This Band Lost $3,000 At Their Record Release Show in LA

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I need to start off by saying that an incredible album dropped last week. You should go and listen to Vulfpeck’s Thrill of The Arts right now. It’s funky. It grooves. It’s soulful. There are some fantastic guest vocalists on there. And guitarist Blake Mills (producer of my favorite album of the year, Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes) is on it.

Go listen to it on Spotify. Why? For the irony of course. The reason the name Vulfpeck sounds familiar to you is most likely because you heard about them through their “Sleepify” album. Remember that? These were the guys who put up a silent album of :30 second songs and encouraged their fans to put it on repeat at night while they slept. They made $20,000 before Spotify took it down claiming it was against their terms of service.

+After $20,000 Is Raised, Spotify Rips Down The ‘Sleepify’ Album

This stunt got people to actually check out their real music – and it’s pretty darn good. Vulfpeck just raised $55,000 from 1,673 backers on Kickstarter for their new album which they released this past Friday night to a sold out crowd at the 600-cap Teragram Ballroom in downtown LA.

Vulfpeck is an odd band. They don’t seem to handle any of their business the “right” way. Or any way that’s been done before. They are unapologetic music nerds who pride themselves on groove, tones and musicianship. And seem to throw a middle finger at the business (of music) at every chance they get.

At the show, the two front men, Jack Stratton and Theo Katzman traded off between drums, guitar and keys. Stratton cracked music-nerd jokes all night, referencing the kind of pickups his tricked-out strat had and how it was going straight DI (you could hear every guitarist in the room collectively gasp). He bombastically yelled through the mic asking Katzman if there was compression on his mic. When Katzman shot back “yeah” Stratton yelled “liar!” Katzman played a guitar solo consisting of 5 notes but he sold it like it was the greatest solo ever performed and made some crack about the kid in jazz band who does that. Then he made a joke about counterpoint (I studied that sh*t for two years in college and he triggered my PTSD). He yelled “who here was in jazz band.” Deafening roar.

Music nerds united at last with more music nerds.

The new Vulfpeck record is super tight. The live Vulfpeck show was not.

Sure, they are great players and played the songs well, but the show was all over the place. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the setlist or much flow to the show. They had a bunch of special guests who sat in with them, but no one seemed to show up on time or knew what they were doing. One guest singer who they called to the stage 3 separate times before she actually made it to the stage had apparently flew in for this show and just landed at LAX. She finally got on stage only to sing inaudible backup vocals. All that for this? We all expected at least a solo of some sort.

The sound in the room was alright. It’s a state of the art system (the venue is only 3 months old) and the sound engineer was doing the best he could – without knowing the band’s setup, special guest lineup or instrumentation they were using from song to song. The band should have brought their own sound engineer for such a huge show like this. And they should have rehearsed their set, in order, with changing instruments, to help the flow.

Putting a great show together takes a lot more than just learning the songs. You have to craft a set list that fits the room, the audience and the occasion.

Their stage banter was right in line with their odd personas. Stratton at one point told Katzman to discuss his Dvar Torah (the teaching of the week’s Torah portion). They describe themselves on their website as “a half-Jewish post-geographic rhythm section”, which, if you go to their website, note that it has, in fact, loaded properly – the text-only website is their official site. But, it’s right in line with their Kickstarter video. Which is also off the f’ing wall.

Unoriginal, they are not.

The best song of the night, by far, was when Vulfpeck brought out jazz/soul singer Charles Jones to sing “Game Winner.” They also brought the opener, Joey Dosik, back out on the rhodes (Dosik actually wrote the song). Jones has so much power, control, passion and flexibility with his voice that he puts every American Idol contestant (and winner) to shame. He was so good that it was a bit disappointing he only sang two songs – he should have been up there the entire night.

Blake Mills, also in the house, came out towards the very end of the set and treated the room to his guitar prowess.

The crowd erupted when Vulfpeck started their most popular song (nearly 1 million plays on Spotify), “1612,” only to be quite disappointed that they replaced the lead vocals with a saxophone (Why wasn’t Jones back up to sing it?!). Theo Katzman also has some pipes on him as well, but instead of him singing it, they replaced the vocals with a Richie Cannata-like saxophonist. He was exceptional, sure, but how can you omit the vocals to your most popular song at your biggest headlining show to date? And they did it for their 2nd most popular song too, “Wait for the Moment.” Santana doesn’t sing either, but he hires vocalists to sing the parts. If Santana can’t get his special guests like Rob Thomas, Miguel or Dave Matthews to the show, his hired vocalists sing the part – he doesn’t just play the melody.

