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

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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.
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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.

    • kikojones

      Yeah, except this nonsense happens in a booming economy as well. I’s ingrained and practically institutionalized. Venues should be concentrating in making their spot a destination for quality music not a place that relies on Johnny and the Two-Legged Schmos to bring in their family and friends to pay the cover and consume alcohol.

      • One thousand percent agree, and as a member of a progressive rock band now in its fourteenth year I’m also heartened by this discussion which is long, LONG overdue. The truth is that until clubs start doing what was working when live music was king–booking bands based on the quality of the music, then making sure they have an audience come in (which, knowing they’re going to be hearing great music, will keep going to that venue) to hear those bands–they’re going to continue to struggle, and bands are going to continue to get screwed. We have an online presence, a mailing list, merchandise, and two critically successful albums, and most important, we work hard to produce good and interesting progressive rock. What we don’t have is twenty-four hours a day to beg friends, family and distant relations to come to every show, nor the resources to start making radio and tv ad buys.

        Bottom line: the job of the band should be to play good music and be ready to reach out to fans. The job of the club should be to get interesting, unusual, high quality bands and then get a draw in to see said bands.

        THE ROAD

  • 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.

    • Vinyl37246

      LMAO….Dj’s, you guys are the one’s ruining music……

  • 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.

  • Martin Moore

    I clicked the link and read the original article. It makes some really great points. Plain and simple, it’s hard to make a buck playing music. I tell folks to go into playing music because they enjoy it, not to make money. There are only a couple of places that I play for free now, but I do this because I usually sell quite a bit of merch to tourists, and I enjoy it. If I didn’t like doing it, my playing there would not be worth it.

    Venues SHOULD pay people to come play, and it should pay them well. I think that once the venue has money invested in the music, they are going to do a little more research to find decent bands and will PROMOTE those bands in order to recoop the $$ that’s been paid to them. A band should concentrate on getting a very good demo into the hands of venue owners. If the venue owner does not like the band, they should not book them just because they are free.

    If you play good music, people will (or should) be willing to pay to come see you play and buy your stuff. Be good, be different, and strive for excellence.

  • colargol

    I’m actually quite shocked to see that club owners suck as much in L.A than they do in France. We have EXACTLY the same situation ever here.
    Just like Dave, I do not do these gigs anymore. It’s nonsense and it kills the work of the musician.
    We only play for people who agree to pay at least 100€ per musician. (100€ = +/- $132).
    Who would go to work at the office bringing his own computer and desk + printer and paper for a beer ??? Come on, that’s totally insane !
    The worst is that they do not seem to understand… stupid wankers.

    I’m a professional musician, I’ve spent years practicing my instrument. I’ve saved money to get myself this instrument… etc
    This is my job and I intend to get payed for it.

  • The hardest thing, I find, is with the economy being what it is. Club/bar owners are scared that the downturn in the economy means that less people will come out by default, and to combat that, they’re trying (wrongly, in my opinion) to put that onus on the band. It’s the same reason I think that a sales job offered strictly at commission is bogus.
    Another problem I see is that a lot of musicians are not very good business people, and even go as far as not treating it like a business. Even if you’re doing it for the love of playing and not for the money, you still have to value your time and your skills. The reason bars can get away with these tactics is because musicians simply don’t value themselves enough, and, unfortunately, they get booked. Musicians are undercutting each other, and in the end, we all suffer. The club suffers because they may not be getting the best quality they can for that night, possibly turning people away, and the musicians suffer because they can no longer afford to do what they do. I live in the Detroit area, and its no different than what Dave has spoken to in his open letter. Clubs need to treat musicians and bands like business people, but, at the same time, musicians and bands need to get more serious. In this case, the sword is double edged.

  • Daniel Savio

    Don’t play at places like that.

    You DON’T need opportunities to play so badly that you should do it for free. You don’t. Screw those guys.

  • These days bands do have some marketing skills, because they need to learn it in order to gain exposure. However, most of the bands don’t have the bucks to spend on paid advertising, for example on Facebook. If they had the money, they would probably know what to do with it, and spend it wisely. If venues did pay artists more, they could spend more on paid advertising. The venue could even allocate a portion of the band’s reward to advertising and let the band do it. I’m sure it would be money well spent, as the band would do their best to invite people to the event and they would most probably bring a lot of paying customers to the venue.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do agree on pretty much everything you’ve said, but most of the venue bosses could probably be talked into this kind of small investment, instead of changing their whole mindset.

  • 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).

  • Dave Goldberg

    I didn’t know you guys picked this up. Thanks for helping to spread the word. I’ve heard from musicians all over the world on this. This is going on everywhere. I’d say 95% of the feedback has been positive. Some of that feedback has been from successful club owners that totally agree with me. One club owner, who went out of business a few years ago, said when reflecting back on why his business failed, he came up with some of the same conclusions that I wrote about. The little bit of negative feedback that I’ve gotten has been from people assuming that I think that musicians should do nothing to promote their career. My career is my career, I’d be silly not to promote it. I do so by having professionally recorded CDs. Making sure my recordings are available all over the internet through CD baby. I have a professional looking website, an email list, facebook event pages for gigs. Youtube videos that venues can post on their own websites to promote my next show (it’s amazing how few venues do that by the way- they’d rather just have an expensive professional looking flyer that they can hang up above their urinal.) Somehow these tangible promotional tools are given little value. You have to go beyond that if you want to stand out from the other bands (as if quality of music shouldn’t be the measuring stick). I had someone tell me that I should have a street team. To that I replied, I’m a grown man, this isn’t the Disney Channel where all my high school buddies can play band manager. My fans have lives, and I would never ask them to hit the streets donating their time passing out flyers and talking up my band loudly at other people’s concerts. Plus I’m a jazz musician, what are they going to say? “Hey you think this guy’s good, you should hear Dave Goldberg, he plays the heck out of the Super Locrian scale.” No, I think we’re all on the right side of this argument. It seems when I hear from the other side, it can be easily rebutted, until you get to the heart of the matter. “We don’t pay our bands because we don’t have to.” And that my friends falls on us.

    • Dusty Keg


      The good news: You’re going to find that many folks have been sharing your essay on FB.

      The bad news: After all is said and discussed – you’re still preaching to the choir. Most all musicians are feeling your pain. The folks doing these bookings are oblivious and show no signs of changing their ways.

      Unfortunately, venue and event coordinators are committed to the short-term solution of gaining patrons solely by relying on a band’s fanbase -who believe they’re supporting the “band”- to put money through the register after the band did all the promotion for the gig themselves with essentially no compensation.

      Oh yeah, the band also drove themselves to the gig, unloaded and set up their equipment, entertained a crowd for roughly 3 or 4 hours, tore down said equipment and loaded it back into their vehicles – all for exposure to essentially the same people the band was responsible for bringing to the gig in the first place!

      If the venue was in it for the long term, they would already have a reputation for booking quality live entertainment. The venue’s regulars would support the business by enjoying an act already endorsed by this establishment. Anyone there spending money because the band got them to show up that night would be an added bonus.

  • Marc

    Just like any other career, this is what happened when people allowed the unions to be busted up and weakened. You get what the employer wants to pay, not what you are worth. Our musicians union used to guarantee a wage, and would even pay us when the venue could not. Unions are a joke now, to the enjoyment of every club owner out there. The musicians union was really a collective of musicians covering each other’s back. That is no longer the case.

  • 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.

    • SaxBubba

      There are only 12 notes, and they’ve all been played in every combination possible. If you play any of those notes, you’re making music, and all music is good music. Play your heart and success will follow you. Club owners come and go, good music lasts forever. Good luck.

      • Jeff Blanks

        Bleah. Not enough success to make the difference.

        And this idea that “all music is good music” is a big part of the problem. Some music is better. I know no one wants to hear that, though. (Some people try, and what they get for it makes Ayn Randism look pretty good all of a sudden–a real shame.)

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

    • Vinyl37246

      One of the perks? I don’t want to play venues that you can’t smoke in.

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

    • Keir

      Similar things happen in the video games industry… Companies exploit young workers and pay them peanuts because of their enthusiasm. Working for free/cheap in any creative industry is cancerous. Wonderful letter.

  • 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.)

    • Get over yourself

      If I hear a band that I think is excellent, I’ll try and give them more shows, and if I hate a band but they draw I will give them shows, if a band asks nicely enough I will give them as many opportunities as they want. I’d rather give a thousand bands opportunities and experience than pay 5

      • and you’re what’s wrong with the industry. We don’t want your”experience” nor do we need it.

      • Stuefen

        then maybe you should be a karaoke or open mic bar instead of a real music venue

      • Jeff Blanks

        IOW, you’d rather not pay any money if you can help it? And WE have to “get over ourselves”?

    • ClarkPlaysGuitar

      These are great questions that I doubt “Get over yourself” can or will answer. Here’s what I don’t understand: if “get over yourself” wanted to hire a new bartender, would he bother to check out their credentials, their past work history? Or would he just ask “How many people will you bring in?” and give the alleged bartender a job? We all know the answer. Why won’t venue owners/managers invest a few minutes to investigate the bands that approach them?

      The answer to the crappy band issue is really, really simple. Don’t hire them. Do a little legwork & find out what they sound like before you give them a gig. Hire a part-timer to be your in-house agent. His/her job is to go HEAR these bands, and to start YOUR business on building a rep for having good bands. The increased income created by having your own, regular patrons will more than offset the expense of hiring an in-house agent. If you want to draw an audience every week your customers need to know that they can count on YOU to provide them with good bands. And be consistent in your bands, don’t go alternative this week, old school country next week, and death metal the following week. Sure, have some variety, but be smart about it.

      Leaving 100% of the draw up to the bands is just stupid. If my band brings 300 people that’s great for you one night. The next week my 300 go with me. What does “get over yourself” think – they’re going to go “oooh, this venue is so marvelous I’m going to hang here and forsake my favorite band” because he thinks that’s how it should be? “Get over yourself” needs to get over HIMSELF (or herself) and take some responsibility for their own success. It is really easy these days to find out if a band sounds any better or worse than their CD. If you can’t find them playing live or a live video on YouTube, then don’t hire them. There are a million good bands out there. Just make the effort to find them and don’t hire the crappy ones. If you find a really, really good band without a following then work with them! Have them open for a popular band. The noobs will owe you big time and they will do you a favor down the road if you help them get started.

      Just don’t hire crappy bands. Give the entertainment aspect of YOUR business the same attention you would any other critical aspect and we’ll all be happier.

      • Taurond

        It’s not about ‘crappy’ bands vs. ‘good’ bands. I have worked as a Promoter and I have worked closely with venue owners. I have heard owners say, “I love their music but how can I pay them? I only had 5 customers and I lost money this evening.” I’ve also heard owners say, “This band sucks but they brought a bunch of friends who spent a lot of money; I’m booking them again.”

        I can’t fault venue owners for keeping an eye on the bottom line. It never makes sense to spend more than you’re bringing in. One problem I do have with venues is that many of them have no interest in promoting themselves. I worked with a club owner who hired a DJ for $180 a night and fired him because not enough people were showing up. His attitude was that he expected the DJ to have a large enough local following to justify the cost. Well, the DJ in question is highly respected and does have a good following but it’s hard to get people to come to a nightclub on a weekday when most people on the street don’t even know the club exists. The DJ actually did a pretty good job of bringing people out but, alas, it wasn’t enough for the owner because (instead of rolling up his sleeves and bartending himself) he had to pay a bartender and a bar back and a door person. You don’t need a full staff on a school night when you have only 30 customers.

        I don’t know what the solution is but I think it’s the responsibility of the venue to promote and advertise their own business. ‘Live acoustic rock every Tuesday;’ ‘Karaoke on Wednesday;’ ‘Salsa on Thursdays.’ Whatever you got going on at your club, you better promote it and have at least a core clientele… or else whey would anyone even want to play there? I can play to my friends at home and the drinks are cheaper!

        Any business owner won’t advertise and promote their own establishment (and their own establishment’s events) is lazy. Likewise, entertainers need to promote also… but I don’t believe it is their responsibility to do it all. Every business person (whether they be a club owner or a musician) needs to be willing to invest in their own brand. Neither party should shoulder the entire burden.

        • Jeff Blanks

          The answer to the first question is “The same way you pay everybody else.” Why should musicians get left out? What people have been saying all this time is that it’s not solely the responsibility of musicians to provide a clientele to the venue. Obviously you do know what the solution is.

  • EW

    The Tampa Bay area is exactly the way you describe LA. We just stoppped with the clubs because of owner attitudes, smoke and late hours expected when you do play. We have focused on weddings, corporate events, fraternal organizations and we also learned how to say no to some of these jokes that call themselves owners or managers. I have also found many of the telephone numbers disconnected.

