Why Music Venues Are Totally Lost: An Open Letter from a Professional Musician

February 13, 2012{ 461 Comments }

Jazz musician Dave Goldberg wrote a pointed and darkly humorous open letter to LA club owners that I thought was worth sharing. In it, he argues that it’s actually a counterproductive practice for venues to book bands who are willing to work for free. And when I say “counterproductive,” I mean it’s bad for the venue’s business.

To read the whole letter, click HERE. But below are a few of the highlights:

Just the other day I was told by someone who owned a wine bar that they really liked our music and would love for us to play at their place. She then told me the gig paid $75 for a trio. Now $75 used to be bad money per person, let alone $75 for the whole band. It had to be a joke, right? No, she was serious.But it didn’t end there. She then informed us we had to bring 25 people minimum. Didn’t even offer us extra money if we brought 25 people. I would have laughed other than it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this proposal from club owners. But are there musicians really doing this? Yes. They are so desperate to play, they will do anything.

But lets think about this for a second and turn this around a little bit.What if I told the wine bar owner that I have a great band and we are going to play at my house. I need someone to provide and pour wine while we play. I can’t pay much, just $75 and you must bring at least 25 people who are willing to pay a $10 cover charge at the door. Now wouldn’t they look at you like you are crazy?

“Why would I do that,” they would ask? Well, because it’s great exposure for you and your wine bar. The people there would see how well you pour wine and see how good your wine is. Then they would come out to your wine bar sometime. “But I brought all the people myself, I already know them,” they would say. Well maybe you could make up some professional looking flyers, pass them out, and get people you don’t know to come on out. “But you are only paying me $75, How can I afford to make up flyers?”

You see how absurd this sounds, but musicians do this all the time. If they didn’t, then the club owners wouldn’t even think of asking us to do it. So this sounds like a great deal for the club owners, doesn’t it? They get a band and customers for that night, and have to pay very little if anything. But what they don’t realize is that this is NOT in their best interest. Running a restaurant, a club, a bar, is really hard. There is a lot at stake for the owner. You are trying to get loyal customers that will return because you are offering them something special. If you want great food, you hire a great chef. If you want great décor,you hire a great interior decorator. You expect these professionals to do their best at what you are hiring them to do. It needs to be the same with the band.You hire a great band and should expect great music.That should be the end of your expectations for the musicians. The music is another product for the venue to offer, no different from food or beverages.
Why You Don't Need a 
Record Label
When a venue opens it’s doors, it has to market itself. The club owner can’t expect people to just walk in the door. This has to be handled in aprofessional way. Do you really want to leave something so important up to a musician?

This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician.The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favor of whoever can bring in the most people.

He then makes the point that professional bands will have a somewhat harder time playing the “friend and family” card because, well… they’re pros! They play every night.

But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again. And the people that were starting to follow your venue are now turned off because you just made them listen to a bad band. The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night. Instead, you’ve soiled your reputation for a quick fix.

If you asked a club owner, “who is your target demographic?” I doubt they would answer “the band’s friends and family.” But yet clubs operate likeit is.

… would you expect the chef’s friends and family to eat at your restaurant every night? How about the dishwasher, the waitresses, the hostess? Or how about the club owner’s friends and family? You see,when you start turning this argument around, it becomes silly.

So what does Dave suggest? Start fighting back, with calm, reasoned arguments. He explains:

I’ve started arguing with club owners about this. It happened after I played a great night of music in LA. We were playing for a % of the bar. There were about 50 people there in this small venue, so it was a good turnout. At the end of the night, I go to get paid, and hope to book another gig. The club owner was angry.

“Where are your people?” he asked. “All these people, I brought in. We had a speed dating event  and they are all left over from that.”

I pointed out they all stayed and listened to the music for 2 hours after their event ended. That was 2 more hours of bar sales, because without us, you have an empty room with nothing going on. He just couldn’t get over the fact that we didn’t walk in with our own entourage of fans. Wasn’t happy that we kept a full room spending money. Right when we were talking, a group of people interrupted us and said “you guys sound  great, when is the next time you’re playing here again?” The club owner, said “they aren’t, they didn’t  bring anyone.”

I went home that night bummed out and sent him an email. Telling him most of what you are reading here and how his business model and thinking is flawed. After a lot of swearing back and forth, because I’m guessing that musicians never talk to him as a business equal, he eventually admitted that what I was saying made sense. BUT, that’s not how LA clubs and restaurants work. And he has bands answering his craigslist ads willing to do whatever it takes to get the gig. It’s been a couple of years now since that conversation. I called his bar, and the number is disconnected.

So what do you think? Can this battle be won by reasoning with one venue at a time? Or have the economics of the live music world shifted forever beyond our influence? We’d love to hear about your experiences as a live musician. Please feel free to comment in the section below.

Chris R. at CD Baby

[editor’s note: Most talent-buyers, venue owners, show promoters, and club bookers do not resemble the sleazy pay-to-play club booker pictured above. Most of the time it’s best to view them as partners or allies in your event’s success. Treat these industry professionals with courtesy and respect. If they give you cause for argument– stay calm, state your points, and be ready to walk away! You can choose to never use a certain bridge again. It doesn’t have to burned down entirely.]  

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  • Mimm

    So very true – and sadly most musicians love to play so much that it becomes reasonable to play for free!!!

  • Bernie

    Great article!! All club owners should read this!!!

  • Vanda

    This is an awesome article, thank you for posting it!! I totally agree…unfortunately…

  • Agreed!

  • Another thing that would be helpful is if venues gave artists a very detailed breakdown of how they spent their promotional budget (the venue's promotional budget, I mean) for each show. Like… $X for poster design, $X for putting posters up around town, $X for print ads in the local rag, etc. I always get the feeling that they take too much out of the door for "promotion," but probably aren't giving much attention to individual shows.

  • There is a communication breakdown for sure. In my experience, bookers speak in business-terms too often, and artists not enough.

  • SFStevenK

    It's the same in the Bay Area. Very few places where you can even talk to the venue without a draw…

  • the same thing happens to djs too. everyone is just too damn lazy or cheap to know how to promote their own venue anymore. they feel its our job as musicians to do all the work.

  • Max

    Another problem is the epidemic of cover bands. Because clubs assume patrons have to hear "Mustang Sally" every night until eternity, bands are forced to play covers to get booked. Clubs have to pay absurd monthly fees to ASCAP/BMI, so they see paying bands as a nuisance tax. Imagine a world where original music was required? Actually, it did exist before the 1980's.

    • If I could, I'd just go ahead and retire "Mustang Sally."

  • Jazzloversinc

    Love this Love this.

  • Simon Mas

    Dear Editor, I have to disagree with your note. I'm Italian, an independent musician. I have performed in UK, Italy and Hungary (where I'm currently based) and my experience is that vast majority of club owners are exactly as depicted in the letter.

    They're not sleazy: they just assume that you will blow their mind a musicians AND fill their venue up. They think that's part of the job, and your marketing for the event should be included in the pay (which, in some cases was lower than 75$ for my trio).

    In one extreme case, a concert organizer didn't even bother to listen to my demo (as evident when he asked me what genre of music we were doing, *after* I sent him a demo and after several emails) and just asked me what was my draw. My band was going to get paid according to how many people we were going to bring to the event.

    In the end, this guy:

    1. asked us to change our repertoire just for him (from acoustic rock and folk to "music that make people dance"). We agreed only because we already thought that we were not going to change one bit for him.

    2. was *NOT* going to pay us (that's what he really meant, I felt, when he said that it depended by how many people we would have brought, since it is not always easy to tell, especially when there are other acts booked for the night).

    3. decide to cancel on us when we didn't show at the "organization meeting" of the event. Notice that the meeting was advertised on facebook, as any normal get together, and no notice was made of how important it was to be there. (It would be nice to explain to him how, as a musician, I should not be asked to participate to such a meeting. My job is to come to the venue, make a sound check, and then play.)

    This is the worst experience I had in 16 years, but it also highlight why I think you are wrong. You are talking about "industry professionals". Most venue owners are not industry professionals, not even when it comes to hospitality, sometimes.

    • I think I've met that guy, too. I feel your pain.

  • There is a very similar discussion going over at Chris TTs site about gigs in the UK.

    • Thanks for sharing. I just checked it out. I especially like his point about it costing more to go see a movie at the cinema than it does to hear 3 or 4 hours of live music made by real humans in front of your very eyes. We should not be complaining about $10 cover charges! (or the equivalent in pounds).

  • Hey Dave, don't sell the Super Locrian scale short! I hear it's all the rage with the late-teen demographic. Though I'm pretty sure the 12-tone system is making a comeback too. 12-tone/Locrian fusion?

    As for the rest of this, thanks so much for writing that piece. It's a great discussion starter and you make so many valid points. It's tough to beat back the tide of free, free, free (especially when a thousand new bands are starting every week and willing to do whatever for whoever anytime and everywhere), but something has to be done if we want to preserve, sustain, and even encourage (ambitious!) quality music made by technically proficient humans.

  • FLA still allowing smoking in clubs? I guess that is one of the small perks of being screwed in Cali– clean lungs!

  • Music and language aren't that important, so long as we still have professional video-game developers! (kidding, of course)

  • Sounds like you've been able to locate the right participants to form a nice supportive music community. There are definitely places like that in Portland, Oregon too. It's not all doom-n-gloom, for sure.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm curious to hear from a club owner or booker… how do you assess the success of a band's debut at your club? Is it based on their performance? Their turnout? Bar sales? Some combination of the three? What I'm wondering is, if a band really is incredibly talented, but they don't have a following yet– would you book them again with the hopes of working together to build a draw? And conversely, if you hated a band but they packed your place, would they get booked again? (It'd be interesting to hear how clubs balance concerns of taste/talent/aesthetics with the simple fact that you have a business to run and need to make money.)

  • Wow. That is not comforting to hear. Though I guess if everyone is in the same situation, we're more empathetic to the plight of others. More able to act together!

  • Very true.

  • Very interesting to hear, and very different from a few of the towns I've played in. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nice! Sounds like a great model for everyone involved. And perhaps the difficulty of getting in the door isn't the worst thing in the world— raising the bar seems to be what most people on this blog are in favor of.

  • Sean

    uhm.. ascap/bmi fees have existed long before the 80s and venues have to pay it regardless of covers or original bands so what is your point?

  • Jeffthomas713

    This is so true! How many times have I said it is not my responsibility to bring two trucks to the gig- one filled with gear and the other with an audience. Used to be, and still makes sense, that playing a popular club gained you new fans. If you bring the bulk of the audience with you to every gig… well, how does that play out? We musicians want to play to full rooms, and most of us are willing to do our share of promotion. But people have to like and frequent the club anyway or it won't work. So, please stop hiring bad bands that bring in 20 hard drinking friends. The end of night register tape may look good, but the future looks bleak

  • Qman2000

    Suggestion: Always best to play a venue where the owner was in bands them self at one point, sadly that situation does not present itself often enough. Original bands starting out need to find other bands they can play shows with so when they approach a venue to book a night they can say "I can bring a 3 or 4 band line-up", We would like $? charged at the door (the venue owner may suggest a door charge price) and the bar/venue keeps the first $100 for the sound guy and the bands split the door after the sound guy is paid. Each band needs to have an electronic press kit the venue owner can access. We have done this a lot and there are plenty of venues that are fine with this arrangement. Good venue owners want to and expect to make money off their bar/food business and do not want to take money out of the bands pocket. Now it is up to the bands to get to know who the other bands in their area are that can "draw consistently" (determine what other local/original bands are worth teaming up with) so you end up with a line-up where each band can fairly easily expect 20+ people to turn out to see them. The venue is happy because their bar is selling drinks, the bands are happy because they do not not have to pre-sell tickets. If each band advertises the show on their Facebook Page and by word of mouth and puts up some fliers and however else they can get the word out it will work out in the end. The Venue owner is happy because people filled up his bar, the bands are happy because there is some money at the end of the night for them. Most local original bands can not play more than once a month or their fan base gets exhausted and will not attend. As the fan base grows they can add more shows accordingly. Most local original music bands that play consistently to a reasonable size crowd cap out at playing 20 to 25 times a year. Usually it is not much more than every 3 weeks I'm not talking about COVER bands at all, this is original music rock bands I'm writing about. When building "your book of bands" find bands that fit well with your band, if you play straight rock with a girl singer don't book yourself with two other bands that are screamo death metal, use common sense. The goal is to grow your fan base. Is this perfect, no, but it does work if you find the right "other" bands to team up with. When a venue owner tells you the band has to pay to play tell them to take their story walking. There is always another venue for you to try down the road.

  • I've heard the ASCAP/BMI argument. They don't really want you to know what the fees are. When I usually ask, I get everyone dancing around the number. It's based on venue size, how the music is used, and how many days a week you have music. I found someone that said an average size club, doing live music 7 nights a week pays $2,000 a year. But lets assume it's double that and call it $4,000 a year. That's only $333 a month. Less than a car payment. It comes out to $10 a day. So when the poor club owner can't afford to pay $300 for a gig, because of ASCAP, it's because he paid $10 that day. And that's at $4,000. At $2,000 it's $166 a month. That's less than most families cell phone bill. And I had one club owner that responded favorably to my article say that he pays $1,000 a year to ASCAP. We all have bills. These are the costs of doing business. I'm not an accountant, but I assume It's a tax write off as well. In which case almost 1/3rd will come back as a tax credit to them.

  • Marybeth

    Thanks so much for this important article. You are absolutely right! What I see is that as a musician, if I don't play, I get rusty. So I often play for free. But what you are saying makes complete business sense!

  • Michael"Mico&qu

    The integrity of the artist should be the impetus to the venue owners decision to hire that artist. If the artist is worthwhile, meaning that they are professionals, doing the music requested and performing it well, keeping whatever audience present, entertained and inspired to not only return but also recommend the venue as a result of a great night out. This too, especially if the venue has just opened its doors and has not yet created any kind of buzz about the quality of their cuisine or ambiance. the entertainment is not required to bring the crowd, but to keep the crowd and add to it with their skills. I have told venue owners that if you want my name to bring the crowd then spend the advertisement dollars required to get the word out about my performing there. I have been in the business long enough to have a following, but it is not to me borne the expense of importing them to an untested venue, that for all intended purposes may have the worst food and service. I maintain that no matter where I perform, there will be a fee for the time allotted, not for the experience the talent or the quality of such. I can only be compensated for the time that goes into making their venue a memorable place by doing that which has been blessed upon me. This is something that has no price.

  • Haha. No worries. Musicians aren't expected to be accountants! Also, your post was worth sharing for other points it made.

  • I love this post, so many good ideas, thank you, Thelma!! The one you nailed that I missed earlier is key and rightfully #1 on your list: 1. Have a performing contract and stimpulate what you want.

    Best always,

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/timkate...
    MySpace Music: http://www.myspace.com/timkate...
    Tim Ballard Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/timbal...
    CDBABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/timba...

  • Cvcmusic

    I have been a professional musician in LA for 25 years and this article is SPOT ON! I have been making these same arguments for years and have also been proven right time and time again.
    I will add this though.
    Clubs keep using the economy as an excuse and it is flawed. Throughout history, during times of depression, the one business that has always excelled is entertainment because people need a release from the darkness they are dealing with everyday. I use as an example a club here in LA called "The Cowboy Palace" in Chatsworth. They have had live bands 7 nights a week EVERY week for the last 20 years and continue to do so. Why? They have quality bands and they hve extra things for the customers like dance lessons and free BBQ on Sunday afternoons as well as a talent contest once a week where people can sing with the band and win prizes. They have many other things as well and they have a loyal following that they have built up and great word of mpouth as well. You can be assured that no matter what night you go in there, the place is full of people and the band is great. They are still kicking ass in the "bad economy".
    Case closed.
    Thanks for the great article, I hope this can start some changes and also let the musicians who are undercutting everyone else know that it hurts us all in the long run.

  • Shabamzy

    How many beers do you sell in your bar? Like 20? Why would I pay you for your beers until I've tried them out for free. Your bartender say the beers are good, he says their all excellent, why should I pay you for a beer and figure out if he's lying afterwards. If I paid for every beer you sell before I try them out I'd have an empty wallet before I even opened it.

    20 years ago, there were only a few drinks, I think George Thorogood said something like "one burbon, one scotch and one beer". Easy to choose from.

    In short, all bars say the same things, dives and heated rooftop patios alike, so until they all stop lying, I can't pay for your beers until I've tried them, or drank them before.

    Get over yourself, take a second to "sample" the music for free on the internet, use your noggin to choose the right band, and take some GD responsibility for your musical choices as I will take responsibility for my drink choices. If you're confident in your little rant, tell us the name of your bar, musicians with their large followings are pretty good at avoiding a sour note like yourself.

  • John Gatti

    My experiences over the last 40 years is don't give in. Playing for free just brings down the quality of musicians in general.
    I've never done it and hope future musicians are smart enough to say NO.
    Thanks for reading,
    John Gatti
    (Destinations CD) on CD BABY

  • I know Dave and I was part of the original thread. There is one big missing piece here is – bands that are entertaining have a following. Bands that do not entertain do not have a following. How often do you choose what restaurant you will be eating at based on who is playing? Would you be more likely to go to McDonald's if they had an open mic? Nope. It is sad, but live music is a dying art form like the American dance, and American Theater – by the way – when was the last time you paid for a ticket to a modern dance performance, a staged production or even went to your local museum. Stop whining and get into the solution. Be entertaining.

  • Linda

    Seems we are trending to jam nights in my area too since Pay2Play is killing the venues and they are beginning to shut down from lack of biz.

    But again, you play for free and they overcharge customers for drinks. So it's lose/lose still for the musician's

  • Deborah Frost

    These are not "music venues." They are bars (even if they want to seem upscale by offering "wine"-as opposed to PBR and rename themselves something accordingly fancy). And they are in business purely for the purpose of selling alcohol, not to present your "music" or any other art form. If you want to be paid for playing music, figure out how to sell yourself to an audience that appreciates and wants to see/hear you. It is no different than anything else. You could be THE most amazing basketball or baseball player in the world– well guess what, unless you prove yourself in a particular kind of system– no one, other than those who like to hang around a local playground or ballfield–is going to be interested in buying a ticket to watch you go through your paces. If you want to create art-of any kind- you do it-and you share it–but don't expect to be rewarded financially–and certainly not immediately–for your efforts. No bar/club owner "owes" you anything. And not upfront–until you prove you can pack his/her house and move the goods.

  • Mark Kroos

    This is good. Value yourselves your guys. If every talented musician upped their standards for what they're willing to take, we would all be in a better place.

  • Sorry to burst more bubbles, but MOST clubs (regardless of who is doing the booking and what their title may be) absolutely DO operate this way, the standard is now "pay-to-play", and I'm talking about New York City as one of the worst offenders. Plus Dave comes from that rarefied stratosphere of "jazz" where there is still some slim chance of getting paid for gigs in restaurants and wine-y type bars. If you play pop music, or anything else (other than a DJ) chances are you are NOT getting paid anything upfront and any back-end payment you are promised will be whittled down by your responsibility to pay the doorman, sound engineer, or by not making a guarantee of paid entries. Its total bullshit. Dave's ideas are good but its never going to work unless musicians as a whole change their attitudes and stop approaching what they do as undeserving beggars. There's too much competition out there and so many musicians are desperate to play anywhere, for any amount. Well, then they're going to get taken advantage of, and dumb the whole thing down for the rest of us.

    • Lawrence

      I recognize so much from the music industry in this. 14 years ago, when I was still in that business, we got paid to do acts of presence with our band in “Free Record Shop” stores. For those who don’t know them, there’s nothing “free” about them, it’s just a name for shops who used to sell CDs and DVDs and games etc. A few years later, we had to pay them! Because in the end they felt we got publicity from their event! And if we wanted to have our CDs sold by them, we had to agree a purchase price of only 2 euro while they sold for 4.99 euro! Now as an entrepreneur, I have lots of sympathy for other independent business people. This time however I am filled with joy that these bastards have gone bankrupt because they didn’t see the digital revolution coming. And it put them out of business. Streaming video, iTunes, BeatPort, it all made an end to their power of blackmail and extortion, yeah that’s what I call it. Had they e.g. paid the artists a fair fee, they could still have invited them for acts the presence and by doing that, attract fans and meanwhile sell promotions etc…. I guess karma truly IS a bitch.

    • Amy

      The venues should just rent their space to producers who can coordinate the event, invite the guests, charge the guests, book the entertainment, etc. Or the band can rent the venue if they’re acting as their own producer. They can make how much money they want to then, by charging for tickets to their show. The venue can waive any rental fees in exchange for keeping the bar sales (or have low fees for sound production etc.) I guess you can call that Pay to Play or you can call it renting a concert hall. Whichever.

  • Mark Nelson

    Yep, that letter is dead on. I've been involved on both sides of this equation–as a concert and festival promoter, and as a musician–for all of my life. I have seen club owners pull this stunt for years. Sadly, they get away with it because my fellow musicians are only to willing to under cut their peers in order to take the gig. Any gig.

    When I first started gigging in the 70's, the local scale for a bar gig was $50-75 a person and I wouldn't do a single for less than $150. Remember, gas was something like $.50 a gallon back then.

    Today? $50-75 for a four or five piece–if that–and singles play for tips. Which is why I don't play out locally any more.

    Who is responsible? We musicians are. Because we do not stand together.

    If you are just "playing for fun" and you take a gig for monkey money, you are taking money out of the pockets of a professional musician who needs to feed his/her family.

    Many thanks, Chris, for posting this. I wholeheartedly agree that we ought to talk some sense into a club owner. In fact, I've been doing just that for years. Sometimes it even seems to get through.

    After all, we all want the business to succeed. It is good for the venue, it is good for the audience, and it is good for the music.

  • You Get Over

    and that is why eventually you will fail. You ignore the point of actually listening to a band before hiring them. It's what venues used to do, and now can do (as the other reader commented) in 5 minutes. If a band doesn't have something for to send you in advance, chances are they suck. Logic

  • Sorry Dave, but that is the horrible truth. I've watched it plummet since the advent of the electronic keyboards bumping out the strings and horns….i've worked in the record business in the early 80s and watched payola, now you release a cd and CD baby is ONE option, but people don't buy them live anymore, they go to Itunes and buy one track….or RENT it from Rhapsody and you get 3cents…even in the 80s there were cabarets that pounded that YOU bring in YOUR people 'OR ELSE'…and you had
    to pay the house, etc, etc, etc…..even working in a small bar using tracks, as a vocalist (since who can afford to pay a band now!), tips are down by 50-75%, and I am fortunate enough to have the ONE steady gig in this town (perhaps that says something about my talent and range of music as i've been her for eleven years, with medical insurance….)but my gig is one in a million.
    IT'S TRUE! IT'S AWFUL….BUT IT'S TRUE. In these days you better just love what you do.
    just another diva

  • Rod Graham. UK

    We've had the same experiences as you, with club and pub owners not wanting to pay a real fee for real work.
    Sometimes we take a bucket and do a collection in the interval. If there's enough people in and if they like the music, along with selling the odd cd, it helps a bit lol.
    It has to be said, that club land is not what it was and for one reason or another, folk just are'nt turning out like they used to.
    Sad, but I think we might be seeing the end of an era.

  • Guest

    "I can't pay a group unless I have heard of them or worked with them before"

    You're running a business and that means educating yourself so all your bottom line decisions are as sound as possible. In the digital age, it isn't difficult (or time consuming) to do a little research before *hiring* a band. If they don't have a web presence (beyond a face book page), chances are they'll do similar promotion for your business; i.e. nothing. It also isn't difficult to require some of these things: cd's, press kits, up to date web presence…as part of the entry process. Professional bands, regardless of level, will take promotion seriously–yours and theirs.

    If you aren't buying your liquor or other supplies based on what a salesman tells you–then you probably shouldn't be doing that with musicians. Seriously, educate yourself.

  • Linz

    Look here is the big picture … until the music industry as a whole does something permanent about music theft or "sharing" , music will continue to be the cheap "why should pay for that" street hooker commodity it has become since people figured out they could just steal what they wanted. Actually that just dissed a quality lady of the evening and I apology for that. Consequently .. music including live music has been cheapened all the way down the line as something less than special … trash fluff. Kids now have an attention span of about 5 seconds … asking them to pay for music simply does not compute in their minds when they can just steal it. Lars unfortunately was right. The music industry now needs an entire re-boot including password protecting music in the same fashion software is protected by key code … like any software company has been doing for years … Microsoft, Adobe, Norton etc. Then and only then will the true value of music be restored as the unique intellectual commodity that it is to be enjoyed, appreciated and YES PAID FOR IT.

  • I hate how venues make bands sell tickets to me its so counter productive it doesn't do any favor to the bands or the venue it self

  • Bill Hudson

    Good story

  • Anonymous

    very informative article, and as a musician, i have been very discouraged about performing out anymore. there's no way to win out there and it's frustrating. hopefully we can make a change somehow so we can keep doing our thing.

  • Hi Chris! (up the road from you in Tri-Cities, WA – I SERIOUSLY need to get down there and visit you guys…LUV what you do!).

    sigh…where do I start? Maybe with the rather trite saying: misery loves company. nah, it's possibly not QUITE as bad up here. What we've found is that REALLY established wineries (Bookwalter Winery comes to mind) have basically figured it out. Whether by trial and error or they really sat down and thought about it, I may never know. They seem to have realized that they are in business to sell wine, bring people to their amazing and gorgeous venue, and make people quite literally WANT to be there. Along the way they added things to their grounds, added FOOD to their menu (yay!), added BEER to their menu (YAY!) and slowly but surely made themselves into THE place to be. I cannot remember ever being told by them that WE needed to bring OUR fans. I think they understood from the beginning that their bottom line is to bring people to their venue. Now obviously, if a band just literally packs the place every single time with happy well adjusted nicely paying customers, well shoot…that seems to be icing on the cake.

    Within about the last 10 years, venues such as these kept having live music day after day. I don't have the absolute statistics handy, but I can remember that maybe they started with just Friday/Saturday. They slowly added Thursday. Finally, they added Wednesday as well as occasional Sunday afternoon stuff and then of course special parties and such. I'll never forget my guitarist at the time pointing out to me that it was the venues that NEVER STOPPED having live music that seem to have succeeded, not only in the quantity of live music, but the quality **AND** their customer numbers appeared to go up as well. I guess what I'm trying to blather my way through here is that there appears to be this really interesting symbiotic relationship between what venues are trying to do and how live music fits into it. It seems to be a "dance of life" kind of thing (and gosh…don't we all just dance our little hearts out!).

    Anyway…what my guitarist was really hitting on was that most venues are simply not patient enough to have live music regularly enough and LONG enough for the entire population (in our case, three cities joined together to equal a little over 100,000 people) to firmly decide in their minds: "venue X will ALWAYS have music….therefore, let's see who's playing at venue X". You can have great venue owners and great sounding bands all you want, but if the venue itself isn't truly committed to a LONG LONG LONG term (and I'm talking 10-20 YEARS long) vision of being THE place for live music, then they will struggle. And with that struggle will come ALL the stuff we've read about in these other wonderful posts. When things don't go well, both sides of the symbiotic relationship will point fingers and moan and cry. When things go well, well then we're all just kings aren't we. It's almost ripe for another mockumentary ala Spinal Tap. All the funny things that venues and bands say and do to each other. Comedy I tell you.

    We've observed various venues and various bands in all the stages of development and it's one fascinating trip. Especially when you see things on opposite sides of the spectrum collide in one fantastic melt-down. Like when a struggling fledgling venue manages to hire some REALLY hot band (and gosh they probably even pay them well). BOOM. The fledgling venue thinks they've won the lottery…until reality intrudes and they find themselves unable to afford to hire that kind of talent and they are left with less mature bands. Or the opposite, where a really mature and successful venue somehow hires a really lame (sorry!) and fledgling band. . In this case the band thinks they've hit paydirt only to not play there again until they can gain their experience. It's almost like I wish there was some guidelines that everyone agreed to so you wouldn't get these (fun to watch) lopsided situations. And then of course, there's all the possible permutations in between. Hopefully a particular venue is finding that "sweet spot" where they're not too pretentious and neither are the bands. heh heh.

    Ooh…almost forgot: add to our lovely little corner of the world the fact that our population is HUGELY slanted in the scientist/engineer type of thinking (I could be overstating this…but it seems to be true?) and therefore you've got these people that for the most part really aren't the "creativity lovers" that perhaps Seattle might have and you're left with what appears to be NOT a huge love of the arts. This obviously makes it hard to really generate much of a following. Things SEEM to be changing in this area (it was waaaay worse 20 years ago in my opinion) and as the population grows and younger people come up to the age of spending money and going out, hopefully they will be the Generation Y (or are we to Z yet?) folks who like to work hard AND party/go out hard.

    We shall see.

    Great posts people! Keep on playing (or not…as your situation dictates). In fact, I'm quite bipolar about the whole thing: when the local situation annoys me enough I just retreat (or try to) to my man-cave studio for awhile. Sure enough though…several months later…I get THE ITCH. DAMN THAT ITCH. Sigh.


    Kevin B. Selby

  • It is now from the radio it has evolved to the stage, and the seats . ( how many folks do you want at your show depends on your ability to buy those seats . I my self am playing world wide and I don't have to leave my room. People that pay to play are after pussy, and want to fill their ego just as false profits ! A true artist lives the truth and will not lie to himself. AMEN

  • Grooveassault

    WOW! thanks for posting this. I'm a professional musician/ guitarist here in a little town called New York City. There isnt enough room on the internet for the stories and complaints and basic mistreatment of musicians here. I've logged in well over 2000 gigs ,maybe much more than that (lost count years ago) in my 20+ year playing career. AND … I blame us, the musicians. I admit i've done my fair ( unfair) share of tip gigs, $75 – 3 set restaurant gigs and everything in-between. AND yes, it seems like the less they pay the more they treat you like crap! Its a weird phenomenon when people pay little they expect you to be little and you also seem as desperate as you are. i have had numerous fights, verbal and physical with asshole club owners who have the audacity to lie and even tell you straight out they are screwing you out of money and its usually over a petty amount. Now i have some tips for evening the score with these scums of the earth but thats another topic and NOT the idea of the original post, but im happy to share with anyone who wants to learn them. BUT thats my point. we are too far gone with negotiating these terms because its become a set idea in these clubs heads that musicians are desperate and they "just wanna play for the love of their art" or " it will be good exposure" …. for what ???? the next crappy gig? NO…. if your so desperate to play go play on the street and really earn your money or produce your own gig at a art space. why use these jerks clubs that do no advertising or give any help. If you look at the difference you will see producing your own show could be just the same and at least its your gig.
    I dont play many gigs anymore and i dont miss it, i still do some high profile gigs that are guaranteed pay and even those are getting bad. My plea to all you musicians and especially you young ones starting out is to refuse to play these clubs , band together with as many bands as you can to boycott these clubs and give hell to the bands that dont participate. we did this at Arlenes Grocery years ago when they would only allow a tip bucket for bands… it made some difference but the younger inexperience bands were willing to be exploited and eventually the boycott ended. BUT If enough bands did this and stick to it, and give non participating bands a hard time for being exploited, these clubs will feel it. and if your worried about not gigging then you and the other bands can promote your own gigs as i mentioned and maybe make a profit. BUT Bands need to organize through web sites,boycotts and self sufficient gigs to finally tell these owners and other bands thats its been enough for too long!
    I read some of these posts on here about how some of you let these scumbags short you of money and just walk away, the times this happened to me i treated it as being robbed and i would let every patron in the place know what the owners were doing or some cases would refuse to leave until i got more money, admittedly im 6'3" from brooklyn and maybe not playing with the fullest of decks BUT for your own self esteem and self worth …. fight back somehow dont just walk away wit your tail between your legs it only re-affirms what these assholes belief. again I know the article suggested "calm and reasonable" arguments BUT that doesnt always work and usually give the owner the impression your wimping out.
    Take some kind of actions STOP LETTING YOURSELVES BE EXPLOITED!!!

  • Goressteven

    I'm a professional musician from MN. Same thing going on here in every type of venue. My wife and I go out every so often looking for a good band to hear……..good luck with that.
    Things have changed. I have started to do unlikely/alternative venues. I happen to be a composer so i sell my original CD's at these events and places. It works for me, but it is pretty much a one man game
    if you want to make any money.

  • Eolmusic

    So, we know the problem, I've preached this for 15 years. Let's work TOGETHER for a solution.

  • What that restaurant owner did is not cool. Although I've worked with plenty of indifferent venue owners, none have treated me that dishonestly. But I'd encourage you to not give up and find some other places to play — you can do better!

  • Samlap

    This is something I have thought for years! Dave said it better then I could have. I could not agree more. I stopped playing music in LA clubs since the art of begging people to come is something I could do 20 years ago. I have toured Europe, released CD's on indie labels yet clubs in LA could not give crap who or what you are as long as you bring people. The thought of them promoting an act is a foreign concept and I have played before and after acts that made no sense to bill with my style and vise versa.

    Last time I played I was under the 25 (10 bucks for a quick 40 minute set is a lot to ask people to pay) people but everyone who came was asking the doorman to make sure to have me back. We both looked at each other with sheepish grins knowing that wasn't going to happen…

  • Anonymous

    This isn't just an LA problem, or even just America, the UK is just as bad if not worse. Venues say you have to bring at least 25-50 people and you get £1 of every £5 ticket, no fuel money, or sometimes your expected to play for 20 small bottles of beer. Which kinda bums out the members of the band that are driving the gear, or only drink spirits!

    It's total bullshit!

  • J Devens

    I've been fighting this battle for years. Another thing that hurts musicians is the pressure put on small club owners and coffee houses to pay ASCAP fees. I know we need this organization. I am a member, but they are seriously hurting small venues and taking jobs away from working musicians. There has to be a more equitable solution.

  • Buddy Mix

    I live in Western North Carolina now. In the South bands NEVER go unpaid. The restaurants support artists 6 or 7 nights a week, depending on their schedule. They have regular musicians during the week and their clientele have a relationship with the restaurants and the musicians, bringing friends to hear the musicians and enjoy the restaurants food and wine. They even have live lunch concerts outside in summer for thier clients. I'm not talking some half prepared honky-tonk or blue-grass groups either. These cats can play anything; classical, jazz, rock, blue-grass, country, you name it. People hang and appauld enthusiastically. Music is celebrated and supported. Why wouldn't it be the same in the "capital" of the entertainment world? Doesn't make sense. Keep arguing with the owners. This article defines how. Buddy Mix dot com.

  • This is a complicated matter as has been discussed. It is the current reality of the state of the industry and the nature of the business coupled with economics and the choices of the delivery of entertainment presently. The way music is distributed has also diluted the ability of musicians to earn a living.

