Talent Booking Isn’t Always Easy
If you’re a talent buyer, you know it can be challenging to find the right bands, negotiate the right price, find the right date and get the audience in the door. Talent is a relative term and your audience may not think your choice for their entertainment is worth the price of the ticket.
Even if you land the most popular indie band in town, you can’t rest. Being a talent booking agent working for a venue means you’re expected to book audience-drawing talent year-round, night after night, or at least weekend after weekend. It’s a never-ending cycle of searching for talent, making offers, negotiating terms, managing holds, and talking to booking agents. If you’re lucky, you have booking agents calling you to get their performers onto your schedule.
An example of a venue who has done this right is The Saxon Pub in Austin, Texas. Since it opened its doors in 1990, the small venue has hosted more than 17,000 sets. That number doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. In fact, the Saxon Pub’s talent booking is off the charts, booking as many as six acts a night. Their secret? Besides offering a friendly and clean venue, they discovered their niche early on. They knew who they and their audience were, changing out different bands by the time of the evening to turn over a new crowd. They bring in plenty of quality music, have earlier sets for working folk, and make it easy for guests to get in and out of their venue, staying just outside of the crowded downtown area. They also do something few venues do – give the talent 100 percent of the door, plus a small percentage of the alcohol sales. No wonder so many local favorites and acclaimed musicians call the Saxon Pub their Austin home.
Venues and talent booking agents take note. The Saxon Pub is the model for a good, sustainable business. Even with all the music and business education you can afford, the best talent booking agents will tell you success comes primarily from experience. You have to get in there and actually do the job to understand its inner workings and build relationships – and that can take years. Yes, you need to understand how business works. And yes, you need to have a good grasp on the music industry, but if you really want to rock talent booking and build your reputation, there are a few secrets that may help get you over the hump.
Book The Bands Proven to Draw a Crowd
Easier said than done, right? Some venues have their regular shows, their resident acts that fans can count on every week. But like the Saxon Pub, try booking gigs before those acts that may draw a completely new crowd. How do you know who to book? You can always keep tabs on where other bands are going locally, then try to draw them to your venue, but that won’t win you any friends.
Instead, listen to your audience. Talk with the regulars, frequent social media sites where your audience may be, and listen. There are so many great bands out there, many of whom are just waiting for a talent booking agent to give them a shot. Work closely with talent agents. Invite them to visit your venue(s) to see the vibe and the audience. They can likely give you some direction and offer up some talent they think fits the bill. Work with promoters to push those bands. For newer bands looking for exposure, book them as an opening act to your bigger shows. Just be sure their genre of music is aligned with the crowd that is there to see your headliner.
Predict Attendance Numbers
If you want to book shows and make money doing it, you need to accurately predict your audience numbers. When you’re booking talent, the band or their agent will want to know you can pull in a crowd. Unless they are truly desperate, they won’t want to commit to a show where the talent booking agent can’t guarantee them a decent audience. No one wants to play to an empty room.
Take a look at your past shows in that same genre. Consider your regular guests. Do they come to see a specific band or do they come on a specific night, regardless of the band playing? Will you book a less-known band before a big headliner where you know the crowds will be big? Do you pre-sell tickets to get a headcount or rely on walk-ins? How many walk-ins do you get on a typical night of the week? How many followers do you have on social media where you can promote the show? Are there any events nearby that may give you the opportunity to pull from? What are the other venues in the vicinity offering that same night?
Understanding your local music scene, your competition, your audience, and historical attendance per night will help you predict your expected attendance numbers.
Estimate Alcohol Sales and Don’t Give It Away
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, most restaurant, bar, and grocery store owners try to make alcohol sales account for around 30 percent of their revenue, pricing their drinks accordingly. Owners must also account for the price of drinks their competition is offering.
Estimating alcohol sales isn’t impossible because you can easily average all past sales per night, per show or even time of day. The larger the audience, obviously the larger your alcohol sales. But it’s also important to know your audience. Tuesday night gigs may not result in as much alcohol sales as a Friday night, for instance.
Some venues discount their alcohol to get people in the door. That may work for some, but with booze making up such a large part of revenue, you may want to reconsider. If you are booking the right bands, the music will be the draw instead of the dollar beers. One thing to note: if you want to increase alcohol sales, make it easy for your guests to buy it. Staff up on busier nights with extra bartenders and wait staff so no one has to wait too long to make a purchase. Give your wait staff the ability to process payments at the table or in the crowd so they don’t get hung up going back and forth to a register.
Determine The Best Price for Tickets and Make Them Easy to Buy
Ticket prices may supplement your income as well as your bands’ take home pay. If you want to attract the talent people most want to see, you want them to walk away with a good amount of cash in their pockets. Overcharging will reduce the number in attendance. Undercharging will force you to make that money up elsewhere, likely in liquor sales. Keep a good balance by knowing your audience and your competition. What are they willing to pay and what are they used to paying elsewhere?
Estimate your breakeven ticket price – what do you absolutely have to charge per attendee to cover your event costs, both fixed and flexible? Divide by your estimated attendance number and see if those numbers align. Are you in the red or the black?
Also, consider the size of the band you’re booking. A one-man show doesn’t have to split that money amongst multiple band and crew members. Bigger bands may equal higher ticket prices. Consider pre-selling tickets on your website, but be sure you integrate with a ticketing platform so guests don’t have to leave your site to make their purchase. You may lose them forever if there’s a hiccup in payment processing or they get distracted.
Mind The Competition
Your competition can be your biggest asset. By keeping tabs on their talent booking, their alcohol and ticket prices, their draw, and their audience numbers, you have good (and free) insight into trends. Much like looking at real estate comps when you’re selling your home, you always want to know what the other guy (or gal) is doing. You may have justification to do things differently, like charge more per ticket, but rarely do you want to be an outlier.
Your competition may not be another live music venue, either. Competition could be a local event that draws huge crowds. Depending on the size of your city, you may not be able to compete if a large percentage of the population goes to the event. As an example, certain years in Austin may mean Austin City Limits and a UT Longhorn Football game coincide on the same night, drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees to only two locations. Do you want to compete or could you offer an alternative that would still attract a respectable crowd?
Use Talent Booking Software
Finally, all of the offers, negotiations, holds, and communications are labor-intensive and suck a lot of your time (which equals money). Consider using purposely-built talent booking software that brings all of your tasks together into a single system you can access from your mobile device. You will be able to do more in less time while also building in a better work-life balance.
Look for software that integrates with ticketing software and other business-critical apps you already use. Having that financial piece integrated with your ticket sales and calendar, for instance, is critical because you will have detailed analysis on your P&L per show, per ticket sale, or per night. When your financials, calendar, settlement, offer generation, and calendar are all accessible in one app from any device, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you can be and how costs go down.