A panel of booking agents and independent musicians held a panel discussion at SXSW to make the case to touring acts that small markets, not high-profile appearances were the key to their financial success.
"The money is better in small markets," said Tim Drake, the president of The Roots Agency. "There is a lower overhead. Not only can you build a career in small market, you can make a better living."
He also said that because of things like radius clauses and media attention if you play a city, it can be up to 18 months before you can return, but if you play the suburbs and small towns around it, acts can do four to five dates with ease.
"We have artists who don't work three months out of the year," said Drake. "They work 11. And there are only so many times you can play New York City.
Rebecca Loebe is a songwriter who has spent the last several years making a middle-class living as an independent touring artist—or as she put it, a "well-dressed homeless person." Loebe said that she often schedules her tours to only play cities on week days, because her show may well be the only thing happening in a small town on a weekend, something that brings a lot more people to the show.
Another benefit Loebe spoke of was that small markets often take ownership in you as a performer because you, unlike larger acts, come to their town. That level of support translates to more sales. And as Drake added, "their money is just as good."
All the panelists spoke of the importance of found venues like house shows and advocated seeking out connections with community radio stations and tastemakers in towns who will seed an audience.
"in small towns you are not looking for a known venue," said Loebe. "You are looking for a passionate promoter."