  • Realistic

    Dave Goldberg's article is right on, but unfortunately naive. The business model he speaks to is long gone. Just as buying CD's as the only source of obtaining new music is also long gone. Musicians must hone their sales skills and grow their brand recognition. They must find and connect with their audience. Oh, …. and deliver a professional product. I would love to return to the old model, but it's not gonna happen. If you can't figure it out and deliver the goods, then please get out of my way!!!

  • epp

    The argument about cover bands having a lot to do with this resonates with me.
    (Yeah, I said resonates…sue me 🙂 )

    Original artists are playing at paying clubs while cover bands aspire to casino gigs…i.e. steady work.
    The original artists are on the road 350 days a year, the cover bands have day jobs.
    I see original artists have managers, cover bands are the entire enterprise.

    The places cover bands play are the lower tier bars. Where people are not used to paying a cover charge.

  • Forget clubs and restaurant venues they're a joke. Bands that work for $75.00 a night sell drugs, Mr. Owner.

  • Buddymix2002

    I live in North Carolina now. What an eye opener. Soloist, bands always are paid to perform. Music is celebrated everywhere. The groups are prepared and play all styles from classical to rock, blue-grass, jazz and country. Solists and groups. It's so music friendly. People really enjoy listening. Keep arguing with the owners. This article shows how and why. Buddy Mix dot com

  • Dereckrose1961

    Since I returned from Africa, I swore that I'll never play anymore gigs for free, because in Africa when a musician plays, they are automatically rewarded by people, rich or poor. In this country the UK all these rip off venues want musicians to play for free, and the musician has to do all the work in bringing his or her own crowd, and when there is money made, the venue gives you some pocket money out of the door money, and they keeps everything they make from the bar, so they win all the time. I can appreciate people who wants to do Open Mic's to get some kind of performing experience, but the venue pays that friendly musician who telephones you and asks; "why not come and play at this new venue, some hosts offer a free drink, but sometimes they need to be reminded, thinking that you've forgotten, which would be good for the bar, as they could hold back a few extra pints that they could instead sell to punters. What I'm saying is; some musicians who hosts Open Mic's also are helping to enslave musicians. MUSICIANS, STOP THIS PAY TO PLAY BUSINESS.

    • Henrique

      Hi Dereck, I found the information that you gave about Africa very interesting. I know it’s been three years since you posted this, but could you be more specific as to which countries you’ve been? Besides, what types of concerts were that? Thank you a lot, take care

  • I am a musician in Las Vegas. I have performed my original music and covers in most of the major venues that Las Vegas has to offer (House of Blues, BBKings, Hard Rock Cafe, The Railhead, Fremont St Experience, etc etc etc) – excluding the arenas of course. I have taken the time to read most of the posts in response to this aritcle. If I may- I have few points of my own.

    After performing for over two years at The House of Blues restaurant in the Mandalay Bay- I was informed that they were no longer having live music on Fri and Sat nights. My band and several others have been replaced by a friggin' DJ. Seriously… My band alone packed the place. The sound guys loved us. The employees loved us. I'd get off stage and find almost every table downloading my music on their iPhone. But, we were replaced by a DJ. Two of the guys in my band play music for a living. Having this gig twice a month was their bread and butter. But, still… replaced by a DJ. So what can I do?

    Not a damn thing!

    Musicians!!!! It all boils down to this….You need to get a day job! The current state of the music industry sucks and it is most likely never gonna be the same. Music and/or entertainment is too accessible. The target audience for all of the major labels is 12-19yr old females. Turn on your radio and listen- (3) teenage female songs = (1) Bruno Mars song. All of the music is manufactured by someone already working for the label. Yet they charge the artists twice as much to sign a contract. Even the stars aren't making $$$. Haven't you noticed all of the older acts touring? They only make chump change on every unit sold- so they have to tour to pay their Record Company advances back. These 'advances' were used to produce and distribute the product. Hell, Van Halen's new release only sold 190K units so far. They probably get less than a dollar from each unit sold. They share this dollar with each band member. Out of this dollar they also have to pay their agents, producers, etc etc… The music business is dead. Why do you think you only hear 16yr old kids singing on the radio. Justin Beiber is an enterprise that is owned by the record company. I assure you- he will be broke in 10yrs. This has been going on for over 20yrs! Record companies evolved and found alternate ways of stealing their fortunes. This 'target area' is now coming of age without any interest in music that is created by REAL musicians. They have no interest in going to the Jazz club down the street to hear some band slaughter a Tower of Power song. In other words- We are a dying breed.

    Anyway- back to the subject!

    If you are at home reading this Dave Goldberg article thinkin- "Yea! It's about time somebody said it!" Well…you are way behind the curve. If you are sitting there in your makeshift studio wandering when your break is gonna come….you are way behind the curve. The sampler, the drum machine, iTunes, and the iPod have destroyed the music biz as we knew it.

    Take it a step further- 'Musicians' are so damn fly-by-night compared to earlier years. I myself will not get on stage without being thoroughly rehearsed. Yet, there are musicians that would rather just show up and make their $50 without a rehearsal. Do you think this lack of professionalism translates to the crowd? You bet your ass it does. Stop acting like you are God's gift to the saxaphone and get your ass to rehearsal!!!

    My rant probably leaves you believing that I've given up on Music all together. Ha! Oh Contrare! I've got a publisher. I've had song placements in TV and Film. I get royalty checks. Blah blah. Fortunately, I did this after going to college and after securing a career that could afford me the opportunity to continue with my passion of making music (on stage and in my studio).

    Venues pay less, people are buying less, musicians are creating less. Can we change this? I'm all ears…

  • Tom

    As long as the current laws regarding DUIs and alcohol consumption blood level percentages are in effect it will forever remain the same. Responsible drinking is important but the decline in venue profits was reduced drastically over the past 15 years to the where folks are afraid to drink and drive. Rightfully so. But. The designated driver is the way to improve your venue capabilities. Encourage anyone designated as such to have a comp of some sort to take car of his group. New methods of marketing are important.

    Musicians who perform for free are really not helping as been stated. I agree. Of course venue owners will take advantage of this but it really doesn't help. The "door take" is a sham as it usually nets a pittance. Creative business marketing from both musicians and club owners is needed. Put your non-artisit brain on and think about new ways to compel folks to come and hear you as well as spend money. If a place takes in 1000.00 a night you can't expect them to give you even 20%. The days of huge bar totals are gone and it is only through alternative methods of creating income at this level can musicians hope to earn more than 35.00 ea. a night. There is no clear answer.

  • RJP

    There should be a website where musicians can anonymously rate venues. This would help musicians avoid the bad venues and focus on getting booked at the good ones. It might even prompt a venue to treat musicians better, if getting a low rating meant no musicians would play there.

  • Smalaj

    Bands should form local coalitions and meet monthly at a hip, open-minded venue.
    These guilds could discuss many logistics and topics and start with a primary function of bottom-line guarantee pricing. "NO ONE here plays for less than $X ANYWHERE IN TOWN."

    -At first, momentum would be small as expected but in time more bands would join in because doing so would only behoove them by guaranteeing more cash in their pockets.
    -Such an organization would need to be started with a good number of local "heavy hitters" in the startup band coalition.
    -Once a certain saturation point is reached, the inertia will be hard to stop.

    Having gigged in both types of local venues (original & cover band venues) it becomes obvious that audiences are more easily drawn to places with no door charge. They're more prone to spend that cash on 2 more drinks. Over time the venue gets higher till sales, a larger "built-in" crowd, higher quality bands and a better reputation as a venue owner who cares about quality music and doesn't hire garbage.
    This then has a cascading effect onto itself as venue and band reputations grow and evolve.

    Keep in mind, this can be the case regardless of venue type (original or cover).

    This model would need to be maintained over the course of time.

    I love the irony of cover-band venues with no cover charge.

  • Juddwaserman

    One thing is for sure. If a band gets paid, they play better, are more timely, and enjoy themselves more. This trickles to the audience who in turn enjoy themselves more. I will always look forward to playing a wedding for people I don't know and get paid well than to play a crappy bar for some friends and people who don't care and get paid nothing for it.

  • I used to dance that dance and we've found a new way around this struggle. About 4 years ago, we decided that since there was a serious shortage of quality venues for our show, we simply had to create a show where there usually isn't one. We've basically taken on the hat of "venue" by placing our show in reputable places that don't usually have live music…therefore creating a stage in the heart of a fabulous venue.

    We also charge a ticket price for our shows and rotate a Roster of 30 official Artists we perform with. This avoids the fight with the venue owner over money, we team up on promo efforts, the audiences come to trust our ability to deliver a fantastic show each time, there is serious variety as we all pull together as musicians in our efforts, it gives us our dignity back as musicians, and it's a win-win for everyone. It's a little tougher and more work because we have to treat it like a business, but it's better then the alternatives you've hit on.

    As I read more and more on the struggles in our industry, I become increasingly happy that we created this model and we are enjoying playing again, so much. It gives us the ability to serve our audience and deliver consistently high quality shows. And, the venue wins by attracting both a regular following and new audiences intrigued by the idea. People come and have dinner, order cocktails and enjoy the show in a classy way.

    Of course, this wouldn't work for every genre of music. Our show centers around pro songwriters who are also amazing performers. It's an acoustic dinner concert. But it works well for what we do. I say: If you can't find the perfect venue for what you do, then think outside the box and create it for yourself! It's a new day in music and live performance and with that comes new inspiration and ideas.

  • steve V. johnson

    Another view…

    Transcribed from BBC Business Daily, An Insider’s View of Commodities,
    broadcast February 03, 2012
    — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
    Our regular economics commentator Steve Fritzinger has just been to Nashville where he found out what it has to teach us about consumers’ reaction to old and familar products.

    “A recent business trip to Nashville ended, as they often do, with a trip to Broadway. This three-block strip in the heart of Music City is home to many famous country music bars, like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Bluebird Cafe, where stars from Hank Williams to Taylor Swift got their starts.

    ”Eager to enjoy some of country music’s finest, I walked into one bar, sat down, and, after a few songs, left, disappointed. I had hoped to hear something original, something new, exciting. Instead I’d gotten a string of Johnny Cash classics, mid-’90’s nostalgia, and current hits. When the petite singer onstage sang that she’d shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, I showed that bar my back. It was the same everywhere I went — cover bands doing rocked out versions of old classics. The only original music I found was a street-corner banjo picker playing for tips. He jammed like a bluegrass jazzman and was more fun than any band I’d seen inside.

    “I had to wonder… in a city filled with country music fans, on a street crowded with bars trying to earn their trade, why didn’t one bar try to differentiate itself from the rest by playing original music? When a market organizes itself in a counter-intuitive way like this it is often because it is trying to compensate for some scarcity. But what could be scarce here? It wasn’t venues, there were dozens of honky-tonks, each with a stage to fill. It wasn’t talent. Nashville attracts thousands of aspiring musicians, and only the best get to play Broadway.
    It certainly wasn’t songwriters … The woman who rented me my car was a songwriter; the young man who checked me into my hotel was a songwriter; even the database administrator I dined with was a songwriter.

    “As I wandered down Broadway it struck me: the scarce commodity was attention, specifically, the amount of attention that tourists were willing to give a bar before deciding to go in. Faced with potential customers who could easily go next door, each bar had found that the best strategy to lure someone in was to play familiar songs. With rent and staff to pay, no bar could risk missing a customer by playing new music, even if it meant missing the chance of finding the next Garth Brooks.

    “My evening on Broadway did end well. I found a bar with a band and only one other patron.
    I asked their lead singer, a lovely young woman named Alicia, if they woud play some original songs. She turned to the band and asked ‘Whaddya think? Do you want to practice?’ That’s what she called playing her own music for a willing audience. “Practice.” But practice they did, and it made all the difference. Where they had been precise, they became tight; and where they had been entertaining, they became fun. By last call there were a dozen people dancing around the stage and that one other patron thanked me for asking for something new.

    “Which shows that, as roots-rock legend Webb Wilder says, ‘Real music is out there and real people are making it.’ To find it, you just have to pay attention.

    “For the BBC World Service, I’m Steve Fritzinger.”

    • Wow. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this article. This musician has put into words what most of us have thought for years. Here's another example: I was booked in this place in Colorado Springs last week. The guy says he'll try me out on a Thursday night and see what happens. Well, what does that mean? See what happens? In other words see how many people I'll bring in. I had previously spoken with him on the phone after calling the club 22 times to get this gig! 22 Times! During the conversation when we booked the gig I told him I am a traveling musician and would send him flyers and posters. He immediately responded that he had street people who would post them all over Colorado Springs. I immediately thought "Wow! That's more than any club owner has done before! This guy could be supercool to work with." I sent flyers and posters as stated. When I arrived at the club the night of the show to set up early, there were not that many people there and not one single one of my flyers that I paid $92.00 for were put up. I asked the hostess at the front if she had seen any of my flyers and she said no.I asked her to look in the office to see if they were there. She returned with an unopened fedex package of all my flyers! She said "do you want me to put them up? I said no. It's too late now, but thank you. I set everything up, went and got a hotel and came back to have dinner at the club which they graciously provided. The club owner came over while I was having dinner and said "hey, I'll look at the numbers tomorrow and see how the club did tonight. Good luck." Again, what did that mean? What was he trying to say with that? Basically, if the money flowed that night through the bar then I would be invited back. Anyway, I played 3 sets that night and there was a maximum of 5 people in the venue at any given time. Most of them were jazz musicians that understood the type of material I was playing and appreciated it. I should mention at this point that some towns I play in, I have a great following. The last gig I played they were over capacity and there was a line out the door. Bottom line: The musician or band has to bring in the people according to the club owner or you don't get booked again. How do you create a following in a town where you have never been before? And don't give me that crap about radio interviews! Radio stations do not return phone calls! Period! So, yea, I'll never play there again and the owner didn't see any of the show and he probably thinks I suck! I collected my agreed upon pay at the end of the night and the bar staff said "you are an amazing musician man! Sorry there weren't any people here tonight. Nobody goes out during the week anymore in this town. Last night we had a touring band come in with roadies and lighting system and sound guy and everything. They were great!" I said "wow! I bet the place was packed, huh?" He said "No, there was about 5 people here." They then said "If you played here on a Friday night with the kind of music you played tonight this place would stay packed all night". I said "Do you think the owner will book me again?" They said "No. because you didn't bring any people in tonight."

    This is how the industry is nowadays! The musician is expected to bring the people in. Because of this article I'm going to call the owner of that club and ask for a Friday night, but I'm not expecting a positive result from that conversation.


    another anonymous frustrated musician.

  • Your article described the Denver scene to the minute detail! That's why we are starting to rent a private place and start to play parties with other bands we enjoy performing with. I am pretty much agaist another one of our fans dollars going to any of these venues. BTW on a funny note, we had a club cheat us out of some $…so we put them down on our BMI statement…they were charged a royalty and now will not return our calls hahahahaha! Score one for the little musicians!!

  • Westlake Records

    Right on, but there's really no hope. I've written about this issue, too: http://www.westlakerecords.com/blog/2009/12/19/ve

    Any businessman, especially dopes, think only about what they want and the bottom line. Few are willing to invest in an uncertain outcome. That means reasoning with them is a dead end. Add to that the thousands of musicians willing to work for free or bus fare and the answer is clear: Boycott clubs that belittle your profession.

    The remaining clubs tend to be incestuous in whom they hire and still pay poorly. Clubs, in general, are a career dead end. Why would ANYBODY waste his or her time when it's just as easy to invite people to your home or somebody else's and perform for a neighborhood audience? Or to go into the garage and record music for YouTube (where you can get an audience of millions)?

    Clubs make no sense for most of us. Forget 'em.

  • I completely agree. Club owners shamelessly use bands to get patrons in their establishments that would not be in there otherwise and do no promotion at all. When we started playing out that was the situation no matter what the night, Friday, Saturday, cool venue, didn't matter. No built in crowd whatsoever. I was blown away.

    Now we only play places with built-in crowds. Bands need to learn this. To only play a place where they can make new fans. Avoid the clubs with no built-in audience and they will go under. These venues are not neighborhood bars like Freddys Backroom or An Beal Bocht that have people there no matter whether a band is playing ot not. Most of these venues have no loyal patrons whatsoever and for them to abuse the band and get mad at the band is ridiculous.

    The band is their lifeblood and they should treat them much better than they do. And may I add to the article by saying that on top of the owner being abusive the sound guy and waitstaff can be as well and they should all recognize why people are in their bar in the first place paying their salaries…to see the band.

    So it's only because bands are willing to put up with this kind of exploitation and poor treatment that it continues. Take the power back my musical brothers and sisters and only play places you are respected at and treated well by. Just like anyother place you go to, make sure it's a place you and your friends want to go to! Don't put up with bad venue's happy horseshit! Just say no and it will be a better world for every band out there. Just like the bus boycotts during the civil rights. African Americans boycotted the buses, took cars instead, buses lost customers, realized how much money that meant and began treating African Americans better. No more back of the bus shit. Well I have a dream for bands. That one day all bands will be treated as business equals by the club owners, recognized as the people responsible for putting food on their tables and sing from the highest moutaintops. Free to Rock at last, God almighty we're free to Rock at last…and get paid accordingly! Hallelujah!

  • Gkmusic123

    If all us musicians would boycott and stick together concerning owners of these venues, we could turn things around and stop playing for free. It is not right that we have to pay for all our equipment and then not get paid. We need to make as living too if not live music will die. It is a lose-lose situation in the end. I got tired of playing for free and will not do it again. Let the club owners find some other sucker that is willing to do that. After a while the fun is gone and not worth the effort. So if the owners want good live music, they are going to have to pay for it. If not, just don't play. If everyone does this then we will stop this abuse against musicians. We should have the music unions back us up too.

  • I'm in a working band in South East, Ga. we play 3-4 times a week. Each member of my band has 15 plus years of experience and when we go to work we play songs that people in bars want to hear. A lot of the clubs and bars that we perform in understand that we are better than the average bar band and they take care of us at the end of the night. But the bands in our area that play music as a hobby and work day jobs do not understand the business aspect of being a musician so they undercut us at certain venues by playing for $50 dollars each and a bar tab. These bands are usually made up of musicians that drink too much at the gig and do not pay attention to detail. These weaker bands still have several years of wood shedding left to do in the garage but because the venues hire them to play they are under a false impression that they are ready to perform. It's a frustrating market and I remember when you had to be an actual musician to play out.

  • Mark Laperle

    I've started playing solo gigs at a winery/restaurant in rural Virginia. I get $75, plus tips and a meal for three hours. Perhaps that's bad in LA, but not too shabby here in Bedford, VA. The first night I played I brought a few people with me. Fairly slow night, but not bad for mid-Feb around here. The owners were downright giddy about my acoustic sound, ("Exactly what we want here"). They are looking to create a certain atmosphere. The venue owner and I do, indeed act like alies. We both agree to email and fb, etc our contacts and see what happens.

    That said, the songwriters group I belong to http://svsasongs.com had a discussion on this very toic at our last meeting. We agreed that we should not work for free, if for no other reason than to help eachother get paid (i.e., not undercut other musicians).

    Worx for me.

  • Shaky

    This is a universal problem, not just LA. Due to economics over the years, a lot of bars have stopped hiring name bands and moved over to local bands with followings but as there costs go down so does the reputations of all involved. The bar now gets the rep of hiring low end bands that will play for next to nothing or they get the gate and if no one comes, there is no pay. Sometimes you must sell tix to get your cash, other times you actually have to go into your pocket with promo costs. The bottom line is people quit coming to that bar because of the shitty bands that are just trying to get a gig so they can play and get better but that doesn't help the bar any. Next the people who come out aren't getting anything special so they leave pissed off and probaly never come back or even worse they call down the bar whenever they can. It's not there fault, they just want a good time, hear some good music but if the music is not up to par, can you blame them? Finally. there's the bands themselves. If there is no need to practice long and hard because there's no incentive as you can play in these bars, you just can't earn any money. Thus, you get sub-par bands that forgo the necessary practice and head straight into the bars hoping to be treated like the pros. It just doesn't compute. It's a never ending circle, bands don't get better, bars remain empty and the fans only hear crappy music. Years ago, you had to have your game up as the bands that were all playing in the clubs were very good and the only way to get the gig was to be better than them or at least as good. It's an problem that's not going to go away soon. I agree with the author of the above story though, only thru calm mediation with all parties involved can a solution to this be found. Arm yourself with good thought out explanations to discuss with to whomever will listen and work your ass off to become the best you can be. In the end, it's all in your hands. You can be part of the solution or part of the problem.

    Shaky http://www.lawsuitrocks.com

  • Chris,

    With greatest respect the opportunity here has to do with 'musicians', not venue owners or venues.

    Imagine 4 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic, crawling at an almost standstill to the destination, with more and more cars trying to merge everyday.

    The 'cars' are musicians, and the destination is a shrinking number of venues with money to pay. And it's probably more like a 20 lane highway than 4…

    Why shrinking venues with money? Because wealth in our country is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer. Because music is available everywhere for less dollars every day/month/year.

    But for some reason musicians do not do anything differently, they just stay in traffic and complain. It's why blues lyrics are infused into folk and rock and everything else. It's why the poets are angry.

    But it is finger pointing, to blame the listener and the venue. And "when you point your finger 'cause your plan fell thru you've got three more fingers pointing back at you". Mark Knopfler wrote that.

    Chris, I founded a 501c3 effort to Make Music More Accessible by bringing musicians to venues where people will listen and enjoy music. A nonprofit to PAY musicians to play for non-traditional audiences. Billy Joel supports us. REM. Dolly Parton. But musicians? Uh, no. Playing for these audiences is derogatorily considered "charity" and most 'musicians' have limited time for 'charity' audiences, and some go so far as to really insult a potential fan by saying "I could not take money to play for 'THEM'…" a though seniors or handicapped folks are somehow 'lesser than'.

    I have produced a cd on this topic as well as a book. No, you probably have not heard of them because my perspective is radically different, little embraced, and light years ahead of its time. I sent them to Derek years ago and he too shelved (trashed?) them. It's cool. I get it. But I don't.

    It is thus refreshing to find this email in my box. Finally….

    Anyway, I'd be happy to share more with you if the Opportunity of Living the Lyrics is something you find appealing. Most folks want others to live their lyrics it seems…

    Thanks for listening…

    Best of Now, always,

    Greg Allen Morgoglione

  • Thedandee

    So you are saying that the club should do all the work and have people show up. Then let you play and sell your wares AND pay you? Yes that sounds like a great deal for the venue.

    You have to work together if you want to share the profits. I am both a venue owner and a musician so I see it everyday. Bands that work and promote in addition to our promotion, make more money. The more money the bar makes, the more money the band makes.

    Dont forget in your little example the business owner has to pay for the liquor license, the rent, insurance, advertising, employees, employee taxes, food, booze, maintenance and up keep of the PA equipment you are using.

    I dont agree with pay to play, but I do agree that the bands share the responsibility in making money.

  • Mhighsmith1

    Hello my name is Mike. I am telling you that you are dead on it. I thought that it was just me thinking this way. The problem is that you have so many musicians that are willing play for pennies. They fail to realize that by doing that it lower the standard for professional good musicians and themselves from ever being value as an professional. The club owners really doesn't get it. I have said it over and over if you take a so so band that bring a crowd a few times. I guarantee you that after a few times those people will stop coming and even their family members will stop coming also, because no one can tolerate a so so band for a long period of time. On the other hand if you have an awesome band playing I can assure you that week by week people are going to come. They will share the news with their friends, family, and people they don't even know and the business will grow for having a reputation for providing great music for his intelligent customers that he think is too dumb & drunk to appreciate great music. It is real simple everyone love good music and professional musicians no matter what style it is because the ears and the heart doesn't LIE only ignorant club owners.

  • Justinancheta7

    Great article. Thanks for writing this. I like the Fair Music ideas that I see coming out of Oregon right now, as well starting in San Francisco, where artists are talking of ways on uniting, almost like a union, and being able to have more of an equal hand with making deals again at the venues these top musicians are helping to stay above water. Finding solidarity between musicians looking for fair wages along the west coast and beyond would be a great step, possibly a website of venues that are treating artists with fair wages, and posting reviews almost like yelp has on restaurants.

  • Dwrex1

    Nicely said Kathryn.

    Proud to be Union!!

    People should read and adapt!
    Thanks for posting.

    T. Moon
    Pro Drummer

  • The man

    The next time I asked to play for free I'm going to say "Of course, we love playing so much that we'll be happy to play at your venue/benefit for free. I just need you to pay for the guys who pack up, deliver and setup our equipment. They are trained professionals with expertise in connecting our specific equipment so they cost $200 each for the night and there's one for each player in the band."

    The club booker might not appreciate that these setup people are also the musicians, but that's their problem.

  • I recently read a petition by San Francisco – based artist promoter Stephanie Dalton proposing the idea of tax cut incentives for club/restaurant owners in exchange for paying live musicians a minimal wage to perform. It will not be easy and will take time, but I think this is one of the better solutions I have seen.

    Wendy Loomis – Composer/pianist/producer

  • Ray Zeigler

    That's fine and dandy, but on the flip side – if the bars want entertainment to help sell their wares, they should expect to reasonably compensate said entertainment, NOT to just get it for free. If that's what they want, mount a TV on the wall and see how well that holds the crowd (other than football night of course). This should be a symbiotic relationship, not parasitic either way.

  • Keithwilliams5

    Great article! I've had this same problem and I think bands are going to have got team up and promote their own shows which lowers cost. This has been an ongoing problem and I don't know why clubs etc think we are responsible for their profits. Some of the don't even want to negotiate at all because they can get bands to play for free. I have yet to meet a club owner or restaurant owner who will admit that the music we provide keeps people on the place longer and adds value to their business, I've decided that if we can't come to a sensible agreement, I will not provide quality music and not reap the fruits of my labor.

  • Teenageheartrecords

    Excellent argument! I don't think it could be refuted on the basis of fairness, but it is completely unrealistic under current economic realities. The assumption that we should be able to make a living playing music is flawed. There are many professions that simply disappear. There is also the matter of a reality gap with the world around us. Their reality is not our reality. For example, my belief that I should get paid to play basketball is not sufficient to assure that I will be. I have been playing basketball for 30 years and I shoot 80% from the free throw line. For some reason NBA scouts have been noticeably absent. I suppose I could throw a tantrum and scream that they're short-sighted and have a stupid business model, or maybe I could start my own league. Neither seem to be viable options. The problem really comes down to this: musicians neither have any negotiating power nor have any basis to expect patrons of the arts with enlightened far-sighted marketing strategies to subsidize their building of a fan base. If you want your customer to pay you more money (and the venue owner IS your customer) you have to be able to persuade him that he can't afford not to. That is a simple law of the marketplace fro which musicians shouldn't expect to be exempted.

  • FJ Laloosh

    Pure Logic! Aah, but that's what's wrong! People and logic don't seem to go together well … I think I am going to try to get this through to some venues where we've played, and where we did get a lot of good comments, but I already know in advance that what you say is true, so it's going to take a lot of effort to make the club owners realize this … I wish you good luck, F.J. Laloosh

  • Mario Vickram Sen

    I've been a professional musician, on and off, for thirty-five years. It used to be that I would play a gig and get payed for it. At least something. Gigs weren't always easy to get, but when you did get one you knew there would be people there to see you. At the very least you would get a couple of free drinks or a meal for spending years learning your craft, weeks rehearsing with your band, and hours schlepping your equipment out into the backwoods of New Jersey, or Connecticut… or Greenwich Village. Not to mention the time that you were actually on stage entertaining the people.

    But you didn't get the gig unless someone in charge thought that you were good. Club-owners were people who liked the kind of music that they booked, and they could tell whether or not a band would suit their crowd. The club had a reputation for a certain type of music, and people would come any night of the week, knowing that someone decent would be playing. The way you discovered great new bands was by going to clubs, which were fairly cheap to get into – even if they might stiff you on the drinks a bit. It was a compromise worth taking.

    But nowadays the club owners don't want to take any risk. They don't know what music their audience likes, because they don't really know who their audience is. So they will let anyone play as long as they can get fifteen to twenty of their friends and family to show up and buy some drinks on a week night. It doesn't cost them anything because young musicians are desperate to play absolutely anywhere, without pay, no matter how much abuse they have to take. Unfortunately many of these young musicians are not very talented.
    Clearly, this is not in the interest of audiences who are looking to discover new music, so most people are not about to go to some crappy club to see some crappy band they've never heard of because, more likely than not, the band is going to be, well… crappy. And equally clearly it is not in the interest of really good bands out there who are seeking genuine exposure. Yes you can get a few of your friends and family out once or twice, but eventually you need other people to see you.

    It's really not even in the interest of the club owner. Yes they may sell some drinks tonight, but over the long haul where does that leave them? Every night a new amateur band who will probably play three or four gigs in various places before they decide to throw in the towel for good. That kind of reputation doesn't really pack in the punters. It just perpetuates a widespread scam which makes the musicians their own audience. We have become the punters. We have to pay for drinks that we have to buy in order to sit waiting for our turn to perform for other musicians who are sitting there buying drinks while they wait their turn to perform to us. We are all there looking to sell our CDs. There is nobody out there looking to buy them. As much as we might appreciate each other's music, that is not what we are there for. We don't need to play for other musicians who are in the same situation that we are in, we need to play for civilians, listeners… I hate to put it so crudely but, yes… customers. This is not amateur hour. Money is changing hands. But apparantly not into the musicians' hands.

    I for one have had enough of this pay to play system. What good does it do my band to play the kind of gigs that NYC and the surrounding area has to offer? My band, Inner Gypsy, has decided that unless the gig is going to benefit the band in some way we will play elsewhere. We need audiences. Let people hear us, and we know they will like it, because we have spent a considerable amount of time and money and effort in creating a quality product. We cannot in good conscience, any longer play for inconsiderate club owners who are too miserly to pay for quality entertainment, and too lazy to build a solid audience base for their club or bar. If we have to bring our own audience, we can hire a room anywhere, and put on our own show. Why should they make the profit?

    If you have a band, why not join us in sending a message to these nightclub owners and bookers who think that they govern our fates. BOYCOTT useless non-paying gigs. If you play for nothing, at least be guaranteed a crowd. That's right! When they ask you how many people you can guarantee, ask them how many people can THEY guarantee! You are there to do a job, and you know how to do it very well. Their job is to promote the show. Why are they leaving it up to you?

    Well you can contact us through our site: http://www.innergypsy.com
    And leave a message on the blog page if you have anything to add, or any ideas as to how we can solve this problem.

    Best of luck to you all in your careers,
    Mario Vickram Sen
    Inner Gypsy

  • It's up to the musician to either say yes or no to a gig. Having said that, I work in Orlando whee there are a lot of people willing to work for free or berr money and keep on going to school or doing a day job or whatever. I am a pro and happy to say I've made a living playing music for decades and don't intend to let anyone treat me like a beggar. It's not easy and you do run into some real ignorant folks–but ignorance is teachable. I teach people how to treat me and I respect them while I'm doing it.

    Just move on to the next venue and play like you;ve never been disappointed. No, everyone won't give you the pay or the respect you deserve, but you don't have to work for them. Keep moving and stick to your principles.

  • Matt


  • Gkmusic123

    The solution here is to AUDITION the band before hand. If you like what you hear, book the band. If not the band moves on. Now that was't so hard was it.

  • It's a different scene now. When I started playing out in the 60's, people were exploding into clubs to catch the rock revolution. People idolized the best local musicians and any band that cooked. Now we have so many venues sucking up entertainment dollars:sports, movies, amusement parks and more. The problem is that people are not that hip to music anymore. When was the last time you were sitting home saying to your significant other, "I can't wait to go hear some new local bands. Let's get in the car and check them out." They're more into spending $300 on an NFL game than $50 going to see a band. We need people to get back into art and understand it's a lot more fulfilling than watching some hundred millionaire throw a TD pass for nth time. I love sports. I love the competition, but music fulfills my soul and inspires me to throw my own kind of TD pass in my own life rather than idolizing someone who cares nothing about me and putting dollar after dollar into a billionaire's pocket. We need to become culturally enriched again and realize how shallow life is without good art. Musicians need to form collectives and form their own artistic venues. Do our own fund raising in our own festivals. Even most of the festivals want only cover and tribute bands who can bring in 500 beer drinkers. Artists need to unite or starve. We've got to use our creative talents to attract people to the arts. Playing for free is wrong. Let people have no music for a while and then maybe they'll pay attention when devoted artists perform.

  • Great article. I think artists and bands need to put a value on their own art and show before reaching out to venues and show opportunities. You need to look at the bigger picture too when deciding if it's worth it to take something for less that your rate. How does that fit into your plan. Maybe you shouldn't promote it at all if it's a weekly gig and you are beyond that as an artist but using it to pay the bills, try new things on stage and stay fresh as a performer.

    Such a great read, just want to say Thanks!!

  • Typed in comment. Waiting for approval.

  • Bigdaddyricc

    Regardless if you like what this guy has written or not, most clubs are gonna get the cheapest that they can get as long as it doesn't hurt the club/venue and yes, most bands have to do the majority of the work. If a band gets a gig that they don't have to "sell", then it's a good gig!

  • Robert

    Or, you could take the time to listen to their music. You taste before you hire a chef? If you want music in your venue, then part of your job is auditioning the music. You can usually sort out the no's pretty quickly. The music's there, so there's no chance of lying about it. And if people are talented, why would you not want to pay them? This is the lazy mans' approach to running a club. "Let other people do the research, then tell me."

  • Gelbermusic

    I've been making a middle class living as a jazz pianist for 13 years in NYC. The most a club will pay a non-famous jazz musician is around $125, the least is playing for tips. I'll never pay2play like some of my pop friends. Probably somewhere around $50 per person, free food, and free drinks for jazz is the norm. I think this was probably the norm when Charlie Parker was playing on 52nd street, and obviously there has been quite a bit of inflation since then. But the club money is your pocket cash. You pay your rent with the clubdates (that's what they call weddings and corporate jobs in NYC, in Boston they call them GB (general business) in LA they call them casuals). You catch the clubdates by playing the club gigs. It's a lot easier to get thousands of dollars out of a bride than it is to get hundreds of dollars out of a club. So the clubs nickle and dime the musicians while the musicians try to jack the brides! I'm not sure if this is exactly good or fair, but it is how it is.

    I would add that lately I've been playing some gigs down in New Orleans where, like Austin, they have a robust live music scene. Most of the money in NOLA is made by passing the hat, which in most towns would amount to peanuts, but in NOLA can amount to real money because people in New Orleans generally tip well. Recently I played at a local dive bar in NOLA that paid me $75 plus food and drink, but I made an additional $100 in tips. That's $175 cash for a few hours on a Thursday night with an audience of about 30 people. I realize New Orleans is fairly unique, but I think the rest of the country could learn a thing or two from them. Pack a bunch of music clubs together. Encourage people to walk from club to club by not charging a cover. Ply them with booze and encourage them to tip generously. If you've never been, check out Frenchmen street. It's a great model, and most of those clubs are less than ten years old.

