Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?

THE ARTIST: Ben Rothermel (Lancaster, PA)
THE QUESTION: I recently played a show where the booking agent asked me to sell X amount of tickets. The amount was high on my fan draw but doable if I got almost every single fan to buy a ticket. I had an entire month to plan and promote for the show and started heavily doing so 2+ weeks out. I hung up posters with my info attached, created a facebook event and shared it daily in my newsfeed, and talked to everyone I knew in a friendly attempt to sell tickets to them. In the end though, I was left walking into the club with barely 1/3 of my quota filled. It was very embarrassing to hand them over to the booking agent and I’m quite sure we won’t be doing business together for some time.

Now, I did everything that I’ve learned works and still came out losing in this game of selling tickets. Do you have any insight into my situation? Should I avoid shows that require me to sell a minimum amount of tickets so as to avoid possible letdown? What has your experience with ticketed shows taught you?

THE ANSWER: Hey Ben, I think many people reading this can identify with your scenario and have probably found themselves in the same situation (myself included).   I’ve had a number of experiences with this and they’ve all been negative.  Here are my thoughts.

1. Don’t do it!
Just an opinione but  it seems like venues use musicians to make money off ticket sales…and the musician leaves with nothing. In most cases the number of tickets you sell isn’t fair for the amount of stage time you’ll be given. Personally i have a really really hard time selling tickets and if a venue asks me to sell them, I pass on the show. It’s never worth my time and all the hustling. In most cases, if a venue asks you to sell tickets, you only get to keep a small percentage of the sale. So lets say tix are $10 and you get $2 from every sale. Even if you sell 20 (and that’s alot), you’ve only made $40. That’s SHADY!

2. But if you do…
Realize that its a twisted trade-off. Musicians need venues just as much as they need musicians. And venues need to make their money too. It’s a business. Just read An Interview with Joe Squared – Things Every Venue Wishes You Knew. If you want to play at a venue but need to sell tickets, make sure the show is something you would regret missing out on. In other words, if you’ll hate yourself for passing up on the show, then do what you need to do to make it happen. Maybe you have a chance to open for a nationally touring artist you’ve always admired. That’s an good example of a show worth hustling for.

3. Ask Yourself these questions… (because they will affect ticket sales)

  • How close is this venue to the majority of my fanbase?
  • What day of the week does this event fall on?
  • Is this the type of venue/event my fans would come to?
  • How long is my set? Am I asking people to spend $10 on a ticket if I’m only playing for 15 minutes?

4. Also remember…

  • Venues are sometimes hesitant to give new artists a chance. If they don’t know your draw potential and you promise them 20 people, selling advance tickets is the best way for them to hold you to your word. If you honestly can’t bring out 20 people or 10 or 5 (or whatever their standard is), then be honest with them and wait till you can.
  • Give yourself enough time to sell tickets and hype the show. Sometimes people need to let an idea sink in before they buy into it. Ben, it sounds like you did this.
  • Try not to do ticketed shows too regularly.  The constant promoting will wear you down…and everybody else for that matter. Space out major shows by a few months

I’m interested in knowing what other Grassrootsy readers have to say about this topic. Leave your comments below.

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7 Comments on “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?”

  1. midwayfair Says:

    I had a similar problem with a popular club here in Baltimore. The club made a deal with us through another musician to fill a slot at the last minute where we didn’t have to prepurchase tickets. The “gave” me 25, then charged me $5 each on the night for them instead of just charging me for the tickets sold! The worst part is that we made more than our commitment — but because 14 of those were walk-ins, they got to *double sell* some of those tickets. I lost money, and the club made my friend look like a liar. I won’t play that venue again, even though they invited us back.

    I think #1 and #4 are the most important. The fewer musicians that submit themselves to pay-to-play, the sooner clubs will stop preying on people. There are so many places to play for free if you just want a stage. And if you don’t know for certain that you can make your commitment, then the venue is out of reach at the moment. #4 is all about patience.

  2. JD Watson Says:

    We have avoided most of these types of shows through most of our time as a band; say, two years, but we have finally been able to sell enough advance tickets to at least pull in some cash. It is, however, still a stretch to get a large showing. I think the advice on a national or even regional act is true: we have chosen our gigs based on similarity of music and the likelyhood that we will pull some fans in. We have also purchased tickets as giveaways in the hopes to get some fans there that always seem to spend in our favor. Say, ten or so. Picking your “poison” though is the key, and not doing it too often.

