Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
What Talent Buyers Do
"Talent buyer" is a stupid name, but that's what they're called and how they shall be referred to from here out. Talent buyers face a minefield of ways to lose money on every show they book. Theirs is a high-risk, often low-yield enterprise. As income for musicians and their representation gravitates from record sales to live shows, festivals, and tours, the booking game is more cutthroat than ever. The Stranger sat down with Melissa "Meli" Darby and Hunter Motto, talent buyers at the Crocodile, to talk about the mysterious dance of booking shows for a venue that size. The conference room had no working lightbulb, and the wall to the right of the entrance was painted black, with the last two months of show dates chalked out calendar-style. Each date with a show had a note of who played and the corresponding bar sales, along with other figures. Hiphop shows fared best (hella Ciroc martinis).
"We're not making money on ticket sales," says Motto as we discuss how everyone's cut breaks down. "You can assume that—80 percent of the time—when you're going to a show, most of your money is going to the artist and the costs of putting on the show."
Darby elaborates: "Let's say you sell out a show at Showbox. People are going to automatically assume you must have made ducats—that you must be rolling in it. But most people don't understand the back-side finances of an offer—the way it's built is so complex. And you could have a guarantee, the hospitality rider and the tech rider, all of your marketing expenses, all of your venue expenses, labor, staffing, sound, your taxes, your insurance, all of your hard expenses and your variable expenses... So when you send off this offer, they're going to look at their guarantee. They're getting x amount of money no matter what, but then, after all these expenses have been taken off, there's that chunk of money called 'profit.' You'd think that's what the promoter or venue would make, but no. The industry standard these days is 80 to 85 percent of overage goes to the artist."
What They Look at Before Booking a Band
"We're thinking about how many people are going to come, and ticket price, and how we're going to market it," Darby says about the considerations she makes when putting together an offer. "Is there going to be any competition from similar events that week? But we also have to think, 'How much are these people going to drink?' And that goes into that long-winded all-ages versus 21-and-over argument, because the city has made it so expensive and so difficult for us to do all-ages because we're not selling liquor. So it's like 'How do you make that revenue?' Because you're not making it on the back end."
"Someone—either you or an artist's representation, but typically a representative of the artist, depending on how big they are—reaches out about dates," Motto says. Then the venue will put a hold on the prospective date(s) the artist will be in town. Multiple venues from each market will make offers. Then, "agents, if they're doing their jobs, are essentially going to play talent buyers off of each other in order to get what they want," says Darby. "And at that same time, you're also thinking about support. You're looking into local support. Once you start working with different agencies or different artists, the bigger they are, the harder they'll push back on not wanting support. So they'll come with a two-band bill, and that's all they want," but she adds that there are ways to massage locals into the lineup. "You might say, 'Hey, the bartenders would really appreciate it if we didn't close before midnight' or 'Look, this is the perfect person to open.'"
If you're a local or relatively unknown band that wants to play the Crocodile, booker Alicia Amiri says you can send an e-mail to booking @thecrocodile.com. She says to include a link to your band's page, a list of where you've played in Seattle, relevant local press or attention, your estimated draw, and other local bands you would fit well with on a bill.
Next, as the marketing and promotion continues, the contract arrives and they scrutinize it for eventualities. "You might have made an offer, and they didn't tell you that you needed to provide full backline [stage setup] for the band, and then you have to go back and be like, 'This is $1,500 worth of backline that's gotta come from somewhere, and it's not coming from my end,'" Darby says. Adds Hunter: "In order to avoid a lot of problems, people being pissed off, etc., you try to sit down on the phone or on e-mail and say, 'Let's make sure we all know what's going on with this particular show.' And you have to do that for every single show."
The Production Manager's Job
Then, when the act arrives at the venue, the production manager takes over: "If the talent buyer is the professional gambler, the production manager is the professional problem solver," says Darby. If an amp blows up, or somebody didn't get the box of condoms or packet of underwear they requested in the rider (common items, according to Darby and Motto), the PM sorts it out, then counts the money at the end of the night. Game over.