One of the best opportunities for a local band to gain notoriety is to outperform all other acts at a festival or fair. Many times the acts at state fairs are on the oldies circuit, while county fair acts are more likely on the way up. Part of the thrill of these big events is that there are several bands to see. The show becomes more about quantity than quality, but somehow it's still good to be part of a big event. My latest fictional band, The Eric Jarrison Band, has learned some lessons about how to capitalize on these shows.
Eric Jarrison was born rich. By the time he graduated from high school he had $2 million in his bank account. He knew he couldn't do a straight office job and he wanted nothing to do with a regular sales job. One thing he always had a passion for was rock and roll. At age 12 he began playing guitar and was playing in high school bands within a few years. After years of investing in expensive recording equipment and band gear he decided to start a band called the Eric Jarrison Band.
Due to living in a wealthy neighborhood, Jarrison lived next door to the General Manager of the County Fair, Roger Bellpopper, who didn't know much about music, but had a $250,000 budget to play with. One day in Bellpopper's backyward, he and Jarrison had a discussion about entertainment. Jarrison asked Bellpopper if he noticed that most people at fairs don't respond well to unfamiliar music, but create excitement when they hear familiar hits. Bellpopper said he hadn't really paid attention to music, since he was more of a financial type guy.
Jarrison asked Bellpopper, "who do you have as a headliner this year?" Bellpopper said he hadn't come up with one yet. At that point Jarrison knew he could get the top slot. "Well, I think the best thing you can do," he told the GM, "is have a cover band play familiar hits. My band is available every night during the county fair and I guarantee we'll rock the house. My email marketing list has over 2,000 names and I know we can attract a crowd. How much can you pay each night?"
Bellpopper was stunned by the question, but awkwardly tried to answer it anyway. "I think the budget allows for $25,000 per day. But I'm expected to book several acts, as in about 50 local artists. If we're lucky we'll get a national band looking for exposure that doesn't require big upfront cash. Since your band is local, it would be categorized in a different pay scale than a nationally touring act. I can pay $5,000 a night."
Instantly, Jarrison reacted, "we'll do it." Bellpopper was a bit startled, but figured he could trust his friend to put on a series of ten good shows.
Bellpopper looked in Jarrison's eyes and said in a hoarse, crackling voice, "Well the Westside Storytellaz did offer to kick me back a grand."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," asserted Jarrison. "We'll kick you back a little more than that." Then the two shook hands.
Jarrison did not tell the three other band members about the money. He figured he would put all the money into a band fund and if anything ever became of the band, he would be open to suggestions on how to split the cash. His goal was to promote cover material that attracted crowds, then during the show slip in a bunch of originals and promote his CD and merchandise. For the county fair he was supposed to do 60s-70s-80s-90s rock covers, which was 75% of what the band did. The rest were originals.
Although the Eric Jarrison Band was the closing act on the main stage every night of the county fair, it did not turn them into instant local legends. There was no noticable uptick in website analytics. The local newspaper and TV news media did not cover the fair this year and crowds were sparse anyway. The event was a dud, but Eric lied and said on his blog it was an amazing success. Even so, Bellpopper was awarded a bonus for actually cutting the budget this year, saving thousands of dollars.