So we’re gonna play a game. You get to be the band, hmmm let’s say your band name is Godzilla Magpops. I play the promoter. Then I’ll play the label. I play the kid that’s making movie and wants you to be in it. Then I get to be the big time manager with a tour.
I get to offer you deals and you get one response. If you respond correctly you move on.
Promoter: “Hey, I think you guys suck but my girlfriend really wants you to be on a bill. I got that fucked up Prog Rock band Mists of Avalon playing on the 23rd. You guys can play the bill, and I’ll give you $100 for the first set.”
Tick, tick, tick (this is the part where the fashion model points at the clock thingy)
“Ah..Ah…..Can We play second for $50 vs 20% of the door?”
“You’re kidding right? 20% of the door!? You think you’re Metallica? No way. 10%”
“OK we’ll take it.” Ding, ding, ding… you move on to the next level.
[When you do a VS. deal or what is called a versus deal you are agreeing to receive one of two possible outcomes, in this case…either $50 or 20% of what the door totals for the night. So if the door comes to $250 you get $50. If it is more than $250 then you get 20%of the larger number . Since you agreed to 10% the door has to go above $500 for you to make more than $50.]
Next round….It’s the Record Label Round…. it’s worth half of a hill of beans and the fashion model spokesperson in this round is way hotter but would never date a person like you unless of course you get a record deal.
Label Dude calls….”Heya buddy boy, this is Slick Tawilliger from Turd Polisher Records. We love your band. We saw you guys at the Sunshine Superman festival and also on Chainsaw Rock night at The Turnstile. We think you’re the bees knees. We’d like to offer you a recording contract. We’ll sign you for 5 records, with an advance of $35,000 against 10 points. If that’s cool with you I can pop out of the dumpster in the alley behind your practice space in about ten minutes.”
“Turd Polisher!! I don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll see you at the dumpster.”
But since you passed the first round you get one more reply.
“Hmm Turd Polisher huh? Didn’t you drop my favorite band? Nevermind, so you’re offering us 5 records guaranteed, that sounds cool but we wouldn’t take anything less than 75,000 against 15 points and we want full publishing payments….”
“Gee you drive a hard bargain. How about two records guaranteed, 50,000 to start against 12 points?”
“Hmm that sounds interesting but you forgot full publishing and Slick?
“Get a pencil and write down our lawyer’s number.”
Bingo….Lots of flashing lights…..
Now I realize that most of this is meaningless. What is the game about? Is it about getting a gig? No. A record deal? No. An appearance in a movie? No. It’s about the basic way to talk shit when you negotiate. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is all about. What matters is the way you respond to an offer.
Let me simplify it.
I say I will give you A
You say I want A +1 and B
I say I will give you A, B, C and some of Z
You say, thanks for A, B +2,C +1 and all of Z and some of Y.
This blog is about basic negotiation skills. They are extremely important and whoever gets stuck being the mouthpiece for the band has to learn this system like the back of their hand. The philosophy behind this system is based upon some basic rules.
Rules of arguing out a deal…
1. They always offer something, anything, real and tangible first. They must go first.
Example – a promoter calls “Hey I got a slot open on the 12th what would you guys want? (he doesn’t make an offer) You reply with gibberish “I don’t know? What would we want?” ( you reply without saying anything of value) He says “Don’t be an asshole -how much do you guys want to play the opening set?” (now he has offered something real, the opening set, but he hasn’t mentioned money so you reply with more gibberish) “Gee, everyone knows I’m an asshole. I’m not sure I can act any other way. What’s the opening set pay?” This could go on for days since everyone has unlimited cell phone minutes. Eventually, right around the time he is considering choking his cat, he will give in and mention money. “Well I was thinking $150 to open.” Got him. He has offered something real.And he has offered something first. Now you move on to rule two.
2. After your adversary offers something you reply by adding to it and then asking for something else.
“Gee $150? I was thinking that we should play second set, give the first set to The Baboons ( a band from outta town that you are trying to hook up with a gig so they will help you out in return) and we would have a $250 guarantee. You can keep adding to your demands but remember you are trying to better his initial offer. If you actually talk the guy into paying your rent for the balance of the decade and giving you his girlfriend you may just negotiate him into being your enemy.
3. Learn the value of silence. DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH YOURSELF. Any good businessman will try to use silence when working a deal. If you are not careful, and you are not on your game they will use silence to bring out your doubts. Then you will be negotiating with yourself. When this happens you will discover that negotiating with yourself is a downhill game. This is the way it usually goes.
