As more bands emerge every day and venues continue to close, opportunities to play better shows become fewer. In addition, the overhead costs of running shows have seemed to increase along with the risk of low turnouts. As a result, an increasing number of promoters are turning to a new business plan. Anyone who has been in a new/local band within the past 5 years or so has probably encountered the rising phenomenon of pre-sales.
Here’s how it works. Bands who want to play a show are asked by the promoter to sell a certain amount of tickets before the show to ensure their spot on the bill. Rules change for different promoters, depending on how lenient or strict they are. Sometimes, the pre-sale requirement is just a suggestion with no consequences if the requested amount is not sold. But often, the promoter expects a certain amount of money from the band regardless of whether or not they can sell all of the tickets. If the band does not pre-sell their share, they run the risk of having to pay to play or drop from the show.
From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense to a promoter. By getting bands to pre-sell tickets, you can guarantee attendance, thus covering certain venue costs and eliminating some of the risk involved with putting on a show. However, too many promoters are taking advantage of and abusing this system because it allows them to work less while the bands are required to work more for the same pay or even none at all.
This is not just the fault of the promoters. Many bands are so desperate for exposure that they are willing to play into this scheme, thus giving promoters the opportunity to exploit them. If a band does not want to do pre-sales, it’s no sweat off the promoter’s back. They will just find another band that is more desperate, naive, and willing. This leads to shows with 7+ no-name bands pre-selling 20-30 tickets each just so they can say they opened for whichever band the promoter got to headline. Half the time, the money from these bands’ hard work just goes to pay off the headliner, while the other half of the time it might get pocketed by the promoter.
Now, I’m not attacking promoters here. Not everyone abuses the system this way, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed, and just one more obstacle making a life in the music industry that much more challenging for artists. Ultimately, everyone is just trying to get by and put on a great show. Every band should want a good turnout just as much as the promoters, and everyone involved should be doing their part to promote and ensure that fans will come out. But pre-sales should not be the crux of the operation. The bands are already doing their part by providing the service around which the entire evening is based, and half of the time, they’re not even getting paid. A promoter’s job is to do exactly as their title implies: promote. This does not mean pinning it off on the bands providing the service. It should be a community effort between everyone involved. The more we work together, the better the turnout.
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