Stop putting yourself out of a job

The inspiration behind my record labels feature for Collapse Board was a perception that some labels are losing sight of how to run their business. This intriguing feature at Scribd highlights how music venues are falling into the same trap.

What this excellent piece, entitled Why LA Club Owners Are Totally Lost and Some Advice for Them from a Professional Musician, sets out are not just my own take on it – “if you’re expecting me to do all this, then precisely what the f*** are you there for?” – but how self-destructive this behaviour is. 

I was thinking earlier about making a will, and deciding whether to go to our regular law firm, or whether to download a DIY kit that comes free with our home insurance policy. The dilemma is that the very reason for employing a law firm is not for the documents but their expertise. Sure, you can do it yourself, but can you do as good a job as a professional?

What are you, as a label owner, offering that a DIY service can’t provide? You’re offering a 50/50 split but demanding that the band do their own marketing – or they could go to The GenePool and get 90% of digital sales and just pay a one-off fee for the marketing.

As promoters give the bands a wadge of tickets and flyers and tell them to get the punters in, the promoter’s own role becomes blurry. The bands could get so used to doing the legwork for their own gigs that next time they just club together the venue hire costs themselves and eliminate the promoter altogether.

I’d go further than the article and suggest that this isn’t just bad for bands and venues but prevents momentum building up to sustain local music scenes. In a thriving environment, gig-goers will collect a flyer at each show listing the next concerts at the venue, and there will be a thread pulling the audience back again and again. You don’t usually get that with venue listings. Looking at the nearest one to me, I can book tickets for Joan Baez, Matt Cardle, and Peppa Pig’s Treasure Hunt. If I reeeeeally hunt around the local listings, I can find out that Three Trapped Tigers are playing next month. Gary Numan is playing at another venue on another date. If they had been from the same promoter, there could be a flyer listing both gigs so that fans going to one show would know about the other. That’s less likely to happen when the audience is made up of people that the band brought themselves. There’s no cross-marketing involved.

There were some music promoters in my youth who would be putting on a gig every week, and I’d pin their sturdy cardboard flyers up as a wallplanner to remind me where I’d be each weekend. Just like there were some labels – 4AD, Mute, Wax Trax!, Creation – where you could more or less pick any act at random from their roster and know that you’d enjoy it. You don’t get that continuity when you’re forcing everyone to DIY. You don’t encourage people to take a risk on a gig or record they don’t know because of the last one they loved.

Yes, times are hard right now, so the best way to stay in business is to think about where you add value. What can you do that the other person can’t do themselves? People will pay for your expertise, your time, and your energy – but you have to be willing to provide it.

Now is not the time to be lazy.



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