Navigating The Cost of The Show

Let’s be real for a minute:

Everyone involved in making a show happen deserves to be paid.  By conforming to the culture of pay-to-play, or play for free you advance the notion that the effort, time, and passion put into creating content and bringing it together in a both coordinated and effective fashion is worthless. Truly, people rely on these efforts to pay their bills, there are those who play nightly and still have trouble making ends meet. This atrocious reality is only fed by the ignorance and neglect of parties involved in poor performance practices, deceitful show turnouts/promises, and the greedy nature of business.

What does a show cost to put together and how do we realistically deal with it to make things fair for parties involved at a local level. It should be as simple as this. At the MINIMUM, the minimum wage structure should be implemented to find the true cost of time for all parties involved. Graded pay for show veterans, supply/demand, power over the show. There are many different factors that can affect the price of the place you play. Lets examine a few.

Finding the Cost of a Band

No one expects to make $40/hour playing locally unless written into some kind of contract. So do not expect to pay out at that level. If you are a DIY musician in a DIY community, this should be supplemental income at best and will in all reality be dumped back into a band fund in the end. How do we determine the cost of a band to perform then.

We go hourly by minimum wage and associated costs, i.e. gas. The equation as follows.

(minimum wage • #band members • (hours performing+loading+setting up+tearing down))+gas+10%storage 

What does this mean on average? If we take the minimum wage of California for example, which today is $10/hour and multiply it by the number of members in the band there are, we get the hourly cost of the band. These are likely kids, or entry level musicians mind you, so no extravagance is needed here. Quite frankly this is perfectly fair if all these people are doing is playing and relaxing the rest of the gig. We then add the cost of gas for the band to get out to the show, and 10% of the total needed to run their storage/studio for the month. If you are in a cheaper area like I did growing up, then a storage unit can be converted into a jam space for as little as $200/month and can easily be shared by multiple bands. So what does this look like as far as the band is concerned? Lets take a 4 member scenario, with a show that is 30 miles away. Gas is the most difficult to calculate because you need to know how many miles per gallon the cars/van is getting and how much gas costs. Lets go with a van that fits all members and gear and gets 10 mpg and $3.00/gallon. The average unloading time for a band is 15 minutes. The average setup time for a band is around 15 minutes, if all efforts are put into the show and the same amount for breaking down/loading the gear back up. With all of these realistic assumptions in place we can start to see what the cost of a single DIY local band can cost without doing much else in regards to the show. I’ll break down the numbers and give you an example of the equation:

($10/hr•4 band members•(.5 hr performing+.75 hr load/setup/teardown))+(60mi/10mpg•$3.00)+($200•.1 storage)=

($40/hr•1.25hr)+($18 gas)+($20 storage)=

$50+$18+$20= $88

Thats it. $88 for a single band to solely perform and move their own gear. This is remarkable considering this is at the cheap end of the spectrum and the independence of the individuals performing for that much. If we think about it hard enough the goal will be made by the venue in roughly 4-10 transactions in bar-snacks alone.

Finding the Cost of a Venue Staff

      This can be subjective depending on your audience, and rowdiness of the crowd you attract, if you need more than a few security guards, then costs will go up, if you plan on charging at the door yourself, costs will go up. What elements do we need to take into consideration when choosing a venue and analyzing its costs. Since this is a DIY site, lets look at a DIY model of the venue cost.

The people we need at minimum to optimize the show experience and perceived level of safety: 2 security guards, 2 ticket vendors, 1 show manager/stage manager, 1 sound technician. We multiply this number by the length of the show and add and hour to make sure people arrive and leave at the appropriate times. So if a show is five hours long we have six hours worth of time to pay out per person. Now rate at which each of these people are paid can be subjective based on experience, ability, talent, and a slew of other employability traits, but for the sake of this article we will use the minimum wage rule again. The venue itself needs to be paid at some capacity, and I would argue that the business created through the show should suffice. How do the numbers look after taking all of these things into account? Lets do some more math:

6 crew•minimum wage•hours worked=

6•$10•6=$360= cost of putting together the crew for the show

Better yet, we can have people double up on duties and/or take some of the responsibilities to cut costs. You can have one security guard be the door ticket person, the other working the floor, and if your sound tech is brave enough, they can be the person running the stage as well, making sure everything goes smoothly. In the end, you must consider that the proceeds from the show must be split appropriately, and only you should be the one to do it. I am serious, do not trust anyone with money, it gets too hairy too quickly. And if there was an agreed upon rate at which people were to be paid, then you are the one responsible and your reputation is on the line. So cutting the cost of the crew in half we have made the dollar amount $180 for the night. Next we look at how we can cover these costs with the band feared, Cover Charge.

Finding the Cover Charge

      There is some beautifully simple math involved in this one. Essentially we add all parties involved in the show, and divide by the expected audience outcome. Being realistic with the numbers and granting that the bands do nothing but perform we can find the total cost of the show.

Using the idea from earlier we can detail how each band will cost. Here is a list of the facts we know:

Band 1: 60 mile round trip, 4 members, $200/month storage, 10mpg van, 30minute set, 45 minutes loading

Band 2: 10 mile round trip, 3 members, $200/month storage, 26mpg hatchback, 45 minute set, 45 minute loading

Band 3: 5 mile round trip, 5 members, $250/month storage, 2•16 mpg vehicles, 60 minute set, 45 minute loading

Band 4: 15 mile round trip, 4 members, $200/month storage, 14mpg van, 25 minute set, 45 minute loading.

Note:(to be courteous, have the numbers worked out for the person putting the show on, there are constants and there are variabilities. Your set length should be variable depending on your placement in the show and material you have, your cost of your jam space is however constant). (all numbers based on CA minimum wage and $3.00/gallon)

band 1 (4 people) band 2 (3 people) band 3 (5 people) band 4 (4 people)





Set (20-45 minutes)










storage fee










Total costs for all music performed: $352.60

Total length of show= 4.67 hours [round up to 5]

Total billing for crew with three crew = show length plus one hour = 6 hrs•3•10$/hour = $180

$180+$352.60/attendees [lets say 50 people] = $532.60/ 50 people =

10.65 per person to pay all overhead.

If you are trying to pre-sell tickets, which I highly recommend, because it forces people to pay attention to the actual show dates and find the time to go, your show bill might be priced $10.50 pre sale, $11.00 at the door.


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