Jack’s been thinking…..

Jack Davies

We welcome trumpeter/ bandleader/ composer/ promoter Jack Davies woth the first “Jack’s been thinking…” a new, regular Friday comment slot.

There seems to have been a flurry of debate recently about the state of British jazz and what can be done to improve things.

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The latest comes from Peter Bacon’s Jazz Breakfast blog, and it has raised a few interesting topics. One comment from Tom Shearer pointed to the Scottish Jazz Federation’s audience research, which explores, amongst other things, the pricing of jazz concerts.

Is £5 too little?

Do cheap ticket prices lead to an under-valuing of the artistic merits of jazz musicians?

According to the Scottish research, those attending jazz for the first time opted for concerts with a high ticket price, suggesting that they were indeed associating cost with quality.

The issue for me (as someone who puts on two fantastic bands every week for a price of a mere £5) is does low ticket price cause serious damage to the public perception of jazz?

The most expensive ticket to the Royal Opera House next weekend comes in at £205, while at Ronnie Scott’s, the priciest London jazz venue, the best seats are £42.50. This must, surely, have some effect on the publicly perceived hierarchy of the two genres.

At Jazz @ the North London Tavern, we have always been clear that what we offer bands is the chance to have complete musical freedom in friendly, and hopefully well attended surroundings, not a large wedge of cash. A lot of our audience members are regulars, and I would worry that audience numbers might suffer if ticket price was raised, and that would remove our whole raison d’être.

However, this issue does trouble me. The last thing these small venues are hoping to do is damage the British jazz scene in any way.

In the meantime, you can catch Head of the Jazz at the Royal Academy, Nick Smart and his Jazz Matanzas band, along with James Gardiner-Bateman ’s sextet this Sunday at the North London Tavern for a measly £5.

Let’s hope the room is full.

Jazz at the NLT is on FacebookThe NLT is at 375 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7QB, 150 metres from Kilburn Tube Station

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10 replies »

  1. I should perhaps say at the outset that musicians underselling themselves is a bit of a bugbear of mine (it's OK to say no to a gig because it's not enough dosh…and say that's why. Fees/ door receipts will go up if more people do).

    But interesting question.
    I'm not sure it's comparing like with like. There's a difference between a well established name/venue like Ronnies and a smaller, less well known venue.
    Ronnies is in the centre of London and, as well as musos and music lovers, also picks up tourists, business types, etc as much for the clubs name as the act performing. They can afford to charge more.
    The audience for the two is very different, the smaller venue reliant much more heavily on regular punters….who, as you say, probably wouldn't turn up so regularly if it cost more.

    When you add the Royal Opera House to the equation that's another thing altogether. Production costs are much higher for putting on an Opera extravaganza than a quartet so perhaps there's some justification there.
    But having said that there is persistent opinion amongst lay folk (and especially the ones with the money) that jazz is a less “serious” music so, in general, people won't pay as much to see a jazz concert.
    My answer to “is £5 too little?” is yes, obviously but you have to be realistic given the audience that a venue is likely to attract….a full house at £5 a ticket is much better for audience and band alike than the band outnumbering the audience because it was £20.

    Which brings me back to my initial statement.
    If musicians had a higher opinion of their worth, and projected it, it might help lay peoples opinions of their worth to change (they're certainly not going to make the first move!) and perhaps value the music more. Obviously this will take time so we'd better start now…
    Who knows, jazz might even start attracting big donors and we might one day have a Royal Jazz House!

  2. Always expect to pay different prices for different bands. That's not a reflection on the skill / quality of theband but I might choose an enjoyable evening seeing a band that I have never heard of for £7 / £8 and not feel hard done by if they are getting their playing in shape but pay more for a band that I know is going to be good. £5.00 does seem rather a bargain I have to say.

