“Bars Have Bands to Bring in Customers”

53 Responses

  1. Ryan Lee says:

    hey Chris, very insightful and courageous article…I definitely agree with you, especially being an all-original band…I can’t think of any clubs here in the TC that DON’T expect the bands to do all the work…Walking around the room with a dirty beer pitcher once during the night collecting tips for the 4 bands playing is just plain insulting…We took a lot of time off this year just because we felt so defeated.

    I know there’s not a definite solution, but I do think that exploring other options and locations for shows is so important…Organizing small house concerts for example, something that has really worked out well for us.

    Anyway, I could go on and on but just wanted to say thank you for the post, it’s nice to see someone pointing out the elephant in the room.

    In The Cinema

  2. Knol says:

    I agree with most of what you say here pretty strongly and I’m happy to see some intelligent words on the subject of bands getting paid but I can’t help thinking that bitching about playing bars that are capitalist ventures where everyone is just there to make money: door guys, bartenders, sound guys and YES bands is a bit redundant. You wanna get paid what the door guys, servers, etc, make per hour for playing music? I think that would add up to somewhere around $7 a member of your band for your one hour set. Bands are not the only ones getting paid less than what they are worth by the clubs. If you’re a gigger join the union. if you are writing and playing your own songs start a collective and do what In The Cinema are doing and play spaces and houses and things. Although there is that sorta infamous Minneapolis “punk” space near that punk club on the west bank that takes all the money at the door when local bands play to pay the rent or whatever.

    A guarantee, of course, is awesome for us but it’s always been accepted (right or wrong) that although a gamble for clubs, a band with a guarantee can bring in the crowd to pay for it said guarantee. Sometimes you (the club) win sometimes you lose. Not saying that we should be accepting that but I guess most bands are and it’s the way clubs seem to be doing it.

    Playing live seems to be the only way to make money off of music anymore unless you get a song placed in an tv show, ad or movies these days but you gotta work it and work it and work it. No one is buying records. We are paying out of pocket for recording and pressing these days. Music business is changing and everyone involved is trying to figure out how to survive this change.

    My two cents.

  3. Club Promoter says:

    I’ve booked Junkyard Empire and you guys have absolutely no draw. In The Cinema has also have played the clubs I’ve worked for, and they aren’t doing any club favors either. Do you guys want $7.25 an hour? That’s what the bartender makes an hour, and usually goes home early because you’re band brought in nobody. Go play Cafe Maude where they’ll pay you no matter what the draw is, but some MUSIC clubs do indeed rely on band’s draw. Places like Cause, Triple Rock, and 501 has separate show rooms from their free-bar side. Those show rooms are meant for live music and if bands can’t deliver that night that they inquire about or are booked for (and in your case Junkyard Empire e-mail bombs to get shows, and won’t let up)…you’ll get what you brought in.

    Why should music clubs pay you $500 if you brought absolutely nobody in, and if anything – the times I’ve seen Junkyard Empire – pay a band out that clears the room? It doesn’t seem like you’ve talked to the promoter ahead of time….ever. Maybe ask what you can expect before you accept the date you’ll play. I’m also a local musician & I always get payment information before I play. Not because I need to make money for my art, but just so there isn’t any confusion at the end of the night.

    I also grew up with musician parents who worked in clubs 5 nights a week, and yes… that was the deal in the 70’s/80’s. You got paid nice to keep people around and maybe bring in some of your friends to the bar. If you’re trying to do the art-hip-hop-ska thing that you’re doing, and trying to maybe tour… you guys can only play clubs that do a cover, or pay a % out of the bar. There are 7-8 of you… you can’t fit on the cafe stages.

    I would have thought twice before publishing this article, because tons of club promoters will see this & never book your band.

  4. drew says:

    “local political hip hop/rock/jazz band”

  5. workharder says:

    just promote your shows better. besides receiving money and possible exposure we as bands are also getting an awesome space for a night to perform and the use of a hopefully decent soundperson and soundsystem. while i agree that bands should get paid and should get paid fairly bars are not hiring you to perform good music. they want bands that will draw so they can make more money than they pay you. that’s just business. thank god for that too because most of the bands i have been in i don’t expect the people booking the shows or running the bar to like or even not hate with a passion. we have an incredible scene in this city that is extremely supportive of all sorts of music and everything from bizarre sickening weirdo psych noise kids to jazz fusion jam bands can find a place to play and get paid and do it every week without playing the same place too often. we even have awesome places where shows are always free and they always pay the bands well. i wish bars promoted shows more and some do a decent job but come on just do the work. it is tiring and difficult and not fun but its way better than complaining about it. more fliers. less internet spam. more art. less texts.

  6. Rusty Savage says:

    Ahahahahaha!!! You’ll NEVER work in this town AGAIN!!

    you’re lucky you get booked at all.

  7. shugE says:

    i am someone who was one of the founding members of a local record label that for over 4 years has yet to make a dime in profit because we intentionally reinvest anything we make into trying to help out awesome bands in our community. in fact we are right now in the process of filing this label as a legal nonprofit.

    everyone in all the bands on the label (as fucking awesome as they are) all have to work jobs and spend a whole bunch of their own money on their bands needs.

    we all do this because we love it and it is what we want to do.

    i would love to someday be able to quit my day job and just do the music stuff but in no way do i feel entitled to that. I make and help others make music because I love it. I’d love to “get paid” too, but I’ll do what I love whether I “get paid” or not to do it and if I don’t “get paid” then at least I did what I love to do anyways.

    maybe you should relook at what you want to really be doing and whether or not you are having fun?

  8. Tapeworm Flavored Cupcaake says:

    Maybe you should take an honest moment away from slapping the sausages on the keyboard, the elementary economic gruel, the marxism for dummies, and ruminate on why you choose to continue to blow your bone in public for $5.00 a pop? This screed is equally preposterous as it is pretentious, it’s creamy center a vapid implosion filled with the sound of one hand masturbating to it’s own perceived genius and self-martyrdom.

