Let's Talk About...PROMOTION

Besides the definition of pay-to-play, the biggest argument for musicians and promoters concerns promotion, and who is responsible. Blaming the “other guy” seems to be their solution. The P2P advocates claim it’s solely the responsibility of the musician, which is one of their primary justifications to do presale shows. Some musicians claim that only the promoter should promote. In my experience, it’s up to everybody to work together as a team, promoter and musician, in order to get the word out. But the reason that there is such controversy about this is because it is damn near impossible to promote pay-to-play shows. And the pay-to-play companies are up front about admitting it. They spam email ten new, unknown bands for a show that’s more expensive than normal shows on a dead-night like Sunday. They realize it’s impossible to get the average person off the street to attend something like that. The only way they can possibly get any attendance is to have the bands personally sell tickets to their families and friends. I want to go through some of the misconceptions about promotion and how it works without resorting to presale. In fact, it is much more effective than presale.

Keep in mind that I’m attempting to cover aspects of promotion that might seem fairly rudimentary to some. In order to address this topic for new musicians, I feel it’s important to start at the beginning.

THE ILLUSTRATIONS SHOWN ARE SCREEN SHOTS FROM PUBLIC WEBSITES: To give further proof of some of the ideas these P2P promotion companies are spreading around, I am using screen shots from actual P2P websites. I will link where possible. I believe all illustrations fall under the "fair use" rule.

YES, I'M GOING TO USE MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: And for this topic I've decided that the best way I can illustrate these points is to use my own experience (including posters). On other pages of this website I've tried to keep my band out of it as much as possible. I've gotten some flak for mentioning my band name (some people seem to think I'm doing this for publicity). That's bullshit. I'm not doing this to promote my band as some have suggested (yeah, like that would ever happen!), I'm doing it to prove I'm not making this up. Other musicians may argue that they do it different and that's fine. But this is offered as an example of what worked for us. And it has worked. FYI: In 31 years my band has never sold one presale ticket to play a show. In fact, nobody should. So I know this is possible. That's my point. These are some of the cities we’ve played in and bands we’ve played with for anyone who needs more proof.

MY TARGET IS THE MAJORITY: The information on this page will have exceptions to the rule. A few music communities are fraught with nothing but horrible shows, greedy pay-to-play clubs/promoters and bands who will never go against this system. There may be music scenes so corrupt that people feel it's an impossible task to fix. I get it. But I still have hope that these examples can at least offer some ideas to help combat pay-to-play. I further believe these "worst case scenarios" are a minority. From my years of experience the majority of shows are run the right way and there are thousands of real promoters out there working their tails off. But pay-to-play is seeping into every music community and that's my concern. It will continue to get worse if we let it. The information I'm sharing can be used in most situations and on neverpaytoplay.com that's my objective.

If you haven’t already also see WHAT IS A PROMOTER AND WHAT SHOULD THEY DO?


Screen shot from the pdf "Rock Your City, 5 Steps to Becoming the Biggest Band in Town.

I want to address this stupid idea that the minute some young person strums their first guitar, they instantly have a career in music. They don't. Being in a band also doesn't qualify you to claim being part of "The Industry". But you'd never know that from reading the blogs and books written by the pay-to-play promoters. If they can sell new musicians on the dream that they'll all have a shot at becoming the Next Big Thing (as long as they follow their advice), they'll continue to keep bands selling tickets for their showcases and battles. Considering the correct definition of the word "career" one could hardly apply that to a band who just played their first show. Many of these pay-to-play promoters will talk about your career and how you need to follow their suggestions in order to be successful. They seem to want to create anxiety with constant monitoring of progress and charting the draw of each show. I believe that worrying prematurely about a "career in music" robs the young musician of the joy and excitement that comes with learning to play an instrument, joining together with friends and performing live. Learn to play and get along with fellow band members. There's plenty of time to devote to a "career" (if that's what you want) later.

Volumes have been written by P2P promoters/companies about why they don’t feel any responsibility to promote the shows they are signing bands up to play. They will tell the bands that they aren’t considered promoters so they don’t need to promote. They’ll argue that this is only the job of the band. They’ll say anything to get out of the smallest amount of effort. Part of the problem is that these “promoters” are booking shows from so far away, they couldn’t possibly promote them. Many times they haven’t even been in the club they are booking! That’s why they need the bands to turn in money: to cover their cost, make a profit and cut down on the financial risk. This is an insult to every honest club and real promoter out there. The people who are implementing pay-to-play shows are giving the real promoters (who actually promote) a bad name.

In other local promotion situations, sometimes people like to play “bigshot promoter". They bask in the prestige of being in charge of a show, but don’t have the experience to successfully pull it off. Therefore, it’s easier to have the bands just sell tickets. They get credit/notoriety for putting on the show while taking no risk. There's also the "instant entrepreneur", who seems to think that booking shows would be an easy way to make a living in the "music industry".

Still others actually believe presales is the only way a show can work. The national pay-to-play promoters have worked years to convince everyone on the idea that the only way to properly promote is to have bands sell tickets. They’ve been somewhat successful and some people have accepted that misconception. These new local promoters truly believe that promotion is the job of the bands they hired. They argue that promotion is only the responsibility of the musicians.

National companies like Gorilla Music and Afton Shows have devoted entire websites to “helping” bands with advice on promotion. Even though some of it mirrors what I’m saying, their end result is mostly that “better promotion brings better ticket sales.” Their definition of networking equals presale. No matter how they try to frame it, the main objective is to get you to sell more tickets (turn in more money). Of course, the reality is that if they really gave you instructions on how to promote without presales, they would be out of business! They certainly wouldn’t want that to happen!

Promotion is the art of selling. The first rule of promotion is that you need something of value to sell. This is true for most everything, including selling people on the idea of seeing your band. There needs to be something for you to sell, and what you have to sell is a great show. Of course music is important, but I believe that entertainment (and connection to the audience) is vital to becoming a popular live act. Look at any successful band playing today, or even years ago. They all have one thing in common. They put on a hell of a show. No matter what the style of music, they connect with people. As a concert goer, when the show is over you should be thrilled that you spent money and made the effort to be there. And that’s what each and every band must work toward. Watch other popular local bands. Watch national acts. Watch anybody who performs on a stage. See why they are successful. It’s important to be the band you would like to see. Always remember: The show’s the thing. This is showbiz, and besides musicianship if the emphasis isn’t also on making the show exciting (the connection to your audience), you won’t have as much to promote. Many pay-to-play advocates discount this but I say it is the most vital aspect of promotion. You gotta have something to promote, so developing a good product (that exciting show) should be your first order of business.

There are hundreds of bands forming this very minute. It will be much easier for your band if you can stand out from the crowd. At first it’s easy to emulate some other popular band (beginners often mimic their heroes), but as you develop you’ll want to work to set yourselves apart from all the other bands playing. The more you can bring something different to the table, the more people will notice. And it’s easier to sell something new and different. If you can project an entire package (look, sound, stage show, etc) people will be attracted to what you are doing.

I've got a few tips that can set your band/show apart from others:

1. Visual is important. In a live situation, the visual can be as important as the music. This is most important when you are starting out. Try to look like a band that fits together. Dress like you are there to perform. How many bands starting out look like they just got off the sofa from watching a weekend ball game (or came from the gym or the beach) and hurried to play their show? Of course you can be casual, but make it look like you put a tiny amount of effort into it. Even all those grunge bands put effort into that “sloppy, I don’t give a shit” look. And don’t let them fool you, I was around to see it.

2. The tighter, the better. Practice your material so you can play it in your sleep. Be prepared for all the sudden tech problems that can happen on stage by having the music part nailed down. Concentrate on a solid set list and keep in-between song fussing around to a minimum. Think about how the music will affect the audience and what you want to achieve. We normally practice our set, in order, the night before the show. If there’s something that isn’t jelling, we save it for next time. Even though it sounds crazy, being prepared allows a band to be more flexible during the show.

