This is by no means an end-all-be-all guide; it’s more of an outline, of how an ideal music scene should function.
A scene should have four main components: musicians, promoters, venues, and fans. Other contributing factors can be local press, photographers, etc, which help, but aren’t necessary for the scene to thrive. The idea of a music scene becomes that of a “chicken and the egg” situation. Bands need venues to develop them, but venues need bands to sustain them. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
An ideal music scene will have access to multiple venues if various sizes (capacities). In a perfect world, an area would have a house show scene, a coffee house, a 100-200 capacity all age venue, a few bars that feature original music, and a 500-1000 capacity music venue. That’s for the development of a thriving scene specifically. Large theaters, amphitheaters, and stadiums are great, but rarely feature local talent.
House Shows and All Ages Venues
DIY house shows, cafés, and small all ages venues are important because they develop talent pools. Young bands need a place to suck and young music fans need a place to consume this music. These shows bring out young crowds (generally the band’s friends). If the shows are done right, they should capture the kid’s interest. They should feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, feel like they can be themselves, and be part of the community. These kids aren’t jaded music fans yet, they don’t care if the band is playing 3-cord punk rock, off beat, or forgetting the words – they’re just enjoying themselves. The kids attending these shows will likely every show possible and possibly start bands of their own.
Older, more popular musicians in the “scene” should regularly attend or play these shows, using the younger bands as support talent when they headline. The veterans of the scene should promote young talent, not feel threatened by it. This allows the aging bands to attract new fans and refresh their core audiences. Bands / shows at this level will not generate much income. But, the kids in the bands playing these shows are generally young and do not rely on music as an income source.
Owning a small all ages venue is a labor of love. No one gets rich or fully supports themselves by running an all age music venue.. Owners/booking agents generally have a full time job and are running the venue as a side gig. Generally they just hope to making enough money to the venue’s rent, utilities, insurance, and MAYBE get a late night meal at the diner after the show. Regardless of what your perception is: this is the truth.
National Touring Acts / Promoters
As bands develop, they should be provided opportunities to open for larger touring bands at larger venues. When a touring band comes to the area, they should have their own fan base and the local support should contribute additional fans to the show. These concerts bring out new fans who may not regularly attend local shows. The opening acts allow kids to see bands (featuring local kids their own age) playing on a big stage, with bands they idolize. The concerts make kids want to start their own bands and heighten their interest in the local music scene.
This is where promoters enter come into play. Like it or not, they’re part of the music scene. Promoters are the reason national level talent comes to your town; they are the guys footing the bill for the national act. They are also the cause of the most stress on local talent. Promoters use various techniques when producing concerts. Some require local bands sell a set amount tickets to open for larger bands, while some develop a small group of locals that they trust to bring in fans and only use those bands to open for national acts. Some promoters don’t even use local opening bands.
At the end of the day, the promoter is on the hook for the $500-$10,000 that the national band is guaranteed, venue rent, advertising, insurance, rider, and various other expenses. This is generally a local band’s first introduction to the true business of music business. The promoter is making an investment and taking a risk. So, they have every right to conduct their business however they choose. If a band doesn’t want to sell tickets, then it is their choice to not play the show. It’s really a simple concept; no one is making anyone do anything. I have never understood the outrage.
A promoter asking bands to sell doesn’t make them a bad promoter. It means that you don’t agree with their business model and you can choose to opt out of participation. When a promoter becomes a bad promoter is when they don’t follow through on their agreements or promote the show themselves. If the promoter offers a band $100 and doesn’t pay them that is when an issue has occurred. If a band chooses to play a show for free or exposure, that is their choice.
Whether you agree a promoter’s their business model or not, are generally the ones who will bring national talent to your “scene.” Will they profit from the scene? Yes. Deal with it. They should be operating at a 15% profit margin; they are not getting rich off of the scene, contrary to popular belief.
The Bar Scene
As bands age, their fans will as well, this is where the bar scene comes in. Bands who have established themselves will need somewhere to play that can serve alcohol. At the age of 21, music fans will generate to venues that serve alcohol. It’s just the way of the world. Bar gigs generally pay well (or should) as they have alcohol sales, allowing door money to be funneled directly back to the bands.
For more information, contact Joe Caviston at firstname.lastname@example.org.