Promoting the Gig:

Who's Job Is It?

By Paul Moffett

A band books a show at a local bar then plays it to a disappointingly small crowd. It seems that news of the show never appeared in the local papers, not even in the free Live Events section.

The band blames the club. The club manager points the finger back at the band, declaring that it's the band's job to send that info in. There are recriminations all around; the band, the club and the fans are all unhappy.

So who's responsible? Certainly not the participants in the process, according to each side.

A little economics discussion might shed some light on the matter: a classic analysis would say that whichever partner in the business deal who stands to gain most directly is the one who should promote the event. In the low-level club gig business, that shakes out this way: if the band is playing for the door, then the band has all the incentive to bring more people into the club - more paying customers through the door equals more money for the band. The club, of course, also stands to make more money, but not as directly: your band's paying customers might or might not spend as much as someone else's and, since the club is not paying for the band, there is no serious economic downside if the regular customers are the only ones to show up.

On the other side, if the club is paying the band a fixed fee, then the club has a greater incentive to promote the show than does the band, There is a serious downside for the club if the show is not a success: the club could actually lose money on the arrangement. The band's incentives are mostly the opposite: the more time, effort and money the band spends to promote the event, the less money they make on it.

Of course, there are those pesky indirect incentives at work: perhaps the band wants to play that club again; a good crowd increases the chances that the act will be booked again. A poor showing (or worse, the band drives away the regular customers) means that band won't play that club again. So the band members have to consider their long- and short-term interests when thinking about spending money and time on promotion.

The club owners and managers also have to consider their short- and long-term interests: is the club primarily a music-centered venue or is it a bar that could do as well with karaoke or a flurry of televisions tuned to ESPN? Is the club owner booking music to attract a larger crowd or just because the owner likes the idea of having music and is willing to tolerate the problems and tasks associated with booking music? For club-playing musicians, the fact that club owners always have the option of eliminating live music from their business should give them pause.

The key to the problem actually lies in the attitude of the various participants: the club owners know they're in business, even if they don't run their businesses particularly well. Musicians, on the other hand, often think of themselves as employees, not businesspersons, and act, unfortunately, like employees. For those musicians who consider themselves independent businesspersons, promotion is an important part of the job, as it is promotion that pulls in the act's actual customers: audience members, a.k.a, fans. Regardless of who writes the check or hands out the cash at the end of the night, it is the audience that pays the tab.

So the answer to the question in the headline is: the act is always responsible for ensuring that promotion of events happens, even when the immediate promoter of the event stands to lose more directly than the act. Club players (and big time rock stars, for that matter) who refuse to accept that fact will keep right on being employees - at their day jobs.