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The Biz

Published: 2005/09/09
by Allen Ostroy

Back to School Edition of the Biz

This is the back to school special edition of The Biz. Many of you trying to enter the music business are college students. I’m not referring to those of you at Berklee. I’m referring to those of you who are getting geology, english, business, communications, philosophy, psychology, economics, or political science degrees while at the same time trying to start or grow your band or become a promoter, agent, or manager. Whether you are a musician forming a band or interested in becoming a promoter, agent, or manager you have an enormous resource at your disposal. As you know most schools require you to pay a student activities fee. This fee is used to bring the bands and speakers (like me) to your school. There is a student activities committee which determines how this money is spent. Get on the committee! If you are a musician you can have prior knowledge of bands hired by the committee to come to your school and thus propose your band as the support – or you can propose to the committee to hire your band outright! If you want to be a promoter here is your opportunity to learn about all the things that go into a show while using school money. Student committees get contacted all the time by bands so if you are interested in being an agent or manager here is your opportunity to speak to a ton of them. The purpose of the committee is to spend the money on things the students would want and since youre a student spend it on yourself!

Also this is the committee that can hire me to come give a workshop. So get involved and give me a call!

Keep in touch and keep the questions coming to me at!


Is the Music Biz Profitable?

Hi Allen-

Pretty simple question and one you can feel free to be vague on — is the music promotion business profitable and if so, what are the keys to ensuring it stays that way?

Good luck with the column!

Michael Duffy


_It can be very profitable but there is no real formula for success (is that vague enough?). I would say that one key is to always strive for quality of experience. For example, the festival season is coming up fast. Promoters can’t cut corners and they must provide a quality experience for the consumer, and at the same time must try and keep the ticket prices down so that its affordable (another key). I know from experience that this is a real challenge but we can all name the festivals that succeed with this. The real question anyone asks after a festival is, "was it worth the money?" If the answer is, "yes" then they’ll come back for more next year. If the answer is, "no" then its highly doubtful they give it another shot (at least for awhile). That’s just one example but its really true for any show. Was the sound good? Was security too rough? Did the lights look ok?

So, I guess the real answer to ensuring that the music promotion business stays profitable is to strive for "quality of experience."

Thanks for the question and keep in touch!

Management Advice

Hi Allen,

Here are some questions for you…thanks for the access.

I’ve been given managerial power over a local reggae/rock/jazz/classically influenced band, which has been together for about 10 months and playing shows pretty regularly (every week or so). I have a lot of faith in their abilities. Everyone seems to be concentrating on the band now (college has been an issue) and goal oriented; no one wants anything other than success. I am 24, two years out of college with a bachelor’s in English/Journalism and opposed to working for daily newspapers – that’s my story. I can really only see myself in music. I’m empowered to get them gigs and coordinate, basically, everything. I also lug gear with them and tape their shows. We already have a sound man, gear, talent, we just need to get the ball rolling harder.


1) Currently, they get $650 a show for two sets. The bassist and keyboard player are music majors and the singer, drummer and guitar player are self-taught juggernauts. What should a band this new expect for pay?

2) Regarding my approach with venues, how can I go about getting them/us more pay?

3) What’s the easiest way to find contact info for event coordinators at different venues?

4) What should be included in press/promotional materials? They have a demo cd and I am soon to begin on a bio.

Broad and book-worthy 5) What should I concentrate on first, in regards to my management position? Then what?

Jeremy Sanchez


Thanks for the questions. I lugged gear for the first year too. You’ll appreciate your crew more when you get them.

1) I assume they are getting $650 flat which is great unless the place they are playing is charging $5 to get in and 250 are coming in to see them. I put it this way because the first thing you’ll hear from talent buyers when trying to book them is, "how many people will they draw?" Bars have bands so that people come in and drink. The bands pay typically comes out of a cover charge (ticket sales). Its very rare that bars just pay a band and don’t have a cover charge and although this does occur some places the pay isn’t much and you’re not going to find that its the norm while trying to build a career. Talent buyers and promoters don’t care how many people are in the band or how talented they are (some that have a vision for building a band in their room do – but that isn’t the norm either). I don’t say this to knock promoters. They get paid from the bands ticket sales too so you can’t blame them. Also they typically have a bottom line they have to meet as well so if they’re bringing in really talented bands that don’t draw then they’ll get fired by the venue. If its the bar owner you’re dealing with he doesn’t want to pay a band $1500 and only do $1000 in drinks. So back to your question. What should a new band expect for pay? 50%-100% of the door gross. For example if the cover charge is $5 and 100 people come in then you can expect $250-$500. If you’re an opening act or on a multi-band bill then…not much.

2) The real question you should be asking is, "how can I go about turning on more people to come see my band play?" Do this and the money follows. Bands are always jumping from agent to agent trying to get more money…and bigger agencies can usually deliver this promise. But you can’t expect a promoter to care about a band he has lost money on five times in a row…even twice in a row. As much as I’d like all my artists to get paid $10,000 every show (and I think they’re worth it), I’d rather everyone win on every show from the promoter, to the band members, to the fans. Remember that the more you ask from a talent buyer the higher the ticket has to be to cover your guarantee. Are the bands you see worth the ticket price you pay? I’d bet some but not all. Ask for whatever you want but in the long run you’ll have to earn it.

3) Pollstar (go to and Musicians Guide to Touring and Promotion (put out by Billboard).

4) At the bare minimum a bio, picture, and demo. I’m a "less is more" guy. Some people put every article ever written about the band in their press packs. When I’m talent buying I don’t want to rifle through a huge pack so a quote page with quotes from articles is enough for me. In the beginning you’ll want to include an article if you can get it but resist the urge to put in stickers, or photocopies of your bands name from a strip ad in a paper. And since you are writing the bio now let me add that make sure the bio is about them musically. No one cares that they just got their degrees in microbiology or that their mother’s hairdresser thinks they are good. Since they are new you’ll want to focus on the bands sound, their individual influences, and maybe a little about where their demo was recorded and where they have played. Make it as professional looking as possible!

5) First? Get everyone on the same page. Set some goals with the band and discuss what its going to take to meet those goals. Make sure those goals are realistic like, ad at least one new market per month and write one new song per month. Make sure you set musical goals at the same time as you set business goals because they need to go hand-in-hand. Make sure everyone has realistic expectations for you. Then go execute and do everything you can for your band.

Good luck and keep in touch!

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