DRUM BEAT BLOG - Buy On Band Tips
This article popped up a few times on my facebook feed yesterday... and quickly opinions came with it.
For those who don't know, a "buy on" is a spot on a show/tour a band can pay for hoping the slot will put them in front of similar music fans who might like their band... and become fans.
So what's the big deal?
Well... I think it gets down to how you see this "pay to play" opportunity.
The main argument against is that any band or artist could simply raise enough money (the richest wins!) to get on a tour... and that the headliner (the one actually selling the ticket fans are buying) only cares about cash and not the quality of the band that takes the spot.
This may be true... and money does talk... but in my experience, a few things factor (talent, sound, attitude, professionalism, team, etc) into the selection of a band looking to... pay for a slot on a tour that's for sale because the established headliner knows it has value.
Trust me, bands care about who's opening or direct support. The live show is more important than ever so the bigger acts want to make sure the bill is worth every penny... even if the entire crowd is there to see them (the headliner). You can't steal the live show. It has a price and it has an expiry date.
Another valid argument is bigger bands should help smaller bands since they have the audience to help grow talent.
I agree 100% and if my soapbox ever reaches that height, I certainly would!
... that's how I felt several years ago at least.
The problem is once you're a professional touring act (or a professional in any industry I'm sure)... there's tons of people wanting to ride your coattails... for basically nothing in exchange... you know, because they asked, you now magically owe them something.
Maybe they're trying to do it on the cheap, maybe they can't afford to run the band as a business, maybe they're daydreaming hobbyists just looking for that "one tiny chance" to hit the big time... because that's all they need right? Opportunity! They have the talent so that should be able to make up for the money they don't have (want) to invest.
Once you reach a certain level the tables turn and so does your focus... and you can no longer help the majority of those bands.
... because they can't help themselves... and they wave that flag, high and proud.
They tend to be pretty unprofessional (on several levels) and/or they can't afford (or not willing) to run the band as a business... and when you've made the sacrifices (I'm talking financially, since nobody cares about what your time is worth when you aren't willing to invest everything in your own idea), a band or artist knows the value of that spot on the bill and offers it up to someone who's going to make the most of it.
... or has a boatload of cash.
Believe me, if your band sucks (musically, professionally, and/or personality wise), you'd have to offer a lot of money... so much they'd be insane not to take it. In that case, the band (and crew) probably won't care to meet you, interact to you, etc. You're just around for a bit. You're just a wicked paycheck.
That being said... in my opinion, the costs (per show) for this arrangement probably just goes towards the headliners crew. Is it so bad to offset some of the production costs for the headliner? Again... they're the one selling the ticket, not the opening band. They're the one the promoter is taking the risk on to make a profit. Follow the money and things make sense... and this isn't a bad thing.
There's the argument it's just as bad as radio being bought and sold. Well perhaps, but my opinion of radio is it also simply gets down to advertising space.
Radio campaigns can be expensive and a huge risk if you don't have the rest of your musical machine cranking along in the background (single and/or album, touring, marketing/promo, etc).
I get asked often by bands if I think buying on a tour is a good use of funds. Well? Chachi's first point in his post... is it worth it?
Often it isn't.
Why? (... assuming your band is actually ready.)
The headliner isn't big enough, not enough dates, weak bill over all, terrible routing/dates, etc. Sometimes it looks like a cash grab and I don't want to say "go for it" knowing the band is probably going to end up paying $250/show to play to 17 people for 5 nights.
That's just not worth it.
When is it worth it?
When you know the headliner thinks your band is decent and you know they can sell tickets.
... back to radio for a second. When you service a song to radio, you're hoping it a) gets added to the rotation and b) someone hears it... and likes it enough to find out who the band was.
This is asking a lot. Not everyone checks the charts Tuesday afternoon like I do.
So say you were paying $10,000 for your radio campaign, this is high or low depending on genre/market, but it's easy math for the time being.
Your song is amazingly 3 minutes long. You're played 3 times a day for 3 weeks.
9 mins/day X 21 days = 189 minutes or 3 hours 9 mins total playing time.
(... yes we don't know how many people this station reaches... and yes we're sort of a assuming this is only 1 station, in 1 market... but keep in mind 21 spins (3 spins a day X 7 days) a week might get you into the Top 50 on Canadian radio! I'm not joking!)
... stay with me here... yeah I'm sorta pulling numbers out of the air and I know every case is different! It's more about the concept!
... anyway, in our example, you've paid $10,000 for just over 3 hours of airtime. You're hoping someone hears it and hoping they like the song enough to follow up and Google the band.
... keep in mind, if that single takes off... you really should have some money around to tour and support it. Don't pretend money will magically appear giving you the ability to tour!
Now with a buy on, let's say it's $500/show to open for a band you know is going to put on average 500 people in a venue per night.
Simple math again, we have $10,000 to put towards a buy on. $10,000/$500 = 20 shows.
Sweet... 3 week tour! Let's just round it to 21 days.
Now, you have a 20 minute opening set.
20 minutes X 20 shows = 400 minutes or 6 hours and 40 mins.
I know we're not factoring in the costs of touring at this point, but you can see a major advantage in time already... we could even cut that buy on budget down to $5,000, do 10 shows, and have $5,000 left for tour support and be back where we were timewise for our radio campaign.