3. Look as confident as possible on stage no matter what happens. I know it’s tough when people are looking at you but we have found that they really are with you. They want to like you. They want you to do well. So try to own that stage. Usually nobody knows when you’ve made a mistake so if you don’t give it away to your audience, there aren’t any.

4. Make the audience part of the show. We’ve been lucky to have a really great comedic frontman who can talk to anybody and is fast with the one-liners. If we need some time to regroup, he’ll discuss a current (non controversial) topic, TV show he saw, or talk to somebody he sees in the crowd. People love it. And it makes the show keep moving when we need to make adjustments. You may not have a natural frontman/frontwoman in your band, but anybody can work on having a bit of interesting stage banter. It will make people feel that they are part of the experience. If they had a good time, they’ll want to see you again. And don’t forget to thank them for showing up.

5. Play the same show for 500 or 5 people. Once in awhile you’ll get a clunker where nobody shows up. Don’t penalize the few people who did show up by giving them a subpar show. They paid their hard earned money to see the best show you can play, so give it to them. We once had a terrible attendance while on tour in Chicago (the Ramones were playing the same night!). It was a little depressing, but we were glad these few people had come to see us so we made a big party out of it. Unbeknownst to us, a reporter from one of the local music magazines was there. He wrote a really nice review about how it was the most fun he’d had at a show in years and how we didn’t care if it was not well attended because we rocked anyway. Even though hardly anybody showed up, we had fun and got some good press!

6. Girls will bring the boys. This might not work for some genres of music but we’ve found that if the ladies are interested in your band, the guys will follow. Our band focuses on garage (dance) music. Women typically like to dance and will come up to the stage when we start playing. Many of our male fans have told us that while they like seeing us, seeing a lot of cute dancers doesn’t exactly hurt our attendance.

Be realistic. Nobody starts at the top. The P2P promoters will try to give you a shot at a big club before you are ready, as long as you pay for it. But you didn’t earn that. You just had enough ticket money to pay them for it. And in the long run that won’t do you any good, especially with real promoters. This needs to be an organic process. You need to learn your craft and it has to start with little shows. Being on stage is as vital as being a good musician. Stage craft is something you have to learn by doing. Play parties, little clubs and bars, rented halls, and anything to get you in front of people (and yes, you’ll play for free once in awhile). This is the training you need to play the bigger venues. When you play the smaller shows you will start to gather a fanbase. It normally starts out with family and friends, but as long as you are working hard to play good, entertaining shows, it doesn’t take long for more people to join in. These people are gold so treat them like it. From the minute you pull up to the venue until you load out after the show, you are an ambassador for your band. Don’t be pushy, just be friendly. (For more suggestions see Playing Without Paying) Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. This process takes time but it really is the only true way of gaining people who show up to see you. Take the time!

It really doesn’t take long before people start to talk about you and you’ll get better shows.
There is, let’s call it a ladder (See Figure A), you must climb to get these better shows.

Figure A: Ladder

* PARTIES AND HOUSE SHOWS: Everybody starts off with the small stuff. These are where you’ll learn to be in front of people, how they react to your show, how well your band plays under pressure. There’s little or no money involved but the fun and experience is the payoff. This is great training before you try to sell real clubs on hiring you. Remember, there isn’t a huge national band playing today who didn’t start with really small gigs.

* DIY SHOWS: At any point in this process you can put on your own shows (do-it-yourself). When opportunities seem slim sometimes it's best to take the bull by the horns, rent a venue and put on a show. These shows can be more co-operative in nature and there are many different ways to work out the details. For some ideas see How I Put On My Own Show.

* SMALL-MEDIUM CLUBS/BARS (50-200 capacity): You’ll typically start off playing real shows on weeknights at the smaller venues/bars. If you can consistently bring some people in, you might get a headlining slot on a weeknight. Then you will work up to opening for other locals or headlining on a Friday or Saturday at the smaller venues. Some of those small 100 capacity clubs were where the famous grunge bands got successful so don’t think these are not worth playing.

* BIGGER CLUBS (400+ capacity): After some time at the small clubs, opportunities on weeknights at bigger clubs start to present themselves. When you’ve mastered weeknight slots, it will be easier to get weekend shows. Being able to play weekends was the goal of my band. That’s where the action was. If you play enough good shows, work well with the booker/promoter, and the club likes your crowd, you can eventually work up to headlining on a weekend, and sometimes be given the opportunity to open for a national act...all without presales of any kind.

* OPENING FOR NATIONAL ACTS: Even for an old band like mine it is a still thrill to play on the same show as our heroes. However, playing a national show doesn't necessarily bring you more than bragging rights. It's not that much of a boost for your "career" like many bands seem to think. The money is low, during your set the audience can be impatient for the stars to get on, the club wants you on and off faster than usual, and many times you won't even meet the heroes you are playing with. And don't think they'll be hanging around to watch your band either...they don't have time for that. Now we've found some exceptions to this (Dick Dale, The Sonics, X comes to mind) but our band calls national shows "playing for the poster" because that's the main thing you get out of this. Don't get me wrong, that alone can be a pretty cool deal and give you a boost of excitement. If there's a spot for a local opener, promoters and clubs you've had a good relationship with WILL think of you. We have never paid (or sold tickets) to open for a national act and nobody should. This opportunity should be considered the icing on the cake (a special perk) for a lot of hard work climbing up that show ladder. I'm personally disappointed when national bands have the openers pay to play with them. If they are truly big acts, they shouldn't need the locals to subsidize their show.

The idea is to always become a band who is in demand, who people are talking about. In this process you will get to know bookers, promoters, other bands and music fans. These people won’t just be biz contacts, they’ll turn into your friends. The more you become part of the music community, the more opportunity there will be to get shows.

But the best advice of all for getting shows is...

GO TO SHOWS! (I can’t put this in big enough type!)

This can’t be stressed enough: It is vitally important to go to other bands’ shows (and NEVER ever leave early for a show you are playing). If you want to play those shows, you need to go to those venues and see those bands. You won’t get that by staying home. There’s nothing that can replace the “old school” way of getting out there. My band calls it “making the scene”, others call it networking. And we show up together. We started it just because we like to hang out, but we discovered it makes a big difference. Call it a gang, a posse, a crew...but make the scene together. People will notice. They will think of you as a band. You are building up your name/recognition and this is a great, fun way to do it. Don’t be pushy about getting shows. Just hang out.

Believe me, bands will appreciate and remember it when you made the effort to support them. In turn many of them will do the same for you. But frankly, in the long run, the shows won’t matter as much as the cherished friendships you’ll develop. Hours on a computer will never be a substitute for face-to-face personal contact. So get out there and start meeting people! And try to keep your head out of that smartphone while you are at it!


Pay-To-Play promoters like Gorilla Music will suggest some bat-shit crazy ideas. This is one of them from their "helpful" book Rock Your City: 5 Steps To Becoming The Biggest Band in Town. Take it from me, nobody wants to be in a record store and get a sales pitch like this one. And they especially DON'T want to give out their personal information so you can bug them about seeing your band or buying tickets!
BTW, very few bands poster phone poles anymore. Sorry Gorilla, the 90s are over.

Shows don’t always come from promoters. Sometimes they come from other bands who may be in a better position on that “show ladder”. Often times the promoter or club will ask the headlining band for recommendations. That’s when it doesn’t hurt to have friends who are willing to put in a good word for you. Many shows we’ve gotten have been through other bands, and when we’ve been in that position we’ve recommended bands we like. This is where it’s critical to go to lots of shows and after-parties to get to know other musicians. And again, don’t be pushy or make it seem like the only reason you are hanging out with other bands is to use them to “further your career”. It’s a crappy trick and people can see through it. And trust me, it will work against you. We’ve watched this approach in action. The point comes when everybody figures it out and won’t work with an “opportunistic” band. Band trades can work great when you are on the road too. You host an out of town band, set up shows and then when you go to their city they do the same for you. (See Touring).


