GoForMike Event & Festival Marketing Tips. Words by Mike Mauer.

Q&A: IAmA Booking Agent & Marketer for 5 nationally touring bands. AMA.

Q

Below are excerpts from a Reddit AMA I did 6 years ago that I recently stumbled upon.  Back then I was working for a management company where I was booking the tours and doing the marketing for 5 bands.  Looking back at it, many of my answers still apply today!


Getting into the industry

Q: I am extremely interested in the business side of the music industry. Both from the artist side and the venue side. I have been applying for numerous internships that can help learn about the music industry. Do you have any advice for someone with literally no experience in the music industry trying to get his foot in the door.

A: Nice. I think that’s awesome that you’re interested.

First off, let me say that the music industry requires (a) a serious commitment and (b) you to be a little crazy.

It’s a really unforgiving industry & there’s a lot of nasty/jaded people in it. You need to be a little masochistic to enjoy all the mental abuse you are going to take.

I suggest, first, you call venues/management companies/agencies/record labels and offer to intern for them. Chances are they need help. Be persistent, as most of us (a) are stoners and (b) have a million other things more important than an intern calling going on. Be polite, but keep calling until you get an answer & don’t assume that no answer means “no.”

Second, just do it. Start working with a band — even if its just a group of your friends that are in a band (or even your own band) — just jump in and start doing it. That’s the fastest way to learn, and gives you valuable experience. Even if its a small-time band, helping them out will go a long way.

If you live in New Orleans, come intern for me.

 

Q: just wanted to say thanks for answering that question, too, as booking and marketing is exactly what I want to do when I graduate college in a few years. It’s hard to network and start getting myself out there, but your advice was really helpful.

A: Good luck man. Again, talent buying is a tough job, especially if it’s your money on the line. The risk of loss is pretty high & you’re not making a huge profit on shows that do well (the real money is when you start collecting on the bar…I’ve had an 800 attendance show that racked up over $25,000 at the bar.)

If you approach it all assuming that you will live modestly, then otherwise it’s a great job. You meet awesome people, hang with some great celebrities, watch live music from VIP rooms with open bars, get all access to every show/festival…it’s pretty great, but certainly a tough career.

Q:  I am currently in an internship at a highly regarded booking agency. How do I really make an impact, and get myself noticed enough to become an assistant to an agent? I currently try and take on as many of the mundane, tedious tasks along with the more exciting ones just so I can show willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of the team. I really want to be a part of this industry!

A: If it’s CAA, WME, ICM, or any other giant ones, my advice is to try to assist only 1 agent, so you develop a relationship with them, instead of trying to do a lot for everyone. Perhaps an opening for an Agent ass’t might open up. Also, make sure to apply to every department…the Marketing Dep’t is a great way to get your foot-in-the-door.

For a smaller office, it’s a lot tougher, as openings are few & far between. Your best bet is to become a vital part of a smaller bands operation & hope they become successful.


Touring with your band

Q: I want to go on tour with my band, but I’m not sure where to start? How do you plan a tour?

A: There’s a myth about touring that it’s all groupies & parties.

The reality is that its grueling work — it’s mostly god awful boring driving and if people don’t know who you are, you’re playing to no one & for no money.

My main suggestion to those who think about touring is — WHY are you planning to do this? I mean that to be taken at face value:

If it’s for money, then make sure your tours are profitable. Unless you have a private gig, a festival, or the venues are comfortable offering a lot of money, you aren’t going to make anything & it will likely cost you money. Why? Because no one knows who you are and no one will pay you anything…

If it’s to play to large crowds, then make sure you are only playing places that you KNOW a crowd will be there (festivals, town events, benefits, etc). Why? Because otherwise, no one knows you are and no one will go see you…

There’s a misconception that your band somehow “makes” it if it goes on tour. Tours are expensive and, unless you have a very specific goal, you’re going to lose money & play to no one.

My main job is to ensure my artists are profitable. If not, they can’t make money and nor do I. So how do I do that when planning tours?

I “anchor” tours with a high paid or high exposure gig — a festival, private event, town event, etc etc. There are a million reasons why someone would want to pay you more than you are worth. Once they offer enough money for me to cover my basic travel expenses (hotels, car rental, flights, food, etc), then I start building a tour. I try to keep them out as long as its profitable, and then get them home ASAP (usually ~4 or 5 days).

If they don’t have anything coming up like that, I get them local gigs and shows that they can drive to so they don’t eat up money on pointless expenses.

 

Q: Thanks for the response! I think we’re going to go on the road for exposure. Our main goal would be to start building a following in markets and just try to get our name out there.

A: I don’t think you should do that. (a) Most people find out about bands on the internet, so use that money/effort to focus your online promo (b) Very few people would pay to see a band that they’ve never heard of.

If you assume that the talent buyer/promoter won’t promote the event (a pretty safe assumption given that they probably didn’t pay much for your band), then you have no reason to believe that anyone will come out. And playing to an empty room really sucks…

Your first time playing in a market, you’re probably looking at a door deal (you get a percentage of the gross), since promoters won’t offer money up-front (a guarantee) for a band they don’t know. Given this, you should have a pretty damn good reason for thinking that people will pay to see you (you have a lot of FB friends/your website gets hits from that market), before deciding to play there.

I think you need to build your local market until someone from a nearby city/market is comfortable enough to offer you a guarantee. If you are good & build a good following locally, promoters from elsewhere will know about you & be more willing to take a chance.

Also — I don’t advise “just going for it.” Again, tours for smaller bands aren’t particularly fun…you spend most of your time in a nasty van with your bandmates & quickly burn through money.

