Crowdfunding the tour: pre-selling shows before you book them

Having had stellar success funding her album and video with Kickstarter, musician Kim Boekbinder set out on tour, only to find that some of her gigs were barely attended. After playing to 18 people in Portland, OR, she decided that she needed to use the same tools that pre-funded her album and video to pre-book her tours. Her plan is something like Upcoming.org's facility for fans to register their desire for a show in their town, and her description of the whys and wherefores is great tonic for people wondering about the relationship between performers and their audiences:

There is no "Making It" or rather, this is making it. Right here, where I am, with my small but dedicated fan base holding me aloft while I drift through the detritus of an imploding music industry that never did a thing for me yet still manages to get in my way. I'm a modern musician with modern tools trying to navigate an old broken system; a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label which would either make or destroy them; a system which drove a wedge between fans and their music, musicians and their audiences; a system that forgot that the entire reason it existed was to facilitate the experience of art...

What I do know is that I can start my own system. I can use the tools of communication, networking, and technology to help my fan base be part of my art. I pre-sold my album to fund the recording and now I'm pre-selling shows before I even book them so that I can come and play for my fans wherever they want me to play.

Since launching my first pre-sold show four days ago I've gotten letters from venues, fans, and musicians, all thanking me for such a great idea. I wasn't sure it would work, but my first show got funded in 24 hours and I'm still selling tickets. And everyone is excited. Jill Tracy said it should have always been this way. Rosanne Cash called me a genius. I'm ecstatic that I get to put on an amazing concert in New York without worrying how many people will show up. I already know my audience size and can book the appropriate venue. My fans are excited because they get to help me make the show happen. Other musicians are excited because they see how this kind of innovation can work for themselves.

GUEST INFORMANT: Kim Boekbinder (via JWZ)

26

  1. NuevoStage is doing roughly the same thing. http://www.nuevostage.com/ They won the prize at the Rethink Music conference, which had Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (among others) working on their 8 songs in 8 hours project.

    1. this is always what happens when you ask an artist to explain what they’re doing. stop asking so many questions and just look at it, or listen to it. you can dissect it into meaninglessness, you can like it or hate it, just don’t go and ruin it for people who are enjoying it.

  2. Pan Sonic did it in 2002 (?)

    “After the 2001 release of Aaltopiiri, Pan sonic embarked on an unusual world tour based on two adverts in The Wire magazine. Responders – either promoters or fans or anyone who is curious – had to convince them that their location was exotic and interesting to perform in and the only stipulation was that they had to provide accommodation and a percentage of the profits (if they were made for that night). So the group toured in many different locations all around the world for eight weeks.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kesto_(234.48:4)

  3. Wow, this woman is insufferably high on herself.

    What she’s doing is not radical. If she’s “famous” then there should be advance ticket sales which is what guarantees your audience. If 18 people are showing up, the promoter is not doing his/her job, and if she’s “famous” she should be asking for a guarantee to cover to her costs and further motivate the promoter to make sure that room wasn’t empty.

    What this woman is doing is selling advance tickets for an event that doesn’t exist, which has the potential for shadiness. Although I applaud the intent to tweak the live show model in favour of something more risk-adverse, the risk that she was assuming here (and is typically assumed by start-up bands) should have been placed on the promoter. What she’s doing instead is moving to burden of risk to the fans who are paying for a show without a guarantee that it will happen or where it will happen. Pre-selling without a secured venue means that revenue isn’t be ratioed with expenses, so tickets could be overpriced or the venue rental and fees could exceed the revenue intake. She may only pull in enough ticket sales to play a small venue with bad sound, which if a ticket buyer knew would’ve opted out of, for example. This is also geared to playing only to established fans, not making new ones.

    And just because I have to say it, Ms. Boekbinder, that’s always been what making it was. Always. I’ll stop now before this turns into a rant.

    1. The way I understand it, they aren’t doing all of the available ticketing by presell, so they aren’t limiting themselves to just the existing fans. They seem to be offering the pre-sale tickets to make sure that the existing fans are there and ready to pay enough to cover the costs of making the trip, promoting the show, etc., but still selling any remaining tickets to new fans. Sort of like how if a musician funds their album with kickstarter, the fans that fund it are certain to get a copy (and often some sort of extra perk), but the album is still going to be on sale to the public at large after that,too.

    2. I think you’re missing the point. This is pre-selling but allows for the sales to determine the space. Then the artist, Kim in this case, is taking on the responsibility of securing an appropriate space.

      As has been already mentioned, promoters in the US really don’t exist unless it’s part of a label or if it’s a large enough club to support a full time promoter. As for guarantees, if you are an artist that wants to support their followers and play in many places across the US, then requiring a guarantee is s sure way to not play many clubs no matter who you are.