Advice from both Gorilla Music (left) and Afton Shows (right) lean heavily on simply using the friends you've just made as a easy way to gain more fans. It doesn't exactly work like that and if you are too pushy or use people, they will know it. No, you will not instantly have a crowd of 40 if you make friends with 10 bands, especially so you can proposition their fans to come to your shows. And as for the advice from Afton, DON'T ever do this! Do not purposely ignore your longtime supporters so you can focus on people who just saw you. If you hang out like you should, there will be plenty of time to meet and greet everybody who saw you. Acting like an opportunist will turn everybody off and brand your band as a bunch of jerks.

WATCH OUT FOR PLAYING TOO MUCH: One thing that beginning bands don’t understand is that if they play the same city every week, it will dilute their draw. You need to pace yourselves so that each show seems like a special event rather than just another weekly gig,. Fewer shows will be easier to promote. Go for quality rather than quantity. And never sign up for a show and then suddenly “slip one in” (play another show in the same city) the week before. Promoters hate that and they should. They want to make sure that people are going to be excited to see the bands they booked. If people have seen them all the week before, they are less likely to be interested in attending the same show the next week Pacing your shows is important.

Even though Gorilla seems mostly concerned with getting bands those tickets, they have the right idea about playing too many shows. However they go a little too far. If you stick to their "8 weeks apart" plan, you'll only be playing 6 shows a year!

Here’s a shock...I’m agreeing with Gorilla Music on this point. Gorilla also states that bands shouldn’t play too many shows. It’s probably so they will be sure bands can sell tickets to Gorilla events but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. However, Gorilla claims that shows must be spaced 6-8 weeks apart which means you’d only play 6-8 times a year! That’s not realistic, especially for a new band. The way my band always handled it was to play in clusters (maybe one show in Tacoma, one in Olympia and one in Seattle, or a few opening for very different bands, a grunge show one week and a rockabilly show the next) and then we’d lay back for about three weeks until we felt people were eager to see us again. In that time we’d write new songs to bring out for the next round of shows. We also try never to play the same song-order twice so it’s a different show each time.

CHOOSE WISELY: It doesn’t hurt to be a little picky about shows. Like I said, at first bands will need to take most shows offered to them just to get out there and get some stage time. As long as it doesn’t involve presale, it’s a good idea to say yes to parties, house shows and weeknights at small clubs. But as you progress show offers will come at a more rapid rate and not all of them will be worth it. Remember, you don’t have to accept every show just because you are asked to play. It’s important to make sure that it’s a show that your audience is going to want to see, a show that you’ll be able to promote. There will be a time where you won’t have to play the lower level shows, like an opening slot on a Monday night. Weeding those out will be important if you want to keep getting the better shows. Whether accepting shows or declining them, remember to always be friendly and professional.

MERCH CAN’T HURT: Many bands are great at having lots of items displaying their band name. This is a good way for people to see your name around town on shirts, buttons, patches and stickers. In fact, a few bands I know will make some of these items themselves. Don’t go hog wild with it in the beginning and spend too much money overestimating those baby-Ts you thought would sell. It’s best to be a little conservative at first, but by the time you are touring, it will be essential to have merch to sell. We started out with a few things and worked from there. And we still see some of that old stuff around, even on eBay.

Wow! The worst shirt we ever put out is on sale for $70! That price will go down!


Don't start giving everything away! Afton suggests that you start giving T-shirts and CDs away when your fans bring extra people to the show. So besides losing out on the ticket sales (Afton takes out an extremely high percentage of the money you turn in) you'll also lose out on any profit off the merch. Take it from me, as long as people like your show, you don't need to bribe them with costly merch that you paid for.

MUSIC/RECORDING: Many of the P2P advocates say that to get good shows you’ll need professional sounding recordings. I’ll tell you a secret. My band didn’t have any music released for the first two and a half years of our existence and we were playing shows the entire time. So it is possible to get shows just by working up the ladder and making the scene. We just thought it was probably a good idea to learn to play our instruments before we released anything permanent. I still feel that was the right decision for us. However, now that recording and releasing music is accessible to everyone, it makes it easier for people (including promoters and club bookers) to hear your band. Keeping the first attempts on-line (bandcamp, etc) is a good idea before pressing up something major and expensive. I have seen too many full CDs from bands where more than half of it sounds like filler or something half finished. That’s why it’s great to just post your best songs on-line and not try to fill up an entire album at first. The idea is to make the best impression possible. Homemade CD production is available (and many bands take advantage of it) but again don't try to pack it with too much material that isn't ready yet. As much as a good release can help you, a bad one can work against you (and unfortunately once it's out there, it stays out there...forever). I also love the fact that 45 RPM records seem to be making a bit of a comeback (at least in our genre - indie/punk/garage). Those were great to have for sale at a show back in the day. People loved 45s. Besides looking totally cool, you only need two really good songs to make it work.

BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, WATCH OUT FOR THE HARD-SELL! It's been our experience that people are totally turned off by bands constantly pushing their product on everybody. By all means have a merch table if you've got something to sell (this is especially important when you are on tour) but the helpful hints offered by Afton Shows on their Afton Resources page will turn you into the pest of the night. And that can work against you.

STEER CLEAR OF THESE STUPID PUSHY SALES IDEAS FROM AFTON SHOWS: 1) No, don't use your precious time on stage for constant sales pitches. Mentioning your website, merch table, special deals and mailing lists 2 or 3 times each clogs up your set and makes the emphasis on the selling and not the music. Save that tactic for selling "miracle knives" at the local fair. Mention merch once and only once. 2) Nobody is going to follow the singer like the pied piper to your merch table. Plus if they've done his job correctly on stage, they'll need a little time to recuperate from his/her dynamite performance. At the end of a show we've found that people mostly want to go out and smoke or rush to the bar or get some socializing in before the next band starts. And Afton's bright idea is for the singer NOT to help with the equipment? Not in my band! There are no prima donnas allowed. The equipment is OUR job collectively. 3) Stay away from this embarrassing Mailing List Card idea. No, after putting on a killer set the band is not going to go out and have people fill out cards! We also don't use our friends to wrestle with our equipment while we lounge around at the merch table chit-chatting with "fans". But the most important "no-no", whatever you do, don't start asking people how they liked your band. This makes you look absolutely pathetic. If they like you, they'll let you know. And if they don't, why ask for a negative review? In my band we say "Don't ever ask how they liked you. Because they just might tell you!"

Right about now you are probably saying, “Finally! So where does the actual promotion come into all of this?”

Here’s the deal. Successful bands do promote themselves. Who wants to go to all the trouble of writing songs, rehearsing, getting to the show and then have nobody see you? That would be crazy. It would be a waste of all the effort you’ve already put into this band. But again, you’ll need something good to promote so make sure your band is really ready.

POSTERS DO WORK! Promotion is an important part of building up your fanbase but it’s got to be done right. P2P promoters will tell you that posters don’t work well (as Afton does here).

They are right. Posters don’t work when it’s a generic looking piece of crap with ten unknown bands who don’t fit together and they want $10 for it. In other words, their posters don’t work. But yours will, as long as the show makes sense and there are other bands who people also know and are interested in seeing. It’s the combination of the right bands that make the show a good one. Putting them in strategic places (the club, music/record stores, coffee shops, clothing stores, etc) is also a must. And a big one for us...it doesn’t hurt to have some amazing artwork behind it. Supporting graphic artists is part of this process. You want a poster that won’t be at the club by the end of the night because everybody took them off the walls to take home. I’ve always been proud of all the great art my band has been associated with.