    Like Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try”. Either make “music” because you find value in the creative and collaborate experience, or just nobly sell the fuck out and ghostwrite some poppy 3 chord rhymes to sell hairball control cat food. My cat has hairballs.

  9. Guante says:

    Lots of anonymous shit-talking in the comments. All Chris is doing is proposing an alternative model, not slapping your mother around. Dead that blacklist bullshit– Junkyard will be fine.

    Maybe some of his demands aren’t realistic in the current climate, but I think that the main thrust of his argument is pretty thought-provoking. Of course bands need to promote themselves more effectively, but if you really think the current model is the MOST efficient and profitable for everyone involved, that’s just naive. We can do better. Not sure what the exact answer is, but I think Chris’ points here are PART of it.

  10. Tapeworm Flavored Cupcaake says:

    @ Guante:

    The core principal that is being expressed here as I understand it is that all artists inherently deserve some kind of equitable compensation while holding others(evil capitalist clubs) more than partially responsible for their economic growth, fiscal well being, and promotion. That notion is quite simply faulty logic, and secondly, is this a struggle that we as an artist community need to rally action around, say, more than starving babies, flesh eating bacteria, or the coming machine war? I know liberal lefty activist 1st world musicians just covet the moments when they find things to overcome and struggle with but when you have a corrupt argument synergistically with a righteous lecturing tone, come on, it’s bound to antagonize. Naivety is exactly these kinds of flavors of platitudes and loaded double speak with real world understanding.

    If you want money for nothing, play the bowling alley on Mondays. We paid for our latest 7-inch pressing doing it, cha-ching.

  11. Tapeworm Flavored Cupcaake says:

    Typo: Naivety is exactly these kinds of flavors of platitudes and loaded double speak withOUT real world understanding.

    The OUT part is crucial.

  12. Chris Robin Cox says:


    I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve been following the comment section as of a few minutes ago. It’s fascinating, disturbing, enlightening, and just all around interesting. I think I’m gonna read and listen a little while longer before I respond; just want to make sure I can respond objectively. After all, it is the conversation that I most would like to see happen here, which you all have kindly started.

    In any case, I will offer this a few basic points:
    1) Junkyard Empire was not the point of the article, and in fact, is only related in the sense that the author is a musician in a band as well; one that has done HORRIBLY in the clubs, true dat. In fact, we made a decision a while back not to play clubs anymore, unless we were really into the bill and that we were able to work out an equitable payment that justifies us doing the promotion, as well as performing, etc beyond what we should just do as a band anyway. Lately, we had been thinking about maybe booking a club for our next CD release party, but have decided against it, for a multitude of reasons, not all of them centered on draw. In fact, as a result of our work with activist groups around the cities, we can bring out a fairly significant crowd for a weekend show.
    2) In the article I am proposing, in case it’s not completely obvious, a socialist approach funding art and artists of all stripes. So, in no way am I suggesting that these conditions I seek are remotely possible in today’s everyday club. To the contrary, I am pointing out where we, in my opinion, ought to be. I know a very large amount of musicians who rarely, if ever, will play clubs anymore. They are making much better money playing house parties, schools, rallies, fund raisers, etc, and selling more music too. It’s not that it’s all about the money, it’s about what the money is traded for.
    3) I find it interesting that there are so many people who automatically assume that I, or all people who might adhere to a similar socioeconomic belief system, don’t have a day job; that we don’t practice; that we are doing it for the money; that we are suddenly elitist and out of touch with reality, because we choose to not take the current system as “reality” and the system we would like to be engaged in building as “naiveté”. That’s okay for me though, because I am well aware that I am an optimist, if not a mad one, and what comes with that is the anger of many others, who are convinced I am somehow inferior and unrealistic.

    So, with all that floating in my mind, I’ll make sure and respond in the coming hours/days, for the discussion is an important one.

  13. Chris Robin Cox says:

    Forgot to mention to “club promoter” that the last time we were 7-8 members was like 2006 or something. We’ve been 5 for like two years now, and we’ve since put out 2 more albums, with the third on the way.

    Also @ “Tapeworm Flavored Cupcaake”: Yes, to be honest, I’m not sure Junkyard would play for minimum wage plus tips, but we just might, especially if we can play two sets, instead of a measly 45 minute set. We are not afraid of work. We just like to be compensated for it when others are also potentially profiting from our work. We don’t really want to play clubs in the Twin Cities anyway, with a rare exception, like I mentioned already. So no hard feelings whoever you are.

  14. Not the author says:

    An open Letter to Bar Owners:
    As musicians who get all the glory, we feel it’s
    time to thank those whom we rely upon for the opportunity to showcase
    our talent and express our creative faculty to the local community.
    Because, as everyone knows, musicians don’t really need the money. We
    do it all for beer and blow jobs. We’re artists. We have no time for
    such trivialities as kids, mortgages, or car payments. Some of the
    things we love:
    When you send us home early and pro-rate our pay for the night when
    it’s slow. This gives us a special thrill, since we know that you’ll
    one day give us a big bonus when it’s packed. Plus, by leaving early,
    we can now go watch our friends play at real bars and spend our
    night’s wages.
    When trying to book dates, we love when you ask us if we’re “free on
    “the 17th.” Sure, let us check our fucking calendar. Yeah, we’re open
    that night. Oh.you meant of November. Of this year?
    We also love when you say, “Well, we might be doing something next
    month for Thursdays.” Yeah, we might also be doing something next
    month. Foreclosing.One of our fave questions is, “Do you have a
    following?” Of course we do! We firmly believe club owners shouldn’t
    have to concern themselves with such banalities as advertising. Or
    promotions. Or drink specials. The responsibility for attracting
    customers must fall solely with the band. We have no doubt whatsoever
    the people who saw us regularly at that bar in Islamorada will charter
    a bus and trek up to Margate to hear us play Smoke on the Water. Put
    your minds at rest, o’ troubled bar proprietors.

