterwards asked if they’d got any merch … ‘Oh no, we forgot to bring it..’.. opportunity lost -and one which almost makes the point in them playing the gig pointless!!

    The crux of this matter.. would I pay more for my live music? I’d give that a ‘YES’ but follow it with a massive asterisk*. If we take it up from the free or ‘pay on the door’ type show to the one where tickets are actually sold, there is a huge problem of the value of a ticket being inflated so high by grabbing ticket ‘agencies’ that it often puts me off going. If the venue is going to the bother of putting gigs on it MUST have a sales outlet where you can pay what it says on the ticket. Can you imagine walking round Tesco’s then putting your shopping through the cashier and get hit with ‘Transaction Fees’ and a charge to transport your own goods home? That is what agencies are doing. There are several venues I know that just hide behind ‘Oh the promoter won’t let us sell them’..if that is true then shame on the promoter and, yes, shame on the band for going with promoters and venues like that.

    I tried to book a ticket for a soon to be touring U.S. band playing a small club gig in Manchester. Face value if the ticket is a tenner… a very fair price but I can’t buy it for that onto the web.. £10 ticket becomes £11 with ‘Booking Fee’ .. ok, that’s 10% but acceptable.. then you move on and you get a ‘Transaction Fee’ of £4.95.. WHATTTTTT??? so now my £10 ticket has become almost 60% dearer and I’m now thinking ‘Do I need to go to this show?’ – I’ve decided I don’t at that price, so there is one punter the band is missing out on selling merch to on the night. The crazy thing is, if the ticket price had been £16 and I could have rocked up to a box office to buy it at that price, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid

    My point is this -it’s got to be a two way street here- I don’t mind paying more if it’s going to the band, but it’s generally not going anywhere near them… and that is a hard circle to square off.

  41. Golo
    2:28 pm on 2/7/12

    I like the model that my local pub has. It’s a tiny place (80 capacity) but puts on a mixture of professional musicians, up-and-comers, local favourites etc, and has had a fair few big names play – such as Gary Moore (RIP) and Seth Lakeman. And it never charges a penny on the door. Because the landlord doesn’t believe people should pay for pub gigs – £75 to see something at the O2 fair enough, but even asking people for a compulsory couple of quid to see people playing in the corner of a pub he considers insulting. Instead, he puts around a hat and anyone who appreciates the music puts in what they can afford, and all that money goes to the musicians. Sometimes it’s only £20 or £30, sometimes it’s well north of £100 (usually the equivalent of £1-£3 per person on the door). In addition, he chucks them some money from the till, at least £50 but if it’s been busy and he’s sold lots of beer then £100 or £200. And free booze all night for the bands. It must be financially viable or he wouldn’t do it. The only negative aspect is that yes, half the people in there are just there ’cause it’s a pub and they’re chatting amongst themselves and couldn’t care less whether it’s a live band or a jukebox in the background. Which can be off-putting, but these people gravitate to the back of the venue and those interested in the music crowd in front of the stage area (where the sound from the PA drowns out the nattering twats behind them). And it’s in the performers’ interest to reach out to those not interested in the music as much as they can, since the collecting hat will be going round them too, which means engaging with and often winning them round. Strangely, it tends to be particular marginalised genres that do these collecting hat gigs – things like folk circles, blues and jazz venues, etc. Maybe other genres, like rock, pop, indie et al, should take a leaf out of their book? Of course there’s only certain sorts of venue this would work in (an upstairs or basement venue wouldn’t have the regulars and regular passing trade that the main room of a pub does), but it’s a model I would like to see more places adopt. Bands are increasingly asking punters to “pay what you think it’s worth” to download their music, and the collecting hat gig is surely just an extension of that concept to the live music environment?

  42. King Rat
    3:48 pm on 2/7/12

    I saw Chris T-T at the Adelphi once – they dont normally give refunds etc etc…

  43. Krila Krilby
    1:43 pm on 2/8/12

    Marc: “They should pay me for any medical bills for what I might have caught. And that place I am alluding to isn’t the worse I’ve seen… And that says a lot as the last time I went there every toilet was covered in old shit.”