  3. Very intriguing question, this – more next week, please!

    It's worth pointing out of course that there are plenty of very cheap tickets sold for all sorts of classical events, too. I run an orchestral series at LSO St Luke's where a good chunk of tickets are sold at £8, with further discounting for students, despite very high production costs. Though the low pricing significantly restricts potential revenues (meaning we have to work harder to subsidise the series) we don't feel that the effect is to devalue the work; on the contrary, these lower-priced tickets play a crucial role in allowing us to reach audiences who wouldn't otherwise ever consider coming to an orchestral concert. Of course we do then also sell tickets at higher rates, too, so those can afford to contribute more do so.

    Perhaps more of us should experiment with the 'pay what you can' model used by the Roundhouse recently for its Ron Arad installation. Would be interesting to know whether that was a success….

  4. What a great debate to start!

    I think there are lots of different things going on in the economics of ticket pricing: someone, somewhere must have done a PhD on this…

    J@NLT is a very different beast to Ronnie's or the Barbican: they're probably not what you're competing with. But most punters are more or less sensitive to price: I booked a ticket yesterday for a gig at Ronnie's: the cheapest available was £20, and I wouldn't pay more than that.

    I actually believe that J@NLT could happily charge £10 and it wouldn't decrease your audience: people who make it out to a pub in Kilburn on a Sunday night are pretty keen to start with; your music policy – putting on interesting combinations new to most of us – gets people who are interested in hearing something new.

    And I hope to make it tomorrow…

  5. EMJazz actually did some research into this a couple of years ago.


    I would say that £10 is a reasonable price to charge for a two-hour gig by a group of 3-6 musicians. And I think larger bands should charge more.

    If you're thinking of charging £8, you may as well charge £10: unless you're thinking that psychologically people will feel like they're getting a bargain. £7 is a happy medium.

    It could also be that you want to set the price lower so that more people can come: I think this is fine for your OWN gigs, but if I put on other people I try not to risk it.

    If you're self-promoting, there are the factors of space hire and being able to pay musicians, but assuming you get enough people in, I reckon £10 would cover it almost anywhere.

    It's not that I think that £5 is too low – but on a purely practical level, I would only really charge that if

    1. the room was free and I knew I could guarantee at least 60 people (= £300);

    2. if I could fund the event adequately myself; or

    3. everyone knew and was happy with just getting drinks/travel/no money – which I think [unfortunately] is the prevailing situation.

    I've always toyed with the idea of doing a “one note, one coin” night: I think it gives the gig-goer more guidance than “pay what you want”, and yet still allows flexibility for people's budgets [although the number of £52 donations might be rare!].

  6. A great post to debate!

    I think you have to be aware of who your audience base is going to be/who you are aiming at when you decide on pricing. If you think your concert/gig is likely to appeal to local jazz fans, other musicians or students then in my opinion keep it pretty cheap. Higher prices might put your regulars off which is the last thing you want especially at the moment.

    I think the real point has been missed though, which isn't just about pricing, it's about that of “awareness”. Your average member of the public doesn't know that a lot of these (often great) gigs are happening and having put on concerts myself I do find that quite a few people are willing to try something new or different.

    I know it's difficult with often next to no advertising budget, but I think we just have to spread the word more with some smart programming if we want to increase audiences.

  7. some interesting points made already, but from my own experience i would say a couple of things:

    (1) £5 is definitely too low – in London this is almost regarded as “throw-away” money these days, so implies a very low value to the music. £8 to £10 makes a lot more sense as a minimum. you may lose 1 or 2 people intitially but not as many as you might think.

    (2) do not be put off by a few people saying they can't afford your price. mathematically speaking, when you hit the optimum price for maximum revenue, there will always be some people for whom it is too much, and others who could have paid more (see the Laffer Curve in economics). so, simply put, if no-one is complaining then the price is too low!


