Tag Archives: playing live

Battle of The Bands: Just Say No

Q: My band wants to play a battle of the bands where we can win 10 grand and a spot at the Slamdance Fest sponsored by Trojan Ecstasy Condoms!. Do you think we should play?

A: No.

A few years ago I was put in charge of running a battle of the bands for a major northeast area festival. I was excited for the opportunity, as it was my first real chance to prove my booking skills. Now I’m sure your thinking booking a battle of the bands is a rather unglamorous job and it is. It’s not nearly as sexy as booking headliners; however it’s a very important job because battle of the band shows bring in boatloads of cash if you run them correctly.  Let’s get into some of the reasons why you should avoid playing in a BOTB at all costs.


Ticket Quotas

On all of the BOTB I have been involved with as either an organizer or band manager you are given a packet with the prizes, the rules, and tickets to sell.  To qualify for the BOTB you had to sell at least half of the tickets, normally 25. However in reality they want you to sell out your first batch of tickets which is more like 50. I’ve actually seen bands bring in bus loads of people, like they actually rented a bus and filled it with 100 friends who aren’t doing anything at 1:35 on a Sunday afternoon to watch them play a 20 minute set.


There are a lot of ways one can judge a BOTB, voting, crowd applause, judging panel  etc. None are very accurate all have major flaws and can be easily exploited.  Crowd applause can be bought, no matter how great your band is, you are not going to be able to compete with a band who brings a bus load of people. Voting: much like crowd applause can be bought, voting also can fall victim to user error. In the battles I ran when you showed your ticket you were given a blank voting slip and told where the ballot box was. It was almost always right next to the box office where someone could keep an eye on it from tampering and you had to walk right past it to leave. Didn’t matter, people still screwed up. Some put their own name, some left it blank, one person famously wrote “ALL THESE BANDS ARE SUCK.” Plus if you sell 50 tickets and only 30 people show up you’re out 20 votes.  If it’s judged by a panel of music industry “experts” it can simply come down to personal taste. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been a judge at one of these things and have just seen a band I thought was just awful only to see the other judges at the table give them perfect scores. “Dude the metal band that played Britney Spears covers was fucking amazing” ugh.


The Prizes

Winning 10 grand, a main stage spot at a major festival, or a record contract sounds great but all of these prizes come with strings. I have never met a band that has won a cash prize from a BOTB. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, I’m just saying that out of all the bands I’ve talked to, none have taken down 10 grand in prize money.  Even if you do win, after splitting it between the group members and taxes (yes you have to pay those) the amount you get is more than likely not nearly worth the effort you put in. BOTB that revolve winning a record contract are just a bad idea. You need to look no further then American Idol, sure they had a few artists do well, but mostly the people who won are total misses. The BOTB label contests that I always see are generally from labels who I don’t think would be worth being on. Lastly we get to the BOTB that promises the winner a main stage spot on a major festival. Now I’ve been involved with BOTB that offered this as a prize and the winner did get to play the main stage, they got to play it at 11:30am, when doors opened. So you battle weeks, cannibalize your fans by making them to come out to show after show, just so you get to play as doors are opening. You’re the sound check band, and while I’m sure it’s really cool to rock out on a huge stage like that, I highly doubt it’s going to be the big break you are looking for.

So there are 3 reasons not to play a BOTB, I have a horror story of my own that I’ll share in the coming weeks. Let us know about your BOTB experiences send us your thoughts to yourbandreallysucksblog@gmail.com

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Rules To Live By

How to Tour in a Band or Whatever by Thor Harris


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Using Your Ticket Selling Abilities as Leverage

My question is this: Do you believe there’s another way? I don’t think we’d have any of the success we’ve had — however much that really is — if we had not been tenacious and desperate enough to consistently meet our ticket demands. Yes, we’ve had to hunt down friends and family, and yes, we’ve had to pay off batches of them in the past. But now we’re beginning to headline, attracting the blogosphere in bits and pieces, planning to tour, and other such Awesome-Almost a Real-Band stuff. Furthermore, at the same time we *do* treat our band like a business, albeit it is not currently a profitable one.

 I’ve been playing in this scene for almost seven years and it has revolved around locals selling tickets in a very significant way. I am wondering if you feel I’ve been duped, or taken advantage of… and I am also asking you if you think there’s a way we can capitalize on just how long we’ve been reliable ticket sellers.

 Thank you!



I think the more important question is do you feel like you have been taken advantage of? I think your a rare success story, a lot of bands would have given up long ago, let alone keep going on for 7 years. Your hard work has paid off and now you’re starting to generate buzz and getting some headlining gigs. You should wear that like a badge of honor.