Above: Posters 1 and 3 (artists unknown). Poster 2 is by Rick Reinert. Poster 4 is by Jim Nadorozny. Poster 5 is by Joe Newton.

There are many ways to work promotion: handbills, stickers, all your social media sites, etc. It’s a trial and error process to see what works best for your band. But the biggest promotion technique of all is Word Of Mouth. Most pay-to-play promoters don’t even mention it. But it works. And it works like nothing else. If you can get some of your blabbermouth supporters (and I mean “blabbermouth” in the best way possible) to start talking about your next gig, that can sell it better than you can. The idea is to get a buzz going about your band and how “this one shouldn’t be missed”. As long as you are building up your name as a band that puts on a good show, when it comes time to promote, it will get easier. That’s your goal. You want a “product” (your band) that continues to get easier to sell.


The P2P advocates will tell you that selling presale tickets to your “fans”, which mostly turns out to be family and friends, is better than putting up fliers and getting the word out through social media etc. They try to argue that if you personally meet somebody and sell them a ticket, it is much more effective than any other way to promote. They want you to be constantly tracking somebody down at school/work or meeting them at in the parking lot of the Taco Bell to directly sell them that ticket to see you. Sorry, but that is a total crock. (See Presales Are Easy - Think Again.) (And putting money in their bank account or running it through yours is still pay-to-play.) Presales doesn’t grow a fanbase. In fact, people will get sick of constantly being treated like a potential ticket buyer and eventually they’ll get sick of you. It makes your band look desperate and turns you into a pest. No matter who you are, as a musician it’s important to maintain some impression of “cool”. Looking like a Girl Scout selling cookies doesn’t exactly make you the cool guy on the block, especially when you are in a hardcore death metal band. In all the years I’ve researched pay-to-play shows, this style of ticket sales goes down, not up (and once you start, it becomes difficult to stop).

What you really want is for your band name to bring them in. You want people to see that you are playing and come running. You want them to bring their friends along too. This can be achieved through planning, patience and perseverance and without personally selling one ticket. By all means, direct them to the website or outlet where advance tickets are sold but never ever sell them yourself. Think of your fanbase as a whirlpool that is intense and strong in the middle and gradually starts pulling everything in its path from the outside in. Your goal is to eventually have fans you don’t even know personally. You want strangers to come to your show. You want people you’ve never met in your life to come up to you at the grocery store and say “I love your band!” That’s the best feeling in the world. And that will happen if you put the work into it. It can be a reality. Pulling in more people as you play better shows will last longer than meeting somebody after work to sell one ticket. And of course, if you want to gain more fans in other cities (which should be the goal of every band), driving a couple hundred miles to sell tickets isn't going to be realistic. So don’t listen to that crap about how presales works better. It doesn’t.

Don't want to sell Gorilla Music's tickets? You very well could be crippling the music industry! BTW "working hard" and "working hard to sell Gorilla tickets" are two different things!


For this section I will use my own experience to illustrate what we expect from a promoter and what we typically do to help with promotion. Remember that the longer you’ve been together and putting on those shows people talk about, the easier it will be for you to promote. So put in the ground work to make your band one that is in demand.

Before agreeing to promote a show we get these details nailed down:
1. The venue / date (and a venue that makes sense)
2. Who’s playing? (Right number of bands for the event)
3. What’s the lineup and what position are we playing
4. Reasonable admission price
5. Graphic figured out; who will design it, send pdf, or fliers to use in promotion
6. How the payout will be handled

*Never agree to promote (or play) a show where they can’t tell you the lineup and order you’ll play well in advance.
*Never sign up for a show where the promoter gives you a list of time-slots to choose from (or slots depend on how many tickets you've sold).
*Never fall for a remote control show - where the promoter that asked you to play is hundreds/thousands of miles away and won’t be there on show night. Even when you open for a national act there will be a local liaison to book the openers and run the show.
*Never play a show where the audience is forced to “declare” what band they are to see so you will be paid by a tally sheet.
*Never turn in money (and that includes ticket revenue through bank accounts).

When our band is asked to play a show, to promote it we will:
* Put the poster graphic (normally furnished by the promoter/club) on our website. I encourage all bands to have their own band website. This graphic will have a link to buy advance tickets (wherever they are available from the club or on-line ticket vendor) and a link to the club’s website.
* Make sure that all social media is covered. We will make sure the poster graphic is visible, we will make announcements to our Facebook friends to let them know they shouldn’t miss this show. We will invite friends from our personal friends list on the event page.
* If necessary, contact the other bands playing to make sure we have everything covered
* Take posters around to records stores, etc if necessary (for instance if the show is in Seattle we will take them around to stores in Tacoma)
* Implement “word of mouth” by letting everyone know when our next show is
* Make a few big last announcements (and personally text, email or call certain people), especially the day before the show

In the old days, when not as many people knew our band, and since we were making the scene anyway, we would pass out handbills to announce the show a week or two in advance. If you do this make sure you don’t pass out handbills at a competing club. It’s bad form. Since we have graphic artists in our band, we will design fliers if necessary. Some bands also use email lists. For us, those have never been effective (we found people think they are impersonal), but it’s up to every musician to see what works best.

For everything we do, we expect the promoter to do twice as much. What we expect from the promoter, club or whoever asked us to play the show:
* If it’s a promotion company we expect to see our show listed on their website. We expect our name to be included in that listing.
* We expect to see our show and band name on the club website
* We expect to see the show (including our band name) listed on every free concert calendar (this includes print, event websites and radio stations that have free concert calendars).
* We expect a poster to be designed with all the bands listed in order of appearance (if they don’t furnish a graphic artist, sometimes the bands will help with this)
* We expect that poster to be visible at the club and displayed at least two weeks before the show
* We expect to see this poster displayed wherever it is allowed; record and music stores, book stores, clothing shops, etc
* We expect that poster graphic on any social media pages from the promoter and club. We expect there to be specific announcements where to purchase advance tickets if applicable (legit on-line ticket vendors, the club, the promoter...but never from the bands) and more notices as showtime approaches.

POWER OF THE PRESS: This is different than the standard concert calendar. Getting some local press is something that either the promoter or band can work on. Many local music papers and websites have reporters who are looking for something to write about. Some columnists will have a “Show of the Week”, “One to Watch” or “May We Suggest” section where they feature a show that sounds interesting. Often times they’ll give a little write-up on a band they like. Contacting these local writers about your upcoming show never hurts, as long as you make it sound interesting. Our band has made some great friends in the writing community over the years and often times they’ll give our event a little shout-out if we let them know about it. We’ve always been grateful when these people have been nice enough to write about us. Some books suggest writing Press Releases for every event. We find those work great for bigger special events (record releases, anniversaries, tour kickoffs, etc) but not necessary for the smaller shows. A personal email to a writer can work just as well, maybe better.

BALLYHOO: Ever heard this word? It was used in the old days when promoters would come up with crazy ideas/stunts to get attention for their events. Filmmaker William Castle was the King of Ballyhoo back in the 50s/60s (see this awesome documentary). Promotion doesn’t need to be drudgery. It doesn't need to be dull. You can put some fun into successfully promoting your band with a little imagination and creativity. There isn’t anybody better to tell you about it than Jim Rose of The Jim Rose Sideshow fame. Now I might not be bold enough to go as far as he can, but this video will still give you ideas and inspiration. Another pro at promotion is our good friend Nardwuar the Human Serviette. We've known Nardwuar for years and take it from us, that guy can get things done! He puts on great shows (we've played a few) and has interviewed everybody. Check out his inspirational Ted Talk. My band went the publication route and made a fanzine called "Wig Out!" all about us! It was controversial to make a promotional magazine about ourselves but it got popular and was a great tool for introducing people to our band. We published 24 of them before the internet took over.