  8. This question has exercised my brain cells too this year. I decided to put on a series of gigs on Sunday nights in a old chapel in the Devon village where I now live. I can't afford to guarantee a fee to the artist, so I approached musicians I knew who were fixing tours of the South West, or who have connections in the area with the offer of a great listening venue with a fine Yamaha baby grand, and a place to crash on the edge of Dartmoor while en route to or from Cornwall, Bristol, Appledore, Dorset, etc. I explained that I had no idea how many people would come along – and that the fee would be a split of whatever was taken on the door. It costs me about £100 to book the venue and I spent another £100 on 5000 postcards advertising all 5 gigs. I have a couple local friends who help out on the night taking door money, making tea & and coffee, etc. There's a pub across the road – where people can meet, or go for a drink during the interval.

    I'm promoting it to a potential audience who mostly don't know who the musicians are, in the hope that I'll get a reputation for putting on high quality gigs that people enjoy. I decided that most people will happily have paid £10 if they come out of the gig thinking 'That was great! I'm really glad I went.' (There's an obvious problem with the tense in that sentence!) But there will be some people for whom a tenner a head, especially for a couple or a whole family is just too much. But to go along with the thoughts of the article above, I felt that pricing the gigs at any less than that would potentially, perhaps unwittingly, put people off by not making it clear that I think these are gigs that are absolutely worth this price – if not more. I want people to feel that they are actually getting a bargain, by having great music on their doorstep, rather than driving 20 miles to Exeter or Plymouth where there are bigger venues.

    So I have two approaches that I hope help to make the ticket price less intimidating – I'd be interested in what other people think of these, or hearing other suggestions (that don't make more admin work for me!)

    1. Offer a meaningful concession price. I've started listing the price as £10 or £5 concessions for anyone who needs one. I'm hoping that people will see what I'm doing here, and genuinely offer what they can afford. For example, a couple brought their 7 year-old along, paid £10 each but nothing for the child – I'm very happy with that.

    2. Offer 'Your Money Back if You Don't Like It'. This is a genuine offer which I used informally in the past when running the box office at The Famous Spiegeltent up in the Edinburgh Fringe one year. So far here, nobody's taken me up on it. I see it as a bit of a variant on 'Pay What You Can' in that it puts the onus on the audience member to behave in a fair way. I'm completely prepared to hand back someone's tenner if they want to leave during the first set as they're really not enjoying it.

    No 2 has had the added advantage of getting a bit of press for me – it makes for a good headline, so a couple local journalists picked up on it when I sent it out in a press release for a gig in the summer. Though I can't say these little articles made much difference – perhaps a handful of extra punters. (cont…)

  9. (cont…) Nathan's right though, that the real problem, as I'm sure anyone who's ever tried this this, that the holy grail is getting the information under people's noses in a way that works for them. This takes a huge amount of time and organisation which nobody really values.

    We had a gig this Sunday for which I hadn't been able to do any of the usual pre-gig postering of the town due to being hospitalised in the weeks beforehand. By Friday, I'd had 2 firm bookings, and was expecting perhaps 20 people to turn up. I sent out an email 'plea' to about 80 people telling them this, and saying 'please come' – which leaves me feeling like I'm almost manipulating friends by making them come along out of pity, or somesuch. It also makes me really question why I'm doing this at all. As it turned out – it was a great gig. An audience of around 60 pitched up and we took £450. The quartet got paid £300 – a pittance which at least covered their petrol, and doesn't even come near the minimum wage if you take into account the fact that they drove from London, and decided to drive straight back afterwards for a gig there the following night.

    Is it worth it? I know that some, probably most, of the audience absolutely loved it.

    We've got one more gig in the series in November. I don't know if I can take the stress of putting more of these on, unless the musicians involved are people I know well enough to know that their expectations don't exceed what I can offer.

    Good press and publicity becomes another double-edged sword, in that it looks like I'm running some sort of professionally backed promotion operation, and people have started approaching me asking for gigs. Sunday's was the result of just such a cold call. I've got another email from the manager of someone who I'd love to book – and who I know would be perfect for the audience here. But despite being a well-known name to the jazz world, is pretty unknown to the general public.

  10. Jeanie Barton wrote by email

    I entirely agree with Jonty – while musicians continue to offer to play at venues for less than they pay the glass collectors, the whole genre of jazz will be perceived by bookers and audience to be “cheap”…

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