How To Get Paid Part 3 – Live

Tom's 60th Birthday Gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire

Photos from Tom’s 60th Birthday gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Roger Goodgroves

This is such a fundamentally f**king obvious part of an artist’s career that I am in complete incomprehension as to how or even why I hear so much grumbling from promoters about artists and vice versa. It is really simple, you put bums on seats, you get booked again. It is your duty as an artist to make every show as good as possible and do your damndest to fill it. If you’re playing every week to five people and you’re pissed off, get over it. Either your set is not good enough or you’re playing too often for the size of your fanbase.

I come at this from all sides. I have played everywhere in London, from every indie toilet to the Brit Awards. I have rigged, engineered and promoted gigs from 50 seaters to the likes of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Albert Hall. One thing I know is the type of artist I want to work with. So singer songwriters out there who turn up all fluffy like, an hour late, having forgotten their guitar lead, with no fans to support them and expect the promoter to be grateful… go home. It’s not cute. Really it isn’t. And just to emphasise the point, the pictures above are from Tom’s 60th gig. We squeezed in 8 bands, numerous guests and stage re-rigs and came in 4 minutes early on curtain down with no gaps in the program. This was only possible because of the consumate professionalism of all the artists taking part, one very organised stage manager (Thanks Kirsty), some shit hot engineers and a lot of planning.

This part of the industry is like a whole ecosystem in itself. Promoters, agents, bands and their managers all vying for attention in a very crowded market. The theory however is simple: Band + Venue + Audience = Gig.

So rant over, how do you make some dosh?

Alice Gun - David VIner - Al Mobbs - John Cheeseman

Self promoting

I am a big fan of this method. You hire a venue, engineer, take care of ticketing and book other acts to play alongside you. I would urge every artist to try this at least once because at the very least it will help you empathise about being a promoter and how much work it is. Practically if you were to hire a 200 capacity indie venue in London it shouldn’t cost you more than £200 including engineer. So pull in 200 people at £5 a ticket and you’re running at £800 profit to distribute back to the artists including yourself. And if you don’t want to go it alone why not get together with a couple of other bands and share the risk. If you want to run a free event you might be able to do a deal with the venue owner on the bar takings. Really utilise the social networks of anybody who’s involved in the night. I use to sell my tickets online. And try and sell it out in advance as that creates a real buzz and helps you not get stressed on the night itself!


Why would you want to work with a promoter especially if they’re going to take a majority of the door? For starters they take the risk. It’s on their reputation that they have the venue. They run the budget, pay for promotion, door staff and engineer. And because they’re doing it every week they can build a name for their night, which if it is a good one well help your band if you play it. Promoters have different ways of paying artists. It might be a straight fee regardless of audience, a share of ticket sales or for free if the night has enough kudos to help you other ways. Watch out for Pay-To-Play nights. That’s just not right. Be nice to promoters; try to see things from their point of view. Do your job and let them do theirs.


Agents put artists together with promoters and take a percentage (around 10%) of the artist’s cut.

Do you need an agent?

Agent’s can introduce you to new promoters and expand your reach. If you are a successful band you probably won’t have time to deal with booking gigs so an agent can do this for you.

How do I get an agent?

From what I can garner you can’t ‘get’ an agent, they come to you.

Sound Engineers

These dudes can make or break your show so be nice! They are often not paid enough, usually have to turn around a bazillion ungrateful bands in not enough time AND provide that idiot singer songwriter with a spare lead because they’re too inconsiderate to think about other people. Trust me, if you have ever tried engineering a gig it’s both stressful and difficult. And remember the sound out front isn’t the same as what it sounds like on stage so you’ll have to trust your engineer. Good ones are like gold dust so stay in touch if you can.

Engineer rules for artists

1. Turn up on time
2. Buy them a pint, a cup of tea, Jaeger bomb, whatever floats their boat
3. Provide them in advance AND again on the day with a tech rider and stage plan (see below)
4. Say thank you
5. When you sound check, do it quickly. This is not time for last minute rehearsal so pick two songs in advance that cover the whole range of your sound and every instrument and mic you’re going to use.
6. Say thank you again
7. When you have played get your shit off the stage as fast as possible. There is plenty of time to bask in your glorious set when you AND your gear are off the stage
8. Say thank you

An example of a stage plan…

Again there’s much more I could say but I guess my point is try and think about things from everybody else’s point of view. Share kit where you can to save money, say thank you and be nice. It’s a small world and dickheads don’t get very far in it. Follow these rules and if your music’s any good, you should start to get paid.

