Caveat Emptor

I’ve really struggled with this post.  Afterall, I’m in the business of putting musicians on stage and on the air.  I talk to people who write checks to musicians.  Sometimes I’m surprised, but not often.  Generally I’m talking to people who “get it.”  There are usually differences in how much one entity is willing to pay, based on things like budgets that are determined higher up in the organization, or even perceived value, both of which are common.  But generally speaking, most buyers I deal with get it.  Not this week, however.  So, a caveat emptor admonition is in order – both for those who actually pay for talent, and for talent themselves.

Without naming names to keep from burning bridges and to keep the possibility of future communication open, I had the incredible pleasure of discussing a six to nine show concert series with a major Denver entertainment (not music) franchise this week.  Both the initial phone conversation and the subsequent personal meeting were positive and the only thing lying in the path to making the deal happen was a budget meeting.

The layout was this:  90 minute show – one set – no opener – production provided.  Expected walk-by “audience” 3000, ages 1yr old to 90.  Family event.  Big / no – huge money organization.  Added value includes in house promotion and visual exposure to several THOUSANDS of on the ground “attendees.”  As in the kind of promotion that is usually far outside the value that 99+% of local bands could afford even if they wanted to.   So, deep pocket organization, with some big upside to any band that gets a slot.

The initial numbers were reasonable – enough budget to put on a show similar to what you’d find on any Thursday or Friday night Old Town Square show in Fort Collins that I’m involved with.  Let’s say the initial number was fair and reasonable, based on my professional experiences.  Then the budget meeting happened.  That’s when the surprise factor kicked in and I began the struggle to get here today.

It looked like this:  “It was nice meeting you yesterday and discussing possible options for the [proposed] Concert Series.  At this point in time, we feel as though we will not be able to move forward with working with you because of our budgetary restraints.  We are looking to book bands that will either play free with our added value perks or up to [$X00.00] to help with costs…”

To be clear, [$X00.00] is a reasonable amount in this case.  I’ve got no problem there.  Playing for “free with our added value perks” is not reasonable – EVER.   There is absolutely no reason to believe that the added value “perks” will benefit any of the bands that play this series, financially, or in future performance opportunities, or in sustained direct fans who will continue to contribute to the bands’ revenue streams.

Yes, a solid band with a good variety of merch can potentially sell several hundred dollars worth of cds and other items.  But certainly not enough in my professional opinion to clear PROFIT equal to or greater than the [$X00.00] “final offer” at the table.

Here was my response:  “Here’s something to take back to management.  Musicians are a professional class today.  If none of the [organization’s] staff works for “exposure” why should a musician?  No answer required.”

There are a myriad of opportunities for people to perform for free.  Open stage events, charity events, block parties etc … are all great ways for building skill, and having fun making music.  I encourage any and all who wish to make music to do so – however and whenever they can.  There is no greater joy to me than seeing people having fun making music here in Colorado.

There is a stage, however, where professionalism takes place.  A stage on which money enters the picture.  How much money is determined by the buyer and seller, and either may walk away if the deal doesn’t feel right.  But on the professional stage, that money value should NEVER be “FREE with our added value perks.”

Caveat Emptor


Author: goat

I've been on the air in Northern Colorado since 1978. The Colorado Playlist is broadcast on 30 FM frequencies in the state. I am also a musician, talent buyer and business consultant. Email me at

4 thoughts on “Caveat Emptor”

  1. Well said Goat! Too much of this goes on in the industry. I applaud you for standing up for a professional group that is too often treated unprofessionaly. No one should be expected to give it away for free, not trade people, or professionals and especially not entertainers.

  2. Thank you for your integrity concerning the ever present “Think of the exposure you’ll get,” as the ever present line they give when they ask a band to play for free. I know of no other profession where anyone could sustain themselves by working for free.

  3. Great Article. Thank you. Some musicians have a tendency to undercut others in order to get gigs, but I don’
    t see how that can benefit them.

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