    Just a few of the things we’d like to thank you for:For canceling us
    forty minutes prior to our arrival at your bar, because as everyone
    knows, babysitters are free, and frankly, we have nothing better to do
    on a Saturday night.
    For replacing our four-piece band with the clove cigarette-smoking guy
    and his $129 Fender acoustic guitar, paisley button-down shirt and
    soul patch. There’s a reason he works for a hundred bucks.
    For paying the exact same wage for a duo that you paid in 1986. So
    now, we have to work six jobs a week instead of four to make a living.
    Thanks for not cashing your own checks. We realize how this
    complicates your accountant’s life, and his happiness is all that
    And for having the house music set to the local oldies radio station,
    we salute you. We love following “Unchained Melody” with “Rock the
    For not having a stage. It’s a real treat to stand on your wing
    sauce-saturated carpet. And being on the same level as your patrons
    makes it much easier for drunken assholes to approach us and fall into
    our equipment while spewing a three-foot stream of vomit onto the drum
    kit. Thank you.
    Thanks for the track lighting above the stage. Makes us feel like rock
    stars. Especially when they’re colored.
    Also, thanks for the break on food and drinks. Fifty percent is such a
    gift. It’s our distinct pleasure to shell out $3.25 for a shot of Jack
    that costs you twenty-two cents. Grazie. Merci. Domo. Danke.
    Thanks for hiring the three laid-off bus mechanics who threw a band
    together after the economy shit the bed and will now play for $75 a
    man. Enjoy their ripping 11-minute rendition of “Cocaine,” complete
    with 64-bar bass solo and fudged lyrics.
    Thanks for canceling us on a Thursday night for the Browns-Lions game
    on NFL Network.
    Thanks for putting TVs directly over our heads, so people can watch
    “World’s Scariest Videos” while we play. It’s always a thrill to hear
    such expletives as “WHOA!”, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” while navigating the
    soliloquy from “Nights in White Satin.”

    And let us not forget the bartenders, who listen to us all night
    without once clapping (if for no other reason than to induce the
    comatose people at the bar to clap).
    And thanks so much for cutting off the jukebox 10 seconds into “Sweet
    Home Alabama,” so that we can hear that collective “AWWWWWW….” from
    the audience as we hit the stage. Most inspiring.
    Thanks for waiting until you’ve served all drinks, lit every
    cigarette, wiped off the bar, stocked the coolers and done your side
    work before moping toward the cash register with the quickness of a
    tai chi instructor to give us our meager salary while muttering, “They
    make as much as me, and only worked four fuckin’ hours.”
    Yes, it’s a travesty, but most high-level universities no longer give
    out bartending scholarships. And please note that it took us slightly
    longer to learn our instrument than it took for you to make it through
    Billy Bob’s Bartending School. And we doubt seriously that you sit at
    home practicing bartending in your spare time. So thanks for handing
    over the dough and shutting the fuck up.

  15. jonbehm says:

    Wow, being a musician sounds right up there with salt mining in terms of fun. Are there any positive aspects of doing it?

    If not, why continue?

  16. Chris Robin Cox says:

    Well, shit.

  17. Chris T says:

    Outstanding article, my thoughts and experience exactly. Chris we have had some success finding venues with more of this mentality outside the twin cities, at least 40 miles. The smaller towns seem to be open to the idea that people come to their bar regardless and want to be entertained and are open to new music, we are not always paid well though, if at all.

    Any thoughts or success on finding clubs of this mindset in the twin cities? Thanks for a great article.

  18. Val Strode says:

    Well, what I disagree with is making a deal for X amount of money (no talk of draw or anything), then getting stiffed because only 100 people show up to the bar….
    Getting paid up front sounds like an idea, if you can swing it….
    If my band could draw 200 people we would just rent our own
    hall and make more money.
    There are bands here in Saint Louis that command and get $3500 a pop, but apparently there is no room on the lower end anymore.

  19. kermit says:

    this is a crazy business.
    in order to just survive you have to be a bit stupid and tenacious as a cockroach.

    good luck to every band, club owner, talent buyer, promoter and everyone else involved, it is truly rewarding when it works and tremendously frustrating when it does not, but if you believe in something, you just have to give it everything and even then sometimes all you have is a clear conscience.

    wondering, if in the aftermath of eclipse records, mr. chan, the 501 and the hiccup at the turf club, if anyone has more thoughts on this. it certainly seems that no one is winning.

    and real quick – free market capitalism is a myth.

    don’t do drugs.

  20. Thanks for all the comments everyone. @Chris T: We have found very little alternatives here in the Twin Cities. That said, there really were too many clubs and not enough bands with the confidence to only play if their time and energy is respected, and now we have lost some of the clubs. It was really sad to see Eclipse go, because they were great people. Fuck the Turf. They are idiots for letting the Clown Lounge die out; incredibly stupid and miserly.

    Overall, I think things are just going to get a lot worse before they get any better. In the meantime, you have to travel out of town to make respectable money. While in town, house parties, schools, and free public gatherings like rallies et al are better options than most bars. Perhaps with the loss of the 501, etc club owners will start actually giving a shit about the quality of the music and therefore the relevance and quality of the scene. I think Barbette and Cause are leading the way in Minneapolis. Saint Paul is in tough shape now, but at least the Turf is still going. I’ll be doing a solo set at Big V’s on Friday, February 11th.

    Peace out everyone.

  21. First off – thanks to “Not The Author”. Now, THAT was a great comment.

    As a professional (that is, earning a living at it although the last few years have required additional income sources) since 1975, I can tell you conclusively:
    There was no Golden Age. There was never a time when your local crappy bar/club/dog shampoo emporium paid decent wages, didn’t try to cut even the crap money they paid, and often charged for drinks (remember the Blues Brothers movie? Been there.)

    My father was a professional jazz musician his entire life, played with everyone, and I clearly remember him telling a club owner (this is back in the late 60’s) “Who can I bring? I can’t bring anyone. Don’t people come to your club? Why should I play at your club if I’m not going to get any new fans?”

