Here’s the video transcript:
One of the questions I get asked frequently is “Should my Christian band play free shows?”
My answer is not what most people expect, but it makes sense if you’re willing to stop and think instead of looking for a quick and easy rule to apply to your ministry.
When anyone asks you to play a free show
they’re really asking you to donate to their cause.
You cannot donate every time you are asked,
so you need to consider all your donations carefully.
The rest of this video is an excerpt from The Christian Band Handbook to help you decide which free shows to play.
First of all, we need to change our thinking to understand that there is no such thing as a FREE show. Every concert costs money. The promoters have to pay for obvious expenses like hall and equipment rental, electricity, security, printing tickets, and advertising. They also have many hidden expenses: insurance, gas to run around town organizing the event, lunch meetings, and postage for contracts and advertising. Bands have travel, gas, and food expenses plus the less obvious vehicle and equipment maintenance, promotional expenses like websites and press kits, and merchandise development (including merchandise table design and creation). Most bands cannot pull out of their driveway for less than $200 when you include all the expenses.
Average concert ticket prices simply are not keeping up with rising expenses. Then, when you consider the attitude of many people who believe that Christian bands do not need to be paid because they are a ministry—it’s a disaster. Your band has probably been asked to play far more shows offering no payment than shows paying enough to cover your expenses. Unfortunately, you have probably also encountered some attitudes from people who found out that your band turned down playing for free at their event. Your band’s reputation is on the line, so how you handle this problem is important.
There seems to be 2 schools of thought…
● Play every show offered to your band so you can build a fan base and create a stir.
● Don’t play unpaid shows at all—you are a workman worthy of your hire. Once in a while you can donate a show to a specific cause. But, generally, unpaid shows are for amateurs and are undermining the overall worth of the music ministry.
I don’t agree with either extreme.
The best advice is to establish an overall band policy about playing free shows
but evaluate each show request as it comes in.
Your band cannot possibly afford to play every free show you are asked to play. If you do, your ministry will probably be broke in a very short time. But as a newer, unsigned band, you cannot afford not to play unpaid shows because you will miss opportunities to build your fan base and expand your ministry. You need to focus on being effective—getting the most bang for your buck so to speak.
Here’s a list of questions to ask when evaluating a show:
● Are all your members available to play the date? It’s just not very smart to consistently take away from your band mate’s family or work time to play ineffective gigs. Spouses and kids will understand that you cannot attend every family event, but they probably will not accept that you cannot attend any family events. Be careful not to book so many shows that families become resentful of the ministry, especially if they are also expected to suffer financially for the ministry. It is perfectly OK to turn down a show because the band needs some family time.
● How much is this show going to cost in dollars?
Try to set up some kind of a budget. Include tolls and gas money, food for the band, and housing if needed. Do not include your overhead expenses, which would be there if the band plays this particular show or not. Obviously, unpaid shows in your hometown are much less expensive to play than those 4 hours away.
● Does your ministry have that much to spend?
Looking in the band checkbook is NOT what is meant here. Just because the band has enough money in the bank account does not mean the band has the money to spend on a concert. Is the money in the bank account set aside for some other expenses such as recording or equipment purchases? If so, the band doesn’t truly have the money to spend on playing a free gig. Ask yourself if this show is worth delaying the planned purchases.
● If you do not have enough money to pay for playing the show, is the show planned far enough in advance that you could raise it?
A well-planned event should be planned months in advance. This might just give your band enough time to do a fundraiser or play a paying show to cover the expense of the unpaid show. Be leery of last minute shows that do not pay because the promoters, however well intentioned they may be, generally do not have time to promote the event, so the audience is very small and the ministry opportunities are very limited.
● Is it wise to spend your money and/or time raising the money for this show?
Is your ministry intensely focused on another project right now? Recording, songwriting, or fundraising for a new vehicle are time intensive projects that could be put off track by the interruption of an unpaid show. The event may be awesome but it might not be the right timing for your band to participate. It is OK to support an event without playing it.
● How many people is the show expected to draw, not counting your own fans that will come anyway?
No one likes to determine ministry based on numbers, but the reality is that your band will go broke playing shows without an audience. It is extremely difficult to keep the fun mojo on stage when your band consistently plays shows with small audiences. It is almost impossible to sustain the excitement about your ministry when your band is depressed because no one hears the music. You need at least some shows with larger audiences to survive as a band ministry.
● Is the show targeted to your bands target audience?
Have you ever been the only Goth band at a Southern Gospel show (or vice versa)? I have. There are no words to describe that feeling. Larger audiences are great, but try to determine the demographics of the potential audience. If they don’t fit with your band’s targeted audience, you may be wasting your time and money. More importantly, you may be offending a brother or sister in Christ who simply cannot understand your ministry.
● How much true ministry opportunity will be available?
Will you be able to fulfill the ministry calling of your band at this show? Is your band primarily called to evangelism? Then playing an unpaid show at a church might not be the best for you. Are you called to encourage Christians? Church gigs were made for your band! Will your band have time and be allowed to interact with fans before and after the show? Playing back to back unpaid shows on the same day isn’t always making the best use of your resources. You will be exhausted and lose out on the one-on-one ministry with the audience and other bands. It’s OK to turn down a show because you already have another show that day.
● Are there any other benefits to the band such as radio interviews or print media spotlights?
A concert that is promoted well should include interviews and newspaper write ups. Can your band participate in them? These interviews help to build a good reputation for the band and can be added to your press kit. Be sure to request reference letters from prominent people that helped put on the event. The band benefits from the advertising, and when you are asked to participate in interviews, you know that the concert is being promoted well.
● The most important question of all is: Does your band feel impressed by God to play the event?
If the answer is a definite yes, then go for it and trust Him to overcome the obstacles. Most often, however, the answer isn’t so clear. In those cases, use your best wisdom and trust Him to guide you as you seek to do your ministry. Prayerfully listen with a heart full of love and obedience. He will let you know what you need to do, how you need to do it, and when you need to do it.
It is not more Godly or spiritual to donate your time and money to play every single show, just as it does not make you a spiritual giant to play only when your ministry gets paid. Listen for God’s leading and use your wisdom and discernment—relationship with your Father makes you a true Christ follower and will lead your ministry into His definition of success.
Does your Christian band need more places to play?
Christian Band Help has a FREE PDF called the Christian Band Booking Calendar to help you book more gigs.
There is no magic formula for booking your band, it requires consistently finding and contacting people who might be interested in your music and your ministry. No one likes to contact people we don’t know, including bookers. It’s easier for them to contact musicians they already know. So music ministers who do don’t actively pursue gigs don’t get them because bookers generally book musicians they know and trust.
If we don’t make the effort to reach out, the band won’t have places to minister.
I spent years booking and had to learn the hard way by trial and error. It would be wonderful if you didn’t have to go through that process. So I’m giving you my strategy—FREE.
When you click the link below you will get a 3 page PDF that outlines what to do each month to get the most possible and best gigs. I can’t do booking for you, but I can share the process that worked for me!
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