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Guarantees for Musicians

GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep 12 Apr 12 - 03:11 PM
Dan Schatz 12 Apr 12 - 05:05 PM
Will Fly 12 Apr 12 - 05:57 PM
GUEST,Joe G 12 Apr 12 - 06:14 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 12 Apr 12 - 07:13 PM
olddude 12 Apr 12 - 07:32 PM
Tim Leaning 12 Apr 12 - 07:44 PM
Leadfingers 12 Apr 12 - 07:46 PM
michaelr 12 Apr 12 - 07:58 PM
Tim Leaning 12 Apr 12 - 08:03 PM
Leadfingers 12 Apr 12 - 08:09 PM
GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep 12 Apr 12 - 08:46 PM
dick greenhaus 12 Apr 12 - 09:00 PM
Blues=Life 12 Apr 12 - 09:19 PM
ChanteyLass 12 Apr 12 - 09:33 PM
Greg B 12 Apr 12 - 09:52 PM
JedMarum 13 Apr 12 - 12:18 AM
GUEST,Howard Jones 13 Apr 12 - 04:14 AM
GUEST,PeterC 13 Apr 12 - 04:23 AM
GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep 13 Apr 12 - 02:47 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 13 Apr 12 - 03:24 PM
Seamus Kennedy 13 Apr 12 - 11:19 PM
GUEST,Former Promoter 14 Apr 12 - 02:10 AM
GUEST,PeterC 14 Apr 12 - 05:52 AM
GUEST 14 Apr 12 - 08:20 AM
JedMarum 14 Apr 12 - 05:15 PM
GUEST,Former Promoter 14 Apr 12 - 07:43 PM
GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep 16 Apr 12 - 10:23 AM
GUEST,Former Promoter 16 Apr 12 - 11:18 AM
JedMarum 16 Apr 12 - 11:36 AM
Dan Schatz 16 Apr 12 - 03:36 PM
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Subject: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 03:11 PM

I'd rather not give my name, although I am a member of Mudcat. I help run a small monthly coffeehouse venue where we book both local performers and touring musicians. The venue is run by a small group of volunteers who make no monetary profit, and dedicate a lot of time to the coffeehouse. We offer the musicians a percentage of what we take in at the door - most come away with at least a few hundred dollars, some get substantially more, as we have a loyal audience and we work hard to promote our concerts. We do have an "emergency kitty" which we have dipped into when we had a really poor turnout for one reason or another - just to make sure the performer got a reasonable fee. The percentage we keep goes into this kitty, and also towards renting the venue, insurance, etc. On a few occasions in the past we did offer fairly substantial guarantees (over $400) to some touring artists, but we got burned and had to make up the difference out of our own pockets on an occasion when bad weather kept the audience away. There were also a few times when we got pretty nervous when it looked like tickets weren't selling, but it turned out that we did take in enough to make the guarantee. However it was stressful. None of us are in a financial position to be able to afford to subsidize anything out of our own personal funds,and we decided that we would no longer offer offer guarantees - just the percentage of the door.   Recently our booker had a rather strained exchange with a performer who got indignant about the lack of a guarantee. We understand how it is for a performer, they have travel costs, sometimes go long distances to get to a gig, etc. If we had backup funding we'd happily offer guarantees, but as it is each concert needs to be self funding. But it was insinuated that somehow we were trying to exploit musicians - not a pleasant thing to be told when we have put in a lot of time to provide a venue - the only reward to ourselves being that we enjoy the music.

What are the thoughts - among musos and those who run venues, about guarantees? Is it exploitation not to offer one?


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 05:05 PM

As a performer, these days I tend to prefer gigs with guarantees, although as a some-time house concert host, I haven't been in a position to give them - and on at least one occasion felt pretty bad about that.

I wouldn't say it's exploitation not to offer a guarantee - everybody works in their own way - but these days I do tend to ask for one, and will tend to be more likely to pursue gigs where one is offered. If I am traveling significantly for a gig, a guarantee is necessary just so I can be assured of making back expenses. (All bets are off if I happen to be passing through your area anyway - so just ask me...)

Now, I have my own reasons for this. Since I have a more than full-time job, I don't tour all that often and am not likely to be as well known as some other performers. I now have enough credentials that audiences will often take a chance on me, but I still depend on a venue to do the bulk of publicizing the concert and to bring in an audience. A guarantee gives me just a little more assurance that they believe they can do that. (Of course, I provide resources, sample press-releases, and the like.) My favorite kind of audience is one who regularly attend a concert series no matter who the performer is, and are open to hearing a wide range of traditional and contemporary material.