    Now for the musicians who continue to agree these absurd conditions, you should be real proud. Your continued agreement with these operators is akin to prostitution. A quickie, $20 each and thank you sir, see you at the next roundup. The local venues are also trying to disquise their disgusting ways by calling it open jams. No pay but great exposure. Well I can stand on the roadside, drop my pants for exposure and probably pick up a few more $20 quickie’s. I prefer to stay home if that is my only option.

  • WES

    The same thing is going on with writing and journalism. I see companies posting all the time that they’ll pay me as much as $10 or $25 to write an article. Without professionalism, you don’t get professionals. The sad part is that eventually all the writers and musicians will be 2nd-rate amateurs.

    • Keir

      Same thing going on with graphic design and web development too. Crowd-sourcing and spec work are awful things to force young designers to do in order to “get exposure” or “build your brand.” But if people want lousy design at cheap costs, that’s a game I’ll never win.

  • Waynesdad

    We don’t really have this problem in South Florida. There are some who do that but not many, at least in my little world. There are plenty of places to play that pay. My demographic is late 30’s to 60’s. I’ve had to tell some club owners that this demographic doesn’t follow bands like kids. They go to the places they like for the food, ambiance, location ect. They also won’t stay out late. 7 to 11 is standard around here. If your good, insist on being paid as a professional. I’ve known some owners who will not hire cheap bands simply because they believe in getting what you pay for. If they’re cheap, they’re no good. And yes, always approach this business as a business.

  • thank god something is finally being said about this, in an old band i front-manned, we played a venue a fair few miles away from where we were. Fuel to get up their wasn’t cheap, we tried very hard to get as many fans up there (who made their own way up, paid for the train fares and paid the door fee). In the end, we managed to bring 13 people. The headlining act didn’t bring a single person, they had an unprofessional and disgusting attitude toward everyone, at the end we thanked the promoter for giving us the opportunity to play. His reply was “you can play here again if you bring more people, I expected 25!”, we looked at each other and outlined two things:
    1 – wasn’t that HIS job?
    2 – we’ve gotten gigs at smaller venues with more people for free and been treated with the upmost generosity

    It wasn’t until we had a band meeting discussion we realised the trap of ‘profiling’ the venue before we agreed to play, it is a simple trap and only takes 5 minutes to do via social networking or via the venues website, just thought I’d point that one out. 🙂

  • Get over yourself

    Until all crappy bands quit, you can’t just go around paying everyone, if I have an available show, I get 20 responses from people I’ve never heard of, they all say they are excellent, and they all say they will draw a hundred people, should I pay everyone and figure out who’s lying afterwards? Or should I give them opportunities to prove themselves right without risking myself financially? If I paid everyone who wanted money for their talent, I’d of been out of business before I opened.
    I think 20 years ago this was true, but the music world has changed, and all the old pros are depressed because they are too out of touch to realize it. Some wise musician type said something along the lines of “when I started, if a record ended up on my desk, it’s because a lot of people thought it was special, now when I get a cd, it’s because some band likes themselves”
    So in short, all musicians say the same things, pros and amateurs alike, so until everyone stops lying, I can’t pay a group unless i have heard of them, or worked with them before.

    • That’s where the web and social media prove their worth for talent buyers.

      20 years ago you couldn’t size up 20 bands in 30 minutes without leaving your chair.

      google dot com

    • Sorry, but it sounds to me like you are making excuses to not have to pay a band and to get free music for the evening. It’s as simple as listening to a band on facebook or a CD, if you are not doing it this way you are not taking the time and effort to find a good band. People will always come in to your place if they know you get good music. This usual business of bringing in a minimum of 20 to 25 people for a $10 cover charge (or whatever you are charging) and paying the band for anything collected after that is clearly set up for the club owner to be in a win-win situation, because it is possible but not usually probable that a band will bring in more than that exact amount of people and the club owner knows this. So this appears to me to be an outright scam: the club makes money regardless and the band gets squat! Club owners make it sound like a logical argument that if a band is so great, they should have hundreds of fans willing to follow them from venue to venue. We all know that there are a lot of good bands out there but it’s simply not realistic that they are going to bring all of their fans every time to every venue. This is not the band’s responsibility, it looks to me like you want someone else to do your job for you. You are the one who wanted to open a club, it’s your responsibility to provide your club with an interesting and entertaining atmosphere by bringing in good bands that people will enjoy. I don’t see what’s so incredibly difficult about that, and why club owners seem so reluctant to simply advertise when the band is playing. If their reputation is good with their clientele it should be no problem for them to bring people in. Of course, a band will also bring in a share of their followers but the club owners should not depend on this solely, it’s not fair to the band. I understand that running a club cost a lot of money, but all a lot of club owners are interested in is a quick buck instead of a long term profitable solution for both parties involved. In terms of running a business, club owners should work with bands and musicians and stop this “I’ve got mine and to hell with you” attitude. This has been a very unfair popular trend among club owners, it was never meant to be this way and it shouldn’t be this way. Clubs and musicians should be partners, not competitors with one holding something over the other’s head like two peasants haggling to death over the price for a horse… Where does it end?… and I’ll tell you what, why don’t you get over yourself?

      Lee Lawless, musician, New York City

      • Jeff Blanks

        Hear, hear. “Get over yourself” is the mark of the asshole.

    • Pmiller

      No, you should not do that but you should check out their credentials. You don’t even have to get up, just web check them.Besides, it is not really the musicians job to promote YOUR venue.

    • Gregparke

      So, what you are saying then, is that before you pay your liquor supplier to stock your bar, you drink it all first before you pay for it? When Cysco delivers your food order, you eat it all before you pay for it? You fill you car with gas and drive until you run out befor you pay for it? You wait until your tables, chairs, plates, silverware, glasses etc are all used before you pay for them? Wow, you’re good! What planet do you live on?
      BTW, I want to take all of my friends out for dinner this weekend. How about we come to your place, you feed us, and if we feel like it, maybe we’ll pay you. or maybe not.
      Don’t worry, I won’t be sending you my press kit (even though I already paid for it)

    • Redtaperiot

      Then do the research. Look the band up online, see how many followers they have. You’re technique of not paying anyone for their efforts/gas/time/promotions is a disgusting practice. If you were really interested in paying for talent you would listen to them online before booking them or take the time to see them live at another venue.
      You just want the bands to bring in a crowd for you to make money. All bands may say the same things, but if you took the time and did your job as a club owner and booker you’d know who is legit and who isn’t.

    • Minneapolis_Listener

      It’s true: how many bands today are truly remarkable musicians that excite and amaze an audience?

  • Here in Italy we’re at the same point. Bar and club owners don’t want to understand your reasoning. In addition, if they give you more money you can also hire a live sound engineer (here most of the bars/clubs don’t have) and have better sound quality

  • barney9460

    It’s true what the author says but it’s also true that a good band will have a following. Of course that won’t be true for bands just starting out, but they should be willing to work for cheap. As little as 75 dollars sounds, you’re only talking about a 3 hour gig. Yeah I know, equipment, set up, yadda yadda yadda, played professionally for 15 years, you still have to be willing to start small and build. The real problem for bands is that they don’t stay together for very long. The bands that stay together, don’t have these problems.

  • 78704

    From an Austin point of view, we’re fortunate in two regards. First, many venue owners and bookers have the patience to give an act or label a month-long residency on, say, Wednesday nights. That provides the band a stable schedule to inform the public, so the owner/booker can reasonably expect growing turn-out. If that happens, the band has the reasonable expectation of moving to a prime night such as Saturday, and/or to a bigger venue after having invited that booking manager. Given those reasonable, mutual expectations, I’m in the middle of the “band bring your own” vs. “bar brings them all” discussion.

    Second, we the audiences are relatively well-informed and up-to-date, not least from talking among ourselves. I can tell my pal to meet me next Wednesday night, and then we’ll follow the band and/or become Wednesday night regulars, a potential win-win (and win for us fans!)

    We’re unfortunate because we Austinites do experience a distressing amount of arrogance and bitterness from acts who just don’t get that we have high musical standards in this city. If the act is the hottest thing in Cedar Rapids or Bangor, and the lead singer’s significant other spread the word of mouth among all the local cognoscenti at the “cool” hair salon, they may be in for a rude awakening in Austin. “But we drew 20+ people every time we played the Holiday Inn!” is just another urban legend to us. When an act climbs down from the hottest time on Saturday night to the middle act of three or four similar or better acts on a Wednesday night, that act must have the maturity and the long-term outlook to build themselves up.

  • Dave c

    Venues need to employ proper band bookers and PR/Marketing also.

  • 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?

  • the mad greek

    Check out The Piano Bar, in Hollywood. Fantastic music 7 nights a week, always free admission, always packed to the hilt…and all the bands get PAID.

    This is a rare club business model in LA, and it is all due to the man running the booking / entertainment there, who spent the last 3+ years revamping the model of the business to exactly what you’re speaking of, above. It has been a long labor of love for him, and he is truly a discriminating music lover and talent seeker, but the results speak for themselves. He has established a club with a reputation that people know and expect, and come to see.

    The flip side of this is, it’s hard to get a show there. They have spent a long time refining the quality their residency acts (which, although they include a number of bands every night, and different bands for every night of the week)…and in order to get in the door, you need to establish a relationship with the club beforehand, show them not that you can “draw” a crowd, but more that you can entertain and maintain the crowd that comes there every night expecting a certain caliber of entertainment.

    The act I perform with there spent the better part of a year working on this relationship….and it has been worth it every week we now play, to a packed house every night….

  • 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.

    • Vinyl37246

      “end up with a line-up where each band can fairly easily expect 20+ people to turn out to see them” 20 people isn’t even worth playing in front of. Even with 4 bands, 80 people is not worth playing in front of, not that you’d actually be playing in front of 80. People come to see one band then leave, or go smoke pot in the parking lot.

  • 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.

    • Seth Connelly

      Ask them how the money they collect gets distributed if you want to see a real dance step. The PRO’s are wolves claiming to watch over the safekeeping of the sheep. Smarten up musicians. They are the scam.

  • 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.

  • Woodydiraf

    Hi everybody, it seems that it is not exactely the same in some club in Paris ( for an example : a club close to the metropolitain “République”. If you want to play with your band, you must pay and to bring 20 people. If the applauses are strong, you can comeback another time again. At the end, you have lost your time, your energy, your money and nobody knows you except your friends. I was doing this with one of my band in the 90’s. It was the first and the last time. So goodluck if you want to come to play in Paris.

  • Thelma harcum

    This is a great article that has put light on what musicians are going through. I love all the sharing with the comments.
    Some of my suggestions:
    1. Have a performing contract and stimpulate what you want.
    2. Suggest to the venue owner to set up a cover cost for the musician. Dollars can add up!
    3. Have a promotional table set up to sell your albums and posters. Include some stickers, they’re cute.
    include some whistle blower for the big kids and little kids.
    4. Start a Musician Unite Group where you can share resourcesl such as printing, computers, sleeping quarters,
    musicians , musical instruments, and information of where to go and where not to go. That involves a data base. Like a club, it should include the west, east, south, midwest, and north coast.
    5. Then Go out and write a song about Musician Staying Alive to Survive. That should hit a note with all musicians. Make a movie of the musicians life. No one really see the other side of the musician lifestyle.
    It is full of ups and down many tilmes bringing out the creative side of the brain.
    6. Know your audience. Who are they? And what make them want to buy music-your music. Why do they purchase one download song over another. The song that you think people like on your album that you think is your best song of all is not what a person purchase; why is that?. I’ve found that out from my download of one of my songs on the album and was shocked. However, I’m glad that the majority of the sales was for the whole album, “Love Songs
    7. Every one need to wear their own label on their backs. Literally.
    Place your album name on your shirt or Jacketm car, truck, motorcycle,with the link to CD Baby or were ever you want it to go and sell like crazy!
    8. Musician work hard at what they do. The movies are getting their money, get yours.
    9. Study Successful musicians. Look at the Beatles. They came as a group and was successful because of the group sticking together, family support and talent. Make sure you are unique and stand out.
    10. Make sure you have insurance on your instrument. Check with ASCAP and other music organization and see what benefits they offer for musicians. You can start your own musicians group and share information. I had a songwriters group for a year and it was so great! One of my friends,, the late Joe Steel, also a music teacher who had went back to school for his degree in music, took information I gave him from back stage and got music jobs in New York.
    11. Study your music and look to see if it crosses over. Just look at Whitney Houston(whom will be sadlly missed)
    singing explosion of “I’ll Always Love You” written by Dolly Parton. It’s amazing!
    12. Even if you never performed live, you can sell your Cds, at Art Festivals, Flea Markets, and yard sales.
    13. Venues should include places like McDonalds, Burger Kings, Wegmans, Dunkin Donuts, Exercise club, etc. Just look at the money you’re making. Start opening the doors, somewhere. Occupy something and play your heart out!
    We are an overweight society. Get people dancing again with your songs.

