A music promoter books talented acts to play at a venue and is then responsible for selling the tickets. They publicise the show, sell the tickets and pay the band. Venues include clubs, bars, stadiums and festivals.
For several years I worked in a marketing agency in London who specialised in concert marketing. I worked with many of the UK’s largest promoters. Some booked stadiums, other promoted shows in small clubs. They faced different challenges but common to all of them was, how to sell tickets?
What do promoters do in the music industry?
A music promoter takes on a risk by booking an artist to play a gig.
Why is it a risk?
When a music promoter books a show they commit to take on costs. The 3 main costs can be grouped into these broad areas:
- The artist fee
- The venue fee
- Marketing costs
Put simply, the promoter’s risk is they don’t sell enough tickets to cover their costs.
The risk of booking a small band is that not enough people have heard of them. The risk of booking a major artist is the costs are higher and more tickets need to be sold.
The Artist Fee
An artist should always insist on getting paid something, even if it’s a small amount, say, £50. If a promoter is booking music for a venue it is for a reason, i.e. the financial benefit of the venue., So, they should pay the artist a share of that value.
Furthermore, there is a principle. A musician has usually spent years learning their craft. Never, ever accept these arguments:
- It will be good for your profile
- Bring 20 friends and we’ll pay you something
- There will be an A&R person from a major record label there
Unless you’re being offered the chance to play on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, don’t accept this. Insist on a payment, however small, or walk.
At the other end of the scale, large festival headliners can get paid anywhere from £500,000 to a couple of million.
You can usually work out what an artist gets paid. An artist’s booking agent will usually negotiate 90% “of the door”.
Let’s say, tickets are £25 and the venue holds 1,000 people. Assuming every ticket is sold, the artist receives:
£25 x 1,000 * 90% = £22,500
Simple, right? Well, not quite.
However, before I digress, this article is about Promoters. To see a break down of concert costs see my future article about booking agents.
The Venue Fee
Any venue can be hired. You can call the O2, as I did once, and ask how much it is to hire the venue. Back in 2014, to ‘dry hire’ the O2 was £27,000. The Kentish Town Forum was around £5000.
‘Dry hire’ means the stage will be empty, i.e. no lighting or sound equipment. The venue expect a band to bring their own. However, the venue can provide light & sound, at extra cost, if asked.
Many promoters and venues are interchangeable, i.e. the promoter IS the venue.
Venues make their majority of their money, not from the tickets sold, but from from a large variety of auxiliary sources. The main one is food and drink.
Having booked the artist and the venue, the Promoter is responsible for selling as many tickets as possible.
The usual ways to promote a show are:
- Add the show to event listings
- Advertising, both online & offline
- Add tour dates to artist website
- Social Media
- Physical media, e.g. posters, flyers
- Previews & reviews
- Mailing lists of previous ticket buyers
- Recommendation sites, e.g. Songkick
How do music promoters get paid?
Promoters cover their costs by selling tickets to a show. However, since artists receive most of the ticket money, promoters make their profits in other areas. known as ‘ancillary’ income. This can include:
- VIP packages / Premium seating
- Merchandise commission
- Food and drink
- Service income, such as parking, cloakrooms
- Sponsorship of the venue, including naming rights
- Livestreaming – an emerging area
What is the role of a promoter?
A Promoter’s role is to book a band to play a show. They are responsible for
- Booking a venue
- Selling tickets
- Paying the band
Each area can be broken down and looked at in more detail:
1. Booking a venue
Often a Promoter will work on behalf of a venue. Or, in some cases, a promoter will own a venue. Whatever the relationship, a Promoter must have a thorough knowledge of each venue. For instance, they need to know:
- The capacity of a venue
- The different ticket types offered by the venue, e.g. standing, seated
- The size of the stage
- The facilities offered by the venue
- The capacity
- The “dry hire” cost of booking a venue
Bands have many different requirements. A promoter must book the right-sized venue suitable for each band.
Since a promoter is responsible for selling tickets they will need to make sure fans of the artist are made aware of the show or tour.
Traditionally this was done through posters, flyers, placing adverts in magazines or TV advertising. However, event marketing is now more likely to take place using email lists, websites, concert listings or social media.
3. Selling Tickets
Most promoters are unlikely to sell tickets directly. The exceptions are promoters like LiveNation who own Ticketmaster or SJM Concerts who own www.gigsandtours.com.
The usual method of selling tickets is to ‘allocate’ tickets to different agencies. For instance, they may allocate 30% to the venue to sell via their box office. 25% may be allocated to the band to sell via their website. The rest may be allocated to different ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster, SeeTickets or Eventim. These sellers will charge a ticket fee for handling the transaction.
The promoter must keep track of how many tickets each agency is selling and re-allocate if necessary, e.g. if one seller sells out then a promoter may shift tickets from one seller to another.