I wonder if it would be helpful for your coffeehouse to run a benefit with local musicians, so you can feel comfortable with a little more seed money. If you have the funds to pay the costs, including guarantee, of the next two gigs even if they flop, you're doing okay.

Dan


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 05:57 PM

I think that, as long as the performer clearly knows what the terms of playing at your coffeehouse are, and the reasons for them, then they either take the gig or they don't. If you explain to them, as clearly as you have in your post, the good reasons for not being able to offer a guarantee, then there can't be any argument.

In my experience, arguments arise where the terms and conditions for playing somewhere aren't absolutely clear and explicit. Those terms and conditions will vary from gig to gig. Most gigs I do are a flat fee regardless of audience; at the odd one or two, I get the take on the door. The latter may be a risk for me - but I go into it with both eyes wide open and accept whatever happens on the night.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Joe G
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 06:14 PM

Sorry that was me!

I was the booking sec for a well established - to say the least! - folk club in UK for a year or so until recently. Our policy is to offer a fairly low guarantee against 80 - 100% of the door - the more confident we felt about a artist pulling in the crowds (or sometimes the further they had to travel) the higher the guarantee - we have had the best of both worlds by following this approach - if the artist pulls the crowds the both us and them do well - if they don't our risk is minimised and they at least know their expenses (and a bit more usually) are covered Almost always we all go home happy!


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 07:13 PM

I play in a band, and I also help to run a ceilidh series, so I see it from both sides.

When I'm booking bands for the ceilidhs we'll offer a percentage of the door with a guarantee. It's unfair to expect bands to travel long distances without knowing that they will at least cover their expenses. If a band is travelling a very long way we may agree to a higher guarantee. In most cases we end up paying them more than the guarantee so it becomes hypothetical.

As a performer, I'm usually happy to play for a percentage fee, provided I am confident that the event will be run and promoted properly. However I'll insist on a guarantee. Firstly, it means I know what I'll get for the gig - if I get more, so much the better, but if not I can't complain. Secondly, it incentivises the organiser to make an effort to promote the event properly - with no guarantee the financial risk lies entirely with the performer.

As Will says, the important thing is that the terms are clearly agreed beforehand. If the performer doesn't like the terms, he shouldn't take the gig. On the other hand, if you don't think you can make enough money to offer the performer at least a minimum fee, is it really fair to be putting the event on in the first place?


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: olddude
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 07:32 PM

Like Mark Twain said the only guarantee in life is death and taxes. I think you are being fair myself as a take of the door revenue. I would have no problem with that, but hey I do it free so don't pay attention to me my friend


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 07:44 PM

its tricky stuff aint it ?
I am just grateful there are still people who are gonna play the music I wanna hear and the people who got the time patience and good will to find them a place to play..
It can obviously be a minefeild one way or another ..
Best wishes


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for
From: Leadfingers
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 07:46 PM

As a 'performer' I WONT work solely for a percentage , and as a booker wont a offer same ! When I was booking a Folk Club in UK , we offered a percentage against 80% of door , whichever was greatest ,
and had NO problems . Admittedley , the Guarantee was NOT very high , but DID include overnight accomodation for performers travelling a distance .
A Cheap Gig with accomodation IS better than NO Gig and paying for even basic B & B if you are fixing A ten day tour 200 miles from home !


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: michaelr
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 07:58 PM

I wish! These days I'm lucky when I don't play for tips/food/drink but the venue kicks in actual cash.

The only guarantee for musicians is that there will be one drunken asshole in the back yelling "Free Bird"...


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 08:03 PM

I know a banjo player with a tee shirt
One side it got "Will play for food" printed on it
The other
"Will stop playing for money"
Oh well


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Leadfingers
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 08:09 PM

Tim - Any idea where I can get one of those ? I am always benig told I play too much banjo


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 08:46 PM

We do understand that performers would prefer a guarantee - we just can't afford to pay it out of our pockets if the gig flops. We advertise and usually pull in a respectable audience. The problem nights have mostly been beyond our control, such as bad weather, or a competing event in town that we didn't know about when we made up the schedule. Benefit concerts for seed money? Good idea, but we're stretched awfully thin time wise as it is. We've also had performers suggest that we apply for grants in order to afford them. We just don't have time. I think we'll have to stick with no guarantee, or a minimal guarantee.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 09:00 PM