The crowd, undeterred, belted out what words they could remember for the two songs.

The highlight of the night was “Christmas in LA,” another stand out from the new record. Stratton lead the room in a three-part harmony sing-a-long. Not hard for the crowd of mostly music majors. He intro’d the song saying that this is not to be confused with the song with the same name by Dawes. Actually it’s by The Killers (feat. Dawes). But members of Dawes were in the house, so might as well give them a shoutout.

it was christmas in LA last nite. charles jonesblake millschristine hucaljoey dosikjanitordj sugar schniederman& alekos the greek @vancitymcdonald

Posted by Vulfpeck on Saturday, October 10, 2015

After the show I went to the giant merch table in the front lobby to buy a vinyl. But much to my surprise, not only was there no vinyl (they have some for sale on their online merch store), there weren’t CDs, t-shirts or any other merch other than an 11×17 release poster. AND there was no merch seller. There was a handwritten sign that read: “SHOW POSTER $20 (cash only) (HONOR SYSTEM). Joey Dosik Vinyl – $20” There was a shoe box with a cut out hole on top for people to slip in cash.

Earlier in the show, Stratton mentioned that they were running a social experiment with this honor system. I thought it was a joke.

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Joey eventually came behind the merch table to warmly greet fans and sign his records. I tried to buy one, but he was all out! He’s local to LA. It’s not like he ran out on tour and the vinyl plant got backed up. The #1 rule of show merch is don’t run out. It seemed that he just didn’t bring enough. Which cost him my $20 (and I’m sure much more).

But Vulfpeck were the ones who left the most money on the table. At one point in the show they complained about their deal, stating “Ticketmaster are the true scoundrels. They take 20% of every ticket. We only get $10 a ticket.” Which, is insane for a $27.40 ticket (after fees) for a sold out show at a 600 cap club.

“Ticketmaster are the true scoundrels. They take 20% of every ticket. We only get $10 a ticket.” – Vulfpeck

But guys, if you are looking for ways to make more money on your shows, merch is it! The tour merch tracking platform AtVenu informed me that for 500-1,000 cap venues, the average $ per head is $3.65. That means, 600 people multiplied by $3.65 = $2,190 was left on the table by 1) not having much merch, 2) not having a merch seller (for this large of a crowd they should have had at least 4 working the table), and 3) not taking credit cards (when Square, PayPal and Amazon offer free swipers for your phone there’s no reason not to take credit). Because who carries cash anymore?

The average dollar per head for a 500-1,000 cap venue is $3.65

I was ready to drop about $50 on some vinyl and a t-shirt, but I couldn’t. So instead, I paid $7.40 to Ticketmaster, $40 to Teragram ($10 for the ticket, $30 for drinks/tip) and only $10 to Vulfpeck, when I was ready to spend an additional $50 on them, but couldn’t. I had no cash on me to drop in the box as a tip for the band.

Fans want to give artists money. It makes them feel good to support people who bring joy to their lives. And especially after a concert when everyone is on a collective high after going through a beautiful, communal experience, people are ready (and willing) to give lots of money. In the form of merch purchasing, of course. I’ve run out of shirts on tour before and people at the merch table always tell me they’ll just go buy it online (when I don’t have their size at the venue), but of course they never do. The buzz happens at the show. People are ready and willing at the show. Once they step outside the venue, the magic is gone. Every inch further away from the merch table, the less inclined they are to buy. And when they’re back home, all cozy beneath their covers watching Narcos, they’re not clicking through to your website to figure out how to buy your shirt or vinyl. They’re thinking about how Pablo is going to evade the Gringos.

People are ready and willing at the show. Once they step outside the venue, the magic is gone. Every inch further away from the merch table, the less inclined they are to buy.

It’s totally unacceptable (from a business standpoint) to not have records for sale (CDs or vinyl) – especially at your record release show. Vulfpeck just made $55,266 on Kickstarter. That’s more than enough to print up some vinyl and CDs. Yes vinyl turnaround times are brutal. Believe me, I know. I went through it for my last release – was nearly 5 months from sending in the final masters/artwork to having them arrive on my doorstep. But that’s why you don’t book your record release show before you know when the records will arrive.

Yeah, these guys (by their own acknowledgement) made $6,000 in ticket sales on the night and probably a couple hundred in poster “sales.” But why leave money on the table? Why not sell merch? Why not offer 10 VIP meet and greets via BandPage for $100 (that doesn’t have to be split with the venue or Ticketmaster)? That’s an additional $1,000 – believe it or not, these sell very well for small-mid level bands.