  • Bhendricks114

    It's a sad state of affairs for the music business these days- i would simply laugh and shrug it offf if i didn't make a living as a musician.- it's such a mess that it is beyond me getting angry or upset about this lost art. it would seem music is a dead language. and I the fool for choosing to speak it- lets all go get some more auto tuned "free" downloads and see what bands are left and what they sound like 10 years from now. I live in LA and you can't see a decent band unless its a "tribute" and mos of those can't get paid either…10 years ago when it was starting to get bad i and others should have made another choice for the ability to make a living- its dead now.

  • Tojo4747

    As they say, "there's a sucker born every minute." For every band of talented, dedicated musicians there are 100 hack band out there that is simpleminded enough to agree to ANY request a venue has. In Ohio this is what you are innondated with by every venue owner and "promoter" out there… "hey you want to play (blah blah super mega band) show? SURE! All you have to do is sell 100 tickets at $15 each? KTHXBAI!!" it doesn't matter that this band has a following, hell; it doesn't even matter if the band is a two piece farting into a bucket for a half hour. You got the tickets "sold" then you're OK BY ME!! Promotors and venue owners who ticket bills will grab 3-5 bands and make them sell $1500 worth of tickets… Hmmmm, $4500-$7500 just to let (sucker) band play for (super awesome lunch mega USA) band?! Well by George I think we have us the best scam since the big pee-pee pill!!

    Now these dellusional bands have to scramble and are resorted to high pressure tactics to sell $1500 worth of intangible product. These musicians have to consistantly pound on the heads of every John, Dick and Harry they know to come out to "the best show ever" and if you decline "well you're going to miss a BLASTY BLAST! Don't be lame!!" as a 15 year veteran and survivor of musicianship and as a fan of music, I am beyond tired of being bombarded every 15 seconds by 7287197618191001 bands wanting me to suffer through their poorly composed music or a "promotion company" or venue owner wanting me to do their light work for ZERO pay, ZERO drinks, ZERO respect but by God I better have $$$$ in their hand before I even set up a mic stand.

    Maybe I'll wise up and take on a more lucrative vocation, like panhandling… Probably not though. Sad.

  • Dockoscar

    I am so lucky I am not a pro musician. Sorry guys and gals, but it's brutal. At least in NYC.

    Quick story, trying to book a gig at a club. The owner sez I NEED you to play the Friday after Thanksgiving. I say, "Well, that's a dead night but we'll try it. Can't promise to fill the house." "That's OK", she sez, "the other band cancelled."

    So we show up, the place is DEAD, the bar is DEAD. The first band plays to about 5-7 people. We play to about 15- 20 people. We did OK, played well. Next day I thank the owner for having us, thinking we did a favor for her. She sez, "Next time you have to bring more people." I say, "Well, it was a pretty dead night." She sez " I know, I WAS THERE!" (her emphasis).

    Wow! Never played there again. Never tried. Never will.

    Now I only play a few clubs where either we get paid or the people are really nice or both. I'm glad that I can do that. I'm very choosy.

    One suggestion, but I know it could be tough to give it out…the info. But make a database of cool places to play…good owners, or places that pay. That way, good musicians, the right ones play at good clubs.

  • Calball

    I can read a poorly written blog anytime I want but I need to pay for the NY Times. Most of the music I hear live is lousy. There is no venue outside of Terra Blue in NY and Cafe du Nord in San Francisco that I can count on to bring in actual talent. Normally, I blame the consumer for the poor quality of most everything but in this case, I gotta go with Chris. If I were crazy enough to go into the club business, I'd make damn sure to bring in only high quality talent and build the reputation of my club well outside of any band's particular following.

  • Amen. Amen. A-frickin-men.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Marilyn also, the system will not change unless musicians force it. The same is true for writers, which I am. I cannot count the number of times I have been asked to write something for nothing. Not sure a little blurb or a one page press release for a friend, but 1,000 word articles for NO PAY. Early in my career I said OK, but then I got a job as a writer with paycheck and benefits, so any freelance work I do has to be paid or at least in-kind for a similar value (and that's only for loved ones). The problem is that there will always be fresh musicians looking for work, just like there will be young writers starting out looking to make a name for themselves.

  • Joan_the_harpist1119

    Oh god – the "e" word — exposure!! Every.single.person who wants a couple hours of free harp music tells me it'll be good exposure. yeah – I'll be exposed as someone who will play for free!

  • Toke

    This letter is so right on. The best part is that "misery loves company", as I'm glad to hear it's no just me and my record label getting muscled around. The craziest part is the inconsistency. There are some venues that actually pay you well and respect you as musicians and recording artists. However they are few and far between. There is no pattern to who is proper and who isn't. And yes, the a-holes tend to go out of business. The other struggle is not being able to get a live person on the phone regarding bookings and promotion of your event. Everyone wants you to "submit" by e-mail. I just hate the term "submit" as does my record label and occasional agent. It sounds so defeating. And after you get the gig try coordinating even getting your poster hung up or hitting a local DJ. From there side, part of the problem is that from the internet they can be BSed to death by an act that just plain sucks but they don't find that out until the group or individual shows up to play. This comes from the venue hiring people who aren't qualified to determine this in advance. Anyway I could go on forever about this but thanks again for the camaraderie.

  • I live in northern Wisconsin. I used to think about making the 5 hour drive south to gig in Madison. Word is, now, that no venues in Madison are paying for music because everybody's beating down the doors to play for free. As long as we have newbie college rock-star wannabies polluting the professional music scene this will continue to be a problem. Some of these people actually have talent and work hard at their craft. But most don't. So, there's a LOT of really bad-to-mediocre music being listened to in clubs. It's as if the average patron doesn't have a filter for what's good and what isn't. This is what happens when people have 30,000 (bad) songs on their iPod and the mainstream media market images (cute-chick-with-a-mic) rather than musicians with talent.

  • Ninjaneer74

    Cover bands in the suburbs of Chicago make more money than most reunion tours. Play what you love sparingly and start a cover band for income. I run sound for bands because I love it. I do corporate sound because it pays the bills. Same thing. No one is going to change the way things are. you just have to be smarter about the way YOU do YOUR business.

  • Emmacrane

    I have played much bigger venues, and have pretty much escaped the club scene. I don't like it, and so I stay away. However– I find myself with a need to develop my musicians, practice and perform new music, and have something to promote so that folks know where they can find me. For this reason I am taking a risk with a venue. They're giving me the chance to build a home base, rather than going with bands that play covers all of the time and draw whatever crazy amounts they draw. I don't know my draw — I've got great cred on the street, great web presence and I've traveled the world and played for huge audiences. But as far as a local draw? Not a clue. I am a business owner too, and just like the club owner has to take risks, so do I. I am making sure my musicians are paid union scale, just like the restaurant owner is making sure their bartenders are paid. But unless I bring in an audience, why should I expect to be paid? And until I bring in an audience, why should I expect someone else to do the hard work for me? Of course, I am the one who solicited the gig. The venue wins because they get exra promotion thanks to my efforts. I will win if I am able to build a fan base, sell my CDs and develop new music– and if I do draw an audience, they will pay at the door. If it doesn't work for either one of us– I'm too expensive for the restaurant and they can't afford to pay for my band, then they can let me go. If I am not making any money by offering live performances at a steady venue, then I should probably look elsewhere.

    It's a mutual risk.

    Now– this article, however, has excellent points. The venue manager keeps talking about "letting people in for free" when we agreed on a cover charge. I'm sympathetic. They are a restaurant. They can't turn people away who want to come and eat– I mean, that's just not realistic at all. For this reason, while our initial talk was about accepting a cover, I'm realizing that that's just silly. The venue should pay a flat rate — union scale– for its musicians, when it chooses to hire them. A restaurant charging a cover? Ridiculous. The question then is– what's reasonable– for the musicians, and for the venue?

  • Smalaj

    Just as there are seas of sub-par bands in the music biz
    so are there seas of sub-par venue operators in the band/bar biz.
    Both herds need culling!
    In Milwaukee, WI over the years I've seen more and more venues popping up as live music venues.
    Many of those don't look at live music as a focal point, rather as an addition to their existing business model.
    What they fail to realize is that the music end of their business needs plant-like cultivating and tending.
    It's not the same thing as adding a chili bar, it's an additional business model on top of your existing business model.

    Since many of these Johnny-come-latelys treat the music aspect of their business as a mere accessory, the model eventually fails and the venue cuts its losses realizing it bit off more than it could chew.

    If you want to operate any business, especially arts-related, you have to do it right. It has to be profitable but it HAS to have heart and there is no way to hide the latter.

  • Reduborchestra

    There's different opportunities in different towns. I'm in L.A. and just met a couple of musicians from Florida who say the live scene sucks here compared to there in terms of getting paid and playing every night- but they like it here because it's opening up opportunities for getting their music in film and T.V. and so then they just fly out elsewhere for gigs, or once and a while playing private parties here. Other then that it's impossible to make much money off of playing live if you aren't famous here.

  • Dana

    This situation is nothing new. Our band had to pay to play in Los Angeles and NYC, back 24 years ago! We got great reviews in the papers, but lost money – having to pay the venue. The L.A. club wanted a guarantee of $600 a night, against drink sales. (!!!) Our producer (yes, we actually had one!) had to ante up to the tune of about $10,000 to the club at the end of the month!! But hey, we got ourselves on national TV there, and hung out with movie stars. After one of the shows, a well-known singer came backstage and kissed me. So it all worked out!
    The point is, that this situation is nothing new. In L.A. or NYC, musicians are so desperate to get noticed, that they'll agree to pay to play. It's not that way here in Seattle. My advice: move to Seattle.

  • anonymous

    The thing is Dave Goldberg is not a professional musician. Dave Goldberg is a hobby musician. I book shows and I guarantee professional musicians money every day often in the thousands of dollars. You don't just get to throw professional on top of something you do and expect to get paid. Being a professional musician means you are in show business. Show business is about building an audience and having a following. As far as I can find Dave Goldberg doesn't even maintain a Facebook page to promote his music.

  • Clare Burrows

    Maybe playing clubs is not the way to go. I sang venues in SF and made dirt. My now-ex — whose business I now manage — was paid well. He got an agent. He brought his recording to the agent and had a meeting. I learned from that. Be a pro from the start. John played in hotels and for fancy parties. I also worked with him and his agent became my agent. We supported our family.

  • Leena

    I had a similar experience when, after a number of conversations, I negotiated a regular monthly gig at quite a low rate with a local restaurant. The manager loved our music, and my band was willing to take a lower rate in order to have a regular monthly venue. The first night literally EVERY person who ate there came to hear us and was the result of my own promotion. They didn't have any customer that I did not personally know. There were only about 20 people that Thursday night (it was a small restaurant). Their perception was that we did not bring in enough people. My question is, where the hell were the people who wanted to eat at the restaurant in the first place?! If we had not been there, they would have had not a single customer. We had another issue with a club/restaurant owner where we were there twice a month. Some nights I brought in 50 people some just 10-15. That wasn't good enough for him. He completely judged us by a "what have you done for me lately" model and made me feel really bad every time my numbers weren't up to his goals. The real issue was that I never had a pizza there that wasn't a little burned and the club owner's negativity eventually drove off his customers. He ended up bankrupt and the place closed. He, of course, blames the entertainment he booked (not just me but other bands, too) for his own failures.

  • Bill

    Bottom line is bands need to stand up for themselves and stop letting venues take advantage of them. Problem is there is always some piss ant band that will play for free (and don't get me started on cover bands).
    Bands have more power than they think. Without bands venues have no music. Without music venues have no patrons. So to all the bands out there willing to play for free…stop taking it while bent over and stand up for yourself and the music community as a whole!

  • Thatguy

    you're only worth what people are willing to pay.

  • Jgallo

    I'm a muscian from Upstate New York. My group was paid for playing in clubs. There are other alternatives. Find a local pup that isn't doing very well on Friday or Saturday nights. Ask the owner if he'd be interested in having a band play at his place. The group gets the 5$ cover charge at the door and the bar owner keeps the bar. Band does all the publicity for this. We did this and found a group of about 200 people that would frequent the establishment when we played. The club owner had to hire some help after the third week he got sooooo busy. Screw pay to play.
    Joe Gallo

  • Digidudi

    Here in Argentina is exactly the same!! I have the same philosophy than the writer, but it's getting so difficult to change this paradigm…

  • Anonymous

    I have had great success playing in Europe, much more so than the USA. The general value system of folks here in the USA is totally different – music here is "used" to sell drinks, sell tickets…it's hardly ever appreciated for it's own sake! It's appalling, for the most part – especially in cities like NY and LA.

    Add to the mix – many musicians and bands just suck, don't have the training and don't sound that good.

    For many musicians, their egos are propelling them to be "in the spotlight", and "making it". Due to the distortion of ego combined with little or no musical skill, they give their gigs away for free, which totally screws up the economy for other musicians.

    A wine seller is much smarter than that, and not involving their ego.

    Musicians should look down and come down on other musicians who play for free. It's not romantic or noble. It's dumb as hell.

    Sorry USA. I love all the people, it's my homeland – but when I tour to earn money – I go across the pond.

  • Ben Phelps

    So, what the solution would be, is a musicians union that actually works for musicians. Most musicians (especially struggling pop musicians) hate the union because it does absolutely nothing for them and takes their dues. But this is an area where if the union proactively signed up everybody (big tent) and worked to organize standards for small clubs, things could change. As long as too many people are willing to take gigs for nothing, this won't change. You need organization, which is what unions were supposed to be about at one point.

  • Johnny Cpx

    Really great article!!! i've had this argument with some dumbass on facebook recently.. His argument to me was that Guns & roses paid to play. That just confirmed my feeling's about that band!!! lol..I turn down gigs that pay % of bar only.. I need to be paid for that sweat!! i got asked to pay to play once,, it made me laugh hard!!!!!!!

  • No

    For years musicians have discouraged honest business practices with regards to music by allowing their performance desire to outweigh good business sense. No wonder we have this ideal in the states that musicians are poor and live in trailers out in the styx. No wonder we have this ideal that musicians all have day jobs.

    The music industry is basically a lottery system. Either you make it big by luck, or you make it kinda-alright by very hard work. If you are smart musician, you won't be a musician for long.

  • Stephen

    I read this whole post when it came out and I saw it, and still see it, as a guy who has already decided in his heart to leave the music business and, as with any breakup, wants to blame the other party.

    First, playing in Los Angeles (or New York or Nashville) isn't like playing in other towns. Any gig in public in L.A. is essentially a showcase gig – a chance to build visibility, industry connections and a buzz about you. I'm pretty sure I know which wine bar he's talking about because I've probably played there. I used it as a chance to work up new material in a low street environment and to connect one on one with new and old fans. These gigs simply can't be about the money because the presence of live music simply doesn't add enough to the club owner's income to make that feasible.

    Second, if you're planning to print flyers as your publicity, make sure you're playing at a venue in the '80's. No one in L.A. would think of spending money on flyers when there are so any free and effective forms of publicity.

    Third, if you're not genuinely generating clientele, where's the money coming from to pay you? If there's no cover, it's coming out of money the club owner was going to make anyway. Now they're just going to make less. Most small venues (wine bars, etc.) make most of their money on weekends. I've seen some popular places close simply because they were popular only two nights a week.

    Fourth, if the only people coming to hear you are friends and family, stop using your personal address book and start building an actual audience. Play for people who havent heard you. Talk to them. Get their e-mail, etc. etc.

    Also, if you're not genuinely generating clientele, why in the world wouldn't they prefer to book someone who does? The guy who wrote the article is a jazz guitarist. Do you know how many really good jazz guitarists there are in L.A.? Pretty much all of them. Few of them are genuinely entertaining in a way that would bring people into a club. Those who are are working regularly, using those gigs to maintain chops and build audiences.

    Of course, there are as many club owners making mistakes running their business as anyone else. I have as many horror stories as anyone else. I can also think of a lot of venues where I could work with them to build followings for both of us.

    When I'm looking at a wine bar gig, I'm much more focused on whether they will be able to provide a good listening space where my audience can enjoy my music than I am about what they're paying.

  • Gene White, Jr

    Mr. Goldberg makes so many good points that it's hard to know how to add without being redundant. One dimension that I think I can add to the discussion is the assertion that musicians who elect to perform professionally, i.e., those who choose to make a living at it, would be wise to consider having an agent or manager tend to their business affairs. It took me a long while, but I came to realize that having an agent representing one's product in the marketplace is a far more effective way of getting somewhere in the music biz than by representing oneself. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is that when a musician (or band) goes looking for gigs, they tend to bring all their self-importance and passion to the potential talent-buyer. Especially when the musicians are young, hungry, and excited about their prospects in the biz, they cannot possibly represent their interests objectively. This immediately creates a "personal" situation wherein the buyer, if he or she wants to say No to a prospective performer, has to say No to the musician personally, which then hurts the musicians' feelings and makes for an awkward situation for the buyer. One the other hand, when an agent is representing a talent or stable of talents, the buyer can view the agent for what they are — a salesperson. It's much easier for business people to converse objectively about the pros and cons of hiring (or not) a certain performer when the musicians aren't in their face or annoying them with phone calls and emails. If anyone thinks for one moment that all the great success stories in the world happened purely on the merits of their musicianship, they are, in my experience, sadly mistaken. Of course there are those stories, but the vast majority of music-biz successes are forged by hard-working agents and managers who have an ear for talent (potential) and an ability to make the transactions impersonal and business-like while the musicians are left to hone their craft and listen to what their manager/agent has to say about making their product more commercially viable.

    Don't get me wrong; a booking agent isn't the single-bullet answer to all the dynamics being considered in this discussion – I'm not that naive. But I think that good representation in the marketplace could clear up some of these problems. Not to mention that finding a good agent is more difficult than getting a good gig, and presents another Catch-22 scenario. If you are unknown and inexperienced, what agent is going to take you on ? That's what was so great about the so-called Good Old Days when major labels had talent scouts and producers who actually took an interest in young, undeveloped talent. But those days are long gone and we need a new model for the digital age. We need agents and managers who can make a buck while they help their talent find their audience. In the end, it's a matter of incentive AND talent that result in commercial viability. The universal incentive is money. The best way to feel appreciated is by being able to eat and pay rent, and you can't do that if you play for free (nor can an agent).

    If your music is worth a hoot and you choose to make a go of it, there are ways to do that. In the meantime, keep your day job ad just say No to crappy gig offers.

  • Nimdok

    "Get Over"

    I have to ask: how much of your time and money do you spend promoting your club and lineup? From a business standpoint you're literally cutting your own throat by assuming the bands will be your sole source of incoming business. If all you book are nonprofessional bands — not paying musicians makes them nonprofessionals — you are setting the standard for which your club will be known. If you don't bother to take the time and energy to book solid, reliable but ultimately professional bands, you will only draw the lowest end of the market for clients. True music lovers won't bother with you.

    Yes, I agree that the amateurs who play for free are having a ruinous effect on all of us, but if you as the club owner aren't marketing your club and taking responsibility for a quality product, then your failure to draw patrons is your own responsibility.

    Any quality music venue is going to draw based upon musical reputation, not solely upon the band on the stage. Clubs that rely only on the musicians to bring in patrons are fooling themselves that they're businesspeople.

  • Guitfiddlerbeam

    This problem has been going on forever. In the early 70s we could make a fair paycheck playing in Underground Atlanta. By 75 they were finding kids to play for nothing just to play. I know great musicians that play for $25 or $35 a night each. There is not that many good live music venues out there today. You can blame some of it on DJs and some on Kareoke, maybe some on the economy. But I say a lot of it is the new generation just doesn't realy care that much about it. And the baby boomers that realy enjoy a good band in a club are going to be in bed by 11:00. The only realy big live market is in the big country bars.

    • Jeff Blanks

      And they don’t care because they’ve heard all their lives that music isn’t really that important. So they don’t mind unimportant music. And when they make their own music, it’s unimportant too. Because “anyone can make music” and “music isn’t really important, you know”. Nobody expects much from music anymore except A Good Beat and A Good Sound, because they’ve been told for so long that it’s somehow *wrong* to do so. Music is made by *lyricists* and *producers* and maybe *singers*. It’s not made by *players*, much less *composers*. (Ever notice that when we say “songwriter” these days we really mean “lyricist”?

  • The Jazz musician who wrote this article needs a clue. The Internet has changed the playing field, but only if you know how to use it. First you need a download page with a mailing list type of thing that allows you to see WHERE your fans are located. Anytime you get over 300 fans amassed in one area send out a mailing to them and ask them if they'd like for you to do a concert there. If you get enough reaction then have THEM set up a venue FOR you. They've been doing this in the mobile movie community "mobmov." Musician Jonathan Coulton used this very same technique to set up his gigs. He's an indie musician who earned over $500,000.00 last year. Research how he did it and do the same. And you need to put more into say, your own youtube channel to be seen, rather than putting the emphasis on live performance.

  • I hear you…every word…I have been through it over and over for 40 years. The problem is control.
    The asshole with the liquor license has control.
    In a town like L.A. where there are 50 bands for every gig they can afford to treat you like shit if you let them.
    If you go along with everything the asshole tells you …DRINKING IS THE BUSINESS YOU ARE IN!
    The bar owner is in the drinking business.

    We are not…we are in the music business.

    Your merchandise is "the money" in your business don't expect to be paid properly for your output of labor and cost by the owner of some dive bar.. Just make sure that your investment in the assholes venue pays off in CD/merch sales for your business or he gets kicked to the curb. You have to look at him as the room that want's to audition to be good enough for your interest. Your fans will only come drink his beer if you bring them. So demand his respect…he's a bartender for Christ sake.

    So take control of the situation. When you call the club and leave a message say that you are interested in his rate for a "private party"…he'll call you back. Ask the asshole how much he wants to take over the house for 1 night.

    He gets the drinks, but all the Door and Merch after said fee is paid goes to Your company. If he quotes you a reasonable rate (I can recall getting Rusty's Surf Ranch for $200 but that was years ago.)
    This is one way to wrest control from the "club" owners. Another is to avoid the club scene altogether.

    I have a friend who is a folkie and plays a duet with another acoustic guy. They book "House concerts". A few of his fans are well to do and have nice houses. They sell tickets for 20 bucks to an audience of 40 or 50 in the back yard or parlor of a home.
    He does this all over the country for the last 35 years that I know of.

    I play at farmers market for tips and selling CDs and make better money than I ever did playing in a bar.

    So remind yourself that your business is to provide quality entertainment to your fans. You are in the business of musical product. It's the assholes job to fill the club. He's just trying to put that responsibility on your back. Be generous and let the asshole get you to play for free so you can have access to his "local audience" who will buy your products. Try and get as much of their money as possible before they spend it on the drinking….the drinking pays you nothing. The whisky salesman is your competitor, not your employer.

  • reflekt

    As a musician from Boston who played in LA for over 3 years, I was continually amazed at how pathetic the live music scene in LA has become. I once got in an argument with a promoter about not bringing enough people that boggled my mind. The band before us had the venue filled and all their fans filed out within 10 minutes of the band finishing before we played a note.

    The promoter (like every other promoter in LA) believed that the room full of people who had gotten dressed up, driven to Hollywood, paid for parking, paid a cover charge and settled in to watch a show…were terrible prospects for spending more money on alcohol at their bar. Those people were off limits…it would be nigh impossible to convince the people who are already in the venue to stay.

    Clearly the only solution was to bring in a whole new group of people who had to get dressed, drive to Hollywood, pay for parking, pay a cover charge and settle in to watch their friends play. WTF kind of logic is that!?!

    Of course you can't blame the fans because they have been burned by sitting through terrible bands to many times to even give any one a chance…because the promoters book the worst bands who are willing to bend over backwards and pimp their social network for diminishing returns. It is so pathetic. I don't miss it one bit.

  • This happens all the time and is why their microphones start disappearing 😉

  • Cali Talent Buyer

    Right on!

  • Ally Means

    Marilyn is correct, I live in Austin and its the same thing here. There are so many bands, that they will play for scraps.
    It would be great if they would all just boycott, but I highly doubt that will ever happen.

    • they will never boycott as most of them are thinking of the bigger picture or getting out of those small local venues as fast as they can, and moving onto bigger things…

  • Stevie Gurr

    …and this is a surprise???…how is it that this musician has not known of this practice till now???…it used to be that if you were good club band,you could get steady work…
    …the issue nowadays in the new paradigm is DJ's proliferate the clubs,not bands,and the older generation that socialized in the clubs in the '60's,'70's,and 80's can no longer handle the life-style…
    …it boggles the mind that there are some in their early 20's that have never seen,much less react to,a live band…

  • What a can of worms! First I must admit I was victimized by such practices starting in the sixties . . . THE DILEMMA: We seek a start; to break in; to gain exposure . . . and we become desperate especially when we were young. Now the "open mic night" is OK since one to three songs are about all an act will provide and that seems reasonable – except perhaps if an act has several members and a complex presentation. I have used cassette tapes of sets from venues similar to the prospective one when prospecting for gigs, and now video should be easy to create these days for that purpose. Suggestion: Having a following that you can show a club owner (manager) is a strong bargaining chip . . . if your act is new! Well then you are the "Latest Thing" to hit the beat and a little hype in the right market ads can fill the club . . . experiment, try, resist the free-be, . . . James Halifko

  • Steven Audy

    This happened to my band over the summer. New venue, new owners. We brought 40 fans that stayed all night, spent money and had a great time. We went up to book another gig after the show and were told not to bother, we didn't bring enough people. It didn't matter that the bar had only been open for two months, or even that when the only employee in the bar, the bartender, left to walk across the street to get some dinner, there was no one in the bar to collect money, or even keep the bar from being closed. It's a sad time when musicians are treated like children who are lucky to get a gig instead of people with a craft that is enjoyed by patrons of an establishment. I hope it changes, and not for my wallet, but for the respect we deserve as professionals.

  • Lozspeyer

    I don't get it – in the US do you get to walk into a bar and try out beers for free just because you've never tasted them before? I don't think so, not so here in rainy UK London anyway – but if you do I'll be there!

  • I hear you…every word…I have been through it over and over for 40 years. The problem is control.
    The a**hole with the liquor license has control.
    In a town like L.A. where there are 50 bands for every gig they can afford to treat you like shit if you let them.
    If you go along with everything the a**hole tells you …drinking is the business you are in.
    The bar owner is in the drinking business.

    We are not! …we are in the music business.

    Your merchandise is "the money" in your business. Don't expect to be paid properly for your output of labor and cost by the owner of some dive bar.. Just make sure that your investment in the a**holes' venue pays off in CD/merch sales for your business or he gets kicked to the curb. You have to look at him as the room that want's to audition to be good enough for your interest. Your fans will only come drink his beer if you bring them. So demand his respect…he's a bartender for Christ sake.

    So take control of the situation. When you call the club and leave a message say that you are interested in his rate for a "private party"…he'll call you back. Ask the a**hole how much money he wants to take over the house for 1 night.
    He gets the drinks, but all the Door and Merch goes to Your company after the fee is paid. If he quotes you a reasonable rate (I can recall getting Rusty's Surf Ranch for $200 but that was years ago.) This is one way to wrest control from the "club" owners. Another is to avoid the club scene altogether.

    I have a friend who is a folkie and plays a duet with another acoustic guy. They book "House concerts". A few of his fans are well to do and have nice houses. They sell tickets for 20 bucks to an audience of 40 or 50 in the back yard or parlor of a home.
    He does this all over the country for the last 35 years that I know of.

    I play at farmers market for tips and selling CDs and make better money than I ever did playing in a bar.

    So remind yourself that your business is to provide quality entertainment to your fans. It's the a**holes job to fill the club he's just trying to put that responsibility on your back.
    Be generous and let the a**hole get you to play for free so you can have access to his "local audience" who will buy your products. Try and get as much of their money as possible before they spend it on the drinking….the drinking pays you nothing. The whisky salesman is your competitor, not your employer.

  • Ally Means

    I'm a band manager and I was trying to work my magic for my band and the bass player under cuts me and takes $100 for an hour at a gig in San Anotnio, I was trying to get them $300, but settled at $250, then he goes for $100. WTF?!

    Musicians really are their own worst enemies when finances are concerned.

    I say start asking for what you are worth and then when you get there rock their faces off and then they'll feel good and you'll feel good. The worst they can say is no.

  • I'm to the point where I'd rather stay home in the studio and produce "albums" and get them to iTunes and what-have-you and simply let the "world" (even if it's ONE SINGLE FAN) find me. More satisfaction that way. The only weirdo I have to deal with in that situation is myself.

  • I also have a few pet peeves like the bar that has a fat lazy barmaid that sits on a stool at the end of the bar and pours about two drinks every 15 minutes. And at the end of the night the band gets blamed for slow business.

  • Smalaj

    I like your ideas Grooveassault! I particularly like the self-hosted shows idea.
    Depending on your locale there are plenty of arts-type spaces that will rent cheaply for a night.
    Hell, do basement shows if you have to. Rent a friend's warehouse space. There are many out-of-the-box ideas if you rack your brain a few minutes.

    In the past, I've thrown parties in warehouses with up to 7 bands but fewer works too.
    We would pool together our PAs & backlines, buy a few 1/2 barrels of beer and give it away with paid admission (circumventing the legalese). Two bands would work the door, security and crowd shmoozing while the other band played and vice-versa.

    A 1/2 bbl yields about 165 10 oz cups. Let's say you're projecting 40 people at $10 cover. Thats about 4 cups per person with one 1/2 bbl costing around $75. At that rate $400 income minus $75 = $325 profit per 40 people/ bbl before other expenses. If more people come, have an extra bbl ready to go after the 1st runs out. You can always return an unopened bbl if you over-project. There will be variances to the formula but everyone has to do their own math for profitability.

    Keep in mind, the draw would come for 2 reasons: A) Great music
    B) A cool byo atmosphere where people could bring their own flasks or any other party favors unhindered.

  • Ken Huntington

    My problem is that the bands do not promote themselves. They expect the venue to do everything. It should be a mutual responsibility. The good bands without a venue are as good as the venue without the good bands. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship. One does not succeed without the the other.

  • Add "Hey Joe" to that list

  • Teenageheartrecords

    "the scarce commodity was attention" tells us everything we need to know. sorry, musicians, the demand isn't there. unless you can create demand it does no good to obtain higher pay scales from venues by duress. they will simply stop booking live music.

  • Anonymous

    This is the best letter and topic ever! There is no music scene anymore aside from playing in warehouses and basements because the band is expected to sell tickets and bring people to a venue that books a pop singer, rockabilly band, goth band and death metal band all on the same night and then wonders why their bar didn't make much money cause each band's people left the second their show is over. I hate doing shows now cause it's too much of a hassle. It sucks the life out of you and I hate the feeling that I'm doing a bad job cause I didn't bring people. Too much stress. My band practices every week, and that costs time and money. We invest in quality gear and making merc to sell and we need a real venue that is known for having a following so we can make fans but all we get is bullshit. We have a show this Friday night at Fontana's in nyc and we will bring as many friends as we can and put on a good show and hope for the best. My advice is to approach a venue with at least one other band that you know and goes well with your act. Make it a package deal and that way you know you will have fun and cross promotion. If anyone reading this is in nyc come to our gig esp if you are a band similar lets get together and help each other out!

    Bloody Kisses,
    Wicked Little dolls

  • dmorris1

    Is this an LA thing? I live in Racine, Wisconsin and gig in Chicago, Milwaukee, and all points in between.
    There are a few badly paying venues but nothing like like having to pay to play and the badly paying ones have crappy bands. I played two gigs last weekend and came home with $170 plus another $42 from the tip jar. We're a blues rock/trio (guitar bass drums) that does mostly weekends.

  • bob

    It's about time musicians strap on a set! You need to support and join musician rights organizations such as your local AFL musicians union, and if you can, Join and support ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. In 2008 ASCAP alone, collected nearly one billion dollars (993 million) in fees due to performers. YThese organizations represent your right to be paid for your talent. Join them. Support them. Let them support your right to fair pay for what you do. In spite of what you may believe, we cannot stand alone.

  • Counchris

    I agree. I've heard of the "good old days" when musicians were treated with more respect and were actually paid decently. I'm not saying that I want to be rich and famous, but, Dave is right when he says that the club owners are getting the extreme better end of the deal. Musicians need to stand up for themselves in order to be respected for all of their hard work and talent and to be fairly compensated for it. Frankly, I think it's ridiculous how demeaning many club owners, etc. are being towards musicians these days; however, I also agree with Dave that musicians have made the wrong choice to put up with this treatment, and they need to be a huge part of the change. Anyone with me?!

  • I have no idea when musicians will cease their complaining about the music industry, access their creative side for business use, and see the bigger picture of the social media/gaming/communication/technology age that we live in.

    I say this from the standpoint of a musician who has toured the world as both a sideman and band leader, produced solo albums, and not only played in stadiums, arenas, and plus clubs and theaters, but also at every crappy bar imaginable from CBGB's in NYC to the Bottleneck in Lawrence Kansas.

    I managed to take some time and read a few of the comments on this blog from both musicians and club owners perspectives, and there seems to be a fundamental flaw in the logic being put forth by everyone. I do apologize if some of the things I write in this post have already been covered, but I couldn't get through all the posts on this blog I'm afraid.

    As a pretty globally historic rule in the music industry, if a product (i.e. your band, brand or music) is good, people are going to want to be associated with it. They will find where you're playing, support your shows, buy your merchandise, and tell everyone they know how life changing an experience it is coming to one of your shows. Why on earth anyone would put so much fuss and effort into something like local venues paying or not paying is beyond me. The stakes are so low, that if you're truly trying to make a good living from playing dive bars and local clubs, you may well be in the wrong business. I think you are certainly in no place to be complaining about how a venue owner treats you, and will do your mental health an incredible amount of good by dropping the subject altogether. If people spent as much time honing their craft, and making whatever it is they do better, they wouldn't be involved in arguments or bitching matches with club owners. And bitching about crappy bands getting gigs instead of you because they'll play for less or no money?!?! are you out of your mind?? do you not want people to hear your music? do you not want long term success with whatever it is you're creating? wouldn't it be nice not to have a roommate, and not to have to eat ramen cup noodles at least 5 times a week?

    I recently tried something out that I'd been wanting to for a long time. I gave away all the music I'd ever made and released for free. That included three studio albums, and about 6 live albums. I did it very simply through my website: http://janekgwizdala.com/home/music-store/ and the response was overwhelming. I suddenly took all the pressure off a prospective customer in terms of them being required to fork over money in order to take my product away, and I get people to listen to the music. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing new. I guess most famously Radiohead did the same thing with "in rainbows" a few years ago. What I did notice though, was that I go (albeit on a much smaller level of course) an almost exact match statistically to what they reported for in rainbows. roughly a third of the people took it for free, but two thirds paid for it, and paid roughly $5-6 per album. with a total number of downloads of around 1500 for that 48hr promotional period, I'll let you do the math. My point is, that why would anyone want to be so demanding of a venue, and I'm talking mainly about small local venues here as that was the main topic of the blog post, when you don't have a following and no one knows about your product?