    Marc, try it again, I’ve got it on good authority that the place has been scrubbed recently!

    As a part-time very occasional promoter i have to say that
    a) a gorgeous poster design changes f-all! You can get a great poster design done (I normally slave over mine for hours!), get them printed cheaply but to excellent quality, spend hours distributing them and…. ….get a low turn out! Been there, done that, even when the artist has had rave reviews for the album their tour is promoting. What a poster needs is all the info given clearly and easy to spot, but these days what is really needed is getting gigs listed in all the important papers and online.
    b) specially in London you are competing with ca. 3 similar gigs the same night, so me putting on a superb folk-rock gig at £8 at the Battersea Barge (one of the nicest small venues in London) the same night Bellowhead play Shepherds Bush Empire won’t bring in more appreciative folks. And no, I didn’t know in advance and in any case if it hadn’t been Bellowhead, it would have been Oysterband or similar…

    My friend Tony and I have run lots of gigs in London as promoters and have charged £10-12 and then added cheap early entry guest list for the support bands at £5 because
    a) it brings in more people
    b) the audience of most up and coming support bands like The Penny Black Remedy and Gorgeous George (both of whom should now be charging a proper fee because they are brilliant and will keep going for a very long time to come!) are teens who are at university, so can’t really part with £10 for a gig
    c) it gets people in early so the venue doesn’t look half empty when the support comes on
    d) it gets the support bands more active in promoting the gig

    And King Rat’s comment just got a big laugh from me! I’ve put his band on as support at a very nice small venue in Hull (yes, Marc, they do exist!). Low-ish turn out and he and his colleague in crime had to work the audience because the punters didn’t quite get them….
    Sometimes the best intentions do backfire on promoters, booking agents and artists alike.

  44. 9:51 pm on 2/17/12

    […] of all places, which seemed to be along similar lines to the blog post I wrote in response to Chris T-T’s article about the state of live music promotion in the UK. It wasn’t quite the same thing, but it does tie in with the changing landscape of […]

  45. 1:11 pm on 2/23/12

    I think there’s a bit of a market correction going on at the moment, for a long time musicians could make some extra cash selling CDs / records and, to an extent, the live show was almost an advert for the merchandise.
    Now we live in a world of near-infinite supply, the recorded (important word there) music is effectively the advert now with the live show being the scarcity that has value.
    But the live-music-scene hasn’t yet caught up with that shift.
    If musicians want to make some money they will need to put up their prices because the live-show is (in most cases) now your primary income stream. This undoubtedly means that for a period things are going to be tough, that happens when a market is disrupted by new technology. But once things have settled down, if people do it right, there’s no reason why there can’t be a working market that rewards musicians with a more reasonable return.
    Undoubtedly some bands will struggle and fail along the way (even some really good ones) and some people will find that ultimately they just don’t have enough fans to make a career out of it (I’m firmly putting myself in this category) but that happens. Give it your best shot and move on.
    But don’t bitch about paying £7-£10 to see two to three hours of good music.

  46. BFB
    2:05 pm on 2/23/12

    Another big problem is promoters who think they are giving better value for money by putting on 7 bands with 20 – 30 minute sets and five minute turnarounds when 4 bands playing 45 minute – 1 hour sets with sensible turnaround times is a much better arrangement in every respect. How many times have you seen posters advertising 10 bands you’ve never heard of and telling you what great value for money it is at just £3? How can that ever make economic sense?

    A promoter told me recently that the second act (on out of 7) were the ones he knew would pull the most people. So why did he put them on second? Because he hoped some of the people would stay to watch everyone else… the next (third) band on were terrible, so guess what? The room emptied. It’s not rocket science: don’t put on rubbish acts and put on the acts that draw a crowd towards the end of the night… that way the “headline act” that the promoter should be viewing as a potential repeat client might actually gain some new fans and become more viable in the future.