+Why BandPage Is Going To Be The Most Powerful Player In Music

And Vulfpeck, I know you guys are reading this thinking, “who is this Ari as$hole? Let’s find him and give him a stern talking to.” I’m a fan. A musician. A fellow band geek. And someone who understands the importance of being smart about your business at every stage of your career. Because an additional $3,000 could have helped you buy better gear, invest in tour expenses, make a music video or pay for advertising and PR to promote your stellar new album that the world should hear.

Peace out.

24 Responses

  1. renon

    Ari, the merch cop. Those posters looked pretty weak as well, for $20.

  2. Axel

    I was at the show too! Such a fantastic night.

    I gotta say though it really does seem like the money thing is an afterthought for them. I’m just hypothesizing here but it seems Vulfpeck is such a passion project that the main guys probably make their money elsewhere (I can’t imagine with talent and hype like that in LA they aren’t doing hefty session writing/recording) . Or maybe that’s what people assume, and thus the problem with the way they handle their business.

    Either way, great write up!

    • Manadrew

      SUCH A GREAT SHOW. Cannot love this band enough…

      Take a listen to this interview with Jack from Vulfpeck:

      This is very much their main focus. They get by on Vulfpeck and side gigs, but the goal is to eventually make this the main deal. What’s odd is that Jack clearly seems business-savvy in this podcast and it certainly shows with their popularity, but the lack of the ALBUM at the ALBUM RELEASE SHOW just blew my mind.

      $3k at least, Ari! They had the audience in the palm of their hands, truly! The energy in the room was amazing, even with all the unorganized bits. I think it added to the intensity of the evening… “What will they do next!?!?!”

      Weird but best show ever.

    • Manadrew

      SUCH A GREAT SHOW. Cannot love this band enough…

      Take a listen to this interview with Jack from Vulfpeck:

      This is very much their main focus. They get by on Vulfpeck and side gigs, but the goal is to eventually make this the main deal. What’s odd is that Jack clearly seems business-savvy in this podcast and it certainly shows with their popularity, but the lack of the ALBUM at the ALBUM RELEASE SHOW just blew my mind.

      $3k at least, Ari! They had the audience in the palm of their hands, truly! The energy in the room was amazing, even with all the unorganized bits. I think it added to the intensity of the evening… “What will they do next!?!?!”

      Weird but best show ever.

  3. richard serra

    Of course space is my preferential art form, however my friend phillip glass is quite the spectacle. This alludes to the preference of a veteran live sound engineer if your art notice preference is live music as opposed to incidentals you may also have for sale. A man in the persian event celebrations community, I would recommend. His name is john.

  4. Anonymous

    What’s the average merch per head at a 0-100 cap show or a 100-250 cap show? Did you get those figures too? For developing artists, those would be useful number to have. One assumes the number is probably lower and then scales up steadily until it levels off at some point and then become purely about sales volume.

  5. Danwriter

    I’ve heard of burying the lead but this is ridiculous. The fact declared in the hedline doesn’t appear in the story until the last graf. Otherwise, it’s a concert review written, apparently, by Yoda.

    “Unoriginal, they are not.”

  6. hilarious clickbait

    The last time this writer wrote a ridiculous, critical article about a band not selling merch (a Madison group) he had egg on his face for being critical when it didn’t apply; which has me questioning his intentions with this post.

    A quick check of Vulfpeck’s Kickstart campaign: Records estimated delivery: January 2016. Well, that explains why they didn’t have records at the merch table!

    Since Vulfpeck knew they weren’t going to have any merch to sell, that’s probably why they didn’t need to ask friends to volunteer at the merch table. After their successful Kickstarter campaign, they do have 1153 records and 566 shirts they are obligated to mail out. One might wonder how many attendees of the LA show were backers, celebrating the campaign and new music’s success.

    Vulfpeck appears to have drawn a line in the sand with replicating CDs. They didn’t offer them as a Kickstarter reward, and they don’t offer CDs for sale on their Bandcamp page. Focusing only on digital and vinyl isn’t a shocker in 2015. (Bands omitting CD replications will be the norm in a few years, especially if they have younger fan bases.)

    That choice to ignore CDs may leave a bit of money on the table right now, if there was a larger tour planned, but we don’t how much touring Vulfpeck is going to do come 2016. Read the Wall Street Journal article about them, and notice it says, “Touring is still too costly.”

    My guess is they will return to Ann Arbor soon. They sell out the Bling Pig when they come to their hometown. They did a five city tour for Sleepify, they seem to heads on straight about touring without going overboard. It will be exciting to see what’s next for them after the holidays.

    Now, should they have waited until January to do a release show when it’s ready digitally, and most people are going to consume the music digitally? I’d say no. As you admitted, vinyl productions are fraught with long periods of delays, maybe even more than five months now.