      I have seen many great artists, Kim included, put on wonderful shows with all of the energy and passion for their craft that they can muster to only a handful of people. Why is this done? Because they are professionals who appreciate everyone that shows up to support them and that appreciation shows.

      I applaud this model and I believe it’s a start to bringing the audience into the process as it makes everyone there a mini-executive-producer with at least an emotional stake in the show.

      Note that the cost is the same as a ticket but as there isn’t a venue until the numbers can be established then “pre-sales” are out of the question.

      Great job Kim!

    3. Sparkdale,

      I am going to go out on a limb and guess you are not a musician or any other kind of independent artist trying to make it. The music industry for years has been the gatekeeper of who gets to be “famous” and earn a living making their art. What this means is most people don’t make a living.

      Kim and a thousand other talented people are driven by their passion to produce something beautiful for all to hear. They also need to feed themselves. It is extremely expensive to tour and quite frustrating to get there and find the club empty. There is no promoter. You are relying on word of mouth, posters, fans from the area.

      In the end it often becomes impossible to produce your art and continue to struggle paying the rent. When this happens we all lose. The world is not a better place if talented artist stop producing. The music industry (and many others) is littered with the dead careers of a lot of talented people.

      Kim isn’t full of herself she is trying to break out of the box. Make art and not starve. Not allow the gatekeeper to decide because she isn’t “famous” she doesn’t get to make it. You finished by saying, “that’s always been what making it was. Always.” What I am saying to you is the way it has always been has deprived the world of a lot of great art. Change is not bad. Especially when the change happening is the wrestling of the rules away from corporations deciding what art we get to experience.

  4. Chris Hardwick had a comic on his Nerdist podcast early last year that books this way, and I think even w00tstock was doing this before they really got a solid base in a number of cities.

    You can take the pessimist view and say that this is bad for the fans, but if an artist that is popular with a small number of people never ever gets to perform, and eventually stop performing for lack of supposed popularity, everyone loses.

    1. That comic was most likely the very funny Paul F Tompkins (@PFTompkins) who started a program called the Paul F Tompkins 300. The way it worked was, you create a Facebook group in your city, asking Paul to do a show there. You get 300 people to say they will buy tickets and he books a show. The nice change from this musician’s method is that you didn’t have to prepay, so if he ended up performing on a night you couldn’t make it, you weren’t on the hook for the ticket price.

      In any case, this doesn’t seem terribly new given the other examples of pre-selling shows other commenters have mentioned, and while venues may not promote bands’ shows, isn’t that what managers are for?

      1. The bands that this system would be the most useful for are the kind that can’t/shouldn’t be paying for a real manager. The bands that can afford that are bands that have label support and are already booking and be promoted well through the traditional system. They don’t need the pre-sells. They run a lot less risk when they book. If Metallica books a show, for one, the likely is extremely low that only a dozen people will show up, and also they aren’t so broke that if by some chance only a dozen people did show up, they won’t be worrying about how they’re going to have enough gas to get back home. They don’t have the same worries as more budget conscious and newer acts. They do just fine with the old system.

        This new idea is for the bands that are unsigned or on tiny independent labels. And that’s a LOT of bands. Sure, TV and big media seem to focus a lot on big signed bands so it sometimes seems that’s what the music scene is made of, like there’s the A-list bands selling out great big venues and the garage bands that play the occasional show at the local dive. But there’s a whole spectrum of bands in-between. Bands that are still working day jobs but tour a little when they can on their vacations and on the weekends. Bands that have taken the next step and are trying to make ends meet living out of their vans on the road. Bands that are just barely making a name for themselves on small labels. Bands that are under-represented by bigger labels. There’s a lot of room for being small enough that nearly everything you make off of your art is going back into keeping it going and keeping gas in the tank to get to the next gig and not even being able to CONSIDER being able to pay to employ someone to help manage and promote you. Tons of artists are doing it all themselves.

  5. Marillion fans did this in 1997, setting up a ‘tour fund’ for the band to play the United States. Fans were later rewarded with an ‘official bootleg’ of the show in Rochester. In 2000, the British prog band was also the first to get their fans to advance-fund a new record when they didn’t have a label. The result, ‘Anoraknophobia’ led to more touring and a record deal for the band, who are still ‘in business’ as a result

  6. sparkdale Just so you know, the promoter never does their job in the U.S., it’s very rare for a promoter in the U.S. at least at the level Kim is at to participate in promoting the show, unless its a fan house concert kind of thing. Clubs expect you to do everything. Including your own press. It is not like this in Europe as much where you have one promoter working you for several clubs. There it feels much more like an actual business arrangement. So may of my peers make their living touring in Europe and skipping the U.S. because of shit like this. It’s very expensive and hard to tour here, the clubs don’t want to pay you, hell, the clubs are barely surviving themselves. If this works then more power to Kim for finding a unique way to survive. She works really hard.