  3. Cheyenne Says:

    Amen! These kind of shows are usually shady scams to make money off artists’ hard work. One “booking agent” was using a fake profile to try to get me to take the bait time and time again. The first time, I went for it and hated it. I felt bad asking people to pay twice the Nashville indie standard of 5 bones. The venue was horrible and the show disorganized. We sold less than our quota, thereby making money for the cons and none for ourselves. I knew I’d been had. The same “booking agent” who had threatened to never do business with me again if I didn’t make the quota was after me again. I refused and explained why. A few weeks later “she” offered me another show. I concluded that she was just a fake profile that multiple underpaid youngsters or interns were using to fish for bands. Don’t take the bait. It’s a bogus deal and has nothing to do with being an artist or being happy.

  4. Adam Taylor Says:

    Hey Ben,

    I know this song and dance all too well.

    My advice …

    a.) is there any monetary gain? If you’re making 50% of the 10 dollar tickets you’re selling, it may be worth hustling the town. If you’re not getting paid until you sell 30 tickets, or if you’re making 2 bucks off every ticket, it’s probably not worth it to either you OR the venue.

    b.) is this even the right venue for my music? My band and I have invested way too much time trying to build a following in “prestigious” venues all over NYC and even in Lancaster…all to no avail. Let’s face it, we’re acoustic artists and we don’t fit in some of these venues. In the end, unless you’re performing full band, The Chameleon Club doesn’t fit what we do (and even with the full band, it doesn’t fit). Finding a venue that’s right for your music is important.

    c.) is there any other reason I should do this show? Maybe you’re opening for a credible national, and you know there will be a lot of people in the audience, or maybe it’s an important showcase…these are the kinds of shows that I’d work hard towards regardless of pay.

    If you DO accept to do a show that requires the presale of tickets, and you’re hellbent on selling them…be PERSISTENT and DIRECT, that’s my only advice there 🙂

    Keep it up, you’re one of the best songwriters I know brother, don’t let the nasty Chameleon Club discourage you!

  5. Jack Says:

    I find that at least in the DC/Md/Va area, that is how most of the venue shows seem to work for local/regional bands. They will book you on the idea that you will make them money and their insurance is making you sell tickets.

    Just like deciding whether or not you should play a show, the “entry type” should be considered. Is this an all-ages show? What is the capacity? What’s the expected draw?

    In the end, you’ll have to bring people out to the show anyway–so why not control the money up front? Plus, this almost guarantees that people will come to the show versus the “oh yeah I’ll be there” and then not show up.

  6. Eric Says:

    Hey Joy (you know who this is)!

    A quick perspective: group sales.

    My band will only take ticketed shows about once every 1-2 months, and only if it’s worth the hustle (as has been referenced above). One thing we often try to do is try to take notes on how large bands or even large companies achieve the exposure/success/whatever that we want and try to instill them in our own practices. We recently enacted one of these, group rates, at one of these “worth the hustle” shows we had.

    We’re always trying to think of more reasons than just the music (which, unfortunately, often isn’t enough) to get people to come to a show. We brainstorm giveaways, entries for a raffle, etc., and then another dawned on us. What are some of the things that football, baseball, hockey, etc. organizations do to get lots of people out? They offer group rates! Bring a group of people and each of the tickets gets cheaper! Duh!

    Hopefully, I don’t have to explain group rates in any more depth, but here’s what it boils down to: If you have a fan or two who is going to do the work to seek out and promote your show to a multitude of their friends, you can afford to eat the cost of a ticket or two as a reward for that. Let’s say we have a show this Saturday night and after 15 people saying they’re not sure if they can get off work or that they’ll pay at the door, Janie says, “Sure, I’ll come!” Great! Now although your music is so good that it’s worth it for Janie to come alone, what better way to spend a Saturday night than with friends? “Janie, I’ll gladly sell you a ticket, but I’ll tell you what: if you can find 4 more friends to come with you, I’ll take $1 off of all your tickets!” Now Janie has an increased incentive (aside from not wanting to be a loner) to find some friends, and as a result, everyone wins! Janie brings a bunch of friends and enjoys your music, you sell more tickets (while doing no extra work), profiting from the exposure and the merch table/suitcase (hopefully), and the venue gets more money, which hopefully means more money for you. Maybe the discounted ticket means you paid an extra $5 out of pocket to cover the discount, but in the long run, you know you were just going to spend that on Hot Pockets – just get the generic brand next time!

    If you have a fan that is just rabid about you and your music, enlist them! You can even tell them, “Look, if you’re going to do the work of helping me find more people to come for this show, I’ll scratch your back in return and knock off a few bones from the ticket price.” And the more people, the greater the discount!


  7. […] conversations. I love a good idea!  After his comment on last week’s “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?“, I asked Eric if he’d like to answer a few questions.  Read the below carefully […]

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