Archive for June, 2014

“The path used to be clear — you got a major-label deal, they got you on the radio, you toured and recorded albums. all that has changed, really, and the new path is . . . well, what is it? And where does it go?” – Steven Scott, guitarist/singer from the band Afternoons.This quote appeared in the Los Angeles Times in an article by Geoff Boucher entitled, “The path to success is no longer labeled”. I thought it was worth highlighting because the paradigm for bands and artists has changed so much in the last 15 years.

Today, the power of both record labels and radio stations has been partly diminished by the global stage the Internet affords musicians. Music labels once controlled the distribution and traditional radio stations provided the main artery that lubricating the distribution lines.

Well, that’s not the case anymore. Bands can put their music online for people to hear or buy without regard to music labels, radio airplay, or any other restrictions from the old ways. But, it’s still not easy: success requires self-promotion, touring, word-of-mouth, and a bit of viral luck.

If you are an entertainer, musician, artist, or band and you’ve had some success with the new opportunities of the Internet and the ability it’s given you to build a fan base, I’d like to hear about it.

What kind of success have you had with traditional and Internet radio stations?

Does your band offer a podcast or appear on podcasts to promote itself?

Do you receive local airplay and what did it take to get some?

How do you market yourself in an Internet world when music labels and traditional radio stations ignore you?

I can be reached at:

Payola is a big no-no in the music business, and yet it is a persistent problem. Payola is the word used to describe the act of a record label or other interested party paying a radio station to play a certain artist (either in cash or in goods). The practice has obvious implications: when money changes hands in exchange for radio play, certain artists get more exposure than others. Exposure is key to making it big in the music business, and in an ideal world, the public’s response to artists and songs should drive who receives the bulk of the media exposure. When payola enters the picture, the record label is deciding which artists will fail and which will succeed. In other words, the playing field is no longer level.

A payola scandal turned the world of rock radio on its head in 1959, taking down one of the eras most beloved DJs, Alan Freed, and almost costing Dick Clark his career. Since then, the music industry has made an effort to crack down on payola, but the practice persists.

Latest Developments

The issue of payola reared its head again, when, in 2005, Sony BMG, one of the world’s largest record labels, was forced to pay out $10 million in fines after the state of New York found the company guilty of engaging in payola. The cases says several labels within the Sony company rewarded DJs with cash and goods for playing Sony artists, with the majority of the charges involving plays of the latest Jessica Simpson album. The label went to gerat lengths to hide their practice – in some cases, they ran fake promotional competitions and gave all the prizes to DJs. This scandal is one of the largest payola scandals in recent years.

In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who oversees radio in the US, announced it waslaunching an investigation into payola practices of hundreds of US radio stations.


Payola, which is sometimes also referred to as “pay for play”, is as old as commercial radio, but it really took off in earnest with the advent of rock music and profitable rock music radio. The act itself is not illegal in the US, as long as the radio station excepting money for the song discloses that fact to listeners. Several songs have been recorded that parody payola practices, including:

  • Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had A Deal – by They Might Be Giants
  • Pull My Strings – by The Dead Kennedys


The topic of “pay to play” live performances often enters the discussion when talking about payola. Pay to performances are when a band pays a promoter for a chance to play a show. The practice is not illegal, but is highly criticized and definitely inadvisable for bands.



Are there any pros to payola? Unless you are the artist whose career gets a boost, or the label who sees increased sales, not really. Unfortunately, since exposure is 99% of the battle in the business, payola CAN pay off for these people.


Payola hurts almost everyone. Some of the cons to the practice of payola are:

  • The public does not get to hear artists whose labels can’t afford to pay off the DJ, or whose label refuses to engage in the practice.
  • Artists whose albums come out at the same time as another artist whose label is engaging in payola may see dismal sales because of a lack of exposure – leading to tour cancellations and being dropped by their label. It is especially damaging to independent artists and small labels.
  • It hurts the integrety of the music business and everyone involved in it.
  • It pushes up the cost of music, since labels involved in payola need the money in their budget to pay the DJs
  • It’s bad for radio, because it makes radio homogenous. People turn off when the same old song is on every station. It also hurts the radio stations who refuse to accept bribes for plays, as the other stations get cash injections from the labels.