Be sure to notice that other than the small cost of printing of the posters (and there doesn’t need to be 300) all these steps require no money at all. They only require effort on the part of the promoter/club. Afton Shows and Gorilla Music keep harping on the fact that bands want them to take out big expensive display ads in the local music paper. This is a fabrication. Nobody is suggesting anything like that. But as much as we will do to promote our show, we expect them to do twice as much...since they are the ones who asked us to play. Real promoters are experts at getting the word out, but pay-to-play promoters normally fall very short of this goal.


There are a few things that will put your band over the top with promoters, bookers and clubs. It might seem rudimentary but these points will put your band in a good position when it comes time to select bands or ask them back.

1. NEVER EVER CANCEL, especially at the last minute. If you’ve agreed to play and your name is on that promotion, bailing on a show is not an option. No matter what happens, the show must go on. Our band has played with the flu, with injuries, with shingles (and those TV ads are true). When our singer suddenly had a health problem 30 minutes before our set time, the rest of the band played without him. In 31 years we’ve cancelled twice, once for a sudden death in the family the night before the show and once because two separate vehicles broke down on the freeway on the way to a Buffalo, NY club. If you agreed to play...you play...period. The word "cancel" should not be part of your band vocabulary.

2. ARRIVE ON TIME. You should be at the venue at the arranged time, or an hour before doors open. Get your equipment in quickly, set up as much as possible and stored away. If you are stuck in traffic it doesn’t hurt to call your promoter or club to let them know you are on your way.

3. QUICK SOUNDCHECKS. Don’t use this time to practice. Don’t do anything fancy. This time is to find out if the mics work, what you want in the monitors, and that’s it. Check the mics, run through one song and follow the instructions of the sound person. Our band has eliminated most sound checks anyway (we find them unnecessary for a simple four piece group) so if they don’t think you need a soundcheck, don’t sweat it.

4. BE FRIENDLY & COURTEOUS to everyone. This applies to every person that works at the venue you are playing (the sound techs, the bar staff, the security staff, and the other bands). Their job is pretty thankless so treat these people with a little respect. Of course in every situation you’ll find a few jerks (we’ve got the stories to prove it) but that doesn’t happen as often as you think. A sense of humor, a friendly attitude and a sincere “thank-you” can go a long way.

5. KEEP THE GUEST LIST LOW. Guest lists have recently been scaled back so it’s normally one person per band member (it used to be “two per” back in the old days). Try not to push for more “free entries”. If you want somebody in, just pay their way rather than bugging the promoter who’s already got enough to deal with. Same with drink tickets. (See below)

6. WORKING EQUIPMENT. Check out the amps and drum parts, make sure the strings are new, have extra strings, picks and sticks on hand. If your amp has a bad buzz at practice, it will have a worse one during the show. It always happens that way. Of course equipment can break suddenly, but try to start out by making sure that is a rare occurrence and not the rule.

7. ON STAGE ON TIME. The club/promoter will normally have a tight schedule for the bands to play. Don’t mess it up by being suddenly “missing” when it’s your time to get on stage. I have seen opening bands who decided that there weren’t enough people at the show yet so they try to “delay” their set by dawdling, not locating one of the band members, etc. The promoters handle it by giving them less time on stage and not working with them again.

8. DON’T OVERPLAY THE SET TIME. Find out how long you need to play and stick to it. This is where it’s best to practice your set ahead of time so you know it fits within that limit. Even if the crowd is digging it, if the time runs out, end your show. Playing longer will only result in squeezing other bands out. It’s rude. Besides, the idea that you should “leave them wanting more” really does work to your advantage. Encores do happen (and it’s great when they do) but make sure it’s cool with whoever is in charge of set times.

9. ON AND OFF QUICK. It’s vitally important to keep set changes to 15 minutes or less. Before you go on have everything as set up as possible (drummers especially) and move your ass when it’s time to get up there. Even more important, when you are done, get that shit off the stage as fast as you can. Drummers should NEVER take apart the entire drum set on stage! Take it off in pieces and deal with breaking it totally apart down on the floor. The longer you screw around after your set, the more you are cutting into the next bands’ time slot. Move your ass!

10. THEIR HOUSE IS YOUR HOUSE: Treat the club as well as if it were your own. The owners of the venue you are playing have a lot invested in the building and equipment. Accidents can happen, but try not to be too rough on the equipment, especially microphones.

11. CONTROL THE INTAKE: Nothing is worse than a drunken/wasted band member. Of course it’s tough to be in a bar and not have a drink (especially if you are nervous), but make sure it’s not more than one or two. Being inebriated works against a band on every level (with the club staff, with the promoter, with the performance). Celebrate later.


In the Gorilla Book, Rock Your City, author and owner John Michalak suggests that in order to get a bigger audience and more press, you submit a huge guest list like he did in his band the AKT. A 500-1000 person guest list! What?!? Yeah, try telling that to the promoter/club for your next show and see how it goes over! No, DON’T because the club will brand your band as a bunch of nutcases. You’ll be the talk of the town all right, but not for the right reasons. Hell, Gorilla Music doesn’t even allow for a guest list for their events! This is another totally crazy, unrealistic idea from the P2P crowd.

I'm not going to give advice on tactics we never used. I'll be honest. As the person doing most of the managing/booking of our band, I never called clubs or promoters asking them for shows. I waited around for them to call me. And they did. We had all the gigs we wanted just by hanging out at shows/parties and meeting people. That really did work the best. It wasn't that we were lazy, it's just that cold-calling a club didn't seem like it would be that effective. It's up to every band to see what works but it was an option we never needed.

The first thing I’m going to say may be controversial for some, but to the veteran bands, it makes total sense. Unless it’s a real festival (be sure to do some research to make sure it is legit, with adequate promo and well-known local/regional acts) avoid playing a show with more than four bands. Actually three is best for a bar/club show. If a booker wants to stack their show with more than five unknown/new bands, it’s a sign that they don’t know what they are doing or that they are there to exploit the bands. They are emphasizing quantity over quality. No real promoter would dream of trying to pull off a show with that many bands. It just sounds like a cluster...well you know. And it is. Don’t fall for that old “showcase” routine either. Shows like this are not set up for the good of the band, or even the good of the audience. They are set up to make the promoter money. And of course, never turn in money for any show you are asked to play. The promoter figures that if he/she can get as many bands as possible to sell tickets, no matter what happens (or how bad the turnout is) they will come out ahead. They want to be in charge of the show but take no risk. Shows like this can’t keep an audience there for the entire event because nobody can hang through that many bands. They end up only staying for their band and then they leave. So you won’t be playing to the other bands’ fans, you’ll only be playing to your own. And of course, if you keep trying to get your supporters to turn up at overpriced subpar shows, they will finally get sick of it. And who can blame them?

The formula for a good local show revolves around the bands and their experience and popularity. If they've done their homework (and have personal contact with the musicians) a successful promoter will already have an idea what band fits into what position. It is normally laid out with a headliner, a support band (sometimes two), and someone to open the show. (The one exception to this rule is the co-op DIY show where the bands are all at the same level of development and may have to pick numbers to see what position they play.)

HEADLINER: This act has been together for quite a number of years or has substantial recognition in the local music community. This is the band that will pull the most people to the show by just the mention of their name. Normally they have an album out, they’ve done some touring, gotten good local press, etc. They get prime weekend spots, probably don’t play many weeknights anymore and are thought of when a national act comes to town. They worked hard to earn this.

