By, Wendy Day (with a nod to Tony Guidry for sharing his promoter experience)
Rap performances are necessary for a healthy music business economy. Artists need to perform and do shows so they can:
+ increase their fan-bases,
+ spread their music to hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of potential fans at once,
+ increase their reach by expanding into new markets,
+ hone their performance skills and develop the best show possible,
+ interact, directly, in-person with fans and potential fans,
+ make money from performances and by selling merchandise and music at shows
Artists make money mostly through touring (going market to market in an orderly fashion, alone or with other similar acts), spot dates (one-off shows), merchandising (selling their logo t-shirts and branded merchandise), endorsements and sponsorships, and music sales–for the most part, in this order. So shows are exceptionally important for artists’ careers. For a newer artist, touring can be the only real income and is in direct proportion to their longevity and career building.
Artists depend on legitimate, experienced concert promoters in cities and towns around the world in order to make money performing and to attract crowds. Additionally, they look to build relationships with promoters to get on key shows in the best cities, and they depend on that relationship to allow them to continue making money when their fame starts to fade later on in their careers, as it eventually does. The relationship cures a host of ills for both artist and promoter.
On the flip side, local promoters depend on artists to:
+ book at a fair price which allows them to make money in their market by bringing in an artist (small or mid level act), + show up when booked,
+ not perform in the same or nearby market with different promoters on different dates that are too close together,
+ have a skilled team of people booking the artist that are professional and communicative, with integrity (meaning no fuck boys in the camp)
+ give a good, if not great, show (if you get high or drunk, party AFTER you work).
When an artist has a song or a mixtape that’s hot, club-goers and fans around the country (or region) are willing to pay money to see the artist perform. Up until about 2005, promoting concerts was fun, lucrative, and beneficial for both the artist and promoter. For example, a promoter in Memphis, TN could book the hottest artist from, say, Atlanta, at a fair price into a local club that holds 1,500 people. Everyone benefitted:
+ the promoter would make money from the door and build his or her reputation as a concert promoter
+ the club would make money from the bar and build up it’s clientele for the slower nights if patrons enjoyed the club’s atmosphere and DJ
+ the artist would make money from merchandise, the show fee (called a guarantee), AND if the artist was a hustler, he or she could make a bunch of cash appearing on verses for other local artists in that area when they get to town– and promote the recent release at the promoter’s expense
+ the fans would get to see a great show and hopefully meet the artists they like in person, close to home
Let’s say the hottest club in Memphis is called The Martini Room (all names have been changed for this example) and it holds 1,500 people comfortably. Let’s say Atlanta-based Rapper Boy has a very hot mixtape and a hot radio single growing at radio around the country. So a Memphis promoter (Tyrone Woods) calls Rapper Boy’s booking agent in Atlanta (he finds his name and contact info on Rapper Boy’s Facebook or Twitter page) and asks about booking a Friday night date six weeks from now on May 10, 2013. He’s told that Rapper Boy is available on that date, and for a 1,500 capacity venue, the guarantee will be $8,000 plus airfare and hotel for four. The promoter feels that price is fair and the venue is available for that date, so he decides to book Rapper Boy for May 10 (the price of any artist is dependent upon type and size of venue, day of the week, holidays, etc).
The booking agent emails a “rider” (performance contract) to Tyrone. Ty signs the agreement, returns it, and wires the booking agent $4,000 to secure the date. He then calls Rapper Boy’s assistant, Mali, as directed by the booking agent, who tells him the four names for booking airfare and hotel rooms. Mali also informs Tyrone that Rapper Boy requires a bonded car service to and from the airport in Memphis, and to and from the venue and hotel. Tyrone books the tickets, hotel rooms, and car service and sends the itinerary to Mali AND to the booking agent. The deal is completed.
Tyrone asks Mali if Rapper Boy can shoot a 15 or 30 second YouTube video saying he’s coming to Memphis on May 10 to The Martini Room at 11pm. Tyrone puts the video on his website, social media, and the club’s website. Tyrone also arranges for Rapper Boy to call into the local radio station a few days before the show for an interview about the upcoming show. Ty puts aside the $4,000 backend payment that will be paid to Rapper Boy in cash before he goes on stage.
In the Rider, it is usually stipulated what the artist needs at the show: it might specify food, beverages, booze, water, snacks, etc. Whatever is stipulated, the promoter will have backstage in the artist’s dressing room. Additionally, the promoter is responsible for properly promoting the show. In this scenario, Tyrone has purchased $2,000 worth of radio ads to run for three weeks prior to May 10, with the heaviest airing during the final 7 days before the show. Tyrone has 5,000 postcards and 500 posters printed for the show and places them anywhere Rapper Boy fans might frequent: college bulletin boards throughout the city, barber shops, urban malls, hip hop gear shops, car audio shops, ‘hood food spots, gambling shacks, clubs, flea markets, record stores, and all high traffic areas in the city. Word spreads quickly because of how hot Rapper Boy is.