Where It Stands

As it stands today, payola remains illegal, and yet widespread. Unfortunately, when the people involved get away with it, it works. The Sony BMG case shined a fresh light on the issue, however, and a crackdown is in the works.

Music promoters who work with big money deals would never dream of booking a show without a contract (nor would the artists with whom they work consider playing a show without a contract). But in the indie music world, music promoter contracts are probably the most overlooked kind of contract. Relationships between promoters and bands at this level are often casual, but even if there are not huge sums of cash involved, a contract lets everyone know where they stand. Promoters and bands alike can use these steps to create a fair contract that will help the gig go more smoothly.

Please see disclaimer below.

You’re on the Same Side!

Before you even get started, make sure you understand the nature of the relationship between band and promoter. The reason the same rules apply to writing contracts for both sides is because you are actually on the same side, especially if you are in the building stages of your career. If a promoter makes money, the band makes money, and vise versa. Don’t work at cross purposes, because you’re not! Come to an agreement that gives everyone the tools they need to play their part in making the night a success AND gives everyone the best shot at going home with some money in their pockets!

Know the Issues

A good music promoter contract will cover the important issues:

  • The date of the show
  • The venue (name, address, phone number, website)
  • The position of the band on the bill (opening act? headliners?)
  • The length of the set required (how long should/can the band play?)
  • Soundcheck times and lengths
  • Will accommodation be provided? If so, will the cost be charged back to the band?*
  • Will the band be able to sell merchandise?
  • Backline provided
  • The rider
  • Is the band to provide posters and promo materials?*
  • Last but not least, the deal*

The starred points require further explanation – read on for more details


A Bed for the Night?

There are no hard and fast rules about whether or not a promoter should provide accommodation. If you’re in a band the regularly pulls a profit at gigs, then you can easily negotiate for accommodation. If you’re playing shows to build an audience and the promoter is not likely to break even on the show, accommodation is not required. Some very nice promoters in cases like these will put the band up at their own house, but don’t expect it. If a promoter does get the band a hotel room, then it is acceptable to withhold that cost from the band’s earnings. A lot of bands would rather crash in the van and keep the cash.

Who is in Charge of Promo Material?

Music promoters will take on the task of promoting an upcoming gig to their local media (press, radio, websites), but to do this, they need some information from the band. Most promoters will request a few CDs and copies of a band bio so they can make a promo package. Promoters will often ask a band (or their label) to make posters the promoter use to advertise the show, though this is arranged on a case by case basis – some promoters prefer to make their own posters. Try to make sure the promoter has what they need to get the word out about the show – if they don’t, they can’t get people out to see you!

Is This Deal Fair?

A deal can involve either a flat fee or a door split deal. It’s true, a door split deal can leave a band and a promoter out of pocket at the end of the night, but for up and coming bands and promoters, it’s a very fair deal. If there is a profit, everyone shares in it, and if there is not, well, everyone has shared the risk.

Promoters can reclaim their investment in the gig before they pay the band. The venue rental, rider, gear rental, hotels – these things can all be reclaimed from the fee. The contract should clearly state which expenses a promoter can reclaim from the show proceeds.

Promoters – What You Can’t Do

Here’s the truth – being a promoter is hard work, and when you are just getting started, you may lose money on a lot shows. What you CAN’T EVER do, however, is ask a band to pay you back for your expenses if the show did not make enough money for you earn it all back. That’s the risk a promoter takes. There may be the odd special case, such as renting a ton of special equipment, in which you could ask the band to cover the cost, but 99% of the time, if you lose money on a show, you lose money on a show. Keep a close watch on your expenses and the bands you book, and you’ll find a formula that works for you.

