Kim Boekbinder's selling tickets to her shows before booking them instead of after.

Seems like a fine idea to me:

The dilemma: I need to play live to have a real connection to an audience but the expense of touring is debilitating.

My solution: Pre-sell the shows before they are even booked. Get the fans as invested as I am in the creation of the art. [...]

There is no "Making It" or rather, this is making it. Right here, where I am, with my small but dedicated fan base holding me aloft while I drift through the detritus of an imploding music industry that never did a thing for me yet still manages to get in my way. I'm a modern musician with modern tools trying to navigate an old broken system; a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label which would either make or destroy them; a system which drove a wedge between fans and their music, musicians and their audiences; a system that forgot that the entire reason it existed was to facilitate the experience of art.

This kind of thing works out nicely from the venue's point of view, too. The absolute hardest thing about booking live music is knowing whether anyone's going to show up. Without a reasonable guess as to how many people will show, both the performer and the venue are risking a lot of money.

"Make an educated guess about how many people will show, for this band you've never heard of in a genre you're only passingly familiar with" is pretty much the entire job of a venue's booker (or "talent buyer"). It's a black art. Anything that takes the guesswork out of that is better for everyone.

Update: Her update.

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13 Responses:

  1. Eric TF Bat says:

    Cool - saw that on Warren Ellis's blog and immediately thought of posting it to you. You're way ahead of me.

  2. Jim Sweeney says:

    "...a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label"

    You can just about replace the word "musician" with any kind of entertainer, and then cry a little bit that the consumer has become pretty much complacent with this system.

    You're either playing for beer in the backroom of a shithole in the Mission, or you're headlining in a stadium, there's no middle ground... You're working in a line of two-bit comics at Morty's Chuckle Bucket in beautiful Nowhere, USA, or you're starring in your own sitcom... The odds are all a zillion to one, and no surviving on the middle. And if you don't have a million dollar advertising budget to make people believe they already liked you before they ever heard of you, tough bananas and you spend your whole life hustling for people who kind of disdain you no matter _what_ you do, just because you're an entertainer and not working some bonehead 9-5 job and celebrating once a month at Applebee's... WOO HOO! Jump in the entertainment business, kids! :D

    • jwz says:

      Backroom shithole! Smile when you say that!

    • Big says:

      "there's no middle ground"

      Is this really true? I move in some less popular music circles, but I can name dozens of local Sydney jazz musicians or "popular music" (read "rock/pop/dance") musicians who seem to manage a comfortable enough middle class lifestyle earning money purely off their "art".

      I think the "zillion to one" odds are true - if your only measure of success is mega-stardom, but I _strongly_ believe that's true of _every_ endeavour. Not all developers, incredibly talented or not, earn early-employee rewards at Netscape/Google/Facebook/Twitter, but _many_ super-talented as well as mediocre developers earn comfortable livings in regular jobs. Not all investment bankers make multi-million dollar end-of-year bonuses, but most of them aren't having too much trouble paying their mortgage. Not all restauranteurs go on to be celebrity chefs, but some do very well for themselves anyway, and many manage to keep their businesses going for decades even if they don't get "rich" doing so.

      Personally I'd like to think the concept behind the "1000 true fans"[1] idea is true. There are a limited but non-zero number of artists across a variety of genres who I'm happy to support to the tune of ~$100 per year - whether that's 1 big concert ticket, or 5 nightclub gigs, or 10 albums (or some combination of that), if the artist can structure things so they get a significant share of that (perhaps the 70% that Jobs will offer them), then 1000 "fans" like me will keep them fed, clothed, and housed, and 2000 fans would put them comfortably in the top percent or so of the world. And I think there's a fair few artists who deeply understand this - the most well-known including Amanda Palmer, Imogen Heap, and Zoe Keating. None of them are Oprah/LadyGaga sized "successes", but if you don't require that level of richness to consider what you do "a success", I think the modern internet connected world is providing new opportunities for success at a much lower level. In "the middle ground".

      • Jered says:

        I agree that there's a middle ground, but it's a short-lived one on the trajectory from "backroom shithole" to "stadium", and it's where I prefer my performances. Unfortunately, it's a place where, while you're not playing for free, you could probably make more money working at Starbucks (and probably do when you're not out touring).