    I agree with Dave Goldberg on the reversal of the conversation with the wine bar owner, and I also think it's hilarious too.

    But for anyone out there looking to make music and also make money doing it, don't kid yourself that it's going to happen on a local circuit at shitty bars like molly malone's in LA, or the continental in NYC… or anywhere for that matter. These kinds of venues and locations are great places to work out your sound, your stage presence, your personality in front of an audience (or not if you fail at social media and communication with your fan base), and if someone is letting you walk into a venue as an unknown musician and try out new stuff, then go for it! don't bitch about getting paid. 95% of all acts that find there way onstage in a local venue are terrible, and will be replaced by the next 95% wave of shitty acts. Why not strive to be a part of the 5%, work on your music, grow a fan base, and then enjoy it when owners and booking agents come to you.

    If an owner or promoter you respect didn't call you to play at their venue recently, you're not working hard enough on producing something that people want to hear.

    I'm really curious to open up this conversation and see if anyone has anything to say about what I wrote, and if anyone has had any similar experiences or feels even remotely the same way. And of course I would love to hear from anyone who thinks I'm completely off track with what I wrote. There is never a situation I can't learn from, and I hope this is the latest one with this conversation.



  • Nathan

    Yes! Fabulous words here!
    I'm an Australian professional touring artist (musician). I've played in some of the best venues and largest festivals in the world, in the UK, Australia, Ireland, China, SE Asia, Middle East & the USA.

    The first time I played in LA.
    I was shocked at this ridiculous situation you described here.

    In Australia, most venues PAY musicians a decent wage to play & then they offer the music to the punters for FREE!
    The venues build their own fanbase & the punters come back in droves because they know they'll always get high quality live music & then the venue earns a packet on barsales (they usually do food too).
    The venues down under love it when you bring lots of people from your own promotional efforts & fanbase, but as long as you are really good & keep the punters there drinking, they are very happy to book you over & over again.
    Some venues blend this idea. They pay you a decent retainer plus do a door deal split with you. But you very rarely see this "minimum draw" rubbish, except in massive venues which are for massive touring acts with lots of radio airplay.

    I found that I can tour & do exactly the same thing in the UK & Ireland & in parts of Asia, so why are venues in LA & other parts of the States so pathetically stupid with how they operate their business?

    Why would any smart business person running a venue leave ALL their promotion to a different bunch of musicians EVERY night? That's absolutely crazy!

    My advice to you professional musicians over there in the USA is to let the venues know that they are so very far behind the times compared to most of the rest of the world. Operating from greed is making them stupid. Also letting these 'Agent' companies that pay thousands per night to hire the room & then book the bands with this minimum of 60 people before you get a split is also stupid. But more stupid is the bands/artists that AGREE to doing it!

    I like the suggestion on one of the posts of the Musicians co-op of musicians having your own venues. But this is a huge undertaking & most musicians don't have any decent amount of cash to buy or lease a venue, even if they pooled this money.
    Perhaps you could form your own musician's union & lobbyists group too?

    Whatever you choose to do, you really must UNITE to do it.
    There is far more power together than just as individuals. They simply use a divide and conquer mentality.
    HELP each other out & make a difference, because if you don't earn a living from playing music, then you cannot really call yourself a professional musician, regardless of how well you play or how great you sound.

    If you don't make things change for the better, then it will severely impact on the cultural integrity of your community and your country, leaving all the responsibility of cultural advancement NOT on the artists (like it has been for thousands of years), but on the highest corporate bidder within corporate owned mass media.

    If you don't fight for your community's right to have the direct cultural influence of an atmosphere of grass-roots levels arts with a basic thing like high quality 'live music', then you are letting thousands of years of artistic musician tradition go down the drain.

    It's never too late to make changes for the better.

    I love coming to tour America & I'm looking forward to the day when I see musicians getting the respect they deserve simply because they've learned to respect themselves properly & actively made changes for themselves and for their community…

    Nathan Kaye http://www.facebook.com/nathankayemusic

  • Lucas

    I'm not a jazz musician or anything of the sort, but this problems seems to extend to many genres. I'm from California and the venues for local bands and musicians generally require a $250 presale minimum (usually more like $350-$400) and don't offer any compensation whatsoever. You sell the tickets, you give them money, and you spend on gas to get to the show, and in return they let you play their venue for 25 minutes and announce that you're playing once or twice via social networking websites. If your ticket sales exceed the required presale (ie you sell $450 worth of tickets), they usually split the extra money 70/30. And the sound guys don't even put any effort into your sound check. It's just a generally unpleasant experience. Some smaller venues require only $100 presale, and some don't require any at all. But I've never played a show and been paid for it. That's not the way things worked on my scene. I get that running a venue costs money and so a presale makes a little sense. But you would really think that venues should bring their own patrons rather than forcing bands to shell out $400 to play for 25 minutes.

  • The "pay to pay" thing is actually a transposition of what was happening in the restaurant business in the 1980's. Waiters would bid on shifts and make their income entirely on tips. It was good money, because you'd walk out the door on a good night with around $400. Dinner theatre was very popular at the time, and the shift to playing for tips covered all forms of entertainment, not just music.

    It's not a bad system, and I have to disagree with Dave Goldberg. The scene has changed, and he evidently is loathe to change with the times.

    Bands bringing their followers along is hardly a new thing. A band I played in in 1978 packed Carmen's Pizza on Scott Rd, Surrey, to capacity for a battle of the bands contest. This wasn't a jazz gig, but you get the picture. We did the same everywhere we played- called up certain people who made sure the whole gang came out. We often played house parties (again, sound familiar?) for our most hardcore fans, sometimes for free, sometimes for a cut of the door. Plus we sold stuff, like buttons we made ourselves.

    This thing of expecting an audience and a gig to be handed to you on a silver platter is wrong-headed, and is one of the symptoms of what is wrong, not just with jazz but with classical music as well. Musicians back in the 1930's, when times were about as tough as times can be, busted their arses building up a following, which they did by playing cutting contests (same idea as battling bands today), and by playing dance music.

    Let me say that again- dance music. When jazz music was no longer dance music, it lost its audience and has been hanging on by the skin of its teeth ever since. The most famous example of this was the hiring of the great Frankie Manning and his partner Norma Miller by Dizzy Gillespie. Frankie told Dizzy straight- "It's not music for dancing." Yes, really good dancers can dance to anything, but the average hoofer is done for.

    The hubris of jazz musicians, then and now, is the attitude that the tail is/was wagging the dog, that without the music, there'd be nothing to dance to, or anything else; that the music is the be-all and end-all.

    I would remind jazz musicians that without an audience you're nowhere, that without catering to your audience, you're nowhere. Not "now here" but "no where".

    The problem, with classical musicians as well, is that too many musicians these days are out-of-touch practice-in-the-bedroom types who don't know how to work a crowd, a room, a venue. The audiences themselves have been conditioned to a state of stultifying, bovine politeness, which serves no one well.

    As the old saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

  • Ms K

    Musicians that do this ruin it for the real musicians that actually play music for a living! Say home, weekend warriors!

  • Steve

    This is a fantastic letter/article. I like a lot of you other folks, have faced the same problem. But talk is cheap. It really takes getting the word out, just like the article. Maybe even contacting some of the magazines to get articles like this published, taking it to a larger scale. One word "Union". Ouch!! I know it may be a dirty word but years ago the musicians union use to be well respected. Also it's what got rid of the sweat shops that lot of people used to work in, in the garment districts. I don't like the idea any more than the average person. BUT, I agree something must be done. After reading the letter, I'm jumping on the band wagon, no pun intended, and starting to talk to everybody I can about this. Hopefully it will help.

  • I have never and will never pay to play nor play for free. I am not a household name, but I make my living doing what I love to do. I do not waste my time with clubs or owners like the above described. I simply say, no thank you, your policy does not work for me. I get paid to play music and I will not disrespect those that pay me by giving it to you for free. Have a nice day.

  • Colleen Keene

    I think the most frequently proposed solution to this, that all bands and performers should have higher standards, just isn't practical. There will always be people willing to gig for free or nothing, there is a generation of eager and not-yet-yaded musicians who will do a dozen of these gigs, waiting for the real money, before they get as discouraged as the rest of us. The real bummer about these gigs is musicians still have (are expected to) bust our asses to get these gigs. I wouldn't mind playing for little or no money if the venues came to me to ask. I make music in a niche of a niche of niche, stylistically, and I have come to understand that this, my art, is probably never going to support me.

    There are two things though that I think will improve the situation, if not solve the problem:

    1) ONLINE lists. A list of venues with what & how their booking procedures are, so bands won't waste time submitting to venues who aren't going to pay, or who won't pay what the bands needs.

    2) More musician-owned venues. Whoever suggested a CO-OP is on the right track. If 100 bands/musicians invest towards the cost of buying/leasing a venue, they get a place to play, low overhead, and a split of the profits – although I'm thinking this may be better set-up as a non-profit organization, for grant eligibility. I don't know much about getting a liquor license, but it could be worked out…maybe a caterer for food.

    Is anyone else interested in this kind of CO-OP? I'm in Los Angeles, FYI.

  • Naked Planet

    Yep, bands who gig for free definitely do the music industry harm. By seeking 'exposure' in their starry-eyed quests for a 'record deal,' they deprive other more down to earth musicians of income. Many musicians see live playing as a sustainable lifestyle. The starry-eyed see it as a stepping stone.

  • Efrat

    jazz musicians… have to UNITE and STRIKE…. it is the only way… as a COLLECTIVE we can make a point…. only that way… unfortunately tooo many people are only worried about "ME" and don't realize how thinking small instead of GLOBALLY affects "ME" (them)…. our own thinking as a collective group is whats gotten us into this mess…..
    just like history has taught us… if you want change UNITE… look at the first unions in PA back in the early 20th century… started because of ridiculous working conditions and pay for "sweatshop" workers in sewing factories…. it wasn't until a bright guy came along and was able to educate them that UNLESS YOU STAND TOGETHER YOU STAND ALONE
    if we could only learn and AGREE to stand together and suffer for a while TOGETHER.. than ALL of us would benefit in the end…. but unfortunately it WILL TAKE SUFFERING to get there.. it will take saying NO to these club owners.. and EVERYONE has to do it… even students at universities … they must understand that yeah… $40 is GREAT while i'm in college but if you want to be able to make a living when you graduate as a jazz musicians you better respect what those who have ALREADY graduated are trying to do by saying no… this has to be a collective effort and STRIKE by all jazz performers and educational facilities associated with jazz!

  • The Legendary Frank

    Musicians should avoid playing for free if possible. On the other hand, in my experience, musicians will sit on their arses and expect you to do everything for them cept play their instruments! And not get paid for that of course.

    Some venues ask musicians (well over here in places in London) to bring say 25 people with them. Anything over that and they get a percentage of the door.

    The point is, why should a venue hire and unknown band to play for a regular clientele who would be there anyway, band or no band?

    When I see how sloppy and lazy many musicians are in their self promotion, is it any wonder that venues have little confidence in them?

  • If your band works hard at pounding the pavement and proves its ability to draw a crowd, you won't be asked to pay to play. I speak from experience.

  • Rmagoola

    Oh my! And I was thinking, it must be better in America or anywhere but Kampala. I played a gig on Valentine's Day and I remember the one thing the proprietor kept saying was," I have not got any walk ins buying tickets for the evening. Where are your people, your fans? My people are buying from the outlets where the tickets are being sold. Your fans not being regular would be walking in". The plan always seems to be I pay you, not for the quality of your music but how many people you pull in that night. Who decides suddenly to go watch a band they do not know or even know very well, in a venue they do not frequent?
    Its a total lack of respect. I play regularly every weekend with a great band The Afrigo Band at a regular venue and Saturday night 400+fans every weekend every month every year. Why? They come to dance to the Afrigo band Music. When people see this , they try to take the band to play in their venues. many times it works but sometimes it fails-the venue thought after all they have a full house in their venue, dont have to do much in advertising- then the show flops and he blames the band. It is annoying!

  • Adam Smale

    I couldn't agree more. It's the same here in NYC. The only problem is that "us musicians" won't collectively stop playing at those types of places. If we ALL did, then venues would have to start paying again or they'd go out of business. But it won't happen. All the eager, young, and part-time musicians with day jobs will keep doing it and the vicious cycle will keep perpetuating…

  • This article was lifted from another article that is supposedly authored by Dave Goldberg. It's also had some paragraphs removed (apparently to keep from offending a certain demographic at CD Baby) Here's the link to what appears to be the original: http://www.scribd.com/doc/78468650/La-Club-Owners

  • Youiiis

    totally wrong. what if i told you, this was like pissing in the ocean? so what?

  • Alcoholicsunanimous

    move to a smaller city and create a scene there. because you are great musicians; a small town will be blown away by your incredible musicianship. la/nyc/austin are NEVER going to change this policy. NEVER EVER EVER EVER…

  • James Dore'

    WOW! Very good and refreshing perspective! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kmassari

    As a musician and club owner, I can only say that whoever wrote this email about how to "handle" owners of venues is way off base. I would make more money just running a restaurant than a club. but my husband and I are both musicians and are committed to keeping the music going. In fact, I would make more money just teaching.

    We have a prestigious jazz club a few miles away that is closing. This is just not a lucrative business. If you have a music venue and are not just adding music to try to bring in more income, it is because you want to offer a venue where musicians can perform and spread the joy and talent they bring with them. As a club owner, I have discovered the sidemen do not feel responsible for bringing in customers. We usually book well-known performers for weekends, because we respect their music, but also because they can draw a base crowd. If we should decide to give the opportunity to play a Fri or Sat evening to a less-known, although talented player, you can be sure that we expect him/her to help us to promote the act.

    In this economy we have to help one another. We have to educate the public. I can't tell you how many times potential customers have not entered our venue, because they have seen a cover charge posted. They may pay $10 for a movie, and not complain even if they hate the film, but will not pay a ten dollar cover for 2-3 hours of music. it is a question of mentality and custom.

    As for bands, if you maintain the attitude of the person who posted comments, just remember you will be relegated to week nights. Don't expect weekends and be happy if you get 70 per cent of the door. Your income will reflect your effort at selling your act, as well as your talent. Music is a business, as well as a God-given talent. WE all have to collaborate to keep the venues open. Club owners have more at risk than bands. Many musicians teach and have day jobs, as well. Club owners have to deal with mortgages, gas and electric, water, staff, maintenance, professional fees, licenses.. You have absolutely n o idea, unless you open a place… Don't be so quick to give off-handed solutions to a problematic situation. Support your clubs. You are not all going to make it to festivals. You need the clubs; clubs need musicians and you both need customers or there is no business and no profit. Who is paying your property taxes?

  • playing bars and venues around michigan, i've seen a sliding scale of both interest and compensation from owners and promoters. there are some places that barely a have place for you play, that clear some tables out of a corner and expect you to provide your own sound – some of these places pay great (for our general rates).

    even at the places offering some of the best compensation for the band, a good payout, free dinner and drinks all night, some of them never promote, no signage or schedules anywhere, sometimes the bartender didn't even know you were showing up.

    on the other hand, there are spots with good stages, a quality sound system, the soundguy is already there, and there's a flyer on the door that you didn't even make. on occasion, these places are packed, and they still don't pay pay well.

    when you find places that are both excited about having live music, and willing to "hire" quality entertainment for a decent rate, these are the places worth forming relationships with. the polar opposite, where they could care less about the show, or paying for it, take your meager earnings and walk away with no intentions of returning.

    for the places in the middle, i've found you have to pick your battles; sometimes the paycheck is worth it. if you're playing out with any seriousness, you have to treat it at least partially as a business. you have to cover your expenses. there's also plenty to be said for a mediocre payout from a great bar with a great crowd. i still think a fun gig is worth it, even if it doesn't pay the best

    i agree that we need to be more concerned with adequate pay for our time and effort, but that doesn't mean we should hold dollars over energetic crowds, great sounding rooms, our favorite bouncers and bartenders, and all the places that are truly fun to play.

    mike schertenlieb
    muxmike@gmail http://www.muxrec.com

  • Elviscat

    Excellent article. After "A Day Without A Musician", best thing ever written on the topic. I book bands at a restaurant/bar in a college town. You'd think it would be shooting fish in a barrel – but my biggest problem is the staff. The owner is absentee and the managers think the bands are a huge inconvenience – they put the monitor wedges in the way (the stage isn't very deep) or they weren't respectful of staff or the singer's wife was demanding or…

    What I would love to make staff understand is those five guys onstage will be splitting $175 at the least, $300 at the most. The bar manager will walk with $300 in tips. Any guy in the band can go up there and pour a passable pint, but I don't think the bar manager could fill in on a solo while it's being done. The sense of entitlement of the staff manifests in their complaining that the musicians suffer from a sense of entitlement.

    I know full well that many kids come in there BECAUSE there is live music, not who it is. I book for the room and the demographic. The bar does very well. If the dining room is full of people enrapt by the band, even though "full" means 30 heads, I'm grateful. The 80-some kids at the bar trying to get phone numbers aren't my concern. What does concern me is the owner downgraded band pay a few years ago. Since ascertaining who exactly came "for the band" is impossible, he wants to hedge his bet. This means I've lost some amazing bands who were already paying for comparatively little and couldn't go lower.

    I've worked in a coupla famous clubs and I've worked for non-profits. Never cease to be amazed at people who go into the service industry and then complain about customers or musicians. You don't like having to deal with bands and work while they're playing? Go work at Chili's. You don't like serving people? Go work in a warehouse. My job is fairly uncommon and it's not likely I'll be hired somewhere else to do the same thing. It IS my day job. You can get burgers and fries anywhere, but if you come to my venue for burgers and fries you'll get the best quality music I can afford to pay. The conventional wisdom is that the band is having fun – why should they get paid?

  • Hi Lee — such a good comment and I know exactly where you're coming from.

    A few years ago, I wanted to bring on a relatively well-known local vocalist / pianist to sing with us one night when our group was booked into a major jazz club. However, when I mentioned to her that the club intended to pay us with proceeds from the door, she apologized and sadly said that she refused to play any clubs anymore that did not offer a guarantee. I lost the ability to showcase a talented vocalist that night but also learned some good lessons throughout the process.

    Furthermore, on the night of the show, the club lost some of my respect when I learned that of that cover charge, their practice is to skim 15% off the top and let the band keep the rest. Lessons learned that one should ask about payment practices up front.

    We went ahead with the gig on on own and throughout the evening, I looked around and thought, "they are making good money on the drinks, some money from the food (a bigger expense), probably not paying their wait staff much, and the last time we were here, we had sold out all 100 seats (and they skimmed door charge then, because we were relatively 'unknown'). Now they were going to take 15% again, even after we'd proven that we could provide a draw AND wanted to better that experience by bringing in top local talent?"

    I understand that the club is a foremost a business and needs to turn a profit, and as a business owner, I fully support that — but at how deep of an expense to the musicians, both for the short and the long term? What had they done to justify keeping 15% of our money? They didn't promote us anywhere, didn't plug us on the radio, didn't help in any way but to provide a place for us to play. Pay-to-play, indeed.

    It (silently) angered me throughout the evening, but I didn't mention, nor had to mention, that emotional wound to the band. When it came time for me to pay them, the experience left a bad taste in their mouths as well and we never played the club again. As a matter of fact, I took that fellow musician's priceless advice (who is still very active in Denver, proving it can be done) and since have shied away from booking most cover-charge-based venues, regardless of social status.

    Best always,

    Twitter: @timkatent
    Email: timkatent@gmail.com

  • I started seeing live music drop off as soon as the VCR was introduced. People could stay home, drink for free, get high and not worry about going to jail. MTV made another dent, then DVDs, video games, the Internet, streaming movies and Facebook. With each new entertainment medium, the audience has been sliced thinner and thinner. Today, the crowd that still goes out to hear music at bars/clubs is made up of young 20-somethings and boomer blues/classic rock geezers. Somewhere along the line, the world split into those who grasp the transcendent enjoyment of good music and everyone else. Since I started playing professionally in 1976, the going rate for bands still ranges $250-$350/night. I can't let it ruin the thrill of playing my songs in a kick-ass band made up of a like-minded, genuinely dedicated musicians. Beats being one of those bitter old drunks who wishes he had kept playing in that band all those years ago. My secret is to never ever quit.

  • Phil Rowe

    I've NEVER paid to play in my life and certainly have no intention of starting now! This status quo only exists because amateur musicians let it exist – there is no solidarity because there are so many wannabees. Anyone who isn't doing so, do yourselves a BIG favour and REFUSE, politely, to play for peanuts or, worse, for free – you may initially lose a few gigs but, to be honest, they WILL be replaced with gigs that you are happy to play and pay an honest fee – and you'll have your integrity intact!

  • Hi Brad,

    Sorry you got upset. No, an iPod cannot compete with a band, that wasn't the point at all! The point was strictly about the money and how some club owners that I have run into think about "entertainment".


  • Barry Keenan

    I use to play at a large club on Cape Cod. It held about 1200 people. The owners philosophy was simple and successful. He once told me…."My job is to get people to come to the club. Your job is to hold them and keep them coming back." We were extremely sucessful and we both made a lot of money. The club owner viewed me as his partner and treated me as such. It was such a tremendous boost to me as a performing artist to see lines of people repeatedly coming to his venue paying a cover charge to get in the club. Why? Because they were coming to hear good music and have a good time. Customers got to know me and I got to know them. The business thrived, so much so that he opened up another club in Nashua, NH, a converted skating rink which held quite a large number of people and guess who he asked to come perform. You guessed it. Me. His philosophy did not change. He brought them, I held them and kept them coming back. It doesn't end there folks. When he went to open another club in San Francisco, guess again who he called to perform there? You guessed it. Me. I made so much money and lived a sucessful life as a musician because this club owner knew the value of good music and good entertainment and building his business around that. I have performed on virtually every stage in Los Angeles. I have many times tried to convince a club owner to hire me as a full time performer, a steady gig. I know for a fact it is the only way to build a steady clientele. Usually it doesn't happen over night. However, if the club owner knows how to promote, it can build quickly.I have yet to find any club owner in LA willing to try or even listen for that matter to this philosophy. I'm not interested any more about playing any club in LA…doing the whole promotion thing, getting people to the gig, buying tickets for pre-sale etc. So when I get called by one of these LA local promoters who ask how many people can I bring to the club, I tell them one, me. Oh and by the way, a different club owner unrelated to the previous club owner had the same philosophy. He opened a club in Pasadena. Guess who he built one or his 2 rooms around. You got it. Me. I was there for four years. We both made money.It really is too bad that club owners don't seem to care about the value of good music. They only seem to see who can bring in 5 more people tonight and not who can keep there venue filled tomorrow.

    Barry Keenan

  • I’m in a working band in South East, Ga. we play 3-4 times a week. Each member of my band has 15 plus years of experience and when we go to work we play songs that people in bars want to hear. A lot of the clubs and bars that we perform in understand that we are better than the average bar band and they take care of us at the end of the night. But the bands in our area that play music as a hobby and work day jobs do not understand the business aspect of being a musician so they undercut us at certain venues by playing for $50 dollars each and a bar tab. These bands are usually made up of musicians that drink too much at the gig and do not pay attention to detail. These weaker bands still have several years of wood shedding left to do in the garage but because the venues hire them to play they are under a false impression that they are ready to perform. It’s a frustrating market and I remember when you had to be an actual musician to play out.

  • Clark

    You really all need to see a very important separation between new original music played by a band and familiar hits played by a band. I work in a cover band that has a $1000 minimum for weekend nights(but payed more usually), and an original band, no matter how good (or until they have hit songs, records) just will not get payed by a venue except by drawing people from their fan base. Really good cover bands make decent money. But not at venues traditionally portrayed as having the new cutting edge original bands (Sunset Strip venues Etc.) So it is just different markets. Because the places that love the cover bands I play in KNOW we make them way more money than they spend paying us. I do my own original music on the side as a very fulfilling personal venture that I make some money from. But my cover bands pay my bills. Just have to navigate the market your music fits in.

  • Clark

    So true. But good cover bands are legitimate and still make money. I play 170 shows a year between in a few bands.

  • Tim

    I doubt you can reason with them, but it's true–most club/bar/restaurant owners have no idea what it takes to build a viable music venue. If you count on musicians to bring in their friends, you're relying on college bands whose friends can party every night. If you want to build the venue as a brand you have to focus on quality–playing music for the band's friends is not much of a business model. But people want something for nothing. If a venue asks how many people I can bring in, I don't even bother with them–I know they'll be dropping music in a few months because "it doesn't pay."

  • Peter

    There needs to be a musician's union. We need rules and regulations and musicians need to be licensed to perform. One can't practice law or any respectable profession without a license, so why should the musician be degraded after years of hard studying? Our society is clueless when it comes to music and our politicians are asleep at the wheel. The problem is that if you can play a few chords and a pentatonic scale, you're considered a musician. A far cry. These weekend warriors lower the standard and mess it up for the dedicated, serious musicians.

  • Ken Huntington

    My problem is that the bands do not promote themselves. They expect the venue to do everything. It should be a mutual responsibility. The good bands without a venue are as good as the venue without the good bands. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship. One does not succeed without the the other.

  • Mstreblemaker15

    I approach playing music differently. I play keyboards and keyboard bass. I am one of the best in the business at playing keyboard bass. I can play any style, from bebop (yes, bebop) to classic rock and all the standards you can think of. I sound like I'm bragging, but I'm just stating a fact. However, I don't sing. What I am is a natural bandleader for any occasion, from duos to big bands. I am for hire by any vocalist or instrumentalist that is willing to pay my fee. I always work, to the point where I'm begging for a day off. I don't deal with club owners anymore, because I don't have to. That's how I've been able to keep doing what I love to do, and that is to play live whenever I can. I've been doing it this way for the last 34 years.

    I'm lucky to have found a niche, and dedicated myself to be the best that I can be, considering I also had a day job, and never wanted to tour or travel. I just wanted to be able to stay home. Having said all that, I'd like to put in my views.

    The factors that weigh against being able to play music for a living are staggering. Where do I start?
    1) The very miracle of digital technology is the root cause of it all. It allows any wannabe with a limited amount of talent to record themselves and put it out on the Internet with a minimum of investment in their skills and cost. The Internet is a veritable wilderness of "white noise", where everyone is heard, but no one can be heard. The digital instruments all sound the same, there is no individual character to the sound anymore, and everyone wants to sound like everyone else. Look at the "talent shows" (American Idol, etc.). They are a JOKE!!! Every one of those shows is a blight on humanity.

    2) Karaoke–everybody wants to be a star—need I explain more? Why listen to a great musician or band, when, with just a few drinks, a person can live out their unrealistic fantasies amongst friends and other drunken fools?

    3) Computers and other home entertainment features—why leave the cocoon of your home when the world of entertainment is at your fingertips? Before computers, live music was the preferred form of entertainment, even more than movies. Not any more. Going out is becoming a big bother, the sexual revolution is over, you have the AIDS and other viruses lurking about, the drunk driving laws have been stiffened, the drugs are more lethal (and so are the people who deal them). It's getting downright dangerous sometimes just to go out and have a good time.

    4) The Andy Warhol Syndrome—nobody lasts anymore. The record companies are forced to search the Internet to find anybody worth listening to. There is no more investment in an artist's development, so the music reflects the times—it's all cotton candy, sweet to the ears now, but in a couple of months, it's as stale as 3-day old bread. Nothing lasts. Why, I'm waiting for the day when K-tel brings back the golden days of–you guessed it—GANGSTA RAP! It sure qualifies as old fogy music now, starting 25 years ago.

    5) I can go on and on, but I'm going to stop, except for one observation—music today doesn't bring people together like it did in my day. The music out there today separates people into so many manufactured styles, that the polarization is complete. Nobody cares about any other style of music except for the narrow version of their own tastes. The music of a true original artist doesn't stand a chance to succeed, because of the obsession of labeling a style to the music that's heard. The tribute bands out there are all a disgrace. They're all prostitutes for the buck, because they know that the only way to make money is to sound like someone else. They kill originality for everyone else.

    That's why the music business is where it is today. When it comes to hiring bands, most restaurant and club owners are predators, and we are their prey, because otherwise most people who want to make a living in the music business have no other chance to play.

  • guest

    Great, great, article!

  • I've decided that busking is the way to go, screw the clubs.

  • rs-guitar

    I seriously doubt that the venues who practice this will be swayed if they are making an acceptable profit from it. It boils down to "supply and demand" – if there are lots of musicians who are willing to work for free (a supply of free music), then there is little pressure on the venues to change their practices. If the supply of "freebie" musicians dried up, then the venues would "have" to pay to get musicians. As long as the freebies thrive, it will make it harder for all of us to make decent money as musicians.

    A few years ago, I was offered a contract job arranging popular music for solo fingerstyle guitar from a well-known publisher in Nashville…they were only offering $125 per completed arrangement. To me that was absurd, but I was told that it was the going rate with all the publishers — the reason why? Because there are enough desperate musicians out there willing to work for only $125 per song, and it drives the pay down for everyone! The hours needed to complete each song would hardly amount to minimum wage.

  • Brown Glass

    All this is great info… If anybody wants to network and brainstorm in L.A. hit me up @ info@brownglass.com.

    No rap please, unless you have a live band to back you up. All other genres hit me up.

    Peace Uumoiya.

  • Wow, you hardly find letters or blogs that are as global as this letter. Here in South Africa it is the same. One gig we played last year required that we must have a guest list of at least 25, otherwise the band cant play. The people on the guest list had to pay R30 (3.89 USD) and people who just happened to be there had to pay R50 (6.49 USD) but the band only got 40% of those on the guest list. Not the entire door or anything from the bar.
    And then we got blamed for not packing a more than 500 people in the venue.
    It is all the same.

  • They make $300 off a $10 bottle of vodka and I make nothing off a $2300 guitar.

  • Naturally! I was reading a newspaper interview with a successful car dealer once. After being asked what he would do with a car, which would not sell for a long time, he answered: "double the price, of course!"… The usual customer's mentality: if something is REALLY expensive it must be good and worth buying!

  • Speller29

    i now do music video's & play NYC transit music underground are wherever i feel no strings attached
    but love renting a small space and charging my own fee something like a party

  • Brandon_ttu

    I think it's totally worth it if musicians can unite and not "sell out" for sake of making the "peanuts" the bar owners give them for playing or even just the tips that they make if they're not paid a base pay for the show.

  • Max Leake

    The jazz scene in Pittsburgh does not work like this. The pay is not great in most places (it's not as bad as LA). A few places pay better, but it is not based off of you bringing your own people. Of course we are all starting to do more self-promotion than jazz musicians did 30 years ago. But we usually work together with the owners to try and build a crowd over time.

    Of course there has been exceptions to that, but as he said, they usually didn't stay in business for long.

  • J.R. Byrd

    I live in Dallas, can I open for you, I would like to learn.

  • McMac

    Happened to me too, a few years back. Assured venues I played only orig. & trad. but didn't matter. The fines they'd had to pay were too high.

  • Steve – Sure wish we would have known about our show while you were here in Nashville. We execute the polar opposite of what you experienced downtown and if you come back again, hope you'll be our guest and let us show you that we share your mindset more then you can know:) Thanks for your heart for original music. NashvilleUnleashed.com

  • BigTimeBluesFan

    One more reason why I don't quit my day job!

  • Tres

    Ditto for Seattle clubs, though they try to disguise it via something called a "Room Fee" which all the smaller bar/clubs charge. The bands split the door after the room fee comes off the top. Fees average $175 on weekend nights, presumably covering the door person and sound engineer. So for a $5 cover you have to bring in 35 people before you see any money. Same story as other big music towns, many many bands most willing to play for free because they just want a gig.

  • Willi Kerr

    I've been playing in unsigned bands for over 30 years and I always find that the the best venues to play are always the ones that have a regular music loving crowd, and guess what -they will pay you money to play!
    Finding gigs is hard work and you probably didn't join a band to spend hours cold call busy bar and venue owners but be organised and stick with it. It's tempting to take the first offer and think OK it's a good venue and great exposure but it's just insulting to ask you to play for free. OK,maybe if you're a young band and it's your first gig and you think you might be crap! Otherwise just don't do it. State your fee, you can hint that it might be open to negotiation as you'd love to play their venue, but at least now they know what you're worth and if the gig goes well you can negotiate your fee up again for a return visit.

  • Leonardo

    I live and play in Milan, Italy… and the situation is exactly the same… if not a bit worse 🙁
    A lot of clubs are currently operating this way: their schedule is made by agencies that organize shows with 3 or 4 bands, playing half an hour each… and bringing their friends. They play absolutely for free because none of them is a professional player, but who cares ? the venue is full of friends. Different people every night… but still full ! Find 3 or 4 non professional bands every night bringing 10 people each and all done !

  • Kazerkaze

    How then do we form a business model and musicians union, in a sense, that can help us create an air of respect in the battered industry of live musicians around town?

  • Bzzcat

    A club owner can't tell a pro from a wannabe, nor does he care, as long as there are people drinking in his bar. It's the same here in Orlando, FL – Lots of kids with crappy sounding bands and lousy original music that are willing to play for nothing and will pack the place with 22 year old friends. You want to make a living playing music? Put on a tux and promote yourself for weddings and private events. If you're good at it, you can make a handsome living, like I do. Being a "club rat" is great for a musician or performer in his or her twenties with no kids, no mortgage, and no alarm clock waking them up in the morning. Grown ups have bills to pay. Start doing grown up gigs and you'll be paid accordingly. You want to show off for your friends and play the music YOU like? – don't to be paid for it unless your name is Bruce Springsteen!

  • Beanzarelly

    Our group Trample the Weak is a hip hop/rock group and we have to pay for gigs. Most venues in michigan dont like to touch hiphop. So our venues are very limited. Its shitty but we keep pushing foward

  • My band recently got an invitation through Facebook to play a showcase for an indie label out of L.A. One of their top acts was swinging through town, and they wanted to pack the venue both nights. We felt special until we learned that every band in and around our city was contacted as well. They called it a "music festival and showcase". Each participating band was to sell as many tickets as possible in advance for $10. The band got to keep $1 for each ticket sold and had to give the rest to the label/promotor/headliner the day before the "festival". The bands that sold the most tickets were given the best opening slots (there were 16 slots over 2 days). Every band that was invited and sold a ticket got to play at least a 20 minute set.

    This scheme takes the pay-to play model to a whole new, sickening level. Not only is each band being paid peanuts ($50 if they bring 50 fans), and being made responosible for packing the venue, but now has to bust their hump to put most all of the money in another band's pocket, under the assumption that they might get a record deal out of the appearance.