Bands – What You Must Do

Maintaining good relationships with promoters is absolutely essential. Be realistic about your expectations when you go into a show. If your band is in the building stages, you may play many very small shows which don’t earn you any cash, and in fact may actually cost you money. If that happens to you, make sure it is REALLY the promoter’s fault before you burn that bridge. A good promoter can help you out A LOT, and even if your particular show wasn’t a sell out, if you have a good attitude, that promoter will work with you again. Be professional, and remember that every show is a promotional tool for you.


Please note that this information is general in nature – the specifics of your deal may be different. This advice is intended as a guide only and does not take the place of legal advice.

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Question: Concert Promoters, Bookers and Agents: What is the Difference?
Answer:Booking and promoting concerts involves a lot of moving parts, so it’s pretty easy for confusion to enter the picture. If you’re new to playing live, just starting to cut your teeth on the live music circuit, then that confusion can go through the roof for a lot of reasons. In fact, this can be a tough time for a lot of musicians, not only because the whole process is new and more than a little intimidating, but also because musicians at this stage are the perfect targets for getting hustled. When you get to the stage where you’re booking your own shows, you can make better decisions if you understand the role of everyone involved. Now, there can be some overlap in these positions, but here is the general idea to keep in mind:

  • Promoters: On the indie circuit, the most typical way for a promoter to work with a musician is to decide they want to work with the musician on a show, make a deal with the musician (or the musician’s reps) and then go out and do the work of putting on the show. That means booking the venue, contacting the local press, marketing (running ads, printing posters, etc, as appropriate), making sure everything is in place for the night of the show (tickets, sound/tech requirements, booking the opening bands, buying the rider and so on) and then generally making sure the show runs smoothly. When a promoter makes a deal with a musician, the deal usually (really, should) take into account the expenses associated with the show so that when the musician sees the deal, they know how much they stand to make. For instance, a promoter might offer a flat rate for a show or they may offer a door split deal in which they pay the musician a percentage of the ticket sales money after the costs associated with the show are met. The real defining thing about the deal structure is that the promoter does assume some of the risk and makes a decision about that risk before they decide to run with the show.
  • Bookers: Sometimes, venues have someone in charge of booking the shows for the club – but it is really very important to not confuse these people with promoters. SOMETIMES, venues have in-house promoters that book the shows and fulfill the traditional role of the promoter, but venues often have someone who just books. They may include your name in their standing run of advertising and monthly calendar things, but the onus for promoting the show – and meeting the venue’s financial requirements – falls on you. They may have a bar minimum that you have to meet or they may require a certain number of ticket pre-sales or they may have some other financial guideline you have to satisfy. As a musician, it is REALLY important for you to understand these rules. Of course venues can’t have losing nights all the time, but weigh up what they’re offering you versus what they’re demanding from you. Are they throwing you on a bill with four other bands who sound nothing like you (or each other) and requiring a huge number of “ticket pre-sales” – which really translate into you paying hundreds to play there? In other words, are they setting you up for some crap gig that no one wants to come to and getting you to pay them for the privilege? If you are acting as a promoter for your own show, it makes sense that you would have to assure the venue that they aren’t going to lose money on the night, but don’t be too intimidated to speak up to find out what you’re getting when you book a show at that club and definitely don’t be too afraid to look for another venue who wants to make sure you BOTH have a winning night.
  • Agents: An agent books shows for you. In other words, the agent calls the promoter, works out the deal and brings the offer back to you with all the details ironed out (in accordance with what you’ve agreed in advance, such as “must have a stage large enough for 7 cellos” or “will only play Albuquerque on Tuesdays.”)