    Seems silly to wait, and the blogger didn’t interview the band, nor know what other musical endeavors might be approaching (session work, Theo Katzman touring with another artist or solo, etc…)

    The blogger does ask, “Why not do meet-and-greets.” Answer: Because VIP things are gross, an example of bands that don’t respect their fans. Vulfpeck just did a great Kickstarter campaign that got supported by music lovers who respect them. Thankfully, this band didn’t do VIP meet-and-greets. I know bands are struggling and need to make some extra money, but seriously, let’s call VIP meet-and-greets for what they are: milking as much money as possible from fans (or young fans’ parents). Ed Sheeran already pointed out how sickening these money schemes are.

    This is nothing more than ridiculous clickbait-titled, weak writing: “This band lost $3000 at their release show.” No one lost money that wasn’t there!

    And assuming some average about merch sales isn’t evidence about how much money they could have made. (Pomplamoose didn’t sell as much merch as they had estimated they would in their fall tour of 2014. They legitimately “lost money” on that tour.) So many groups order a bunch of merch, finish their tours, and have boxes of merch taking room in their closets for years. My guess is this writer has some merch laying around his apartment, gathering dust.

    They sold out a 600 capacity room in LA. Reread: “Who is this Ari as$hole?” A blogger being just that, who should get off Vulfpeck’s case.

    • Ari Herstand

      Thanks for the intelligent discourse and glad you’re following my writing. Headlines are headlines. Welcome to the internet. But getting to the meat of it:

      Meet and greets are only slimy if you make them slimy. The way that pop stars (with tween fan bases) do it is creepy. And it’s easy for Ed Sheeran to say this. He’s selling out arenas worldwide and definitely doesn’t need the extra money. But what about for small-mid level bands that actually do need the money? There are ways to do it that are respectful of their fans.

      Take for instance the indie band Wild Child, who drew about 100-500 people a night on their last tour. They doubled their net touring revenue by offering pre-show band hangs. Their manager said that these were the only way they could afford to stay on the road.

      So yeah, don’t call them ‘meet and greets.’ Call them ‘hangouts,’ ‘jams,’ ‘potlucks’ whatever. Jana Kramer challenged fans to a ping pong game backstage before her shows for $60 a pop.

      The 2013 Nielsen study revealed that music fans would spend up to $2.6 billion more if they had opportunities for VIP, behind the scenes access. Let fans pay you money if they want to. Give them options.

      I’m critical of Vulfpeck (and the Madison band) because I want them to succeed. And hopefully these pieces get them to take a second look at how they handle their business. If I didn’t care for them I wouldn’t have written this. I know that an extra few hundred to a few thousand a night can determine if the tour ends in the red or black. Pomplamoose made some dumb decisions on their tour. They admit it. So the fact that their tour lost money, doesn’t really mean anything. And the fact they didn’t sell as much merch as they anticipated could be because of many reasons: they didn’t offer credit, they didn’t have good merch sellers, they didn’t mention it on stage, they didn’t have the merch in a prominent location in the venue, it wasn’t well lit, the display was bad, etc etc etc. There are many factors that go into how to sell more merch. Just having it is only step 1.

      AtVenu’s numbers are averages. Maybe Vulfpeck would be higher, maybe lower. But either way, these are the best guidelines to use.

      And absolutely I have merch sitting at home collecting dust, but that’s because the amount I ordered was to fulfill the tour and not runout while still making a good profit. Which it did. There will always be leftovers. And then you can run sales to get rid of them. Or contest giveaways to promote releases.

      • hilarious clickbait

        Ari, I’ll ponder your ideas about VIP experiences with an open mind, but my position on meet-and-greets hasn’t changed.

        Ed Sheeran may be a poor example of someone needing extra funding, but his criticism of them (direct symbolism of income inequality in this country) resonates with me. (Your example of a celebrity’s $60 beer pong games doesn’t.)

        Let’s ponder this again: “Headlines are headlines. Welcome to the internet.” It’s a knowingly, lying headline, but because it’s the Internet, facts don’t matter? LOL! DMN’s poor standards are starting to reflect in your writing.

        • Ari Herstand

          I hear you. And respect the position. But I wouldn’t say it’s a knowingly lying title. AtVenu has data from thousands of shows of every genre to come up with their averages. It’s a fact that the average dollar per head for 500-1000 cap venues is $3.65. It’s a fact that if you don’t offer merch you won’t sell any (and lose lots of potential revenue). If I pulled these numbers out of thin air, then yeah, you’d be right on point to question them. But these numbers are based off of research and data.

