Todays interview is with Daren, booker of Baltimore’s Joe Squared and member of Disco/Pop/Hip-Hop Group, Claire Hux. Daren shares an overwhelming amount of knowledge with readers about how venues run and how to book and successfully promote your show. The below information will certainly make you re-think the way you or your band operates. It’s a long, but excellent post. Take the time to read it. Your comments are welcomed.
“Indie artists really need to learn the art of promoting themselves. It’s part of being indie. It’s like paying your taxes, you don’t want to do it, but it’s the price you pay for a civilized society.” ~Daren of Joe Squared
1. Tell us a little bit about Joe Squared. Joe2 is an interesting venue. It’s a high-quality pizza/salad/pasta-type restaurant and bar during the day and then becomes a music venue, bar, and lounge at night. Joe Edwardsen (founder, owner) is an amazingly ambitious and intelligent guy that decided Baltimore needed a “different kind” of pizza place (back in Nov 2005, when he opened). They just had Dj’s at first and I was lucky enough to be one of his first customers. The band I was in practiced next door and we would go in there and get wings or chicken fingers. They only had DJ’s on Friday and Saturday. Haha. I actually remember asking him if they had any openings and he politely denied me. Fast forward to about a year later. I ended up working there as a delivery driver part-time to fund my music dream. Since I was a dj/engineer/producer, I knew how all the gear worked and in my spare “down” time I would organize the DJ booth. I finally got a regular dj gig there. Haha! I became attached and would yell at all the DJ’s that didn’t put everything back the right way. Joe finally got his live music license (summer 2007), and thats when we started booking bands. We started out with just a few bands a week with regular DJ slots. Now we book up to 6 days a week with only one DJ night (“Dig” on Tuesdays). We’ve revamped and upgraded everything and have figured out a system hat works. Only took us 3 years. Ha! Our venue is odd because we are a restaurant first and then a venue, so we know it would be awkward to charge a cover for people who are sitting…and we have a regular “bar crowd” that we would hate to turn down. So the 15% of the bar rule (artist get %15 of sales) came about; which from my experience is a bit higher than most venues. But we really love our artists. We’ve found that blues, garage, rockabilly, bluegrass, jazz, acoustic, and rock acts have really enjoyed playing at our establishment and we get alot of those genre’s asking to play.
2. What does a venue expect from the artists it books. This might be a no-brainer, but indulge us? Alot of indie startup acts don’t know how the system works; so here is a quick rundown. We are on the lower end of the totem pole when it comes to venues. We are a step above a coffee shop but a step below a venue like Ottobar/Sonar (that deals specifically with bands). Because of that, there is no independent promoter (the middle man). When you get to higher levels, there are promoters that run tours and/or bring in big artists (Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Jay-Z). They are all booked by promoters. It’s rare at that level that the venue is booking the act directly.. and if they do, they have an in-house promotion team. With that said, the promoter is responsible for bringing bodies through the door. It’s then the venue’s job to get those bodies to drink their alcohol. The venue makes 90% of it’s money off alcohol/drink sales (hence why all ages shows are expensive). A cover is just that: to cover the cost of the band, the lights, the sound person and the security/door people. Most riders/contracts from big bands/acts have the performer getting a guarantee and then a large percentage of the door AFTER cost. So that’s MAJOR incentive to bring more people through the door and pay that cover for the promoter and the band.
Now with lower end venues, there aren’t that many promoters running around doing small venue gigs. They just aren’t profitable for the promoter unless they are doing 10 a night. And even then it’s a mess. So the venue really requires the band to wear 2 hats – the talent AND the promoter. This is tough because most bands are just musicians. They don’t practice their instruments for hours a day to also go out and learn how to promote, advertising, and marketing themselves…with no money involved…which makes it even harder. So because of that, alot of bands that are amazingly talented do not bring people through the door, don’t get any fans, and don’t make any money. Neither does the venue. It’s a shame and it hurts my heart. But indie artists really need to learn the art of promoting themselves. It’s part of being indie. Unless you have a rich uncle or a crazy hungry, sociable best friend or girlfriend,you have to do it yourself. It’s like paying your taxes, you don’t want to do it, but it’s the price you pay for a civilized society.