You as a band/artist need to decide if selling loads of tickets to anyone you can find is really worth the effort. Is it really such a great trade off to meet all of these ticket demands if you’re big opening gig is for some washed up headlining act who can’t draw anymore. (Hence why you’re being asked to play and bring no less then 75 people with you.) Personally I would feel pretty ripped off if my big break was to open for the latest incarnation of Whitesnake (now with one original member!)

Darryl’s band has proven to be a reliable ticket seller can they capitalize on that? I think if you have been playing the same few venues and you’ve always drawn well you have some leverage. If opening for Whitesnake isn’t something you’re interested in doing, ask what other shows are available. More then likely they will have other dates that need openers and if you are reliable you should be able to come to some kind of agreement on a show that works for both of you.

Now while you have some leverage there are a few instances that no matter how many tickets you can sell you’re not going to play the show. If you know the show is sold out or going to sell out, chances are the venue isn’t going to need your band.  I’m sure it would be a huge break for your band to open for Blink 182 but the venue really doesn’t need the 75 people you can bring out. There also is the instance where you want to open for a touring act, the venue would love for you to open for the touring act, but the tour refuses to allow local openers. There is nothing wrong with asking to open for a band, but if the answer is no don’t keep trying to sell the idea to the venue, it’s really annoying. 

If you’re playing a new place it can be a little difficult to capitalize on your prior selling abilities. While some bookers may talk about local opening acts this is a very “what have you done for me lately” business. So pretty much when you play at a new venue you are going to be starting over from scratch. Don’t let that discourage you though, everyone has to start somewhere and hopefully your ability to bring people out to a show will follow you to new places.

Selling tickets for every show you play sucks, so what can you do about it? Thankfully there are plenty of places that don’t have a ticket requirement. Take advantage of playing those types of places when ever possible. You could also go old school and throw a backyard/basement show. Those types of gigs can really help build your fan base but also give you and your fans a break from having to buy tickets.

Sorry for the gap in between posts, I got a new job and I’ve been adjusting to getting up early and having to commute. Now that I’m getting used to my new schedule I should have posts up more regularly. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me at yourbandreallysucksblog@gmail.com












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Watch Out For Vampires

I saw on one post you said showcases should require a 25-50 ticket pre-sale, and if you can’t do that don’t bother at all. I would like to think that my band is decent, and we could definitely bring out 25 people to a show but if we booked two shows the same month, I don’t know if we could pull it off for the second show. How do you recommend we build a big enough local fan base to allow us to play multiple shows a month?

Willis–the North Coast

Willis is referring to the Pay To Play article I wrote a few weeks ago, it can be found here: http://wp.me/p10S1O-7
I’ll clarify my point a little, I understand why venues have presale requirements, but I am  in no way advocating that every venue start this practice. Every venue and situation is different. I can remember my friends in high school telling me about a show they booked in the middle of no where Pennsylvania. It was a solid four hours from where we lived but they were so stoked that someone wanted them to play out of state that they took the gig. However while they weren’t given a presale number, they knew very few people were going to drive four hours to see them play. They had brought a small group of about 12 people with them made up mostly of parents and siblings. The entire way out there they were worried they were going to show up and be told to go home. The venue turns out to be a small coffee house with a stage in the back. As they start unpacking the guy who owns the place walks in and said “Are all these people here to see you?” and ecstatically began to hug each and every one of them. Turns out they had booked mostly acoustic acts and no one was coming out to see them so 12 people was a big deal.
When I booked bands I was very honest in what I expected them to do. If I was booking at a venue that required ticket presales I made sure that the bands knew what was expected of them. If they didn’t think they could meet the number of presales required, I would tell them not to worry about it and I’ll call them again soon. Honesty can go a long way. Nothing makes a booking manager more angry when you tell them that you sold 50 tickets but when you show up you only really sold 9. That’s a pretty quick way to never get a show at that venue again. Even if the venue doesn’t require a presale, you always want to put your best foot forward. The better relationship you can build with a venue the more opportunities you are going to receive down the road. Always be honest and upfront with the booking manager.  Their job depends on how many people you bring through the door. They can tell when a band honestly tried to sell tickets and when they just mailed it in. 
It’s hard work building a fan base that will keep coming out to shows. I think that what bands need to keep in mind is that you have to know your limits. I know it’s hard, but you can’t take every show that you are offered. You need to spread out your shows to give you more time to promote them. A smart business will curtail their growth until they are ready to take the next step and I think more inexperienced bands should adopt this strategy.
I’ve seen a lot of really good bands ruined by what I like to call Vampire Bookers. Vampire Bookers like to pray on younger inexperienced bands who have a decent draw at the gate. Vampire Bookers will make all kinds of promises about opening for national acts and headlining local gigs. Most of these promises they will never fulfill, and all the while he is sucking the life out of your band as you struggle to keep your fan base coming out to see you. Vampire Bookers will destroy your band, stay far away.
So to answer Willis’ question, how do you build your fan base to play multiple shows a month? I think you need to book less to let your fan base grow. People get fatigued paying to see the same set week after week. If you take more time off between shows people are more eager to check out your next one.
So what do you do if your band is overbooked? Well the first thing is once the string of overbooking is over, spread your shows out. Give yourself lots of time to promote your next show. While you are playing your string of dates make sure you have flyers and tickets on hand for your up coming gigs. If the venue isn’t cool about you selling or handing stuff out for other shows you can either sell them outside or keep them at your merch table. Don’t get discouraged if people who would normally buy tickets don’t, they will come back maybe they just need to take show off.
I’m sure we will talk more about this later, if you have any questions email me at yourbandreallysucksblog@gmail.com