When any friends ask me if they should go on tour, I always ask “What do you want to get out of it?” I will say that touring is a great way to see the country & see friends that live elsewhere. If that is your main goal for going on tour, and you don’t expect money or fame, then definitely go for it…

Q: Do you think it would be a better idea for a young band trying to establish a foothold to a) play gigs and establish a following in a smaller town where the band is located or b) travel two hours to the nearest major city and try and leapfrog the small one?

A: I think you need to start with wherever your friends live. For a new band, your personal friends are your fans & you build out from that. If you rock, they’ll want to support you & will tell other people.

You should wait to hit up a major city until you have a reason to. If you know you have a solid fanbase from there (and I mean KNOW that you do, because most bands overestimate how many fans they have that are willing to pay up), or if a good exposure gig presents itself (IE a support slot on a large show), then go for it.

If you don’t want to wait for that opportunity to present itself, spend all your online marketing money/efforts developing that city before playing there.

Just because a lot of people live there doesn’t mean anyone will want to pay to see you…it’s better to be a big fish in a little pond in this case.

 

Q: How about opening for a band? Is that a good way to get exposure?

A: Support budgets are pretty slim these days ($250-$500) unless you are opening for a 1000+ attendance show, but they offer some good support.

I will say, however, that a huge caveat comes with touring as support. That is, most bands don’t draw as much as they say they do. I’ve put together tours with my bands supporting artists that you think would bring 800+ people, only to play to a room of 200 people for $250.

My advice if being presented with an option to be support on a tour is to request to pick & choose your dates. Choose only the major market dates & important ones, and use the rest of the time on real money gigs.


 

Booking Shows

Q: When you book a band at a venue, does the venue even listen to the band, or do they just care that they get enough numbers in the right demo? Is your pitch “Listen to how great these guys are!” or is it “These kids will bring 1000 trust-funded hipsters into your venue.”?

A: A little of both. You have to assume that hundreds of bands are asking the venues to book them every day, so you want to be as concise as possible when pitching a band.

Usually I introduce myself & the band, give them their past tour history in the area (number of people, gross, etc) & a link to videos, social networks, and festivals (people are impressed when you say an artist has played Bonnaroo, SXSW, Austin City Limits, Coachella, etc).

Until you get to the 10,000+ people shows, no one is walking away a millionaire, so most are still doing it because they love music. You just always have to keep in mind that it’s a business too.

 

Q: I want your band at my daughter’s sweet 16. How much?

A: Hah. Just a heads up…when people say “private party” the price for my bands goes up by triple.

At a club, you’re playing against the door — if the club offers $3,000 and your show only grosses $1,000, then everyone’s pissed at you.

You can overcharge a private event without anyone giving a crap. If they agree to $10,000 for a private party, then they’re thinking they got a deal.

When people say “private party” the price for my bands goes up by triple.


Promoting Your Show/Band

Q: My band just released our first LP. How the hell am I supposed to promote it? I’m in the process of booking shows but for now Im just sitting on my butt promoting it on facebook but I really don’t know where else to send it.

A: Reach out to smaller highly targeted blogs (IE don’t submit a metal band to a blues blog), local magazines, & community radio.

Start small & get any press you can — even if its from a friend’s shitty LiveJournal

Press & buzz snowballs, so use any piece of press you have to leverage more. If you can show a publication that your band already has buzz surrounding it, they’ll be much more likely to write about it themselves.

Also, often times when we send out a press release, writers literally just copy & paste it into their blogs, so write your PR statements with this in mind.

Q: What do you suggest go into a press release? Should you send out a hard copy press release or an electronic one via email? Or both? What exactly should be in it? and what should not? Thanks!

A: I suggest sending out press releases via E-mail. Hard copies are expensive & often get thrown into the trash. They probably won’t read the e-mail, but at least it’s free.

More importantly, start small & targeted. There’s countless blogs devoted to any genre, so get those people on board first & leverage that to get larger articles (people want to see a certain level of success from you already before checking you out themselves). Also, these people get far less solicitations than a larger music journal, so are more likely to read your e-mail.

I wrote about it a little in my blog but the best info to include is Your name, genre, press clippings/awards, and videos.

If they open the e-mail & are interested, they will most likely click on the video next (even before looking at your website), so make sure its a good one.

Keep in mind that some of these people get solicitations a hundred times a day, so keep it as short, concise, and simple as possible.

Q: Any advice on getting started as a promoter? I had some independent things going on earlier but have since moved to a new city and am having trouble getting traction. What’s a good way to begin?

A: Good question. Most venues don’t want to work with you until you’ve successfully promoted shows before, so it’s kind of a catch 22 situation.

Look to start promoting shows in alternative areas — art spaces, co-ops, house parties, bars that don’t typically have music, warehouses, etc, — as they are typically cheaper, more lenient, and more willing to take a risk. Start developing a name among locals & ask them to reach out to their touring friends to go through you.

Once you begin to build a name with touring bands, you will start getting more booking requests. Once you feel like you have a band big enough, approach a venue to promote a show there. You will probably have to pay a hefty rental fee, so make sure you feel confident about promoting the show & making money.

If all goes well, you’ll build trust with the venue & they will let you start booking shows regularly there (and probably waiving the rental fee.)

About the author

Mike Mauer

Hey there 👋 I'm Mike. This is my blog for event marketers, sharing what I've learned working with festivals, concerts and artists over the last decade.

One thing I learned along the way: Events are NOT about who's playing on stage. It's about the fans, the community, and the culture. So, how do you build that out of thin air? How do you activate your fans to buy tickets? How do you deliver a great experience, evangelize them and keep them coming back?

It all starts with a solid, comprehensive marketing strategy. That's what I aim to cover in my blog, and I'm hoping other people can find it useful!

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GoForMike Event & Festival Marketing Tips. Words by Mike Mauer.

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