    And, of course, bands were selling their souls for the "opportunity". Even some of of our good band friends were jumping on board. We declined to play by responding to the "booking agent" via e-mail and stating that we had an established following which we appreciated and never took for granted, and we would not sell them out to put a bunch of money into a another band and a situation we had no control over. The booking agent responded by saying we were very good and they knew we had a big following and really wanted us to play the show and "you do know you will be showcasing for a record label executive, right"? We told them we were not interested in the "festival", but if the record company was really that interested in us, we would be glad to play a showcase for them at another time in another venue. We never heard from them again.

    We have played a few shows since the "festival" in the very same venue, and made 10-15 times the amount of money we would have made for the "showcase" and managed to retain our dignity. In fact, the venue told us they continue to book us because we didn't play the festival, which eventually hurt their reputation as a great live music venue because so many of the bands at the showcase sucked.

    The bottom line – if you are desperate to play shows under any circumstances and/or pay arrangment, you will carry that reputation with you and have a hard time being perceived as "professional". Maintain high musical standards, make good business decisions and don't be afraid to turn down gigs. You will be more respected and in-demand as a result.

  • I think when artists or bands start to take themselves more seriously as a brand and business, they will start to get paid. You can't go into a bar and get a free drink(unless its water or you know somebody). So why would you as an artists entertain a venue's patrons for free? I think its similar to a record label. How does a record label make money if it doesn't have any artist to push? They don't!! All musicians and artists need to learn to treat themselves as a commodity. I'm not saying that all musicians are good or that all music is good either, and you know who you are! I'm saying if you know your band is worth the money, then act like it. Club owners and promoters are only going to take you a serious as you take yourself. Set standards and stick to them. Don't all successful businesses do that? Why don't you? BTW I'm a Hip Hop artists that does get paid for performances, will do a free show for a good cause(it helps with the brand image), and less than a year away from receiving my MBBS from Full Sail University. Just in case you need my credentials.

  • L0la172

    This is exactly the reason why my son's band stopped touring. Then, the venues are closing left and right and they wonder why.

  • DMG

    Venues in ND and MN pay what you're worth. This is all news to me

  • Chris P

    I heartily second this sentiment. It's always good to hold their feet to the fire, ask the door person how many people paid if they have a ticker (or give them one and ask them to keep track), or ask them at the beginning of the night for a print out or breakdown of where the money is going.

    I recently played a gig and it took the booker something like 15 minutes to explain to me and one other bandleader why he said there was $500 when we came in to close out but then went back on that a minute later when there was only $400 in the cash box. Very shady stuff happens at payout time, probably due in part to the fact that many musicians go to settle out like rats pressing a machine for a pellet — they just take what's given to them and that's that.

    Obviously you can't always make these dealings come out in you favor, but even if you can't, it is good to (politely) grill them and make them super uncomfortable about their shady ways.

  • Giltpill

    So true, gone are the days of music aficionados.It sucks that most club goers go through all the trouble of managing their playlist, but no time supporting your local bands. That is why the club owners believe they they have the upper hand because they believe the that their patrons could not care less about what is going on stage. The people at the club are strictly there to party not to share an experience.

  • Chris P

    Figure out what you are willing to do and do it. Find a local band to open for and set them up a great gig in Calgary. Play a gig and try to leverage yourself into a better spot after the first gig. Network after the show, talk with the booker, the bands, people who come to the merch table and want to have you play their private party, etc. It sucks but you can sit in your practice room in Calgary with your integrity or you can go out to Vancouver and see what you can make happen. I've been in a funk band for 5+ years now and there's almost no place that has no room fee / 20% off the top / etc. There was some venue in SF I tried to set up a show at that wanted to book us only if we would let the venue take 35%. That was too much for me, but not for someone else. Best of luck.

    • Thanks Chris, that is essentially what we are doing – I've lined up shows with local bands in Van. Hopefully we'll be able to help them out in Cgy, and next time we're in Van we'll have a bit more leverage. If you're up in Canada look up Freak Motif – we'll line up a show together!

  • Chris P

    This doesn't really have anything to do with the conversation going on here but is a great story nonetheless.

  • "You want to make a living playing music? Put on a tux and promote yourself for weddings and private events."

    Agreed! That's more or less exactly what I did. That said, I think there's a difference between wanting to make a living as a musician and wanting to be a rock star. A lot of club owners seem to think they are doing musicians a favor by allowing people to live out that fanatasy.

  • Dtr1014

    This is a great article! It definitely makes many valid points. I'm going to give my two cents as to why venues like bars have stopped paying for bands…. Most bands (I've been guilty of this, too) tend to "play" music. They get on stage with their instruments and just "play" the same cover songs that every single other band plays night in and night out. On rare ocassions the singer might take the mic off the stand and move around and every once in a while the guitar player might walk to the front of the stage during a lead and look up at the crowd. There is no "performing" going on at all. There is nothing to draw anyone other than close friends and family to watch bands like these. Bands like these go out a "play" "gigs", complain that they don't make enough money, and then go and suck the life out another crowd the very next weekend.

    My point is that the bands are the people responsible for the decline in pay. It is up to us to go out and "perform", put on a show, and engage the crowd and bar owners. Each show should be an event! Hire out the best sound guy you can afford (don't run sound from a board on stage to save a few bucks), have a good light show, give yourself to the crowd, and play music that energizes the crowd. Stop playing gigs and start having shows! Impress the people and the owner with professionalism and keep the crowd hopping. Happy, dancing people will stay and drink as long as you're performing. This means more money for the owner and better chances of higher paying shows for your band.

    ….Like I said – just my two cents…

  • ex club owner

    The sad part of this is, decent bands were making $400 a night in club gigs in the 1960s.

  • Zach

    Great job Diane! I have done this a lot. I make my living performing my own original music all across the country. A lot of what I do is bring music into places where it isnt always, thus creating "venues." Its a rewarding experience all around for everyone, even though its a little bit of work, but honestly not much more than the amount you still have to do to make a show a success in a normal venue. Namaste. Zach

  • James Van Buren

    those Bands that pay to play to me do not believe in themself if they did they would play for the door,only
    if the club owner advertised on the airways along with them doing flyers also.If they don't already have
    a followering they are not ready to perform in public. James Van Buren

  • Steve Ibach

    Good for you. All musicians must say '"thanks, but no thanks."

  • I perform around Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas. We are just starting to see this Pay to Play mentality around here and so far our PROFESSIONAL musicians have refused to participate. The clubs end up with "howlers and yowlers" who might bring in a few family and friends for a night or two. These clubs go tits up pretty fast. We still have a few players who work for $35 a night and beer and then brag that they gig 250 nights a year. They are ASTONISHED when I tell them that I don't play LOCAL clubs for less than $150 and I do private parties and corporate events for $300-$500 a gig. They ask me how I get that much. The answer is I ASK FOR IT. If YOU don't think you're worth that why should they? A gig two hours away plus four hours at the gig plus a two hour drive home for $50 works out to $6.25 per hour before you even pay for gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. What kind of an idiot works for money like that? I'd rather sit at home and molest my wife! GREAT ARTICLE!

  • Don Reed

    Hi Dave,

    I read about your experience with a club owner. This today is a common experience.

    I want to tell you about my career as a guitarist. I have performed three presidential administration at the White House: Pres. Reagan, Pres. Bush and Pres. Clinton. I have performed for U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Conventions, Corp events and private parties.

    Most of the work that I have done thru the country has been prestigious performances.

    I am currently living in the Nashville, TN area. I am not working any clubs, for the fact I refuse to play for $50 or $75 a night.

    I have turned my attention to Therapeutic Music and working with patients thru the medical field.

    I started doing this as a volunteer. I started a non-profit Corp. with a 501 © 3and now have different businesses both large and small donating to this cause. I am now receiving compensation for my work in Music Therapy.

    Along with the work that I am doing now, I find it more rewarding than all the performing I did in the past.

    I have no regrets in any part of my career as a guitarist. I have had a very successful career and was paid well for my talent.

    The only advice that I can give you is to raise public awareness of the hurt that you are going thru as a talented musician and letting the public know not to support the clubs taking part in this practice of having musicians work for nothing or unfair pay. The public should not be supporting these clubs by being their customers.

    As a musician, I understand the hours of study and practice that someone puts in as to perfecting their art.

    You may want to visit my website: http://www.musictherapyforhealing.org
    my telephone number is on my website. Call my office I would like to speak to you.


    Don Reed

  • Guest

    agents work on commission, so of course they are only interested if they know they're gonna make their 10% off of a good amount of money. plus, these days agents have all the power in the biz because touring is where any artist in this business that is actually surviving is making their living. we need more independent booking agents who are willing to work with mid-level, up and coming acts.

  • Bob

    I've been playing music for a long time, but just moved to a new city. It's been hard getting shows (normally do everything in the underground/diy), so I contacted one of the more known bars as they have a free Tuesday night for 'new' bands. The whole Tuesday night write-up was about helping promote new bands give them a chance to play… that all the bands in the city that headline the club and what-not on weekends start out at this Tuesday night thing. So my band asked to play (saying we're kinda new in the city). this is the response we got:

    "For a Tuesday-what other TO gigs do you have booked and can you hustle out 30-50+ folks out on a Tue???"

    my bandmate pointed out the keyword there: "hustle".

  • Stephen

    One can, of course, wonder why, but I doubt Anna's is closed because they missed out on the traffic they would have generated by putting up posters at the club. [If club owners thought posters would drive traffic, they would put them up. They don't so they don't.] Also, it's hard to separate out a club's music policy from the dozens of other decisions they have to make each day and say that that's what killed their business. When a study shows that about 60% of all restaurants close within 3 years of opening, it can't all (or even mostly) be about the music policy.
    But let's say a club decides to focus on their music policy as the key to their survival. It's a helluva high wire act try to consistently hire truly interesting acts that you can afford (and who will still play your club when they're famous). At the moment, I can think of a handful of clubs in L.A. whose booking policy is so good that I know I can expect a great show even if I've never heard of the band. These are all listening rooms where the owner is essential a curator of music. Most restaurant or wine bar owners don't fall into that category. They want to sell wine or food and look to music to help them do that.

  • LA-GTRGuy

    TBoy nailed it on the head.
    I'm a musician in L.A. and these are my sentiments exactly.
    The only point that I'd argue is the musician's are not creating LESS music, they are actually creating MORE now because it's so easy for Johnny-Music-Guy to record and produce songs from home on his computer with a DAW. There is too much shitty music being made by amatuers with no real artistic vision. The worst part is .. the worst musicians seem to be the most aggressive marketers, so music fans are annoyed with the falling quality of new music. The bottom line is that music was never meant to be a full-time commercial venture. Music is not new … and no matter how original you think you are … it's been done before. TRUE.
    Just make music, take your time, and write great compositions. Make it available ONLY after it is truly a finished product. Don't rush it, good art has no time limits. This is why you need to stop bitching and get a day job. It's not all about you, it is about the audience. You are there to entertain them. You are an ENTERTAINER right?

    • Synjim


  • Jackgrassel

    Yes, you are totally right. A musician is supposed to get a wage just like a plumber or a dentist. Being a musician is a profession. As Frank Zappa asked, "What do you do that's fantastic? What do you do that nobody else can do?" I never play for the door. If you create create music, act professionial and make the venue money, you will also make money. Once you start doing that, you do that forever while you finance your music "career" with your non-music day job or giving music lessons to kids. Word gets around that you play for free and you get lots of gigs playing for free or paying to play. I charge a set fee for my performances and get it because the venues make money when I play. If the venue makes money, then they will want to hire you and pay you. The last time I had a plumber to my house it cost me $400 for two hours of his time. I had to pay him cash. He wouldn't accept an "opportunity for exposure" or a promise of "future work".

  • Lcoopersr

    I am a member of a Gospel group we are all seniors but very talented and have copyrighted over a 100 songs.we sing mostly at churches and receive love offerings.our group agreeded that we were not in it for the money.I had a preacher offer some money and he said to me take it you earned it so we came up with the idea of using the money to help missionaries and it works for us so in the long run my advice is when you are offered money for your talents take it and be thankful,what you choose to do with it is your business

  • Muddy_13

    Yes – clubs abuse musicians. I have seen clubs book two bands for the same night with the expectation of being paid – then let the bands argus on the spot – who is going to get to play – "Our band will do it for free – we are already here" is the winning line.

    Most of the old salt pro musicians in Eugene have just given up expecting work from venues… the scene has morphed into open mics – since you aren't getting paid – have a good time yourself. We get some killer musicians showing up that you use to pay big money to see. Now they play, invite other musos to chime in, and everyone has a hell of a good time. True – the places are usually packed with musicians…. so?
    The bar gives them all a free drink… and some of the musos sign up for a night for 10% of the bar on a Friday or Saturday… but it seems most are already turned off from excess abuse in the gig scene. Musicians do not get paid to play, they only get paid to move their equipment. So be it. The open mic guys have created a healing between the musos and the venues. Now the musos have a loyalty to that club – but they don't want to play elsewhere – where they are not appreciated and they have to take crap from a bartender – forget it – not me. I'll keep my notes to myself rather than let some ahole bartender or club owner get his rocks off by venting on me. Screw that. I only do business that makes me smile nowadays. A few clubs are real, the rest are junk managers who don't treat people right – they start abusing the bands, then the help, then the patrons… then they close.

  • MUDDY_13

    If seasoned players refuse to play – they will all have stinky garage bands playing that aren't ready for prime time…. so attendance will drop – and the clubs close. They have to have QUALITY entertainment to keep the doors open and the numbers up. I can give them a hint… don't start the music at ten PM. People who have money to spend in your venue WORK which means they get up in the morning. Try starting the music earlier you dummies….. why don't club owners get this?

  • Clamgas

    I agree with everyone and Dave, I also think that you need to look at both sides of this argument, there are a lot of bands in the NW anyways that are not willing to work at building up any kind of following and just rely on the clubs to do this for them. i think it goes both ways,
    Yes the club should be out marketing their own shows and themselves, but the band also should be out marketing themselves. It is totally unfair to put the entire burden on the club it has to be a two way street.

  • Hey, Chris. My name is Nick and I'm from Buffalo, NY. I was a guitarist in a metal band with some friends for a few years, and getting shows was ALWAYS a struggle. I know that metal music, in general, isn't a huge financial draw anywhere in the country, let alone Buffalo, but it was about the love of the music for us. All the local venues that were open to the metal scene made things really tough for a local band just starting out. The promoters would hand us a stack of tickets and there was always a minimum number we had to sell or else we would get paid nothing. So, we would bust our butts advertising for "our" upcoming show, trying to sell the tickets we needed to sell, and then the day of the show would arrive. We would make our minimum, but, looking around the venue during our set, we would see a lot of "familiar faces" and very few strange ones. How are you supposed to get an audience, when no new people ever see your band? And after a few shows even your "family and friends" are abandoning you because they are busy or they've seen you "too many" times in a row.
    Here's a more specific story. We played a small hole-in-the-wall club one night and we were given a minimum ticket quota of 35. We sold 50. Pretty good, right? After the show, the promoter was happy with the tickets we sold and he seemed to like our band, so he gave us a "bigger opportunity". He offered us an opening slot for a bigger band(Otep) at a bigger venue(Town Ballroom). Sounds awesome, right? Well, as we expected, there was a ticket minimum again. The minimum was a 100 tickets @ 20$ per ticket. We thanked him and told him we would think about it. We refused, of course. I remember quickly asking around to some friends and no one really liked Otep, so they weren't willing to drop 20 bucks on that show, even to support us. The big opportunity turned into a big letdown. We moved on and played more smaller shows with other bands, but we never really got anywhere. Then we lost our drummer and the rest is history. And just like Dave said, some of the venues we played at for basically nothing are now struggling, being sold, or are closed. Being a musician in a band nowadays is not all its cracked up to be. Good luck everyone and keep on making great music!

  • I can't help but feel sad and at the same time not lonely in all these experiences talked about concerning this article. Seattle has a lot of successful cover bands, and even originals bands, but the attitude of the club owners is the same for most venues. Thanks all for sharing.

  • This is a great point of view, Dave. I've used all the arguments in the past,
    "Well, I've got a lot of money tied up in this equipment. Gas is so high. No, your bar wont be good exposure for my band. etc,…"
    But the argument you have made is THE argument to make from now own. I think everybody should print this out and memorize it. Its a business and your business is just as valuable as their business.

  • Jeff Tucker

    "Bars" are not "music venues". They are liquor venues that occasionally provide music as entertainment for their customers. Bars also have big screen TV's for the exact same purpose…but we don't call them "TV venues". In a wine bar where a trio is being paid $75.00…the only thing that sucks worse than the music – is the wine. My advice is simple…forget about the wine bar that offers $75 for a trio. Forget that it exists. Instead, concern yourself with finding the wine bar that will pay a decent wage. If you can't find a wine bar that pays a decent wage…forget about wine bars altogether.

    I began my music career in New Orleans at age 17. I was told "never pay to play" by old guys, and I was told to "turn it down" by guys even older than them. It's a town full of professional musicians…and very few rock stars.

    Being a "rock star"…and being a "professional musician" are two entirely different professions. Musicians have a well-earned reputation…and part of that reputation includes not knowing (or refusing to accept) the difference between the two. Speaking of “wine bars”, I'm playing solo at Tres Belle Wine & Martini Lounge in Levis Commons tomorrow night (shameless plug), and I'm here to tell ya, I'm getting paid a very fair and respectable fee for my services. I'm driving to play the "tasting room" at a four-star restaurant at the Radisson Plaza in Kalamazoo tonight, and tonight’s profit will be more than I earn tomorrow night, even after gas. Add the two together, and they equal a decent week's "off-season" wages for a full-time musician who earns 60-70% of his annual income during the summer travel season. During the summer, I will be fortunate enough to hire four guys and actually play a few true "music venues"…amphitheaters where people come to sit in the grass – for one purpose and one purpose only. I play the wine bar tomorrow for the privilege of playing concerts in July.

    If there was a four-star restaurant with a "tasting room" in Toledo that paid $150 less than my gig tonight…I'd try to get that gig. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't. That's why I'm driving through yet another Western Michigan snowstorm this afternoon. I'm a professional musician…I'm not a rock star.

  • Onwardbb

    I think it is important to note that there are very few popular restauants with great food, where FAMILIES can go and expose their children to good, live music. Why do so many feel that they cannot afford to set aside a corner near the bar for different type of music each night? It would enhance their already regular business if the 80% alcohol, 20% food rule still holds. Also, skilled musicians with business and managing skills also, seem to be hard to find. Also, does the musicians's union still have any role in helping?

  • Dmhellrazor

    I just couldn't be bothered tearing down my gear at home, loading it up and hauling it to some bar to set it up and play for nothing then tear it down and haul it home. Which would initially cost me money as well as my own effort, extra wear and tear on my gear and my body because some of the shit is heavy. I guess you have to come to grips with why you play to begin with. I got into learning the guitar simply for a constructive activity during a faily lengthy recovery period after I was injured in an industrial accident at work. A person can only tolerate just so much daytime TV before you start to go out of your mind. I found it to be quite enjoyable despite some of the frustrating times when your learning how to play an instrument. I have now been playing for a little over 5 years. Started from scratch with a learn how to play guitar book and no formal lessons. I like to figure stuff out on my own and continue to play 2-4 hours everyday just because I purely love it.

  • Maseratibd

    Hi ,I am one of those hated venue owners that have not paid a guarantee to a band for over 3 1/2 years .The thing that is unusual about my venue is that we are still open .The biggest and oldest venue in the Cincinnati area closed new years as did many others in the last few years .Your laboring under the misconception that if you stopped the bands taking the door it would force the venues to pay you upfront which somehow is really better for the venue .The venues can not bring in the fans because most people do not have the money and are only going out if johnny's in the band or uncle Joe is having a party at the bar that night .The bands we need are those that can bring out their friends,family and coworkers not the pro bands we had the 1st year we were open .I sympathise with the pro bands because they tend to be older and play to often(if they are luck now) to bring many people to any one gig but truth is I do not want the pro bands even if they played free without a door because they can not bring a crowd .
    Finally as an example we had a comedian about 3 months ago that had 65 people here and charged $10 at the door .That's $650 and we made less a lot less but he brought the people so good for him.Likewise the bands usually make around $250 to $300 at the door just what we use to pay as a guarantee so please stop saying the bands are playing for free those that bring folks make money and those pro bands do not get gigs but they are not playing .
    I am sorry I do not have any suggestions for pro bands as for us it is not a matter of price as $0 is too much if you can not bring folks .We are booked weekends thru march and 1/2 of April .good luck to all

  • Lord Brackett

    All this applies to the sound system and sound man too.

  • Detroit Drummer

    I live in Detroit and didn't even know this kind of crap existed. We play regularly at clubs in order to showcase our band for private parties where we make a few thousand dollars for the band. We have worked hard our entire lives and we do a very good job. I have seen some of the bands out there and some of them are just having fun and that isnt there primary means of income. If youre gonna do this for a living and perform you better be in an excellant band because that is one thing that you can control. I do believe people know the difference when they hear a top notch band. Its not just enough to be a good player, the band as a whole has to be great. Anyway my point is, if youre playing for free you might want to consider the music you are playing. Being a creative musician is great but your job is to connect with an audience. Many musicians dont want to "lower" themselves to that so they will only play what they like. I like whatever pays the bills and I truly enjoy moving a crowd. I play the jazz I like during the weekday. This keeps me balanced. It called music "business" for a reason. DONT PLAY FOR FREE, IT'S NOT NECESSARY.

  • Michaelmartinband

    As a venue owner and musician I have to agree with Marilyn below me. It just doesn't work that way anymore. The clubs are better to not book music and know they won't lose money. Sad but true. If you're good and have a following clubs will see that and pay more, but getting paid just to show up isn't the way it works anymore.

  • Def1ae

    A very interesting article. I front a hard rock band…..and when we started out, we had a hard time just getting a gig!! So when we did finally start receiving some opportunities, we promoted like mad. We figured we'd make them notice us! Now when a club contacts us, we play for a guarantee….because we've built that kind of track record. And in Chicago, it's even more difficult since our music scene is dominated by cover bands….since bar patrons tend to like to listen to songs they already know. I don't say this as "we're great"…..I say this as we as musicians also bear some responsibility to these clubs…provided they are advertising and doing their part as well. We've had opening acts beg us for a chance to play…..only to see that they drew all of 8 people. That's embarrassing, and I imagine its even tougher on the clubs to have a night like that…..

  • Mr Anthropy

    there's nothing wrong with playing for free if you're not doing it to get paid. music is something that attracts a lot of people who think that it's an alternative to getting a job – but being a professional musician IS a job like any other. don't feel like it tonight? tough shit, play. i'd say that high rents are a big problem. a new promoter isn't going to have a lot of financial clout and it's not going to take too many washouts to ruin them, so better book whoever's going to bring lots of people. people who won't listen, and won't come back. really a venue needs an identity, much in the same way as the big (formerly) independent record labels had when they started out. eventually people cotton on and eventually they make a shitload of money as a result, but then they eventually get taken over by sony and become just another feather on the wing so meh. all you musos: if you want to get PAID then forget about self expression and ENTERTAIN because that's all you're for. want to make an artistic statement? then forget about being paid and just do it wherever, safe in the knowledge that it'll cost you more than it makes – but enjoy yourself.
    truth is that most clubs and most bands are worthy of each other

  • Val

    I have never nor would I ever "Pay to Play". I have played for free at times for benefits or charity but that is the ONLY exception. The expectation for the bands to bring in a crowd is non sense but unfortunately, that is just the way it is. The bar staff gets paid, so should the band as they are working too except that it takes alot more skill to play an instrument than it does to wait on someone and clean tables. These days, if you are on a label, it is because the label sees potential to make money off of you…. hence all the teeny bopper BULLSHIT music that is popular these days. Bands are doing reunion tours these days are doing it BECAUSE THEY CAN!!! Don't be a fool…. these guys have made fortunes in their day, they are just cashing back in…. probably don't owe the label a dime. It's also because they are still viable.

    One thing to look out for is sketchy promoters or "battle of the bands". So and so record label will be there…. you will get paid at least x amount…. this is an opportunity for exposure…. BULLSHIT!!! Someone is trying to make money off of you and hoping that you just want to play for free. Don't do it. The last promoter that was interested in us failed to pay after the first gig…. he made all these promises to help us carry our gear up the stairs to the shitass club he booked… said he would have a crew for us…. NOTHING. No one even offered us water to drink. So the boys and I put in our ear plugs, cranked our Marshall stacks as loud as they would go and proceeded to blow the shit out of the place. Once we were done, the promoter had sleazed out already without paying then had the balls to ask us to do another show. I told him that we would do it for no less than $600. If he couldn't do that, then I told him to not bother. He tried to tell me that we wouldn't get very far with that kind of demand… and I told him, be that as it may, if you want us to play, that's the price and I want 50% in advance. I never heard from that asshole again.

    I don't know what I'm talking about, you might say??? I am from Memphis TN. My uncle was the late great Shawn Lane. I learned alot from him and as a musician, I am well respected and revered in the Memphis Music scene by those that matter the most and who are NOT pretentious and who do NOT make self proclamations as industry professionals. There is much more to Memphis than the blues.

  • www.stephpappas.com

    How funny..i just sent a similiar email to someone to proof it fer me.. i been re wording fer awhile and then this just arrived in my email box about Dave writing a similiar letter. The venue is failing, band wise, w/ low attendance. The mangement keeps asking me to book another show every time i go into the venue, which i do just to support a band or some of the nice folks who work there as well keep our downtown vibrant. I am also working it so i get better pay as we are a draw and i promote every show there. By the way folks another thang going on is newpaper and radio will not announce gigs any longer simply cause venues will not buy adds or do anythang in return. back to the letter i am gonna send to the venue.. it explains the vicious cycle between venue and bands and how to get better booking 101 going and all of us make money ..I do this fer a living and have no day job by he way so i am invested in playing out to gain more fan base and can not just hold a party fer my friends..that will kill a band from sprawling outta state and country sooner or later unless ya keep drawing new people.

  • www.stephpappas.com

    This is also why i am invested to keep communicae open w/ these type of venues stated above in Dave's open email to us..Sometimes they just don't know or understand how to make it work and all i can do is work w/ them and not get any ones back up. It makes me think.. why some of my best booking as a whole has been w/ nashville venues… cause they really get it that we all need one another and wanna make it work and understand how to..well atleast this was true years ago as i have not been back since.
    Everyone just all seem to be doing it fer the love of music and cause music chose us.
    Chris R. at CD Baby
    editor's note: Most talent-buyers, venue owners, show promoters, and club bookers do not resemble the sleazy pay-to-play club booker pictured above. Most of the time it's best to view them as partners or allies your event's success. Treat these industry professionals with courtesy and respect. If they give you cause for argument– stay calm, state your points, and be ready to walk away! You can choose to never use a certain bridge

  • VonBach

    Having been a musician for 45 years, I recentily had the opportunity to help create and open a "lounge"… dining room and bar… from the "business" end. The owner and I have played in bands together for years. He decided to open a restraunt/bar because of his love of music, musicians, and great food. So now I find myself on the other side of the coin, something most of these comments only obliquely reference.
    My notion is that "Pay to Play" is an industry driven notion, not consumer driven, and is a BAD notion and will not last. BUT… as I watch the cash register, night to night, and watch the DJ set up on Wednesday nights, and watch the cost of labor, goods, and rent, I am amazed that there are ANY venues left paying live music. I monitor the dining room, occasionally buss tables when needed, run the sound board, and play on stage on Thursday nights.

    Playing live music for money is not the God-given right of every musician with a Twin Reverb or Marshall Stack or Kurzweil. Paying a 3,4, or 5 piece band, nightly, is a LOT of money for an establishment to try to budget. And no matter WHO you book, there is no guarentee that you'll have a crowd because of their music. We split the music bill: live jazz from 6 to 8:30 during dinner hours, then live blues from 9 to closing. We pay flat rate, with no cover charge. We service 2 distinctly different crowds. We are located on the "back 40" of "the strip"… many bars cluttereing a downtown avenue. The reason these bars co-exist is because no one bar can sell a single customer as much alchohol as that customer might want, so they "crawl" from one bar to the next getting successively more plastered. We don't fit in with that crawl. We offer something different.

    I'm not a great musician, unlike some contributors here apparently are, and I have managed to cultivate a certain humility in my attitued concerning original music. The world is not waiting or wanting to hear my music… they will not be the worse off for not having heard even one of my songs.

    The assumption seems to be that the clubs are making money hand-over-fist and that hiring a DJ simply increases their profits because it's less expensive than live music. Unlike some of the contributors here, I can't speak for other cities or other bars. But I can say that what musicians often think is happening from the money end of things, concerning the club's music budget, is a flat-out-fallacy. When rent goes up, and the price of liquor and liquor licenses goes up, and food costs go up, and the cost of help goes up, just where do you expect an establishment to look to cut costs?

    As far as I can see, the ONLY way for a club to offer live music is to cultivate that as part of their image, their business model, their identity. A BAR is a bar is a bar. If you are playing bars, then you have my sympathy. They don't care about the music, except, as noted so many times in these posts, as it relates to their own income. It may be a shock to many of you, but, statistically, it's been documented that the reason people go to bars is to SOCIALIZE and drink…. not to listen to music. What we need are venues that have a genuine interest in live music…for the sheer aesthetic…because they love music and want to include it… not because it fills in their bottom line. Hoping that DRINKING establishments should be the protectors of live music is not realistic. As noted, live music is now over staffed with bands of every ilk and style, many willing to play for nothing, or less than nothing. Seek out the places where your art holds value for everyone…though places like that may be few and far between. The world is like your mother: it owes you nothing, you owe it everything.

  • Rayzerramon

    You can't play here unless you have a following, and you can't get a following unless you play here.

  • Anonymous

    There were several venues for live bands back in the 70's but in the 80's the DJ's started taking over. Instead of a 4 piece band with $30,000 worth of sound gear charging $1000 they started getting DJ's with a couple Mack One Radio Shack speakers, a power amp and a casette deck for $250.

  • Anonymous

    I am a promoter and a musician in the Chicago land area and there is nothing but pay to play clubs. So what I started to propose to club owners is. You keep bar. We keep the door. I will set the cover for the bands and make Flyers but my cover is $5w/flyer $7 w/o. I have found that this way people hang on to flyers and I let them make copies to give to there friends. Now you have someone else helping promote your show. I take a 20% fee off top for Promotions and the rest of the door gets split between the bands. I help with the promotions and I also tell bands that if they bring in a reciept from a copy store that shows that they printed out flyers I will remburse them. So know after working with the club for sometime I am able to talk them into paying for a tour package or a band that charges because now the owner knows I am helping out with the promoting. It does need to be a two way street and that is why I tell clubs that they have to get in there local Entertainment magazines because people look at that stuff.

  • Jay Stone

    We are talking $b in fees collected. These fees are for administration and to go to a small percentage of song copyright holders. A song list played during the show should go to the venue owner then to the royalty distributors, if a song is registered and is played, the song wrier must be payed. If not, the royalty distibutor is committing fraud. TEST A CASE, we need this structue to be come law. (Must have some musicians who are prosecuting lawyers out there.)

  • Blake Brown

    That is really great Eli. What kind of music do you play and what is the name of your band? If you don't mind me asking. I've been playing with a ft worth group for the past three years called The Pajammas and we've run into this issue constantly.

  • This sounds so much like good old Florida and other small time crap holes across the country. Don’t get me wrong, some venues pay well, but most don’t. Hell, some won’t even throw you a slab of raw meat and a biscuit. Now that is pretty bad. Hence, I never play in any bar or club . It’s not worth the time, effort and certainly not the money. Most owners think they justify their pettiness saying we have a business to run and we have overhead (fixed and operating costs) Oh really? And bands don’t? Yep, we spend tens of thousands of dollars on instruments, effects, amps, mics, boards, cabs, monitors, lighting, trusses, etc…. out of pocket, not to mention spending hours on end rehearsing, writing original material …but all this gear magically drops out of the sky and we get it all for free and, of course, musicians live in a world without time? So far as songs go, we crap out hit after hit without even giving it a thought. Yea, right. Having said this, why would anyone want to play in a dive for a bunch of drunks who won’t remember you come the following morning?

    In my opinion, it is far better to break the cycle. kick the club owner to the curb and organize events and play them. For two reasons, 1.) people actually come to listen to you, and 2.) if your planning and marketing is right, you will draw bigger crowds. Hell, get two or three bands and make a day of it. Invite food vendors, sell your T-shirts, your CDs, etc…there as well. If your are a local band, sell your CDs on YOUR website as well. If you are a national act….CD Baby. Run off flyers and between you and three other bands you could come up with enough money to run a radio ad. It will take a lot more effort on your part but it will also be you who keeps more of the money.Cheap club owners are better left hiring turntable spinning DJs and let them see what kind of crowds they draw, how big and for how long. There is nothing like a liive band.

    Back in the old days, (Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven,) ….you know the bunch…. if you wanted to hear music, you had to go and see them!! if not…you lived in a very silent world. If everyone did this, there would certainly be greater followings for far more bands. So until that happens… and musicians close their ranks behind them, they will continue to suck up to club owners. It’s absolutely incredible how little things have changed—even after 37 years. It goes to show, there is no cure for naïve and stupid and for too many musicians, it is a life long disorder.

  • This isn't all on the club or venue managers. It is on the musicians and those who graduate them from music degree programs each semester as well. There used to be this thing called the "Musicians Union" that everybody had to be a member of and musicians playing in clubs were routinely carded. The Musicians Union has a pay scale that is relative to most all types of work musicians do. Working professional musical artists (like other professions) should be required to have a union card. Try getting an acting job without being a member of the union – it ain't gonna happen. But, when venues stopped being required to hire members of the union, the people playing for sandwiches and drinks literally took over most of the casual work in all genres … It is sort of like getting a license as part of the requirements to practice in other technical professions.

  • Cover bands are killing the Music business. All over the world

  • Cover bands (as well as Club Owners) are killing the Music Business. All over the world.

  • First of all, if you want to be a professional musician you should move away from a market that does not pay enough. Why be the king of welfare wages market?

    Secondly, I wonder that the author says he is a professional, and he says that he is a good musician, so why can't he bring in at least 25 of his own fans every time he plays? I am a professional musician and I can. Perhaps he doesn't have enough fans because he isn't good enough. Or, if his fans have seen him too much and are tired of seeing him, then he needs to be a better marketing person for his band and book more out-of-town gigs and tour so that he is seeing fresh audiences.

    There are two ways to make money as a performing musician: either your music/show/art is so damn good that the booking person will just pay your price because they have to have it; or you have a large fan-base that will buy the tickets to legitimize your compensation desire. If you can't achieve success, then it is because you have no fans or your art sucks, or it could be you have not marketed yourself to the right person/crowd, but it's likely the first two reasons.

    So, if you don't like the pay then don't take the job, keep searching for a better job. If you don't have enough fans then get more, and if you can't get anymore then quit this band/project cause it stinks.

  • Way to go Eli, that is a good businessman at work! If you are worth the money, someone will pay it. Believe in the market, believe in economics.