If you want to read more of this sort of thing check out my other articles here and a great gigging solo guide written by Tom here

Next time: How To Get Paid Part 4 – Merch, Sync, karma and the rest.


I am a player, producer, label boss and staunch supporter of the independent community. In the interests of transparency, should I post any of my own material, my labels are Ambiguous Records and CRC Music. I am also on the board of AIM which is the trade body that looks after all the UK Independent labels. Read More...


  1. Tom

    Well said Al: “If you’re playing every week to five people and you’re pissed off, get over it. Either your set is not good enough or you’re playing too often for the size of your fanbase.” True dat.

    Only thing I’d add to all this is the importance of music/merchandise sales when you play live. As I mentioned elsewhere, you can afford to accept a gig fee of zero – so long as you’re likely to play a great set to a full house and can sell CDs afterwards.

    Also well-said on gigs where they expect you you Pay To Play. It IS plain wrong. Just say no, my friends, just say no.

  2. Al

    Thanks Tom 🙂

    If anybody is interested, there’s more about selling your records, including merch on my previous post here:

  3. Tom

    Oops – so there is 🙂

  4. Massimo Zeppetelli

    Good article, but from my own experience of the plethora of gigs I’ve played, it’s just not good enough in this country a lot of the time:

    * The payment is awful (£50-100 for a Barfly-style venue)

    * You’re made to turn up so early, hang around and often the sound engineer is late – meaning you’re wasting a whole day just to do a soundcheck…and time is money

    * Some promoters make me incensed. Yes bands should promote their gigs, but this is mainly the promoter’s job. So when you find incorrect flyers, a lack of research in general, no promotion, them trying to do a runner at the end of the night, or them trying to not pay you the full amount etc etc it makes me mad.

    * And many promoters, instead of paying the band, think it’s considerate to pay with free, cheap beer from the bar. OR, a ‘rider’ which is free, cheap beer from the bar and if we’re lucky, some extremely unhealthy Tesco value sandwiches masterminded in white bread, meat pumped with hormones and other fake or refined crap. Why on earth does, or should a band want free beer instead of money? It’s almost patronising. And it’s irresponsible – you don’t want artists playing drunk at your night.

    However, when playing abroad, for example in Germany and Russia:

    * Get paid upwards of £200 a gig, PLUS good food PLUS somewhere to stay

    * Never come across a rude engineer or bad promoter (I can accept that they might try harder as we’re from abroad)

    * Basically just so much more of a joy than in the UK

    Obviously this is all on an individual basis – there are amazing engineers, amazing promoters, and shock horror, amazing musicians to work with. But in my experience, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the UK live music scene.

    So I think a tip to add, to get paid, is to go and play abroad.

  5. Things have changed so much over the last few years. The resurgence of pay to play is somewhat scary. A lot of 16-25 year old musicians are accepting it as standard practice. A pay to play promoter doesn’t think about the quality of bands he/she is putting on, if they gel together or not, and does ZERO promotion because he is getting the bands to take the financial risk by buying tickets, and can just sit back and chill…… I think the biggest problem is when promoters think it is the bands responsibilty to bring the audience, and the band think it is the promoters job to bring the crowd. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It really has to be a collaboration. I think there are bad promoters, and also bad bands. Promoters who do little, and bands that overplay, both doing little or no promotion. A lot of the decent promoters stipulate in contracts “no gigs for 2 weeks either side of our booking” I think this is fair, and wise…… I’ve just started putting on events in watford, trying to rebel against the current wave of ignorant people who talk through gigs. sssshhh. It is so unbelievably hard to promote shows, so tough. I even got some hate mail from someone that i knew when i said they couldn’t play. My reply was this “Putting on a show is like gambling, you spend a lot of money, flyers posters, soundman, hall hire etc, and if no one turns up i lose lots of money. If you believe in your own music that much, then put on your own show. Take your own risk. ” As far as i know They have yet to put on their own show…. I also think that the old business model of a professional promoter will fade away. I really see the future as bands putting on monthly show, because they really truly believe in that type of music, or event. I think the bands that they choose will be better quality, with greater musical continuity. This will create a better experience for the public, making it more likely that people will go out to see gigs…… I think the future is bright, and can see a much healthier live music scene in 5-6 years. The only problem at a grass roots music level is that the general public don’t like paying more than £5 for a band they deem to be unsigned. Its been £5 since 1986 for crying out loud. I think prices should really rise. But thats a tough preconception to break, especially in a recession. SKOPTART

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