The club owner charged Tyrone $3,500 for rental of the club for May 10th and kept 100% of the bar. Tyrone hired 8 security guys ($75 each) and 2 off duty cops ($25/hr for 5 hrs) for a total of $850. He plans to charge $15 for women and $30 for men for regular entry and $40 for 100 VIP area tickets. The posters and postcards cost $800 including the street team to pass them out, the design, and the wristbands and tickets.
On the day of the show, everything went smoothly. The promoter and his team REALLY had gotten the word out and were in the streets heavy while supplementing promotion with Facebook and Twitter. On the 10th of May, the weather was warm and clear (no rain) and 1,146 people attended. Tyrone sold 100 VIP tickets, and gave away 50 free non-VIP tickets: 20 at radio, 20 to media and radio personalities/DJs, and 10 to friends and family. He sold 996 entrance fees, and for ease of math, half were men and half were women.
Here’s the math:
100 VIP tickets $4,000
50 Giveaways $0
498 women $7470
498 men $14,940
Gross sales: $26,410
Rapper Boy $8,000
Posters, postcards and street team $800
Tyrone spent $17,150
Tyrone made $9,260 giving him a 54% return on investment in 5 weeks
This example is more indicative of what occurred when promoting shows prior to 2005. In the past handful of years, the price to book artists has gotten out of hand. But let’s stay on this Rapper Boy example, because this is how it SHOULD be.
Let’s introduce some negativity into our example, because it will give you an inkling of what’s to come later in this article as we discuss the problems in promoting concerts today.
Here’s what can go wrong:
+ Tyrone is a jenky promoter. He doesn’t spend any money on radio ads, and only 70 people show up to the club. Ty loses a lot of money and Rapper Boy looks wack. Rapper Boy turned down other (possibly better) shows to be here.
+ Tyrone doesn’t have the $4,000 back end of Rapper Boy’s money so he never performs. Rapper Boy is dissed as a no show the next day on local Memphis radio and the next time Tyrone promotes a show, folks assume the artist won’t show up. Fans blame Rapper Boy for not performing because they don’t know he didn’t get paid. Both Tyrone and Rapper Boy lose.
+ Tyrone found a guy who knew a guy who was a “booking agent” in Dallas who charged $10,000 for Rapper Boy and then disappeared with the deposit, never actually booking Rapper Boy
+ Rapper Boy’s team is unethical and greedy. He was double booked for May 10–in Memphis and Oakland. On May 8, Tyrone got a call offering Rapper Boy to whichever promoter was the higher bidder. They don’t care that there is a contract. Either Tyrone pays more to save his reputation, or he spends 5 grand with a lawyer to sue.
+ Rapper Boy is a fuck boy and refuses to go on stage unless Tyrone hands him $6,000 instead of $4,000 because his show price went up since he was booked.
+ The club backed out on May 8th because of an incidence of violence last week at another club that scared them, and Tyrone didn’t have a contract. He scrambled to find a new spot at the last minute.
+ Tyrone didn’t hire legitimate security because he felt his boys could do the job or he hired discount security. A fight broke out in the line early in the night, the club got shut down, and Tyrone got sued for damages by everyone: the injured, the club, the artist, etc.
+ Tyrone got greedy and let over 2,000 people in the club (capacity was 1500) and the Fire Marshals shut it down before Rapper Boy performed. The Fire Marshal was alerted by the club’s competition that they were over capacity.
+ Rapper Boy didn’t show up. Tyrone didn’t know the artist’s reputation for not showing up because he didn’t ask around.
+ Tyrone bought Rapper Boy numerous bottles and he was too drunk to go on stage. Or maybe Rapper Boy has a syrup addiction that everyone heard about except Tyrone, and was too high to give a good show. The crowd turned ugly and Tyrone got sued by the injured.
+ Tyrone sent his boy to pick up Rapper Boy at the airport and never paid for the hotel rooms. Drama ensued.
+ Rapper Boy sat on the $8000 offer for a few weeks to see if he would get a better offer for that date and Tyrone chose another artist to book for May 10.
+ Rapper Boy charges $20,000 for a show, pricing him out of the smaller markets and affecting his income and reach (fans in the smaller markets never get to see him).
+ Tyrone’s bootleg security let over 200 people in the side door and pocketed that money. Tyrone lost at least $6,000.
+ Rapper Boy’s booking staff is inept or overwhelmed (usually inept people do get easily overwhelmed). They don’t return phone calls, drop the ball with clients in the middle of the process, or tell promoters to ‘fax us an offer’ which most legitimate promoters won’t do.
+ Tyrone found out after his show that other promoters had gotten Rapper Boy for $6,500. Ty felt cheated and never booked Rapper Boy again.