You are bargaining. He says how much? You say $1250, or blue or I want to produce or whatever. His response is total silence. The clock ticks, the world turns and still no reply. Now you start to wonder if you overplayed your hand. “did I ask too much?” You open your mouth and start to prop up your demand.”You know we are really worth it. We have two new singles out and blah, blah, blah…” You are now cheerfully negotiating with yourself. He will then add fuel to the fire by egging you on. Pretty soon you’ll be painting his Yacht on weekends and playing the gig for free. Here’s a story to illustrate this point.
I was negotiating the Figgs recording contract with Imago BMG. I had flown out to LA and hammered out a deal with the label’s lawyers.It was a typical situation, my lawyer, the band’s lawyer and a couple of label lawyers locked in a room for 10 hours. As usual I chainsmoked which pissed off everyone and as a result I got what I wanted -Three records guaranteed, $350,000 for the first record, full publishing, 90,000 tour support in the first six months, a war chest to bribe radio, all the fun stuff. What we did not work out was creative control. I was told I would have to negotiate all of those deal points with Terry Ellis the label President. I mentioned Terry in my first blog entry. He used to manage Jethro Tull and Billy Idol and founded Chrysalis Records.
After I returned from LA Terry’s assistant called to say he would be phoning me that evening to work out the final details of the deal. The music business has lots of assistants that do all the work and then call people to announce the fact that So and So would be calling at some future time.
So that evening the phone rings and I answer.
“Hold please for Terry Ellis.”
“Brad, how are you? Were all the arrangements in LA acceptable?”
Terry is slick. We talk about his wine collection and his race horse collection. I tell him some gossip about one of his ex employees. Then we get down to business.
“So, Terry let’s talk about creative issues. ”
“Certainly. What did you have in mind”
“Come now Terry, you don’t get off that easy. You go first. What’s the label’s position.”
Terry decides to throw me a bone of no value.
“Well we would like to pick the producer, pick all the songs, and get to remix with anyone we like.”
This is him basically saying that the label will control everything and the band gets no say.
“Gee that’s unfortunate Terry since I’m certain that the label the Figgs sign with will allow the band to pick all the songs, pick their producer and there will be absolutely no remixing of the album.”
This is standard banter with each side saying they want it all. Soon he starts to narrow it down.
“So why don’t we talk about just one thing and try to get that issue settled. What percentage of the songs would the band be willing to let the label pick?”
This is a clever opening. It assumes that we are going to let the label choose any of the songs. So if I carry on talking about the percentages I have already given them some control. Now this brings us to rule number 4 (always have your position- that is to say what you are willing to take – worked out ahead of time) I will cover rule #4 after I finish this story. The band had already decided that they would allow the label to pick up to three songs on each album.
“Well, Terry we would be willing to let the label pick two songs for each album.”
There is no reply. After about ten seconds it starts to get a little uncomfortable. After twenty seconds the urge to speak becomes a powerful incentive. The normal reaction is to want to fill in the vacuum. To say something, anything. What could I possibly say that would help us?
“Well the band really understand their music and they are the best judge of their strongest material…” Gee that’s kinda lame. I don’t need to sell him on the band’s talent. He is already giving them a deal. A more normal reaction would be to backpedal
“Hmmm,….well… we might be willing to consider another arrangement…” The cold hard reality is that ANYTHING I say will make me lose ground and appear weak to MYSELF. So what did I do? I just waited. I waited four and a half minutes. Try it. Pick up the phone. Look at the clock, then stare in the mirror for four and a half minutes. It’s a really long time.
Finally Terry said…”Ok Brad. You win. You can have what you want.”
“What exactly do you mean Terry?”
“You can control the record. Pick the producer, pick the songs and do the mixes. I’ll trust you. Let’s get together to pick the single. ” I was stunned. A couple of years later I asked him about that conversation. The Figgs contract was long gone and we were just hanging out as friends. He explained that he had never had anyone nail that particular negotiating trick right off the bat and he was impressed so he let me run the show. A rare win but it proves the point.
Try it. Pick out the weakest member of your band. Ask them where they want to go for dinner. When they tell you just remain silent and stare at them. Watch what happens. They will start to do the talking and they will start to negotiate with themselves. When you work out a deal don’t be the weak guy that negotiates with himself.
So this brings me to the last point of my rules for negotiation.
4. Always work out your deal before you start to negotiate. If you are going to negotiate a recording contract get your shit together, find out what the possibilities might be and discuss them with the band. If you are negotiating a gig fee have an idea what your band might be worth in that situation. If someone tries to get you to bargain without doing your homework try to get out of it long enough to sort out your position. This is not always possible but if you spend some time working out a basic framework of what you want then you will always do better. Be careful not to ask for the sky and the moon. The point of negotiation is to better a deal you are being offered. If you ask for too much you may end up with nothing which is a step backwards.
All of these rules are techniques that can be learned. If you learn them so they become second nature then you are on your way to Succeeding at Rock……………………………..
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010