Sheena Featured in Music Connection!

Vol. XXVII, No. 21 October 13 - October 26, 2003

Sheena Metal Productions

The Joint, Universal Bar & Grill, Zen, Lava Lounge, Knitting Factory

Cable star, radio jock, comedienne, writer, hostess, and so much more, Sheena Metal is a true jack-of-all-entertainment. Which only makes her even more of a powerhouse promoter. Take a look at how she fills her week and you'll understand how she can help your band, your club, and so much more. We caught up with Ms. Metal to find out what makes Sheena rock.

Music Connection: How many "nights" do you now promote?

Sheena Metal: There's "Manic Mondays" at Zen; one of the two Mondays I do is usually a showcase for solo artists and acoustic bands. On our other two Mondays we do "Chicks Rock" at the Lava Lounge -- you must have a girl in your band in order to play. On Tuesdays I'm at the Cat Club with "Plug In, Plug Out," which features both acoustic and electric artists. The Cat Club has full backline gear, so it's easy to book 10 bands in one night. Wednesdays at the Joint I do "Songs Rock" with full band showcases of songs as opposed to just singer/songwriters. Thursdays at the Universal Bar & Grill is called "Sheena & Friends." Then once a month we do one big industry showcase at the Knitting Factory.

MC: What kind of artists can you really use right now?

Metal: I do a lot of pop, a lot of alternative, a lot of Triple A, metal, punk, alt-country, roots-rock, country crossover. I do pretty much anything, and I'm looking to do a hip-hop night before the end of the year.

MC: How do you get industry people to come down?

Metal: It's a favor trade. Someone will come out to see my bands and then maybe I'll sit on their [seminar] panel for nothing. The problem is that bands get disheartened when nothing happens. You can make the industry come out, but they're very specific about what they want sometimes, so you can't always get them to bite. It's a hit or miss. I tell the bands it's like getting quarters and playing a carnival game; sometimes you get the stuffed animal, sometimes you don't.

MC: What's your take on playing in L.A. versus out of town?

Metal: You need to play as much as you can in L.A. and still draw. For some people it's every six weeks, for others it's once a week. It depends on their following and their promotional skills. It's always a good thing to play outside of L.A., to find people for your mailing lists and potential people who'll buy your CD. But if you're looking to attract labels and get signed, playing out of L.A. doesn't do much for you above and beyond that it makes you a tighter band. I don't know many A&R people hanging out in Idaho.

MC: How does a promoter appropriate a specific night to do a certain club?

Metal: I used to be really into big places -- you know, really exciting events where you pre-sell a thousand tickets and there's four hundred people there. But it's not my thing anymore. I like smaller places. My theory is that most of my weeknights do an average of 100 people per night. I don't want to book that in a bigger place for two reasons: first, it's disheartening to a club owner if they have a 400 people room for 100 people. I also think it's disheartening to bands if the venue looks empty. Better to fill up a small room than leave a large one empty.

15030 Ventura Blvd., Suite #843
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Vol. XXVII, No. 18 September 01 - September 14, 2003

Ticket Pre-Sales
U Want 2 PLay?
U Got 2 Pay!

By Bernard Baur

That's how it is in Los Angeles and it's spreading across the country. Artists who want a gig in L.A. are required to sell tickets for a spot on the bill. This practice is so pervasive that it's now the norm. Music Connection, which has covered the scene for over twenty years, can recall when this concept was passionately contested. Today, however, it's commonly accepted and MC wondered why. To find the answers, we turned to bookers, promoters, club owners and artists. Their comments and insights not only explain this turnabout, but also inform us why they think it's necessary.


Pay-to-Play used to be fightin' words! In fact, in the mid-Eighties when the notion first arose that a band should pay for the privilege of playing a club on the Sunset Strip, artists as well as much of the music community were horrified. Protests took place, boycotts were organized, fights broke out and local music publications slammed the idea as being greedy.
Today, the name has been changed but the tune remains the same. It's now called "Pre-Sales" (as in tickets) and it's standard operating procedure at almost every club in the Los Angeles area. Not only that, but nowadays it's totally accepted by artists who want to play an L.A. venue. Indeed, they consider it part of "paying your dues" -- literally.

In the Sixties and most of the Seventies, music fans went to clubs because the venues fostered a cool atmosphere. It didn't matter who was playing -- it just mattered that you were there. It was a musical movement with a communal spirit. But things changed and people no longer wanted to just hang out. They started following their favorite acts and walk-in numbers decreased. Hard-pressed for bodies many clubs closed, while others let promoters rent out nights. To lessen their risk, promoters instituted a "Pay-to-Play" policy. After the initial shock and astonishment bands that would go on to be among the biggest acts in rock history paid to play and pre-sold tickets.

"There was competition among a lot of the young bands," Mike Giangreco recalls. "It was a macho game of who could sell the most tickets. Guns N' Roses, Poison and L.A. Guns all competed. Years later, Korn, System of a Down, Incubus and Linkin Park did the same thing. They all sold tickets to make a few extra bucks and get the best spot on the bill."