    There are some clubs that will draw no matter what, on certain nights. That’s because, for whatever reason, a group of people decide that’s THE place to be on that night, and that draws other groups of people. There are other clubs that can’t draw flies, and frankly, it’s not worth playing there unless you’re doing it for practice. Why? Because the $50 a man they pay isn’t going to cover your Lexus payments or your Swiss chalet.
    Or your gas, for the matter. All you’ll do is burn out your band members. And the club will probably stiff you anyway.

    When we play overseas (UK and Europe), it’s obvious that we can’t bring anybody. It’s up to the club owner or promoter to do that, and about 95% of the time they do it successfully. The merchandising usually makes up for the barely adequate pay, and it’s the festivals that bring it all together and make it worthwhile. So how do the promoters do it? Well, for one thing, we’re not local. We won’t be back next month. We might not be back next year. They might never see us again, so it’s now or never, buddy. Plus, we’re from Far Far Away. If we don’t outright suck, we get brownie points they wouldn’t give a local act. The local acts, btw, always complain that they can’t get gigs and the ones they get suck. Just like we do back here.

    I’ll never forget when I used to play the New Wave scene in Manhattan, and we just couldn’t get into a club called the Peppermint Lounge. One day, I stopped by and saw an act that absolutely sucked – I mean as bad as you could get. I literally banged on the club manager’s door and demanded to know why he hired them and not us. He said “They’re exotic.” “They’re from Akron, Ohio!” I screamed. “Right” he said, “they’re exotic.”

    So perhaps the choices are:
    1. If you want to make money, look into corporate/wedding work. And that’s NOTHING like it used to be, so it’s not an easy thing to break into any more. The DJs killed it.
    2. If you want to do the genre that you’re passionate for, expect to hit the road. A lot. And don’t expect to make money, but try to build an audience so that next time out or the time after that, you’ll do okay.
    3. Just record and put stuff out on the web. Promote it every way you can, and that should get you a decent enough list of fans so that future releases will be noticed.
    4. To make money without weddings, see what bands who actually draw locally are playing. You may not like it, but if you do, put together your own act doing that style (if not those exact songs). Cobra Starship tribute band, anyone?
    5. Have fun playing at block parties and your friend’s BBQs.

    The sad truth is, the biggest paying gigs are for tribute bands. For God’s sake, a Beatles tribute band has a Broadway show! And there’s that old joke (sad but true): “We wanted to hire a Bob Seegar tribute band, but they were too expensive. So we had to hire Bob Seegar.”

  22. Kevin Bowe says:

    really great article. not ALL local music venues are run that way but most are and the #’s don’t lie- ask any of them, business sucks. time to re think it.

  23. Great comments! It’s nice to see that this piece is still getting read and sparking debate. I’ve been thinking about things quite a lot recently, and a couple things ring true to me now. 1- I should have stated in my article that I DON’T DO IT FOR THE MONEY. I do it because I would rather die than not do it, but I still expect to be paid for my time, my energy, and my expertise, especially when the goal is to try and make a profit as a result of my band playing there. 2- The bars that give you 80% of the door are not necesarilly the problem, especially when the economy sucks. The ones that have systematically fucked us – along with our own compliance – are the ones who refuse to book us unless we already have the big following and/or refuse to pay us anything at all if we don’t draw enough people. That is a kind of quazi slavery that no musician should ever stand for. Would the fucking bar tender take a deal like that? Would the sound guy? Would the door man?

    Anyway, just wanted to make it clear that I am not some naive kid who believes that my shit smells like roses and that I am so cool I should make a ton of money because I’m just that talented. I am simply a realist, and I believe in respecting ones labor. The problem in the DIY (“dead in a year”) culture is that we have decided our labor is worthless too, from a monetary perspective.

  24. Barbara says:

    Us long time musicians have seen a lot of changes in the biz. In order to have a venue to play, these days, we are expected to be marketing experts, technology wizards, fashionable beauties, or independently wealthy enough to buy all the above.

    We play for love, but we purchase and haul around equipment, for money. (I’ve never gotten to the point where I’ve had roadies so my theories end there.)

    We have to compete with kareoke nights, (free musician) open miles, electronic DJ music and sports bar events for places to play.

    These are not complaints just facts. I wouldn’t give it up for anything and I have adapted. We went from a making $600 a night in a full band to a midi duo (made $400 to $500 a night for private events) to an acoustic duo playing original music in coffee shops for tips. Still lovin it. Just a little slower.
    And oh yeah the day jobs had to stay, and they do take away from the musicianship

    Promoters, club owners, we appreciate those of you who are also lovers of music and we do not expect you to go down with the ship.
    It is what it is.
    Thanks Chris for your honesty.

  25. I feel that all of the above are right and true! The economy is bad and the club owners can’t get the people in their establishments unless the band has a following. A lot of people are out of work now and can’t afford to go anywhere where they have to pay anything because what cash they have has to go towards the bills! I do believe that if the clubs would advertise and spend the cash to do so then there would be asses in the seats for the bands to keep there. It all boils down to the all mighty dollar and nobody wants to let go of it but realistically you have to spend money to make money! This saying still rings true today just as it did years ago and it’s worth spending for most clubs especially if it’s a decent size club. Advertise for the bands and don’t depend on the bands to bring the people with them because most band members only have musicians as friends and they are usually playing too!!!! Make sure when you hire a band that it’s a good one and will do the job that you want done! I have been playing guitar since I was 5 and in my first band when I was 15 and I am 53 years old now and still playing but am seriously thinking about getting away from clubs now! I am very good at what I do but very tired of people thinking that they can get my band for the door or for peanuts. My drummer,my wife and myself have worded together for over 30 years together and are making less now than we made when we started playing! There are too many bands out there that will play for nothing and the club owners all know this and don’t give a damn about the bands that are really good as long as they can get a handful of people with a shit band they are happy that they didn’t have to pay out of pocket! Most want you to play for the door now days and it boils don’t to us bringing the people again and I’m just tired of it all…STRICKLAND BAND

  26. Andrew says:

    Just to muddy the waters a little further. I would like to advocate for the middle ground.

