The Case for Indie Music Promoters – An Observation From a Former Music Exec
The Reverend Horton Heat are playing in West Palm Beach this weekend and I bet that you had absolutely no idea. The godfather of modern rockabilly will be within a 50 mile radius of the core readership of this publication and no one knows a damn thing about it.
From personal experience, I have found that venues too many times circumvent the use of independent freelance promoters in favor of in-house venue promoters, talent agents, booking agents or scouts (they sure have a lot of titles for a job that basically plays with a club’s pocketbook). The problem with this approach to promoting shows is the loss of what it means to “promote” a show. Here’s my definition of promotion within this capacity: “Hyping appearances by a band by reminding fans of what makes the band great or introducing their music to new consumers in your territory with the intent of elevating the artist’s exposure and driving sales to your brand.”
Most venues that use the “in-house” approach usually have inept persons serving as behind-the-scenes brand representatives. These folks are usually not keen to the best practices pertaining to utilizing free or economical tools readily at their disposal. Examples can include, but are not limited to, flyering outside of your organization’s realm of influence, proper use of social media and, of course, Marketing 101 classics that have withstood the test of time: word of mouth, postering and creating press interest for the event.
Do you know why the in-house solution tends to fail? It’s simple: in-house employees can sit back comfortably knowing that if the show is a bust the venue can always recoup losses against bar sales. Let’s face it, it’s not their money.
What a solid independent promoter brings to the mix is their ass. Literally. They’re not sitting idly by projecting possible losses against vodka or cigarette sales. They are proactively going above and beyond for their shows because they have skin in the game. They’ve got money riding on the horse. A financial loss at the door means less food on their plate. The old proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” applies here. That kind of drive is inherent with their ilk. Any good indie promoter worth their salt knows how to put money to good use and usually have a built-in word of mouth network of fans.
Which brings me to another point. I suspect that these “scouts” rely too heavily on the performing artist to let people know of the show. One could argue that an artist should promote the gig. It is in their best interest, after all, and you’d be correct with that assessment. However, here’s the flipside to that argument: It’s your fucking job, in-house person!
My experience in the music industry has led me to this one simple truth: Let musicians be artists first. If you find yourself under their employ, you are expected to produce results, so carry yourself accordingly, professionally and efficiently.
Here’s another example that occurred just last week: sludge metal stoner punks The Melvins graced our fair scene by playing at the Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale. You want to know when a substantial amount of people found out about this show? 16 hours prior to the gig, when the guitarist of an influential Miami band mentioned it on Facebook. He was rightly pissed that the show wasn’t publicized anywhere and he’s absolutely right to be. Numbers don’t lie. Here’s a screen shot of the Melvins event page:
I have met some in-house scouts that are worth their weight in gold (you know who you are) and this article is not for them. These observations are not by any means intended as a jab at the folks at Respectable Street or Culture Room; both establishments are respected and admired institutions around these parts. This piece is an intervention for club and venue management that practice solely with in-house talent agents. The lack of training and motivation for shows in your organization IS hurting your bottom line and tarnishing your brand. If you want to be relevant, I suggest you take a deep hard look at your business practices and consider bringing in true and tested independent promoters.
Do you agree or disagree with my observations? I want to know!
Add your comments below.
Reverend Horton Heat will be playing Saturday November 15 at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. Show starts at 9 p.m. Also performing are The Riot Act, Gravel Kings and Jangle Leg.
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