QC3Degree Radio presents Community Forums! That’s where we all get together and invite the public to talk about things we want to make happen. Like rad art festivals or mixed media installations or dying the Mississippi hot pink. Don’t tell us it can’t be done – all of our brainpower combined makes one giant super brain.
This month saw the first of many community forums featuring a panel with area business owners and operators; this one focused on music venues and their booking processes. In other words, the people who find bands to play on various local stages hung out and answered our questions.
Here’s what happened.
Scene: Rozz-Tox, Saturday, June 3rd. 2 p.m.
- Alex Mahaffey represents Safe Harbor Records and Promotions and The Island venue.
- Jason Parris works predominantly with RIBCO, a QC staple.
- Jacob Gregory also books at RIBCO and numerous other venues.
- Eric Murphy is the founder of Utopiugly Productions.
- Deb Powers is the CEO at River Music Experience.*
- Karl Beatty works with Bier Stube.
*Note: Powers was kind enough to participate in the forum when Kate Dale, Director of Entertainment, was unable to make it. Powers is not responsible for booking, but she is the person who makes sure performers get paid, so we love her to pieces.
Our humble moderator was Andrew King of Triple Crown Comedy, The After Hour, and – returning this fall – Rozz-Talk. Most of Andrew’s questions were submitted by the public. His portion of the discussion is in bold.
AK: How do you find bands to book?
Everyone uses multiple methods to find bands. Parris and RME use PollStar as one method, while Mahaffey and Gregory prefer to use Facebook for most of their scouting.
“We get a lot of people reaching out to us when they’ll be in the area,” Gregory says. “Most of the work happens on social media.”
All agree that the best way for a local act or artist to connect with them is to meet in-person, preferably through a mutual friend or colleague.
Beatty, for example, works a 40-hour-a-week job and plays in a band on top of booking shows.
“I get 500 emails a day for this [booking],” Beatty says. “I run 3 open-mic nights in town. Come there and talk to me.”
The general message is: if you, the musician/artist, don’t already frequent places like Ragged Records or Daytrotter, start doing so. Introduce yourself to patrons and employees alike. Invite them to listen to some of your music. Attend shows and support your local music scene. It will support you back.
What’s the best way to send a query that elicits a response? “How do we get you to return calls and emails if we’ve sent things multiple times?”
Every promoter on the panel mentions several times that they get dozens, sometimes hundreds of emails per day. Their goal is to answer every single message, but it can be time consuming to do so.
“Be persistent,” Parris says. “but don’t be so persistent that I see your email every day.”
“Again, I don’t do booking,” Powers says, “but my number is public. You can call me any time.”
“Don’t do that with me,” Parris says.
At this, the audience laughs, but dude is serious. Everyone has their line.
In short: if someone doesn’t get back to you for a while, don’t be discouraged. They do want to talk to you. But don’t get nuts. Shoot off a note every few days: “Hey, this is Jeffanie with My Band’s Name. We know you’re busy, but we’re eager to work with you. Hope all is well/We’ll be in your town on DATE/Here’s a link to this new thing we did.” Signoff with contact info.
What do you look for in a band?
Because the Quad Cities is a smaller metropolitan area, very few niche clubs can survive. Therefore, promoters and bookers are always looking to get a variety of acts.
“Think of it like Baskin Robbins,” Parris says. “I try to get all 31 flavors… if I feel there’s people not being served in this community, I try to look for that genre.”
The main concern with overbooking certain genres is oversaturation, a term that comes up again and again during the panel (as you’ll read later on).
What’s the biggest deterrent for booking? “What’s the turn-off? I mean, are there certain night-of-show faux pas that you run into a lot? Is there anything a band shouldn’t do?”
Parris gets the point and immediately jumps in with: “Don’t tell me you can sell out my room. Don’t sell me your crowd. Don’t lie to me. I want to grow your band with you. That takes working together and being truthful.”
Murphy: “Don’t be a dickhead. Be on time. Be respectful.”
Mahaffey: “It’s really helpful when bands are punctual. It makes everything so much easier.”
Powers: “That’s such a huge issue that we’re remodeling our stage so it’s in two parts for setting up and tearing down. Also, be realistic about riders. And someone who is collecting the money shouldn’t be drinking.”