SUPPORT: The support band is comprised of up-and-coming musicians who are working up through the system. They probably haven’t been around as long as the headliner. They may have music released and done some regional touring. Their name might not be as recognizable as the headliner but they are still known enough to help bring people in. The support group does just that. While the headlining act alone might bring the substantial amount of people, when you factor in the support band, it puts the show over the top. There’s usually one or sometimes two support acts who are there to make the lineup as solid as possible.

OPENER: This is the spot where new bands are tested out. This band has probably been playing house parties and small clubs around the area or weeknights at this club. If they can act professionally, get there on time, be cooperative and courteous, bring in a few new faces and put on a really good show, chances are they’ll be asked back. If they can create enough of a buzz and they can go from just playing weeknights to getting a Friday or Saturday opener. It takes some shows like this to start working up through the system.

*Touring and out of town regional bands can also fit into these different spots, depending on their popularity.

It is important to note that this situation is never dependent on counting the specific number of people that each band brings in. There is no “head count” or fans required to “declare” who they are there to see. To see which band is bringing in people, one only needs to watch the show. It will be fairly obvious by the audience involvement and reaction who they are there to see. If the show is set up correctly, it is safe to say that the headliner will have the most interest and the support bands will also bring people in.

This is where it is helpful if the opening act can rally their supporters to show up and make a good impression. Clubs and promoters notice when a band brings in an audience, especially one that is really digging your band. While it won’t work for the all-ages bands, when you get to the point where you are playing bars, it doesn’t hurt to have drinkers in your audience. It’s a fact of playing that the real reason you are there is to keep people at the venue longer to buy their booze. My band discovered that our crowd happened to hit the bar at a more frequent rate than some of the other local groups. Our friends came to party. Clubs noticed that our shows reflected more revenue in their cash registers at the end of the night. I hate to admit it, but that counts.

I'm using some of our old posters to illustrate the "Headliner/Support/Opener" system. These three posters show how a band (in this case ours) works up to headliner spot. Left to right: 1) Our band started out as the opener for most of our early shows, with Beat Happening being the headliner and the Screaming Trees as the support. 2) By the time we play at the HUB we are the support band along with The Fluid. Nirvana was just starting out so they got the opening slot. 3) Later we've climbed up the ladder (and have done enough shows) to mostly get headlining weekends for local shows. Notice that pay-to-play shows never use this system. When the line up is determined at the last minute by ticket sales, it's impossible to determine a real headlier. (Poster 1 and 2 artists unknown, poster 3 Jim Nadorozny)


This is the big one. The can of worms. It’s the one topic that doesn’t really have a set answer. And it’s the one topic that P2P promoters will never write about (unless it relates to how many tickets were sold by each band). Everyone has a bit of a different idea on how they handle the money and it’s mostly a matter of personal choice and experience. There are so many variables and scenarios to payout it almost needs a website of its own. And of course, just as you think you have it all buttoned up, another variable will present itself that blows that theory apart. This section is just to give the newcomer some general ideas on how payouts work.

EXPENSES - There shouldn't be a problem with paying legitimate expenses, as long as they are actual "show expenses". Before anybody can split the money, normally the expenses need to be paid off the top. If there’s a cover/ticket price at the door, most clubs will take out expenses of the show. This can include paying the sound tech; live music taxes (cities and states can have taxes on live-music venues); royalty fees for cover songs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC); and poster design and printing. If a promoter put their money up to rent the club, this would need to be paid back first. This would not be considered pay-to-play (bands are not turning in money) but the overhead it takes to host live entertainment. Typically it falls around 20-30% (not more than 40%) of the collected money for the night. Legitimate venues won’t try to add extra non-music expenses into this equation. Pay-to-play promoters have been known to list non-music items (security/bar staff, power bills, insurance) as their expense in order to justify a bigger split for themselves and less for the bands. It's also important to note that real promoters are not renting the venue. If a promoter has established themselves with successful shows, clubs normally won't ask for a rental fee. However, most out-of-town pay-to-play promoters are hosting unreliable shows where the attendance is unknown. Therefore they are required to pay rent (like you would for a private event). This increases the expenses.

Take a look at these "expenses" from Afton Shows!

Afton Shows are suggesting that the bands pay for every penny of their operation. No wonder they take most of the profit! Do they really believe that it's the responsibility of the bands playing to cover costs of the graphics/website staff (and check out those generic graphic templates), software staff, booking staff and human resources? Afton might believe you should foot the bill for their office staff, but don't you believe it.

And here's another bone-headed "helpful" blog where they suggest the musician is also responsible for fencing, port-a-potties and attorneys' fees! Never fall for this crap


GUARANTEE - Sometimes a promoter will have a certain amount of money to work with. After doing the calculation they know what they can give to each band. Some established professional bands will only work for a guarantee because they have a set amount they want for a performance. If the club can’t provide it, they won’t play. A guarantee can make the payout much easier if nobody has to guess or negotiate what they are getting at the end of the night. The one time a guarantee works against the performer is when much more money came through the door than projected. If the band’s guarantee was too small, they can lose out when the show goes beyond projected attendance. National acts mostly pay the openers with guarantees which aren’t big ($200 is about the going rate these days) but enough to be worth it (good promo, your name on the flier, bragging rights, some merch sales).

For bands starting out, asking for a guarantee can be difficult. Clubs want to make sure the performer is worth the price. If a band hasn’t proved themselves yet, getting a set guarantee will probably be a tough-sell. In the worst scenario there have been times when the promoter/club overestimated the draw and then after the show is over wants to renegotiate the “guarantee” (they forgot the definition of the word). It sometimes takes a certain amount of skill to get the agreed-upon guarantee when this happens.

GUARANTEE WITH POINTS - A fair way to compensate for the underestimated guarantee is to add points. If the show does better than expected the bands will get a percentage after their guarantee.

DOOR SPLIT - The money split from the door can go many different ways. Sometimes it’s just an even split where all the bands playing will all make the same amount. This normally occurs when the bands are friends or it’s a night when each band is at about the same level of development. Most often the money is a percentage split in proportion to their placement on the show. For example, if it’s a three band show, the money might be 50/30/20 (if the headlining band is really popular), or 40/35/25. Or if it’s a four band bill it might be 40/30/20/10 or 35/30/20/15. As you can see, the more bands that are added to the show, the less money there will be to split at the end. This is why the typical pay-to-play ten band bill doesn’t work. In the door-split situation many times a touring band will get a little larger payout because they are on the road. And it’s also important to notice that the money for the opening band might be fairly low. This can work against a new band who brought a lot of people, but got the lower percentage. However, it’s important to remember that what you are trying to do is climb up to the better time slots so taking a little financial hit at first can happen, but won’t last long.

FROM THE BAR - Some bars acknowledge that the music is what is keeping the drinking crowd in their establishment. Instead of having their patrons pay a door fee to come in and buy drinks (which is their main goal), they will just take a percentage off what they made at the bar and give it to the bands. Sometimes the drinks are more expensive during “live music” time and that subsidizes paying the bands.

PROMOTERS GET A CUT - If they put the correct amount of work into it, and it’s successful, the promoter absolutely deserves a share. This normally occurs after the show, when they can see that there is enough money and everyone will be paid that the promoter takes a percentage. (It can also be included as one of the expenses.) If it’s an even split between the bands sometimes a promoter will add their payment as one equal share. The promoter should never ever earn a higher percentage than the artists. Also watch out for a promoter who gets paid when the bands don't. If the show tanks, everyone should bear the risk.


ADDING TOO MANY BANDS - One of the reasons I’m not a fan of “the more the merrier” approach to booking (see my write-up from 2004 here) is that there is less money to split at the end of the night. If you’ve got three solid bands to play, why add more? Every band/act added to the night cuts down on the cash split, the set time and the amount of space to store your gear. Three bands are normally enough for most audiences. They won’t leave as fast if they know they only have to sit through two bands to see the headliner. Every band added normally doesn’t reflect that much more in attendance. It helps no one to keep adding more bands and a good promoter knows it.

