Guest post by Joy Ike
Money isn’t everything, but it’s necessary for the sustainability of what you do. As musicians, we know we’re supposed to play live shows, create a packaged product, and sell our experience, but it’s not often that we think strategically about it. So here are 8 ways to generate more income from your live show.
1. Suggested Donation
Ah yes! The age-old suggested donation trick. It’s kind of mandatory but not quite. Usually it involves a range of $10-20 or $5-10. Something like that. No one really gets the suggested donation thing. Some people err on the lower side of donating. But some generously give more than they should.
Suggested donations used to get under my skin, but I’ve come to love them. They accommodate the person with a tight budget and the person with money to spare; which ultimately means the person with less pocket change can still attend your event. Suggested donations are often the remedy to getting more people in the door.
Let's take it one step further. Suggested Donations and Pass The Hat are not the same thing. Pass the Hat is even more accommodating, does not involve a specific price point, and asks attendees to give what they are able to. Some can give something, some can’t give anything at all. But it always evens out.
Some people come intending to not spend a dime (you know that person in the corner of the room who came because their girlfriend made them) but end up giving and buying all your albums when they realize how much they like your music. I’ve seen this happen many times. And I’ve personally found that, between a house concert with a $10 cover and a house concert that is pass-the-hat, I always make more passing the hat.
I’ve also found that this technique doesn’t work as well with public venue shows, which is another distinction from Suggested Donation shows.
First things first, DONT mention that you`re on iTunes or Pandora or Spotify from the stage! Never do that!
3. CD Sales
Blah Blah Blah. Everyone knows you want to sell CDs at your show. But very few artists are intentional about it. First things first, DONT mention that you're on iTunes or Pandora or Spotify from the stage! Never do that! That’s the easiest way to guarantee that no one will buy merch at your show! Fans may come over and ask you if they can get your stuff online; and then you can say yes. But just remember, if you give people a reason to not buy your merch at a gig, they probably won’t. And the average person who says they will go home and download it on iTunes probably won’t.
4. Sell Worth
Perceived value is really important when you’re promoting a show. Many artists are afraid to sell tickets at a higher price because they’re afraid their fans won’t show. But it’s all about perceived value, exclusivity, and a moment in time that just can't be duplicated by people’s 15-second cell phone clips that will eventually end up on Instagram.
Make your event special. Host a party at your home, sell $20 tickets, and provide hors d'oeuvres. Do a special themed night of Christmas Carols and holiday-themed songs. Do a Joni MItchell tribute show. Sell the intimacy or the exclusivity of the event. Cap it at 50 people. Space it out. Do something like this every 4-6 months so it seems special. It takes a little energy to sell worth. But those are often the more rewarding shows because everyone who understands the value of the show is there.
5. Give Something Away from the Stage
One of my favorite things is when an artist gives a T-shirt away on stage. This technique works best in very large audiences (probably not gonna work in a small crowd). Do you have a T-shirt with a catchy phrase, funny lyrics, or something inspirational that people often gravitate to when they’re at your merch table? Show the shirt on stage, maybe even tell the story behind the phrase, and let people know that someone will win that T-shirt at the end of the night.
In best-case scenario, a few people who didn’t win the shirt (but wanted to) will still head over to your table and get it. Larger bands do this all the time...especially when they have a new single and phrase that everyone is singing. Also this works especially well with that perfect line in the sing-along song - the audience participation song!
6. Pay What You Want
Allow people to pay what they want for albums. Some will pay $1. Some will pay $20. You’ll be surprised what a person will pay when they really love your music. Many artists don’t like the idea of a pay-what-you-want merchandise table. It might not work for everyone or in every setting, but just like the Suggested Donation and Pass the Hat ticketing methods, it seems to work best in more ideal situations. Example: if you’re playing for college students, they’re always going to spend a little as possible as often as possible.
7. Live Performance Royalties
Here’s something most artists don’t know: you can be compensated for playing your songs at live performances. Each PRO (Performance Rights Organization) - ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC offer a way for you to enter which songs you’ve played at each of your live shows. The songs must already be registered with the PRO that you belong to. Yeah, it might seem like chump-change, but after a while, that change will add up...especially if you play out a lot.
8. Think Ahead
Making money at your live shows and making money from your live shows are two very different things. The latter is much more important. Remember: every live show is an opportunity to sell yourself and what you do for the sake of future opportunities.
This means, you let people know they can host you for a house concert. It means you mention your next show in the area. It means you remind the audience that you are doing singing valentines for their sweethearts during the month of February. It means you are passing your newsletter around to increase your artist-to-fan communication. It means you let people know how they can find you on social media...etc, etc.
Each of these things help you to stay in touch with your fans who will in turn host you for private events, buy tickets to future shows, and support you in future album projects. It’s all connected.
Good luck, and Happy Monetization!
Joy Ike is a full-time singer/songwriter based out of Philadelphia, PA. She is also the founder and primary writer for Grassrootsy, one of the most-read music business blogs on the internet. She believes the greatest tragedy in the world is having a talent and keeping it to yourself.
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