    Much success and I hope my input helps. Thelma Harcum, of Harcum Music Productions
    If you need a review of your music, visit my Art and Music site http://www.thelmaharcum.com/ArtMediums

    • Jake


      Some of what you mentioned warrants a response.

      1. Contracts: I agree, it would be nice. many, if not most, venues will not agree to using a contract; they’ll simply go with another band.

      4. Re: ‘Musicians unite:’

      Such an organization has been operating for well over 100 years.

      It’s called the American Federation of Musicians: http://www.afm.org.
      Unions are groups of people united to serve the goals of their members, whoever they may be and whatever they decide to do as a group.

      Although many locals exist to service orchestral players, but others, like mine – local 99 in portland, oregon – are comprised half of freelance artists playing all kinds of music.

      Local 99 funds the Fair Trade Music campaign, which is working to address most of the issues Goldberg brings up. Consider joining and participating in your local, and urging your friends to do the same, perhaps start a Fair Trade Music campaign in your town.


      10. The best and cheapest instrument insurance is available through the AFM, by the way.

  • Deleting previous math-addled post 🙂

  • This is a great article with good follow-up from people who clearly care about this topic. Sadly, it is symptomatic of the state of booking live bands in many cities that I’ve visited throughout the United States. There are actually several reasons behind why some musicians have allowed clubs to get away with this, and I agree with the author’s original ideas to improve the situation.

    1. With the advent of the iPod, many clubs have given up on booking a live venue at all. Why book a $300+ band for an evening when the owner can invest in an $80 iPod and be set for months? Why book a band that insists on free drinks and free food all night, when the iPod demands nothing? And hey, there’s still a recession out there. Restaurant owners are often fighting just to stay in business, so one of the first things to be stricken from the budget is usually live entertainment.

    All of this taken together may push an unknown band to deal with the club owner, thinking that it’s a win-win situation; however, as the article points out, only the restaurant owner (if there is a winner) will come out ahead.

    2. Weaker music union power due to right-to-work laws combined with other musicians’ cheap gigs. Since many locales have passed laws that prohibit venues from mandating that their musicians be unionized, local pay scales have also predictably fallen. A couple of years ago, I found a scale from the AFM (American Federation of Musicians). Scale for 2008 was that a band leader should expect about $220 for a 3-4 hour set, and all sidemen/women should be paid about $110. Take your average quartet and this amounts to a minimum set fee of $550. By the time one adds another hour to set up and sound check, and another hour to tear down (5 total), the leader is expected to make $44 an hour, and the sidemen/women, $22. However, to use the horrible example at $75, there is no leader pay and now everyone is making about $15 over those 5 hours. This is a gross amount, before taxes, before retirement plan. Absolutely no one can live on this.

    All this said, aspiring bands, please, stop playing for super-cheap and/or free. You are ruining the business in your area in several ways for other artists, especially those musicians that elect to stay union, because you are driving down their ability to make a living at this craft. While some of us have day jobs, often union musicians do not, so the next time you consider booking a cheap gig for supposed gain, think about how you just might have hurt a fellow musician’s ability to earn a living. It is up to us to help set the standard and therefore, a “musicians’ economy.” Furthermore, by playing for almost nothing, you contribute to the fantasy that playing music is not a serious craft. Ask any world-class musician how long he or she has studied his work to become that good, and you will find that most have studied and practiced for more years than any doctor or lawyer attended professional school. Yet, many artists do not demand such fees because music is considered “entertainment” or “fun time” and therefore not “serious.” Playing for cheap only instills that fallacy.

    Lastly, in terms of “exposure”, Simon Cowell is probably NOT going to be in the audience that night to grant you the fame and fortune that you so desperately crave; instead, you must have the dignity to price your craft well, and long-term exposure these days comes from blogging, social networks, radio interviews, reviews, and constantly endeavoring to play in respectable venues. If a restaurant owner lets you play for free, in the long run, think about this way: you likely came off as desperate and probably not very good, else you would have demanded better money. The ONE exception to this rule would be for a special charity that’s close to your heart or a rare favor to a friend, and even then, do not let this become a habit.

    3. No auditions, no references. Along with no union, bands also do not have adequate references from other venues, attesting not only to the quality (volume, sound, appropriateness) of their music, but of their professionalism on and off the stage. Is this band a bunch of lushes that will empty your bar and never pay for it? Is the band timely — shows up on time, takes 15-20 min breaks and gets back to work, leaves on time? Professionalism and references can go a LONG way to helping a band get the next gig and ease the restaurant owners’ minds in the process.

    The battle can be won, one venue at a time, but it will take an army of artists everywhere to reinforce it. Please understand that my blog here is for our collective betterment, and if you see yourself in its pages, perhaps it just means that it’s time to take a good look at what you can do to help us all to succeed this challenging but fulfilling profession. Thanks for reading and caring.

    Best always,
    Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
    President, Jazz Pianist / Vocalist
    TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
    Denver, CO

    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/timkatent
    MySpace Music: http://www.myspace.com/timkatent
    Tim Ballard Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/timballard
    CDBABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/timballard

    • Brad P.

      An IPod can compete with a BAND???!! If you play music, you should quit NOW!, or at least go non-profit! I have never laughed and been so put off at the same time! It’s about “The Entertainment Value”! Even a BAD band can compete with an IPOD if they choose to by using a bit of creativity. It’s an IPOD!!! Sorry, couldn’t finish your post.

    • Jake

      Right on Kathryn!

      It’s true that wages were substantially higher it’s before a federal lawsuit reinterpreted musicians’ status as independent contractors, stripping the Musicians’ union of collective bargaining power.

      It’s been a downhill slide ever since as musicians race to undercut each other for ‘exposure.’

      Fair Trade Music, a campaign of AFM Local 99, is working on addressing the conditions laid out in this article.

      It’s not easy – it’s going to take a lot of us – but it’s doable.

      Find out more at our website,

      In solidarity,

      Jake Pegg
      Tubas, basses, percussion
      Coordinator, fair trade music

      PS By the way, we have very similar talking points:
      “Four things every musician’s gotta know:

      • Thank you Jake, it is so good to hear about the AFM Local 99 and I will definitely stop by to read about it. Keep fighting the good fight!


  • Please disregard my former post; it seems that I cannot add (;

  • Thanks for the insight, this is the best perspective I need as I face this particular situation in getting gigs. I’m treating it as a business, no freebies

  • 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...

  • Readymaed32

    I had a similar thing happen to my band recently. A friend got us a gig at this new restaurant and told us the owner would be paying us $300 for a 3 hour set. I was kinda baffled that the owner wasn’t interested in listening to a demo or checking our credentials but decided I wasn’t gonna pass up a chance to play AND make $300. After the set was over and I went over to collect the money the owner says he’s only going to pay me $250 because “It wasn’t was he was expecting and we didn’t play any recognizable songs.” He never bothered to ask us to play covers! After some negotiating he agreed to pay us the $250 and cover our $20 tab. When I counted the money later I saw the sneak had only handed me $230. The whole experience kinda bummed us out and we’re kinda discouraged from playing at bars.

    I think we’re going to stick to recording and maybe find other means of making money with our music. There’s this new website I’ve heard of called Makeastar.com that constantly hosts online tournaments for bands and singers. You upload a song, people vote for it and by the end of the contest you can win $100! I’m interested in looking for other opportunities like this on the internet. Best part is we don’t have to deal with rude bar and restaurant owners.

  • 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.

    • MegBradley

      Your argument is flawed; I think you miss the entire point. Some bands are NOT entertaining but bring a lot of their friends to a venue. Some bands are excellent and may be just starting to build their fan base.

      People *will* pay to see great new music, and will pay again and again if a venue provides this on a regular basis. Just as theatre lovers go to the theatre and people who appreciate the fine arts go to the museum, there are people who are hungry for great music they haven’t heard yet–myself included among them.

  • 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.

    • Eli

      I recently decided to test a theory, In order to fight this issue (in Dallas) I simply decided not to play “Pay to Play clubs”. Fortunately my band does have a ok draw.(50-100 people) So I found pubs that do not charge a cover and do not normally have bands for that matter. Then I set a High guarantee first 800.00 then 1600.00. Now we are getting payed, there is no cover and beers are 3-4 dollars instead of 6-7 downtown (for patrons… I set up a bar tab too) It comes down to one simple thing….Set a guarantee and stick to it! You will find yourself more in demand. If also feels good to say “Sorry man our minimum is the best I can do”!
      Did I mention we only play Originals. 45 min max with our friends opening.

      • Mike

        I used to sing barbershop harmony, and there was this one quartet I knew that was just an average foursome – ok singers, but not great. They put on a fun show, but they had trouble getting gigs. They started charging a $500 minimum and bookings picked up tremendously.

        • Blessing Stones

          Perceived value!

          • NO

            You guys ever seen that movie “He’s Just Not That Into You.” The stories you hear are the exception; not the rule. You want any type of career then you better have money or a fan base. Other than that you’re screwed although I can’t think of anyone less qualified to determine what “good music” is than the “fans.”

      • Jeffwenberg

        Eli, this is great. Would you mind detailing how you went about doing this so I might be able to glom onto your great ideas?!

      • KAS

        That’s awesome. who’s your band?

      • PaistyG

        I’ve been setting and getting a guarantee for years. Ask and u shall receive.

      • Andrew

        Thats the thing: you can draw 50 to 100 people, whicg gives you more control on getting these decent paying gigs. Bands that draw 10 people arent going to be able to get a guarantee, with no cover charge….

        • Inter Idoru

          If a band can draw 50-100 people, they are worth a $500 guarantee. As a venue booking agent (in Tokyo), I run in to this:

          band: We want a $250 guarantee to play
          me: How many people usually come to your shows?
          band: About 5-8.
          me: I can book you, but not with a guarantee. You can have 50% of the ticket revenue and 10% of the bar sales.
          band: That isn’t fair! I can’t play for free.
          me: Your website shows that the last 8 shows you played, all this month, were free entry/no pay shows. I’m offering you the chance to make some money.
          band: But my fans can’t afford to pay entry!

      • Eli, my name is Speed from the band Silvertung from Maryland. We have tested this theory as well. And it has worked in our favor, for the most part. We are still doing some shows for free with 100% mech sale. Although we have tried to help clubs to understand. The band that brought you 50 people this time and maybe next time.. Mind you, it was family and friends.. That same band called the club owner the day of their 3rd show to cancel the gig! So when you pay a pro band for a pro performance you will not have to deal with problems as such. We work on building relationships. It takes both clubs and bands to get the attention of the music community. Granted, a pro bands and pro clubs will both have a following. And together makes for a great night..

    • George

      If you are an accomplished musician why play ANYWHERE for free. May as well throw a party and play for your friends, at least you will have fun.

      • Skipspady

        The idea is to play for strangers and make friends/fans…. And a living.

        • Chance

          No thanks. I love making music and writing songs, but I hate the way the business works, the way most musicians carry themselves, and so on. I’ll just keep making my records for me, and leave the street-hassle to the cover bands and other nonsense.

    • Tonybonesld

      I understand. Here’s how I’ve been fighting back.

      I book my own shows and sell them out!
      This way it takes business away from the opposing clubs.
      In return they want to all of a sudden give me a fee to perform.
      Depending on the venue or size. This works better in the artists favor.

      If you book and promote your own shows, you make more money.
      More money to throw arounf and grow with. If you have saught after music?
      Then you have nothing to worry about. I suggest musicians not getting gigs
      to hire a PR to promote your music/videos to grow your friend base.

      Contact: http://www.twitter.com/tonybonesMPLS

      Some of my Videos/Work: http://www.youtube.com/tonybonesLD

      Tony Bones

    • perrykleez

      I agree completely. And i might also say “don’t go into music for the purposes of making money”. It’s a bad way to try making your money by playing nightclub/restaurant gigs. Unless you are a “big name” (and probably even if you are), Jazz doesn’t pay squat…typically $150 for the band around Boston area for nightclub/restaurant gigs, which leads to the need to play in trios all the time. Count the cost of getting to and from the gig, gas, time, etc. and it’s a minimum wage job…unless you really just love to play, which i do.
      Pick another way to make your money, because the odds are stacked against you making money gigging, unless you are in a couple of wedding bands (which are probably a dying breed…).
      Most “professional” jazz musicians make the majority of there money teaching lessons. Get a money making full or part time time job and do music with all your heart in the rest of your free time. You will probably be a little happier, and at least have more money in your pocket…

    • Sally Townes

      Sad to say, but you are right.

