Having a prosperous live business is an important part of building a successful career. Live performances are where an artist, their songs, and their fans all come face to face. It’s one thing to sing in a studio where you can keep doing a song over and over again until you get it right or you can cheat with a little auto-tune to try and make everything sound perfect, but there’s nothing quite like being in the same room with a truly great performer and connecting with them and other fans while they play live.
While it’s true that record sales have crashed over the last few years, the live concert business has not. A successful performing artist that can fill venues generates huge income. Unlike a record or publishing deal where your royalty rate slips away with countless deductions and you sometimes have to stomp around and kick up dust to lock down a paycheck once every six months, in the concert biz, you show up, play the show, and you get paid. Every night.
But building a successful live touring business does not happen by accident. The most successful touring artists have a strategy for building their business around some tried and true key elements.
So what are the key elements to building a successful live touring biz?
#1 – The Right Band
“Record sales come and go but a great performer can go on forever.”
If you’re a promoter, getting the ‘right band’ means getting one that can draw enough people to pay the bills. On the other hand, if you’re an artist or band just getting started, you’re going to want to be that right band that can get a gig, somewhere, anywhere. And once you get that first gig you’ll want to get another and the only way that happens is if you keep getting better.
When you are just starting out, the right band might mean a band willing to play in somebody’s backyard at a party. It might mean a band that can get 50 friends to buy tickets to a local club.
Either way, a successful touring artist’s live business continues long after the record sales have stopped, so if you want to get bigger and better gigs and improve as an artist, you’ve got to perform in front of new people as much as possible.
#2 – The Right Venue
“It’s all about getting the right artist and putting them in a venue they can fill.”
Once you’ve got a band, you need to put them in the right venue. That means a venue with the right capacity and one that’s appropriate for that band’s style.
If an artist is just getting started and does not have much of a draw then you’d be smart to book them in as small a venue as you can. You’d also want to make sure the venue fits the vibe of the artist. An acoustic artist in a slimy rock club with no chairs might be a horrible idea. The same act in a small cafe with a sense of intimacy would be much better. If you are working with a huge artist like Taylor Swift who has a limited number of dates to work with, you might choose to play as big a venue as you can find.
Venues come in all sizes but a big part of booking a successful gig comes down to knowing which artists to put in a club, which artists to put in a theatre, and which artists can fill a stadium and when.
#3 – The Right Date
“Take into account timing when you’re deciding what venue to play.”
In general, a concert date needs something to drive interest. A new album can drive interest. A single raging on the radio can make a huge difference. But even with those elements at work, timing plays a huge part. If a band books dates right on top of their album release, that album might not have had time to really sink in. The airplay might not be at its maximum level. And they’ll do less business as a result. In that scenario, a smart manager or agent might decide to play some smaller venues early on and let the album do its work before stepping up to bigger venues once the album is embedded in the heads of fans.
I learned a valuable lesson about picking the right date for a show early in my career as a concert promoter. One of the first concerts I promoted as a professional was Ozzy Osbourne. I booked a show in Bakersfield CA, which was a great town for Heavy Metal. Unfortunately, I picked a horrible date (actually the agent picked the date and I said yes). I did the show on July 4th weekend and as it turns out, the biggest party in Bakersfield is at the Kern River, not the Bakersfield Fairgrounds, so I got killed. The moral of the story? Timing is a huge part of booking successful concerts.
#4 – The Right Ticket Price
“Make it easy for your fans to come back and they will.”
If you’re a band or an artist that is just starting out, you should make it very easy to come see your shows by keeping the ticket price as low as you can. In the early days it might even be free. The idea is to play in front of as many people as possible and sharpen your chops as a live performer. As you become more successful and have a greater history and catalog of songs to play, you can slowly raise the ticket price.
Country artist Garth Brooks, one of the biggest ticket selling acts of all time, always remembered who his fans were and kept ticket prices in reach even when he could have charged more. Be smart. Make it easy for your fans to come back and they will.
Building a Touring Strategy With Tom Windish:
Artist Tools: ReverbNation – Routing and Marketing Your Tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HoYW7rNjIo
The “Dollars and Cents” of The Concert Biz with Mark Campana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpu0B9E1sjE
About the author: Music industry veteran Steve “Renman” Rennie runs the online music biz mentoring platform Renman Music & Business and online course Renman U Insider’s Guide to Today’s Music Business. Join Steve for a free webinar on Thursday, January 28th at 12:00 p.m. PST “5 Keys to Building a Successful Career in the Music Business.” Sign up for free here.