Ask Fan Landers: Who's to Blame When a Show Tanks?

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Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Fan, I work as a promoter for a club in the Midwest and I've found there's a real disconnect between what some bands and venues expect--what each of them see as each other's obligation to promote a show. Whether or not you play for money, glory or the love of art, there are people involved whose livelihoods depend on the show doing well. Besides the venue-owners, bartenders can have a great night or a lousy night depending on how well a show is attended. Door attendants, bar-backs and security might not even be scheduled if a band is booked who has a reputation of not having a following. Some bands seem to prefer to let the chips fall where they may because if they don't really try, they can't really fail.

Do you think a band should be responsible to bring the whole force of their following to every show, even if they aren't headlining? Should these things be outlined by the promoter/venue in advance? What show promotion tactics are best for bands? Signed, Please Keep My Name Out of It, I Have Already Complained Too Much

Dear Please Keep, Assuming it's the promoter or club's job to get people to the show is one of the common fallacies of young bands. It's the club's job to promote the show in all the ways they normally would--distributing concert calendars, flyers, and ticket giveaways. It is the band's duty to get their fans out. As I have said here before, bands should always work on the assumption that clubs/promoters are totally beleaguered and expect little to nothing of them. This isn't a slight, or saying that promoters are flakes, but just an acknowledgement that people who are putting on shows for small-to-medium-sized local bands are perhaps the most put-upon and overworked people in any scene. Their list of tasks is infinite, and they are already haggard from doing it "for the love" for years.

It is a band's job to promote their show to their friends, to applicable press and radio, make a decent poster or flyer and put them up (as well as pass some on to the venue/promoter to post), post it on their Facebook page, etc. Sometimes bands complain that they are musicians, not marketing people, that promotion doesn't fall under the artist's job description. This is a totally fine attitude to have, but if that is the case, the band should eschew anything beyond playing house shows, and stay out of the more for-profit pursuits and just do it for the art and not for achievement. Because the last thing everyone needs is some whiny band that is unwilling to work for themselves being a burden on the system, so to speak. Do not expect other people to work for your band's benefit, if you are not willing to do that work yourself.

Not to be all Ayn Landers up in this informational yurt, but, the humbling hard work associated with being in a band helps weed out the weak and easily discouraged; it is useful to toughen people up. Being in a band is harder than ever, for a multitude of reasons. Accepting the pure pain-in-the-ass factor of it and embracing the struggle, getting good at the struggle, will help bond a band. It also gives a band some much needed perspective and experience if/when they eventually arrive in a place where they can/need to hire someone to do their publicity or manage or book their band.

Do bands need to bring the full force of their promotional capabilities for every single show they play? Obviously some shows are more important than others, but I think the minimum of posters, Facebook show invites, tweets about it should be the baseline. The other reason to get good at promoting your band (or at least be valiant/earnest/consistent in your efforts) is that it will please the promoters you work with. The world is larded with lazy musicians; a band that has it together to flyer their own show and get some posters and handbills to the promoter is going to be a shining beacon of responsibility and consideration. It is an easy way to gain favor, regardless of your draw or sound. I know we all grew up thinking being a musician meant flailing around in your ego and being a dick, but simply being a little helpful and carrying your weight will get you a lot further.

So, dear writer, if you find that the baby bands you are dealing with are just not getting it, put an outline of what you expect and a FAQ on the "booking contact" page of your site. Young bands may appreciate your tutelage on how to do promote their shows--and stay in a promoter's good graces.

(Y'all like how I took this question about booking into a lesson in manners and the value of hard work, paternalistic grandpa style? THIS IS MY LATE CHRISTMAS PRESENT TO YOU, READERS.) XO, Fan

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