    I agree that musicians deserve fair compensation for their work. By the same token, I can understand that venue owners want to make a profit. These desires can be accomplished in a mutually desirable fashion.

    The music industry that Chris advocates for from the mid to late 1980’s has drastically changed. There is far greater competition between performing artists. The advent of affordable digital recording and distribution mediums has created an overflow of music. At the same time, the economic climate has changed as well. There is also the simple fact that less and less bands are given the opportunity to have major label support.

    One of the most successful ways I have promoted a show is to ask for a base guarantee, that covers base costs plus a little extra. Then ask for a percentage of the gross sales as the night progresses.

    This arrangement makes it mutually advantageous for both the bar owners as well as the musicians to have a hand in the promotion of the show. The bar owner is going to be motivated to fill the bar in order to cover the cost of the guarantee, and the band is going to want to get as many bodies in as possible in order to bump up their bottom line at the end of the night.

    As a performing singer/songwriter, I understand the difficulty of trying to get a venue to take an active effort in promoting an artist. I have had great success in situations where there is a mutually advantageous agreement like the one listed above.

  27. the Author says:

    Great comments.

  28. Al McCraw says:

    To be paid for something you love is a very wonderful thing. Our band is a local Northern Virginia Country Band. We have a contract with all the clubs before the gig so there is no confusion about the compensation. If the pay is to low we will not play at that club. Most shows we bring our own crowd, but that is not required in the clubs we play. To my way of thinking if the club does not pay you enough don’t play there. If your compensation is based on your ability to draw a crowd then you better be able to bring them in. If you can’t bring them in then take less pay.

  29. Dino Corvino says:

    First off, in response to the idea of anonymous comments, I used my real name and email address.

    Chris, in response to your article. Are you advocating that the musician be paid simply based off of his or her musical ability or stage show? How would that be measured for me as a club owner or booker? How would I know that my investment in you as a player is going to turn into money for me?

    I am not in the charity business. The bar owner or club owner also has a harder economy to deal with in 2011.

    You as a musician are entitled to ask for whatever compensation you would like. And the venue is allowed to use what ever measure to decide if the dollars you ask for are a worthy investment.

    The simple reality is that if a venue is not successful without a band, it is probably not going to be successful with a band. Because, the joy of the band will be fleeting.

    it is a symbiotic relationship. But, you are talking about hiring initially, not anything else. If I own a bar, it is my job to bring people in to drink and eat. If one of the means to do that is music, then I have to see that as just another expense, like nice chairs or clean tap lines.

    I really am not even sure what you are advocating for her.

  30. Chris Freeman says:

    Musicians’ attitudes have also changed since the days when a band would play 3 sets for the entire night. Bands since Nirvana take pride in being all-original and often don’t know more than 45 minutes worth of music. It’s now about artistic expression and the band’s unique sound. It’s no longer about playing so people can dance. At least in the rock world, it might be different for DJs. I know I would turn my nose up at someone asking me to play for 3 hours. Because then you’re not “putting on a show.”

  31. Alan Potter says:

    Wait…. the clubs up in the Twin Cities provide sound engineers? Florida clubs haven’t done that since the seventies!

  32. P. Aaron says:

    Playing music in a club is only a grind if the band does not reach an agreement with the club before about compensation, expectations of draw, set length and conduct.

    It’s a 2 way street. Many clubs can always find competent talent for any open nights. Plus, around metro-Detroit, clubs always book 2-3 months out so, that band has to do their networking to do their part to establish their cred with the club. If the club’s staff stays busy serving customers while your band is onstage…retaining the audience thru-out the night, that’s the arrangement.

    Bands also have to remember to tip & thank their servers. Positives like; the band paid their tab & tip well get back to management. Once again, the band letting the club know they care not only about their act, but the business end of their show. No business, there’s no show.

  33. lakewood, ohio bar owner says:

    I agreed with some of what you said even though it missed many points. 1st I wondered what venues are you talking about? Are they blessed with little competition, great locations where people with much disposable income abound? Is the owner loaded with cash so that he can afford to entertain the people already there? OR is it a small neighborhood bar with limited capacity, few financial resources, tons of competition and struggling to make it? I own one of the latter. We were booming in the 80’s and 90’s but it’s a very different economy now. Our state passed a very repressive smoking ban and 100,000 dollars a year left my establishment. After much investment, missed payments, fines etc we’re almost back to normal. I have never charged a cover and always guarantee a set amount in advance. I pay for advertising, sound and sound man. For this I have received occassional good returns but also times when they’ve chased out the regulars. I’ve had bands who were awesome and some who were clueless about business. “I wonder if you could pay us more we had 20 people in the room watching us”. True but 15 of them were from the other bands I hired and 15 of my regulars left. Bands have no clue about overhead. If your friends spent 200 dollars it didn’t mean I made 200 and should pay it to you. My bartenders don’t work for free, the utilities aren’t free and the beer they drank wasn’t given to me. That’s just part of the story. When you’re playing my juke box isn’t making money, you’re followers trashed my place and grafittee’d my walls or in the case of one band threw huge boxes of confetti around threw beer all over and resulted in 9 hours of clean-up. I feel bad when the band goes to the trouble of setting up, playing to practically no one then splitting 50 bucks between 4 people but there’s a difference between employment and adoption. If someplace thinks you’re not worth what you want, then don’t play there.

