Saturday, April 18, 2009

8. Economics (unedited)

I've seen three performances by artists from the hair band era so far this year. Increasingly I wonder how the economics of their live shows work.

We'll start with Mr. Hair Plug, Bret Michaels. His band, Poison, sold a ton of records and had a lot of MTV hits back in the day. After spending much of the 90s out of the spotlight, they reunited and found a way to market their nostalgia act. They do a good job of it. They limit their gigs to summer concerts and have packaged their product in different ways over the years, and wisely so. Michaels has taken to performing as a solo act in recent years, and thanks to some VH1 genius who saw the potential of Michaels as the star of a poor man's version of "The Bachelor," his solo show is generating more cash than ever, or than it should be.

A few weekends ago I saw L.A. Guns at a glorified bar in the far north metro. This band has made a habit of playing gigs in Minnesota more than once per year, thanks, perhaps, to the fact that their management firm is based in St. Paul. L.A. Guns did okay back in the day, but they're not nearly as memorable, or weren't nearly as beloved, as Poison.

Let's pretend that their show from a month ago sold out all 500+ tickets at $12-$15. To keep it simple, we'll assume 500 tickets were sold at the "door" price of $15. That means the bar sold $7,500 worth of tickets. How much does the bar pay the band to play? Given the band doesn't tour the country like it back in the day, it typically books weekend tours, playing two to three shows over a weekend in one area. The band is based in Los Angeles, so a three-night stint anywhere else in the country means travel. I have no idea how the band travels, but it has been suggested the band flies into an area, then travels be vehicle to each destination before returning to the airport.

You have airfare, car rental, hotel and food costs for that weekend. And although the band doesn't have an entourage traveling with it, there are support people with the band. And where does the equipment come from? Assuming the band received the $7,500 in ticket sales as its performance fee, (therefore leaving the bar relying upon drink sales for its income that night,) is that enough to make it worth all the time, effort and expense to travel for a three-day run in the midwest?

By the way, even if the bar "sold out," as I was told, there weren't 500 people there. And as is often the case, there were likely a percentage of people in the bar who did not pay $12 or $15 to be there. So I doubt the bar took in $7,500 in ticket sales, and I doubt the band was paid that much. I'm a bit puzzled by how the economics of that show work.

And if you think that's perplexing, let's look at the BulletBoys. L.A. Guns has a small, but loyal fan base. I'm not sure there are more than five people in the country who would call themselves die-hard BulletBoys fans.

So on a Friday night in late February, the BulletBoys headlined a show at a venue that would have been laughed at by the Bulletboys back in the day. That show would have cost me $10 had I not "won" tickets from a local radio station.

If more than 200 people paid $10 to see the band, I'm surprised. That means the bar sold $2,000 worth of tickets. I can promise you the bar wasn't delusional enough to expect the BulletBoys to generate $5,000 in ticket sales, so I can only assume they didn't pay the BulletBoys $5,000. The BulletBoys just can't command that kind of money, so how can they afford to tour?

Not only did they play in the Twin Cities on a Friday night, they played in Mankato the night before. Mankato, a college town about 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities. The youngest of those college students weren't even born when the BulletBoys released their first CD. Most of them probably couldn't tell you one thing about the BulletBoys. And while there are probably a few tired, aged headbangers from back in the day lurking around Mankato, I can't honestly think the BulletBoys are drawing more than 100 people in Mankato on a Thursday night.

And unlike L.A. Guns, BulletBoys are on an extended tour of clubs around the U.S., as if they're a hot commodity with a product to sell. They have no new material, they have no die-hard fans, they're lucky to playing anywhere in Minnesota. A good local band will draw more than the BulletBoys will in Minneapolis, I guarantee it.

Yet 20 years after their debut, the lead singer and three anonymous dudes are getting paid something to perform in Minnesota. Somebody please explain that one to me.

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