Following the venue’s rules is crucial. At the Island, if a show runs late, the cops show up. Powers tells a story about how she warned a band not to turn their fog machine up past a certain level. The band ignored her, and the fog machine set off the RME fire alarms, disabling the building’s elevators. This may not sound like a big deal, but RME, which is a non-profit, had to pay $3,200 to have the elevators reset and turned back on.
“This is no joke,” Powers emphasizes. “Something like that can kill a venue.”
Which venues have dedicated sound guys?
Most have a rotating set, usually three or four. There is some overlap, where a sound tech might work for multiple venues. It’s not uncommon, for example, for the person in the sound booth at Skellington Manor (IL) on Friday night to go run sound at the Village Theater (IA) on Saturday.
Do you have general procedures? “Is there a certain order in which you want things done, like sound check?”
Parris: “It varies.”
Mahaffey: “It varies hugely.”
Murphy: “It’s situational.”
Powers: “Everything is under contract and everything runs smoothly.”
Murphy: “Well, that’s no fun.”
“Do you pay? Who pays?!”
Everyone on the panel agrees that it’s best for all parties involved if the bands get paid, and they wouldn’t ask someone to perform for nothing. That said…
Mahaffey: “[Pay] depends on the venue. Some venues do way better than others financially because they’re in optimal places and they can sell alcohol at their bars. We have to do everything donations-based at the Island, for example, due to city ordinances.”
“We [RME] firmly believe in paying everyone,” Powers says. “80% of our deals are door deals, and there are a lot of different booking and production companies in town that we work with.”
“Everyone gets paid at RIBCO,” Parris says, “but it varies on deal-to-deal. We’ll do a percentage of the door or a flat rate.”
“[At Bier Stube] we pay a guaranteed amount,” Karl says. “We don’t give anything away for free anymore. No more free beer. Hey, I know, and I’ve been in bands where I was the guy who got out of control, but…”
Karl shrugs and we all nod, understanding completely.
Other perks may involve free food.
“We just had a meeting at Mama Bosso’s,” Mahaffey says. “The Island is going to start having pizza for sale and we’re going to feed bands from that.”
“Oh, yeah,” Murphy agrees. “We’ll cook for you and give you a place to stay.”
What’s the process for getting on a festival bill?
Murphy fields this question first. His brainchild, Junetopia, is just days away (June 16-18), and features a number of local and DIY performances. He says the process is similar for booking a show, but the day-of-show etiquette is even more vital.
For example, there is far less room for variation in performance times. He illustrates: “Every year there’s one [band] who says, ‘Our drummer has to work now.’ NO! You know what time you have to play! This band is coming from Montana, and this band is coming from Wisconsin…”
“Every year, I walk away from Junetopia with a list of bands that I’ve never heard of and that I love,” Parris chimes in. “Fests vs. regular shows are more organized, in my experience. You can’t be as loose with the schedule. If you don’t make your slot, sorry. You don’t play.”
Who’s responsible for promotion?
Murphy points at Mahaffey and says, “This guy does it!”
“It helps so much if bands help promote,” Mahaffey says. “My hands are literally sometimes sore from messaging people and posting on the internet… some people feel like they’re not supposed to plug their art too much, and that it’s annoying or something. But it’s the bands that do that get a big crowd. They have five times as many people at their shows. I only have so much reach. You gotta help.”
Gregory: “As much as I appreciate Alex being nice, I’m going to go the opposite direction: if you are in a band and you are not promoting your own show, then fuck you.”
“Play your part,” Murphy says. “People who put the work in are the people who are successful.”
“We’re both taking a risk together,” Parris agrees. “We’re trying to do something gnarly.”
Powers strongly encourages use of social media as a promotional tool, saying, “We sold tickets to 300+ zip codes last year. To 31 states. That’s new. It’s totally social media.”
How much do you spend on marketing?
“I have eight departments at RME,” Powers says, “and my marketing department has the lowest budget.”
Again, she points out that there are a number of free options when it comes to marketing and social media is one of the best methods. Her statement does, however, reiterate how important it is for musicians to promote themselves.
Parris and Gregory say that marketing budgets vary in their respective experiences, and that the variation depends on many, many factors. Those factors can include any front-end investments, guarantees, previous business, etc.
