by Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars
When you take into consideration how many singers and musicians complain about the current state of artist-venue relationships, you would think most performers would jump at the opportunity to explore alternative methods of putting on shows and generating income. Stop for a moment and think about how often you have heard an artist, maybe even yourself, bitching about having to fight to get booked at a venue, venues not paying you what you think you deserve, or disagreements with venue operators over which party had a greater responsibility to promote a show, etc.
I'm here to tell you that there IS an alternative live show model, house shows, that many artists ARE having a great deal of success with. But what amazes me is that more artists aren't doing them, mostly considering house shows take several disadvantages of the more common club/bar shows and tips them in the artists' favor. So I reached out to somebody for answers...
...Meet Madalyn Sklar...
“Work smarter, not harder” is the saying etched on the keystone of everything Madalyn Sklar teaches her clients and followers. With an extensive background in social media and marketing, Madalyn is the creator of GoGirls Music, a web-based community designed to promote, support, and empower female artists throughout the United States and around the world. She also serves as a blogger, music business coach, and social media consultant (to artists of both genders). Oh...and Curve magazine named her one of the Ten Most Powerful Women in Music and she has moderated music panels at several events, including SXSW in Austin, Texas.
...Shows on the artists' terms...
The idea of a house show is to take an artist's live performance out of the more traditional club or bar setting and place it in a more intimate environment such as somebody's house. No more haggling with venue owners. No more concerns about using the venue's sound system (and possibly unreliable sound technician). No more competing for attention with that night's playoff game airing on the televisions over the bar. The entire concept of the house show places in the hands of the artist nearly complete control of everything that goes on, according to Madalyn.
“You have a model where the artist books the house shows by finding super fans willing to host it,” Madalyn says. “And the artist can go so far as to create a checklist with everything on it from how to market the house show to how to set it up.”
The most common way house shows are being organized, at least at the moment, is having bands work through a “presenter”. The presenter runs point on everything with the show, addressing the needs of the artist and making sure the show is organized in a manner conducive to the artist's wishes. While it is common to have a presenter be a fan of the artist or band, professional promoters are starting to add “house show presenter” services to their own offerings.
“Usually people coming to the show are asked to pay around $20,” Madalyn explained further. “And that is typically presented as a donation. The presenter of the show keeps a small percentage of the money to cover expenses like food and drinks but the artists also have their merchandise table set up. So they make money at the door and at the merchandise table.”
A business model like this SHOULD be extremely attractive to a lot of artists, particularly soloists looking to do more acoustic shows in an effort to build up their fan base and bring in some more money. Put it into perspective: A soloist does a one-hour house show attended by, say, thirty people. That is $600 at the door, most of which is pocketed by the artist. Put on a good show and mingle with people and maybe you move $100 in merchandise and half of those people sign up for your e-mail list. That means you walk away from a one-hour show with just shy of $700 and a handful of new e-mail subscribers whom not only can you now market to directly, but those new fans might also be future presenters for additional house shows later in the year.
And you do it all without the common stresses and aggravations typically brought on by performing at a bar or a club. So how much success are artists having with house shows?
...Where the money meets the road...
Some artists are having a lot of success utilizing this business model for their live shows. Madalyn brought up an artist by the name of Shannon Curtis. Shannon has been putting a lot of time and energy into house shows and doing so has allowed her to essentially give up on the more traditional bar and club scene.
“Shannon Curtis made around $25,000 in two months,” Madalyn points out. In fact, Shannon recently did an interview with Bob Baker (Mr. Buzz Factor). During that interview, Curtis stated that her house shows were far more lucrative than her shows at traditional venues and she is connecting more with fans, which has allowed her to build up her e-mail list. She also went on to publish a book on house shows, No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Makde $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too).
...Why Aren't More Artists Doing It...
This is probably the most important question in this article and I presented it to Madalyn to get her thoughts. We have a music scene full of artists complaining that they aren't making enough money, complaining that the general population doesn't support the local music scenes, and complaining that venues are taking advantage of artists. One would think that more artists struggling with those exact problems would jump at the opportunity to build at least a portion of their music business model around this concept...but they don't. Why?
“I think it is a fear of the unknown,” Madalyn answers. “I think trying something new like this makes people nervous and what they don't know has a tendency to scare them.”
Personally, I think what Madalyn said is definitely part of the problem but I think there are additional factors at work here. During her interview with Bob Baker, Shannon Curtis mentioned that she had around three-thousand e-mail subscribers when she started exploring house shows as a viable source of income. Anybody involved in any form of artist development can go into a long rant about how many singers, musicians, and bands still do not have websites and still do not work to collect e-mails from fans.
Proper web presences and e-mail marketing strategies continue to be the elephant in the room that a lot of artists attempt to avoid discussing and, without those lists, I think many performers are afraid to attempt house shows due to concerns of low turnout. So while getting those particular artists to go the house show route could be like trying to force a horse to drink water, entertainers with those e-mail lists in place would have a much better chance of success with this alternative money source.
And NOW is the time to get on the bandwagon because this type of show is starting to gain some real popularity. Madalyn mentioned during our talk that house shows are becoming very popular in her hometown of Houston, Texas...so much, in fact, that one local promoter purchased a second house to use for house shows exclusively. The shows take place on the house's ground floor while the promoter invites the artists to sleep on the second floor, which allows the singers and musicians to save money on hotel costs while they are in town.
One quick thing in closing: Thanks to an agreement with Music Clout, you can get a FREE copy of my new music business book that I co-authored with former Taylor Swift manager Rick Barker of Music Industry Blueprint and John Dwinell of Daredevil Production in Nashville. It is called “The $150,000 Music Degree” and covers everything from when artists should hire a manager to how to get sponsorships for your shows to how artists can better communicate with the media. Before you do anything else, go get the book by clicking HERE. And you can find a complete list of my services for artists HERE.
Rocket to the Stars creator and director Wade Sutton spent nearly two decades working as a radio journalist before founding one of the largest artist development competitions in the Eastern United States in 2010.
Since creating Rocket to the Stars, Wade has worked to help singers and bands around the world by teaching them how to better interact with the media and fans, helping them prepare for interviews, writing artist biographies and press releases, and assisting in the creation of their electronic press kits. He also serves as a live music producer, helping artists make their live performances more entertaining, resulting in those clients expanding their fan bases, increasing their e-mail subscriptions, and making more money.
His articles on artist development have been read by people in more than twenty countries while being shared by top music industry officials and voice instructors, marketing experts, radio stations, and bands.