    • 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.

    • Joel Brothers

      I have to disagree. I’ve been a pro musician and I play mostly Oldies, and Lounge Music. I never play for free, or”bring people with me”, and I work about 35 nights every week. And I am not even in a large metropolitan area. If all the scab musicians would quit playing for free, the problem would correct itself. I won’t even talk to anyone who mentions playing for free, or the door. I work on a contract basis only…period. If the place isn’t willing to abide by my very fair and reasonable conditions, they don’t get me.

  • 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.

    • Jake

      Mark, you said some pretty important stuff there:

      Yes, we do have to stand together.

      We have to let the bands that are racing to undercut each other know that their actions devalue not just them, but all of us.

      Regarding talking sense into a club owner, that sounds adversarial. Might to better demonstrating the advantages of a slow, sustainable, and solid build of a ‘scene,’ the long-term advantages of investing in quality music… things that effect their bottom line. I have a document on this that’s too long to post here if you’re interested.


  • 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.

    • Risen To Reclaim

      Man you have no idea what you are talking about. Protecting music with passwords? No passwords ever stopped a software from being cracked. The only way to protect that music would be to never give out the password and that music never to be played. But who would buy something like that?
      Famous musicians are still making money through iTunes even though it’s as easy to torrent it, and that’s because the people decided to pay, to support the artist. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your music has value just by existing, it grows in value as people start to appreciate it, but it’s only when they start to appreciate YOU can you turn that value into cash.

  • 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.

    • Eddy D

      yes the fees are a big prob

    • Catmull

      You said it. I understand the concept of the Performing Rights Organizations, but they are shakin’ down small businesses like crazy in my town, and many of them have chosen not to have live music….because some local player may try and get away with playing some Tom Petty or something. Annoying. Again, I’m not AGAINST all that is bmi or ascap, but shaking down the coffee shops works against young songwriters.

    • yup. i used to play a little coffee shop in my neighborhood on friday nights, for $25. yeah, the pay was low, but it was a local owner, i hung out there anyway, wasn’t gigging and wanted to maintain my chops, and between tips, free coffee and other musicians sitting in, it was fun and well worth it to me. ascap hit the owner up and she had to end the live music. now, i have tunes on itunes, pandora, etc, and am all for getting royalties from people who are making money off my music. but, in this case, it was a complete shakedown. it sucked when the gig ended, and this was a place on a shoestring budget whose average customer spent maybe $5 bucks and sat there for hours doing homework, reading, etc. not ascap’s shining moment.

    • Zach

      I have seen more places close down because of illegal threats made by ASCAP. The scene in my area has imploded several times due to just that. And It kills the good clubs and the bad.

  • 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…

    • Evan

      Where I agree with your statement about rehearsals in some cases unfortunately it’s attitudes like yours that are wrecking the industry for up and comers. Musicians read things like this and take it as gospel and it’s the reason that people pay to play. Because people like you tell them to and the big bad music labels are killing music and everyone hates me and blah blah blah. Sorry mate but as a band manager I work with venues and always go in with a plan for what we want to extrapolate in the way of finances and numbers for the bar and the band. Yeah some places turn us down but we don’t want to work with them anyway because they look at us as work OR the 19 year old girl/guy who is the “promotions manager” just wants an easy ride and to get paid to drink with their friends. It’s actually quite easy to walk away from these people. No profitable bar or venue with big turn outs is going to be around for very long or has ever existed because they play the band lotto every week and I know this so I tell them.
      Be upfront about it don’t whinge online just because you are a bit jaded about “the good old days.” If you look at the statistics from 20 years ago (adjusting for inflation, yes I did that too) novice bands are making a lot more than they did back in the day. Well mine are anyway. People always go on about how good it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago depending on how old they are. None of my bands have full time jobs as this is one of the rules with my management company. Everyone earns enough money with 3-4 gigs a week for 3-4 hours a night that pay, on average, $200 – $275 an hour. Yes these amounts didn’t happen overnight but it’s what a really well thought out business plan can do for you and venues see this when you give them an outline of what you and the bar/venue want to achieve. Work with the manager/owner. You would be VERY surprised about how far you will go and, just like with musicians, venue managers and owners are always networking with other like minded people and you soon get a name around town as being very business savvy and professional.

      If you don’t grow with the times you get left behind. To say that everyone who is played on the radio is 16 is just stupid. Because on person aka the Beib’s is played (he’s A sound business ind is what gets you further in the game now-day. A degree or diploma in music business will help greatly and of course hard work, like setting up any business regardless of what field you are in.

      As for your last statement it is VERY flawed in its research. Venues on average are paying more, people are buying more music units, when added to online units, than ever before. Musicians are still creating GREAT music.

      A few points you made that were some of the most flawed that I have ever heard.

      1. I have no idea how much you were getting paid that two members of your band could live off 2 gigs a fortnight? I’d probably book a DJ too?

      2. Jazz has a VERY finite audience and bitching about what people actually want compared with what you play is typical of a jaded/ageing musician. Change is something that you cannot change. Grow with it or become a dinosaur.

      3. There are 4 (soon to be 3) major labels left and none of my bands are on them and are doing quite fine indeed. We do all that work ourselves. Majors know that their time is slowly coming to an end and are doing these crappier and crappier deal because people keep signing them. That is their own fault.

      4. The sate of the music industry does not “suck” it’s just changed a lot in the past 10 years. A lot of people equate change to sucking because they have to learn something new and change themselves this is work, deal with it.

      5. Music is not manufactured by the label. I have never had a label, independent or major, tell any of my bands or bands that I have been around and friends with what they “have” to have on their albums?

      6. Stars are making epic money. Have you not seen Cribs??

      7. Older acts are touring because people are generally listening to their music again because of digital downloads. Also, you find me a musician who doesn’t want to play in front of people doing what they love and getting paid for it (generally really well as ticket sales and merch is where the money is) and you have the less than 1% of the working musicians out there.

      8. I take all I can with my bands and their advances. The record label can only take money from the mechanical royalties (unless you sign a 360 deal and if you did you are a complete idiot, or you are Madonna) and if you don’t use mechanical royalties as part of your business plan and think of you album as a promo flyer like I do then this is not a problem. I love using labels to pay for all that crap cause none of us care about any of the money that comes from it and they can keep my CD sales. You make bugger all from it any way.

      9. The only reason Justin Beiber will be broke is through bad financial management, drug addiction or plain youthful stupidity not because of a label

      10. The iPod, sampler, iTunes and drum machine have made music more accessible to the masses for production and ESPECIALLY for the up and coming musician. We make great money from iTunes and we use drum machines and we use samplers and iPods are a God send. We don’t have to pay a PR company to get radio play, we don’t pay a label for digital distribution, we don’t need a label to have our CD recorded, produced, pressed and promoted by a label to sell at gigs ad make good money.

      11. A LOT of musicians have been fly by night? All through history. A lot of bands rehears. Just because they don’t know scales like you do does not mean they are crap. One of my soloists have never had a guitar, drumming or singing lesson in his life. Hell one of his best songs is about how he NEVER HAD A MUSIC LESSON and he is by far one of the best musicians I have ever heard. He has passion and soul and isn’t an angry little dwarf.

      12. The most flawed argument by far “Venues pay less, people are buying less, musicians are creating less. Can we change this? I’m all ears…” I just explained in my response on this that venues pay more, people are buying more and musicians are creating WAY more thanks to people being able to record in their home (using drum machines and samplers) and put it out there digitally (thanks to iPods and iTunes).

      Grow with the times, don’t be pissed off that people don’t really like listening to Jazz that much when they are out on the town. Stop whinging and spreading doom and gloom. Positivity is a God-send and is infectious.

      • Jazzy

        dude, first of all ur probably australian. the Australian economy is probably the only one doing great these days because of mining interests. heck the aussie dollar is higher than the greenback.
        second, electro music is very popular in euro style countries like yours and that’s great, but being a crossover musician myself, I’d rather listen to a musician on an instrument than watch a producer twirl knobs, which is probably what your musicians do.
        third I’ll take a jazz musician who knows scales over a tweaked kid who knows ableton any day
        hey its a difference of flavor, but pod music IS killing the musician and replacing him with the producer
        finally producer music is by nature anonymous and you will find in time that any producer can be easily replaced
        now go try and replace Charlie Parker…

      • WadeMaVv

        What’s your email. Can you please send it to WadeMaVv@KiLRmusic.com Loved what you had to say!

      • James

        Well said Evan, It is about changing with the times and looking how to be a better business person with your business. I play 4 nights a week around Texas and make a great living and look to do better as well. I’d love to network with you. Drop an email if care to.

      • El Pathos

        “musicians are creating WAY more thanks to people being able to record in their home (using drum machines and samplers)”

        When I eat more I create WAY more poo too!

      • TB

        Evan…you are way off base. Venues are paying novice bands more because they wouldn’t pay them at all in the past. You had to be good to get on stage. Good bands get paid less. Fewer people in the music industry are getting a larger percentage of the money. I see the major problem of the venues being the musicians as in former musicians/owners. Most of the venue owners couldn’t get a job doing much else so the risk all and stay in the music business as an owner or an establishment. Most have never put together a business plan, gathered market data, run a survey, etc etc. Look at the successful venues and there is a solid business minded person that probably wasn’t a musician running it. Next in line are the booking agents. They do nothing to develop a new band and grow with them. Booking agents want 20 gigs as a headliner with 200 people in attendance at each gig before they pic you up. Heck, if we did that why do I need a booking agent? The music business is messed up because of musicians that have no business acumen.

      • Jeff Blanks

        Change isn’t always growth. You can’t blame people for not doing something they don’t want to do. You wouldn’t do something you hated–don’t put it on others to do things they hate. There’s already enough of that going around. If you want people to be of good cheer, they have to see some upside. It’s not always its own reward.

    • Bro, you are SO on the money.

    • Carlaulbrich

      totally agreed until you said musicians are creating less. i know a lot of people writing a lot of songs. DJs are swimming in CDs – they could never possibly get to them all.

    • Inukshukpass

      Booo Debbie Downer…I have hope, fans, play live and get real AND get paid..mpls/st. paul

  • 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.

    • Rhyan

      I agree, we organize events and what we have done is hired sports fields set up stage and have a group of bands jam we charge an entrance fee and split the takings between us the organizers and the bands that performed the sports club takes the bar and we take the door it is a win win situation. We also book corporate events with more acoustic/ cover bands we get paid up front by the corporate company so again a win win situation. We have to think outside the box Screw the club owners and bar owners create your own following. We just did a house party we did sound the bands did what they do and all got paid turn out was massive 200 plus for a house party and everyone paid R30 (South African rand) to get in. Unity is the way

  • 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.

    • Jay Johnson

      Any band or member of a band that plays for free is messing with the entire music scene in their city…..and should be called out on Facebook, twitter, or mass e-mails…..and completely boycotted.

      • Sax Cadillac

        I love this idea. We are in Montana and the travel between gigs is costly and the club owners don’t care because the locals will play for $100/night. So we have to play mainly for our own sponsored parties with donations.

    • Montecristo_28557

      I think that’s a big part of the problem artists find themselves in. Clubs and how they book is only part of the problem- a narrowing audience who supports live music is also a problem. A move away from guitar based music toward processed music meant mainly for dancing is a factor. A lack of talent and originality is evident in the proliferation of cover and tribute bands, or DJs who get by mainly on personality and haircuts rather than on any artistic merit.
      With a million and one distractions, people are just not seeking out live music on a large scale anymore.

    • Mike Mudd

      A venue has to learn how to market itself. Just because it’s original doesn’t mean it’s good. Songs remain well known over time because they’re great songs. If a venue vets it’s players, so they always have great music, and then market their venue as an ‘All Original Music’ venue, they’ll make it -especially in Nashville where people go specifically for the music.

    • That´s the way it should be done.. good luck to all who really “practise” !

    • Kev

      Well said Steve, you are absolutely right. I’m a musician in England and it’s pretty much the same here. I think the trouble is that the owners/managers etc. of these kind of places have no imagination and are not capable of doing anything else…..the majority of them certainly know nothing about music and people who love good music. So therefore, they delude themselves when they believe that they are providing a service to the public. People are not stupid.
      Anyone can go anywhere to see shit bands but do they want to?………..NO!
      As in all walks of life you get what you pay for.