The North Coast

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Getting Creative With Concert Marketing Videos

I think video is currently a very underutilized medium in which to promote your shows. However as cameras become less and less expensive I think it will become more of the norm. Today I have some videos from the Vamp Group who are based in the PA/NJ area. They are doing some amazing creative videos.


River City Extension                                        

Scott Liss and the 66

cymbals eat guitars (NSFW BOOBS!)

Now I know not everyone can make a video like this, hell you might not even have access to a camera, but someone in your network might. It’s worth a shot to get your hands on a camera and go out and try to shoot something. It might not be as creative as what the Vamp Group is doing but it can’t hurt to go out and give it your best shot.

The Vamp Group


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Concert Marketing Strategies

 Do real “paper” flyers and hanging up posters outside of the venue you’re playing still work?  What about just using social media to promote your shows, is that sufficient?  Can you use one or the other, or do you need both?




I think this is an excellent question and one I am well versed in. During my time working at MegoGlobalMusic Company I became quite familiar with both street and internet marketing. I think both are important however how you go about using them is equally important. Let’s start with Street Marketing.

Street Marketing

It sounds really simple, take flyers, posters, stickers, cd’s of your band and take them to the people. If you’re working with an unlimited budget street marketing can be quite easy, however I have never ever had a client give me a blank check and tell me to blanket the world. Almost always I am told, “You have a very limited budget and I need the world to know about this band/show/product.” I’ve gotten really good at getting the most exposure I can for virtually little money. When you have no budget you need to be creative, but we will talk more about that later.

Given the likelihood that you have a very limited amount of funds and time you need to get the biggest bang for your buck. You need to go where the people who like your band shop and hang out. Most times when I’m handed a similar project I have to spend weeks researching on where to find the best consumer base for my clients. Now hopefully since they are fans of your music, you have a good idea of where those places already are. If you don’t, ask them, talk to them after shows or send out an e-mail asking them to list the top 3 places they go to hang out or eat. Once you know the places they hang out at go to those stores and talk to the people who own or manage them and ask them if you can put your stuff there. It’s important to build a relationship with the people who work there for a few reasons. The biggest reason is you don’t want them to throw your stuff out as soon as you leave. Also they can talk up your band to their customers.

I ‘ve done a ton of street marketing starting at the age of 16 so I spent a lot of time (almost 14 years…fuck!) walking around to stores during the day. For the most part there is not really much going on during the day so I got to know a lot of store owners pretty well. What I found is that because I have built these relationships with these people, that when someone would ask about the flyers or posters I’d left they would talk up the event to them. They were doing my marketing for me, now this isn’t going to work everywhere but it’s a nice byproduct of good street marketing and relationship building.

If it’s your first time going out to try this kind of marketing my suggestion would be to start small. Focus only on the places you know that your crowd hangs out at. Sure a lot of people who like your music are already at these places but that’s ok.  Just having your stuff there can pay off big time, all it takes is one fan of your music to be hanging out with their friends, see your flyers and from that a conversation can go from how much they like your music to a new group of people coming out to your next show.

Social Media Marketing

Marketing your show on the internet can be tricky. So many artists, particularly in the early days of Myspace, just mass added people thinking that it would lead to fame and fortune. We all know that this isn’t the case, even though a few labels lost their mind and thought it was a good idea to sign them anyway. (i.e. brokencyde)  Mass adding 120,000 world wide has some merit. It can’t hurt to try a get your music in front of a ton of people. However when you’re playing locally it’s not going to help you at all. I can’t tell you how many times I was settling with a local band at the end of the night and I heard something pretty close to this:

“I don’t really know why only 8 people came out, we were all over Myspace and Facebook. We have like 50 billon fans between the two pages.”

