A few months back, one of my favorite touring musicians (who we’ve had through South Bend in the past) put an open call on their FB page looking for venues to book their upcoming tour (The Homeless Gospel Choir, Jon Snodgrass, and Mikey Erg). I quickly asked if they were looking for clubs or DIY spaces and got a prompt ‘message me’ response.
We worked through the basic questions and it came down to the detail that we would need to make the show a ticketed event. This is opposed to the fact that all of our events are donation based for the sake of keeping the music scene accessible to anyone regardless of their ability to pay a cover for the show. We’ve struggled for years with the balance of keeping shows accessible, but also keeping people responsible for taking care of bands financially through donations. Two things came to mind when faced with a show that I really wanted to host that would require a charged entrance: 1. Who WILL come? 2. Who CAN’T come?
After some thought, we committed to the date and tried to address the internal tension by creating space for people who can’t afford a ticket to still attend by asking other folks who were planning on purchasing tickets to donate a bit extra to offset the deficit. We poked some messages out there letting people know they should contact us if they couldn’t pay. Stir, cover with plastic wrap, and wait 20-30 days. Response was pretty positive but at the end of the day the big surprise was that no one used the available ‘free passes’. Only one person lacked enough cash and I let them in for a few bucks less than the ticket price. This broke my assumptions and comprehension about show economics and belief that people can’t afford $15 shows. Or at least that’s what this one example would suggest.
There’s some alternate scenarios to consider: Maybe there’s a sense of pride that keeps people from claiming an available free ticket, to the point that they’d rather not go than to ask to get in for free. My interactions with people who refuse to donate ANYTHING for our usual shows tells me this probably isn’t the case. Perhaps the demographic of people interested in this tour specifically just have more disposable income than our usual audience. Had the touring lineup looked different, perhaps there would have been more demand for free or discount tickets. These are only hypotheticals and the root questions can only be answered through further efforts and continuous reflection. So I turn inward: Do we serve our bands better if we ask people to adhere to a specific dollar value of the show? Do we serve our community better by leaving the admission a choice and a sliding scale to adapt to people’s ability?
Until we grow closer to answers, we will always maintain accessibility that has no financial requirement. We will continue to evolve our model and aim to be better than we have been in the past. I hope to continue to have conversations about this, come talk to us about such things at Bloodline Fest, Oct 25th-26th, South Bend, IN.