As you can see, your real danger zone as an up and coming musician lies in the difference between working with a promoter and simply booking a show with someone in charge of a venue calendar. Make sure you understand the set-up any time you book. And note, someone who pencils you in on a certain date, contributes nothing in the run-up to the show and then sits at a door collecting money and asking people what band they came to see is NOT a promoter – pure and simple. Don’t pay for services undelivered.

Get tons more advice on playing live in Playing Live 101.

Question: What Does The Promoter Have to Pay For?

Keep in mind that the information here is general in nature. Your own circumstances may be different and will depend on the specifics of your deal.

Answer:When you’re booking a gig, what costs should you expect the promoter to cover, and which ones should you expect to pony up for yourself? There is no real simple answer to that question. The cost of putting on a show can be enormous, and depending on how much money your gig is expected to generate, a promoter may want to try and share some of the financial risk with you. That’s not entirely unreasonable in every instance, but we’ll get into that a bit later. First, here are some of the costs a concert promoter MAY pay (these are in addition to any guarantee you have for the show):

  • Accommodation
  • Food/Drinks (aka, a rider)
  • Gear Rental

The short answer to our original question is that a promoter is not REQUIRED to pay any of these costs. These things are all part of a larger deal that includes the money you will be payed to play, and essentially, they have a right to offer you what they think is fair, and you have the right to decline their offer if it doesn’t work for you. Unless they are charging you money to play, refusing to, say, pay for your beer and wine after the show isn’t inherently unethical. Asking you to pay to take the stage is out of the question, but any other kind of deal is really fair game. That doesn’t mean you might not encounter situations in which you have to turn down shows because you can’t afford to make it work, but that is not the same thing as getting ripped off.

Of course, getting a promoter to pay for these things is ideal. The easiest thing to get a promoter to cover is a rider and the hardest is gear rental – in fact, lots of big name acts don’t even get that. Accommodation is somewhere in the middle – sometimes free accommodation, like a floor in someone’s house, is on the table, and that’s easy to score. A hotel room for everyone in your band? A little trickier. There are a few things you can do to make it easier to get these extra benefits you want:

  • Demonstrate to the promoter that you have press/radio lined up that will make their promotion job easier and that may help increase the turnout for the show.
  • If you’re working with a promoter who has never booked you before, let them know what your audience is like in other towns so they can get an idea of what kind of crowd they might expect.
  • Above all else, be reasonable! Sure, getting a promoter to give you a big guarantee, plus a gourmet meal and rooms in the best hotel in town might be fun, but are you pulling in enough people to justify that kind of expenditure? In this great musical circle of life, no one wins when indie musicians try to force indie promoters out of business!

To that last point, if you’re an up and coming band trying to build your following, it is almost always in your interest to compromise with promoters who can put you in front an audience. Touring is often something that leaves musicians in the red when they’re starting out, and that’s an unfortunate truth. It may be a good investment in your future, though. Live shows are incredibly valuable in developing your fan base. The beauty of working on the indie level, including with indie promoters, is that neither you nor the promoter is bound to follow any cookie cutter kind of deal format, so work with them to develop a deal that works for both of you. If you can’t get money for a hotel, then ask if there is some place you can crash on the floor for a night. Instead of a large rider, get a few drinks and sandwiches and pay your own way for the rest of the night. Not only can compromising with the promoter help both of you make the night a success, your willingness to do so is good will in the bank when it comes time to book your next tour.

What is a Music Promoter?:

The main job of a music promoter, usually simply called a promoter, is to publicize a concert. Promoters are the people in charge of “putting on” the show. They work with agents, or in some cases, directly with the bands, and with clubs and concert venues to arrange for a show to take place. Promoters then are in charge of making sure the word gets out about that show. They also take care of arranging the incidentals, like hotels and backline for the band. In a nutshell, it is the promoter’s job to make sure things go off without a hitch. Note that this kind of promoter is different from a radio plugger or PR agent.