Giangreco reasons that acts from all over the world come to L.A. trying to get signed, and because of that there are more choices for fans. All those choices limit walk-ins and put the burden on the artist to bring in the draw.

By the Nineties, Pre-Sales had a strong foothold and, although some of the dinosaur acts complained, the younger artists accepted it. Giangreco believes, "Kids are more aware of what it takes to make it. They're smarter today. They know about the bottom line and how important a total package is. The times have changed and that wonderful dream that the 'music is enough' won't get artists what they want anymore."

"About 30 percent don't cover their tab. Our response depends on the act and whether or not they really tried. If not, we won't work with them any more and will share that information with other bookers." --Sean Healy


Even bookers and clubs that originally resisted Pre-Sales eventually came around -- and they all claim it's because of the artists. "I don't know if it's good or bad," sighs Neal Rocklin, owner of The Gig. "But, I do know it became necessary to assure that artists fulfill their obligations to promote their shows." Rocklin concedes, "The last thing I want to see is an act come out of pocket to play my club, but it takes money to keep the place open." According to estimates, most clubs have to make between $200 and $500 per act to break even. And, Rocklin states, "The hope is to make money -- the target is to break even -- but, all too often, the reality is to lose less money."

Sheena Metal changed her tune after she was burned several times. "I like booking the smaller, more intimate clubs," she says, "but I noticed that a lot of acts used them as a 'warm-up' for larger clubs (where they pre-sold tickets). Often, less than 10 people showed up for the set. That's insulting, and I think the music community should have better etiquette than that."

According to Sheena, "Industry Showcases" can be the worst. "A lot of acts promote those shows less. They're only concerned about industry and not their draw. What they don't understand," she declares, "is that industry likes to see a vibey crowd -- it gets them into the act."

Sean Healy, whose organization books over 25 clubs in the Los Angeles area, points out that some venues cost several thousand dollars a night to rent. And, some clubs demand bar guarantees on top of that. Obviously, that's a heavy financial burden. "If a band doesn't draw well, we're the ones who hear about it," Healy explains. "Consequently, we need a guaranteed head count -- especially if an act wants to play a prime slot."

"Every day I get calls from bookers across the country asking how this arrangement works." --Mike Giangreco


Actually, every booker MC interviewed tries to accommodate artists to make the system work, and there are several options available. One involves upfront money -- buying tickets in advance and then selling them before the show. The Whisky a Go Go and the Roxy were most often mentioned as utilizing this method.

Additionally, artists looking for a slot that supports a national touring act will usually be required to pay a deposit in advance.

More common, however, are "consignment sales," where an act is expected to sell a certain number of tickets and pay for them before the gig. Naturally, it doesn't always work out that way. Healy reports, "About 30 percent don't cover their tab. Our response depends on the act and whether or not they really tried. If not, we won't work with them any more and will share that information with other bookers."

But, Healy emphasizes, "the system is designed for artists to make money. We sell tickets at a discount and artists can charge more. If an act takes 200 tickets at $4 apiece and sells them at $10, they can make a $1,200 profit." Additionally, Healy claims that selling tickets gives the act a monetary value that brings more people to the show. He maintains, "An act that sells tickets will draw better than one that relies on the door. People are more likely to save a ticket and mark the date because it's worth something."

The amount of tickets and their cost varies according to the venue, day and time slot. A primo set time at a premier club will obviously cost more than a small gig on a Sunday night. A spot at the House of Blues or the Viper Room may require 100 or more tickets, whereas the Joint is happy with 20 to 30.

Other options, in lieu of selling tickets, include a "guaranteed head count." That's where an act guarantees a draw, and if they don't meet it, they pay the difference. This method is generally used for acts that have proven themselves.

And, lastly, everyone claims that once they're satisfied with an act's work ethic and draw, they won't impose any conditions. Nonetheless, some successful artists still insist on using Pre-Sales as a promotional tool.

In case you're wondering if it's any different outside of Tinsel Town, think again.
Giangreco reports," Every day I receive calls from bookers across the country asking how this arrangement works."

"People are more likely to show up when they have a ticket. Sure it makes us work a little harder, but we're an unsolicited band in a solicited world."
--Marc Monroe, Soulshine


It might seem that commerce is crushing art and that the almighty dollar counts more than the music. But not everyone feels that way. Legendary L.A. booker Len Fagan also uses Pre-Sales occasionally -- depending on the slot a band needs. However, he's quick to voice his disdain for the system. "I detest it and I'm ashamed to do it, but I have to answer to club owners."

Fagan continues, "But I also have an obligation to myself and the music loving public. As such, I'd rather book a 'great band' with less draw because they need to be seen and heard. You know," he reminds, "if this Pay-to-Play mindset existed in the Sixties, the Doors would never have had a career."

