Last week I stumbled across a Facebook discussion lamenting the difficulty booking bands in the Augusta area. It was filed under the heading I Hate This Town. I found that disheartening.
I certainly feel some sympathy for the enthusiastic young promoter, but I also quickly realized that blame couldn’t be placed on the community or venues any more than it could on the bands or booker.
Yes, it is true, it can be difficult getting an act in front of an audience in Augusta. But that is not a local phenomenon. That, in fact, is the challenge of the music business and it is important to remember that is exactly what it is – a business. It doesn’t matter if the room being booked is a suburban basement with a realistic capacity of 12 or a football stadium. The goal is always the same. Make money. Even if it is only enough to provide a little gas money for the act (although that is not always the first priority), that’s the endgame.
Augusta, with its sometimes fickle audiences and a well-earned reputation for eschewing advance ticket sales, is not always the easiest spot for promoters to earn a living, but I will give it props for one thing. It’s always honest about it.
You see, the classic model shows here have in common is built on a foundation of paying those that need to be paid, acknowledging that talent has worth and working, sometimes very hard, to make entertainment make fiscal sense. That’s not the case everywhere. In some communities, there are venues that require the artist to sell a set number of tickets before they are allowed to play. Some require a fee upfront. This is called pay-to-play. It’s despicable and it is not, to my knowledge, the way anyone in Augusta works.
So how to answer the aforementioned lamenter? How might those bands looking for a stage find what they want and perhaps need? The answer is simple.
That’s the investment too often ignored, the sweat equity required for any project embarked upon.
You see, there is not a venue in the world that will not book an act with an adequate following. Venues love fans. If it’s a bar, that’s who buys beer. If it’s a theater, that’s who buys tickets. Fans bring friends. They buy merchandise. They are the fuel that stokes the furnace of live performance.
Writing, recording, performing – that’s the easy part. Stoking the fire is tough, although thanks to social media not as tough as it once was. Gone are the days of sending out hundreds of demo tapes to anyone that might listen only to receive little or no response. Instead, artists can network, post performances and live stream. They can make friends. They can make fans. And even when that is done, be willing to build off small successes.
The big stage might be the goal, but the first rung is that basement. It takes work, and no small measure of luck. For a few, success will follow success. For most, playing will remain a privilege, a privilege that becomes even more profound when you realize how prized and precious that stage time can be.