BOOKING 101 - What Type of Payment to Ask For
When it comes time to talk about money with a venue, let's look at what you can realistically expect. The important thing to remember here is that it's not really the amount of money you ask for, but the way that's it's paid, that will determine how many bookings you get. The basic types of payment are:
o Guarantee (they pay you no matter what)
o "Split" of the door (no guarantee)
o Donations (venue does not pay, but you still get donations/sales from the audience)
o Pay-to-play (you pay them)
Start by asking yourself: What type of gigs (guarantee, split, donations, pay-to-play) have you been getting so far, for how much money, and how many people have been coming to see just you, and, were you invited back to play there again.
GUARANTEES: Most independent bands with little booking experience tend to want a guarantee, because it "feels" safer to them. These gig are the hardest to get, however, because it puts the risk on the venue (or the promoter of the venue) instead of you. This means that the venue (or venue promoter) loses money if you do not bring enough people in. So if a venue is going to pay a guarantee, they are going to choose a band that has proven to "draw" at least a certain amount of people. A good rule of thumb is to ask for $3 for every person that you know (not think!) you can draw. For example, if your average draw in your hometown is 50 people (who pay to see just you), you could realistically ask for a flat guarantee of $150, but only in your hometown. Outside of your hometown, this would not work. Guarantees work better for certain genres like jazz, blues, big band, adult contemporary, or for certain venues like dinner theaters, or corporate events. The reason for this is that these genres or venues are often tied in with other events where there will already be people attending, and thus the band is not fully responsible for the draw.
SPLITS: The next most-wanted type of pay is a "split", meaning that the band gets paid a split (percentage) of what is paid by the audience to get in the venue. 50% is most common, but it can be any number, from 25% up to 100%. Bands with little booking experience get scared of splits, because they worry about not making any money. Venues prefer splits for new and un-proven bands, because it takes the risk away from the venue, and puts it on the band. But if you are unable to prove to a venue that you can draw a certain number of people, then you'll have to go for a split. You will get ten times the number of bookings if you do a split, than if you ask for a guarantee. TEN TIMES. And this is even if your guarantee is a small one, like $50. (Bands with a lot of booking experience have no problem with splits.)
Even when choosing splits, you can still decide on a "minimum" amount of money you want to target. Do this by asking the venue how much money the average band walks out with, for the time and day that is being considered. For example, if the venue is considering offering you a gig at 9pm on Tuesday, then ask them "On your average Tuesday 9pm gig, how much money does the average band get, considering the percentage that you are offering?". If the venue tells you that the average amount is $100, but you want a minimum of $150, then don't pursue it.
DONATIONS: Donation gigs are where the venue does not pay you anything at all, no matter what happens. Certain artists do very well with donation gigs, particularly artists that have lots of merch and albums to sell. Or if they are good at asking for donations and merch sales. Another situation where donations would be good is where there will be lots of exposure, like a radio station event, or a record label showcase, or an opening slot for a more-well-known act. Donation gigs can also turn into split or guarantee gigs (sometimes) if you do a great job; i.e., it can be your foot-in-the-door to larger venues. And if you are good at selling merch, and asking for donations, you can actually make more money with donation gigs than you can with splits OR guarantees. But mostly, donation gigs are best used to fill-in your schedule so you look "busy" and "popular".
PAY-TO-PLAY: This is where you pay the venue to play there (and then you go get fans to pay you to come in), or where you "buy" the tickets yourself, and then try to re-sell them to fans. Pay-to-play gigs are the easiest types to get (venues even have salespeople to convince you do it), and they work good if you know how to market and talk with people, because you are going to have to meet and market to a lot of people in order to get them to come in.
So our advice is to be flexible in the type of payment that you negotiate with venues. The idea is to have a CONTINUOUS string of gigs, no matter what type, so you will look "busy" or "popular". The more friends you make at venues, the more they will recommend you to their buddies, and then the more money you will be offered the next time, especially if you look busy and popular. Here is a plan:
1. Start by negotiating as many SPLIT gigs as possible.
2. Fill-in with DONATION gigs to make friends, and to make you look busy.
3. If you have a huge fan list in a particular place, do a PAY-TO-PLAY there.
4. Keep in contact with your previous SPLIT and DONATION venues, and see if they can do a guarantee this time around, or refer you to their buddies who can.
Next topic: Venue Relationships
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