    • Dennis Knuckles

      original music has a fresher, dynamic element quite often that covers don’t have!

    • Blessherheart1

      Reply to Steve V. Johnson: Broadway, or “Lower Broad” as it is known by the locals, has absolutely nothing to do with all the real music being made in Nashville by real artists (that Music Row won’t touch with a 10 foot poll and visa versa). That’s like going to the dairy land of Wisconsin, buying a block of Velveeta at the Piggly Wiggly and saying “I thought they were supposed to have good cheese here.” Lower Broad is strictly a tourist destination. There WAS a time when some major label artists played there before they made it big. But these days Music Row would rather sign American Idol runners up or fabricated boy/girl groups who look good on tv. Don’t you know…honing one’s craft – even if it is in a tourist trap – is so passe. It’s safe to say that Taylor Swift never played Lower Broad in her life. The Swifts were millionaires with when they moved to Nashville and she had a record deal on RCA when she was 14.

      But it’s good that the limey requested original music. The UK music business folk are more open minded than their US counterparts. I’ve received attention over there when I can’t get arrested here. So I LOVE me some UK!

      Re: gigs, if I didn’t play for free I’d NEVER get to play. And it’s Nashville so no one is going to buy a cd and you’re lucky if you get $20 in tips when you’ve spent $150 on a band. And, for the most part, no one in the audience gives a shit because they’re all musicians and artists hanging out because those are the only people who go out to see live music except the tourists who go to Lower Broad to hear “Mama Tried.” (see above)

      Everyone who ever learned to play a G chord and has Garage Band on their computer now thinks they’re an artist. The fact that mediocrity has been elevated to such tremendous heights breeds more mediocrity. And this is where we are. It’s a buyer’s market. And because this IS Nashville, every other band/artist playing for free on a Tuesday night can potentially kick your ass. How did they get that good? Playing a bunch of gigs for free. How are you going to compete? Playing a bunch of gigs for free. Sucks. Remind me why I do this again?

      • Jeff Blanks

        You can thank the Glorious Punk Rock Revolution for all the mediocrity.

        But even if there is a glut, your last point suggests that the cream still rises to the top. It’s just that the top (well, on the local scene) isn’t so high any more.

    • Sorry the guy from England couldn’t find our original music clubs, he should have asked one of those songwriters where he should go to hear original music and not gone to the biggest tourist trap in the south. Don’t get me wrong I love honky-tonkin’, it’s just his complaint is not truly valid. There are dozens of original music clubs in Nashville. Now you gotta pay production fees and what have you, and it’s all rotten, but as he pointed out, everyone is a songwriter, and alot of those songwriters actually do get out and play… http://www.ballhogmusic.com.

      Go to New Orleans, nothing but covers on Bourbon St. The real chit is somewhere else.

      note: The Bluebird Cafe he mentions and obviously didn’t go to is across town from the honky-tonks and is a songwriters venue. Just so no one get’s the wrong idea. and if you do go honky-tonkin’ go to Robert’s Western Wold and hang with the locals!

    • Jerry in Nashville

      Steve, The Bluebird Cafe is not on lower Broadway as you stated. It is in a strip mall on the outskirts of town in an area called Green Hills. The Bluebird is a songwriter’s venue that plays only original music. So is Douglas Corner Cafe, The Listening Room, The Rutledege, and The Basement, just to name a few in Nashville. All are original song venues. You went to the wrong place in Nashville. Lower Broadway is for tourists.

      Come back and check out the places I mentioned. You’ll be pleased.

  • 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.

    • Well said! And I love how it’s YOUR fault that “you didn’t bring in any people” when the VENUE couldn’t be bothered to post the promo materials you went to considerable expense and effort to get to them ahead of your arrival….

      (apologies for duplicating my earlier comment here) Coming off of multi-decade careers as professional instrumentalists, my husband and I decided to have a go with our original cross-genre instrumental project a few years ago, and needless to say, it didn’t take too long to figure out that trying to navigate the “play-for-free” L.A. bar/restaurant scene is a fool’s errand, especially given the style of music we do. (Well, I’ll come clean and admit that it probably took me longer than most to figure it out since my career was concentrated in the classical and musical theatre world, so scrumming for bar gigs along with indie rock acts and folk singers was totally alien to me!) Here’s a blog post I wrote on this subject: http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/bars-or-no-bars/ and another one: http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/money-for-nothing/

      Since I finally last weekend figured out how to get a live stream up and running, we agreed that apart from corporate dates and festivals and house concerts, that is going to be our primary live performance platform for the time being. Our new channel can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/PanacheOrchestra?sk=app_142371818162

      The hell with the venues!

  • 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.

    • Jake

      That’s one way to look at it.

      Another is that you’re worth what you tell people you’re worth; see the (multiple) responses about how people’s businesses picked up after they raised their minimums.

      Whichever way you look at it, all we know is that if we don’t ask, we won’t get it.

      Whether or not we like it, part of being a musician is educating fans, venues, and even fellow musicians about what our value is.

      It’s not easy and it’s never ending, but the message will get through when we all recognize our duties to ourselves and to each other: that what musicians do is a service that requires preparation and investment that must be compensated.

      There are no set rules, no scripts, other than to be respectful in the spirit of making a better scene for everybody. Here are some ideas as to how to go after each of these segments:

      Venues: Keep tabs on the benefits you offer the venue in terms of draw and length of stay by documenting it over time. Point out what you’re spending on advertising and how much time you’re putting in. Tout the size, breadth, and efficacy of your assets like social networks and email lists.

      Musicians; have them read the ‘four things every musician’s gotta know,’ here:

      Fans: without sounding like you’re whining, help them understand how many hours go into preparing for each show. Far too many of our fans don’t have any idea how much equipment schlepping, rehearsal, writing, and individual practice is involved, they think we just show up on stage and ‘have fun.’

      Good luck,
      in solidarity,
      Jake Pegg
      Tubas, basses, percussion, maracaBOOM, z’Bumba, professor gall, 82nd avenue brass band
      Coordinator, Fair Trade Music

  • 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.

    • LanceNightmareRecords

      Unions unfortunately couldn’t keep up with the times, and have declined in power greatly simply because they didn’t know how to reach the upcoming musicians. Sadly there is a double edged sword for both in this.

  • 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.

    • Jake

      No’s right, it’s quite true that clubs harness musicians’ vanity and need for approval to their financial gain. I totally get this, most of us feel the need need to perform live in public, i’m in four bands and, in one sense, no exception.

      However, the difference is that I understand that by saying ‘no,’ I’m actually enhancing everybody’s position, if only a little, by upping scarcity and avoiding the ‘enabling’ of low-ballers. I also know that exposure is almost always a myth. (that’s #4.)

      “#2: Saying No to lousy gigs

      Try it, it’s incredible: liberating, empowering, valuable… underrated.

      Did you “lose” a mediocre gig just ’cause you asked for what you’re worth? WIN! Use the time you save in making more great music, busking, recording, making a video, or performing at a celebratory “we said no” house concert.”

      The rest are here:

      In solidarity,
      Jake Pegg, Tuba, basses, percussion
      coordinator, fair trade music

  • 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.

    • Roberta Piket

      I think you’re missing the author’s bigger point. It’s not about making a lot of money playing clubs. It’s about the club owners having unrealistic expectations that end up destroying their business. An example: I live in NY, played at Anna’s Jazz Island a few years ago in Oakland on a west coast tour. I and had the same experience of sending posters (for the clubs walls, as agreed to by the owner (certainly a reasonable promo effort even in this internet age)) and finding them in a pile under the front desk, torn and ignored. Footnote: Anna’s is now closed. Gee, wonder why.

    • Tony Wolfe

      Well said, bro.

  • 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.

    • Bluewezel

      I like what your saying, but I find that booking agents want nothing to do with a band unless the band can bring them prof of 1) large CD sales or 2) filled clubs. Kind of Catch 22

  • 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.

    • Chris P

      This is true — there’s a venue in Seattle which I shall leave unnamed that has such consistently mediocre bands playing there that I don’t even think of it as existing any more. Every now and then I’ll hear about a band playing there that I do like and don’t want to go out for the show because I know that the booking is so poor there, I’ll probably be seeing 1-3 other bands I don’t really like.

  • 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.

    • Jace

      You are correct, the whisky salesman IS your competitor – and the wine salesman is, too. They think that when audiences are paying attention to us, tipping us and enjoying our music, the attention that we get takes away from their ability to sell more wine. Or talk about wine, which feeds their narcissistic egos., Or bond with their customers at the bar, thereby getting tips and private bartending gigs. We are not only unappreciated musically, we are in the way. And, of course, musicians have been getting sloppier and sloppier over the years. Most “professional” musicians who play in bars are playing for themselves. They don’t know how to put on a show or actually entertain anyone. Wanna play in a bar? You get what you get, unless you are the main draw in a dance club and they are charging a steep cover for the pleasure of your cover band expertise. Original music does not cut it at the local level. Playing bebop with no melody line is not entertaining. Obtaining fame costs money. Know how you get to Carnegie Hall? It’s not practice, practice, practice. You rent the place. Other than that some of the “bands” and “musicians” fretting over how much they’re not getting paid are lucky if someone allows them to practice the arrangements they have their noses buried into. Seriously, no wonder it’s an easier call for owners to serve as much booze as they can while plugging their iPods into the house system. The REALLY good players are on tour, renting Carnegie Hall and, like the smartest of the commentators here, not trying to make a living playing in bars. It simply cannot be done unless you own the bar.

  • 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…

      • Phat Cat Swinger

        She’s right, but it starts with a small group that’s willing to change… and the more that we can convince others, the better. The pay to play situation seems to be true in all the major cities. LA, NYC, Austin, and many more. I find more appreciative venues and patrons in the outskirts of bigger towns. We may be few right now, but if we keep trying… we just might eventually make a difference. If not for us, then for the future of musicians.

    • Carla

      music towns are the worst. it’s really unlikely you’ll get paid anything except maybe tips if you are going to play in a music town like NY, LA, Austin or Nashville. Things are deteriorating elsewhere, esp. since the crash of ’08 when everybody cut back on everything, but music towns are and have always been an impossible place to make decent gig money.

    • Singin’ the Blues In Austin

      We live and perform in Austin as well and Ally is correct. Austin is saturated with musicians therefore the pay is low and there are high expectations from the majority of the venues. Last year one new venue (with no established clientele) wanted us to bring FORTY people on a Tuesday night and offered our band $100. It was a “try-out” the owner said. IF and only IF we brought at least 40 people would they consider booking us for a Friday or Saturday night. As you can imagine we said “thanks but no thanks!”

  • 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.

    • Grooveassault

      Yep!! thats the idea, good ideas Smalaj. Spread the word and those ideas and maybe bands will make some profit.

    • Tony Wolfe

      Great ideas.

  • 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.

    • Wilton Said…

      I’m always amazed at how some bands think they don’t need to promote. I’ve organized gigs with other bands before and I’ve had to email them to get their ass’s in gear because there was no mention of the gig on any of their sites. Crazy.

  • 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.

    • uptoeleven

      Depends on the venue. And the town. I played a bunch of small towns on tour in Ireland and the bars that paid for the music had people in there drinking – the bars that didn’t pay for the music were empty.

      But yes – you have to create demand. It’s why we’re moving away from live performance – possibly forever. It takes too long to develop stagecraft, technique, ability, talent (which comes from hard work, no-one is born talented) to entertain, engross and involve and audience. Easier to go for the “instant” success on talent shows. Easier for venues to book covers bands. Easier for good musicians to give up, get day jobs…

      • Amiram

        Hi I am actually planning to come to the U.K and am also wanting to visit in Ireland. Can you recommend some of those venues for a middle eastern folk rock trio 🙂

    • You should check yourself !

    • Carla

      there’s a catch 22. how can you create demand if no one is willing to even listen?

    • So bars will stop booking luive music becasue the artists don’t promote the gig?
      Good, then people who DO want to listen to live music will go to bars that host live music. There are too many bars that have live music when it is not right for that venue.

  • 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.

    • Neil

      unfortunetly the musicians union in new york city stopped helping musicians that play in regular clubs many years ago.

    • Seth Connelly

      BS about the PROs(ASCAP, BMI and SESAC). they are also a BIG part of the problem. They collect money from club owners, and have NO CLUE as to what music was played. And therefore the royalties collected are NOT distributed to anyone who wrote a song played on any given night. SHAME ON THEM AS WELL! They have stopped the live venues that I played for years from continuing live music. Do not support these organizations until they come up with a RELIABLE scheme for trackable live performance royalty distribution. They should all be run out of town, tarred and feathered.