4. Paying the band
Most bands will insist on a guaranteed fee and/or a percentage of the ticket sales. This can be as high as 90% of the revenue. It’s for this reason many promoters find additional ways of making money, since the actual ticket sales don’t produce much profit.
It’s essential a promoter keep accurate records of ticket sales. A booking agent can demand an audit if they feel more tickets were sold than the promoter claims. Many artist agreements contain a clause to claim a percentage of ticket sales, which can only be done if sales are highly accurate.
How do music promoters make money?
Promoters don’t only make money from ticket sales. A promoter who works with or on behalf of a venue has many opportunities to increase revenue. While a high percentage of ticket revenue is paid through to the artist, revenue from non-ticket sales typically belongs to the promoter, venue and ticket agency.
- Upsell around ticket purchases
- Promote events in different areas or markets
- Migrate ticket sales from physical to digital
- Take advantage of the secondary market
- Sell band merchandise
- Build a database of fans and understand their music tastes
- Attract sponsorship and advertising
- Offer naming rights for venues and festivals
- Launch a ticket guarantee
- Offer ticket refunds or ticket insurance
- Enable print-at-home tickets
- Set one price with no hidden charges
- Provide seat maps
- Improve social media to show fan reviews and share experiences
- Expand into live streaming events
1. Upsell around ticket purchases
When I worked with Jamiroquai I put a fan package together for a show at the Birmingham LG Arena. Fans who purchased the ‘VIP Ticket’ would get parking at the venue, access to the member’s club (pictured above), a T-shirt and a signed poster. We sold about a dozen.
When I arrived the venue and entered the venue’s VIP members club it was packed. It wasn’t us, i.e. the band, who had sold all the tickets. The venue had sold the VIP packages themselves. The band didn’t receive any additional revenue for these, they simply received the ticket money.
Remember, there are a lot of people who, when they go to a gig, want pay for a full ‘night out’ experience. This includes easy access to the venue to avoid queues, a meal & drinks beforehand, priority seating, parking close to the venue etc. Promoters can work with venues, managers and artists to further enhance this and offer a range of packages to suit different budgets and requirements.
2. Promote events in different areas or markets
A Promoter with skills in booking & marketing events could sell events in different geographic areas. Or they can enter new marketplaces, such as sports or eGames.
In addition, many events, e.g. private events, conferences, movies etc sell tickets that could present opportunities for a promoter looking to extend their business.
3. Migrate ticket sales from physical to digital
Digital tickets have two big advantages over physical tickets.
- They cost less to produce, distribute and process
- Valuable data can be collected during the purchase process.
4. Take advantage of the secondary market
Secondary tickets are a controversial area. However, the market exists because demand for many events outstrips supply. A promoter can increase sales through referral fees, ticket exchanges, dynamic pricing, VIP ticket sales or building relationships with discount site partners.
5. Sell band merchandise
When a fan buys a ticket from a venue or ticket site there is an opportunity to upsell them band merchandise. The merch could take the form of clothing, audiovisual product or limited editions. The merch can be sourced from the artist’s official merchandise supplier. Packages can be offered that contain tickets, merchandise and a CD.
6. Build a database of fans and understand their music tastes
Most ticket sales are online. This provides an opportunity to capture details about the fan that can be used to sell future concerts, either by the same band or similar artists. CRM has many challenges but can be a lucrative way for a promoter to increase sales and reduce marketing costs.
7. Attract sponsorship and advertising
There are many brands who want to reach music fans or be associated with music. If a promoter builds a presence on social media or at an online box office this could offer a brand sufficient traffic to make it attractive for them to sponsor or advertise. However, promoters can also offer an allocation to a brand, e.g. AEG provide O2 Priority tickets to the mobile operator’s customers.
8. Offer naming rights for venues and festivals
Many venues and festivals offer naming rights, e.g. The O2, the Carling Apollo, V-fest, T In The Park, Resorts World Arena. This will often include a package of rights to a brand, such as VIP tickets, email campaigns, affiliation with tours, ‘music experiences’ and inclusion in media and marketing materials.
9. Launch a ticket guarantee
Attending a gig at a large venue can be expensive. Especially if you factor in travel and food/drink. When buying a ticket a fan can be given a guarantee to reassure them in the unlikely event they can’t go or the event gets cancelled.
Examples of a fan guarantee could be:
- Assure fans the ticket is official
- Purchases and personal info are kept safe and secure
- Make sure fans get their tickets in time for the event
- 100% guarantee of a refund if a cancelled event isn’t rescheduled
- The seat numbers won’t change
- Support via telephone or email if the fan has any questions or concerns
10. Offer ticket refunds or ticket insurance.
Very few events are cancelled. However it can happen for reasons outside the promoter’s control. For instance, I had a ticket to see Motorhead at the Hammersmith Apollo in January 2016. However, a few weeks before the show, frontman Lemmy unfortunately succumbed to his amazing rock n roll lifestyle and died on 28th December 2015. RIP. Offering a small optional ticket insurance fee can provide further reassurance to fans.