If there's one thing Gorilla Music knows how to do, it's to stack their shows with way too many bands...as these generic on-line Gorilla BOTB posters illustrate. These shows are designed for the benefit of the promoter, not for the bands or especially the audience watching a 6-7 hour show!

HAMMER OUT ALL THE DETAILS FIRST - It is vital for you to get all the details completely locked down before you give your final “OK” to play any show. Important aspects like venue, date, bands, payout, etc, should not change after you’ve accepted the date. You need to make the promoter/club understand that you have agreed to play “this show” BUT... if there are changes, the deal will need to be renegotiated. It would not be considered unprofessional to “bow out” of a gig that has suddenly changed into terms you would have never agreed to. This negotiation process normally happens before the show is officially announced. Emails, texts and IMs cut down on confusion so be sure to save all correspondence. When a question arises, having an archival history to research can help to avoid problems. In the old days when we only booked over the phone, it was easier for promoters to claim “I never said that”. This is why I personally like emails best for booking. There have been occasions where I’ve had to go back into my email history and dig out sections to refresh the memory of a promoter who forget to tell us some important detail. The written word doesn’t lie. The more you can iron everything out in the very beginning, the less confusion you’ll have as the show approaches. And of course, this is the reason that personally knowing your promoter/booker will save you from any of these misunderstandings in the first place.

CONTRACTS - Some musicians won’t work without signed contracts. This can be essential for the pro that wants the paperwork to back up what was agreed upon, for income tax purposes or for the touring band with a booking company that needs everything laid out. However, most bands who are starting out or just playing small-medium local venues would be doing themselves a disservice by demanding a contract with every show they play. (And never sign a contract to agree to sell tickets, pay a fee or bring in guaranteed audience numbers!)

I know the idea of playing without contracts is controversial to some (and they will claim you are crazy for playing without one) but in my experience knowing who you are dealing with is much more effective than ink on paper. Many of local promoters and clubs work on “good faith” and don’t want to hassle with written contracts for local bar and all-ages shows. If you insist on contracts for clubs that normally work without them, there’s a chance they’ll pass you by for a musician who is easier to work with. And of course a contract is only as good as the person who signed it anyway. If a promoter wants to break a contract, it will mean countless hours of time and more money to fight it. The amount you’d be arguing about is normally much less than the amount it takes to collect it. (Take it from me, being involved in a court case is a time-consuming, money-draining proposition that should only be used on something huge and serious. As I write this, standard attorney's fees are $250 an hour so if you are trying to collect that extra $300 from the contract, it's probably not going to be worth it.) This is why I can’t stress this enough: Know your club bookers and promoters and establish a working relationship with them! (see promoters page) If a club/booker does want contracts involved, be sure to go over it thoroughly so there are no surprises. FYI: This doesn’t count with the big stuff like US tours, opening for national acts, bigger festivals and major record deals...those absolutely require contracts. By the way, it will really help you to get an attorney for record contracts. It will be worth every penny to steer clear of a bad record deal.

WANT TO CUT DOWN ON BANDS NOT STICKING AROUND FOR THE SHOW? Here's how the "percentage shows" work. All the bands get paid at the end of the night. So even if they don't want to stay to see the other bands (which they should be doing) the idea of getting paid is a pretty good incentive to stick around. I have to laugh when the P2P promoters complain about bands not staying for the show. That one is a no-brainer. Give them their payout at the end of the night. Believe me, they'll stay. Of course the problem is that with pay-to-play shows the money is turned in before the show even starts and the very low percentage is distributed then. There's no need to stay after the set is over.


In recent years there has been a trend for some promoters to get a bigger cut than the band! How the hell did this happen? I believe that the national pay-to-play promoters have done a good job of misleading everyone. They’ve convinced musicians that their role is so important a band couldn’t possibly get shows without them. That’s why they insist that the promoter’s cut of the profits should be massively larger than the artists who brought people into the venue.

This is a load of BS.

Who brings the people through the door?
Who are they paying to see?
Do people ever go to a show to see a promoter?
Does the promoter’s name bring any crowds?

Don’t forget this fact: Nobody pays to see a promoter. That’s why the bands always receive the biggest cut. They are the attraction that brings the people, and that should be reflected when it’s time to divide the money. You should never agree to play a show where the promoter gets a bigger cut (even half is too much) than you do. This is a rip-off for you and your supporters who paid their hard earned money to see you. Don’t let them, and yourselves, down!


CYCLE ONE: FORMATION - Starting out. Gathering enough bandmates and learning to play together. Getting stage time from parties, DIY and small shows. Family and friends are the fanbase. Meeting other bands. Writing original songs. Establishing yourselves as a band/act in your town.
CYCLE TWO: DEVELOPMENT - Playing small clubs on weeknights and then weekends. Working up to medium sized clubs. The fanbase starts to widen (no longer just friends). Self-release of music or on small indie labels. The goal is to get shows in the bigger cities near you. Meeting more bands.
CYCLE THREE: ESTABLISHED - Better shows sometimes on weekends. More recognition as a band in your area. Getting to play other towns. Small regional tours or band trades with band friends. Press from fanzines. Music released on local indie labels. Local college/internet airplay.
CYCLE FOUR: BRANCHING OUT - Bigger shows on weekends, less playing on weeknights. Regional/coastal touring. Regional fanbase. More recording and releasing substantial works. Some national reviews/press. Opportunities to open for national acts. College/internet airplay.
CYCLE FIVE: UP AND OUT - Better, bigger shows, some opening for national acts, more albums, US touring, press and reviews from national indie publications, college and internet airplay. By Cycle 5, you already know what you are doing. Congrats! Keep up the good work and have fun!

THE BAND STAGES OF PROGRESSION: This diagram is offered as a general example of how a band develops over time. Rather than constantly tracking the draw of every show you play, as the pay-to-play advocates suggest (and getting panic attacks when each show doesn't have a bigger attendance than the last), it is much more realistic to think of your
progress in cycles. Rather than concentrating on small details that can be misleading (and sometimes depressing), it's better to think of the big picture. Notice how a band gains more fans as they progress through the chart. This is how it works for every band who gathers together to play their first song. All must start at the beginning and work up through the system. There is no set time limit on this progression. Certain bands can breeze through some cycles but with other bands it takes longer. My band probably took a year on each of
these cycles. Also be aware that there may be times when you feel stuck at one of these stages. Everybody hits a snag or two along the way. Try not to let it discourage you. As long as you keep working to make good music and maintain an entertaining stage show, you'll keep progressing.

To illustrate a point, let’s look at the details for two shows. One is a normal percentage payout style show and the other is what I call a “band tally” show where the promoter keeps track of who people are paying to see and pays each band by their head count. As an example we’ll take a recent national "Band Tally" tour, Project Independent/NAIRMA Road to the Red Carpet. This tour travels to 60 cities and hosts local battles with regional headliners. At the end of the tour, one band wins a trip to LA. This isn’t pay-to-play (bands are not turning in money as they have in previous years) but the percentage still works against the bands and favors the promoter. All audience members must credit “their band” in order for the band to receive payment.

The admission price is $10.
Five bands are on the bill (Even though this National Tour/Band Tally show tries for about 10 bands and for local shows there shouldn’t be more than four, for this example we’ll say five).
200 people show up.
= $2,000 total.

NORMAL SHOW: 40/60 split, with 40% to the promoter and 60% to the bands.
$800 to the promoter for expenses and service / $1200 to be split between the bands in order of placement on the show
FYI: A good local promoter often doesn’t need to rent a club. If they prove that their shows bring good bands and people, clubs are happy to have them host shows. Only out-of-town promotion companies and inexperience promoters are required to actually rent the venue. These bands worked together with the promoter to get people to the show. There was no tally sheet to keep score on which bands should get credit for payment.

