Author: Campbell, Bruce

So What's It Really Worth?

Every once in a while, some enterprising person will calculate the market value for the sum total of the raw materials that make up a typical human body. It usually comes in at around $100, give or take a few pennies. But that’s not really accurate is it? The human body, and bluegrass, is really priceless isn’t it? Recent columns on the “worth” of bluegrass or bluegrass shows really got me thinking. This is one of my favorite subjects to ponder and debate.

But in the most literal sense, the worth of any product a seller has is worth what the market (the buyer) will pay for it. So, today, in a rare fit of empathy, I’ve decided to try and see things from the point of view of those who pay for bluegrass.

One group is those who hire bands, and this runs the gamut of coffee shop proprietors to wedding planners to big time promoters. For the small venue owner, the worth of bluegrass is a pretty simple equation. If having a bluegrass band can increase the number of customers and the drinks or food they buy, then the worth of a bluegrass band is some portion of the increased revenue that featuring that music will bring. If they know some bluegrass bands are a sure draw, then those bands are probably worth a greater portion of that increased revenue, because it’s more of sure thing. If the proprietor sees the music as only a “sonic background”, then he or she is not likely to want to pay the band anything more than free drinks.

Folks who hire bands for weddings or corporate events have a vested interest in hiring a band that can be counted on to play well, be presentable, and be comfortable with the odd demands of a wedding or corporate gig. The band will likely be required to be at the venue for several hours, be willing to stop and start playing as the ceremonies demand, handle requests with aplomb and generally conduct themselves in a professional manner. Bands who can do this well can command very good pay for the day’s work. Since the guests at these events are invited, the band doesn’t need to be a draw (although big time corporate events sometimes hire big name bands).

For promoters, the draw is everything. Festivals and concerts live and die by ticket sales, so how good you are is almost irrelevant – instead, the question is, how many butts will you put in the seats? Your worth is again, a math problem – how will your addition to the event’s lineup effect the bottom line? Your worth is a portion of that.

Patrons who pay to see and hear bluegrass bands at these venues have a “worth” in mind, too, when deciding which shows or festivals to attend. Bands don’t have to guess this amount – this is risk that the promoter or proprietor has to take. Price the tickets too high and the audience will “stay away in droves”. Price them too low, and you’ll fill the place, but the take at the gate won’t cover your expenses.

So, obviously the push pull is like this: Bands would like to get paid as much as possible, and those who pay them would like to pay as little as possible. Boo hoo – this is just capitalism. Bands – if you want get paid more, always be improving your act and building up your fan base, Proprietors – if money’s tight, offer what you can reasonably afford, but close the gap by making an effort to show respect to the musicians who play at your establishment: feed them and don’t be stingy with the drinks – the profit margin on beer is huge. After all, this is really business, and business is best conducted when buyer and seller show proper respect for each other and try to understand each other.

Posted:  1/27/2010

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