11. Enable print-at-home tickets
Thankfully many promoters have phased out the Print-At-Home fee, which was extremely annoying. They used to call it a ‘convenience fee’, which stretched even the most sympathetic fan’s patience. However, more can be done to provide fans with a better experience when they buy their tickets but don’t want to receive tickets through the post.
12. Set one price with no hidden charges
One of the most frustrating things when buying a ticket is seeing one price advertised but end up paying far more because of the hidden charges. The airline industry are guilty of this too. Booking fees, ‘convenience charges’, delivery fees and booking office fees can be added to the original ticket price. Also, charging a delivery fee PER TICKET, despite them arriving in the same package. What’s that all about?? Promoters can improve the ticket buying experience by ensuring prices are transparent and easy to understand.
13. Provide seat maps
Promoters constantly innovate ways to improve the fan experience. Seat Maps are an example, which allow fans to choose where they want to sit within the venue.
14. Utilise software to show fan reviews and share experiences
Fans use social media to share reviews. However, software apps like Stagecast showcase a range of activities that can engage an audience both before, during and after a show.
15. Expand into live streaming events
Before the pandemic, live streaming had seen steady growth. However, the pandemic acted as a catalyst, propelling live streaming to the forefront of the live music industry.
BTS, who had to cancel a world tour, presented fans with an option to buy tickets to a live stream. Over 900,000 fans bought a ticket, earning the band a reputed $20m for the evening’s show.
Read my article, How to Livestream Music for more.
How do I become a successful music promoter?
Music promoters operate in a niche marketplace where their clients are the handful of booking agents who represent the majority of known artists. To be successful means building a good reputation amongst these agents so they will give you tours to work with in future.
Therefore, to be successful a successful promoter means building a strong reputation. Booking agents need to know you can be trusted, you will honour the terms of the agreement, you market the event properly, you make sure fans and the band enjoy the show and you pay the amount that was agreed and on-time.
A music promoter who breaks any of these terms will quickly find booking agents avoid them. The live industry is a very tight-knit community. A promoter may be able to rip off a band once but it’s unlikely they will ever get a chance to do it again since word very quickly spreads.
How do I promote a show?
To promote a show in a small venue is fairly straightforward in theory. However, be prepared because there are many things that might not go to plan.
Step 1 – Book a Venue
Call a venue who has a small stage and a license for live music. Talk to the owner about putting on a band night. Agree on a fee, both for your time and to pay the bands. The benefit for the venue owner is increased takings behind the bar.
Step 2 – Book a band
If you have an artist or band in mind then simply contact them and ask if they’re available to play on the date you have and offer them a fee.
Otherwise, you will need to find the artist’s booking agent.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a directory of bands and booking agents. However, most booking agents’ websites will have a list of bands they represent. Many bands will list their booking agent on their facebook page.
Failing this, contact either the band or manager and ask them who to contact about concert bookings.
Booking agents take calls all day. Their role is to book the band into the right shows at the right time in to the right places.
A band’s agent wants to get their client as much money as possible for playing gigs. After all, the booking agent makes a percentage of any fee they negotiate. However, for new bands, an agent must sometimes weigh up the fee against the opportunity to accept gigs that may help develop the band’s career.
Early in a band’s career they’re unlikely to command high fees apart from a small amount to cover expenses. So, call the agent, name a band and ask them for the fee.
Be prepared to negotiate. Tell the Agent how much budget you have. Sell the gig based on how many people will be there. Or, if you know any music bloggers invite them to the show. The band and agent will appreciate the chance to be interviewed or get a review.
The agent may refuse your offer but then offer you a different band they represent who will play.
Step 3 – Sell Tickets
The venue will usually sell tickets directly. However, you will need to call an agency such as GigsAndTours or SeeTickets. They will need to know the date, capacity and ticket price.
If you’re a new promoter they may want to vet you first and get more information about you. However, if you meet their criteria they will list your gig and sell tickets.
Get the URL of the ticket page and start putting it on everything you can!
Alternatively, use a self-ticketing service such as Eventbrite. This means you can sell to fans directly but you don’t get the advantage of using a renowned ticket seller who will put some effort into promoting your show. If you use Eventbrite you’re working alone!
On the other hand, as a music promoter you can allocate a percentage of the tickets to sell on your own platform. Perhaps you could incentivise people to buy direct by offering a package? VIP seating? A meet n greet with the band? A piece of merchandise?
