Booked: How your favorite bands choose the venues they play

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The Turf Club in St. Paul // Photo by Nate Ryan, MPR

It’s also part of a booker’s job to agree with the band’s agent on financial terms for the gig. Typically, a touring artist is guaranteed a certain sum for playing the show, with a share of additional revenues if ticket sales exceed a certain agreed-upon number. Often with local artists, venues like the Cedar will make a simpler deal that entails a straightforward “door split”: dividing total ticket revenue at an agreed percentage, however many tickets are sold.

As with movie theaters, music venues make a critical share of their revenue from sales of refreshments—for music venues, that particularly means refreshments of the liquid variety. “We make the majority of our money off bar sales,” says Flasher. “So getting people into the room is step one. That’s not our main goal, but it’s the most obvious goal.”

Sometimes bands’ touring plans are in flux, so venues like First Avenue have a system of ranked “holds” on the spaces to help decide who will have the opportunity to play a room—and who has next dibs if an artist has to release a hold before signing a contract.

“Whoever reaches out first,” explains Flasher, “gets the first hold. It builds like that for second, third, fourth, fifth hold—and then whatever band who’s holding gets to the point in the conversation where we agree on an offer, we go through the list with a process called ‘challenging’ for the date.”

Here’s how that works. “Say the band is the fourth hold,” Flasher continues. “I’m going to go to the first, second, and third hold and say, hey, this band is challenging your hold on this date. Can you please let us know if you want to take the date or not? Usually they have 24 hours to either confirm the date for themselves or release the date.”

Music in the Zoo returns to the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater for a 24th year this summer // Photo by Kevin Gilmore

Music in the Zoo at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater // Photo by Kevin Gilmore

What about the rest of the bill? That varies, depending on whether a band is touring with its own support or looking for local openers. “One of the things I’ll ask,” says Flasher, “before I send the offer is, ‘[Should I] budget extra money for local bands, or will you be carrying your own support on this tour?’

“If they aren’t carrying their own support,” continues Flasher, “I’ll reach out to a number of local bands in town and see who’s available and interested. I’ll submit three or four bands to the booking agent, who will then pass those along to either the band themselves or the band’s management. We’ll decide who makes most sense.”

In fact, says Evenson, a good way for a local artist to get booked at a venue they’re aiming to play is to propose themselves as openers for an upcoming touring artist. “It’s always great to have them reach out about specific shows—the more specific the better.”

A booker’s job isn’t particularly glamorous, admits Flasher. “Most of my day is sitting in front of a computer—typing e-mails, answering phones, checking Facebook. It’s kind of a desk job.”

Still, for people who love music, a job working with artists and venues can be incredibly rewarding. “Every day poses a different challenge,” says Preston, “and you end up learning new things along the way. You can be in this business for 20, 30, 50 years and still there’s new stuff that you’re learning.”


Editor’s note: This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and 89.3 The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.

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