  34. Mike Chenoweth says:

    I am a musician and have been all of my life. I work in three different bands and have two all-original cd’s released. I’ve seen and dealt with pretty much every kind of bar manager/booking agent/talent buyer out there as well as pretty much every kind of live music venue there is. The point is this. Just because you pick up an instrument does not entitle you to a guaranteed wage or a rebook. Practice your craft untill your fingers bleed. Get so fucking good that they can’t turn you away. Realize that just because you want to play obscure original music that has no crowd appeal, it doesn’t mean that a venue is required to lose money on you simply because you are an “artist”. Know what your demographic is and market yourself accordingly. Don’t be surprised that you don’t make a lot of money because you have seven or eight players in your band. Most venues have a budget and need to stick to it to make ends meet so be realistic in your expectations. Charge what you are worth and stick to your guns. The venues that can afford you will come to the surface soon enough. Let the bottom-feeders play the fly-by-night venues that are run by the pretenders and wanna-be’s. Try to only deal with venues that will promote your event AT LEAST as hard as you will and that have a grounding in the music business. You may need to tour to reach your audience because your local area may not support the kind of music you perform/write. The fact is that most club owners/managers are only interested in the till-tape readout at the end of the night. If you can live with this untill that fatefull day when YOU call the shots, then quit yer bitchin’. If you can’t, you might wanna think about another career. Just callin’ it the way I see it.

  35. What a crock of shit….sorry but a lot of local bands simply suck. There is a reason they never made it and never will. i get so sick of bands that talk the talk, but cant walk the walk…

    The bands that want a guarantee have no real fan base beyond some friends and groupies and refuse to accept the fact that they can’t draw….they want to be hired guns in the hopes of using the bar to make contacts and fans…

    If they were really that good, they could demand to sell tickets and keep the proceeds.

    Face it. If you have not “made it” by 25, you are not likely go ever go beyond bar band status. Put away the rock star ego. Put your money where your mouth is.

    You say you are so good? Show me YOUR fans. And I will let you keep 100% of the door at my bar. If you can’t draw, maybe its you.

  36. kdka;lskdfja;slkdjf says:

    There seems to be a lot of comments from people claiming that the author was suggesting musicians have some kind of guaranteed wage, like the system in Austria or something. But, if you read this paragraph, it seems pretty clear to me that he is not really advocating anything other than a rethinking of the basic relationship between bands and venues.
    “So, we are left with two options: One, only very popular bands with big draws can play any clubs if they expect to be guaranteed a decent wage. Two, we go back to the more efficient paymaster relationship where the venue is the paymaster for the band, and the band is a contracted employee, if only for a night, of the venue. The job of the band, being to entertain whomever enters that establishment. In that case, who wins? THE GOOD BAND WINS. THE BAND THAT BLOWS PEOPLE AWAY THE MOST. But here’s the thing: The club wins too. Why? Because if the club is responsible for packing the house, the people who come just to see the band are icing on the cake, and all bands market their shows to their friends, family, and in most unfortunate cases, their coworkers. And, because the club has put the energy and commitment into creating a scene that people want to come to, the fickle average Joe is paying $5 at the door not just to see a band, but to be a part of the scene, with a good soundtrack! Perhaps it’s time for us to start disclosing to the customers how much the band is making.”

  37. Skippy says:

    You know, I agree with the above poster. I think the real nugget of all of this speaks to a larger issue in music and art generally.

    On the main point – that bars and bands need to both put some skin in the game. I totally agree. I am constantly amazed by bars that don’t bother advertising what’s going on in the local rag or even online. Drink specials do help the cause – theme night, prize giveaways, whatever. It all means nothing without bands busting their asses to put people in the room, but it should be a shared effort. It’s the whole symbiosis thing – bar helps band, band half fills room on first show, 3/4 on next show, SRO on next one. Everyone has a hearty laugh and slaps each others backs after a good night. A round of “we’ll get ’em next” time on a soft night, because everyone knows they did what they could, and sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.

    Another key is that the band shouldn’t suck. This speaks to both the bar and the band. Real live music rooms live and die on their reputations. If you’re sitting in your basement, bitter about not being invited to play Club Megarock, chances are you’re not ready to play that club. You do need to eat a little shit and be creative about finding places to “hone your craft” for a few years. Make a little more each time. Get good. Objectively good. If you’re not good, stop. Don’t throw your whore ass into some low-level club for zero payment, because now the bar owner will now believe all original music sucks and costs nothing. Instead, run your own shows. Rent a hall. Do a tour of house concerts. Play non-standard venues. If you never climb above a certain mark, despite a good, sustained, concerted effort, maybe shake up the line-up, or stop and do something else.

    Obviously, many bar owners are entirely about bottom line. They only care about how little they can pay you for a few extra people coming out. Some are really about music, but they have families to feed and businesses to run. It ain’t a charity. They need to know that the people they will throw money at will be worth it. Bar owners I talk to get just as excited about an awesome show as the people in the crowd. They don’t do it because the bar business is easy, especially for live rooms. They endure it because they love music, but to have it not suck the life out of them, they also love dealing with professionals.

    Again, it’s a symptom of a bigger disease. Art is devalued. It’s everywhere, anyone can make it and get it “out there,” so there is an abundance of mediocre art. People know how to get good art for free, so they can flood their hard drives with music – some good, mostly bad – for nothing. No one makes a dime from CD sales or downloads, and consumers feel entitled to pay nothing for music – even music they love. Even established artists have been duped into believing that they must give up their music for free because consumers demand it. It’s some whack Jedi mind trick. Artists want to believe that not getting paid for downloads means more people at gigs. Sometimes (rarely) that’s true. Often it’s not. And bands on tour don’t get paid a hell of a lot more than local bands.

    That freebie attitude translates to live shows. I have seen people turn away from a $10 cover for a band THEY LIKE. No risk there, but offended that $10 should leave their wallet to enjoy someone’s art. Whining about who’s on the guest list. Then they go buy a $5 coffee and a $4 scone and take the Metro home.

    At the end of the day, it’s frustration, because artists – real, committed, serious artists – go through an awful lot to get to be good enough to DESERVE exposure. Art is subjective, of course, but you can tell who has been woodshedding and who has been playing beer pong.

    There are countless local “scenes” across the country… and around the world… and all of them have 300 bands. All of those 300 bands figure they are doing something the world needs to hear. Maybe they need to understand that what they are doing is probably not original, but should be engaging and worthwhile for people to spend their money on. I would rather see a band that may not be my cup of tea on CD absolutely set themselves on fire live than a band that made a nice sounding disc on GarageBand sneer at the 10 people in the audience for not crowd surfing.