  • There is already a national musicians union. It's not that great. Unions aren't that great. Government isn't that great.

    If you want to make more money, you have to have a strong business plan, a creative strategy, talent and work ethic. Don't look for work at "minimum wage" venues, find good paying venues, they must be somewhere.

  • T-Boy, if you can't make it, it means you didn't market yourself correctly OR the audience doesn't like you enough. But don't condemn everybody else according to your failure.

    I'm doing fine, my fellow musicians, and I encourage you to keep trying. Believe in economics, believe in marketing, believe in music, believe in love.

  • Kelsey

    Too many bad musicians out there trying to play gigs!! It's fun for them but it's causing talented musician to get the shaft…..And the no brained audiences can't tell the difference between good or bad anyway….they listen with their eyes……My advice if you love to play music do it at each others houses…If you just have to play for people you are a ham bone and a big part of the problem!!!!!..

  • Thelma harcum

    I love everyone's comments and have came up with a solution for all musicians problems with venue and getting paid what you're worth.
    In my last comment, the clue was written in there but I did not see the full picture until now.

    The solution is and do remember this.. . . . .

    What do movies have to do with musicians?.
    Answer: Everything!

    What do movies make on a consistance basic and guaranteed that muscians don't?
    Answer: Money

    What Can Musicians do that revolutionize the whole concept of performing, dealing with venues, and getting paid?.

    The Answer: Join forces, resources, talent and starting an international Musicians Group, run by musician,
    where an on-going program is set up for musician to perform, rehearse, and share revenue and get paid for their performane.

    To set it up like the movies: Have 4-5 rooms for musicians to play their show which is promoted on the web, on TV, newspapers, etc. Tickets are advertisede and sold ahead of time. During the day, the stage can be used for teaching music classes, band practice and meetings.

    Products from each band can be sold in the reception room where drinks, food and other items can be sold.

    Musicians can pool resources by starting a membership-base program, purchase one building and fundraise for another. A membership will entitle everyone a share or percentage of anything that is sold after the first year.

    This is an idea that have existed in the traditional form but only to the occlusion of many and with limitations.

    All musician shows should be video tapped because than you have another product that can be marketed.
    10 % of any profit can go to the organization from products will go to the organization.
    No band should make less than $500.00 for a 1 hour show.

    Bands can be rotated in the various areas of this country and expanded overseas. Back Up Bands list can be set up in case of an emergency. Also, ther should be a residential quarters for groups coming from out of town-another area of expense for traveling musicians.

    The niche around Musician Performances are Comedy shows that are many times opening acts before the show. The expansion from one project can be enormous.

    I hope this input helps and get all musicians thinking of impowering themselves.

    It is time for all musicians to get up off the ground and say no and no and no to injustice in this medium, music. When there is more demand, the price is sure to go up and you can get your deal. Perhaps less means more.

  • Bert

    Well it´s the roughly the same over here in Germany. You play the gig and the hat is passed around… sometimes you make 17.44 but you get free drinks, a sausage or a bowl of soup and you are free to make as many contacts as you can! Plus selling your CD, if you have one. I was asked to bring my own stage, own lighting, and own audience…. Well, I am just one step from opening my own club…. and then, I might become a club owner, like them? Nasty, nasty.

  • Anonymous

    If you're just starting out as a performer or as a group it's very difficult to get any kind of pay, and you're lucky to get any kind of money in that situation. What I say in that case is play often and in as many venues as you can, both as a soloist and in ensembles. Once you have built your reputation you have what any business or employee needs – leverage. You now have a strong position to negotiate from. Venues can treat you like crap if you don't have any draw, and quite frankly you're not doing them any favors in that case.

    Once you do have a draw and you do make money, it's a delicious feeling to be able to turn the venues down that once closed their doors on you or paid you zilch… Ain't nothing sweeter than revenge 🙂

  • Mike Roberts


    I can't agree with you. I work full time as a solo and small group performer, playing pop, acoustic, folk and country – and I get paid. I play restaurants, wine bars, cafe's bakeries, etc. I lived in NYC until 2 years ago, no problem getting paid. I live in Houston now, same deal. I don't know if I am any better than most of the people that are playing for free, but I made a decision a long time ago that I don't play for free, I get a contract up front, and I act like a professional that cares about business. Yes, I have to spend time marketing myself. Yes, it's a lot of work. But where most musicians have a bad attitude and no backbone, I stay positive while having the balls to demand fair pay.

  • Jason_Kothmann

    Wow thanks for posting. Very insightful, honest, and accurate depiction of what we as musicians deal with in respect to live venues. Thanks for the vindication, as well as the perspective.

    If you look at live venues in LA, they're all dying except for the ones that have built a reputation for exhibiting consistently solid live acts. (rip spaceland) If the sunset clubs would do the same, they'd also have good traffic, instead of relying on teeny bop and metal kids showing up with their friends, then leaving without buying any drinks.

    The status quo is anti- music and is no longer sustainable.

  • Anonymous

    Nest time the owner asks "What kind of a following do you have?", ask him "Did you ask your waitress that question when you hired her?".
    While there are bands that will pay to play or bring a crowd, that never lasts. Those venues always seem to be out of business within two years.
    Clubs that provide quality entertainment and food seem to still be in business. Seems they have a lot of Customers who know where to go for quality.

  • When posting this on a fb group I am part of – 'LA Songwriters', I got the following response: ‎"There is no need to pay2play, & there are too many ways/places/venues to even try listing here in L.A….even ones people believe to be P2P… This is where PROMOTERS have the power. They can & often will book P2P venues & get talent they like or want to audition for career development & book'em for the night, often with some kind of deal w/ the venue so nobody is charged just for playing. So P2P only happens with people who are not in the loop, or artists/ bands that are big/arrogant enough to believe that is the way to go." — Jimi Yamagishi, SongNet

  • Djangograpelli

    Live music is dead because there are too many competing forms of entertainment – and people just don't go out as much as they used to – this is just gointg to get worse , play at home and live stream your performances out there – the clubs, pubs wine bars, and restuarants will just all end up with pre-recorded music – and for most of them that'll be fine.

    • We're competing with Angry Birds!

  • Lucy Frost

    Great discussion. I have family members and close friends who are musicians, and I book music for a small restaurant venue in a music town, so I see it from both sides. On the booking side, we have live music on a few weeknights, with the idea that it's giving people a reason to go out when it's not a Fri or Sat We typically compensate artists with about 10 meals' worth of gift cards / credit at the restaurant that they can use for food or drinks. It's not cash, of course, but there is value there and we don't make enough off the tables where the music is to make it viable to pay cash.

    With regard to the original article's point about a restaurant being asked to pour wine for exposure, a version of that does happen to restaurants. We are constantly asked to contribute gift cards and dinners in exchange for publicity. We weigh those opportunities and take advantage of them when we think it will connect us with a group that we want to reach.

    Our best relationships are with bands / artists who have an email list and see promotion of the events as a mutual responsibility. We tell our customers about them, they tell their fans about us. Sometimes there's a special guest featured with a band and that brings a third group in to the potential audience.

    Restaurants are different than bars which are different than pure music venues. People are going to each place for a different reason, each has a different business model and margins, and live music plays a different role in each case. Have you heard of the Washington Post experiment in 2008? Joshua Bell playing a $3.5M violin didn't draw a crowd on a Tuesday morning in a train station. It's about audience expectations and motivations as much as it's about the quality of the performance. Some of our diners want to enjoy the music as background, others want to really listen. The artists that play understand this and are able to accommodate both.

    When it comes to covers vs originals — does it have to be one or the other? I love original music, but I also see an audience's energy jump when they hear something familiar.

    I had the honor of producing an interview with Willie Nelson some years ago, along with his late road manager, Poodie Locke. The topic of cover songs came up. Willie & Poodie both chimed in that you have to play covers — "to get the audience going with you" as Poodie put it. Willie said he used to open for Ray Price and would play Ray Price songs as part of his set, because that's why they people had come. As far as I know, Willie ended up playing some originals, too. 🙂

  • Dennis Edwards Music

    Comment from Dennis Edwards Music (Jazz, Smooth Jazz and Orchestral Composer-Pianist) :

    Man, when I lived and worked in Hollywood during the 1980's it began…first, play for free, then it turned into "pay to play" AND bring your own audience. Clubs on the Sunset Strip were the worst…you had to pay the clubs to play there, and bring your own audience. How low do musicians have to stoop, beg and grovel, just to have their music heard?
    I sincerely wish that God would strike all humans deaf for one day each month..just to let them know that music is not something to be taken for granted. Music is not air. It is a product of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, suffering and sacrifice..continuously given by composers and musicians over the course of their entire lives, and this "pay to play" is the thanks we get?
    Mr. Edison changed music forever with his invention of the phonograph. It was magic and wonderous..it allowed music to be owned and immortal….but it also stole music from musicians.
    I envy the live gigs played by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and the jazz bands of 1900. If listeners wanted music in their lives, they had to go to where the music was being played live, in person, and they had to pay to hear it..and venue providers were honored to provide a place where humans could hear and enjoy real music.

    We've come a long way since those days of listening to only live music. I just wonder if we haven't traveled completely in the wrong direction?

  • Jon Macey

    I have been saying this for years. This is a negative result of the DIY/indie mentality, dabblers who do not see music as a career. Pros should be paid. The clubs are cutting their own throats.

  • Wow, it seems like we're well on the way to writing a book about this subject…Marilyn, I agree that the musicians are as responsible for their predicament as the club owners whom they often (rightfully) abhor. I remember discussing this issue once with a music store owner who said, "That's what's ruining it for everybody else — all these kids that are driving 100 miles out of town to play for free." Evidently, he'd seen and/or heard enough of those stories to throw out that figure.

    The store has since closed, and that brings me to another point: technology has changed the game enormously. The curiosity factor of going into a record store and buying something for the cover art — or that quirky song title on side, or because you recognized some of the guest musicians — is long gone. Instead, folks build enormous hard drives of hundreds and hundreds of songs they'll barely hear more than a handful of times. How does a flyer cut through such an attention-span-starved environment?

    Also — as several folks here have pointed out — it's never been easier to get your music out there, but is it doing the world at large any favors? As Felix von Havoc has pointed out in a Maximum Rock N Roll column, the costs of pressing and distributing a DIY platter forced bands to think before plunking down pocket money for a release that only their friends and family members would buy. When Felix first started buying records, it was "All killer, no filler," because there was so many good ones to buy, you couldn't afford 'em all. Nowadays, he feels, it's become: "All sleeper, no keeper."

    We also have to face the fact that, for a certain quarter of the population, the band is essentially just background noise in their quest to get plowed, or whatever lowbrow pursuit they're engaging in at the moment. As Felix has said, in yet another MRR column, that's why the live music business is the way it is — people who think nothing of plunking down for beers balk at having to pay a cover charge for a band.

    I've been on that side of the equation, too: I was involved in booking a coffeehouse, and remember people practically making the sign of the cross when I said that we didn't sell booze. So there's that problem. Club culture tends to be conservative, by and large — most of the folks who run such places don't see themselves as the next Hilly Kristal, or next CBGB's. Their first allegiance is to their monthly nut, which is undoubtedly even more pronounced in this crappy economy.

    Given all those challenges, what do we do? As I've said in previous posts here, the best results come from creating your own venues and/or your own scene. That means a) trying to bring music to places that normally wouldn't have it, and partnering with management to ensure a good night, or b) getting together with like-minded souls, and doing an evening with them in your basement, church performance space, or coffeehouse — any place that's a) preferably free, or b) doesn't cost an arm and a leg, so you stand some chance of getting your money back!

    Then, if people actually start showing up, you can build a base that allows you to operate independently of the bar band equation. If you start getting decent results, trust me, they'll find your phone number. If they don't, at least you get to iron out all the kinks before the world comes to your door. This is how any creative field runs — you need a little bit of timing, a lot of luck, and a cast iron stomach to ride out the disappointments when things don't go well (which can seem like it's every time that you play out!). There are no easy answers, but for me, I'll take one gig that does a lot for me…versus 10 crappy ones that conform to the unhappy blueprint that we're all denouncing.

  • Gartap

    I think most of us agree that the music itself is the most important concept in getting booked. Unfortunately it's not. It's simply mathematics. Bars, clubs, restuarants are in business to make money. If you bring in people they make more money, if you dont they just lost money paying you. The bars want to sell drinks, the restaurants want to sell food.The larger the attendence to a show, the more money they make. If you are booked and they don't make much, it doesn't justify spending extra money on entertainment. Most of the time they dont even care how good or bad the act sounds, they just want to fill the venue. Sad but true.

  • cjs

    as a band based in houston, 95% original music, we go through the same thing all the time, ticket sales, etc, just to be able to play a showcase= 10 bands, that ended very quickly.it is a waste of time , you would be better off playing in your garage, the club owners act like slave drivers , wanting you to fill their venue all the time , b.s. we are providing a service, keeping people in the club , drinking etc.but management does not see it like that at all , I realy like your comparison with the chef's, and when you turn it around it is as silly as it gets…. but to no avail, we can not compete with bands that will sell their soul, buy out shows , even though the door count did not add up, and do cattle call type shows , where you spend more time setting up than playing … there is no real exposure at these shows, and the 3rd party sharks , you should hear their arguments on why you need to sell 50 tickets at 10.00 , and then get paid 45.00, that is a story for another post, bands need to do a self evaluation , ie market value , and conduct themselves accordingly..rant over…

  • Billy Hill

    I supported myself gigging for ten years in the 90's I thought that was tough but it's now become impossible.
    "It's all over now baby blue"

  • Bill Holmes

    Great topic! I own and operate an annual blues festival, play out myself, and book for other muso's. So I get to see both sides. Bottom line, it's got to be worthwhile financially for the venue to hire musicians. No one can keep losing money continually. My advise for venues is to bring in quality music. If you hire cheap bands that are not qualified, your venue will get a bad rep. If you only want to pay peanuts, your going to get monkeys. Always hire quality bands, your patrons will come even if they don't recognize the bands.
    A venue in town has started a new policy re: bookings – they pay a minimum plus a % after they gross what they normally bring in without music. Seems fair, puts a little more responsibility on the band to help bring people to the gig.

  • kristin

    "musicians as a whole change their attitudes and stop approaching what they do as undeserving beggars"!!!!!!
    i completely agree with Marilyn here.
    & those of you with 'day jobs': quit & be a real musician~~get paid to play!

  • kristin

    I have just started my own 'Jazz Supper Club' in my home. Launch date 3/22/12! $25/person & 1/2 price for non-diners. Whoo-hoo! I gotta share my music! & get paid! 😀

  • Dana

    Here's the deal: bands "pay to play" in major cities, where they think they'll get some media exposure. Things tend to "happen" in big cities. For example, my band left our hometown to play in San Francisco, and a month later Fox Television was flying us to Hollywood, where we did several of our songs on national TV. The thing is, you can't MAKE this kind of good luck happen. You just have to be in the right place at the right time. Playing in Billings, Montana will very unlikely lead to any great media opportunity.
    THIS is why bands are willing to play (and pay to do it) in Los Angeles and New York. I know, because we did just that — and we came back with some amazing reviews and experiences. We lost at least $10,000 in costs, but the publicity we got was tremendous. That's my spin on it.

  • Kilmo

    As a musician if I can't make a venue more money with me, after getting paid, my product is useless and drains the venues resources. As a club owner if an artist can't generate revenue through their presence I can't meet the cost of overhead never mind a meager living. If a band draws they get paid. If not be thankful for a place to develop your chops and a following.

  • Reese Wilson

    "editor's note: Most talent-buyers, venue owners, show promoters, and club bookers do not resemble the sleazy pay-to-play club booker pictured above. Most of the time it's best to view them as partners or allies in your event's success. Treat these industry professionals with courtesy and respect. If they give you cause for argument– stay calm, state your points, and be ready to walk away! You can choose to never use a certain bridge again. It doesn't have to burned down entirely"

    I respectfully disagree with the first sentence, not in it's entirety but most people USE musicians to make their money, end of story… I've been a very successful songwriter (country), musician (everything) and all I've ever seen in my 50 years of musicianship is EVERYONE trying to make their money off of the guys/girls who make the music…

    I'm done… Time for me to retire…

  • PHT

    I have experience as a working player and as a club owner. I agree that the venue must have a following which hopefully the band can ad to. I ran my music program with the plan to have quality live music. A restaurant will be unsuccessful if their food is inconsistent and a music program should be thought of in the same way. That said, the success of open mic nights tells a different tale – I would never have one in my venue, but other venues get crowds of amateur players and their friends – if the club owner doesn't care about music, I guess it works for a weeknight. I also think many people can't tell the difference and that is really sad.

  • Dave makes some brilliant points and I can totally relate to that experience although I don't play gigs unless I'm paid a negotiated fee. I'm a solo guitar player and I just don't play as many gigs any more if any at all for exactly the reason that Dave is talking about. It seems to be the trend that club and restaurant owners aren't willing to pay much or nothing at all for entertainment. At least for me I'm busy with a lot of students and my own music production studio so if I get an occasional gig I'll do it if it's convenient, close to home and pays well. Other than that forget it, I just don't need to depend on gigs.

    Another point that I would add and maybe I'm just saying it a little differently that it's incumbent upon the owner of the establishment to bring in regular clientele and in the restaurant business that also has a lot to do with the following three things, food, price and location. Entertainment should be a bonus for the regular clientele but it won't necessarily bring it in.

  • Andrew

    Artist's Union anyone??

  • Gatorjaw

    Uh yeah……….Its been goin on for a LONG time.. There are clubs in Hollywood California and you know the ones right up and down the "famous" Sunset Strip.OK I was one of the fortunate…."right" I lived in LosAngeles late 80's and 90's. I lived in the "pay to play"era. I couldnt believe I was dumb enough to pay 800 dollars for a show at the Roxy on a friday night, at a good time slot…. WOW we pay $800 dollars for 50 minutes of playing time… But I guess I believed in my band and was not to smart.or was I ? But that was The Sunset Strip and a very historic period in music…..So I justified it.But as I play smaller parts of the midwest and I hear of these "you get 50% of the door. I would rather not play them,they never have a "built in " crowd . I never see those clubs as having any of its own customers, because of their "great entertainment". You go once and the musics good, you go the next 2 times and the bands suck. You wont keep goin there.You want a place that is known for great music all the time. Their reputation gets out there and people talk about it,they will keep pullin in bigger crowds and they keep goin, while the others lose their business. I agree with what you say. There will always be bad bands playing for the door. And I'm sure good ones too. Its a sad situation for music.Personally,I wish to market myself as better than those clubs,I wanna be known as a artist that plays very nice venues that hires great entertainment. Looks better on your BIO… Everyone has to do it their way. Thats just payin your dues and learning what works best for you. Do ya wanna be a musician that gets some free beer and plays rock star, picks up some girls and has a good time for the night,this could be ok….no one seen ya and ya probably sucked anyway… ok….. In short its gonna be tuff to change the music scene..Some things just dont change.. But I'm with ya brother. And I try to tell clubs in a very nice way, that I wanna play a club that hires good bands and pays good money…. Otherwise, I'll be workin on new original music… Later!!! Gary

  • How many people am i going to bring? 4…that's how many are in the band. How many free drink coupons are you the owner going to hand out….how many pizzas are you going supply "your customers" with. How about raffles or 2 for 1 specials? Any of those perks can be advertised on flyers and in the entertainment sections of local newspapers. I am willing to work with club owners, but my point is, you can never be sure of how many people will show up. I did a New Years Eve gig years ago where it was a blizzard and only about 10 people showed up due to weather conditions. So when asked how many people I will bring….my answer is the number of musicians I have on the gig that night. But make no mistake….they will be some of the most talented and schooled musicians in the area, they will show up early, well dressed, sober, prepared and will deliver great music which is what they are hired to do.

  • How many people am I bringing? 4 plus a sound man. How many flyers are you the owner going to put out, how many free drink tickets, pizzas, raffle tickets, rides home etc.are YOU the proprietor going to offer.How many newspapers are YOU goingto advertise YOUR club in? These are questions I would ask the owners of these establishments. I am willing to work with them and I understand that the bar business is tough profit margins are narrowing with the economy but the music business isn't just "plug in and play' and you never can be sure of how many people who tell you that they will show up will actually show up. I did a gig years ago on New Years Eve and the weather was horrible blizzard conditions so no one left their homes to go celebrate. But the band i hired consisted of professional, well trained musicians who showed up early, prepared, well dressed, sober and ready to play. The 4 people in the band represented 200 years of music lessons and expirience. This was an unfortunate situation for the bar owner and I felt bad for him but the 10 or 20 people who DID show up got a great perfomance and enjoyed immensely the music we played.

  • Mattynabib

    And the big problem here is that there is never-ending stream of small bands – good, bad and everything in between – that are willing to play for free if you aren't. It's the standard "abuse of the artist" model – "well, they're doing something they love and I'm doing them a favor by letting them use my venue for exposure and their musical resume." I've heard that argument as a graphic designer as well: "why should I pay you so much to do something you'd be doing anyway?" Mot people don't appreciate the craft and business of artistic pursuits, and how much they need them. It is the rare venue that appreciates AND compensates good artists, especially smaller, unknown ones.

  • Anna Searight

    Great article and a great point! At the end of the day musicians are providing a service- music! I live in London and it's much the same situation sadly. I also teach singing which pays good money so it's really gutting to get booked for a gig, turning away teaching and get paid £1 a head when the door charge is £5 and you bring 30 people…£30 for a whole nights work. Not great but not sure what to do right now??

  • Robin Smith/Pretty S

    Oh my goodness yes, I have promoters as well sayin we're just getting started and I don't have a very big budget I can only pay $100.00 at the most to the band which is 7 members!…hmmmmmm and at a New Years event as well the place was packed it cost $400 to reserve a table with about 30 tables and if no table just a seat $35.00 per person which seated 8? but you can only pay the band $100.00. Look I sing with major recording artists and on the local scene in San Diego California these bar owners want you to sell a ticket at least 20 to play at their esablishment and then it's we'll see what we have left after that at some venues you get nothing you in essence pay to play.NO…..I refuse to sing allow you to have my gift that I know in Europe and other states clubs will fly me in pay for my hotel room , food and pay me and the band to perform. $75 $100 is gas money for the band , you just played for free and at a club that nobody goes to and your friend want to know why you're playing in that dump for free?????? You pay for light right how about telling the ight company hey lets see how well you can light up my room abnd maybe next month I'll pay the bill get the heck out of here is what the light company will tell you. You can't do what we can as musicians otherwise you would be doing it yourself, so respect the art and pay up. Besides being on the road my best gigs are at the casino. But even there you play for 5 to 6 hours to make about $2000.00 or more so again working like a slave for 1/2 of your whole bands worth. Get it together venues.promoter, and club owners. Musicians need to start saying no. Thye're trying to keep us as starving artist!

  • Anonymous

    You must have a lot of time on your hands to post a tome like this online. Unfortunately, I don't have time to read all of it.

    • Evan

      Yeah I do and I make a poin of replying to all the posts who take time to read mine. You didn't an I still have the decency to reply to you and that reply is as follows.

      "You must have a lot of time on your hands thinking that you are relevant by posting the most ironic reply post I think I have ever read. I at least care about the industry enough to think about my answer/response, have the courage to stick by my guns, respond with substance (unlike yourself who is just taking up space because you are too busy being a completely awesome keyboard warrior, no doubt in your bedroom) and show people that being a complete downer just because you didn't make it is totally an exercise in futility "

      I hope that was short enough for you to read this time.

  • Anonymous

    that's definitely not true. Have you ever played in a successful cover band? i've played in a few, using that income to pay for recording an album. An original band playing a bunch of mopey songs to a packed house at any seaside destination will not entertain the crowd.


  • Evan
  • Evan

    Ahhhhh. Where did I say anything about DJ's and electro? I manage singer songwriters mainly acoustic soloists and duos? Don't be so quick to point the finger at the dance music producer too. It's becoming very popular and people want to listen to it. Not my cup of tea but I understan the business and it pays to know what the consumer wants. It's called being good in business. Try it some time.

    "There are two things that are the most powerful thing in the universe. Change and compound interest."

    Albert Einstein

  • Evan

    Thank you so much for totally proving my point. Get a manager. We know the business, it's our job. We get you more money, more fans and more stats to … that's right get you even more money. Bands should be doing what they do best. Make music. Not spending their time worrying about all the other crap. That is the service that I provide so you can worry about nothing but making the music the best it can be. It's called investing your time wisely.

  • Evan

    Yep you're right there too. But also it allows for good musicians to say a big F-You to the labels and needing 10's of thousands of dollars to put out a CD. There are plenty of fully fledged bands out there with all the gear in the world that make complete crap too. Name me any band that you like and I guarantee you that they use a sampler/drum machine/synth for A HELL of a lot of their albums that you think is them live. Sorry but in 99% of cases it's just not true. Hence why so many people go see a live show and think. "Man the CD is soooo much better." NOFX were right with their album "I Heard They Suck Live." It is a sentiment that was testament to a band that were fucking awesome live and so many bands just had a good CD that too 100 takes.

  • Jakeballentinemusic

    I no longer play at clubs that make me bring people. I totally agree with this article. It is so frustrating. at the moment I am not performing every night because I am finishing college but for years I performed almost every night and if you look hard enough you can find clubs with the right attitude. I only play at those clubs and not the ones that expect me to bring people.

    think about it, I am playing every night so I can make a living. You would have to be a HUGE act to draw a crowd every night in the same town. I see it as I am providing a service for the clubs and I want to save my promotion and trying to get people out for events that I am taking home more of the cut.

    Just my opinion,

  • I once read a long blog from a devoted, and locally well known, musician friend, talking about how he just couldn't bring himself to charge money for his music. It was too sacred. Every time I saw him after that, he said he didn't have time to play because he had to work his job.

    What we charge money for:
    to set aside our time to fit someone else's schedule
    to take time away from our families and other important things in our life (sometimes from jobs that would pay us)
    to show up whether we feel like it or not
    to haul down and set up our gear (sometimes thousands of dollars worth)
    to keep our gear in working order
    to pay for space to store our gear and rehearse
    to tell our friends (and the public) to come and support someone else's business (even if the business doesn't bother to tell anyone)
    to adapt to a situation that is often not very conducive to what we are trying to do
    to start when they say start
    to stop when they say stop
    to turn it down if they say it's to loud


  • I try to tell my guys the same thing….I have also had to tell a few club owners ……. We are there to entertain the people that are there…..it's not our job to promote your club… as much as I love my friends, even I won't go to all their gigs, and I don't expect them to come to all mine…when you buy cheap, you get cheap….. I would never pay to play, it defeats the purpose of learning, and honing your skills as a musician……. Here in NY, that concept is running rampant…. People, don't chump yourselves, are we really that desperate to play???? I think NOT!!!!! Demand your worth, everyone else does….

  • Great article. I've played so many failing venues that try to pull this sort of maneuver, but guess what? Their business is always bad, regardless of the band. So many times, we hear people who buy our music, love our shows, etc., say, I'll come to your next show, I won't go to that venue. It's the venue with the reputation. "If I go and see you guys, I'm going to have to sit through four shitty bands, because they usually only have one good band on a bill on any given night." What are we supposed to do? The bar has created that culture for themselves. They've dug their own grave and they're pulling bands down with them.

  • Joshua Jones

    I totally agree with this

  • Joshua Jones

    The most important truth Dave states is that venues forget that the premise should be THEY bring in the people, due to their reputation as a good venue with good music, and then WE (the band) keep the people there spending lots of money having a great night out. The venues have turned into penny counters expecting something for nothing. The quality of the bands is forced to drop, along with their ability to get a crowd through taking time to promote, as they all need day jobs to survive. The venues and the bands should be a team that works with their STRENGTHS. Bands should be good at entertaining, more than be just promoters, and venues owners should be good at marketing their venue and understanding their demographic. If the venue takes the time to find an incredible band, and the RIGHT band, and pays them enough to get someone skilled in promoting to help get people down (and the venue has good marketing/promotion) then everyone will win. You will NEVER fill venues playing the "family and friends" card. The problem is, we're all down the ditch now. So how are we going to dig ourselves out. Personally, I'm really not sure. I think we now just have to adapt and change and hope that local live music doesn't die.

  • Joshua Jones

    And can I just add ~ allow yourself to be walked on in business and you WILL be walked on. As many people are saying here, you have to value yourselves musicians. If these venues that are using a pay-to-play system couldn't get bands they wouldn't do it. It's up to US to decide what we're worth.

  • Anonymous

    Summed up for me by walking down Broadway at closing time and passing three bars in a row where every band was doing their last call song, "Honky Tonk Women."

  • Ronpoole46_99

    There are a lot of so called musicians out there that are willing to play for low or no wages. It does hurt the individuals that know they are good and worth being paid a good amount of money for their services. The proper approach is to develop one's skill and presentation to the point that those clubs will want to pay a good price for a quality sound. And then people will come in on their own to see the band and spend money.
    It is a well known fact that fraternal organizations are going down all over the country. Their are many factors involved including many other venues of entertainment and even DUI laws. Musicians in the future are going to have to really work hard to develop their talents and also become effective business agents on their own behalf. The days of having a band and assuming people are going to fall all over you to offer you the moon are over. In fact they never existed in the first place. Invest in yourself just like any other profession and good things will follow. Playing for nothing sets a completely different standard and it hurts everyone in the industry.

  • Islandgirl

    This just happened to me last night when ask to play the owners venue. "Well I have a guy that will play for $150 as opposed to your $250. I told him to hire him then, no worries on this end. I don't sell out! This is the total story in a nutshell! And for Marilyn's comment, indeed, the whole thing has been dumbed down because of desperate amatuer musicians.

  • I, nor my band, work for free. Period. If a club or promoter has a problem with that, they miss out. Stop selling yourself short. Don't work for free. If you went into your job one day and they said, "we're just not gonna pay you for doing your job today, is that ok?", You'd say hell no!

  • The best solution to this problem is for musicians to be united and stop accepting these terms.

  • Dick

    Zach – According to a New York entertainment lawyer and friend of mine, a performing rights organization has no basis for demanding fees for music performances for which they do not have in their repertoire. I work as a guitarist in a cafe covered by an ASCAP agreement and perform music in the ASCAP repertoire only. BMI approached the cafe for an agreement and was told that I do not perform music covered by BMI and therefore an agreement with BMI was not needed. Unless BMI can prove that the music I play is in the BMI repertoire, they will not prevail.

  • Djrockwell609

    The situation is the same with dj's and sound engineers. Venues know there is always a dj or band willing to work for almost nothing and they dont care about tomorrow. They are only focused on that night. These play for free musicians and dj's have killed the industry and its not gonna get any better.

  • Steve Davidson

    The music venue situation in LA is appalling and the muscians are responsible for it for allowing the bars and clubs to abuse them. I haven't played professionally for quite some time, but when I did play in the midwest, the music union was strong. Clubs that didn't pay scale were boycotted by the union and all the musicians. As musicians we need to unit and fix the problem we've allowed to happen. We've turned ourselves into victims. The ultimate benefit would be better music for everyone. Bands that can't measure up won't get gigs. Clubs that don't offer a great experience would never be able to keep thier doors open. There is no music middle market in the music world in LA. There is American Idol and thousands of worthy straving musicians who deserve better.

  • Guilherme arbache

    I´m not exactly a professional musician. I´ve only played a few gigs. And I´m in a very different place than LA. I´m Brazilian, I live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. But I´ve experienced something exactly like what happened to you, and I got very angry as well. The manager of the bar got angry because I didn´t bring anyone to a simple audition. And we didn´t get any money.

    I have some friends, a good rock´n roll band (maybe the best in Brazil – that is not difficult, considering that most of our rock bands are shit), and they´ve always had the same problem around Sao Paulo nightclubs.

    I totally agree with you that the only way to stop that will be if musicians start saying "NO". If there are people that do it, that works for low wages or even for free, and in bad conditions sometimes, it will keep happening, this is true for every profession. This is not a musical issue only, is an important issue for all the economy, all the work life of the world.

    Besides, I think it would be very helpful if visionary (and more ethical) nightclub owners start to manage their gigs in a more fair (and, in the end, more efficient and profitable) way. They should really invest in good music, and start making their own loyal customers, like you´ve said, instead of turning that responsibility to the musicians. This is their job, of course! They could do that by listening to the music of the bands, searching for talents, stimulating potentially good musicians, and such. Maybe organizing some Musical Contests could help in that. I´m not a big fan of competition, but sometimes it can help.

    I don´t think it would be an absourd if they just payed a little bit less for musicians that are in their first night, just to feel how they go in a live gig. But there´s way different than paying nothing and requiring that the musicians bring the audience.

    I´m really sorry for any mistake in the English language. I´m not a Native Speaker, guys, and I´ve tried my best.

    That´s it. Good luck for everybody!

  • Steven

    Yeah I remember doing this a few times for club promoters because we were desperate for shows. But that was when we sounded like shit, Now we never play a show like this, and we would much rather just throw our own show and offer our own small cover charge if we wanted to. There is no reason to "pay to play" anymore or try and sell a quota of tickets first. It's not only bad for the promoters and club owners but also for the bands, only time I was ok with selling tickets was when it was easy, ie: we are playing with Blink 182 or something like that lol.

  • steve

    a lot of southern california is all about promoters and venues having small bands play for scraps and bring the people. I have learned that the bars out here are the places to go find gigs at because they actually give you something if not at least beer for the night.

  • Jgraham33

    After, gulp, 30 years in this so-called business, the definite change I've seen in club ownership is passion on the part of the club owners. When I started playing, the clubs everyone wanted to play were so cool in terms of atmosphere and general attitude that people attended regardless of whether a band was there or not. But, thankfully, these places also hired good bands. As a musician, you wanted to play there to be a part of it all. These club owners looked at drawing customers as their job, not the bands'. Over the years I've seen that erode. Whether it's some retired lawyer with his jack-ass ponytail or some little snots fresh out of college, they both share a couple of the same qualities: cynicism, zero clues about anything related to music or entertainment in general, and very little passion for the job. The successful club owners I remember from my first ten years in the business pretty much lived their jobs (as dedicated as the musicians they were hiring) and often lived 'at' their jobs, which I'm sure didn't help their home lives, but made their clubs great places to be.

  • Philthetremoloking

    that's one of the biggest problems i think…SO MANY bands kid themselves into thinking *one day* they're gonna be BIG and play stadiums…not realizing that that only happens to 0.01% of all bands and that there are MANY other and probably better ways of making a living playing music and enjoying it! it's what i call the 'American Idol syndrome'. if you're playing music to become rich and famous, you're doing it for the wrong reasons!

