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How bands are letting fans vote on where they tour — and why it doesn't always work

Who doesn't want Dave Grohl to belt out some rock anthems in their city? People who hate happiness. That's who.
Who doesn't want Dave Grohl to belt out some rock anthems in their city? People who hate happiness. That's who.
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Foo Fighters fans made big news last week when they played a concert in Richmond, Va. That wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that the concert was crowdfunded; fans decided they wanted the band to come to town, and the guys who fight foo accepted. Now the people of Birmingham, England, are trying it themselves (as Spin joked, "Foo Fighters fans clearly think the band is just for hire now").

This isn't the first time the crowdfunded concert invitation has worked — the phenomenon seems to be picking up steam. And Foos frontman Dave Grohl has said he thinks crowdfunding could be the wave of the future:

"I'm telling you, it could become the way that bands decide where they want to play," Grohl told Rolling Stone. "It's a fun thing; it sort of changes the game."

But getting your favorite band to come to your town isn't as simple as raising $70,000 (as the Foos' Richmond show did). We talked to Colin Lewis, a booking agent with talent agency The Agency Group, who has worked with big names like Big Boi and Macklemore. He explained that there are still a few hurdles beyond the money in using crowdfunding to bring a band to town. Here's what he said can help your case:

1) A band that's on tour

In order to get your band of choice to come see you, it's way, way easier for them to be traveling already.

"As agents and artists and managers look at [concert] opportunities in a one-off capacity, it's much more expensive to do," says Lewis. "So sometimes when it comes to the crowdfunding, the efforts on behalf of the fans have to be multiplied in such a fashion that it costs so much more in order for the artists to do it."

Bands put together tour schedules by figuring out when they're available and also what pattern of cities is efficient geographically, he says. Kickstarting your way toward getting Macklemore to come to town won't work as well if he isn't on the road already. And moreover, it has to work in the confines of the existing tour schedule.

And that means that even if he is on the road, you still might be out of luck. Trying to get him to come to Bozeman, Montana, won't be as easy if his tour isn't coming anywhere near that part of the country.

And that would apply even if someday a band's tour somehow became entirely crowdfunded — the crowdfunded show that the Foos agree to play in Seattle would theoretically make it more likely that they'd play a crowdfunded show in Portland, for example.

2) A big act

This makes a certain intuitive sense — to get enough money to draw a band to Muncie, Indiana, there has to be enough fan interest in the area. That can be a function of a super-loyal Muncie fanbase, but what really helps is if the band is a big act.

But that's not all; Lewis adds that less-popular acts may be hesitant to decide to go the crowdfunded route until it's more the norm. And that might mean big (and willing) acts testing the waters with crowdfunded projects first, as Foos and Louis CK have done.

"Once the Louis CKs and the Foo Fighters get more common, I think, that's when we can expect to see it spread into all levels of artists," says Lewis.

3) Flexibility

The Richmond concertgoers have a testimony to this on their crowdfunding page. Under the FAQs, where it asks where and when the show will be, the organizers answer, "Patience grasshopper. The plan is for the show to take place in Richmond, VA. sometime in 2014. Stay tuned for exact details." Indeed, the fans didn't know until September 3 that the show would be September 17.

Getting a band to agree to the concert is more than half the battle, but it's not everything. Where they play depends on how many people bought tickets, how much the venue costs, when the band is available, and when any of the venues in town are free. So it's not a matter of getting the band to be at the fans' beck and call. It's about fans trading off a set date and time for the knowledge that they successfully drew in their favorite band.

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