Guarantes are very nice---but they tend to make small venues unable to hire lesser-known performers.A performer, not getting a guarantee, should make sure that the venue does a reasonable job of pre-concert publicity.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Blues=Life
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 09:19 PM

"We do understand that performers would prefer a guarantee - we just can't afford to pay it out of our pockets if the gig flops..I think we'll have to stick with no guarantee, or a minimal guarantee. "

Set your policy, but don't be surprised if you don't get big name performers. They expect to be paid, and rightly so. You need to have a business plan that includes building a reserve. If you are having multiple nights a year that "flop," do some analytical thought about why you are failing to be consistent in drawing in a crowd. Are you in touch with your audience? Or are you booking to your tastes, and not the taste of your clientele. Treat it like a business, build a reserve, and budget for the occasional off night. If they happen a lot, you are doing something wrong. Just sayin'.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 09:33 PM

About the grants--maybe one of your announcements at each concert is that your venue is seeking a volunteer who can write grants.

Whether or not we have a good audience at my favorite venue, at every concert the host thanks the audience for coming, says that ticket sales alone often do not cover the musicians' fees and hall rental, and that donations in the (plastic) cauldron are always welcome. Recently someone discovered that there are more donations when a volunteer stands near the cauldron at the exit!

As Dan suggested, my favorite venue also has a benefit night. Performers have been very generous by performing at these. They want to keep the venue going. Also, fans of performers will come to see their favorites but may also become fans of the ones they've never seen before. This venue used to do this for the first concert every year but a few years ago started doing it at the last (or almost the last) concert before summer break. Now it's called The Rent Party.

When things get really desperate, and they do every few years for some reason, an appeal goes out to everyone on the email and snailmail lists. Those appeals also remind people that the venue is a is a non-profit (503) (C) (3) organization) so donations are tax-dedutible.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Greg B
Date: 12 Apr 12 - 09:52 PM

The performer's responsibility is to show up, and to do his or her best to perform as expected.

YOUR responsibility is to pay that performer for their efforts.

How you do it is your problem. If you don't promote it well, or schedule it on a holiday weekend, or pick a performer that doesn't appeal to our audience, well THAT IS YOUR PROBLEM.

Not the performer's.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: JedMarum
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 12:18 AM

I make my living at this. I have done so for over 12 years. If I want to play a place, I will play without a guarantee. I sort out my own guarantee by working lots of dates around the risky one, and hedge my bets. It is NOT the venue's responsibility to make MY living.

I do select venues that have regular music, and a proven track record. And I always try to follow their lead on booking arrangements (that is, work within their budget, and work with their usual arrangements). I probably don't have much choice anyway. I know that if the evening is going to be a success, the venue has to earn it's operating costs, including the extra bit they need to put aside for their future shows. If WE don't earn that much (that is me get my fee, and they earn their cost plus) then nobody wins.

I really feel it is up to me to make each show a success, or at least to do everything I can to make it successful. I work hard to promote each show through my own resources; email lists, FaceBook contacts, friends of friends communications. I work with the venue to see what they are doing, and provide them with pics, clips and bio stuff. And all of that works. If a venue offers a minimum (and that is common) I will usually double that through CD sales.

When I travel to play a show in one town, I'll also work at least the night before and the night after on the road to and from that town. I like to do more. Some shows just don't pan out, for some reason. Most venues usually know what there crowd will be, but sometimes they get it wrong. If I've booked 3 or 4 or 5 nights in a trip I'll eventually earn my keep pretty well. I also make sure my shows in an area are pretty far apart. You can hurt yourself, by competing with your self.

I hate to say this in public, but since you're "Folk Venue Committee Rep" and your performer are anonymous, I'd have to say that your "performer who got indignant about the lack of a guarantee" is not a wise, experienced music professional. If you've been doing this for a living for while, you know the score and you work with it ... or you move on to deals you CAN accept without insulting the people who could be your friends!


sorry to be so long winded.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 04:14 AM

Folk Venue Committee Rep, what you appear to be saying is that you don't want to risk your own money (fair enough) but you expect the performer to risk theirs by possibly coming to perform at a loss. If that's how you want to operate, fine, but you will find that many performers, especially better-known ones, will not be willing to appear on that basis.

However I agree with Jed, as a performer there is no point in getting indignant. If you can't agree satisfactory terms then you don't take the gig, but there's no point in getting worked up about it, you move on. You don't want to alienate someone who may be able to offer you more acceptable terms next time.