    Wow, what a schizophrenic post. I’m sure I had a point in there somewhere….

  38. geeDub says:

    @Not The Author…..almost peed my pants lol’ing so hard. Thanks for that. Therapy laughter abuonds.

    ~An Old Rocker

  39. AxePilot says:

    Interesting article and comments….I’ve been in bands of various descriptions and played many different venues for the past 22 years. Typically bar type bands, doing covers, which get “tailored” for the respective venues. The scene, I find is cyclic….DJs, Videos, Kareoke, live, duos, Rock, Blues, Sports……all seem to cycle through, because it would seem, the various establishments are trying to find a niche for their income. Working with the owner/manager of the establishment is always the best, IMHO, if a place is just getting established, some slack can be cut….once it’s “raking it in” some bonus can be sought….each situation requires due diligence on both sides to make it work. One only needs to read the comments above to know there’s no sure thing….when I come across the hardnose assholes (like a couple above), I just move on….life’s to short to deal with them….and they’ll go under sooner than later….they’re in the wrong business. Anyway my two cents…. “Live music is better”…..

  40. Lianna says:

    The reason for this is simple: there are way too many clubs, and way too many bands. Back in the day, there were a few good bars in town, and a few good bands. Everybody made money, life was grand. Now, every Joe Dirt thinks he can open a bar and make millions, and every guitar-hero playing kid thinks he can start a band and make millions. The market is over-saturated. Only the strongest will survive, sorry!

    Nice article, and nice comments. I’ve enjoyed reading this conversation, and glad I had the chance to add my 2 cents.

  41. Troy Harmer says:

    I am a working musician.Thanks to all that contributed this was a very interesting read. Live music is best.

  42. Christopher says:

    Wow, haven’t checked out this comment thread in a while. It keeps growing! Anyway, just a few quick thoughts:
    -“Not the Author”‘s comment was indeed brilliant.
    – The “it’s a two way street” comments are welcomed, understood, but please, you can’t leave it there. This article is as much about critically examining the political economy of bands and the bars that hire them, as much as it is a debate. There are not simply two sides to the story, there are many. Let’s not water it down; this shit matters.
    – “Club Promoter” is still a complete jackass, whoever he/she is.
    – UPDATE: Junkyard Empire is just fine. The past several shows we have played, have been in front of several hundred at least, and often thousands. That’s because we don’t bother with clubs anymore. And if you haven’t heard our latest material, which we play as good live, give it a go: http://www.rebelpolitikrecords.bandcamp.com

  43. Christopher says:

    @Dino: Let me just put it this way. What I am advocating for, though the article was meant more to point out systemic problems in the political economics of modern day local live music, is a change in the collective worldview of the musician/venue alliance, and I do think it needs to be an alliance. Liberal competitive capitalism is indeed the enemy here, of both parties. The question is, how can we, as a community, wherever we are, teach ourselves a better way of doing business in a world that is only going to get more and more uncertain. The gripes I brought up in this article are to no small extent deeply related to the same sentiments that the Occupy Movement had at its outset: we all work harder but get paid less, while the wealthy class laughs their fat fucking asses all the way to the bank. My central piece was this: Bars ought to want live bands, as a method of developing a regular, loyal, and supportive (financially) crowd. Bunkers, though it has a hard run now too, is a great example. NOBODY plays for peanuts in there. Junkyard played there many times early on, opening up for the New Congress, and we always got our basic $150. Sure, we can’t live on it, but at least we knew what we were getting. We brought who we could bring, which usually wasn’t much, but always at least some new faces to the bar, and in return we got a mild payment. The New Congress, which is a totally sick outfit by the way, got paid well, not just because of their draw. Their draw was based on the rumor that “the band is really good at Bunkers on Thursday nights, and they know how to serve a drink over there!” Or whatever. You follow me now?

    We don’t have to become capital hating communists, but we also don’t have to become wage-hating pseudo-anarchists, which IMHO, is all to often the norm in the so-called DIY movement. It’s time for a collective wake-up, and this article is just meant to get the convo going. I dare say it served its purpose well. It also highlighted who some of the really pubescent jokers are in the Twin Cities scene.

    To the “indie” crowd who is just peachy with working for peanuts: Go drive mommy’s Volvo back to your suburban garage and practice your fucking craft for twenty plus years, and then go book yourself a gig. See if you are still okay with being completely 100% shit on.

    Okay, peace out.

  44. Christopher says:

    @Skippy: Great points.

  45. Hilary says:

    Wow, I really cannot believe some of the first comments on this article.

    I am a musician, I have a part time non music related job ( because I haven’t gotten to the point of being able to live off my music yet ), and my typical day includes said job, followed by:
    vocal training ( I am a singer ), music practice, fine-tuning my repertoire (writing/ creating, learning new songs, listening to music for inspiration);
    HOURS of computer time researching opportunities, gigs, doing website maintenance, social forum maintenance (anyone who knows the business will tell you that in today’s age it is vital to be ever present on the web): that includes music content (my first self produced album came out last year), video content (youtube channel, recording, mixing, uploading videos); photo content, getting some decent pictures taken and learning the basics on how to make them more professional.
    I am married to a guitarist who does all that as well as invest in guitar, effects and amp maintenance. For the work he does he has had to learn how to use (by himself): Pro Tools, Photoshop and Final Cut. He has also had to morph into an extremely effective live sound engineer, since a lot of smaller clubs don’t have sound guys and, although not everyone realizes it, the quality of performances ( if you’re good ) rely almost entirely on the quality of the sound system.
    Also, my husband and I both went to music school for three years.

    Now, all of that said, which may seem like one giant complaint, I want to specify that I LOVE IT. Maybe not every single second of it, but what makes it all worth it and more is being able to perform live in front of an appreciative audience. Playing and listening to music, it’s all great and what is more, I feel privileged to be able to do it.

