House Concert Economics:
We wrote this when we booked Courtney Marie Andrews for a Tuesday night in October a few years back. We were having some issues selling tickets, so I laid out how the money travels for one of these shows.
Hopefully this write up will provide some transparency to the cost structure of a house show. Hope you enjoy our slightly edited take . . .
Generally, we try to do weekend shows because it seems that our audience has more travel and scheduling flexibility on Friday’s and Saturdays. That said, we occasionally do “off-day” shows when we simply love the artist in question and can’t manage to find a date that would work otherwise. This happens more frequently with bands that aren’t from New England who can’t often “risk” a weekend house show when – at best – their east coast tour is probably a break even affair. They may have an anchor date in Boston, NYC, Burlington or Portland, ME that they book first and base the rest of the tour on. That said, Billsville shows often do better for the band financially than a sparsely attended show in a larger city but everyone is trying to balance this equation.
In this case of Courtney had already booked and announced the tour, a pretty brutal 13-day swing starting in Washington DC that headed south before swinging back to the upper Midwest as far as Minneapolis followed by Detroit, Toronto and then Brooklyn. The Billsville show snuck in between Toronto and Brooklyn because well, because we asked nicely. It also snuck in because it’s rough out there economically for a touring musician and unless an artist needs a day off to rest, they’ll often say “yes” to us based on our reputation and sheer economic reality of life on the road. I now know from talking to her about it that Courtney would rather play than take a day off whenever possible. That’s true with many musicians, if they are away from home they want to be working.
Here’s what Tuesday night off would mean to the band:
Find a place to stay in Toronto (expensive) for five musicians and all your gear. Unload into a friend’s house or worry about leaving an unprotected van full of your livelihood out on the street. Since you’re worried, maybe you hit the road – Toronto to Brooklyn is about a 9-hour drive so you’ll go halfway and maybe find a cheap hotel in Scranton.
Your van gets 20 MPG and Brooklyn is 500 miles away, so you’ll need 25 gallons of gas at $2.50 a gallon. You’ll need the hotel for $200 on Monday night and you’ll have to feed five people two or three meals so you’re out another $100 if you eat cheap unhealthy road food.
You’ve spent about $362.50 of your money if you scrimp and you’ve spent the night in a Super 8 Motel trying not to die.
Here’s what a Tuesday night at Billsville means to the band:
Rather than driving to Brooklyn the band can drive to Vermont. It’s a 7-hour drive but that means they can conceivably wake up Tuesday and make it all the way here. Did you know that we provide lodging? We’ll feed everyone snacks when they arrive and dinner before the show. We’ll feed them a second dinner after the show and breakfast in the morning. Rather than spending $200 on lodging and $100 of food the band gets that for free. So far it only costs the band the gas to get here.
We were doing $10 tickets (HOLY CRAP) for this show and all the money our audience spends on tickets goes directly to the band except for a small amount we give to the sound person. All the money you spend on merchandise goes directly to the band. We’ve invested (with our supporters help) in a fantastic sound system, a portable stage and lights. We own 60 folding chairs for cripes sake! Now if only 50 of you come out to the show the band will get $500 in payments, a comfortable house to stay in (with a dog!) the opportunity to make new fans and sell merchandise.
Bottom line – rather than “losing” $362.50 a Billsville show will generate something between $500 and $1000 for the band making the net change $850-$1300.
EDIT: We now offer $20 tickets per standard and $25 “Music Lover” tickets because damn it these shows are worth it. THANK YOU for buying the more expensive ticket, it really makes a difference.
Wait, what about your big for-profit business?
Here’s what happens on our end. Billsville spends our own money on food and drinks for the band. We spend our own time cleaning our house and setting up for 70 guests and 5 overnight visitors. I don’t even want to think about our overworked septic system, rapidly deteriorating carpeting and the various bumps and scrapes our place has suffered over the years. Booking, marketing and digital ops for every show probably takes 3-4 hours. Day of show Caroline and I spend about 10-12 hours each setting up and hosting. We’re looking at about 30 hours of volunteer work from us. While we do accept donations the truth is that it’s rare that we don’t lose money every night. I fondly remember the show we broke even!
If Will is doing sound he shows up at about 3:30 and works until 10:30 (at least). Will in underpaid but we couldn’t do it without him.
For a sold-out show bands will walk out with $1300 - $1500 which is AMAZING. For some bands, it’s literally the most they have ever made in a night. For other bands payouts are a wild fluctuating series of numbers in which we lie somewhere in the middle. We pass the hat for openers and generally the audience has been very supportive.
Thanks for reading this far. What do we get from it? Well, after giving Courtney a Tuesday night show in Halloween she came back when she was “too big for the room” and those of you who were here know what an incredible night that was right? We get that many many nights and that, my friends - well, you can’t put a price tag on that.