A better music scene? It’s not as easy as it looks

Someone recently asked me why I never got into the venue-owning and concert-booking business.

“You’d be good at it, Liggett,” he said. “You’ve got some connections, and you know good bands. Seems simple to me.”

My friend’s “simple” line made me choke on my beer, and I explained to him just how simple it really is.

Now I’m no expert, but I’ve helped out with enough live music events to know most of the game. And if you’ve read this column enough, you know that I believe promoters have chosen a profession that’s super important and vital in a community yet remains frustrating and thankless.

The phrase “there’s no good music here” might as well translate to “thanks for putting your neck on the line and bringing a band you thought people would love, but I guess people drunk on PBR are too stupid to look beyond their Best of Johnny Cash records and investigate under-the-radar types making the same type of music.”

That phrase also applies to hippies who don’t recognize anything that may be from someplace other than Nederland. It’s a sad reality; sometimes people aren’t willing to take a chance on something they don’t know, when knowing is now so easy. Ask anyone with a Pandora account.

So if you’ve ever thought booking concerts is simple, read on and learn.

Concerts cost money. Aside from whatever contractual agreement you may come up with, artists want to get paid. So you agree on a set fee or a percentage of the door, or both. Larger bands also may have a rider requiring a 12-pack of a particular microbrew, some decent food and a couple of hotel rooms. Tack a few hundred bucks more onto the tab.

Then you need to figure out staffing for your venue, which includes paying a worthwhile sound guy if the band doesn’t travel with its own. Good sound people should get at least $100 a show or more.

Then, of course, there’s promotion. You design a poster, pay for printing and slap them up all over town. You also should alert all the media outlets and pray they’ll throw you a bone and give you some coverage.

So you’ve booked a band that wants $500 for its performance – which is dirt cheap – and your venue holds 200 people. As long as everyone pays the $5 cover, you may have made enough to break even after you’ve paid everyone. And because many bands have guest lists and friends, the bartender has friends and sometimes people don’t want to part with the $5, well, do the math. Somebody is losing money.

We’re lucky here in Durango to have some people – Scottie Sindelar, Eugene Salaz, Tami Graham, Chuck Kuehn and Charles Leslie are just a few – who do it for the love of live music. Concert promotion is a hard, under-appreciated livelihood that keeps you in the red in a community that only sometimes supports what you promote. To the venue owners, promoters and people not afraid to pay a cover – thanks.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.

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