Another point - it seems to me that you are not allowing yourselves enough of a margin. To be sustainable, the folk club/concert/dance programme should be self-supporting and you shouldn't have to dip into your personal funds to keep it going. You should be keeping back enough of the door to keep the kitty at an adequate level. And don't book high-cost performers if you're not prepared to take the risk.

As a booker, the deal we offer ceilidh bands is a respectable percentage of the net door take after we've deducted hall hire costs. We make this clear when we book them, so there's no misunderstanding. This means that our percentage is clear profit, which goes into the kitty and is used to subsidise the occasional high-price band or the occasional flop. This ensures the future of the event and means that even if we have the occasional disaster we can afford to pay at least the guaranteed minimum (and sometimes a bit more) without dipping into our own pockets. We've been doing this for several years now, we've paid ourselves back our original seed-money and the event is financially secure.

This may not feel like a business, but you have to run it in a business-like way which is sustainable for the long term.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,PeterC
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 04:23 AM

We do understand that performers would prefer a guarantee - we just can't afford to pay it out of our pockets if the gig flops.

When I was involved in running a folk club I did the books, prepared a cash flow forecast and gave the booking secretary a budget based on what we had in reserve plus a worst case estimate of what we would expect to take on average. With good records I could make reliable estimates of the turn out for any particular guest.

Once you are paying people you are running a business so you need to be clear about your finances and clear about your objectives.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 02:47 PM

Good observations on both sides of the issue. We know that there are some very fine performers that won't play our venue without a guarantee, but there are many who have done, and all have come away with a good fee. As for increasing our margins so as to put more in the kitty - easier said than done. We have found that when we raised our ticket prices, even by a few dollars, it had an effect on attendance, so that is a risky option. The other option would be lowering the performer's percentage of the door - again, not a popular move. As for fundraisers that is a possibility but as I said we're stretched pretty thin as it is.

Anyhow I appreciate the insights.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 03:24 PM

It still seems to me that you're overreaching yourselves by spending too much of your income on the performers. If you can't keep back enough to sustain the programme, you're paying the performers too much. If you can't get them to come for less, then perhaps you're booking the wrong performers and should go for ones slightly lower down the pecking order.

You have to decide what you're trying to do and what standard of guest you want to put on, on the assumption that the best performers can demand the highest fees. If you want to put on more expensive guests when you're not taking enough to maintain the kitty, you'll have to accept that from time to time you might have to put your hands in your own pockets. Othetwise you should re-think your booking strategy, book less expensive guests and rebalance the split between what you pay the performers and what you keep. When the kitty is healthy, you can afford to splash out occasionally on a more expensive artist than usual because you can afford to lose money on that occasion.

Performers like to be paid, but they're realists and understand the economics, perhaps better than most organisers. Many would rather have the prospect of repeat bookings from a secure venue at a lower fee than a single one-off gig at a higher fee. A sustainable business model works both ways.

Fundraisers needn't be an extra burden. They don't have to be in addition to your usual programme, they can be part of it. It is usual for folk clubs in the UK, even those who usually put on professional guests, to intersperse these with cheaper local performers or even just a singers night (open mic). They might charge a bit less on the door, but make a bigger profit which goes to boost funds. In my experience these nights are often as popular, sometimes more so, than regular guest nights.

Another thought on guarantees - most of the time they turn out to be unnecessary, and the performer will get paid more than the guarantee. However they are an important psychologically to the performer and could make the difference between them accepting the gig or not. So next time you're negotiating with a performer over a guarantee, ask yourself just how big a difference it will make to you - are you really giving something away if you agree to one?


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Seamus Kennedy
Date: 13 Apr 12 - 11:19 PM

What Jed said.
As a traveling performer here in the U.S., I normally work for a guarantee against a percentage of the door - 75 - 80%.

However, I'll occasionally take a flyer on a venue that just wants me to work for the door. No guarantee, no percentage, just the door.

These are usually folk-clubs just starting out, or having hard times and needing a break.
But when I take these gigs, I make sure to promote the hell out of them, and encourage the venue to do so as well.
I've always done pretty well financially with such an arrangement.

And on occasion, when I've worked just for a guarantee, and the turnout was poor, I've given money back to the organizers. I believe in Karma.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Former Promoter
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 02:10 AM

Good thoughts all around, and a few hard truths, as well. Backing up what Folk Venue Committee Rep said, for a reason I've never quite understood, though folk audiences tend to be loyal, knowledgeable, and appreciative, they don't spend much money.