        This middle ground is where places like the DNA Lounge exist. Here in Boston, this is places like the Middle East (downstairs; upstairs is more towards backroom shithole, although it's relatively nice -- same goes for TT's The Bear), the Paradise, Royale, Harper's Ferry (or whatever they call it now), and a few other places. These are places where you can go see a great band, be close enough to actually see them, be able to dance, and pay a reasonable fee. These are places where you won't be inundated by 18 year-olds following the latest trend, and where you might be able to have a real conversation with one of the artists later if you've got something meaningful to say.

        These interstitial venues are where the actual musical creation occurs and they are dying because the music industry makes them unsustainable, and sound-bite politicians make them untenable to run. The future of music is now -- disposable artists that look pretty and can (sometimes) sing, performing purchased collaborations from a handful of writers. Coming soon, to the TD Banknorth Center and Bank of America Pavillion.

        You want creativity? Go to YouTube. Run around the block a few times, pour half a beer on yourself, and hire a hooker to act like an obnoxious sorority chick and it's almost like being at the club!

      • Thomas Lord says:

        I don't buy that "1000 true fans" notion:

        For one thing you just can't trust that introspective conclusion that you'd be good for $100/yr for a few good artists. You might have the best of intentions but, honestly, what's going to be among the first things to go if your finances get pinched? And, how long-term is your dedication to a particular artist? Are you sure you'll follow them through evolution in what they do and the periodic inevitable artistic mis-steps?

        Such questions matter because if your model is based around a core constituency of 1,000 people, your revenues are going to be highly volatile and in a situation where your salary really isn't all that great. If you lose 200 fans because the Denver airport was snowed in that's a pretty decent ding to your checkbook.

        Another thing is that that $100K...$200K per year in your model isn't really comparable to ordinary 9-5 income. You (as artist) are probably going to pay more than most for health insurance and retirement funds (if you want those things). Moreover, out of that revenue you've got to subtract a lot of travel and (at least for many musicians) equipment and professional services. Also, you weren't planning on settling down in a nice friendly, quiet neighborhood and raising a family were you? You'll be too busy hustling for that.

        There are exceptions to the "there is no middle" rule and there are non-superstar performers who last a long time in their industry ... but there don't seem to be a whole lot of folks who are both. I don't think we should romanticize that circumstance or pretend it's refuted by a catchy internet meme about true fans.

        I don't mean to pander to jwz too badly but instead of thinking of 1,000 true fans model, consider instead a 3 favorite venues model. Find some venue whose buyer seems to do OK and take as many chances as you can currently afford to to go on less expensive nights to see acts you don't know. If you buy that "there is no middle" in the sense that its all constant churn as people have to give up after not making it "big" .... at least with the "favorite venue" approach you help to sponsor the paid auditions.

    • DFB says:

      While I agree with Big above that there is a middle ground, it has been shrinking fast with consolidation in many industries, especially publishing (including music publishing), news, media, communications, and advertising. Complain early and often; in the U.S.:

  3. She didn't mention the technical details of how she pre-funds her concerts. Is she just using Kickstarter? Seems like a fairly natural fit. Ideally someone would just setup a site like Kickstarter that matches artists + fans + venues and everyone would be happy, except LiveNation already owns most of the venues.

    • Scott says:

      Yes, Kickstarter. It seems relevant to mention that it's not like she sold 1000 or even 100 tickets. 7 people paid $1000 between them, which met the Kickstarter goal, so it seems like this is working because she has people acting as patrons. She still might end up playing for only 75 people.

      Kickstarter link

  4. So... what does the contract between the venue and the artist look like in this context? Because she's pre-sold tickets the venue's not getting anything at the door, since her fans won't like having to pay twice (even if the dollar figures come out even)... or do you arrange for her to pay you a percentage of her will-call tickets and provide a list of names/CCNs to confirm the ticketholders are who they say they are? I'm presuming you're also going to want to do sales at the door, of course, which then have to be split somehow (or not?).

    I agree it's a good idea, but I think it makes the arrangements between venue and artist a bit more complex.

    Am I missing something?