Since the Social Media explosion happened a few years back I’ve seen a lot of artists, particularly on the local level, get really lazy. A lot of artists seem to be under the impression that just because they listed their show on Myspace and send out a few Facebook messages that they have done their job. It’s just not that simple. Much like street marketing you need to build relationships with your online fan base. Sending out 35 messages a day to someone’s inbox isn’t going to help that relationship, you’re spamming them. I personally like when bands get creative, make a web video or record a song, just doing something different that grabs people’s attention to your gig. People are way more inclined to send a funny or interesting video to their friends than yet another generic posting about your show. That alone can help bring more people to the door.

I think both street marketing and social media marketing are incredibly important to a band. Each one has the potential to reach people the other one can’t. So while you could just  stick to one, I think you would be missing out on reaching a whole section of your potential audience. As we move forward I’ll go into how to effectively create and build a street team that can easily handle a lot of these tasks for you. I’d like to thank Erica for her question and if you have a question you’d like answered please e-mail me at yourbandreallysucksblog@gmail.com






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Pay To Play


“What’s the deal with me having to sell all these tickets to play a show?”

I think “pay to play” is a controversial topic these days. In some parts of the county it’s pretty much unheard of. However here in northeast it is pretty much the only way to play some of the bigger rock clubs. I’ve been on both sides of the issue and I hope to give you (the band, artist, manager, etc) some insight on the practice.

Running a venue is so insanely expensive I can’t believe people actually still open them. I have been part of two separate groups who have tried to open venues and neither of them went very far. Everything about running a venue is costly; bartenders, security, sound guy, light guy, stage manager. All of these people get paid at the end of each night and they don’t come cheap. Insurance for a venue is astronomical, if you even can qualify for it. Now, before we start to feel too bad for the poor downtrodden venues owners, know that these guys can make all of their money back from five bad nights with one really good one.

When I was young band manager, I was often in the position where I’ve had to call friends and family begging to buy tickets. The first few times people either felt bad or had to (i.e. my parents) but then after a few months it became nearly impossible to sell any tickets. When we called up the venue to book a show we were told its simple, sell 150 tickets and you’re guaranteed to open for a “major act.” Being young and stupid we fell for it. We never managed to hit the magic 150, but we came close a few times and over the next few weeks we were able to bring out 100+ crowds to the monthly showcase. The final straw came when we were asked to play yet another Sunday showcase, but this time the promoter swore up and down if we could 100 people he would finally give us an opening slot. We didn’t realize that we were up against a major NFL playoff game. Needless to say, it was a disaster. We even made the big mistake of buying our own tickets to try and hit the magic 100 number. We fell into the trap that a lot of booking managers do to young bands and in the end it destroyed the band.

In the end we made them around $4,000 and we got to play a lot of Sunday matinee shows with 10 other bands also trying to get the big opening slot. Playing these types of shows month after month destroys your fan base, kills your merch sales and holds your band back. What most bands don’t know and I didn’t really learn until I started working at bigger rock venues, is that even if you are lucky enough to get that opening slot, you’re more than likely there to fix a mistake made by a talent buyer. From time to time buyers tend to over reach on shows. It’s up to booking managers to help fix these mistakes. A typical conversation I had while booking local bands on shows went something like this:

Buyer: Hey did you see the numbers on the show on the 24th?

Me: No, haven’t really seen them. How is it doing?

Buyer: It looks like someone is going to lose their job if the numbers don’t get better. What do you have?

Me: For the Meundo reunion tour….ummmm well I know these guys the JimJam Crew.

Buyer: How are they?

Me: Egh.

Buyer: How many can they do?

Me: 50 tickets easy

Buyer: Book them!

When you play a show at one of the bigger rock clubs, people take notes. In fact I have a book of band notes on just about every band I’ve booked. I have notes on tickets sold, how well the bar did, how you behaved and how your band played. Anything I thought would help me down the line, I wrote down. Information is worth money and I wasn’t about to take a risk on my job not knowing as much about each band as possible.

So what should you do if you’re faced with selling tickets for a show? Ultimately, the decision is up to you, the artist/band. If you call up a venue and they tell you they want 100 tickets for a showcase show, I would advise you to tell them to go jump off a bridge. I always felt an appropriate number of tickets to sell for a showcase is anywhere from 25-50. If you really can’t do at least 15 people, you might just want to keep playing in the basement. Hopefully this at least provides some insight into “pay for play” and I’m sure as we move along in this blog we’ll touch on it again.


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