  • Dmore46

    Unfortunately, this situation exists in the Philadelphia scenr too. I refuse to play drums for less than $200 per night. Most of my musician friends say I'm crazy. This isn't even close to what it should be for someone of my level of experience and ability. The answer for me at this point is not to work as a drummer. As for the clu owner expecting my friends and family to support me and him for that matter is rediculous. And I agree a bad buisiness model for the bar owner. The answer on a small scale is to use the "get my foot in the door" method and try to build a following in the clubs immediate area. You can't expect everyone else to follow the rules and not play for free or $75 for the band. Some are going to do it as to them, it's the only way to get on stage. Better to work your own business plan and build a fan base of those that don't know you personally.

  • I've seen both sides being a musician and a venue owner/operator. Here's my repsonse…

    Understand the business of being a musician, many don't. As a musician you have to decide if you want to be a club date/bar musician, or background music or a concert artist…choosing the proper venues and deals accordingly.

    If you want to make a living as a sideman or club date musician, make the rounds/find the paying gigs (weddings, cover bands, the local bar with a built in crowd, band leaders/contractors hiring for name acts, session dates, corp gigs and the like); determine the going rate and charge that.

    Otherwise if you want to be a 'paid' career concert artist, you have to do the work, promote yourself, "eat some dirt", play for the door, etc. remembering the following…

    1. Your fee is the "wholesale" price of the entertainment product you're offering. That means you get a percentage of "retail" – ticket sales. Remember, it's bad biz to sell anything at "retail" for less that you pay "wholesale". No ones plans to lose money, so it's ridiculous to expect a venue operator to pay you more than they can reasonably expect to generate in ticket sales. After all IT'S THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS!

    2. Any new product (of any kind) is usually initially "sold on consignment" given the competition out there and limited "shelf space". You must understand that you are an entertainment product seeking market share. You must develop/prove a track record. Every major act early on plays for "the door". Ask The Stones, Dave Mathews, Madonna, The Beatles, Springsteen, The Police, et al. Early on they played clubs, showcases, etc. for a minor % of the "door" and now they demand a lion's share, if not all, of the take. Just be smart about it.

    3. The venue operator is not responsible for building your cache in the marketplace. It's up to you to hone your craft, build your following… There are many ways to do this given the style of music you play. Again be smart about it. Make sure you are promoting yourself to the proper audience, playing the right venues, smoozing the right media outlets, working with right promoters, managers, booking agents, compiling your own mailing lists, etc.

    No one goes to the Garden, Carnegie Hall, Mercury Lounge, any concert club or any movie theater just to hangout… they go to see a specific artist, monster truck show, Michael Jordon, or movie… a specific draw! Your musicial talents are subjective…your value in the marketplace is the number of (paying) asses you put in the seats!

    4. Don't expect the venue operator to invest in you. They have major overhead and expenses already. Frankly you're of no value to them until you can help them address their basic business plan.

    However, that said…

    A. You should only work with the venues that operate in your mutual best interest. Make sure they have proper production facitilies (stage, sound system, lighting et al), consumer amendities, basic media marketing (regular ads, signage, relationship with local media), etc. Make sure they have developed a venue that respects you as an artist and your audience.

    B. Fuck "pay to play". You're better off hiring/renting a hall/space/basement/loft… promote your own shows…take all the money. Shoot, play on the street or in the subway.

    C. Find the venue owners the will give you a regular gig to help build your following… they are out there, but don't fuck up by insisting on unreasonable payments initially. If you don't have a draw, but honest about it…but tell the club owner how you will work hard to promote your band and his/her venue! They'll respect that.

    D. Find other band to work with. Find opening spots. etc.

    Invest the time (and your own money) in yourself!

    As a musician and venue owner/operator, I'm sick of musicians crying the blues about their plight regarding low/no pay, etc. If you want to be the background music in a restaurant, remember a DJ or CD player costs very little, don't expect much better.

    But if You want to get PAID, show some testicular fortitude! Enhance your value in the marketplace!

    At the very least understand the career you're pursuing. Stop whining…

  • anonymous


    After reading this article and the slew of comments I feel like I need to send some positive energy or something. I am literaly baffled that there could be this much negativity in a community of artists. I have always struggled paying rent, between gigs and day jobs, and get bummed when a venue can't pay me "enough", but it never gets me down as much as reading these comments has.

    I have had the honor of emotionaly expressing myself through music standing on the same stage as legends from coltrane to cobain. I don't think the majority of the population of the world has fealt anything that powerful. At that point, whether theyre paying me $30 or $300 doesnt make much of a god damned difference.

    I know we have to work hard to get by but for christ sake, lighten up on the bitching; for your own sake.

    "Love the music and she'll love you"

  • Clubs should promote their businesses. Period. They are relying fully on the musician to bring their patrons and this is irrational. If they were a good club with good business practice, they would have a lot of their own patrons to begin with as a result of their great service, great drinks or food, and atmosphere. They are lazy and put it all on the band's shoulders to make each evening a success. Is it no wonder that bands are getting burnt out on the process and feeling used? Well, they are being used !

    I agree with another musicians' comment which mentioned not approaching these corrupt clubowners any longer and instead going to bars or spaces that have no music currently and starting your own night with a string of bands there. This sounds like a better idea. Reason … you can't change these lazy clubowners and they will continue to do what they do and mistreat musicians. Better to go elsewhere and find alternate places to play.

    That's what I'm doing with my band here in San Francisco. It takes a bit of creativity to manifest better situations for ourselves. My band rehearses and is pro and we've been working on our
    music for a decade now which is all original material, not covers. WE deserve better and yes, to get paid right. I also like the idea of doing a live stream. I heard of an idea to charge a small amount for the livestream as well if people are interested in your music. This way they can see you conveniently from their computer and you don't have to deal with those particularly nasty clubowners. I'm looking to try this idea even though there's nothing like playing live with other people in the room. But, hey, it's a way to play music~

  • hmmm…haven't you also noticed how the sloth bookers in clubs also want YOU to book your own lineup?
    We already spend our time creating music, practicing, working to pay for rehearsal space, promoting, and they want us to now BOOK the whole show – which is they're job that THEY are getting paid for? It's one thing if we have some other band we want to pair up with, but now they're riding that wave incessantly and making us do their dirty work. I don't have time to do they're job and not get paid for it. BOOKERS, get off your behinds and do it yourselves!!! Club owners, promote your club and get your own club following of fans first. Then, have live music~

  • That sounds great for the performers. Do you ever get any push-back from audiences? They probably appreciate it too– like the warning that rolls before the film saying to silence your phones.

  • Kat McDowell

    In Tokyo, most live venues are pay to play.. you have to buy about 20-30 tickets for about $25 each to play a half hour set.. and for bands starting out.. they can't make their friends pay that kind of money to come to every gig so they end up giving those tickets away for free..

    If you do bring in more than 25 people then you start getting back 50% of the ticket or even 100% if you're lucky..

    It's SO CRAZY!

    Most musicians can't play like that anymore so things are starting to change and I refuse to play at those kind of venues now. I totally agree with you on this!!

  • Rev. Frank

    I have been a professional musician for 50+ years. In all that time, club owners could never grasp the fact that THEY had the responsibility of marketing their business NOT the musicians… In one of my most recent venues, we were actually asked to take a pay cut because they didn't sell enough liquor to cover the night's costs!! Are you kidding me!!? This A-hole just didn't get the fact that the band brought in at least another 75-100 persons that would not have been there from a local college where we played just the night before. And how do I know this? Because we recognized many of the students from the previous nights venue. NO, club owner's don't get it, and probably never will.

  • Rev. Frank

    Marilyn makes a good point. And I totally agree. If musicians are going to make any kind of money, they must refuse this mentalitly of pay-to-play. It's absolutely ridiculous for clubs to think that bands can continue that type of practice. Many musicians have families to support, I did, and I honestly did quite well for many years. Musicians need to have respect for themselves their craft, and push ahead. Refusing to play somewhere is not the end of the world. Venues will have to come around if they want to build any kind of following.

  • I actually think this email is very straightforward. They tell you what the expectations are and you can choose to pursue the opportunity based on the established requirements or not. %15 of food and drink sales with a little bonus seems fair. Is the "disgusting" part that they used to do a guarantee, but have moved to a percentage model because it saves them money by paying bands less on the average?

  • It's simple. If you've got a good band, open your own pub/restaurant and start spreading the philosophy.

  • Goat

    WOW … I've just spend 2 hours reading the original post and as many of the comments as I can. There are some excellent points to be made, and some pretty poor ones that I'll base on a lack of knowledge about how business works from a dollars and cents pov.

    First: I've been involved in multiple aspects of this discussion since 1970. My Dad was a jazz musician and club owner throughout his career from the 40s to the mid-60s. I vividly recall him saying many of the things I've read here.

    I have been a club dj (73-86), and performed in several cover bands and original acts. I have shared the bill with numerous well known national acts and have performed across the US, Canada, England, & Scotland. I have played for 2 people (and a loud cricket) and in front of several thousand.

    Also – — I am a foh engineer. I am on numerous festival committees serving in a number of capacities from buying talent, to being the production contractor, to creating and managing events. I have been a general manager for establishments, and the room booker/promoter/soundguy etc… and been paid as a consultant for venues, festivals, and music acts. I have worked with some very well known talent in the US. … and some folks who weren't known outside of their closest friends and family.

    I can say, like several here, that I have a career of knowledge in this business from every single angle imaginable. It is all I do and all I've done for many years – despite having owned other businesses and making money in non-music related activities.

    There are many different types of "venues" that showcase music. Not all are created equally. Not all have the same business model. There is no singular model that does or will work for all.

    The rooms I've managed have been in the 100-300 capacity range. The festivals I've been engaged with have had one day attendance numbers that range from 3000 to >100,000. I know the numbers – really well thanks to a couple of owners who DEMANDED I be able to recite numbers in my sleep.

    I know how much people spend, and how many people a day, week, or month I have to have walk in the door in order to cover expenses and make a profit. I know what the costs are, and how to manage those costs.

    As a buyer, I've paid bands $0 – >$30,000 per show in guarantees.

    As a musician I've earned $1000 per show in guarantees.

    I've done deals that have netted me or those I've handled as little as 25% of ticket sales to as much as 110% of ticket sales.

    I've paid venues to let me do shows in their rooms.
    I've expected others to pay me to do shows in rooms I've worked at or managed.

    I've sold tickets to shows I've played.
    I've expected others to sell tickets to shows I have them booked for.

    I've seen acts PAY in the THOUSANDS of dollars to open for national acts.

    No one has ever held a gun to my head to perform. No one has ever held a gun to my head to buy talent. No one has ever held a gun to my head to manage an event or room. And yes, I've had a gun or two or three held to my head in my lifetime – but that's an entirely different story.

    Only the smallest % of those who play music will ever make a $. That's a REALITY – a TRUTH.
    Only the smallest % of those who go into business will make a $. That's a REALITY – a TRUTH.

    Not all deals are created equally nor should it be expected that they are.

    My basic advice is very simple: if you don't like the deal, do not take it.

  • Moranmagal

    so true . also had the same problem because I play a lot and not always can bring crowd ,
    the owners of clubs are using us musicians . we have to stop this musical slave gigs, there is got to be a law in this case . club owners can not use pro musicians like slaves .

  • chris

    If you cannot draw 25 people to a bar show with no cover and with cheap drinks, you might want to reconsider your marketing, your music, and/or the way you spend your free time.

  • christof

    A new Musicians Union would be nice, but it should be rather bare-bones. I inquired about joining one and (of course besides the obvious "don't pay for less than X dollars and for more than X hours at any gig") there were way too many stipulations, with costs including travel insurance which we as a band neither wanted nor needed.

  • c4chris

    It's called marketing. Look at Apple and "vintaged clothing". Both are excessively more expensive than competition, but why do people pay for it? It is marketed to them to put them in a position where even some of them feel that they "need" it. Interact with the crowd. Give them something special. Interact and collaborate with groups that have similar target audiences (like jam bands and hoola dancers / poi throwers). Set yourself apart from the rest and build a community. If you have a chance, there's a book about Grateful Dead and marketing which is even a great read for the most mundane of business, let alone the most trite of band.

  • chris

    "You get paid with all the cover money, but they take 100 dollars of that money for paying the sound engineer"

    Are you saying the sound engineer shouldn't get paid?

    If you got paid all of the (rest of the) cover, why are you complaining?

    I'd hardly call paying a sound guy "pay to play", just as I'd hardly call paying a band that opened for me "pay to play".

  • Peter at Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks has a great formula, he only hires amazing musicians, has amazing food in a nice atmosphere with a sound system specifically designed for his place. He pays the bands a decent wage. However he does depend somewhat on the draw of the players but they are always top notch so that's rarely an issue. He's been in business over 20 years. Back when I was doing local clubs, especially one called the Starwood, they'd give you a 1000 tickets (more if you wanted them) that got anyone in free and you got paid a dollar for each ticket that came through the door. They knew they'd make their money on bar sales and we had the incentive to get the free tickets out and not insulting our friends by trying to collect money from them. They also paid us a dollar per guest on our list. We'd always have the place packed and were there playing Friday and Saturday nights one weekend a month. We made 5 grand one weekend and that was in 1978. Though I'm now and have been in national touring acts, when I do play with my local acoustic group we do have a minimum and get it. It also helps having agent that has access to city events. I totally agree with Chris on this issue here in L.A.

  • Davecar

    red eyed fly?

  • Joe Rosado

    Disappointing as it sounds, this seems to be the norm. There aren't many jazz clubs in Northern New Jersey. The most popular is a place called Shanghai Jazz, which holds just a bit under 100 people. I've been there on weeknights when it was 1/3 full…I've been there on a Saturday night when it was packed to capacity. Decent food and a nice sampling of quality talent. I have asked other musicians about why they don't play there and was told "It's because what they pay doesn't cover my expenses to get there".

  • Mandy

    If you book a show and cannot even get your friends and family to be excited about your show than nobody else is going to care either! How often are you willing to pay 5 dollars to see a band you have never heard of with members you have never met? Just like any other business, you need to create your market! If you cant get a handful of people to come and see you play, then you are WASTING the time and money of the venue. They hired that band to bring people in as well as entertain the people they already did the work to get in! Also, this kid has no idea how expensive it is to run a venue. That sound tech, he doesnt work for free to run that hundred thousand dollar sound system youre plugged into. The person taking cover at the door doesnt do that for free either. Either does the security guy walking around babysitting the drunks. Then you take in liquor license, and liability insurances alone add up to about 500 dollars per DAY in Minnesota. So if your show is a failure, you will have to pardon the owner for not wanting to add paying you onto that list of losses he/she has taken for the day. Also, those speed daters hung around for the booze. I bet they would have been just as likely to hang around if the owner had popped a 20 into the jukebox.

  • Did the publicity recoup the $10,000? If not, then you made a poor business decision (whether or not it was a good artistic decision).

  • Sleeper Service

    How are you supposed to make a living playing free shows? People don't buy music like they used to. Bands are told they have to play shows to make money, then they're told they have to play free shows to get "exposure". Where does the money come in?

    In the words of Immortal Technique:
    "I don't mind doing a guest spot for my peeps
    Or doing a benefit show, but don't lie to me pussy
    Coz I find out I'm paying your lightbill, I'm fucking you up"

  • Jarfly

    Couldn't agree more! Very apt observations that fir completely with my 40 years experience. I play a particular kind of niche music (bluegrass), which has not attracted fans since the 1960's. Clubs are not good venues for this music. Now, I play country, and the number of available venues has at least tripled. But, we cannot guarantee audience attendance any more than the club manager can guarantee a convivial atmosphere. Your observations are tight on. Bands, please do NOT play gigs for free, or for peanuts. If you do, the owner/promoter will think you customarily work at this rate, and – believe me – you will NOT ever get them to raise that rate.

  • Jaysin Voxx

    This is def a hot-button issue and the MAIN reason we stopped performing in LA. I get booked in other cities and states that are willing to pay a reasonable rate for me and my band to rock the stage. Until The Whiskey, The Viper Room, and even the House of Blues wise up…they will just continue to destroy their history and reputation because let's face it, you get what you pay for —-> Cheap/free band = SHIT!! Seriously, I dont know anyone that will come near The Whiskey lately cause they figure they are just gonna see some crappy band that paid-to-play! Art costs people!!

  • Haha. Hey there, I wrote you back on Facebook with work contact. We'd love to have you write a guest post with info about booking practices in Japan.

  • Deborah Frost


  • Riley Cronin-Schneid

    Hey Chris great article. It has been my experience that what your saying is completely on the money regarding the way most club owners operate. The best way for a band to find better opportunities is to be more selective about where they play and to share their expectations with the promoter before agreeing to the gig. The less desperate we all are as artists to play out the more likely that promoters attitudes will change. If this means playing more house parties than bars and clubs than so be it.

  • emmasong

    Thanks for this. As a professional, I seek partnership with venues. We are all in this together and it is important that we musicians show the venue what we are providing. It's like this in any career. In most professions, you intern first, becoming more proficient and more known for what you do and over time, make more money. I really appreciate venues that are strait forward, so that i know what there is to work on in my career and at the same time, not play completely for free. The above is incentive for musicians to go out there and really promote, knowing that it is in our best interest to bring out more people, and we can still make some money and be respected for what we do. Being a musician is not just about making music. We are a business, and being a business means that promotion is part of the game. And, isn't this all about reaching people and giving the gift of our music? in my opinion, if we keep this attitude, we will be successful and make the money we need.


    I live 40 minutes from Pittsburgh, PA. Sadly, the picture you've painted is very true. I make my living performing blues/classic rock gigs. In 2009 & 2010 I averaged between 80 to 100 shows for both years. Now in 2012, I'll probably only end the year with roughly 60 shows. The reason, I'm tired of dealing with club owners who have the mentality that it's up to me to pack the place, I'm tired of smoke filled dives, & from now on I'm going to be more selective of where I perform. I'm hired to entertain people who are there. I always advertise, so if a group of fans follow me in, then GREAT but don't expect me to take a pay cut just because no one is coming to your venue… That's on YOU club owner! Would you ask a lawyer to represent you for free? For the exposure? Would you ask a heart surgeon to operate on you or someone you love to do it for the exposure? It's a messed up way of thinking to expect musicians to perform for free & a lot of club owners think like this. Sadly there are tons of "scab" musicians who will do it because they are so desperate for exposure. This type of practice makes it hard on independent professional musicians trying to earn a living.

    I've been fortunate in the sense that most of the people I've dealt with have honored our agreements. I try hard to recognize honest people who operate on the up & up. However, there are several that I will not ever do business with again because they are shady & trashy. You know, the types that try to cut your wage at the end of the night like mentioned above. The same ones who double book & act like it was an accident.
    I've decided to teach music lessons as a side supplement to my income. That enables me financially to be more selective of the venues I perform in & the people I do business with. I would rather work a "day job" than compromise my dignity & art for a club owner that is shady & unscrupulous. Trust me musicians, it's not worth it. Choose your venues wisely. If you notoriously frequent trashy venues & perform for next to nothing, you'll be labeled & recognized by owners of "quality" venues & you'll pigeon-hole yourself into working dives exclusively. I see it all the time in the Pittsburgh area & Ohio Valley. Musicians playing ALL NIGHT for $50.00 & a beer in any DIVE that will have them. It's sad. The ones I'm talking about think they are popular because they have a full calendar of gigs. They aren't educated enough to recognize that QUALITY is worth way more than QUANTITY.

    Good luck to you gigging musicians out there. Just remember, Every musician knows what they're worth.

  • I have been a professional musician for ten years and am making less than when I first started, everybody expects you to play for free even the members of your own band. And everybody under cuts you, once you realize how flawed the music industry is its to late, all I can say is sometimes you need to strike and not play ay all, if your music has value then you should be payed, if not your only a hobby musician, and should not think of music as a career, I don't want a career where I work for free.

  • I played in a very good band in the late 70's and 80's.We played over 300 top 40 songs of all genre.We were booked every weekend at the military bases.When i started branching out I had these same conversations with a few of the bars even back then.I discussed playing with one bar manager(who worked for a bar in a large bowling alley,and a great meat market),for 2 months.I finally told him we would play friday and saturday night,gave him the amount and said,"IF WE DON'T PACK THIS BAR WE WILL PLAY BOTH NIGHTS FOR FREE".He agreed to the terms.Friday came,I went and set up equipment and waited for the person to put our name on the marquee out front.I told him he had it wrong,that our name was FREE BEER.So that's what he put up.Needless to say that place was wall to wall that friday night,with lines of people waiting outside to get in.At first he was mad when he showed up,but I pointed out that the few patrons that were a little upset when they didn't get a free beer realized it was kind of funny,also stuck around and that night he had the largest sales they had since they opened.I wish the bar owners had the ability to look forward and learn to adapt to build their own business,just like we musicians have to look down the road and figure out what type of music,venues and band that we want to sat out and be.If the bar owners weren't so lazy,and actually weren't in that part of society that doesn't take responsibilities for their own actions and realize the consequences are of their own making,this will go on for the rest of the future.Learn to adapt people,both sides,musicians,know the venue and crowds they cater to before thinking of asking for a gig there.

  • Glad you liked the article, and I see your amendment above. Yes, Dave wrote the article!

  • jmokkonen

    Be your own promoter. Rent a hall. Hire a licensed bar service. Partner with a regional spirits distributor. Sell sponsorships.

  • This is caused by simple supply-and-demand economic principles. There are far more musicians seeking exposure than there are venues. This is particularly true in big cities such as Los Angeles and New York, where naive pipe dreams of record deals and such provide false incentive towards "pay for play". The club owners know this well and exploit the musicians the musicians to the extreme, because in the club owners eyes there are the lowest life form, below their perception of dishwashers and such. I unfortunately was forced to give up performing original music in Los Angeles decades ago. It was totally economically unfeasible (among other intractable problems associated with starting a band). This situation has only gotten worse, and I don't see it improving in musician's (or club owners) favor any time soon!

  • This type of p to p attitude is all over the country.I used to make a good living off of music.The solution I came up with is to do alot off different things,such as: play all different styles well! not a jack off all trades but a master of all.Have a couple of CDs to sell,be a side man and a sound engineer with your own equipment.Alot of my friends call me a whore but at least I am working and not a one trick pony.

  • SteveCapt

    @perrykleez… You are totally right on. If more people realize this reality which you speak of then there would be less confusion on this topic. Music business varies with each band or artist on the planet, but one thing for sure is that if people don't stay realistic about where they stand professionally, most people will be discouraged making music for a living. Main thing is that if you don't really LOVE making music, pursuing another career path will be in order.

  • Thanks to jazz enthusiast/ trumpeter Jim Emerson of Gainesville, FL,
    Here's an >> item which I hope will give you a chuckle.

    Craigslist Ad: We are a small & casual restaurant in downtown Vancouver
    And we are looking for solo musicians to play in our restaurant to promote
    their work and sell their CD. This is not a daily job, but only for
    special events which will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get positive
    response. More Jazz, Rock, & smooth type music, around the world and mixed
    cultural music. Are you interested to promote your work? Please reply back


    Happy New Year! I am a musician with a big house looking for a
    restaurateur to promote their restaurant and come to my house to make dinner for my
    friends and me. This is not a daily job, but only for special events which
    will eventually turn into a nightly event if we get positive response.
    Fine dining & exotic meals and mixed Ethnic Fusion cuisine. Are you
    interested to promote your restaurant? Please reply back ASAP.

    Courtesy of

    Craig Morrison, guitarist http://www.roundtownsound.com
    215 906 5103 for rates and dates

    ps: I can read music and cook too!

  • As a musician who has been around for awhile, I have the following suggestion: rather than play "for free" at some commercial venue, play a house concert, community center, or some other non-commercial center. Build up your own fan base. Find a way. You use your mind to create great music, now use it to create your own success.

  • RumblerRez

    Dave's article is 'Timely and Needful' . . . and about a Half-Century and more too late. This all ain't news. Been just a 'Road Musician' since the early '60s myownself, but managed to raise three sons (and two ex-wives) w/o ever taking a 'Day Job' or 'Work for Free!' Still at it! Easy? Nope! Doable? Yep! The AFof M and other Guilds have been preaching Dave's message for decades.

    Btw, the 'Style' of your music has 'Zero' to do w/ it . . . just 'Love-of' and 'Pride-in' your craft – and the guts to say *No* to such fools as the Wine-y Types. Ever notice how much bucks folks pay for the flowers at a wedding reception, while wanting to cut corners on The Music? Dave is right – say 'no' to the Jerks and the Real Gigs will come your way. Oh, and becoming 'cynical' doesn't help our cause . . .

  • And in my neck of the woods the worst "hacks" in the area play for nothing and the bar and restaurant owners think they are great. The best players around here refuse to work for nothing so we sit at home holding on to principle while these absolute musical idiots work for, wait for it………… $100 for four guys, (that's $25 a man). They lower the standard of pay for everyone because, "we just love the music and to play for people." Makes me want to puke!

  • merchandise and music sales can be the income at gigs that dont pay a fee. clever promoters can work to benefit themselves, bands and venues if they invite a range of solid bands to the same venue on regular nights.

  • I know most people in the independent rock, folk, and pop worlds get very uncomfortable when you talk about collective bargaining as a reality in local music scenes. I guess we can be our own worst enemies.


  • The music business has ALWAYS sucked. The vampires that call themselves agents or managers or promoters make a lot of money off of your sweat and effort.
    These scumbags understand that there will always be an endless supply of musicians who will be willing to whore themselves out with the hope of someday "making it."

  • It's particularly galling that musicians are expected to play for free for various causes; they must have the impression that musicians are enlightened in matters of social justice. But we undercut each other viciously by playing for nothing and next to nothing so that almost no one can make a living playing music anymore. We ought to wise up. Because gigs are the last place for musicians to make money. Me, I'm on the house concert circuit. Artists and audiences both have a superior experience and the money is far better than what's possible in clubs.

  • Heyitsonlyme

    Yes indeed – club owners do practise this nefarious art – but then again we must keep in the mind the sad yet universal truth that 99% of all bands are awful. So awful that even their own friends and relatives can only bear to endure it a few times. So if you are a club owner who has to give a platform to rubbish – you are going to want something back.

    It's a deal is all. You want to play rock god? You want to fill my room with sonic shit? Bore the beJesus of out everyone but your socially anxious girlfriend (boyfriend) ? Then pay me. The logic is simple.

    You see music is more than a pastime – it is a skill that takes perseverance and effort to acquire. It is no different to plumbing in that regard – yet no one really moans about paying the good plumber – the real moaning comes when the loudmouth halfwit who said he was a plumber, but who wasn't – leaves your elderly aunt up to her knees in unfiltered shit.

    It is the same with music – if you are a competent musician in a band with other competent musicians and people like you – it is up to you. Don't expect some half assed 'promoter' to hand you money on a plate – they won't – because most of them are loudmouth plumbers.

    The answer is to get good. If you get good – and people you don't know are excited by your band – the club owners and promoters will be queueing up with everyone else. Then the world is yours. Until then – practice more than you play and when you do play – do it for love and do it really well.

    If you do that – and if I see you – I'll buy you a beer.

  • mike

    Club owners are insane to treat musicians this way, and musicians are insane to tolerate it. Musicians need to set standards for themselves. Minimums that they will never go below. Even the most amateur band deserves $100 for their service. I don't care what town you live in. Music isn't cheap to learn or perform. Musicians, calculate your expenses and don't play for less.

  • In what type of business can you put in a $75 investment (in this case a band) and expect thousands of dollars in return. If a band can bring in that kind of revenue we would rent out halls instead of playing neighborhood bars.

  • Mathieu

    As a professional musician myself, I see it all the time. I also see great musicians playing under very good conditions. Most of them RESPECT THEMSELVES enough to know what they are worth and they also know that by accepting a gig with sketchy conditions is only doing bad.

    If you accept a gig for cheap as a freelance musician, you send the signal that you are willing to play for cheap and that you might do it again. Whoever hires you remembers that. The venue or event, the producer, booker, bandmates…every one is part of this depreciation circle. I choose to break it as often as I can and sometimes it means refusing gigs to make a statement.

  • Sweet. This is SOOO true. Great article. Right on the money.

  • It's a valid point. Why do DJs make $500 a night and a 6-pc band make less than that? Who has more skill, experience, talent?

    • Lawrence

      While I respect musicians a lot – my dad played in bands his entire life – me, as a DJ can tell you it’s all about the taste of the public. A DJ can bring the originals in such an entertaining way… A band, well it is ‘different’. But it’s a fair point: why does one guy gain more than an entire band of professional musicians… because his download costs are maybe that high?

      • Knightsix

        As a professional musician (travel, recording, performance) for over 53 years, I can state unequivocally that the public and their perceptions rule the roost, not anyone’s ego, arrogance, or hubris regardless of venue or talent. Change is inevitable and encompasses all aspects of music and performance. Our group was a dance band and dedicated each and every Saturday to learning a minimum of five new numbers during a busy 12~14 hour rehearsal day. Our repertoire covered just about every musical genre there was. We were dedicated to what we did, enjoyed ourselves on stage and audiences could see that. We had five costume changes, our own stage equipment, lights, special effects, and road gear for transporting all of our instruments and equipment. We did all grunt work, advertising, and bookings ourselves…never complaining about where we were playing. We worked high-end resorts, big-business conferences, large weddings and social gatherings, booked our own shows/jobs, and had to turn business away on numerous occasions due to full bookings. We were paid handsomely for our efforts and worked hard to ensure our musical product was the best. We did not engage in condescension or disparagement, welcomed all points of musical view and had a damned good time doing it all. I read a lot of carping and complaining in the commentary, and have only one thing to say about it. ATTITUDE! Some of you young people would do well to accomplish a reality check and embrace some of what I just shared if you want to be successful in this business.

        • Amy

          I agree. The people complaining are the ones that don’t know how to make a viable business out of their craft. And after reading their complaining, I can see why.

          The “musicians vs venues” attitude isn’t going to get anyone anywhere.

        • Groove Kitty

          yeehaw! You I like!!

  • I wear two hats. Firstly, I am an in-house talent buyer. The amount of money I've been able to pay bands has been reduced over the years as the bar staff and owner feel that bands should "work harder". We have a weekly DJ who gets paid by the hour, and in all fairness I believe bands should charge and be paid by the hour as well.

    Secondly, I book a band. An original, seasoned, talented bunch. They – we – are at the mercy of some seriously self-entitled outside promoters. As a rule, they get put on a bill with several other bands and no one gets paid. Who is? I wonder.

    This situation will never, ever change unless every musician everywhere went on strike at the same time. And that will never happen.

  • Hey G,

    Sounds like you're working towards something special in your music community. I wouldn't be too hard on yourself for not being able to do guarantees yet. Especially if you can see progress that suggests it'll be possible soon. Just… keep on!


    • Graeme Oxley

      Thanks Chris.

      Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Our books are full for the next 2 1/2 months, and we have to turn excellent musicians away every week. This tells us that we may have got it right. My son is studying at the Conservatorium, and he tells me that the word there is that our venue is the gig to have.

      Onwards and upwards!

      • Glad to hear it. Wish I could tour over there soon. I'd send you a booking inquiry!


  • happymoogman

    Yes, we recouped the $10,000 in better bookings. Out of it, we had a big folder of great reviews from L.A. and NYC. We were more of a "show band" — a sit down concert act — half music and half comedy. It was a unique band, in that we almost always played for 4 weeks in every venue. – sometimes clubs, sometimes theaters.
    But the person who said that playing in Los Angeles is for more of a showcase, as opposed to just playing for regular people is correct. We did a showcase there for music industry types, briefly losing money in the process. It's the old addage of "sometimes you have to spend money to make money". This exposure led to more gigs and better connections. We never became world famous, but we made a living on the road for many years, and our airfare and hotel was always paid for by the club. Find the right places, and it CAN be done.

  • steve V. johnson
  • jnoinkeis

    As a heavy metal band from London, England, we've realised that we'd rather play shows that offer no money but charge nothing on the door than shows that give you a cut of the ticket sales.

    We free entry shows we always end up playing to more strangers and getting a better name for ourselves (often selling CDs and shirts as a result). With ticketed shows we find we often play to the same group of friends who've seen us before. All to make about £30.

  • Sophie Reed

    When my band, Kieland Ridge, make it to Tokyo, we want to play at your venue!

  • Will Sid Smith

    This is normal everywhere, except for a few good promoters. Pay to play is common too. I've started following a policy of not playing a gig unless I get a minimum return per hour after travel expenses. Get fewer gigs but they re-book

  • nightMair Creative

    Chris it is not up to the band to market themselves for the benefit of the venue- if the venue wants to hire you, its the venue that needs to fill the seats to pay you, not the band. if you're gonna do it for free, then most definitely its not up to the band to fill the seats. If venues cant make a go of it, then get out of business.

  • nightMair Creative

    What most professional musicians said here is 100% correct. Play for free and you devalue not only yourselves but every other band and musician out there. Charge for your services. And charge a decent price, dont sell yourself short. There are a thousand who will take advantage of you and give you 'experience' but after you bring your same 25-100 friends to club after club, week after week, your friends will eventually stop coming (unless you write new songs). You need fresh new fans, strangers. Venue regulars who might not be exposed to your music if it weren't for you playing THEIR favorite club. Bartenders don't work for free to 'gain experience' neither do the serving staff. Expect more. Demand more. Value is valued- people respect value, they dont respect being able to walk all over you.

  • High Council

    I think if you're in a situation where this kind of behavior on behalf of the club owners is surprising, you're probably in a better boat than most. Here's a similar article, but with more cursing:

  • Rock On

    i've found really cool a way they do business in switzerland which is a fair band fee as a booking price for the band as just a general pay and then a percentage on the tickets at the door once the club has earned that same amount at the door…so like lets say the club sais they will give you 500 bucks for example when they earn 500 bucks at the door called break even…from that money on they will give you a percentage of all the following tickets which can be even like 20 percent…if the club don't earn 500 bucks at the door you still get payed you just dont get any extra.

  • James Barr

    I agree 100% with Marilyn C.

