Well, there’s a lot of promise in this article’s title so I’ll get right down to the heart of the matter. I want to share with you the secret I discovered to gaining all of the above (perspective, control, money) and then some. It all comes down to one process: producing your own show.
How can producing your own show bring you these things?
When you produce your own show, you rent the space, you’re in charge of the sound, lighting, staff, ticket sales, promotion. It’s a lot of responsibility but taking it on for yourself, rather than relying on a venue or other party to do it for you, is a sure way to grow as a musician; both personally and professionally.
In the paragraphs to follow, I’ll show you exactly what I’m talking about and you’ll get to examine a couple of my own personal case studies, as well.
When you produce your own show you get to control just about every aspect of the event. Let’s take a look at some examples and their potential benefits:
- Line up
- Ticket price
If you decide to produce a show with other acts, you’ll have control of the line up. Want to place your self as the headliner? Your show, your prerogative.
When dealing with a promoter, you have to negotiate a ticket price that meets their needs as well as your own. This often leads to a compromise wherein the price ends up too high or too low for your best interest. Producing your own show gives you complete control over pricing.
Controlling your public image is probably the most important power you gain when producing your own show. Most artists think that if they keep toiling away at the local coffee shop or club for $75 bucks a night, they’ll eventually build up enough cred to move on to better opportunity.
Smart artists reverse this process. If you want to be viewed as a successful artist playing the top venues in town, present yourself that way. Rent a prestigious hall for a night and produce your own show. This tells the public that you have arrived. You’re playing the top spot in town. You’re associated with greatness. Nobody has to know you’re footing the bill.
By going through this process and familiarizing yourself with all the ins and outs of producing a show from start to finish, you will have walked a mile in the shoes of a promoter. This experience can give you a new perspective when working with venues down the line.
With your firsthand knowledge of event production, you’ll be better equipped and more confident in negotiating various aspects of future show agreements. You’ll also have a much better sense of how well a promoter or venue manager is doing her job.
Producing your own show can also give you an incredible amount of insight into your current appeal in the market. With nobody else promoting the event, you have a unique opportunity to gather some pretty hard data as to just how much true demand exists for what you are offering.
Money, Money, Money
Of course, it’s not all about controlling details, raising your public profile, and gaining more experience in the industry. There are bills to pay and six month vacations to Costa Rica to fund!
If it’s your intent and you play your cards right, you can make much more money producing your own shows than you would working with promoters.
The trick is to find a venue that fits your needs and has reasonable rental fees. Then figure out the most economical and effective means of covering your essential responsibilities: promotion, merchandise sales, sound, lighting, etc.
Finally, you have to get the people in the seats but that’s a topic for another article. As a matter of fact, I’ve written one on the subject: How to Pack the House Without Hanging a Single Poster.
Personal Case Studies
Below are a couple of specific ways I’ve used this self-production strategy to my advantage in recent years. The first tells the story of drastically increasing earnings on a show and the second is more of a study in elevating one’s status in the my public eye.
“117% More Money!” – Study #1 –
I was looking for a small listening room for a solo show. I estimated that, if I hustled and begged, I could probably get one hundred people to come out and see me.
There was an ideal venue in town, designed for acoustic shows with a capacity of about 120 people. I talked to the venue about doing a show there. They weren’t particularly interested but they offered up their standard deal to me.
What was offered
- Venue works with artist to settle on ticket price. (For me, they thought $10 would be the absolute highest and suggested, instead, that I do a $7 ticket).
- Venue supplies sound engineering and lights.
- Venue get’s 30% of ticket sales.
- Artist get’s 70% of ticket sales.
Doing the math: What would be the best case scenario here?
- If we sold 120 tickets at $10 a head we’d gross $1,200.
- The venue would take its 30% ($360) which would leave me with $840.
- If I did promotion on a tight budget I could probably get away with spending no more than $40.
- That leaves me with $800 as a best case scenario.
I started digging deeper and realized that this venue offered up their space for rent. The price to rent the room was $150.
What I did
- Rented the hall for $150.
- Brought my own sound system and set it up myself. This was a good sounding room where the audience generally sits quietly and listens. The sound requirements were minimal. I used two mics and no monitors.
- Used the house lighting that came with the rental. This was not quality lighting by any means but the people could see me…and that was good enough for my first go ’round.
- I set the ticket price at $15
- My wife, Kelly, volunteered to take money at the door.
- My good friend, Carla, volunteered to sell my merchandise for me.
The turn out was better than I expected and we actually sold 140 tickets at the door. This was beyond the posted capacity so I’m sure we broke a fire code or two that night but everyone had a good time and made it out alive!
Doing the math: How did I do?
- I sold 140 tickets at $15 a head. So the evening’s gross was: $2,100.
- I spent $150 renting the space and about $100 on promotional materials. That left me with $1,850!
I could have settled for the venue’s terms, hustled hard to get the word out and made around $800. Instead, I chose to produce my own show.
On my own terms, I managed to surpass the best case scenario by over $1,000, earning me a 117% improvement over the maximum earning potential the venue could offer!
“Fake It Till You Make It” – Study #2 –
I had reached the point where I decided I was no longer focusing on bar and club gigs. I wanted to start playing concert halls, theaters, festivals, and municipal events exclusively. I also wanted to increase the size of my audience from my previous big show at which I had 140 people in attendance. I was hoping to grow to about 200 people at my next event.
In order to make the leap, I started talking with a local, and fairly prestigious, concert hall that had a perfectly sized ballroom. The ballroom could comfortably house a mix of seated and standing attendees in the 225–250 range.
The concert hall was willing to work with me but not on the terms I was hoping for. They wanted to tack on another act (of their choosing) to the bill and they didn’t want to give me a weekend night. It would have to be on a Wednesday or a Thursday.
Again, I asked some questions and dug a little deeper and found that the hall offered a rental option. I could personally hire out their sound and lighting technician for the event and they would even provide a bar and a full staff (ticket takers, bar tenders, ushers, security).
The catch was the price. At their most generous discounted rate, I would need to pay $800 to secure the room! This seemed prohibitively expensive at first but, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could work.
- I only needed to pay half of the $800 up front as a deposit. The balance could be paid on the evening of the show. I could live frugally for a few weeks and swing the $400 if I was really determined to do this show.
- The main reason I wanted to do this show was to raise my profile in the public eye and establish myself as a “concert hall artist”.This show was not about the money. If I managed to draw a good crowd and at least broke even at the box office, then the evening could be considered a success.
With this in mind, I decided to take the chance and produce the show. Here’s what happened:
- I managed to draw 180 people. I had hoped for 200 but 180 wasn’t bad. This was more than my previous show so I considered it a step in the right direction.
- Since I had played as the featured act on a weekend night at a prestigious venue, my status had risen in the audience’s eyes.
- The promoter enjoyed my music and was impressed with the crowd I had wrangled and offered to work with me in the future.
- I made a little bit of money.
Doing the Math
- 180 people at $10 a head. That’s a gross of $1,800.
- Minus the $800 for the rental fee left $1,000.
- Then there was the $400 I paid my band mates and the $100 I spent on advertising and promo, leaving $500 when all was said and done.
This was not a money motivated gig. I wanted to break even while drastically raising my profile in the local music community and, thankfully, it succeeded.
Try It For Yourself
Set aside some time to consider how the information in this article and these case studies can be applied and adapted to your own music career. Your numbers will vary, of course, but the principles at work here are unchanging. Use them to your advantage.
Follow this model for your next show and see what happens. Then come back to Acoustic Living to share your experience with the rest of us in this article’s comment section.
Best of luck to you in all of your musical pursuits!