    • Christina

      1. These organizations only pay songwriters, so not all musicians or band members are covered, depending on your role in the group and what songs you play.

      2. Meh. If the money actually went to the songwriters that would be one thing. These organizations consistently show themselves to be “unions” of the most hierarchical, top-serving variety. My band and I are members of BMI. We play a lot. We’re official showcasing artists this year at SXSW, were last year too, blah blah blah — my only point is that we play original music ALL THE TIME and don’t see a penny. So something’s not working here.

  • 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!

  • Jazzpaperscissors

    Gigging musicians don’t realize how they undercut their own interests by agreeing to play for nothing. We have no solidarity! If one band takes a principled stand like you describe, there are 50 bands willing to take the gig. The truth is that we musicians feel more solidarity with people who like the movies we like, dress like we do, read the same books, etc, than we do with each other. A salsa player in the Bronx is under the same pressures as a metal shredder from Staten Island and a folkie from the Catskills. But we don’t feel it, and we don’t support each other in the effort to make a living. If we ALL stopped playing bars for free, would all the bar owners turn to recorded music? I don’t think so. Live music is a draw and club/bar/restaurant owners know it.


    • I totally agree. We, as musicians, need to be united. If no band would pay for playing, the bar owners, maybe, would change their minds. Here in México the situation isn’t any different. You have to bring the people over or sell tickets (like 8 or 10 dollars per ticket). You get paid with all the cover money, but they take 100 dollars of that money for paying the sound engineer. So you have to pay for playing. This is why music don´t change and make progress. You hear the same dudes, playing the same songs. What we could do as musicians is to make a restaurant with a music theme and let the bands play for free. This would bring a lot of people. Believe me, it will. It’s a win.win situation.

  • 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?

    • Franksnbeans

      There’s a jazz cafe in my area. They bring in touring bands all the time that get no one out…just to be hip. They occasionally bring in popular local bands that draw a big crowd. I used to play there every week and every week more people came in, and every week my pay went down…it’s lucrative if you actually have a desire to cultivate taste instead of telling people what you think they should hear.

  • 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.

    • Jake

      Rich, it’s an excellent point – we are now competing with an ever-increasing batallion of immediate, free entertainment piped in to people’s homes. I’d like to see another forum topic on this: how to we promote live music in general over netflix, facebook, redbox, cable, karaoke, DJ’s, etc. etc.?! Social angles? health angles?

  • 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".


  • Cazmusic1

    I use to run Open Mic nights which meant bringing my own PA mics, lead ect ect. I naturally did my own advertising too and built up a nice little following in a small cafe. One night the place was pretty dead and but i set up as usual. It was getting around the time to start playing so got up to open the night with a couple of songs. The owner stopped me before i started and said, hold on we might wait and see if a few more people come in before you start playing. That way if no more people arrive we’ll just cancel the night and you can go home. He wasn’t playing on paying me anything if no one else showed up. Dare say, i never showed up at his venue again 🙁

  • I couldn’t share the original article with my fans/followers fast enough. Probably one of the best analyses of the modern live performance situation I’ve seen yet.

  • Regarding pay-to-play venues and private events, here is a blog post we wrote on the subject way back in March 2009. http://steelstringsession.com/no-soup-for-you/

    It was one of our most popular posts and we drag it out every so often. Quick and EZ read and it gets the point across.

  • Mundtmail

    It has been a while since I played out. We would often take gigs that paid nothing but the door or play “benefit” shows for “exposure.” Notice how I started my comment with “it has been a while since I played out.” Everything Chris is saying is absolutely correct. Never, I mean never play a “professional” gig for free. If you want to play some open mic nights for nothing, that can be a good way to develop your live skills, but you must make a club owners responsible for offering value for value. The other important point is that venues must develop their own crowds through their own marketing efforts. The musicians can only enhance these endeavors. Just like any business venture, for to truly be successful, their cannot be exploitation, otherwise it will be doomed to fail.

  • Kim

    BEST article I have ever read. SOOOOOOOOOOO true. Venues have gotten just lazy. People come back to places if the music is consistently good. Not good once or twice.

  • SIFO

    Yes, I have been forming and voicing the same argument for some time. My guitarist already sent this to me to point out that someone wrote down what I have been saying. I have made this argument to club owners. I don’t have many gigs, but I am saving money on playing gigs that put me in the red!

  • I read this a while back and believe Goldberg is spot on. Working musicians take heed. Read this!

  • Steve Gold Music

    I was in a blues band for 15 years. The club owners and the overall experience was generally awful. I left that world behind and for the past 3 three years I’ve been focusing on an entirely new market. I found a niche that appreciates my music and pays me well for it. My music is in CD Baby’s Top 10 Acoustic Rock and Folk Pop charts and my recent album has been on the CD Baby Editor’s Picks since its release in July 2011. I am very fortunate because I currently perform worldwide and full time. Check out my website to learn more about me and my music. Also, feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning more about my personal music business coaching. http://www.stevegoldmusic.com

  • mtk

    Great article, thank you. I’ve been dealing with these same situations in the NYC/NJ area for many years. Unfortunately, unless venues operate with intelligent managers/owners who make a sustainable plan for making live music an integral part of their business plan, not just a blind stab at stealing some new customers in the short term, these issues will continue forever. One restaurant or bar owner usually doesn’t learn from their own mistakes, let alone someone else’s. And the rule of thumb for most of these business owners seems to be cheap=smart.

    It seems to me that artists need to band together, find funding, find good management, and create our own venues where we can sustain each other with diverse sources of income (basically, a restaurant/bar with a focus on music and/or art). Unfortunately, it’s very hard to do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this from my latest desk job…

    • anon

      ^*^%$ now i have to own the venue too?
      i thought it was bad enough doing booking, promotions, travel, marketing, social networking, going to conferences and oh yeah writing and rehearsing and recording. sigh.

      • Jeff Blanks

        I suppose if you own the venue you can have your audience come to you and skip much of the rest of it. At least you wouldn’t have to be carting all your stuff around all the time.

  • I only do free gigs for a good cause. If they won’t pay me enough to make it worth my while (I perform solo so I’m not expensive by any means) I simply won’t play there. I play for the joy of playing and being desperate is not somehthing I find any joy in. One of my regular gigs that is for free is playing for a soup kitchen meal. I haul all my stuff there and back and get no monetary gain, but I gain immensely from the experience. Other than that pay me$$$.

  • Christopher von Volborth

    Brilliant article and well thought out argument. The sad truth is that the public takes music, excellent or otherwise, for granted, thanks to the proliferation of technological mass production techniques. Musicianship and esthetics are no longer things to be amazed by because they are ubiquitously present in shopping malls, on radios, dentist offices etc. We have become greatly desensitized to art in general. Everything now is mass produced, expendable, and has a price. To become a good performer in many casesrequires a healthy ego, and a healthy ego requires the substantiation offered by an audience. As long as there are musicians requiring an audience there will be those trying to maximize their material return by exploiting the performer’s ego needs. Sad business.

  • B.G.

    The above letter has it right. I hope some of these young guns starting out playing music realize they are shooting all of us musicians in the foot. Giving it away shows little respect for their craft and hard work.
    They are bringing the pay scale down for all entertainers. If you want to study and rehearse, load up your gear, pay travelong costs , lug in your equipment, set up your pro system, play and entertain the folks for 3 – 4 hours, tear it down and load it out all for a couple of drinks , low pay , and hopes that you might get laid; you might as well stay home , smoke a fattie and jam with your friends. Music is special and live entertainment always lifts an event to a highter octave. It’s one thing to play music it’s another to be in the music business.
    We play less now but make more when we contract to go out the door.
    Viva musica.

  • Michael Isenberg

    LA’s pay to play system is only a part of the problem, but it does represent two things – first, it spells out plainly that the high profile venues have NOTHING without live music. Go down to ANY of the so called ‘prestige’ venues like The Whiskey, Roxy, Mint – ANY of them, and what happens when there’s no live band? NOTHING. The places are empty because PAY TO PLAY has DESTROYED any prestige those venues USE TO HAVE. Those places are merely shells now, buildings that have a famous name and nothing more. REAL venues have built in crowds because THE VENUE IS POPULAR. I’ve been in the band business since the mid 60’s and I KNOW. The ONLY time these venues are packed is when I BAND packs them, and the band has to buy enough seats to even play at them. Who makes the money with a FREE BAND? The venue. It use to be that you had to reach a certain level to play these places, but that was gone decades ago. Now you can stand up on any stage in Hollywood and make balloon animals IF YOU CAN AFFORD TO BUY THE TIME SLOT. As long as bands keep paying to play, these venues will continue to do what they do. In order for ANYTHING to change in what little is left of the music business – MUSICIANS MUST UNITE. It’s either that, or our dying profession is FINISHED. There IS a way to fight it and WIN. I wrote a book on it that will come out this year. But it MUST be a UNITED FRONT. Either that, or REAL live music will become a lost art.

  • Pontifex VonHummer

    Clubs are dead. Have been for at least 20 years. Find another way, artists.

  • That is a great article by Dave. The same problems have been growing here in the UK over a number of years with Pay to Play gigs going back to the seventies in London.

    Dwindling attendance problems are closely related to the current era of home entertainment and recently the smoking ban, amongst other things.

    We have the Live Music Act to look forward to later this year which will make it easier to put on live music in a variety of locations. But if more people don’t start going to live music gigs again we could end up with the “empty room” scenario which won’t last long.

    Collectively, we need to re-educate people to the uniqueness of the live music experience and introduce more improvisation across the genres to generate the kind of excitement that really stimulates people.

    Phil Little
    The Live Music Forum

  • Paulleclaire

    I have played North America and Europe
    I supported Art Garfunkel (his pick )
    for a UK gig
    I have played everywhere including with Art for nothing
    Do you want to know what it is I have learnt?
    No one gives a shit what you play or how much beer gets drunk
    They can sing all night with you but if you dont own the venue
    you or we as musicians get shafted by the owners

    Time to buy some bars and clubs for performing musicians in a CO _OP
    Only way
    as for promotion

    I have been using JANGO to get my music played
    I have thousands of fans
    but even they take your tunes for nothing
    IN fact you have to play to promote them and I caught them giving me false numbers on their monthly plays of my songs .they said I had no plays yet that week I had many plays it turned out
    I only got it checked as I had a new fan
    They provide plays and rewards based on performance but their numbers and their report was wrong
    I asked the man in charge what he thought —–got no reply
    I would recommend band camp instead its the best thing for free on the net
    Paul Le Claire
    P.S. The media age is dead and the only way to make it is with a big song or a big talent
    Here is a link to my music you can listen for free !


    • Yes, You get it !!!!!

    • Eddy D

      nice one buy all the venues and thats where govts come in.. but dont hold your breathe the alcohol companys will beat you too it..

    • Furly

      Paulleclaire gets it. If you want to tell a bar owner how to run a bar, the best way to do so is buy the bar. Then you can tell the bar owner exactly how to do it,
      A CO-OP is a great thing.

    • i refuse to subscribe to any of those pay-in to get your music played sites; jango, whatever. between itunes, pandora, amazon, cdbaby, etc, i do fine, and anytime someone wants money to further my career, my spider senses scream “scam”. if they think i’m that good, they’ll take a chance. so i pay the fee….any guarantees after that? only that they have my money.

  • Seanlay2006

    Yes! I am glad to hear this! I have been arguing this point for years. I do kind of the same thing, by showing the raw numbers and how there needs to be balance in this equation.. Being a Musician and a booking agent I show them that my band averages 50 to 60 people depending on venue. Each one of those people will drink and eat if available. If each person spends 20bucks, which should be very easy, that is 1000 for the bar…..Now why do you want to pay us 75bucks????
    Sean Lay
    Agent /Musician

  • This is a fantastic article on something that musicians like myself have been putting up with for years and years. Having played the New York City music scene for some time now, I’ve become pretty discouraged to play in the city due to all these clubs pulling the same crap. Many have no walk-in business whatsoever and depend on bands/artists to bring 50 people and pay the musicians pennies for it. Thus, as an artist I look to travel beyond the big city, upstate NY, CT, etc. You’ll find a different, more respectable approach to the booking process.

    **** But the bottom line is that bands/artists should stop taking gigs like that. Stop putting up with people who constantly take advantage of your art. Search a bit deeper. They’re plenty of clubs/cafes/farmers markets/wineries/etc in around major cities that respect your art and will do what they can to help you out because they know the effort you put in!

