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How to Make Money by Putting on a Live Show

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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This article is aimed at people with an interest in promoting nights, and putting on great acts for other people to enjoy. I started Virtual Boy Promotions last year, after seeing some fantastic acts around the country and wanting to get involved in putting on shows to bring them down to London.

If you are in the same boat then naturally, you don’t want to work for free and some recompense would not go amiss, plus it can be expensive to put on a show. So this article will give you some insight into ways to make some money by running independent gigs.

The most obvious tip is to promote well. Posters inside the venue leading up to the show are essential, so make sure you go in and put them up. It is also important to flyer other shows that have similar acts to your show.

Flyering sometimes gets a bad rep as it’s time consuming, and the success rate is somewhere around 3%, but in my opinion, the usefulness of social media is a bit of a myth –

I’m sure everyone is familiar with a Facebook event’s ‘200 attendees’ turning out to be less than half of that. Instead, flyering similar shows you will be getting your event straight into the hands of the people most likely to come.

Obviously, social media is still an excellent tool, and event pages are extremely helpful in keeping all the details about the show in one place. Also, make sure you list your show on as many event listings websites as you can, as there is no telling who might see it.

We received several phone calls from travelling Americans last June, hoping to see the 60s pop group, Tavares, after seeing the show listed online. Unfortunately for them, the artist in question was Watford singer-songwriter, Clinton Tavares!


Aside from good promotion, the most important point to remember is to get good acts! No one wants to see a lineup full of terrible Iron Maiden cover bands with no fans, music fans want to be entertained and involved in a busy night.

Lineups often depend on your personal ethics towards putting on acts. Personally I’ll put on most acts, and if they have a small crowd pull or aren’t very good, I’ll have them open.

The bigger, better, or more crowd-pulling acts then go on later in the night. However, some people refuse to put on acts unless they have a big enough draw, in order to make more money from the night – personally I find this approach is unfair and often highlights a promoter that is looking for money rather than being actively interested in music.

Either way, make sure you get a great lineup that will entice people to come out because nine times out of ten people don’t want to leave their warm sofa to go watch some unsigned bands.

Make sure you pay attention to your night’s genre as well, as in, if its a reggae night doesn’t put a screamo band on as main support because everyone will just go home!

Added to this, make sure you treat your bands like you want to be treated when you play shows. Sort them some food (even something simple like pasta and bread), run the night to schedule, and if you say that you’ll pay them then make sure you do!

After considering your lineup you better get thinking about your budget, and how much you would be looking to make for your hard work. This impacts the entry price.

First of all, you will want to cover your costs. You may have given guarantees of pay/petrol money to the acts or had to pay for the venue or soundman, or backline, or maybe pay for advertising space.

When you are choosing the venue, take your budget into consideration straight away, and also think about the venue – does it have big enough capacity, and is it easily reachable by public transport?

Do they want to take a chunk of money from your door takings, or won’t offer you any bar split? If you feel you are being charged over the odds, simply find somewhere else.

It always pays to work up a good relationship with venues, as you can get discounts or free nights from them when you are on friendly terms. If you can cover your costs, then look at your desired profit margin to determine ticket price.

For example, if the venue hire is £50, you are going to pay three bands £20 each, and there is no bar split but the door takings are all yours, then you need to make £110 from the door. If you are expecting a crowd of, say, 60 people, then your ticket price should be around the £3-4 mark.

This covers your costs and will make you about £100. The alternative to this is donation entry. I find this useful if you are putting on either a charity show or low profile acts with tiny draws in a small venue, like a house show.

Tell the acts in advance its free entry (to encourage numbers through the door), but you’ll be asking for donations which you will split between the acts.

Donations can be hit or miss, as some people donate nothing and some donate £10, but it creates a nice friendly vibe and just requires you to get on the microphone occasionally, waving a tin and telling the crowd to donate some money for the night.

Another way to really sell your show is to offer something extra, or unique. This often manifests in the ‘£5 on the door, £4 with a flyer’ incentive, but with a bit more thought you can offer up some enticing extras to encourage people to get involved in the gig.

One great example is the ‘Punk rock bring and buy sale’ occasionally run by Out Of Step Promotions in Norwich, which is run Blue Peter-style inside the venue, and encourages attendees to bring in their old CDs, records, patches, whatever, and swap it with like-minded people.

This can lead you to discover some great new bands as well as passing your old stuff on to people that appreciate it.

Another good idea is the Mix CD which is often seen at label-run shows to show off their roster but can be appropriated to include a couple of tracks by the bands playing that night.

Make 25 and give them to the first people through the door, and as well as encouraging people to turn up and see all the acts, it means that they have something in their pocket to check out bands that they particularly liked.

Another good idea is collaborating with another promoter for a larger or themed night. For example, my own promotions company are putting on US rapper Random (aka Mega Ran, known for his Mega Man computer game-themed music) in April, and we are partnering with Gamerdisco to put on a Mega Man themed night to celebrate.

A bit of lateral thinking can go a long way, as you can then offer a unique night that stands out from the rest, which in turn encourages more ticket sales.

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