By David Safran
“For a local bill, talent buying and barrel-scraping are often comparable. Three or four bands are assembled—or overstuffed—into a line-up. The show takes place on nights deemed graveyard slots for live music. Genres are half-considered, but it’s more about putting barely-heard-of bands together and suffering through the sets. Most venues have production fees and percentage splits. The net profit is often divided evenly between bands. One group could bring twelve people; another, seventy. Still, each band gets an equal cut. These methods are almost bearable when you are eager to play out—when you are young and raucous and full of hair. But it’s a bit problematic for a thirty-something full-time solo artist hiring full-time session musicians.”
I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”
At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.
Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer.
If your local opening act is drawing as many (or more) people as your national headliner, is it such an arrogant, bloated request that he not lose money? If a national headlining act isn’t a “big seller” at your local club, why offer such a substantial talent budget? Why even book this artist at all?
Read the rest of this story and more about the Money of Local Music here:
Less Successful Numbers: The Money of Local Music | Newcity Music.