    Well done on the article. Thank you for sharing!

  • JD

    If the club wants to attract a money spending crowd then the club needs to have quality entertainment and advertise..As a working musician I set the ” Quality Control’ pretty high in any band I am in…I look at it as me being the club owner spending money on keeping my crowd and faithful customers happy!..Ask yourself would I hire my band for x amount of dollars to play my club that I was shelling out money too?.Think about it and leave the ego at the door.I do not do open mic nights or play for free and my band has a straight to the point promo kit to shop to clubs,venues,ect…

  • Hi Chris, really felt connected to the article, and to Dave Goldberg. My genre of music is salsa. Salsa has really been taking a beating for the last 15 yrs or so. Our problem is many.
    1). Is immigrants coming from Central America, Cuba, or any Latin countries. They are so happy to be here, that they show up in a club and play for peanuts, just to be playing in a club. And clubs don’t ask a musician if they’re here legally. It used to be that a club owner would hired you for your unique sound, now they just want a “SALSA” band. I have had tours cancel in Europe because Cuban bands which r really good bands, are playing for peanuts. (BTW i was born in CUBA, so this is really personal)
    2) I think that music is also experiencing the same thing that’s going on across the board in the U.S.
    The quality of craftsmanship in the U.S. has been over look by the assault of cheap labor from other countries like china India etc. ex DJ’s, all of a sudden you have guys that don’t know shit about music, but still, they can walk into a club and sell there services while playing the music, that it took us hours, and hours of labor to produce. We’re the one that took the time to create the right hook on a song, the tempo, the swing, the groove….and now DJ’s act like they know what the people want . Shit that make outrageously mad,
    3) I really wish i had a solution to the situation but i don’t. All i can do is, refuse to play and compete with bands that want to sell themselves cheap…But it makes it hard on my pocket book, but so far i have stood my grounds.

  • Excellent Article. I put years into playing, rehearsing, recording, publicizing, building relationships…I am a professional in all aspects except payment for performances…like so many others on here. I “work” in the NJ/NYC area…and I get solicited from clubs non-stop…bigger named clubs as well…who have taken on this practice in full force. Every e-mail boldly, blatantly and defiantly states “Minimum attendance 25” and that is without the “privilege” of getting paid for playing there. Anyone I bring over the minimum…I start to get a cut of that. Thank You! Oh so generous booking agent/club owner. Since I’m the one bringing in people who already like my music…and having them pay a $10 cover…I’ve found my best efforts have come with private parties, house parties, and alternate venues. The 10/per person that the club is getting…I can join forces with other good musicians…charge half that (or even pass the hat situations if I’m invited as a guest performer somewhere else) and still make way more and play to new people and more importantly people who want to hear what we’re playing (which means theyre more likely to buy my CD at the show)…so why not throw the show myself…invite other musicians and combine forces and fan bases to produce a good show and low cost and without gouging my fanbase or my own pocket. Do this a few times and the word spreads about your music and your events. I’ve seen a lot more “regional” acts (not just local bands “doing music” for fun with a crappy CD out there) doing this and making money from it.

    We still need venues…we need GOOD venues…but they’re not the only way to perform. And why play five free shows for the same ten or 20 people…when you can instead focus your time and energy in promoting and playing one private venue/house party type event…you’ll have much better turnouts and make more money. Just my two cents…but it seems to work well for smaller acts or lesser known but good musicians.

    Jeremy Manjorin

  • Douglas Mays

    The live show will exist forever and needed for sake of the art of the craft of original (or not) live music. There is nothing like the individual experience of a live show. And is necessary to gain audience to market the artists recordings and garner industry interest.

    It is just a matter of the club knowing how to run a showcase performance. Here in Seattle there are a massive amounts of clubs that are money makers where it is required you are an original artist crafting your thing.

    The club producer must select artists they think are excellent with potential. then you take that artist and develope them into a money maker. You don’t tell them to ‘bring their friends’. What kind of scene and draw does the club have? the bands are coming to the club to work on having thousands of friends they never met….

    ugh. gotta jump. i could rant about this subject for days…

    Douglas Mays/NewSoul Ent.

  • Temwi

    another wal-mart in action I’m Temwi my muisc is what’s important to me, and it cost money to create it
    you get what you pay for. I don’t work for $75.00 or Free because I care about the other artist out there
    I go cheap they can’t eat, keep your music good and charge what its worth.

  • Christopher Bingham

    The best conversation I ever had with a club owner was in 1996. I’d been banging my head against clubs for 10 years at that point and he told me that even if I filled the room on Saturday night, my people wouldn’t drink enough to keep him in business. The light went on and I never looked back.

    After singing over the alcohol for so long, we took stick of what we wanted out of music. My experience was that if people heard what I did, a pretty large percentage liked it. People do don’t go to bars to actually LISTEN to music – they go to bars to drink and get laid with this cool event happening in the background of their mating dance. We decided that if 11 people came and listened we’d call that success.

    We started performing and presenting house concerts. It got to the point where we could pretty much count on 40 to 60 people showing up and we needed a good room. We did fundraising to record the first record under the new name and raised $12,000 over the course of three months. For the cd release concert, we had over 100 people at $12 head. We rented a community club for the space.

    It tied in with my hatred of “selling” (begging for chance) the band. If I’m waving a $1000 bill in your face, you either have what I’m buying, or you don’t. If you’re just renting the space, all you care about is that the check clears and the room is left as it was and maybe sometimes they worry about keeping the crowd quiet on the street.

    Four records later, the best we ever did locally was 285 people at $18 – $24 a head, in a decent theatre with good sound and lights. Our pattern evolved into three or four monthly house concerts (with a small version of the band) and then a “big” show in a decent room. Eventually we got to play a destination festival in front of 4,000 people. By the fifth year of that festival it was 6,000. That was pretty cool.

    But here’s the deal: I always pay the band. I think what I give them is obscenely low, but it’s more than they get at most club gigs. It turns out they really like the music, so they do they’re homework and they’re pros so we play well. There are eight of us, so touring is nuts. We can play locally about once every six weeks without having drop off.

    We did one club gig, about 8 years in, opening for a friend’s band as a kind of favor and to dip our toes in the club scene. More people were dancing at our shows as the music got more groove oriented. It turns out that a lot of our fans were excited about it, and we got over 100 people, who were used to dropping $20 to hear us play – but since we were the “opening” band, the club didn’t bother collecting the cover charge until after we played. The sound guy was clearly old and deaf – it was so loud the crowd couldn’t hear us. It was a big lesson in “why compete with alcohol?”

    In December of 2007, it was like the bottom dropped out of the bucket. Things are slowly getting better. We changed the name of the band, worked very hard at reducing our expectations (the house concerts really don’t have the shine after playing in front of 6,000) and we’re starting to see different faces at the shows, which feels good. But the numbers are more like 80 people on a good night.

    In short: we found success ditching the clubs all together, playing music for people that want to hear the music and be touched by it and mostly four walling the event. It takes a little money, a lot of time, paying for insurance (all the rooms want insurance) and having something that some people want. If I’m going to pay to play – I rent the room and I own the take. Some times we lose money, but that’s business.

    • Gene Burnett

      Right on Chris.

    • SidneyVaught

      I don’t know where you live but the house concert model is still very successful where I’m at. A lot of acts will do a house concert just before doing another concert at a place that’s bigger. So many times, a house concert is in concert with a larger show.

  • kikojones

    This probably works best w/ rock bands but I say go DIY: find an empty loft/warehouse/gallery space where you can set up your own shows, sell your own beers, get a buddy to DJ btwn sets and make it a party where you charge your own cover and make it a memorable night as opposed to just another night at a bar in which the owner makes all the money and screws you over.

  • Cassofa

    Musicians, I would pay heed to what “Get over yourself” is claiming.

    Albeit true that the situation is frustrating out there, as musicians, or any professionals in point of fact, it is our duty to ourselves to learn and adapt. In my esteem, it is basic, “professional” survival.

    Though I don’t particularly agree that “Get over yourself” has got the “correct” business model, it is his/ her approach; complaining incessantly, and calling for young bands that just want to have fun playing to stop playing music, is unrealistic. I am sorry, but it is, people won’t stop, so asking them to do so in a thread that they most likely won’t read, is unlikely to result in much of a dent.

    That being said, perhaps appropriating ourselves the manner of discourse that the writer, Dave Goldberg, has displayed for us, as an approach within our professional lives, may be a fine step forward. Maybe in discussing with venue owners, as he says, as equals and as intelligent individuals (not whiny musicians – God knows I know a bunch and yes, I am a musician) that have some forward thinking, positive ideas, may sway these venue owners a little more towards working symbiotically with us.

    There are good points above, but, to a token, comparing musicians to chefs (and other professions), I don’t find to be altogether calibrated, argument wise. The reason for this is that people, the public, at this point doesn’t even question paying for food. Anything else becomes a very unambiguous form of theft, and is never debated as wrong or right. However, the theft of music is perpetually argued to be “ok” by a large segment of the consumer market. As a result, there is still a lot of money pouring into the epicurean business, and not so much for the music market.

    (For the record, YES, I do not condone music theft, but it is happening in this form. No way around this fact in the immediate and close future.)

    As harsh as this is, it is true and there isn’t really much that can be done by complaining. Problem solving seems to be a much better approach, and this “problem solving” element is what I do appreciate in Dave Goldberg’s article. I don’t know that demanding for the reversion to what used to be 30 years ago is anything that categorizes itself as anything else than unreasonable. After all, are you all happy to let go to your “recording studios” that you now ALL have? One takes the good with the bad, and adapts … at least if one is to stay in this business.

    Dave Goldberg; nice article, I hope you inspire people to not only take your thoughts as gospel, but to also generate new ideas for problem solving in the music business!

    May this note find you all well!

  • Gregparke

    I have had almost identicle conversations with club owners in the past, and when they really get pressed, some of them have admitted that I was right. The bottom line? I don’t play for free……ever! Period! Music is my only occupation and I work very hard at it, and if I do my job, then I deserved to get paid. That being said, I also realize that part of my job is to increase revenue for whoever has hired me. If I am playing to a room full of people that are there, in part, to listen to music, and my music does not keep them entertained, then I am not doing my job and I damn well better figure out why, and fix it. I always try to get this philosophy across to the venues I work with. I can’t do anything about bad food, poor waitstaff, the room being to hot, or too cold, poor location, no advertising, bad reputation etc, so if that is why no one is there, that is not my fault or responcibility. My job is to provide good, suitable entertainment that is right for the venue, just like the food purveyors job is to provide good, suitable food, licquor suppliers to provide the right spirits, beer and wine, waitstaff to be friendly and take proper care of every customer…..

    Treating being a musician as a business is not “selling out” either! What is wrong with loving what you do for a living? Frankly I would be a bit nervous about going to a Doctor who did it just for fun. I would want him or her to enjoy what they do, but I also want them to be serious enough about it that they devote a major portion of thier time and energy to do a decent job. Everyone has to make a living, and for most people that takes the bulk of your time. Everything else is just a hobby!

  • DemandingRespect

    Thanks for this posting. I’ve been playing in bands for the better part of 25 years, in many different towns and cities in the U.S., in small venues and very prestigious, large venues and can say that in my experience, it is extremely rare to find a talent buyer, venue manager or promoter who truly views the relationship as a partnership. Just about every time I’ve played a show, the attitude is that the venue is doing the band a favor, and that the musicians are working for them. This has only gotten worse, which I believe is a part of the general entitlement people feel about getting music for free. The value of music, and thus musicians, continues to decline in eyes of consumers and industry professionals. This is true for purchasing music, either digitally or through physical sales (CDs, etc.), as well as business dealings for live shows.

    Just last month, my band played it’s debut show here in Los Angeles and had the opportunity to have a world-renowned guitarist who’s played with John Lennon, David Bowie, The Cure, and countless others sit in with us for half the set. When our manager was trying to book the gig, she couldn’t even get talent buyers to return phone calls, let alone discuss the possibility of booking the gig. One venue, who I won’t name for fear of getting “black-listed” here in town, actually took the call, but proceeded to ask what this guitar player had done recently, then said she’d call back next week to discuss the possibility of booking further. She never called back, and refused to return phone calls and e-mails. Apparently, playing with David Bowie doesn’t count in this town, or at least not in this venue’s opinion.

    This same venue’s owner recently posted a video on one of the many DIY advice sites in which he appeared friendly and smiled warmly as he went on about how bands don’t need booking agents and that they can simply call venues themselves, tell the buyer they’re passing through town and would love to be put on a bill and that they’ll get gigs easily this way. Simple as that, right? LIES!

