On the Economics of Live Music

Just back from a very enjoyable evening — again — at our local independent music venue, Strings Bar and Venue (who don’t do themselves any favours by having a Facebook page that often ranks over, and performs better, than their own webpage…[just sayin’…]…)

…and pondering the economics…

(I used to to promote bands as an indie promoter, way back when.. Buy me a beer and I’ll maybe tell you some stories…)

Thinks: suppose you have a 200 capacity venue (a nice size for a indie venue…).

Suppose also, as a band, you have two million (2M) streamed plays? Good, right? Meh… Say there are 100 towns (0.1k) in the UK with populations over 50k, so that’s 5k per decade per town giving 20k people in ages 15-55 in each town on a uniform distribution (the distribution won’t be, but this is back of the envelope maths and I’ve had a pint or two…). For 100 towns, that’s 20k*100 = 2M. One play per person.

Go back to that 200 capacity venue. For all the streams, how many people in the town are going to turn out to see the band play? 200 people on 20k = 20000, means 1 in 100. 1%. As if…

Say you have a turn out of 100 at a tenner per ticket (£1k on the door). The venue has two bar staff for the 3 hour event, with a cleaner after, (say £100) plus someone on the door and a license stipulated security presence (say another £100). Then there’s the sound engineer, who maybe does 2 or 3 gigs a week if they’re lucky, at say £50 a time (so they need another job, right?). The venue also takes a tenner per person over the bar (optimistically…), but a 50% markup means their actual take is less than £5 per person (so <£500).

The venue is open maybe 4 days a week, which caps the take.

The band have travelled (£100-200 travelling expenses) and there's 1-5 of them. Maybe a driver too. They may have to take one or two days off work, depending on how far they've travelled, to be able to do the gig.

On the occasions I do private contracts, I can charge maybe £500 per day. You think each band member is on that rate?

For a band, a 1 hr gig is the day's work. 3-5 of them in the band. Plus a driver / merch stand person. (You'd like to think they have a roadie, but for a lot of small bands I see, there is no a roadie, and there may not even be anyone driving / on the merch who isn't a parent of one of the band members.) A lot of touring bands I see, they're way more professional than I am.

Do the math.

If you have a local venue: support it; buy the tickets; shove money over the bar; buy the band merch.


Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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