The Challenge of Promotion in Hays, Kansas

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not reflect in any way those of the Tiger Media Network, its staff or Fort Hays State University. 


Creating a successful business in the music industry can be quite challenging when working out of a rural area. In Hays, Kansas, many have tried to be successful but often end up with too many challenges to continue investing themselves into the industry. This can be discouraging to future entrepreneurs, but also forces them to find creative ways to overcome the obstacles blocking their way.

How an individual chooses to overcome these obstacles can define the amount of success they will have. Founder of The Rockalooa Music Festival, Matt Isley, explains that being creative and persistent are key factors to being successful.

“For challenges, dig deep to find solutions and alternatives – If one thing doesn’t work, try the next thing; be persistent,” said Isley. “If you wait too long to make decisions, you might miss the boat entirely.”

Isley explains the challenges that he faces daily.

“Consistently coming upon things I don’t know yet. Growing the event means pursuing things I haven’t tried before, which comes with a learning curve,” said Isley.

In other words, promoters should strive to be creative. According to American author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, “fitting in is failure.” This can be applied to the promotion business by creating something that people feel that they need to talk about, whether it be an issue locally or on a greater scale — make people talk.

One of the most prevalent challenges both artists and promoters are facing in Hays is finding a venue to host a show. There are plenty of establishments that could very well provide the means for building up the scene; however, in many ways the factor of money becomes an issue when inquiring potential dates with the owners.

Being a rural community, much of the entertainment sought by Hays locals is related to sports. To go with that, many bars host potential customers coming to watch the games. Because of this, potential business ends up coming in the way of booking with most bar owners in the area.

To compensate for a potential loss of regular clientele due to show bookings, the venue owner’s terms leave them walking away with up to 60% of the door charge. The remaining 40% is supposed to be distributed to the band, which is pretty much asking bands to play for free.

These terms would make much more sense if the venue was providing security and providing and running sound for the entire show. However, this isn’t the case, and most promoters end up having to pay out of their pocket to pay someone to run sound or run the sound themselves. Booker Rohlf, a long time Hays promoter says that he runs sound for many of his own events.

“When we put on a show here, we are usually helping set up the P.A. or setting up our own P.A,” said Rohlf.

The challenge of money is causing many promoters to stop booking all together as well as discouraging artists to aspire to be booked. Rohlf also plays in a local band called Long Faced Dogs (check them out!). He feels that the work they put in should be reciprocated.

“We’re pretty much working, our stuff isn’t worth nothing,” said Rohlf. “We would at least like twenty bucks to show for our work when we’re getting ready for months, there’s a bunch of work that goes into it.”

The only realistic solution to this great obstacle would be to appeal to venue owners themselves.

At the end of the day, many of the remaining artists have been performing for a long time and are used to the way things usually go. Sadly, until someone steps up and creates a place specifically for local music, the issue behind money will not be fixed. For those looking to help, procuring a venue for local musicians to perform would be a great start.

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