Obviously, there is a cost to doing this but the positive is you start to build relationships with people who come to your gigs.
Step 4 – Publicise the show
You need to make sure you cover all the bases. First, the band must promote the shows on their website, to their friends and social media. Tip – Don’t assume they’ll do it. You’d be surprised how many bands need reminding to promote their own shows!
Make sure all the event listing websites are informed – they need date, time, venue, ticket price and a description. If you have the budget then consider a small advert in a listings magazine like TimeOut, Guardian Guide, a local newspaper or a student magazine.
If you have a bigger budget, around £500, look for a specialist marketing agency who can create a poster for you in addition to placing adverts.
Step 5 – Show time!
The day of the show you need to be at the venue early in the day. This is your show and you’ll be bombarded with questions. People will need directing. You may be familiar with the venue but this may be the band’s first time there.
Artists will feel a mixture of nervous energy, excitement, attitude, confusion, distraction and enthusiastic. This is where a Promoter’s people skills come to the fore.
You need to make the artist feel they’re the centre of your world, while giving them firm instructions (e.g. sound check time, on stage time, length of time on stage, finish times, etc) and clear directions.
Artists simultaneously want to be looked after while knowing you are the person in charge of the event. If there is a problem they will turn to you to sort it out. If you can’t then you need to be clear about the problem and your proposed solution.
Be prepared for last-minute guest list changes. Band illnesses. Allergies. Missing instruments. Intro music. Broken equipment. People you’ve never met before saying they’re the band’s drum tech/masseuse/therapist. The merch-person telling you the desk isn’t big enough. Can the parents of the lead singer have chairs at the front? An interview that needs to happen halfway through the soundcheck.
Be prepared. The event itself will be chaotic but this is where a music promoter shines. Be prepared to delegate. Know the right people – venue manager, tour manager, band manager. Be firm, friendly, organised and alert. It’s a tough role but there is nothing like seeing a band and their audience having a great time and knowing you put it together.
Step 6 – Pay The Band
At the end of the event make sure you have the band’s money ready! Never tell a band you’ve got a cash flow issue or ‘Is it OK if I pay you tomorrow’. At the end of every show the band’s manager will want to sit down with you, be told what the ticket sales were and get paid the amount that was agreed.
What is an example of a Music promoter?
- Kennedy Street
- Marshall Arts
- Heavy Pop
- Nova Music
I’ve worked with many of them. Larger promoters will book both national & international tours, may own venues, sell tickets and put on hundreds of events ranging from Wembley Stadium to small club venues dotted around the country.
Smaller promoters, such as Heavy Pop, based in Reading or Nova Music, based in West London, tend to be regional and book shows in smaller venues near to their location. They will typically work with several pubs or small venues to put on a regular music night. It’s hard work that is often driven by a mixture of business and passion.
How do I find a music promoter?
In the UK there are two organisations that can help you find a promoter.
What skills do you need to be a Music promoter?
To become a successful promoter requires an in-depth knowledge of music combined with skills in negotiating, people and marketing. Plus an ability to think on your feet when things don’t go to plan.
An in-depth knowledge of music
As a music promoter you need to know how many tickets a band will sell. If you’re booking a new band then you will want to know their story – how many streams do they have on Spotify, what size venues have they played before, how many fans do they have on social media, how many mentions are they receiving from music blogs or influencers etc? For a more established artist the promoter asks, when was the band’s last tour and what size venues did they play, how active have they been since their last tour, do they have a database of fans, do they have a new album out etc. Promoters will soon go out of business if they book bands without doing some research, paying too much and not selling enough tickets.
Skills in Negotiating & People
A music promoter constantly negotiates. Primarily with booking agents. But also with venues, managers, bands, fans, ticket sellers, sponsors, road crew and staff. Promoters will be expert negotiators. After all, booking agents are trying to get the best deal for their artists. However, promoters will be mindful of the artist because if a promoter has a long-term vision, they know successful artists will soon be touring again. A music promoter has to make a living, which means making profit. But to be successful in the long term means making money for the artist.Many promoters will build strong, long lasting relationships with artists and booking agents, meaning they get offered more tours in future.
Often a music promoter will be responsible for an entire tour. Meaning they must be skilled and efficient at reaching the potential audience for shows around the country. Event marketing has tended to move online, enabling promoters to reach fans by email or social media. However, strange as it may seem, they can’t take it for granted that a band will promote their tour quite as much as the promoter would like. One challenge is the artist receives a guaranteed fee no matter how many tickets are sold. Meaning the promoter has to keep pushing them to promote the shows harder. Or, if a record label is managing the website then the label doesn’t have any financial incentive apart from the marketing they receive when the band goes on tour. Therefore, the promoter must work with the band’s management to ensure the marketing is coordinated.