Here's' the thing though... you're hoping someone hears you on the radio. They are passive listeners. I listen to music playing in the grocery store, but I don't stand around in the cookie aisle and rock out if my jam comes on.
Exception being if Tame Impala comes on.
Again, these are passive listeners, being exposed to the radio... they're doing something else and your music has to catch their attention.
The live show environment is a completely different story. Those 500 fans waiting for your band to hit the stage are primed! Just like if you've ever been to a comedy bar, those inside are primed to laugh. It doesn't take much to get people engaged when they're primed. This is the huge edge to a buy on situation over radio. Active listeners.
If you have a great headliner (the one selling the ticket), you now have a captive, paying, engaged audience who will endure your entire set... and in this case, that's 500 people a night, for 20 nights.
You have your entire set to win them over.
That's 10,000 people... people you can meet at your merch table. People who might buy your album, buy your shirt, tag your band in pics and videos they post, etc. I'm not saying they all will... but if you leave a city with even 5 new core fans (1% in our example)... those seeds will grow.
Do the math.
Consider the cost vs value.
With anything in business, stop thinking you can't afford it and start thinking is it worth it?
The opportunity is there for bands willing to consider the opportunity... the price is often too high for those that complain about how the system works though... and it's usually a trickle down effect of excuses throughout their entire business plan. With any basic business plan, below "concept" is "capital". You have this great idea, but how do we fund this great idea? How do we get it out there in order for it to grow?
If you are in a band and do reach the level you have bands willing to buy on your tour... all I can suggest is do what helps you sleep best at night. Bad business comes in all shapes and forms but I think even though the industry is incredibly wonky right now, it's all for the best... growing pains.
Bands and artists have never had more control over their own careers or direct and instant access to their fan base. Many of the traditional gatekeepers have disappeared or lost power and the (smart) artists are gaining more and more control over what will become their industry... shaped by the fan and the artist through the exchange of ideas, entertainment, and dollars between them.
If you made it this far... thanks for reading and feel free to pass along.
Chachi is an awesome dude and an awesome drummer by the way.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know many people could shoot many holes in my radio vs buy on math. Please do! I'm aware of the endless variables but at least it'd get people talking about it... the realities at least. This shouldn't be a conversation bands think is on the downlow.
P.P.S. Don't get me started on "promoters" who ask bands to sell tickets to play shows in support of a headliner that can't sell the ticket... because you know, you can say you opened for them. It's just sad... sadder because that headliner often gets paid.
Today I remind myself why I choose to do what I do for a living.
Back in 2001, I was sitting in a York University classroom with a couple dozen other wide-eyed kids buzzing with their newfound post-secondary freedom. My course was based around computer science with dashes of graphic design.
My goal was to complete the 2-year program, find a job somewhere on the US west coast in the game industry, and work my way into doing music and sound design.
I figured the gaming industry was booming, eventually overtaking Hollywood blockbuster budgets, so it’d be a safe choice. It seemed pretty obvious computers in general weren’t going away, so it was as safe as death and taxes as far as industries go.
The chair of our program knocked on the door before entering to tell us the news.
We were free to leave the class to go find a TV… nobody made the first move, so nobody did.
We were on the second day of the program and still very much trying to make a good impression on our instructors. Besides, I was pretty sure CNN would have it on loop the next week.
Later that afternoon I was back at my dorm. CNN to the left of me, my Adobe Illustrator assignment (due the next day) in front of me. I started thinking about my motivations. I wanted to finish this/these assignments so I could go audition with a band on bass guitar downtown.
Work now, so I can play later.
I thought if I had a decent paying job, I’d eventually have enough time and money to spend more time and money on music.
I liked computers but I loved music.
I started thinking about how many people in those buildings were there simply for money… how many actually loved whatever game they were playing as their career. How many were hoping to make enough money to retire comfortably or at least afford the lifestyle they wanted to live around work and sleep.
Was it the gaming industry I wanted to get into or was it actually music? Something around music/audio was the end goal after all.
I returned from the audition later that evening and messaged a couple classmates still awake on ICQ. I made an appointment with the chair of my program the next day, and shared my thoughts with him. What he said always stuck with me.
“Education isn’t going anywhere, it’ll always be around when you want to learn.”
… it was the way he said it though… it was so casual… the way you give an old friend advice from the heart.
It was so f’ing cool.
He told me he’d dropped out early on and eventually went back in his early 30’s. He said he remembered me from the entrance test (I stood out a little at the time appearance wise) and he was planning on picking on me to scare the other students since he knew I could take it.
He said whatever decision I make, I’ll do well… and that I still had a couple days to decide… before the school wouldn’t refund my tuition.
There was no pressure to stay or go. It was just a much needed 15-minute chat about life.
Leaving his office, I’d decided to weather the potential storm. I wanted to do music… I’d rather fail in music than be just another with their prized pristine condition, American made Strat or Les Paul sitting on a stand in the corner of a room… who's perfected their delivery of the line "Oh, I used to", whenever someone asks them if they play.
I could do music.
It was a lot to take in at 17.
September 11 became my "New Year’s" in a way… or I guess my anniversary to remind myself what I’m doing with my life, and what “meaningful work” means to me.
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!