Once an artist becomes a superstar, the larger booking agencies and venues take over the concerts. This is why you rarely see Jay Z or Eminem doing a spot date outside of their established touring cycle. They are usually booked at stadiums, with other acts, by the bigger booking agencies like William Morris, CAA, LiveNation, and ICM.
This leaves the newer acts ($500 to $15,000) and mid-level acts ($15,000 to $80,000) to the local promoters and major venue owners (instead of LiveNation, House of Blues, or AEG). At the higher booking fees, most promoters get priced out of the market. For example, a rap superstar books for $250,000 (plus travel) but at that price, a promoter needs a venue that holds a minimum of 10,000 to 12,000 to profit from that type of show. There aren’t a lot of larger capacity venues available to book for rap acts, sadly, and those that do book rap acts tend to be costly with a list of rules and insurance requirements that are prohibitive.
To build the career of a newer artist, that artist must tour–get out in front of the people and do shows (usually for free until they build up their drawing power). If all of the promoters for the lower priced shows are forced out of the marketplace because new, unsigned artists are charging $20,000 a show, newer artists will need to promote their own shows (which is costly and a lot of work).
Unfortunately, the earlier examples of what can go wrong for an artist or promoter are real life examples. Around 2006, things started to go horribly wrong for concerts. Artists began to raise their prices drastically. They did this for many reasons:
+ 360 Deals forced artists to share 25% to 50% of show income with their record labels and rather than take the loss, the artists raised their prices by the shared amount
+ The number of jenky promoters increased so artists priced themselves high enough that if they didn’t receive their backend, they’d still make their desired price. And if the promoter actually paid the backend, what artist would complain about receiving more money?
+ The cost of doing business as a rapper increases with success. Artists need insurance (for protection against lawsuits), bigger and better hotel rooms, limousines, etc for larger travel parties and entourages. These additional costs are passed on to the promoter inside of the show price.
+ The amount of successful rappers in the mid-level price range has reduced, driving up the value of the few with hot music. Additionally, as the fewer hot artists became in demand, the economics of supply and demand came into effect, pricing many promoters out of the marketplace. Even today, the $500 to $20,000 range of popular acts is almost non-existent.
+ Most rappers are from bigger cities and can pack clubs in the bigger cities, so when they are booked in a smaller city, they still expect to get the same price. Why book a show in Albany GA for $25,000 when the artist can get $55,000 in Atlanta on that same date?
+ Many inexperienced promoters and guys with street money came into the industry blatantly overpaying for their favorite acts without a concern for profit. Ego and flossing outweighed return on investment.
+ With the rise of the Internet, anyone can claim to be a booking agent. Up popped a slew of con men, grafters, and middlemen who book any artist at an inflated price. Greedy artists do not care who books them (no loyalty to the professional experienced booking agents), so they tell anyone and everyone ‘I charge this set price, and whatever you get above that is yours.’ It’s not hard to figure out what happens there: an onslaught of “booking agents” saying ‘make us an offer for any of the artists on our roster!’ These bottom feeders only care about their booking fee and have no interest in the artist or his career, the show, or the promoter. Bad business is rampant! Just this week alone, I’ve received twenty or so emails from booking agents listing their “roster” and prices that run 10% to 25% above the rates I received from artists’ representatives.
While it’s awesome to see rappers making as much money as possible, what’s not awesome is seeing them priced out of smaller markets and smaller venues where they can increase their fanbase. If rappers only tour in larger cities, fans in smaller cities will turn to other artists and other genres of music that come through their towns.
For example, below is a list of the APPROXIMATE prices for artists (this is not meant to be an exact price list, but a ballpark of booking prices as of March 2013):
Meek Mill $50,000 plus travel (airfare and hotel rooms) for 7
Yo Gotti $35,000 plus sound (about $3500), plus airfare for 2, and 6 hotel rooms
2Chainz $85,000 plus travel
Future $45,000 plus travel for 4 or 5
Cash Out $11,000 plus travel for 4
Wale $40,000 plus travel
Trinidad James $25,000 plus 5 Delta plane tickets & 5 hotel rooms
Wiz Khalifa $100,000 plus travel for 15
Kendrick Lamar $100,000 plus travel
Scooter $15,000 plus travel
B.O.B. $75,000 plus travel for 5
Webbie $12,000 plus travel
Young Jeezy $70,000 plus travel
Rick Ross $90,000 plus travel
Chief Keef $20,000 plus travel (absolutely no walk throughs)
French Montana $35,000 plus travel
MGK $18,000 plus travel
Rocko $20,000 plus travel
Travis Porter $10,000 plus travel
Gucci Mane $25,000 plus travel
The less hot an artist is, the lower their price is. Prices rise and fall based on potential draw. If there is hype in the marketplace, a hot single, and/or music dropping (mixtape or official label release) the price increases quickly.