    I am in Asheville, NC, which wears as one of its several vanities that it is an arts and music center. This is pure bullshit. There are 98% hackers, wannabes and part timers who will play anywhere for anything (drinks being one of the 'paychecks'.) The clubs and venues completely take advantage of this and as result, there is turnover, a lot of unsavory crowds if friends and family show up, and music that to label as mediocrity would be a kindness. But if the venues serve enough drinks, and the band has enough tattoos, studied hairdos and attitude, everybody thinks something is going on that is hip, dope, arty and avant garde.
    BUT here's the weird thing: I am 66 years old. I play nylon string guitar exclusively, amplified and processed. I play sets that are a mix of Bach, Vivaldi, Beatles, Cole Porter, Stones, Beethoven, Renny mix and old jazz and motown standards. When I moved here I found out what most paid musicians charge. I doubled that fee, sometimes tripled it. I made a rule, I would not play in noisy bars, or any place that fostered drunks, bad behavior or people falling asleep at the bar. I almost always wear a suit or some studied outfit when I play. I only play solo. I take no crap from anyone, and I don't do requests. Can you believe that I am, I am quite sure, the busiest most sought after solo player in town? I've been told the reasons are: repertoire (everybody knows the stuff I play), style (I have a unique delivery, but so do lots of people), no cliche playing (I don't do anything out of the Real Fake Book and NEVER use flat wound strings, among many other things), attitude and sincerity (I go in with the intent of putting smiles on peoples faces and adjust my sets along the way.) I am called on to do corporate events, wedding ceremonies (just the "I Do" part, not the reception), art gallery events (many of those here), and in two specific clubs where I have a pretty loyal following of upscale artists, biz people and even scientists! I have gigs booked into next year. Here's what I think why, I know I could be wrong: I don't consider myself an up-and-coming musician who has to behave or present myself a certain way to get exposure at any cost. I go in with the attitude of an investment banker from Geneva. If they don't get it, screw them, I don't want to know them, talk to them or hang with them. In this way, scary as it was at first, I have filtered out the jerks, shysters and hucksters, and having played extensively in NYC for over 25 years and in LA as well, I've met a bucketful of them. Musicians, in my opinion, have ruined the club scene because they are desperate and don't have faith in their future; Club owners are worse, because not only do most of them have no idea of the value and power of music, they are cheap snivelers who, if they were in a real business, would be out of it in days…I have met very few who went to business school, studied the industry or made it point to respect business principles – most are ex-waiters or bartenders who got a backer and find romance and excitement in it, until the ceiling starts to peel. Thanks for reading. James Barr, goto: jamesbarrproductions.com

  • Christopher Parks

    I will likely get slagged for it. But know up front I am a musician. I live to support musicians… But gang this article ignores the most basic principles of supply and demand. The title gives away the disposition of the author whom though I understand and sympathize with, he fails to realize that the club owner has different measurements for success. For many club owners (not saying all…) having a musical act was an afterthought. They don't even see their venues as "Musical venues" at all. Even the club owners who do don't think to themselves, "What kind of great music can I play in my club…" They are living the realities of running a business such as "My food vendor just shut down and left me in the lurch" or "My 3rd employee quit this month… I need to find someone to fill out the night shift…"
    Look they are scrambling hard and trying to get alot done without alot of people. Obviously not every club or owner is this way. Some are better, some are worse.
    The reality is as a gigging musician (and I have been one and know many) we need to understand how club owners measure success. (and yes, one of those metrics is a full, happy place where people are buying drinks left and right) If a club owner is at a point where they are advertising for bands in a local rag, I am going to say they don't really have what it takes as a club to begin with. They are trying to do that to boost sales. So maybe the other question is… Why would YOU want to play there?
    The answer quite simply is you want somewhere to play. Which usually also is indicative of where you are musically. I mean, I could point out to you that when your band plays, no one shows… A speed dating service gets more people than you and the last place you played at shut down. Dude. You are shutting places down when you play there. Your track record isn't that great.
    The reality is there are other bands all around you. Some of them are good, some of them are awesome, and quite frankly there are even 20 years worth of legendary performers who live right where you live in some cases. (I live in LA and can go see likely 5-10 legends of the last several decades playing in clubs.)
    So my point in all this is that it is all about supply and demand. If where you live there are thousands if not tens of thousands of bands, what are you doing that is any better than anyone else? What unique factor are you bringing to the game? There are a limited number of clubs my friend and WAAAAAAAYYYYYY more bands than there are gigs. The best bands wind up getting paid well… The ones who don't are hobbyists. That's the reality. I just wrote an article about this where someone was asserting that poor live performance was why bands weren't getting paid well. I disagree. Same problem. Supply and demand. My advice there as it is here is exactly the same. Do something amazing and inventive. Put it on Youtube. It may just go viral and you might find yourself with 1,000,000 fans out of the gate. Then when you go to play a gig, the club owner already has heard of you. They are paying you well for the gig. They are crying because you are going off on a real tour. Take a look at stellar examples of this in recent history. (Regardless of whether you like them or not you have to concede the point.) Justin Bieber from nowhere to household name. Walk Off The Earth from bar band in Canada to worldwide sensation. 30 seconds to Mars masters of social media. Journey's new lead singer plucked out of a karaoke bar in the Phillipines to tour with them. Karmin, boyfriend girlfriend team from Nebraska now touring arenas from a Youtube video that went viral.
    The whole world is your stage. Keep in mind that you can engage fans all over the world but you are going to have to do something amazing. If you aren't up for that, there are twenty other bands around you that will. Or you can compete with them for the scraps at the local clubs. It is all up to you.
    But the law of supply and demand is a mean and cruel law. It doesn't care how good you play. It doesn't care how much people want to listen to music at a bar. It doesn't care if they listen to XM satellite radio or your band. Live by it, or die by it. Up to you mate.

  • Daniel Long

    I do the same thing. I can't remember the last time I played live for pay. It is more fulfilling to send it all to itunes. I do however play live to get new private lesson students.

  • Andre Mane

    The DJ Killed The Live Entertainer Star

  • Knightsix

    I've read a lot of the posts here. Lots of water boiling over the issue of musicians earning money…accompanied by various strategies all seeming to center around paying for free. I've been in this business for well over 50 years. I have degrees in Business and Management…and have just completed my third book (which will be available soon) "Musician's Handbook; A Common Sense Approach." I'll let you know when. Back on task. I'll share one idea from my book. We were a dance band, period…with a catalog of songs that addressed just about every venue out there. Our typical show was four hours (with 4~5 hours of pre-show travel, setup and as much afterward to strike the stage, pack up and go – so could encompass 13~14 hour days), playing for upscale Resort bookings, nightclubs, and affluent private gatherings (we managed all of our own bookings). We had 5 costume changes, our own lighting systems, 16 channel stereo mixing board for sound, Co2 fogger, and chaser lights for our singer. We played over nine years in Phoenix, Arizona and surrounding areas, and was one of the few groups that would do 'casuals' – one nighters, consistently. They paid the highest wages of any gig we did, so we focused there (We recorded a record and album…long before 'digital (neither one did well). Conversely, when bookings slowed down, I would visit upscale, affluent nightclubs and restaurants, generally on a Tuesday or Wednesday, offering to play for a couple of hours for tips only. We were never turned away or ran into any of the scenarios mentioned below about bringing followers or paying anything. More often than not, the owner would treat us to a free drink or occasional meal. That said, we used that time to practice new numbers we would be preforming for bookings down range, or try out new costuming, lighting arrangements, and what have you. It was 'free' public practice and excellent mouth-to-mouth advertising. No, we didn't have roadies or floor managers, preferring to do all of that ourselves and keep the income 'in-house.' In conclusion, I can state our group was very much in favor of 'free' under the circumstances I've outlined above. It worked for us…don't know why it wouldn't work for others. Oh, forgot to mention that three out of five times – we were invited back by the club management that following weekend at full pay. Yes, this was 'back in the day' – but I believe that if performing groups reevaluated their expectations against this present economy, they too could vastly improve their bookings and resultant income by being a bit more open minded, flexible, and get out there and hustle. There's still a lot of room in this business for everyone willing to pound the pavement and let people know who you are and that you're available (and I DON'T mean via Craigslist).

  • modfaith

    Yes most club/restaurant owners don't get it. Yes you can find a band that will bring in all their friends for one night – so what you have one big night !! Then what ?? How many times do you think this band can repeat it – it's like expecting a comedian to tell the same jokes again night after night to his friends and thinking it's gonna be funny. The trick is to have only really good bands and establish that reputation – the word will get around just the same as if you have really good food consistently. When people who don't know the band say "We were just gonna stop by for one drink but the band was so good we stayed all night (buying food and drinks) night after night – those are the places that have longevity and the reputation grows and grows and grows – don't hire terrible bands just because they can bring one or two big nights. Do you really want people walking around spreading the word that your place is only happening if the band brought all their friends not because they were good. This article is exactly right – establish the venue, not the individual bands !! – and I am a singer and musician saying this !!

  • Great advice. Do you have to get permits to play those markets? Or is it first-come/first-to-perform?


  • audiophile666

    What?? Next you're going to tell me that only good-looking musicians can "make it" because it's not about the music. And then you'll probably say that fashion is more important than the music.
    In that case, if I were a "real" business man, I wouldn't hire musicians at all to be in my band– I would hire actors and models. They could lip-synch and pretend to play along to pre-recorded tracks that were recorded by dun-dun-duhhhhh: REAL MUSICIANS.
    Or how about we just treat real musicians like they're people who provide a service that is actually worth something?
    …Maybe the reason there is so much shitty music on the radio/in the pop sphere is BECAUSE of slick marketing techniques that are actually just selling an image to slim demographics rather than promoting good music by real artists. Eh? Think of that one?

  • MichelleBelanger

    I believe it is a collaboration between the band and the venue. It should not be solely one or the other. The fans are the source of income- not the venues. Just being a good musician has never been the determining factor of who makes money and who doesn't. Also, whether someone is a good musician is subjective. Someone can have a lot of chops but not be fun to listen to/see.

  • MichelleBelanger

    I beg to differ. Many musicians are great marketers. The real question is who are you expecting to pay you? If you are really good at some kind of music that has no fan base in a particular place, then your skill is not marketable. Just having a particular skill does not make someone worth money. it still has to be marketed. The source of income is fans. The Greatful Dead were masters of marketing, mostly by making their fans feel like part of a tribe. Ernest Tubb ALWAYS spent as much time as he needed to greeting fans after each show. All the successful musicians I know have their own fan base that they effectively and consistently communicate with. They have a decent turnout for most to all of their shows, and they don't just rely on the venue to take care of everything for them.

  • MichelleBelanger

    What kind of music do you play?

  • tommym

    Your otherwise well reasoned points have one blind-spot. That is the sad fact that many patrons of these places *don't* know good music from bad music. Yes, although, as a solo piano player with a one-night-a-week spot in NYC where friends drop in on drums guitars and vocals, I do feel pressure to pimp the place: bring people in, so that I can keep getting my smallish but rewarding regular paycheck there, and have a place where I can share my music, entertain and wail a bit, almost anyone who *does* show up without intentionally coming to see us, *does* remark, usually with surprise, at how good the music was, and ask when we'll be back (every week!) so that they can return with other friends. And often they do come back, even if it's months later. it would be great if more people could tell good music from premeditatedly formulated commercial product. That's part of our jobs as live musicians: to turn them on to it.

  • Ken Gallahan

    Either an artist has "real" fans who will pay to see them perform or they don't. Those who don't will have fewer opportunities to make money in the business. Music venues are always attempting to get artists to perform for less be it the touring artists playing the basketball arenas, the local 70 seat bars or something in between.

  • Pingback: The Chicken or The Egg - Fame Wizard®()

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    Depends on the band and the DJ. Most bands I've seen (especially performing free) can't touch me on tables.

    • Groove Kitty

      Bands dont scratch or do tables- but comparing DJ to a good event band is apples and oranges. There’s a need for both- but they are NOT the same.

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    Nope, the lowballing crap head promoters and poor business ethics did. DJs are making money. Meanwhile what are bands doing? The smart ones get paid. The crappy beer/free bands still suck. It's the same for DJs. There are the bottom of the barrel, work for tips and drinks DJs.

    • Lawrence

      U2, The Rolling Stones, ColdPLay…. they still get paid… Let’s all become rock bands 🙂

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    Damn good article.

  • Dee_M

    Come to the Midwest/ South ( Indy, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville, Atlanta, Lexington, Nashville)…We Play to get Paid in this region…and we only use clubs to get the more Lucrative Private Events . If you have a name in your area you can also do what some Bands do here- Rent a Venue and throw your own sets & Get the entire door….It works if you're established.

  • Dee_M

    In this day & age, Keep a Day Job folks-you gotta be realistic. Subsidize yourself….clubs Suck. Throw your own Sets, BYOB & make All the Loot.

  • Dee_M

    Easy Fix…run that I-pod in between Sets ( on your Breaks)…We started doing this years ago & the club owner liked My "Mixes" better than a DJ..We get a little extra in some cases.

  • Dee_M

    Around here DJ's don't make no money doing clubs- Most of the Dance clubs around here are using I-pads with Playlists already set. A DJ can't touch a good Live act- It'll never happen.

    You gotta consider this-Most places that Hire bands are set up for Live music. You wouldn't catch a Funk/ R&B band or a Smooth Jazz unit playing at a known Kiddie/young adult Hip-Hop Bar & vice versa- People ( Grown Folks) Pay to see a Band.

    • Kutmaster TeeOh

      You are talking about club DJs, not actual performance DJs. Someone who plays from an iPad and hit sync, isn't a DJ. The DJ world has been suffering since companies like Traktor make it easy for any idiot to DJ. They don't learn the proper way to DJ and the skill behind it. Now it's download, hit sync, and go…or download and just drop tracks. lol. I've been at this along time so I've seen all aspects of this game. I know what you're saying in the difference of crowds compared to what you see as most DJs, but some of us do more than that.

      • Brand Brand

        Man stop arguing with these white racist republican red necks! They don’t “think” you’re a musician because its a Black created artform. DeFord Bailey made you. He gave yall style. Blacks folks created country music. They wanna talk about Nashville numbering, this is music, art and not science! I don’t need to know anything to make great music. All it takes are ears. Your voice is an instrument. You don’t have to agree but disagreement don’t make me wrong and you right you racist twats. Its Black history month. So non AND I REPEAT NON, of you wannabes anywhere in the world, would be musicians or have any SOUL without high jacking and stealing the swag of the African American culture!

  • johnny comelately

    What I personally have found is that clubs have become lazy… They just want to collect cash at the door and make money by selling drinks. NO THOUGHT, NO WORRIES, NO BS, JUST A LAZY F'N OWNER…….PROVE ME WRONG!!!!! -hot band looking for hot well promoted venues

  • Telecat

    Station Inn on Mondays with the Time Jumpers is always an awesome experience. I played with Lee Roy Parnell at the Hard Rock a few years ago and the place was packed.

  • Dee_M

    Indeed, Kut…I didn't know Cats were still doing it like that ( Except for House Music/ Rave'ers like BT & DJ Spinna)

  • Telecat

    And yet, you are a DJ, not a musician. As for Berklee, obviously they didn't teach you anything about GOOD music, because you're a turntable master, not a master of an actual musical instrument. I bet you don't know a goddamned thing about Nashville Numbering (without which, you are NOT a musician), so spare me your stupid "Berklee" talk, I've rarely met anyone who went there who had any soul, other than a drummer I know. Technical proficiency without soul is Steely Dan. By the way, Rap and Hip Hop are NOT music. They're noise. So get over yourself, junior, I was playing gigs long before you were a fertilized egg. SO if you want to know who the troll is, look in the mirror, rapper.

    • RS_in_Mtl

      Telecat, you are being a little narrow minded. Do you presume to know what music is and isn’t? Any deliberate manifestation of sound is music. Hey, I don’t like Rap and hip-hop, for that matter I am not too fond of opera, but I am not ass-headed enough to say it is NOT music. GOOD music, is only that what YOU like?, give me a break. You obviously have no idea what music is. I got out of the seventies long ago, it’s time you do.

    • Frank Paulette

      According to notable journalist Tom Terrell of NPR, the Technics 1200 SL direct-drive turntable is “the most important musical instrument of the last two-and-a-half decades.”[5]

  • Mano Kane

    Recently my band Mano Kane was hired to play at a club in Honolulu. It's a well-known local bar that we have played at many times in the past. The deal was $300 per night, for a series of sunday night gigs. We played 7 sundays total (each gig lasting a total of 3 hours with breaks). The first 4 gigs were payed in full – until the manager of the promotion company putting on the show found out that the turnout for our evening was very poor (sunday night in the middle of summer – when nobody is at school or out of town). The club and the promotion company did nothing to promote our event (over the course of 7 weeks!) They placed the burden of advertising solely on the band – and even though we had followed protocol and handed over at least 20 fliers to them – printed with our own money – the bar "lost" them and did not put them up. They blamed us, of course, for the lack of promotion and lectured me about how bands need to promote themselves via radio, newsprint, etc. What exactly is a promotor for in this case? He said he would never agree to pay an "unknown" band $300 per night – and put a stop to our payments after the first 4 shows. They did not tell us they put a stop to the payments. It took three months to track them down and finally arrive at an agreement: that they would pay us in full for the remaining shows because of the miscommunication. Then, after sending only half the remaining money they owed us – they reneged on payment for one of the sunday shows, saying they had already paid us on a previous invoice – which was not true. I threw up my hands ind disgust and told them to keep it – weary of chasing them down. The name of the promotions company is E and J Lounge, and I highly recommend not dealing with them. None of their promoters ever showed up to any of our 7 shows. The lesson I took away from this experience was: all band should draft their own contract (in addition to any other agreement) and have it ready to go – get it all on paper. Unfortunately, we trusted people with a handshake deal – we should have known better. Its not right for a musician to have to wait 3 months to be paid – and to have to hunt the money down – which is really the thing I'm most upset about because of how disrespectful it is to the artist. But that was our mistake. Now we know better.

  • Robi

    Eli, I like you thinking. My band has a similar following between 50-100 per show sometimes up to 200. We played a great gig at a newly renovated club in our area. I did not handle the negotiations and unfortunately we ended up making no money on the show. I sat down with the club director and and she broke down all the expenses but left out the bar sales on profit we argued but I felt I didn't have much leverage as I wasn't there during prior negotiations. . There is a VFW right across the street from this place. They sell drinks for half the price are willing to do $5 cover instead of $10. We have built a following. They will follow us. If will be taking my gigs across the street. These clubs don't understand they are shooting themselves in the foot by exploiting local acts and DJs.

  • Jeff Blanks

    I guess enough horror stories got out there about unions (I don’t know how many were really *verified*, but there you go) to plant seeds in people’s heads that unions were an evil force that needed to be put down. (You could say the same for government, really.) I guess it’s all of a piece with the consumer-era idea that something gone wrong must be destroyed instead of fixed (and if that reminds you of punk-era TEAR IT ALL DOWN AND START OVER, well, it should). Western society and culture are where they are today because such things as unions, government, and Rawk Stardom were punished for their ills instead of healed.

  • Jeff Blanks

    If they’re run out of town, they’ll never come up with that reliable scheme. Kinda like what happened to unions, government, and Rawk Stardom.

  • dratman

    Nobody ever tells the bands how bad they are. And if someone who actually cares does summon up the courage to tell them, the band members just get mad and stop paying attention.

    Most of these bands consist of hobbyists with few musical skills and no musical training. Their friends and families are supporting them, one way or another.

  • Lawrence

    Same with DJ-ing. A guy I know was given a contract to play in some pub. Only 150euro for an entire night. A week before he was supposed to start, they canceled on him. He asked why, was the event perhaps canceled? He got this as answer: “No but a friend of ours’ son comes playing, for free”. Duh!

  • Lawrence

    I guess you are spot on. I feel the musicians, in order to make fair money, are better off organizing their own venues. And as a bonus, they are independent of club owners etc.

  • Mike Randolph

    Mike Randolph
    I don’t have enough time or space here to list why I HATE HARD ROCK CAFES,
    but the main reason is:

    I’ve played Hard Rock Cafe Pgh. about 12 TIMES & NEVER GOT PAYED.
    Hard Rock Cafe, is the wealthiest, most famous corporate night club chain in the world,
    but wont pay musicians.
    They expect pro players, and locals alike to load all their gear in their sterilized,
    overpriced, corporate facade not only to play for free, (or merely for ticket sales at the door)
    but they want musicians to pay $250 just to use their pa system!

    They charge about $14 bux for a shitty grease burger, & half a small order of cold fries,
    sometimes as much as $5 bux for a warm, watery, pissy beer!
    Given the amount of cash they rake in every night around the world,
    in food, drinks, hats & T-shirts alone the leaders of that franchise should feel ashamed
    of themselves to extort money from performers the way they do!

    Little shitty local bars outside Pgh in the country stix actually pay my bands every time.
    They might only clear $1,000 on an average night while we entertain their patrons, but
    even with a profit that small, they have no problem sharing and paying my bands at least
    $500 bux, (about $100 per player.)

    Hard Rock Cafe uses locals to advertise their place for free,
    cause they know most are young, inexperienced, unmanaged,
    unproduced and unrepresented artists, who are easily taken advantage of!
    Many take photos and pics and proudly promote their performance there,
    thinking they’ve hit the big time… News Flash: The BIG TIME hit YOU!
    If you played HARD ROCK CAFE, and didn’t get paid at least
    $100 respectable dollars for a 2-3 hr performance, then you are a sucker!
    Fuck Hard Rock Cafe! The biggest gang of corporate ASSHOLES sinceMcDonalds!

  • audiophile666

    Yup, and like Jeff Blanks said, sometimes the brand is “I’m not concerned with the image.”
    Busta Rhymes had got talent, though. Can’t say the same about Fred Durst.

  • audiophile666

    Yup, and like Jeff Blanks said, sometimes the brand is “I’m not concerned with the image.”
    Busta Rhymes had got talent, though. Can’t say the same about Fred Durst.

  • Greg Sauers Jr

    Dave is right. Regardless of how the venues do it. NY, LA, wherever. If they actually ran it like Dave said, promotes their own business instead of relying on bar bands to bring the crowds, things would work right. It boils down to laziness and bar bands being flat out stupid. It’s work. Do u work your day job for free? Theres laws against that. U could actually argue that ur working for the bar and should at least get minimum wage. I Love playing but I’ll never play for free except for mayb an opening for an act in order to get in a new bar or playing for a benefit. That’s it. Otherwise, if ur playing for free. Your an idiot. Do pro musicians give their music away for free? No. That’s where all this issue with Napster came around and is now a big deal today after a long fight and its fopa to download free music. Not cool right. Why in Gods name are bands playing for free then? Form a band coalition in a town, take it to the bars, and hopefully most bands jump onboard and don’t try to “cross the picket line.” If they do, exploit them. It’s bad for business and for bands. Just stop it. Good luck.

  • Waco Street Blues

    This is exactly why we do 90% private gigs like weddings and parties.

    They pay way better, the gigs are shorter and there are always full of friends of the folks who threw the party.

    gets very funny if you think about the fact that someone can throw a
    private party and get a better crowd than any club/bar owner can?

    the clubs now days think its the bands job to keep them alive…. sorry
    but I have bad news for you. All the good bands are not playing bars.

    time we do a private party we get 2-3 new bookings from someone at the
    party who wants us to play at their next get together.

    We don’t
    have to learn the top40 songs that most folks are tired of hearing after
    the rotation on the radio all day has burned out any listener. We do
    Roadhouse blues and R&B stuff that keeps the dance floor full every
    second and your return to play again is based on how happy their friends
    are and not how much beer sales and revenue were generated for the bar.

    time you want to go out please forget the local bars and call your
    friends to see how is throwing a party, I will bet you get to see a way
    better band and have a much better time.

    8) Cheer, see you at the next private party.

  • Wow. That sounds like paradise. I love playing those kinds of gigs. Nice going. And I’m glad you somehow wandered onto this blog to tell us about it.


  • Amy

    What the venue should do is just have karaoke. The DJ costs maybe $100 a night and customers actually like karaoke while no one cares about live bands anymore. So they’re more likely to make their $100 back, earn repeat customers, and not have to deal with stuck up bands that are going extinct.

  • Amy

    Yes because they were changing their target demographic by charging a higher price. Now they are probably appealing to events with higher budgets. People with a budget such as event coordinators are going to look for something in the price range they can spend. Also, having no other info to go by, they’ll think it must be a more popular or better quality band based on the price.

  • Chris Pierson

    Hi there you frustrated lot! Well bollocks to all this and get ready for something fresh in the new year 2016! ‘CBGB 64’ Lincoln Lincolnshire, CBGB reborn, real live music beer spirits and chilli HOT! Dont ask me what the 64 means its just a cool number that mean a shit load to me and one day I will say why! Only original bands and when they have their own material Nancy Doll and the Sex Pissed Dolls will be invited 🙂 Watch this space. Investors always wanted if you’re interested!

  • Groove Kitty

    WHere do I start? LOL. Bottom line, everyone in the business now has to do so much more than ” their job”. Bands- ( cover trib or original acts) HAVE to promote and support social marketing of every event. ( whether you play 1 a month or 10 a month) Venues and even bars really out to consider a marketing 101 class. .. some routine or consistency to their schedules- so that people will come check it out knowing the general vibe of whats happening at their joint. Our Studio bands have suffered just as much from larger corporate management companies that book franchised bands ( one in every city wit the same name) They are a managed – controlled product- often with 50% tracks- and venues book the dates because a large firm is behind the machine. This cuts out a lot of great, LIVE artists doing a great job- Double dose- they are also cut out by the “garage bands” that play once a quarter and birng everyone they graduated college with- These oiled machines of genre or era or band tribs have the $ backing of a corporate machine. – and inside track on gigs. STRANGE NEW WORLD music is indeed! Our Studio ( of 17 bands and artists) stays the course- works hard, stay humble- get a contract for every event- and if you are not paid- it BETTER be to help cure little johnnie. Selling tickets exclusively is very challenging mentally and fiscally on any band- especially when they are suppose to do it without use of the venue box office. Vetted bands dont like feeling like they are a teenage band- getting a leg up the night after you just played a corporate gig with 2000 people. Managing the egos, ( deserved and undeserved) of professional musicians is another subject altogether!!!
    peace to all. Groove Kitty..

  • Groove Kitty

    WHere do I start? LOL. Bottom line, everyone in the business now has to do so much more than ” their job”. Bands- ( cover trib or original acts) HAVE to promote and support social marketing of every event. ( whether you play 1 a month or 10 a month) Venues and even bars really out to consider a marketing 101 class. .. some routine or consistency to their schedules- so that people will come check it out knowing the general vibe of whats happening at their joint. Our Studio bands have suffered just as much from larger corporate management companies that book franchised bands ( one in every city wit the same name) They are a managed – controlled product- often with 50% tracks- and venues book the dates because a large firm is behind the machine. This cuts out a lot of great, LIVE artists doing a great job- Double dose- they are also cut out by the “garage bands” that play once a quarter and birng everyone they graduated college with- These oiled machines of genre or era or band tribs have the $ backing of a corporate machine. – and inside track on gigs. STRANGE NEW WORLD music is indeed! Our Studio ( of 17 bands and artists) stays the course- works hard, stay humble- get a contract for every event- and if you are not paid- it BETTER be to help cure little johnnie. Selling tickets exclusively is very challenging mentally and fiscally on any band- especially when they are suppose to do it without use of the venue box office. Vetted bands dont like feeling like they are a teenage band- getting a leg up the night after you just played a corporate gig with 2000 people. Managing the egos, ( deserved and undeserved) of professional musicians is another subject altogether!!!
    peace to all. Groove Kitty..

  • Groove Kitty

    Also- a good tribute or showcase cover/ genre- era band WILL be a DJ type EMCEE with tracks in between sets. Managing the whole night makes for a a great night for tempo- mood, and energy. right? such a better value and energy with LIVE music. and tracks for breaks.

  • Groove Kitty

    thanku! WIsh I could just buy and grand piano and read instructions for a week or two to play Chopin! lol. ( Groove Kitty, UCI music grad- )

  • Michael Moon

    I have never payed to play and have always stood up to venues that try and make me with statements similar to Dave’s in this great article. If I don’t feel its a fair exchange I let them know and make a statement by walking. If we all stand up for ourselves this couldn’t become standard. I will only play for free for a benefit concert for a good cause that is well run and promises to make money for the cause. The side benefit for me in all this is I do less shows and make more money which leaves me time to work on great recordings. Before I became clear on this I wasted so much time and effort playing for basically nothing and getting nowhere.

  • Robert Allen

    Many factors go into why this phenomenon occurred. The raising of the drinking age from a time when clubs were saturated with people. Drinking and driving laws that give police the reason to sit and wait for people leaving the club after drinking to pull them over to make their quota. The bands willing to play for drinks when that was part of the rider after payola. As a manager of bands back in the 80’s and 90’s I would address these issues all the time including having to pay the sound engineer, as well as, the band, their doorman to keep the club honest and any other part of the crew and take my percentage as the manager/agent. Today, most bands have to eliminate the door guy, the sound engineer, and the manager/agent because the club is asking them to make less during a time when life costs more. No wonder the music scene is suffering. The successful clubs advertise to develop a following for the club. They hire musical groups that people will stay in their establishment for the night because people like what they play. Nobody is flawless so it’s a working relationship among all involved and the more it’s done the more successful it gets because practice makes perfect.

  • jjman

    Kind of makes you want to not play anywhere and jamm in the garage!

  • Brand Brand

    Man stop arguing with these racist republican red necks! They don’t “think” you’re a musician because its a Black created artform. DeFord Bailey made you. He gave yall style. Blacks folks created country music. They wanna talk about Nashville numbering, this is music, art and not science! I don’t need to know anything to make great music. All it takes are ears. Your voice is an instrument. You don’t have to agree but disagreement don’t make me wrong and you right you racist twats. Its Black history month. So non AND I REPEAT NON, of you wannabes anywhere in the world, would be musicians or have any SOUL without high jacking and stealing the swag of the African American culture!

  • Knightsix

    John, your verbiage leads me to believe you’ve had a very bad day and are really down on yourself. Scroll down to my entry, “Knightsix” and read my thoughts on the matter. I had to retire after 55 years in the business when my hands quit working. I donated my complete turn-key studio to a local church. Focus on my first long sentence. It’s irrelevant what WE think of ourselves…the audience will always determine the winner regardless of our individual skills and word of mouth rules the roost (Donald Leslie, inventor of the same, never paid a single penny for advertising and sold out on every Leslie speaker he ever manufactured). Yes, the ‘business’ is full of every difficult personality out there, but you CAN prevail ! Like everything in life; pick your fights. Don’t butt heads with idiot bar owners or fools who want free entertainment full time. I never had a problem setting up and playing for tip-jar only on a normally slow night at high-end nightclub, convention center…you name it. I’m not yanking your chain to advise you we were virtually hired 100% of the time for a full 3~4 day fully paid gig covering the weekend (here in Arizona). Send my your address and I’ll forward a copy of my book “Musician’s Handbook” (Amazon.com by J. Carl Hudson). There may be something in there worthwhile to you…or not (trashcan is as good a place to store it as a bookshelf – but it IS a report on my career in music). Best of Luck Buddy. John

  • Knightsix

    John, your verbiage leads me to believe you’ve had a very bad day and are really down on yourself. Scroll down to my entry, “Knightsix” and read my thoughts on the matter. I had to retire after 55 years in the business when my hands quit working. I donated my complete turn-key studio to a local church. Focus on my first long sentence. It’s irrelevant what WE think of ourselves…the audience will always determine the winner regardless of our individual skills and word of mouth rules the roost (Donald Leslie, inventor of the same, never paid a single penny for advertising and sold out on every Leslie speaker he ever manufactured). Yes, the ‘business’ is full of every difficult personality out there, but you CAN prevail ! Like everything in life; pick your fights. Don’t butt heads with idiot bar owners or fools who want free entertainment full time. I never had a problem setting up and playing for tip-jar only on a normally slow night at high-end nightclub, convention center…you name it. I’m not yanking your chain to advise you we were virtually hired 100% of the time for a full 3~4 day fully paid gig covering the weekend (here in Arizona). Send my your address and I’ll forward a copy of my book “Musician’s Handbook” (Amazon.com by J. Carl Hudson). There may be something in there worthwhile to you…or not (trashcan is as good a place to store it as a bookshelf – but it IS a report on my career in music). Best of Luck Buddy. John


    The Truth Revealed:
    Ha ! what a fun blog all these musicians going back and forth on what works and what does not. So I have to say my part: what I did was spend 7 years as a busker in Switzerland, and playing at least 4-5 days a week..3-4 hours per day- the money was good- I mean I could live in the one of the most expensive countries in the world- go figure. then at some point I was of course getting request for private parties- to play solo acoustic guitar and sing- o.k. great, also I started joining some local bands..my reputation spread, I had a person whom I met become my “booking agent” which led to more gigs in more areas..and higher pay- yahoo!I have been on Swiss national t.v. various radio stations, played some festivals-open airs..
    and so many weddings and birthday parties I can’t keep count…oh yes and I have now produced till date 11 full album length cds- self produced and financed,
    so what I tell all you guys and gals is this – put in the time all this took me 20 years- but 20 fun years with alot of work…like the minstrels of old Europe used to do- hit the streets..
    I used to play the street-cars and trains as-well, and restaurant terraces all summer long-
    don’t have it in your head “your too good of a musician to busk” Busking is the key- my friends that opens all doors…go play near the supermarkets, subways, airports, train stations, any where that you are allowed to and watch the money at first slowly roll in…
    have some cds with you to sell of yourself if you have any, have some business cards,
    talk with the people, make them happy that YOU are playing music for them-
    this is the secret….and believe me it works- ya wanna know why? cause even God see’s you down there trying and he will bless you when you keep a positive frame of mind and tell him thanks..and to add to this all that constant public playing makes you musically much stronger.
    all positive comments and “thank you’s” welcomed
    last tips- don’t believe these whiners- they don’t have the drive to “Hit The Streets”
    see my videos on youtube- Dr. Cranknstein, Fat Wallet, Eliot Chambers and hit like , leave comments…spread the word and keep on keeping on.


    The Truth Revealed:
    Ha ! what a fun blog all these musicians going back and forth on what works and what does not. So I have to say my part: what I did was spend 7 years as a busker in Switzerland, and playing at least 4-5 days a week..3-4 hours per day- the money was good- I mean I could live in the one of the most expensive countries in the world- go figure. then at some point I was of course getting request for private parties- to play solo acoustic guitar and sing- o.k. great, also I started joining some local bands..my reputation spread, I had a person whom I met become my “booking agent” which led to more gigs in more areas..and higher pay- yahoo!I have been on Swiss national t.v. various radio stations, played some festivals-open airs..
    and so many weddings and birthday parties I can’t keep count…oh yes and I have now produced till date 11 full album length cds- self produced and financed,
    so what I tell all you guys and gals is this – put in the time all this took me 20 years- but 20 fun years with alot of work…like the minstrels of old Europe used to do- hit the streets..
    I used to play the street-cars and trains as-well, and restaurant terraces all summer long-
    don’t have it in your head “your too good of a musician to busk” Busking is the key- my friends that opens all doors…go play near the supermarkets, subways, airports, train stations, any where that you are allowed to and watch the money at first slowly roll in…
    have some cds with you to sell of yourself if you have any, have some business cards,
    talk with the people, make them happy that YOU are playing music for them-
    this is the secret….and believe me it works- ya wanna know why? cause even God see’s you down there trying and he will bless you when you keep a positive frame of mind and tell him thanks..and to add to this all that constant public playing makes you musically much stronger.
    all positive comments and “thank you’s” welcomed
    last tips- don’t believe these whiners- they don’t have the drive to “Hit The Streets”
    see my videos on youtube- Dr. Cranknstein, Fat Wallet, Eliot Chambers and hit like , leave comments…spread the word and keep on keeping on.