Almost all of the other bookers claim that they would also help a promising band -- in different ways. For example, they'd start them at smaller clubs and develop them for larger venues. Giangreco states, "Pre-Sales are not always required. If I know an act and like them, I'll set them up with a good spot. Sometimes all they need is a little assistance." Gig owner, Rocklin concurs, "It really depends on how well I know the act and if they need a specific time-slot to make their mark. There are always exceptions in this business."

If Fagan likes an artist, he gives them residencies for a month or longer. "You need to play on a regular basis to build a buzz," he says. "And, in the process, I don't mind sacrificing money for quality. I want to present an act that will knock your socks off."

Fagan believes, "If a booker just goes for the gold, it's called 'greed.' And if that's all they're concerned about -- shame on them! I want to be proud of what I put onstage." Advancing his viewpoint, Fagan likes to make sure the best acts get the best shot because, he says, "Too many of them fall through the cracks." As a result, Len Fagan has probably gotten more acts signed than any other booker working today.


Off Limits is one of Fagan's favorite new bands. They're based out of the L.A. suburb of Lancaster, and according to lead singer Eric Slater, "We've been doing Pre-Sales since we started. Most of the clubs in the Lancaster area demand it and we just assume it's part of paying your dues." That is until Fagan took them under his wing and gave them a residency. Even with that opportunity, however, the band pre-sold tickets at other venues, such as the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour.

"For out-of-town bands," Slater explains, "the goal is to be part of the L.A. scene. And if we have to do Pre-Sales, so be it." Slater contends that it does give young acts experience with promotions, but it also can detract from the creative process. "Sometimes it's hard for an unknown band to sell tickets and the pressure can get heavy. But we managed to sell 200 tickets for our Whisky show and made a little money."

Soulshine is one of those acts that have already proven themselves. Sean Healy reports that they insist on Pre-Sales even though he no longer requires it. Lead singer Marc Monroe clarifies, "People are more likely to show up when they have a ticket. Sure it makes us work a little harder, but we're an unsolicited band in a solicited world."

According to Monroe, some acts are natural promoters while others need motivation. "Pre-Sales gives you that push," he states. Moreover, Monroe firmly believes that better venues give you a better draw. "We brought 300 people to the House of Blues, and I'm sure a big reason we did so well was the club." Of course, a venue like HOB often requires Pre-Sales. "But it's worth it," Monroe contends, "because people will come to see you play there."

"I'd rather book a 'great band' with less draw, because they need to be seen and heard. If this Pay- to-Play mindset existed in the Sixties, the Doors would never have had a career." --Len Fagan


In Los Angeles, artists are expected to promote their own shows and bookers buy ad space in local publications. The bookers who spoke to MC for this article also maintain that they will give additional help to acts that need it. Sheena Metal will put notices in her extensive mailing list. Neal Rocklin and the Gig staff collect information from successful (as well as struggling) acts, and shares it with other artists. Sean Healy brainstorms and offers suggestions like hosting an after-party or getting a celebrity to introduce your show. Mike Giangreco and Len Fagan will contact industry, labels, managers and media and get them to your gig. In fact, all of the bookers want their acts to be successful because, obviously, it benefits everyone.

However, promoting a show can be hard work. When Soulshine first started doing Pre-Sales, Monroe says, "It affected us and bled into our performance. We're artists and we love to play. But we found that having to sell tickets got us into a different frame of mind that wasn't always conducive to a great show. After awhile," he claims, "we got used to it and came to appreciate the process. Now, we're a promotional machine."


Of course, not everyone requires that you pay to play. There are some venues and some situations where the Pre-Sales arrangement is still not a factor. In fact, singer/ songwriters seem to be exempt from the Pay-to-Play trend.
But, most of the popular clubs that present rock and pop music will demand some sort of guarantee count from the artist. And, no one sees this situation changing anytime soon.

In fact, Sean Healy offers some perspective. "Unless a prominent music movement takes hold and clubs can start surviving on walk-ins, things aren't likely to change. The big difference between today and Bill Graham's day (the Sixties) is that he had the benefit of a movement and cultural phenomenon. The only thing close to that now is hip-hop. Fans who enjoy that style of music will come to a hip-hop show at any time on any day. That doesn't normally happen when you're talking about rock or pop."

The bummer, according to Soulshine's Monroe, is that Pre-Sales prevents acts from playing very often. "We'd love to play every week, but twice a month is the most we can do when we have to sell tickets. Occasionally," he says, "we'll play a local bar just for the fun of it and keep our chops tight."

Len Fagan believes the real key to success is giving value to the music community. "You can't just take, take, take and expect to succeed -- you have to give something, too." In some instances, Fagan believes, Pre-Sales could be a double-edged sword. "They might ensure a draw," he argues, "but they could also be a 'vanity affair' that has nothing to do with talent."

True enough. But, for acts like Off Limits and Soulshine, Monroe contends that Pre-Sales can have a positive effect. "If artists don't learn how to promote themselves, I don't think they have a chance in this business. At the very least, Pre-Sales will get their promotional muscle working."