What Jobs Should a Promoter Do?:

If the promoter is not tied to a specific venue, they should:

  • Liase with bands and agents to agree on a date for a performance
  • Negotiate a deal with the band/agent for the show – what fee will be paid? Will the promoter provide accommodation?
  • Book a venue for that agreed upon date
  • Promote the upcoming gig to the local press and radio, put up posters and email their mailing list
  • Make sure everything the band needs is in place –backline, accommodation, rider, etc.
  • Set up soundcheck times and the running order of the show
  • Arrange for a support band

Venue tied promoters skip the “contact venue” step.

What is the Pay Like?:

The pay for promoters varies and depends on several factors, including:

  • The deal made with the band/agent
  • How popular the artists are with whom the promoter is working

Indie music promoters can find it very hard to make money, and many indie promoters do promotion on the side of their “day jobs.”Promoters make their money off of the proceeds generated by a show. Promoters can either have two kind of deals with bands:

  • Pay the band a set fee, no matter how many people buy tickets
  • door split deal

With both deals, a promoter can easily lose money on a show. Making money as a promoter requires careful planning.

Do Promoters Need a Contract?:

When you are dealing with large sums of money, a contract is always a must. But many indie music promoters who know they won’t be making much money, if any, on a gig often skip the contract. Even if no money is exchanging hands at the end of the night, though, it is still a good idea for a band and promoter to have a contract that clearly states things like whether or not the promoter will provide accommodation, who is taking care of the backline, when the soundcheck is, how long the band’s set will be, what the band will get for a rider, and of course, how any profits will be split. It helps avoid confusion later.

How Do I Become a Promoter?:

There are two ways you can get into promoting. You can contact promoters and venues in your area and offer your services and learn the ropes that way, or you can try to get your promoting career off the ground yourself. If you want to work for yourself, start small. Pick a favorite local band and offer to promote a show for them. Book the venue, contact the local media and put up some posters advertising the show. If you do a good job, other bands will find you, and as you become an established promoter in your area, bands from out of the area will find you as well.

Making Money as a Promoter:

Promoters who work with mega stars who sell out huge venues can make some serious money. But indie music promoters can easily find themselves working all day, every day, and only getting deeper into debt. Many promoters have a day job that supports their promotion job. If you want to become a promoter, you need a clear understanding of the money involved, and you need to make deals with bands and venues very carefully. For any given show, a promoter’s expenses include:

  • Venue rental
  • Advertising (posters, newspaper/magazine advertisments, etc)
  • Backline rentals
  • Accommodation for the band
  • Rider
  • Payment for the band

You can’t get around some of these fees, like the venue fee, but there are ways of mitigating some of the expenses involved in promoting, and if you want to stay in this for the long haul, you need to cut costs as much as you can. For instance, ask the band/label/agent to print posters and send them to you, instead of you taking that cost on. Don’t provide accommodation if the band’s show is not going to generate enough money to cover the costs, or if you must, put the band up at your house. Don’t provide overly generous riders – a few waters and a few beers is fine. Split the cost of renting special equipment with the band.You can also cut down on some of your expenses by working under a door split deal arrangement, instead of paying the band a set fee. That way, you make all of your money back first, and then the band gets paid if you get paid. Bigger artists will balk at this kind of deal and will want a set fee – paying a set fee is fine, and even ideal, when you’re working with a band who you know will sell enough tickets to recoup your costs. But if the band you’re putting on is just building a name for themselves, a door split deal is fair for everyone. Make sure the band try to sell some merchandise at the show to give them some extra money. If you have a door split deal, and the show didn’t make any money, a nice promoter might throw the band a little bit of gas money, which can go surprisingly far in earning you a rep as a good promoter!

The truth is that many indie shows lose money, especially shows featuring new bands. As long as you are not withholding earnings from the band, it is perfectly OK to set up your shows so you lose as little as possible. Most up and coming bands will recognize that and will work with you. After all, if you succeed, they succeed. Being fair to both parties – yourself included – is the name of the game.