  7. sxip said it right (both sxip and kim are colleagues and friends) and i do concur having navigated the bullshit club system here in the US for many years. in fact, i just cancelled a summer tour for many of the aforementioned reasons.

    there is so much amazing talent in the US (touring or just local), banging their heads, that any new idea is welcome. kim’s idea is super and if one is to start speculating that some people will use the model to rip others off, then wft. kim will do this, tweak it, get it right or the model fails.

    capitalism hasn’t proved any different and it still seems to garner all sorts of respect.

  8. This is a great idea. When I was a musician, I would have loved that option. It’s a great safety net. And it also allows fans in places an artist might not have guessed was worth risking the trip to visit to have a chance at putting their money where there mouth is and luring acts to play there. Things like social networking have been somewhat helpful in seeing some places that you have support that you might not have guessed. But people “liking” or becoming your “fan” doesn’t necessarily equal paying customers turning up at the show.
    I could also see this system helping bands that are having trouble marketing themselves to clubs get their foot in the door places that wouldn’t have necessarily booked them otherwise. If you can show that you can pre-sell a lot of tickets to a show at a venue, the club owner doesn’t have to worry about taking a risk booking you. They don’t want to book an act (especially if they are paying a guarantee) and then it turns out the band doesn’t have the following in the area they thought they did, so the club doesn’t make much at the door or off of drink sales. They can know that you have that many people already committed monetarily if you pre-sell some tickets.

  9. it’s just a shame that artists have to do this separately and individually. There are hundreds of events I would attend should they happen in my town, and the idea of telling each group separately through their own system is daunting. It’d be nice if last.fm or some similar pre-existing community tool expanded to accommodate kickstarter-like booking.

    I also think that a show coming together from something like this would be a little more special than the current system. I’ve been to a few record-release shows for kickstartered records, and it’s always felt a little more friendly and relaxed than your average show.

  10. I think sparksdale didn’t just miss the point, but apparently doesn’t even understand what’s being discussed. :)

  11. This is a fascinating idea. Trying to find a way to utilize new tools in a way that makes financial and artistic sense is always going to be worth a true. I’m not convinced that this will work below a certain level of fame, but it seems to be right in Kim’s wheelhouse. The internet revolutionized the distribution of recorded music and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be used to the fullest to change the way we think about setting up live performances.

    If I were running a venue, I’d love this sort of thing.

    Also, do you know how hard it is to have this discussion without using the words “Amanda Palmer?”

    1. You’re totally right about it being awesome from a venue owner’s perspective, and that extends to being awesome for live music lovers. Here in my small city, we’ve recently seen several bars that used to have live music every weekend stop having live bands because of the uncertainty. They got burned enough times booking bands that promoted themselves poorly or overestimated their fanbase in the area and ended up having to pay the bands to play to a nearly empty house (hence no money coming in from drink sales). They got tired of the risk. They gave it a try to stick with the same handful of bands that always drew a big profitable crowd, which ended up boring the audience. People didn’t turn up to see the same acts every weekend the way they did when there was more variety. So the bar lost customers to venues that were still running the risk to bring some variety. In the end, the bar owners couldn’t see any solution but to stop offering live music at all and try some other draw that wasn’t as risky (indoor horseshoes,pool,karaoke etc). So now all the musicians that would have loved to play those clubs and fans that would have loved more live music options to see are out of luck.

      If a bar owner could use that system as their booking policy, that if you want to play here, you’re going to need to have sold X amount of tickets in advance to get booked, then they could book a wide variety of acts fairly risk free. Maybe in big cities where there’s tons of clubs with live entertainment, it wouldn’t be a big deal for the fans, but in small/medium cities where there aren’t that many clubs to begin with, keeping live music happening is a BIG deal.

  12. i love kim, but let’s not act like sparkdale doesn’t have a point. kim has been awesome in all her promotions, but i wouldn’t trust most of the musicians i know to pull this off. i not saying this isn’t a good thing, it is, let’s change the game and make things interesting again.

    the real negative, for kim, is that unless she’s renting a bar or something there is a minimal chance of reaching any new fans.

    1. you don’t trust that musicians will be ABLE to pull it off, or you think they might just take your money and not actually put the show on?

  13. she should build herself a venue and make her fans travel to see her.
    i think that would satisfy her tremendously.

  14. @sparkdale has valid points, but they relate to how the business currently is and not how is either should be, or less myopically, how it could be. I’d definitely watch this space.

  15. nyone can crowdfund a project, but not everyone can collect. Less than half of all Kickstarter projects reach their funding goals and those that fall short receive no money from their would be-backers.

Comments are closed.