Why bands need to stop paying to play

Imagine this…your favorite band is coming to town. You would LOVE to open for them, a promoter approaches your band and says “would you like to open for them?”.

Naturally your response is “hell yeah we would!” then the promoter drops the bombshell of “you can open for them but we need you to sell 50 tickets.” You and the band reluctantly agree but should you have signed on the dotted line just to open for your favorite band? Is it really worth it?

There’s an epidemic going around now of promoters requiring local bands to sell tickets to play bigger venues and open for national acts. With overhead prices such as electricity, wages, alcohol, and etc… rising there’s more push more than ever for local bands to sell tickets but is that really our problem?

In this article I’ll be diving into the math of why local bands need to stop selling tickets and how much money bands lose when agreeing to sell tickets. All the math in this article will be based on the premise of having to sell 50 tickets at $25.00 each which seems to be the average. But first a little background on me.

Picture of The Band Dad

I’ve been a bands for over 10 years and have vast experience when it comes to dealing with promoters and first hand experience on selling tickets for shows. It was only until recently where I really decided to analyze the math of how much goes into spending for band expenses and this included selling tickets for shows.

Selling Online

So you decide to sign on the dotted line and play the show. The promoter hands you the 50 tickets. Now what? You want to sell them online right? Of course you do, it’s a convenient way to get your tickets to your fans without having to drive all over the place. Now there’s plenty of avenues to sell online but no matter which route you take it will cost you 1.29%+30¢ in credit card processing but you’ll also need.

  • A book of stamps (20 stamps) to mail tickets: $9.50
  • Envelopes (50 per box): $1.00 (if bought from the dollar store)

Already you’re out 21¢ a ticket if you take your investment of $10.50 and divide it by 50 just to mail the tickets out.

Bandcamp Logo

You want to sell your tickets through Bandcamp. That’s great, Bandcamp is an awesome site for selling merch and music and is very artist focused. The problem is the cut they take for the sales is 10% because they consider it “merch”.

  • $25.00 x 10% = $2.50
  • PayPal Fees: 1.29%+30¢ = 63¢
  • Mailing Supplies: 21¢

Total Loss: $3.34 per ticket

Yikes! That’s a massive hit per ticket. You might as well be Ticketmaster and charge crazy “convenience” charges. So you ask “But what about Bigcartel?” good question, let me dive into that a little.

BigCartel Logo

I see a lot of bands going the Bigcartel route of selling tickets which is smart because Bigcartel doesn’t take a cut of the sales. All you pay is the PayPal processing fees.

  • PayPal Fees: 1.29%+30¢ = 63¢
  • Mailing Supplies: 21¢

Total Loss: 84¢ per ticket

Selling in person

Delivery Driver

SPECIAL DELIVERY! So you want to sell tickets and give the fans the opportunity to buy in person? OK that’s great, you save on shipping supplies and payment processing fees but what about gas and your time?

Hypothetically lets use a low ball figure and say you dish out $15.00 in gas for driving around and delivering tickets to your fans. That’s to say if you’re driving a Honda Civic of the sorts but none the less we’ll use that figure.

$15.00 / 50 = 30¢ a ticket

Show Time!

The time has come! The day you have long been waiting for, to play with your favorite band. Now it’s time to grab your gear, pile in the van or multiple vehicles, and head to the show but first you need to:

  • Get gas for vehicle(s): $20.00

There’s also tolls but we won’t factor that, we’ll just assume the show is relatively close.

Now standard practice is you get $1.00 for every ticket you sell and once you sell 50 tickets then you get $2.00 a ticket. Lets say you don’t hit your quota and you sell 49 tickets. Some promoters may make you eat the cost of that ticket but lets give them the benefit of the doubt and say that you just give back what you didn’t sell.

  • Amount collected for tickets sold (49 @ $25.00): $1,225.00
  • Your cut: $49.00

Now lets do a rough estimate of expenses to get your sales:

  • 5 online ticket sales through Bigcartel with PayPal Fees + Mailing Expenses: $13.65
  • Gas for driving to fans: $15.00
  • Gas to get to show: $20.00

Total Expenses: $48.65

Final Earnings After Expenses: 35¢

After all the work you put in to promoting the show the venue gets $1,225.00 you NET 35¢. That’s not even enough to afford a stamp to send out 1 more ticket!

Now if you spent any money on advertising such as booting a post on Facebook for $20.00 now you’re talking about being -$19.65, it doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s paying out of pocket.

Sure you could eat the cost of that 1 ticket and pay $25.00 to make your quota so the promoter hands you $100.00 but still you’ll only be making $26.35 but you shouldn’t have to do that. Naturally if you boost a post on Facebook then you NET $6.35 which is enough for a decent run on the value menu at McDonalds.

The amount of work us bands put in selling these tickets to play these big shows for the return is simply not worth the hassle. The majority of the time you’re not sharing the stage with your favorite band, it’s on a secondary stage so they have no idea you even exist because frankly they’re more than likely too busy preparing for their own set.

Not only that everyone you sold tickets to are more than likely your friends which if you do play shows regularly they’ve already seen you live so you’re not really playing to a mass new audience.

While you may be playing one of the best sets of your life on one of these second stages the main stage is also playing so the only people watching you are your friends who bought tickets because they’re at the show to support you. Don’t get me wrong you should appreciate anyone watching your band but to grow as a band you need to play in front of new people and grow your audience.

The band is like a business, you need to generate money to pay for expenses and in order to generate money to pay for those expenses you need to grow your audience by playing for new people. If the main stage is playing while you are then people are more likely to watch the national acts. After all if they didn’t buy a ticket off you they’re not at the show to watch local bands they’re going for what was advertised.

In conclusion us bands deserve more for the work we put in. If tickets are $25 each and you’re selling 50 there’s no reason you shouldn’t be entitled to 20% or at least 15% which is more than fair especially when 6 other bands are selling tickets along with you.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not necessarily knocking selling tickets, if that’s your thing then by all means but from a business standpoint the payment structure needs to be updated. I for one will no longer be selling tickets and choose to allocate any funds we have to advertising and getting new merch.

I understand venue costs are rising but those costs aren’t the only costs that have gone up. So have merch and gas which is some of the biggest expenses for struggling unsigned bands.


  • Looks good on paper playing for national acts
  • Gets you into a possible new venue
  • Good for networking with new bands and possibly the national acts


  • Losing money that could go towards important things like merch or advertising
  • Not sharing the stage with nationals unless the booking agent approves prior
  • Competing with other bands for ticket sales especially when you’re friends with those bands
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