Why a $5 Cover Charge is Too Low

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I went to a show recently– paid 5 bucks at the door. A few years back I opened for my friend’s album release party– $5 cover charge for that too. And 10 years ago, my first CD release show– yep, $5. Turns out, I asked a friend of mine who is about 25 years older than me how much money his band charged at the door in the mid-70’s– $5.

That same friend has also played a weekly gig for the past 15 years and actually had to take pay cuts every few years. (That might be on a slightly different topic, though).

Scott Honsberger posted an article on Music Think Tank yesterday that talks about this exact situation: the perpetual $5 door charge that has magically flatlined for decades. He thinks it’s way too low, and that bands should begin to slowly condition listeners to expect to pay more. Nothing drastic,… just $6 or $7 to start. Then maybe one day, with a little luck, $10!

So, is Scott’s proposal a good one? Is it possible to teach fans to pay more for live music?

On the one hand, the price of almost every other service or product has gone up. Generally wages increase towards that rise in cost of living. But on the other hand, there are thousands more bands now (millions, if we think globally), and that increase in supply doesn’t bode well for musicians’ bargaining power.

Check out Scott’s article HERE and let us know what you think.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

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  • Hmmm. Everywhere else? Ha. Well, at least in a few places I've played fequently: Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, etc. (Not always the case– sometimes it's free, sometimes it's $10 or $12 bucks.)

  • MojoHand

    People in Albuquerque balk at even a $5 cover charge!

    • Maybe you could charge $1, and then hand each attendee a handbill ticket that says in bold writing: "Each musician involved in making this event happen is currently earning 26 cents per hour, after splitting the door charge with the house, sound person, door guy, and other bands. If you'd like to help them make more than slave wages, please put some more dollars in the giant bucket by the bar. Otherwise, you're a cheapskate. Read Dante's Inferno to learn about the level of Hell that awaits you. Thanks!"

  • Falvome

    While bands engage in cutting one another, and seek new fans and publicity over cover charges on entry this will arise. Besides, Band Bookers know this, and play there cards close to there chests. I find acts are there own worst enemies at times. $5 is far too low. And the other issue is how do you know how many are there when it's a good crowd?…One can wish….

  • tgsf

    The problem is that the dollar isn't worth much anymore – five bucks used to mean something, a lot more than it does now (even in the newer era of "gimme free everything!").

    According to http://www.westegg.com/inflation/, $5 in 1985 is $10 in 2010; $5 in 1975 is $20 now.
    Granted, the grotesque over-saturation of the live music world since 1975 would seem to necessarily push prices down to be competitive, in a strictly competitive marketplace, but there's nothing wrong with demanding fair return for a product of genuine value. I.e., work on your live act and your tunes, and if you truly rock, charge $10-15, and people will come.

    The bigger issue is venues (there are so few left in the SF Bay Area, notably for louder acts) – but that's a different massive wrinkle in this overall story……..

    • Yeah. As venues decrease in the SF area, have you noticed that the quality of acts at those venues rise? I'm curious if the limiting of performance options requires more of bands before they can "get their foot in the door."

  • Generica Postting

    $5 is far too low. My band (Los Angeles-based a cappella group, actually) usually charges $10 minimum, rarely more than $10. $15 is about right for us to make money and not charge more than our fans will pay…we get about 20 people out to most gigs. I usually pay $10 or $15 to see groups I want to see – $5 is too low.

  • Kenny Black

    5 bucks is never low I rather have the show and play for free

  • Zerobeeman

    We pay $10-$15 here in AZ. And it has always been this. VERY rarely do we get in for anything less. Where is this that you pay $5?

  • Fairlandbluegrass

    NO I don’t think 10 bucks is too much…. but then again, I’m a musician. It depends on the venue, the bands, etc. It seems bands are willing to go the 5 buck route to get people in the door. ” I’d rather play to 150 people at 5 bucks than 70 at 10″. Yet one venue up in the area started catering to a more,um, touristy crowd. 15 bucks from the start and it’s packed every time the door is opened. You think about how much it costs to see a movie.