I’ve been making my living as a full time touring musician/songwriter for the past six or seven years…before that I earned a good proportion of my living from gigging/writing music, but also managed several acts, ran a small record label and did a little freelance writing and photography amongst other things.
When I decided to focus 100% on my music and solo gigging I had, of course, to build a business plan and cash flow so I could work out how many shows and what average fee (as well as how much merch, CD sales etc) I would need to survive. In fact what ‘we’ would need to to survive, for although I’m a solo artist, my partner is my booking agent and tour manager. So it’s a full-time thing for both of us.
Not long after we’d been working together my partner got a call from one of the bigger Glasgow venues asking if I would open for a touring artist who had recently exploded onto the scene. When she asked what the deal was she was told "we don’t pay support artists – but it’ll be good exposure", my partner replied that she doesn’t book me into non-paying gigs. The venue booker said he’d call back.
Now I was mad keen to do the gig – the show would most likely be a sell-out and give me the chance to play to over 1000 punters who, importantly, were there for my kind of music – and it was very local so virtually zero expense. We spent an angst-riiden five or ten minutes before the phone rang again and the booker offered a small but very reasonable fee, rider and some guesties. So it paid off and we learnt a valuable lesson in that ten minutes. I was worried that we’d shot ourselves in the foot and passed by a good opportunity but on a point of principle and, at the end of the day, if it’s worth booking a support act, then it’s worth paying.
We had a few similar offers from other promoters and venues – some of whom wanted me to sell tickets or guarantee a crowd – which we refused to do. In the majority of the cases I still got the gig and a small fee.
And far from putting promoters/bookers off, our initial ‘cards on the table’ approach has resulted in good relationships with three or four of the main promoters and venue groups operating out of Scotland who often call to offer relevant support slots with major artists…with realisitic fees and conditions.