    There’s always a reason why there isn’t enough money to go around and they are mostly because local promoters do not have the sense to work out costs and plan an enjoyable and profitable event… for everyone involved.

  47. Andy
    7:01 pm on 2/24/12

    In reply to BFB’s point above- while I totally agree in that less (bands) is more (playing time).. I can kind of see why promoters/venues like it….each band is potentially another 20 or 30 people attending the evening – even if it’s just to see ‘their’ band they are still paying in and will still probably be there all -or at least most -of the night buying drinks.

    Personally, give me a two band bill – first band at 8 for an hour, headline act at 9.15 – 9.30 for 90 minutes- only one changeover to sit/stand through. If I don’t fancy the support, I can turn up later just for the main band. The problem I see there is that the venue manager will say ‘ hang on if I get 4 breaks of 15 minutes, I’ve got my bar busy for an hour instead of one single 30 minute changeover..’

    I really don’t like these multi band nights for all of the above (especially as I’m a non drinker!!). One other aspect of these types of ‘pile ’em high’ shows is I think new bands are losing the art of how to play a proper set…no pace or purpose, no stagecraft on how to build an atmosphere. I am in my 50’s now but I still get out to see a lot of young, new artists because I truly like what they are doing – I saw a very popular new band do a 29 minute HEADLINE SET- and a third of that was the singer telling the crowd how much they loved the fans….this wasn’t a free show either- I think tickets were about £12 .

  48. 2:44 pm on 3/2/12

    […] for thought: We enjoyed this article discussing under-priced ticketing from the artists […]

  49. Cow
    1:25 pm on 9/21/12

    As someone who attends 75-100 gigs a year and has done for a couple of decades, here’s my 10p’s worth.

    I agree with a number of points on principle but I’m assuming here that the writer’s criticism here is generally applying to backroom style venue scenarios and not small club shows at under £10 adm which generally seem to do fine having just 2 or 3 similar styled bands on, getting good advance press and having promoters who know their stuff running them.

    Basically, in the former case, there’s just far too many horrifically below average ‘artists’ playing interchangeable worthy singer-songwriter / generic Indie / ‘I’m so weird’ laptop sets filling up too many bad promoters (with no idea how to put a themed bill together) 7 day, 5 band schedules at too many venues trying it out to rake some extra bunce.

    If an act simply can’t bring 25+ people to a local gig at least, should they *really* be playing at all?

    Basically, you could also argue there’s a lot of dysfunctional, disorganised and downright bad artists, venues and promoters who could do with being culled from the scene for quality and perceptions sake, if someone’s shit, promoted by a shit promoter and is held in a shit place, you’re basically still saying they should all be paid more, there’s little in the words above in the punters favour is there?

    Where tickets are now £6-£7, they ought to push towards £12-£14? Why not stop there Chris?…
    Maybe this is the reason I’ve not been to Brixton Academy or Hammersmith Apollo for 4 years each despite attending literally hundreds of gigs at both previously, at£40+ a pop I’m now literally priced out.
    I now watch with a pang of jealousy as some of my favourite bands sell tickets straight into the hands of greedy twats on E-bay, but I’ve made my decision to scale down so swallow it and now see this article, Mmmm.
    Besides, years of substantial research on my part has found prices of things I enjoy buying or doing strangely ever freeze or actually go down.
    If the £12-14 ticket became hard policy, you’ve lost me, my fairly loud word of mouth support and passion for small acts for starters.
    Besides, if exciting touring bands from the US and abroad can come and ram places like the Lexington or Brighton Green Door for £6/£8, it’s a bit much for candle lit pub backrooms to be asking for the same fee for some droning try-out surely?

    Also, as someone living on a minimum wage, re beverage preference, I’m also finding it increasingly more cost-effective to have a couple of cans on the travel up, not a problem for me, hopefully not too much for the venue, but I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t have Stasi counting what people are spending at the bar trying to weigh up value per band + beer squared.
    Again, why stop there?…Charge people more if they’re wearing more expensive clothes maybe?