BAND 1 $450
BAND 2 $300
BAND 3 $200
BAND 4 $150
BAND 5 $100

BAND TALLY SHOW: 70/30 split, with 70% to the promoter and 30% to the bands
$1400 to the promoter for expenses and service* / $600 to be split between the bands depending on how many people give them credit
*For the current Project Independent shows bands get $3 per every $10 admission. Audience members must declare at the door who they are there to see. For the sake of this math problem we’ll say...


QUESTION: Which show is more favorable to the bands who brought the audience?
Even though you might have a slim chance to win a trip to LA (and most of these national companies have some “big payoff” at the end to dangle in front of bands) with this "national tour" the shows are still locally based. In other words, local bands are bringing in the audience and subsidize this tour.

EXTRA CREDIT - For fun let’s compare the difference for bands in both percentages.

BAND 1 450- 270
$180 difference
BAND 2 300- 150
$150 difference
BAND 3 200- 90
$110 difference
BAND 4 150- 60
$ 90 difference
BAND 5 100- 30
$ 70 difference

IF THIS IS A BUSINESS...Many promoters (P2P and otherwise) have written comments and blogs about how this is a business and bands need to start treating it as such. Maybe staying away from promoters who take 70% of the profit (or as in the case of Gorilla Music’s Battle of the Bands, 100%) would be a good start.

Pay-to-play promoters and companies do everyone a disservice by emphasizing how much money your band will make. They’ve written blogs about how bands should be constantly monitoring progress for each show. It sounds like being in a band is a anxiety filled experience that is no fun for anybody. For them, it’s all about the collected ticket money and the head-count for shows. They claim that if you just follow their simple advice about presales and pushing those tickets to fans, before you know it you’ll be making a profit.

The harsh reality is that at the level most of us are, music isn’t the “career” for making a fast buck...or the big bucks. Of course it happens to some people. I know some of them. And believe me they worked their asses off to get to that point. But those bands are the very small minority. Most of us are plugging away, barely breaking even and “don’t quit your day job” is a reality we understand. Every band I know has so much money sunk into their equipment, and transportation and practice space and every other band expense it will be a long time (and maybe never) before they see any profit from this venture. That’s one of the many reasons pay-to-play is such a rip-off for musicians. There is so little of this pie to divide in the first place. And in the P2P scenario, only the expense of the promoter (them) seems to be a concern, never all the expenses the band has invested.

That’s not to say that being in a band isn’t fantastic. It is. Making good music, sticking together with your band mates and taking the time to develop can get you some really amazing experiences that you’ll treasure the rest of your lives. But getting rich normally isn’t one of them.


If there are people coming through the door
and they are paying money to see bands,
then there is money to divide.

And that money should be divided
among the bands
that those people paid to see.
And if the attendance is low, or you are the opener, maybe it won’t be much, but it should be something.
And never hand in money to get paid. Don’t fall for it! You already did your job. You played the show.
At the end of the show, it’s time to collect the money (however small) you earned.


I’ve tried to cover as many bases as possible. I know the minute I post this there will probably be others to challenge it and pick it apart. That’s fine. They can write their own ideas on their own websites. But this is written from experience. Thirty-one years of it. I lived this stuff. I watched thousands of bands. A few of them got famous, most of them broke up. And some of them are content, like my band, to just keep playing shows and having fun and once in awhile getting a really special opportunity. But one thing I know is how bands build up a following and promote themselves and it isn’t through pay-to-play.

I’m not going to lie. There will be some bumps, twists and turns, and setbacks along the way. We’ve all had them. But as long as you can stick together, the better shows will come along. In fact, just sticking together is probably more of a challenge than getting and promoting shows (and you won’t see the P2P promoters address that!). I know how this worked for all the bands I’ve known over the years. Some are better at it than others, some get better breaks (because luck, or at least being in the right place at the right time, plays a big part in this), and some fall apart. But we didn’t fall for pay-to-play. That didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. And in my opinion it never will.

I wish all of you success and most of all, fun. Now get out there and make music, put on great shows, enjoy your bandmates and work your asses off. As long as you stick with it, the better shows will come!

If you follow the advice of most of these P2P companies (like Afton Shows above) you'll have so much anxiety about the progress of "your career", you won't have time for fun.
Being in a band is one of the best experiences anybody can have. This is special. Please, just enjoy it.
Skip the stupid "show analysis sheet" and go out and have a pizza together.



One of the big excuses that P2P promoters use as a way to justify their ticket selling shows is that the bands are lazy. Ticket selling must be implemented because these lazy bands won’t lift a finger to promote their shows. Therefore getting them to sell tickets is the only way to ensure (aka “encourage them”) that they will make an effort to get people to see them.

Being in a band takes hard work and dedication. It is not an easy undertaking. Learning to play an instrument, forming a coalition of like-minded people, scheduling hours of practice and sticking together all take a concerted amount of effort that would never be considered lazy. So it is just the fact that certain promoters don’t believe the bands are properly promoting and selling their tickets that qualifies them as lazy. I actually find the term “lazy band” to be insulting to every hard working band out there, and that includes about 99% of us.

For a number of reasons, there will always be some bands who are not good at promoting. However, the bands that fall into this category are normally the inexperienced young people who have just formed their first band. It’s not their fault. It takes time to learn (sometimes longer for some than others) how to build up a fanbase so that they will be in demand. Just like a new band learns to play their instruments, a new band also needs to learn how promotion works. These bands are not lazy, they are new and inexperienced.

Pay-to-play shows are seldom filled with established, popular bands. No veteran band would ever fall for a rip-off like this. They won’t pay-to-play and they expect fair compensation after the work they’ve done. The target of P2P is the young, new and inexperienced band who hasn’t played many shows and hasn’t had time to build much of a fanbase. The P2P companies promise these gullible bands shows at big venues they don’t yet deserve. These promoters have no idea who they are booking and then call them “lazy” when these new bands fail to promote their shows (which normally means selling enough tickets).

But the real question is, why would any promoter ever work with lazy bands? There is no reason why they should. And they are the ones to blame if they continue to do so. How could they possibly continue to book shows if they insist on working with subpar acts? That would be an unsuccessful situation. If the band is truly lazy, the solution is simple. Don’t work with that band again! Either the band will learn how to grow a fanbase for better promotion, or they’ll finally break up. Either outcome is not a problem.

Let’s face it, bands sometimes form for the wrong reason. They have the false idea that it’s all “sex, drugs and rock and roll”, they will make it big and that there’s a simple/fast process to achieve that. It’s easy for a young person to have too much of an ego at first...but it doesn’t take long before they get a dose of reality. Anyone who is truly lazy doesn’t last very long as a musician and they shouldn’t. This is the natural weeding-out process that occurs with every vocation, including music.

The show system I have described actually does a good job of weeding out any so-called “lazy bands”. When we started out, if you didn’t promote (and get some people to your shows) you didn’t get to play. That lesson was pretty simple. Being stuck doing small shows is actually a better incentive than bitching from some P2P agent about your lack of ticket sales. You learn how to get ‘em through the door. The only way to be successful was to promote every show we played. We wanted to climb that ladder. And it was in our best interest to promote together with all the bands on the show. We learned promotion. We learned how to work with real promoters. And that worked. The good bands got better shows, the “lazy bands” fell through the cracks and disappeared. Anybody playing a 500 capacity venue had earned it.

So the problem isn’t the bands, it’s that P2P promoters can only get these new bands to sell tickets for their shows. When the bands turn out to be less than desirable and immature (because they haven’t had the time to develop professional skills) these "promoters" blame the bands and call them lazy. Remember, nobody cares if “lazy bands” get any shows except the P2P companies who need them to sell their tickets.