The world of live music can be a mystery when you're a musician just starting to play shows - or when you're a aspiring booker, promoter or agent, for that matter. All the myths swirling around out there don't help make the picture any clearer either. In fact, these music industry myths can bite you in a big way. Before you play live, browse these myths and get the real story, so you don't fall into any gig traps.
The music industry has always been awash with would-be music promoters - some good intentioned, some not - that don't quite understand what their job description is. That confusion has only increased with the explosion of social media. Now everyone thinks that making a Facebook event or tweeting about a show makes them a promoter.
Not so at all. Although social media is PART of promoting a show, it definitely isn't the whole she-bang. Promotion also involves thinks like reaching out to local press and radio, making and distributing posters, handing out flyers and much more. If you get a gig on a venue's calendar, make a Facebook event, and wait for glory to rain upon you - you could have a long wait. There's nothing wrong with simply BOOKING shows for bands - but that's booking, NOT promotion.
You should not pay to play a show. End of story.
Will some venues ask for it? Yup. Will some bookers and promoters ask for it? Yup. Will they tell you that's the way it is done, and that if you pay this time, you'll get your foot in the door for future gigs that are free? Yup. Should you do it? Nope.
Mind you, there are exceptions. Promoters, agents and venues all get a cut of proceeds from an event, and that's fine. Sometimes music industry events have showcase application fees - that is often just fine, though use your noggin - why is SXSW so much cheaper than the showcase being held at my local Holiday Inn, you ask? Because the latter showcase is nonsense and is ripping you off.
Are you an opening act? Sometimes headlining bands are cool with you selling merch at the shows, and sometimes they're not. Remember, anything you sell potentially diverts dollars away from their coffers, and this is THEIR gig. Often, when a headlining band won't let you sell merch, it's not their decision - a deal with a venue or merch company may stipulate that the support acts can't sell stuff at the show. They have to abide by it. You'll face the same situations some day as your career grows, so try to take it in stride when you get merch blocked.
Oh no it doesn't. The world of live music is incredibly competitive. Venues have any number of acts wanting a shot at the stage on any given night, and any promoter with his/her salt is spoiled for choice when it comes to putting together their shows. Much as they might like your set, you're not getting asked back if you're difficult to work with.
The same goes in reverse. If a promoter or venue doesn't really get down with your music, but you were a pleasure to do business with, they're more likely to book you again - even if your turnout wasn't all that it could have been.
Shows go belly up for all sorts of reasons, and some of them just aren't anyone's fault. A major competing artist may come through town on the same night, the weather may be terrible, the NBA championship may have gone to game seven on the very night of your gig - these things are out of everyone's hands. When a show is letdown, take honest stock of the reasons before throwing stones. Is there something to fix, or do you just need a do-over on another night? Getting a realistic answer will stop you from needlessly burning bridges AND may give you a chance to learn from any mistakes that WERE made along the way.