Running a live music gig for dancers in Sydney

Just fyi, if you’re curious about how much it costs to put on a band gig in Sydney:

– band: $1500 (you can pay less, esp for a smaller band, but this is the going rate for a function gig, which is what dancers are, essentially)
– band rider: $100 – $150
– incidentals (printing, lamps, etc etc – random door kit stuff and floor things): $50-$100
– good sound + lights (engineer + gear hire + gear delivery, pick up, set up): $1000
– venue: $500 min (this is crazy cheap. $800 is more likely. You can go cheaper or more exy, but you’ll need a bigger, more exier space to cover your expenses; NB you need to pay for 2 hours before and 1 hour after the event – so you pay for 7 hours for a 4 hour gig)
– paper PR postcards: $50 (just for a small, local print run)
– band break DJ: $50 minimum

Stuff that costs, but that is often ‘invisible’ and hard to quantify:
– volunteer comps (4 hour gig: 11 comps; ie 11 people who don’t put money in the door)
– general PR (online facebook pimping, website, writing copy, photos, etc): 1 million hours (at least 2 days to put it all together, then a couple of hours a week for FB posts, answering emails, etc)
– design work for flyers/websites/fb icons, banners, images
– liaising with printers, picking up print jobs, etc
– buying stuff and transporting stuff (bottles of water, gear, documents, snacks, band riders, crates of beer, etc etc): this will cost you at least $60 in petrol/car hire/however you do it
– storage for your cache of ‘gig gear’ – lights, cash boxes, microphones, signage – all the bits of shit that take up space in your house.
– liaising with bands, DJs, MCs, etc, to be sure they all know what’s going on, and what they have to do/play/say
– public liability insurance
– APRA fees
– general business fees (accountant, etc)
– tax on income/GST if you need to collect it
– paypal or trybooking fees (take about $1 or $2 off each ticket for that)
– having the right forms for all workers (eg declaration of non-disclosure of ABN for DJs, proper invoices/receipts, etc) -> you need to research these, prepare them, print them in advance.

Upfront expenses:
You can’t just hope you’ll make enough on the night. You need to pay for things before the night.
– a $150 or $200 float (a bunch of $5 notes): you need to have that upfront
– venue hire (and bond, usually – anywhere between $100 and $500)
– band rider, incidentals, printing, etc

~$3400

You can totally do it cheaper. But there’s an economy of scale: you need more people to pay $$ so you can cover your band and sound expenses, and that usually means you need a bigger venue which costs more.

For this, you’d need to get at least 100 people paying $35 to cover your costs. But you’re not really safe, and you’re definitely not making a profit. You’d really need 100 people at $40 a ticket.
Basically, you shell out 3.5k, but you can’t guarantee you’ll cover your expenses. If it’s your first time, you have to double the amount of time it takes to do everything, and you’re less likely to find a good sound guy or band that knows its shit.

You can do a smaller live band gig for about $800, if you pay no venue hire, don’t have a band break DJ, have mad connections, hire a tiny/very new band who do their own sound. But this will not be a ‘top shelf’ gig, and you won’t get big numbers. You won’t be able to charge more than $20, so you’ll need at least 50 people.

The biggest problem is that dancers don’t drink. So you don’t have bar sales to subsidise your event, the way all other live music venues do. And you can’t afford to have a band every week, so you can’t offer them a residency, for which they’ll charge you less. If you don’t have a stable venue with good facilities, you have to keep hiring and moving gear and infrastructure (which also eats time and energy).
So the most important expense is networking: getting to know bands, sound engineers, venue managers, finding good printers and designers and so on. And that just devours time and energy. It’s also especially hard if you’re a woman in this male-dominated industry – it can be hard ‘networking’ (ie buddying up) with a bunch of very hetero, quite sexist men. It’s not always hard, and some men are totally wonderful (I’ve found a really wonderful group of musicians, sound guys, venue managers and printers here in Sydney), but they are 99% men, and it’s a very macho/masculine scene. You need to divest yourself of the traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristics that’ll stop them treating you like a professional.

Each time you run a gig, you run the risk of something going wrong – a dodgy band, shitty sound, terrible numbers. This isn’t just a problem on the night, it creates bad publicity and affects your reputation, which later makes it harder to sell tickets. So when you first start doing these gigs, it’s quite important to start with manageable, achievable goals, so you get experience in a lower risk environment, and start building your reputation. You can also take time to learn how to manage the stress of running a live gig, and how to delegate properly so you can manage them properly. Yes, you can save money by doing everything yourself. But all the worst events are the ones where the manager cannot delegate, and so no one is actually managing the thing.

Once you have some experience, skills, and profile, you can scale up. But even when things are going well, things can still go wrong and give you a scare. So you need to have recovery plans in the back of your mind. Both financial and promotional. Of course, at the end of the day, you can’t play it 100% safe – you need to take risks. And for most of us, it’s these risks that bring the stress, and which leave many of us vowing never to do this again.

One Reply to “Running a live music gig for dancers in Sydney”

  1. Thanks for the article. It’s good to know how much it would cost to have live music at an event. In fact, I’m getting married soon, and I want to make sure the party is as fun as possible. I’m going to follow your tip about finding the best prices available. That should ensure that I’m able to stay under budget.

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