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Words of Fang: Negotiations

June 22, 2016
By

Hails metalheads! My name is Fang VonWrathenstein, vocalist for the band Lords of the Trident  (http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com). Every month or so, I’ll be handing out my sage advice to other bands on how to take their band from the garage to the next level. I’m no industry insider, but I’ve been around the block a few times. Have an idea for a topic, or fervently disagree with something I write? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com.

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The music business, like life, involves a lot of push and pull, give and take. Unfortunately for us, it feels like the majority of the time is “taking it” – promoters that don’t actually promote, guarantee payments that magically “disappear”, and local bands that may or may not show up the night of the show. We’re supposed to take all of this with a smile, because abrasive bands and bands that are seen as “hard to work with” quickly stop getting invited to important events.

01

Thank you sir, may I have another?

So when do you push back? How do you know when it’s appropriate to “throw your weight around”? Much like negotiations in life, this differs based on the time, person, and circumstance. Perhaps an easier question to ask would be “when is it not appropriate to push back”?

02

(probably here)

The following comes for a very true and very recent experience while on tour. A week and a half from the show day, we had a local band threaten to drop from the show unless we moved the entire show back an hour, so they could start later. To paint a full picture – this was Saturday night and a 4-band show – likely to run until stupid-o-clock unless we started early. Not a good place to start.

03

Pictured: the bar at 1am

Negotiation point #1 – Understand the situation you’re negotiating from and how it affects all the parties. In this case, you want to play later because it will help you. But it will likely screw over the last two acts. You should assume this is apparent to all parties.

Don’t get me wrong – local band support is crucial for a good tour show, because they will likely bring out 80% of the crowd. However, the band in question hadn’t done a lot of promotion for this show (as a week and a half before the show, they didn’t even have the link to the event on their facebook page). They also had a grand total of 270 likes on facebook, and had been around for five years. Their music was really good, but I was skeptical about how many people knew that.

Negotiation point #2Understand your stature in relation to the parties you’re negotiating against. I’m a lot more willing to negotiate with a band who has a large fanbase, because they’re likely to bring out more people, and they’ve proven themselves. (Pro tip: can’t tell if a band has bought their facebook likes? Check how many fans like, share, and comment on their posts. If a band has 10,000 fans, but each post only gets a few likes, they likely DO NOT have 10,000 fans.)

04

If you don’t have stature, get a large hat.

What reason did they give for needing to start later? They told us “we have 50-60 people coming but they can’t make it before 9pm”. Now, as regular readers are certain to know, I’ve been around the block a few times. If a band with less than 1,500 likes on facebook says they’re guaranteeing to bring out 50 or 60 people, that almost always means 5 or 6.

Now, they may have been COMPLETELY SERIOUS that they could pull out 50 people (spoiler alert: they didn’t), but understand that most people who have been booking and playing shows for years have heard that line over and over. Without the recognition and consistency to back it up, it’s a hard sell.

Negotiation point #3Never use your numbers as ransom unless you’ve proven multiple times that you can produce them. I don’t believe you, neither does the bar, or any other bands. If I’ve seen you play multiple times and you always bring out 100+ people at every show, now I believe you. A better way to go about this is to use draw numbers in the pre-planning phase as a bargaining chip – i.e. “The last three times we played, we packed this place. I like playing here, our fans like coming here, and we want to continue bringing fans to your place, but we’d like to talk about increasing our compensation a bit.”

In addition to understanding the situation you’re negotiating from, you should also know the players. No, not the GUITAR players, I’m talking about the position and stature of the other bands/people you’re negotiating with. Maybe the bar is giving you a crappy deal, but the manager is one of the “gatekeepers” for opening for larger shows? Maybe the bands you’re playing with have more clout, or more connections than you do? Maybe they can connect you with a completely new market? These are all good reasons for giving up short-term gains for longer-term goals.

Negotiation point #4Understand the players in the game, and what they want/need.

05

JESUS CHRIST JIM THAT’S NOT HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED WHY DO I KEEP INVITING YOU

This band was dealing with a show set up via a touring band. If this were a local show (or even a regional show), there’s more leeway available with start times, set lengths, etc. However, when a band is coming through on tour, they (we) have a more stringent schedule. We have contracts, price points we have to meet, set times, etc.

If the touring band has a decent following, you’re not really playing to play – you’re playing to build relationships. Nearly our entire Canadian tour was made possible because of our connections with Unleash the Archers and Crimson Shadows. And you know what? We opened that show, and didn’t make a lot of money – the touring bands needed it more than we did! Making a good impression means that certain bands are willing to return the favor.

06

The goal is to get as many friendship bracelets as possible

Finally – and this is an important one – the band came to us thinking they were negotiating from a position of power. Less people in the club = less money, exposure, and a bad show. However, what they did not know was that through our performance contract with the club, we already had a guarantee that met our daily monetary goal. Of course we want to play to as many people as possible, but our primary goal is to stay afloat financially! Because we already met our goal, we could play with no other bands and still be fine. This immediately defuses any threats they could make.

Negotiation point #5 – Only show the cards you need to play. A poker player doesn’t win by immediately showing the entire table his hand. Assume that everyone is withholding information, and try to figure out what that information is.

Music is a team sport, and the goal should be to help those bands around you succeed. But the reality is that sometimes you’ll run into a situation where you need to skillfully negotiate your way into a better position. Remember: the mark of a good negotiator is not “winning” – it’s coming away from a negotiation where no one feels that they’ve completely lost.

And to clarify – we spoke with the band in question and laid out all of these points, as well as ways they could improve. Their music is really good, and we’ve all made these type of negotiation mistakes before, but they needed some constructive criticism. There were no hard feelings, and everyone came away from these talks happy.

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Are you a band that owes your success to my pearls of wisdom? Do you wish there was some way you could pay me back? Well there is! Buy the Lords of the Trident’s albums off AmazonMP3, iTunes, or BandCamp, watch our music videos on YouTube, and visit us online – http://www.LordsOfTheTrident.com. Want to email me directly? Tell me how good/horrible my advice has been thus far? Email me at LordsOfTheTrident@gmail.com. If you give me an idea for an article, I’ll send you a FREE album as a reward!



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