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Anyone at the Sports Arena’s Panic at the Disco show last month might have noticed that the house was only about half full. Recent Soma shows by national touring artists Norma Jean, Haste the Day, Anberlin, and the Academy Is also underperformed at the box office.

“They did 35 to 40 percent below what was expected, on average,” says Soma owner Len Paul. Tickets for the Soma shows averaged $17 at the door.

By contrast, an October 10 Soma show featuring Lower Definition, the Haven, a Shattered Hope, and four other local bands drew more than 1000 paying fans. Tickets cost $10.

“When you’re dealing with high school kids, you’re talking about money that comes from Mom and Dad, and that money isn’t there like it was a year ago.”

The tight economy means that all-local shows are more viable, says Paul, and expensive, national touring packages are riskier. The box-office downturn has changed the way some independent promoters such as Paul are dealing with agents who represent national acts: Instead of flat guarantees for touring bands, some promoters are now able to structure “door deals” with band agents, relieving the promoter of all the responsibility if the show does not do as well as expected. Paul says this is the first year “in a very long time” that such door deals are being accepted by bands.

“Before, if you had to guarantee a band $10,000 but you only took in $5000, it was the promoter who took it in the shorts all by himself,” says Paul. “Now, if you have a 50/50 door deal, the door revenue is split with the band, no matter what happens. This way the promoter, for instance, would get $2500, and the band would get $2500.”

Not all agents are buying into the shared-responsibility model.

“Most of the agents are set up to get 10 percent off the top, and they usually get that fee right up front,” says Paul. “To some agents, getting that 10 percent is all they care about. It’s the agents who care more about the long-term career of their artists and who are not just about getting a quick buck who are participating [in door deals].”

– Ken Leighton

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