          • hilarious clickbait

            Using that logic, you could compose, “Band follows a blogger’s advice not to host show which would sell out 600 cap club, and LOSES $6K!”

      • Brandon

        And succeed they did haha. Interesting perspective on early the early Vulfpeck days, very cool!

  7. Matt Bunsen

    you know, sometimes its about making art… don’t let it bother you that someone didn’t maximize their yield… Besides, in the long run moves like this could lead to even greater successes. maybe someday they will “sell out” and Ari will be happy!

  8. Noah

    Maybe it’s more about drinking the kool-aid but you “fans” who are supporting this band’s decisions to narrow their profits are basically saying that you want them to keep having to work side jobs in order to pursue their true passion.

    If you really care, why be an apologist? Why not want for them to earn the most they can in an ethical way? Those are the kinds of things that help facilitate growth but just sitting on the sidelines and acting like anyone or anything you believe in can do no wrong is actually more of a hinderance than help.

    Also, if they want to produce CD’s for cheap (because some people still like CD’s since fidelity and price wise, they sit between compressed digital and vinyl and still give you something to hold that is easily digitized in whatever format you prefer).

    I’ve managed, promoted and worked with more bands than I can remember and the ones that are still going strong are the ones that had the most coordination. If fans want something and they will give you money for it, why not let them. It’s pretty simple.

    Also, Ed Sheehan is a terrible example for the whole meet and greet thing but I see where Mr. Hilarious is coming from. It would be really sleazy if he offered meet and greets because his fans are predominantly young girls, so it starts seeming weird. At the same time, I would NEVER pay $60 to play ping pong with an artist, I wouldn’t even pay that to play a game of ping pong with someone who sells out stadiums, but that’s because I’m personally not interested in paying for access. Some people are, so my point is that I feel that ‘hangouts’ or whatever you want to call them should be offered, cleverly if possible. I like the ping pong idea and potlucks but I think $60 is steep if you’re not at that level where you sell out 2k+ capacity venues and all the people there want to talk to you (I think a few hundred might be fair for stadium level performers depending on how they do it). But I realize that I’m not every fan and the fact that I wouldn’t pay for that doesn’t mean other people wouldn’t.

  9. Upstream Salmon

    To Hilarous clickbait.
    When you are an awful joke of a musician, the wrong side of 30, you spend your time picking holes in other artists, people, anything really. It goes some way to deflect the attention away from your own mess of a career.
    Ari’s music is the most unimaginative, awful dross i’ve encountered. Rather than work on that he just comes on here to his give advice on ANYTHING else but his own music.
    Ari, i wrote a comment on your wall a while back harmlessly critiqueing your music. You deleted it, like the coward that you are. You can give out criticism, against everyone. But you can not take it. Because taking criticism would break down the wall you have built where you believe your own bullshit and probably think you actually have a career. (begging for $1 on patroen is not a career btw, homeless people make more than you do with a lot more dignity)
    You don’t have any career.
    You have no platform for your music and no platform for your writing. Please prove me wrong and submit any of your writing to huffington post. I would love to hear their thoughts.
    This is the last chance saloon for your career and it’s been hilarious to watch. Thank you

    • hilarious clickbait

      Unnecessarily harsh.

      Attack the position, not the author (unless the author is a politician running on family values while not living up to those values). I’m critical of these last two articles about bands, but Ari’s blogs on his Ari’s Take have been helpful for so many musicians. He’s willing to put his name on his writing, which is more than us commenters are willing to do.

      • Sounds Fishy

        Nice try Ari but you’re just making things worse for yourself fake commenting.
        Your articles may resonate with the section of desperate, clueless musicians but your writing has no place in any serious publications, hence writing on this awful site. And i don’t generally attack peoples creativity, however that comes out. So i’ll keep shtum on my opinions of your music

  10. Anonymous

    Clickbait headline for a show review about a band no one cares about from a town where everyone is delusional and underwhelming.

  11. Inquisitive

    Dead. On! Besides being a musician, I’m also a music fan… so, I watch myself behave when I’m in fan mode, to learn how to better interact with my fans. I just spent $250 for a meet+Greet with a favorite mid-level band of mine. Plus… I donated, way more than what the regular album cost is, to the band for a copy of the album…plus, when they come to play in concert soon, I will definitely have merch purchasing money in hand. I get how a fan will literally pour money into an artist they appreciate, because I do that. You are so dead on, Ari!!! Keep our brick and mortar storefront shelves stocked!!

  12. Hmm

    Clickbait-y title. You praise them for being quirky and unexpected, and then chastise them for ignoring conventions (signers, merch sales, etc.).