“I always put some of my own money in a show,” Murphy says, which does not surprise anyone. No one can ever say Eric Murphy doesn’t put his money where his mouth is.
Are there any misconceptions about the places you represent?
“There are misconceptions about every single venue I’ve worked with,” Gregory says. “All it takes is someone not getting on that bill or someone didn’t have a good time, someone got into a fight…”
Beatty reiterates an earlier point, which is more about misconceptions people might have of him personally: “I’m not blowing you off. I don’t mean to blow anyone off. I try to book the entire summer and get that all done in a two-week window. I have two hours between work and gigs every day.”
“I’m definitely blowing you off,” Parris says.
“I love how cynical Jason is. There’s no venue that’s against any certain band?”
The panelists reply unanimously in the negative.
Mahaffey is saddened by the idea that people may feel excluded from a certain show or venue with which he’s involved.
“Every show I go to, there’s a diverse crowd,” he says. “Certain people gravitate toward certain shows, obviously… nobody’s trying to close anybody off. Maybe there are personal issues, but there’s a bigger picture. It’s not a club and it shouldn’t be.”
About perceived exclusivity, Gregory says, “That’s all social stuff. Gossip on Facebook. Sadly, that does come back on the venue sometimes… it usually has nothing to do with the venue or the staff.”
“Is there anything you refuse to host?”
Give the Quad City music scene a compliment sandwich.
Powers may not know what a compliment sandwich is because she has only praise: “I went to an event where the speakers were three guys who work in economic development in Des Moines, and one guy on the stage said that Des Moines is jealous of our music scene. That’s coming from the business leaders. We’re doing something right.”
Gregory praised the QC’s diverse market while noting that the same diversity can create resentment and the need, in some artists’ minds, to stand out. There’s nothing wrong with pushing the envelope, but you have to remain true to yourself.
“I’ve watched it kill acts and venues for years,” Gregory says.
Parris starts out slowly, and we all get excited because we’re pretty sure he’s about to rant again: “The QC music scene has always gone in waves. It’s…”
Oh man, is he gonna do it?
“It is diverse, and what I love about it now is all the multi-genre stuff happening… but…”
“…but just stop over fucking playing. Stop playing every weekend. You’re devaluing your art. If I can see it all the time, it’s not special. Be a mystery. My last band, we’d play the Quad Cities four times a year, and the rest of the year we were on tour. Every time we played, it was 250-300 people. We made the same amount of money as you did playing every week. And I had my ego fed from playing in front of a huge crowd, and people say, ‘Oh, we gotta go to this show because they’re not going to be back for another 6 months.’ Just keep working together. We’re not at a low point on the wave; there’s still room to move upward. I love the vibe and what people are doing. And I’m proud to say I’m from the Quad Cities.”
This raises the question of regional clauses, which essentially restrict bands from playing at a competing venue for a certain time period.
While the panelists acknowledge that this partially deals with the oversaturation issue, they seem hesitant to require such a restriction. Most agree with Parris when he says, regarding a band that plays too much in one area: “No. I don’t have to hire you.”
Beatty: “The beauty of the Quad Cities is we have four distinct places to hang out… I don’t mind if someone is playing in another district because they’ll get a different crowd. But if you play at Bass Street, and then Bier Stube, the crowd is going to be divided between those two venues.”
Mahaffey adds, “If you’re going to book four shows in a month, you’d better hustle. Don’t screw over the venues and yourself. A lot of young bands will play a million shows because they’re trying to get the word out. Tell every single person you know to come to your show. Tell people you don’t even know. Tell random weird people, even if you don’t think they like your genre. People who don’t normally like your genre might still like going to your shows because your performance is so good. Don’t ever be afraid as an artist to promote your own art. And if people see artists are really, really grinding, they’ll be more likely to come out.”
We’re getting a little off-topic, but the panel is on a roll.
Beatty: “Get bigger crowds by slowing down. If you want to have those big shows and have those big crowds, be good for starters, and build up what you’re trying to do.
Powers: “You also don’t know how good you are until you hear everyone around you. Take time off and go listen.”
Murphy: “But we’re not competing here. Make each other better. What your friend is doing should drive you that much harder.”
“Okay, so to summarize: No fog, no fire, don’t be a dick, and be on time.”