I watched 2Chainz go from $8,000 at Christmas 2011; to $12,000 in February 2012; to $35,000 in April 2012; to $50,000 for July 3rd, 2012 (holidays are usually higher in price); to $85,000 in February 2013. This is awesome for building wealth, but prices him out of the smaller markets like Albany GA, Gainesville FL, Lake Charles LA, etc.
The way some slick promoters try to get artists cheaper is when they hear a show is being advertised nearby (60 miles away), they book the artist for the night before or the night after for a “walk through” at a club and then give him or her some extra money on the spot to perform a song or two. Most rappers comply as no one knows the transaction took place–not the manager or label. It becomes pocket money for the artist. So for example, and this is NOT an actual example, Young Jeezy might perform in Baton Rouge on a Wednesday night for $70,000. A promoter in Lafayette, 60 miles away, might book him for a club walk through on Thursday night for $35,000. Upon arrival, $10,000 in cash might convince him to perform that night in Lafayette. If this was a real example, the Lafayette promoter would have gotten a show for $45,000 instead of $70,000.
On the artist’s side, out of the guarantee, he pays a weekly paycheck to the road manager and security that travel with him, and possibly the hype man and DJ. The booking agent gets 10% of the guarantee. The artist’s manager gets 20% of the total income. If there’s a 360 Deal in place, the artist pays out that percentage. The IRS gets 20% to 30% of the income less accepted expenses and the artist’s accountant might make 5% for handling all the accounting and taxes. By the time the artist arrives back home, his performance fee could have been whittled down to half or 25% of the guarantee by these necessary expenses.
I would like to think that artists have long term vision regarding their careers and price themselves accordingly. For example, if an artist is charging $25,000 and is working only on Friday and Saturday nights each week, I’d hope they’d have the foresight (or their team does) to charge a lower price on week nights and in smaller markets so the artist is working 5 or 6 days a week. On Friday and Saturday nights, they might be in front of 3,000 attendees, but by adding in the smaller venues, they might be in front of 7,000 potential fans per week–this impacts their merchandise sales, music sales, popularity, and therefore branding opportunities. The more popular an artist is, nationally, the more likely corporate sponsors are to step in to fund tours or endorsement deals.
A rapper is lucky if he gets a 2 to 3 year run of success following the release of a good project with 2 or 3 hit singles. Building relationships with promoters and booking agents during the flush months can often get an artist booked when he’s less in demand. People tend to look out for those they like and with whom they have good relationships. It would behoove any former high priced artist to be able to book $5,000 to $10,000 shows a few times a week when they are no longer hot. The way to secure that is to not gouge promoters when the artist is hot, and to pick one or two legitimate, professional booking agents and remain loyal during the good years so they will look out in the lean years. It’s really common sense. No one remains hot indefinitely. And loyalty is often rewarded; greed never is.
One last point I want to make (and I realize this is a long article, but it’s so important!) is the lack of hot artists in the $500 to $5,000 range. One of the ways that I have personally built awareness for brand new artists is to have them promote their own shows utilizing bigger artists (just a bit bigger) in that more affordable price range, and then they can open for that artist. When I was working with Cash Money while shopping their deal with Universal, we set up a tour through the south and Midwest. We chose Three 6 Mafia because they were affordable and had a similar fanbase. The Cash Money artists opened for Three 6 on the tour. Today, that would be difficult to do because there are so few artists in that $5,000 range who are well known enough to anchor a show and attract audiences. Back in the day, a new artist could book Boosie and Webbie for $5,000–even Boosie right before he went to prison was charging only $12,000 but he had shows EVERY night and was hitting EVERY type of market, large and small.
But today, if a new artist wants to promote shows, and chooses a regional artist with one hot song, the cost to promote that show could be $10,000 to $35,000 just for the artist. Yet that artist may not be hot enough to pack that club or at least break even (forget trying to make a return on investment). So to stick to our former example, if Rapper Boy decides he wants to promote his own show in Macon GA (an hour south of Atlanta) and bring Cash Out ($11,000), Young Scooter ($25,000), or Trinidad James ($25,000)–all of whom are new artists without catalog (they are artists with one or two hot records), Rapper Boy will need to invest a minimum of $25k to $36k just in this one show in one market. That’s a high price to open for one show, especially since Rapper Boy has no guarantee he will make his money back.
The concert promotions industry has changed drastically. Artists used to have access to a “chitlin circuit” of small clubs in small markets throughout the country, mostly in the south. Today, this doesn’t exist. Smaller clubs and smaller promoters have been forced out of the market for a variety of reasons. If we keep this bullshit up, pretty soon artists will only be performing in the Top 10 cities around the country and concerts will all be controlled by one concert promotion company. This will effectively kill rap and rappers’ careers leaving the live show market to EDM artists whose greed hasn’t gotten out of hand yet.