Non-folk club audiences can spend $40 for a ticket, and another $30 or $40 on drinks for an evening's entertainment without thinking anything of it. Folk audiences, on the other hand, can be bitter that the event isn't free...and that's why the other musical genre's dominate.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,PeterC
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 05:52 AM

We have found that when we raised our ticket prices, even by a few dollars, it had an effect on attendance, so that is a risky option.




Non-folk club audiences can spend $40 for a ticket, and another $30 or $40 on drinks for an evening's entertainment without thinking anything of it. Folk audiences, on the other hand, can be bitter that the event isn't free...and that's why the other musical genre's dominate.


Both valid points although that arguement does lead to undercharging in the folk scene and an external perception that the events cannot be of much value because they are so cheap. When running a club I pushed up door prices for guest nights which prompted some complaints but overall produced an image of a venue putting on worthwile performers and thus attracted more non folkies in the audience. The key was marketing - I sought out free events listings outside of the folk scene and put the majority of effort on pushing the club there.

I don't know anything about the demographic or geography that the op is working in but would guess that the problem boils down to some combination of:

1. Insufficient financial planning
2. Over optimistic booking
3. Failure to market to new audiences


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 08:20 AM

I am a member and have logged out deliberately to add to the thread.

We ran a UK folk club that had ver very been popular then then due to children job commitments etc or audience started to fall off, we continued to run the folk club but we could not afford the quality of people that we had had in the past. When people rang for bookings we where honest and told them we could not afford them but they could have 100% of the door which may be very little.
Artists for what ever reason continued to use us in various forms as previously stated a bed for the night etc and happy with a little income. A large band (more band than audience that night) used as as a practice night, 2 superstars who lived within a hour commute of us came and tried their new duo out, another superstar used us as a warm up for a large venue tour.
The main thing was as far as we are concerned we where honest we did not rip any artist off and when an artist, which happened more than once exceeded their fee they kept the door takings. The club managed on the obligatory raffle to cover other costs sadly in the end due to some of the hardcore that was left moving away both physically and spiritually we had to fold. We still are friends with a lot of the artists who stayed with us for a bed and when we meet our old club is still looked upon fondly.
I believe if you are honest with artists and it is mutually beneficial a lot can be achieved, I think word between artist was passed about about us been small but honest and friendly and that helped us enormously. I also believe woe betide you if you are dishonest and unfair as word in that scenario spreads very quickly


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 05:15 PM

sounds about right GUEST. I have some I still play for low fees even no fees, because of the friendships and the history I have with them. I always find a way to make it worth while.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Former Promoter
Date: 14 Apr 12 - 07:43 PM

When I was producing events, I did a lot of stuff that had sponsors and underwriters who contributed in some way( facilities and services as well as cash) so I tended to offer fees, rather than either guarantees or percentages. This made things easier, and often (but not always) made performers more comfortable.

We started offering fees for smaller, unsponsored events too. Some of our people had the the "What if it rains" jitters, but the opposite turned out to be the case, and we built up a decent cash reserve, and that allowed us to do a few things that were interesting, rather than just worrying about who would sell seats.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Folk Venue Committee Rep
Date: 16 Apr 12 - 10:23 AM

Just an update - a friendly phone call worked everything out. The musician in question understood the venue's situation once it was explained and we were able to work out a smaller guarantee that the performer could live with, and one that the committee felt comfortable in offering. I feel confident that, unless some unexpected issue comes up (we're booking almost a year in advance - who knows what might happen, such as a competing event, etc) the performer will exceed their guarantee and will be happy with the gig. Somehow in the email exchange the performer got the idea that we were implying they weren't worth a guarantee, and that wasn't the case at all. And the guarantee they were asking for was pretty high, so we were a bit taken aback. All's well that ends well.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: GUEST,Former Promoter
Date: 16 Apr 12 - 11:18 AM

"Somehow in the email exchange" Ahh, the curse of the modern age!   Good that you got it straightened out, and that, when the dust settled, everyone was reasonable.


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: JedMarum
Date: 16 Apr 12 - 11:36 AM

Good for you! I know it was stated above by someone else, but being as frank and open about the venue's situation and its wishes will always be the best way to handle it. I'm glad it worked out!


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Subject: RE: Guarantees for Musicians
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 16 Apr 12 - 03:36 PM

I've found that e-mail is a great medium for keeping in touch, and for handling logistics, but lousy when it comes to anything touchy or when conflict comes up. Too much potential for misunderstanding. A simple phone call and real human contact is so often better. And sometimes even for logistics, a short phone call can save hours of e-mailing back and forth.

Dan


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