    Don’t forget, some people may actually find a swift pint some sort of solace from the aforementioned below average entertainment they’ve been saddled with through no fault of their own as they try and support a friend in need.

    I want to see as much raw talent as I can because there’s more good stuff around now, but there’s also more bad, filter this out and I’ll maybe talk, otherwise people who are priced out will just flee much in the same way as they have buying £15 CD’s from HMV and we all know what happens there now don’t we?…Just not sure what the gig equivalent would be.

  50. Keg
    10:44 pm on 10/9/12

    This is something I’ve often thought about in the last 10 years especially. Whereas we’ve seen massive price inflation at the top end of live shows, down at the bottom the price for “small” gigs has stubbornly remained sub-£5. This means there’s much less money around to pay for the hire of the venue, the PA and the soundman, never mind the bands. I don’t know what the answer is, as as you point out, pitch a gig price at the low level any higher and people don’t want to pay it to come in. But then they’ll pay £3.50 for a pint of beer elsewhere. Hmm.

  51. Hardy
    12:38 pm on 10/10/12

    The future for live music is more small venues going out of business. Blame can be pointed at various areas but the fact people have less disposable income can not be refuted. And yes, people on low incomes prefer to try to get pissed at the bar on a tenner than buy a tshirt at the end of the show. Thats basic common sense when you have little money.

    I’ve promoted shows for years with low entry fees (normally free to £4) and it has been the only way to get crowds in my particular city. Touring bands love it because they play to bigger crowds – and yes before you ask – all touring bands get paid here. And that is one issue with this article; it generalises the UK scene when in fact it is impossible to do so. It is clearly written from the perspective of the musician, but does not take into consideration the overheads of a venue.

    When you are hit with a £2500 bill each year from PRS, have to upkeep the PA constantly at great expense, have increased business rates and staff costs, are forced to increase beer prices due to government tax policy, endure serious downturn in takings over the bar… the answer is not to increase ticket prices. But to just accept that the financial situation in the UK right now is not going to be fixed anytime soon. And everyone involved – musician, agent, promoter, venue, punter – need to do what ever it takes to ensure good live music venues dont close down.

    An increase in ticket price may mean a ‘better kind of audience’ and overall performance fee for you Chris. But at the end of the day not many venues wants 40 people in a room paying £10 for a show. And they will quickly go out of business if they follow the system you are arguing for. From the venues standpoint, increased prices at the door (across all shows booked) equals lower crowds and more importantly lower bar take. The price point has to be set at the exact level that means the musician, promoter and venue all have an enjoyable (and profitable) time – for the particular city in question.

    Telling promoters and venues to increase ticket prices in these days of austerity is quite frankly mind boggling. If anything, prices need to be lower. But sadly agents demands don’t diminish. Nor seemingly do musicians ambitions if this article is anything to go by. So venues/promoters have to make a tough choice in terms of what is financial viable. Sadly for many – the choice will be made for them eventually. And many will close.

    In terms of the artist themselves, its already expensive / time consuming for most young musicians to even consider forming a band, and their hopes of being ‘signed’ (ideas which kept many bands afloat in the past) are no longer plausible because of the state of the music industry right now. If these bands have less and less venues to play in across the UK, then most won’t ever see light out of the rehearsal room.

    As for the punters who you want to stump up £8 rather than the ‘crazy prevelance of £3-£5 entry’ as you state – well put it this way if I really want to see a band I’ll happily pay £8. But if I ask ten of my mates who have no knowledge about the band and I tell them its £8 entry then few if any at all will be interested. The £3-£5 entry is there for that exact reason – to try to entice people to shows which they may end up loving. It opens up the show to more people – which is good for musician, promoter and venue – and will create a better atmosphere all round.

    You say you’d rather not have people at your show who would only pay £4 rather than £8. I think you will struggle to expand your fan base with such a closed frame of mind. But best of luck with your music endeavours.

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