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Cutting Out The Middleman

by Vid Warren

In other articles I've mentioned expanding your skills as being crucial to surviving as a full-time professional musician through being able to find more jobs. There is another advantage in that one particular job is usually shared out amongst a lot of people. The more skills you have, the more middlemen you can cut out. Not only does this mean that there are less people to pay, you will have a lot more control over the way things go and you don't have the worry of as many other people letting you down.

To give an example:

For your average small gig, you'll need:

  • The acts
  • A promoter
  • A graphic designer
  • A printer
  • Transport
  • A venue
  • A Sound engineer

That's at least eight ways in which the money is split. You then might need to worry about hiring sound/lighting equipment.

So you'll need to be making about £500 to bring home £50 if there's one person per act. That's 50 people paying £10 each or 100 people paying £5 each.

If you can promote yourself well, without being ridculously well known, you're looking at making the most profit selling tickets at £3. The problem is that you'll need to sell 167 tickets to make £501 but when you hire venues with that kind of capacity, there is usually a much higher door charge than £50 (as would be their share of an equal split). They'll usually be asking for 25% of the door: £125. This means that, to make your £50, you need to sell about 225 tickets (meaning taking a risk of hiring out a venue with a 250 capacity and making them about three times what you get).

Some of that is worst case scenario as most venues will have a sound system, and will offer to cover transport costs. However, the figures still show that the venue is making way more than you just for owning a venue. Also, take into consideration that bar staff and security need to be paid and that the sound system and transport costs come out of profit you're making them.

I have just organized a gig with a poet/musician. We've taken all of those factors other than the venue into our own hands.

There are two of us. Here is how we've done it:

  • The acts - Us
  • A promoter - Us
  • A graphic designer - I made tickets using the GIMP MANIPULATION program (see the freeware thread)
  • A printer - Got someone to print the tickets off at her work, used a laminator
  • Transport - Steve (the other act)
  • A venue - Hired out a community centre for £43.50
  • A Sound engineer - Steve
  • Sound system - Steve called in a favour
  • Lighting (more optional) - Steve owns some ambient lights

We probably won't be able to call in favours every single time but it's always worth a try.

The capacity of the community centre is 50 EDIT - 150 (due to a fire escape) but you couldn't fit all 150 in with the equipment. We said it was tickets only and, trying to keep it quite because it was our first time, sold 60. 100 people turned up, 10 ticket buyers didn't. The figures now look more like this:

£150 - £43.50 = £106.50 (cost of hiring the venue)
£106.50 - £6 = £100.50 (cost of petrol including for rehearsals)
£100.50 - 50p = £100 (cost of laminating sheets)

£100/2 = £50

That's £50 each for selling 25 tickets each. It means that we only need to sell 17 tickets between us to cover all costs.

This is the first time we've done this all ourselves so we're starting small. There's nothing stopping us hiring out a bigger venue for a little bit more next time.

As it's a community centre rather than something always open to the public, we are hiring it as a private party. This means that we've been able to make it BYOB so no bar staff need to be paid.

I'm not slating promoters at all. There are many very hard working promoters that I know. I do think that doing all this yourself from time to time provides excellent experience, which can be applied to other people's gigs. It also means that you don't need to wait to be booked.

To promote this night, other than inviting friends, I'll be doing a few open-mic nights. This is the only realistic way that I can see to pull this off outside your own town (at least before your big). This brings other costs into the equation but you're making a name for yourself. If you give out your website at the gigs or, better yet, put it on the ticket, you've got someone else that might buy your next release, see you at another show or tell all their mates.

You could even sell t-shirts and badges. However you do it, you're taking a resonable amount of the money for doing something you love that makes people happy. Furthermore you've got the chance to influence people and influence music as a whole. You're also getting the chance to make contacts. You could be looking at playing at festivals all summer up and down the country. :thumbsup:

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