    What people have to understand though, is that it’s a job.
    We are constantly investing time, effort, and lastly, money, into shaping ourselves as musicians.
    So, when I read comments that insult a musician just because they ask the very LEAST, that is, to be guaranteed a decent wage at a club; that make fun of that person, or suggest that they better figure out if that’s what they really want to do in life, I know that these people have NO IDEA what they’re talking about, and have obviously never even come close to attempting to do music at a professional level.
    Musicians should ask for more and deserve more for live performances because usually the gig is the result of years of learning, practicing and working.
    There is also the actual physical effort of loading/unloading, hauling and setting up the gear, the stress in hoping that nothing gets damaged, and getting everything back home or to the practice room safely at the end of the night ( usually in the wee hours of the morning).
    People like “workharder”, “Rusty Savage” and “ShugE” are completely
    ignorant. I completely agree with this article.

  46. jimmy says:

    I think it’s pretty simple. Be good and original at what you do and you shouldn’t have a problem. It’s when your covering everybody else’ crap and doing it poorly and expecting to make a living at it that is gonna give you grief.

    Our group did $82k it’s first year by working hard and having good attitudes. It also helps when your personable and actually take the time to understand who your public is and what they want.

    If you don’t like the money your making in your local market and your not happy, then leave and stop crying about it. Your just bringing everyone else down with you. Think about the effect your having on your local industry, the crap energy your spreading. Did you gain anything from all of your complaining? Did you make more money? Nope! you probably just wasted years of life that could have been better spent maturing your music career through and past all of this. Or did you already reach the top? I know, I know i’m missing your point right! Haha, the point is that you will never have any more success than you had because of how you measure your success.

    I’m doing music full time, I get paid what the venue offers. I smile, say thanks, shake their hand and get asked to come back. While everyone else is complaining i’m enjoying playing in their slot.

    Please keep complaining, it’s easier for me to book gigs. 🙂

  47. Christopher says:

    @Jimmy: You exemplify the problem I am talking about. Thanks for displaying for everyone your complete lack of understanding or indeed care about things like labor practices. And for your information, I myself have a lot of experience making very decent money playing music. Only it was usually shit. The ONLY time I have ever made real money playing real music was when I was playing with decades established stars and other very well-known people who had already spent decades making shit. And even they were an extreme minority. You sell your soul to the capitalist when you play for whatever “the venue offers.” Damn right, they love you for that. Lastly, you can call it “complaining” if you want, but I call it exposing the fraud that today’s independent musicians are supposed to engage in.

    @HIlary: well stated.

  48. Chris Ramey says:

    Jimmy, you sound like a whore.

  49. Mike Mudd says:

    The band’s job is to rock the house. The promoters job is to provide a consistently high level of entertainment to it’s audience. So if the band that’s on stage sucks that’s the promoter’s fault. The band can always find another venue, just as the promoter can always find another band, but relying on the band’s ‘draw’ is a great way to go out of business!

  50. Rory Bezecny says:

    Bing! Bing! Bing! The idea of having live shows somewhere other than a bar is something that needs to be explored further by most of the local (Twin Cities) bands. Awhile back I responded to an angry Craigslist post about club owners and bookers not really giving a crap about promoting bands. His idea was for bands to organize and come to each other’s shows at different venues. I suggested that local bands and solo musicians form a consortium with the goal of finding a space or spaces (like a warehouse type building) to rent and then put on their own gigs. Not only could they split the rent but they could pool lighting and sound systems and other resources. More of a concert atmosphere that just the usual bar band thing. Another option is to check with places like the Myth (who as you may or may not know usually only book more national acts) and see if management would be interested in booking local bands on off nights.

    Again, I think it’s idea worth looking into plus it may get bar owners to rethink their methods if they start losing business because people are going to these warehouse gigs. Also, as a middle age musician I noticed over the years that as one’s base audience also gets older they complain more about the nine or ten o clock starts and then maybe having to wait even later to see your band. Maybe part of this new idea is to start the music at 7 or 8 and be done by 10 at the latest especially if it’s night in the middle of the week.

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  52. Chris…I really enjoyed your write up…this past weekend I was venting to a friend thru a post…I am a full time entertainer from Irving and here is my post…I think it ties in with your piece…

    Thank you “________”…I work at it everyday locating prospective communities and venues…the venues are the hardest to come by…they just do not want to pay and I can understand that sorta…they have to make a living…but I have to make a living as well and I can not do that on what most are offering to pay…if it were a hobby for me then it would be on…and some want to know how many people can I or my duo or my band can bring them…at this point really none…not enough folks have been to hear us…and if you are not getting exposure with people hearing ya…then you are pretty much dead in the water…

    sometimes I want to ask the venues…what kind of clientele can you provide for your entertainers…do you have a lot of regulars and do they bring their friends…do they tip the solo/duo or band fairly well because they know you not only provide good prices on drinks…but your food is awesome and your clientele know you bring in great entertainment for them…seems the venues expect local artist to provide them with clientele at the least amount of money from their pockets…it is a win situation for the club…I have a good solo…duo and 3 piece band…but getting in is pretty hard…

    sorry for venting…it is just tiring getting no where most of the time with venues…of course there are some great solo…duos and bands out their as well that do this as a hobby…some might ask me why am I complaining when I have 400+ performances scheduled when 90% of those in the Dfw are coming nowhere near that performance schedule…I love doing it and the communities pay so much better per hour and I do not have to load in much equipment with only a 10 minute set up time…(BUT)…I enjoy being able to play with the duo and band and being able to with the crowd in a band setting…the solo thing gives me that as well but there is something about playing with your friends and for friends…~(:0(

  53. Hey all, what up. It’s been a million years. I live I Budapest now, where, believe it or not, it is a basic reality of having live music that the musicians should make a respectable amount. Not more in most cases, but I’ve played free jazz nights and made the equivalent (considering cost of living etc) about $50/guy for two sets.

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