Friday, November 27, 2020
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
Is a working band ever really 'a band' anymore?
Originally Posted: 11-29-2013 2:16 PM
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This week, I continue a look at the current state of making live music for money from a talent booker, or programmer's, perspective. As we touched on last week, more and more band members are "subbing" out to play with multiple bands to maximize their income. But what about the expectations of programmers? Are band members really interchangeable in their eyes? And if so, when?

A programmer usually books a band or artist who a) has great reviews, b) is available on their necessary date, and c) has an impressive live video in their electronic press kits (EPK). But what happens when the group that shows up isn't the same group from their promo video? This is happening more and more. Believe it or not, I've even seen groups that feature multiple lead singers, yet not all of the lead singers featured in their marketing materials ended up at the event! This seems like a real danger zone for agents to be delving into. Even if most of the audience doesn't notice, the programmer does! Would you be upset if you were a programmer who bought an act based on a vocalist or someone else with an exceptional talent only to find that that person was subbed out?

I think most reasonable people expect that programmers are booking the lead singers in the promo materials. But if the materials feature an exceptional talent, that can also boost an expectation of delivery. For example, if your promo materials show a keyboardist who juggles fire while playing, you probably need him/her at the gig.

Perhaps the way to proceed is to inform programmers that certain members may sub, but that they can expect certain core members to perform, barring extreme illness, etc. Define it in the performance contract. However, that conversation will likely need to be broached by the programmer. Agents primarily want to move things, and aren't in the business of throwing up objections that might spoil a booking.

I think it's of higher ethics to edit any promo videos in such a way that those "guaranteed" core players are the focus. Promotional videos can be expensive to produce, so get it right the first time, bands! It may not hurt to do a couple alternate edits while thinking of the future. If the band is based around one person, do a cut featuring that person specifically and another more group friendly cut around the members that you expect to be around the longest.

I think it's unethical to feature a lead singer in marketing materials for the group if that singer subs out--that includes video, flyers, etc. At some level, great or small, it's false advertising. Being upfront just makes sense from an ethics perspective, a cover your ass perspective, and the perspective of keeping your programmers happy. Be it someone in a large organization or just the significant other of the person who writes the check, don't make the programmer look stupid by pulling a change up on them--focus promos on the guarantee of what they're buying, and deliver it.

But when audience expectations set in in the absence of false advertising, sometimes a little foresight can preempt bad word of mouth. A perfect example is the recent Boyz II Men show at the Mendel Center in Benton Harbor. A bit of a rumbling was going on on a few Facebook pages mocking people who paid standard ticket prices to see a show that featured the three-member vocal group singing to backing tracks and a single video screen with minimal light show. Of course, the page belonged to a musician...

A few posters on the thread were bitter about the state of music today and crowed that they thought it unconscionable that the buying public would pay full price tickets to see "a karaoke show". Being in attendance at the show, I can tell you the people loved it, no matter what kind of show it was. Certainly the ladies did.

But the thread's poster apparently had a male musician friend that was perturbed to have taken a significant other to any show without live musicians, including the Grammy-winning vocal trio. Let's call him Grumpy Musician Boyfriend. According to the poster, Grumpy Musician Boyfriend's date loved the show, but Grumpy Musician Boyfriend felt shafted due to his dogmatic view of what should pass as entertainment in 2013.

Clearly, Grumpy Musician Boyfriend needs to realize that if you're going for the benefit of your date, and your date loved every minute of the show, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Turn that frown upside down! The band was one of her very favorite artists, playing in her small hometown auditorium without a bad seat in the house. What a treat!

And though the advertising wasn't misleading, ticket prices were equivalent to other headliners that typically appear with full bands, which led Grumpy Musician Boyfriend to assume that Boyz II Men would follow suit with the same touring band that played in 10,000 seaters. Not very realistic, considering bands that play 10,000 seaters have no interest in 1500 seaters, from an income standpoint.

But can venues take efforts to squelch any word of mouth backlash? Perhaps. They could make sure the press for the event has some sort of qualifier to indicate that the group was traveling with a stripped down road show. As a manner of insurance, it would keep a venue or programmer off the hook should some social media trolls gain traction. Personally, I would have used phrases like "Intimate Vocal Performance with Boys II Men", "Get Personal With Boyz II Men", or "A small stage show lets the vocals shine like never before!" These type of messages wouldn't have dissuaded anyone who loved the singing legends, but it could protect a venue's perception against attacks from Luddites like Grumpy Musician Boyfriend.

In reality, a special night out with a significant other will surely cost $100 for entertainment, dinner, & drinks. Add more drinks, and well... Spending that same amount at an intimate venue in your backyard for chart-topping Grammy winners currently in residency at The Mirage in Las Vegas is a GREAT value.

Grumpy Musician Boyfriend spent his money wisely, unless he groused so much he blew his date's elevated mood. Maybe he sprung for the backstage access to introduce her to her heroes for an extra $30? Meet and greets typically have a market value of around $150-$200. I hope he jumped at the chance to give his date an extra thrill for cheap, but you can't be sure with some guys!

It reminds me of something I just made up:

"You can lead a horse's ass to water but you just can't make him think!"

Dave Carlock
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