So basically, we really need you guys to bring heads through the door. We the venue can’t do that. Most venues don’t have built-in crowds that just come to every show. Most venues are “destination” venues, meaning people don’t just walk in and out of them like a bar on a busy main street. They actually go to them and stay there all night. Joe squared is awesome because from 9-11pm we have a great and slightly drunk dinner crowd and if you work it right you can increase your fan base (and money) if you play to those people. Alot of bands unfortunately don’t see that and it’s a shame. :(
3. As someone who is constantly communicating with artists, what do you feel is the biggest shortcoming of independent artists when it comes to booking and promoting an event? Well I answered this a bit with the last answer. I’d say a huge short coming is emailing a venue and saying “we are so good, check us out… we are blah blah blah, and have done blah blah blah”. MOST VENUES DON’T CARE HOW GOOD YOU ARE! They care if you have a draw. Yes they don’t want to book trash, but an average band that brings 200 people to any given city will get booked anywhere verses an AMAZING band that brings no one. It sucks, i know. But this isn’t basketball. It’s not talent based. Music business is temperature based (how hot are you). I know i know, i sound like Ari Gold, but this is something I’ve learned – you gotta have a draw to be worth anything to anyone. The more people you can bring, the more leverage you have. You gotta give something before you take it. So when emailing venues, talk about how you can team up with a local band or two and bring 30 REAL people. Don’t BS and lie to the venue. We have a 25% rule. Whenever a band says they will bring 50 people, we just assume it will be 12 or 13. Then we don’t usually want to do business with them again because they exaggerated their draw when we could have put on another like-minded band with a draw that could have made the night profitable for everyone. We are a business and business’s are in business to MAKE MONEY. We all love art and the scene and helping people, but capitalism means that we need money to keep the place running, and to pay the cooks, and to keep the bar tenders from quitting and working at another bar.
Also, try to be as professional, informative, and to the point as possible. When you are reaching out to a venue and “selling” your band (because that’s what you’re doing), you need to have value. Package your act well. Try to get high-quality recordings and high quality videos and pictures on your MySpace site…or other websites. I honestly spend 15 seconds on something and then decide whether I should keep listening/reading/or sifting through their page. Get GOOD press pictures, not weird low-budget ones that you took in your garage. It’s not expensive to look legit/professional… maybe a few hundred dollars. It takes money to make money.
Also, please check your email AT LEAST once a day, if not more. Email is 100% necessary. Don’t wait 2 weeks to answer a venue. Booking is a tough task and things get moved around quickly and easily. We like to book 2-3 months in advance, so you need to get back to us as soon as possible. All band members should check their emails too (so you can run it past them). Ha! I could go on for days… but you get what im trying to say.
4. How can venues and bands (or singer/songwriters) work together to guarantee a good turnout?
I think the best way is to communicate. We try to offer the best and low-cost advertising for our bands. I wish we could do more (and we are getting better at it), but our demographic is so wide that it’s tough to hit up every possible “patron”. The best thing to do is get repeat fans. If people are jammin’ out to you in their seats or on the dance floor, give them a free download card and get an email address or something. And be personable – talk to them on the mic or in person. That is HUGE. So many musicians just want to play their instrument and go home. It’s not 1978. Yes it’s music business and the business is run because of the music; but with business you need money. People= money. It’s not hard. It’s a grind, but what the hell in this world isn’t?
We are big about promoting inside of Joe Squared and Station North. Station North, the area where Joe2 is located in Baltimore, is very very destination. People rarely just “walk into” joe squared because it looks cool. So if people are there, we want them in again. We did go around the city and flyer but after a few days the flyers would be ripped down or something dumb. It became a waste of money for us. We of course do alot of online promotion and work with the local papers. Radio time is debatable. How many people listen to the radio? Facebook (is huge), twitter, etc, etc. Even though they are getting super saturated, it’s a necessary evil. I could go on about this too!
5. Any final words for the aspiring artist?
You know the saying: “talk the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk”? Well… I’m in an indie group and everything I’ve preached I do. It’s helped to be inside the monster and see how things work on a micro level with Joe Squared; but it’s hard… really hard.
LINK UP WITH OTHER BANDS and PROMOTERS in your area. You might get paid less, but it will make the show better, and the chance of booking another show there will be higher. And playing in front of alot of people is always better than playing in front of no one. Music is still priority, but there are so many more things that go into it. If you really want to play this indie game, you gotta play by the rules in 2010.