    The show we eventually ended up getting (due to a last-minute cancellation) was at a small venue, but one with a very prestigious reputation in town. This is a place where major labels showcase their artists and major label artists try out new material at “secret” shows. All of us were really excited about getting the show, despite the fact that the venue’s policy is that bands only get paid after the first 30 people pay to get in at $10 a pop. The venue also keep 100% of the bar and food tabs. The band gets 100% of merch. sales.

    The first thing that went wrong was that the sound guy was 20 minutes late for the soundcheck we scheduled with the venue in advance. I waited in the car outside the venue with one of the most famous rock guitar players alive while the sound dude casually made his way to venue on his own schedule. When he finally arrived, he didn’t apologize for being late, and barely said hello to anyone. During the show, despite the fact that we had a detailed soundcheck, he totally messed up the monitor mixes and our singer was struggling to hear herself the whole damn show. Our audience said their mix sounded great, and our singer is very good and professionally trained, so pulled it off very well, but it was clear that the sound guy’s only concern was that his room sounded the way he has learned to dial it in. He didn’t give a crap about our struggling singer, even though she was giving him signals and asking for monitor mix fixes between songs. He was lazy and indifferent, and this is a guy working at one of the best small venues in town, on one of the most popular nights of the week.

    When the show was over and our manager got our pay, the venue said that we only brought in about half as many people that were in the room and so we got half the money we expected. The venue tallied this number by (supposedly) asking people when they arrived what band they were there to see. So basically, if people did not mention our band’s name (or were not asked – I have my suspicions) when they walked in, but were in the room watching our show and ordering food and drinks, we didn’t get credit for bringing them in, so didn’t get paid for them. The room was packed and we got paid as if it were less than half-full. This is just ridiculous! It also speaks to my main point that venues do not view the musician/venue relationship as a partnership and feel like musicians should be satisfied with whatever treatment we get and be happy with whatever the venue decides to pay us. Venues make up the rules as they go along to suit themselves.

    My bandmate is in another band who recently played a show at a venue that made them pay upfront for 30 tickets at $10 a pop. The venue did no promotion whatsoever and sat back and made $300 regardless of how many people showed up because in order to play that night, the band had to give them the $300 for the tickets before they played. Also, anyone who bought tickets at the door paid $12, but the venue would only give the band $10 per ticket, meaning that fans who couldn’t meet up with the two members of the band before they got to the venue had to pay $2 more, but the band wouldn’t see that money. I mean come on! This venue would rather sit on their arses and take $300 from bands each night than do a little work to make their business a place where regulars come to see good music? It doesn’t get much lazier than this and I hope those wankers go out of business ASAP. My bandmate certainly won’t be playing there again.

    In this town, as in many towns (including the tiny college town I played in as a teenager), bands are scratching and crawling to get shows, so venues continue to get away with this. As much as I’d like to believe that bands would stand together and stop taking this crap, there are always, ALWAYS going to be bands who don’t see the big picture and will play for whatever they are given, so I don’t have a whole lot of faith that we will be able to change the entire venue/musician relationship if we count on others to reject the current business model. But, the more of us who do speak out in rational, assertive, but not alienating ways, such as the letter suggests, we might start to see an impact. Truly, this is not a business for wimps, and most of us do this becuase it is who we are, not what we do, and we can’t imagine life without playing music. I’m encouraged by this letter and by this discussion, and hope we can make some change and start to enlighten venues and their talent buyers. They need us just as much as we need them.

  • Rose Robbins

    I will never forget the day I finally understood the depth of disrespect I was being regularly shown as a musician – I was singing at a small club (solo jazz act) and I brought about twenty people to an already packed venue. One of my fans had a large table in the front with seven people at it – their table alone spent six hundred dollars on food and wine over the course of the evening.

    I made $75.

    The waitress made more off that one fan’s table in tips than I made for playing and singing for three hours! I have been a waitress, and it’s hard work, and the waitresses certainly earned their money that night. But I did, too! and my many hours of practice and songwriting and recording and working out to make my arm muscles awesome and buying equipment, etc, etc, have to count for SOMETHING.

    In Oregon, I sang in a festival and made $500 for singing for a total of an hour and a half, and all the event people were lovely, kind, gracious and helpful. Here in Idaho, $75 is average, and you are treated like a deck hand.

    I rarely perform here anymore, because it simply isn’t worth it, either for the money or for the disrespect.

  • Stratoreverb

    great article and I condone the ideas. pay to play is absolutely ridiculous. playing for free cheapens the music industry for everyone.a venue can have open mic night for the in-experienced musicians to get some playing time,and then offer decent pay on friday and sat nite. i was making $150.00 a gig 45 years ago in my teenage rock band. $75.00 for a band to play 3 hours.absurd. the venue booker needs to go jump in the lake. if they gave their food and drinks away for free how long could they stay in business? greed seems to have permeated into every sector of this world and its sickening.

  • michael jantz

    I agree with this post. But I did want to make a distinction between “working” gigs that this article is referencing, and original music gigs. There is a big difference.
    If you are a venue, you should I agree with this post.
    Anyone with half a brain would have multiple revenue streams for their business. If you are a venue, you should also be selling food or a quality experience or have some sort of shtick to get people in the door. Offering music should be a bonus for your patrons – even if you do charge a cover. But to simply rely on a bunch of slacker musicians to bring you business every night is a perilous business model. That being said, I do feel like there is also some oneness on the part of the bands. They too have to do their part – rehearse, present a good product, advertise and promote. But a lot of times, I honestly do not think most bands do ‘their’ part either. And that sucks.

    I now do a lot of booking. I book for a high end retirement community and an art gallery and an out door festival. I have ‘trained’ the people I work with so that they think that local musicians make $100 per person per hour. I have told them that after one hour, one can generally get the second or third hours for a discount. I think that is fair for local gigs.
    But as soon as someone shows up and I can see that it is a ‘pick-up’ band who isn’t rehearsed, who are meeting the other players for the first time – I feel like I am getting screwed. That’s where the part about musicians ‘doing their part’ comes in. It isn’t that much to ask for a band to look professional, to have rehearsed, to show up on time or to be courteous and polite.
    As a working musician myself, I also believe that it is fair that if I bring 500 people to a venue that I should get paid for it. But if I can only bring 30 people to a venue, the pay should reflect my draw. At least for original gigs, which for me are the gigs I play.
    If I hire be selling food or a quality experience or have some sort of shtick to get people in the door – you MUST have multiple revenue streams. Offering music should be a bonus for your patrons – even if you do charge a cover. But to simply rely on musicians to bring you business every night is a perilous business model. That being said, I do feel like there is also some oneness on the part of the bands. They too have to do their part – rehearse, present a good product, advertise and promote. But a lot of times, I honestly do not think most bands do ‘their’ part either. And that sucks.
    I now do a lot of booking. I book for a high end retirement community, an art gallery/venue and a large outdoor annual music festival. I have ‘trained’ the people I work with so that they think that local musicians make $100 per person/ per hour. I have told them that after one hour, one can generally get the second or third hours for a discount. I think that is fair for local gigs and musicians. But the deal here is that I am not expecting them to draw. I am expecting them to deliver quality ass entertainment. That’s it.
    But as soon as someone shows up and I can see that it is a ‘pick-up’ band who isn’t rehearsed or who are meeting the other players for the first time – I feel like I am getting screwed. That’s where the part about musicians ‘doing their part’ comes in. It isn’t that much to ask for a band to look professional, to have rehearsed, to show up on time or to be courteous and polite and to give the event what it needs.
    As a songwriter that plays predominantly original music though, I believe that it is fair that if I bring 500 people to a venue, I should get paid for it. But if I can only bring 30 people to a venue, the pay should reflect my draw. At least for original gigs, which for me are the gigs I play. In this case, I need to be marketing and selling myself so that I can increase my exposure and my draw. I do not think that I am owed anything for a gig that no one comes to. I need to sell myself as an artist/performer and THEN sell the venue on my draw. And again, I feel like most original musicians do not do this.
    There are money gigs all around us. But most of them are no longer inside shitty clubs. If you talented, driven working musician and can deliver, I believe there is work out there for you.
    If you are a an original musician that spends time on business models, social media, a slammin product, a great look and a positive attitude, I also believe there are venues out there for you. Can you draw 500 every night…probably not. But with original music, not every show is a winner. It is my experience that if people believe in what you are doing though, it works itself out.

  • Bill Schaeffer

    The “friends and family” logic only applies to teen age girls. They are the only acts that have a big draw. Generally, the music is “ok” at best.

    Most of my friends are so busy working that they cannot, and will not be able to see me very frequently. Same thing applies to my co-workers.

    If a club owner in not willing to invest in the music, why should anyone bother to go see it?

    Besides, it is the CLUB that should be attracting the people. If the club cannot attract people, then it just isn’t a very happening club and the only real reason to play there is to get practice setting up your equipment and then tearing it down again.

    Instead of playing at a club, try making music videos for youtube, record your own music and publish it on cdbaby, play outside at venice beach, or on the street corner. Rent a venue and throw a party yourself.

  • Allansizemore

    Been trying to tell bands this for 25 years. Yes, it has changed. But the venues have not. Bar owners and nightclub owners generally don’t get it. I’ve even tried a few different things, working with the venues, etc on guarantees + door, etc. but they really do think it’s the band’s job to make their venue a success. It happened recently to me again, we book this club, it could be a great place. We bring a LOT of people to the show, many of which showed up early, before WE were even there, because we hadn’t played in this town before and they were excited. Some drunk asshole starts touching some women and making passes, etc., then THROWS A DRINK IN ONE OF OUR FAN’S FACE WHEN SHE TELLS HIM TO LEAVE HER ALONE! Did they throw this piece of puke out? NO! ALL of our fans (there were 28 there at the time) walked out of the place! This was BEFORE SOUND CHECK! The next time, there were 3 fights, no one was thrown out and a bunch of our people left. The next time a guy is standing on the bar and kicking peoples glasses off the bar! They NEVER KICKED ANYONE OUT FOR ANY OF THESE THINGS. It was un.be.lieve.a.ble. Then after the 3rd time the guy comes to me after the gig and says “you guys aren’t bringing very many people to my place”. I told him to go f*ck himself. I then told him he no idea what he was doing and we wouldn’t play his sh!thole again no matter HOW much he paid us. And this is what we have to deal with. Also, that night, the doorman said- and I quote directly- ” we’ve never had this many people come in for a band since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for four years”. This isn’t isolated, unfortunately. Sad.

  • Bluejadestudios

    Wow! The timing on this article is amazing. We’ve actually started a group here in Northern Nevada to address these sorts of questions (www.muznet.org) We are hosting monthly meetings, and created a website to draw musicians, venues, educators, and music technical professionals together. Our first general meeting is in May, but we’ve been laying the groundwork for over 6 months. It is my belief that if we can gather and talk about our needs as musicians, and invite venues to work with us, then everyone will benefit. A lofty goal, I know, but it’s worth trying. I’ll let y’all know if we achieve our goals!!!

  • KeyboardGirl

    Really appreciate this article. Goldberg is correct that most musicians don’t actually have real business conversations with club owners. Most club owners won’t take the time to actually have a “real” conversation with you regarding what the music does for their business. As a professional musician of over 40 years, I’m now paid less than I was 40 years ago to play in a club. Several years ago, there was a situation that occurred that prompted a similar letter written by my brother, who is also a professional musician, and asked that club owners/musicians come to the table to talk about this and come up with some solutions instead of both sides complaining and/or bashing each other. There was a little feed back, but it basically went nowhere. The club owners didn’t want to participate and few musicians did either. I have stopped playing several clubs in town because of the lack of respect and the money. Doesn’t do much for my pocket book, but at least I feel good about my decision to stand my ground. The club scene here has dwindled steadily for the last 10 years, and there are few places to play. Lots of sub-standard music to go around so the professionals get short changed on a regular basis.

    The comments made by TIMKAT (below) are also right on. After setup/tear down, and a 3-4 hour gig we usually make about $10-12/hour (sometimes less) before taxes.

    Try this one on, a club that I played at for 4 summers (and some in between time as well) where we packed the patio and indoors as well, reservations booked for every performance, actually reduced our pay last summer saying that they couldn’t afford to pay the $350.00 any more, now it was $250.00. This for a 4 piece, sometimes with a special guest – OMG, now we should make only $62.50 to play a gig where not only is the house packed, but booked in advance and the wait staff is making $200+ while we perform (this figure coming from the waiters). Where is the logic?

    At any rate, I have long thought that a musicians coop or something like it would help us to negotiate, but again, the apathy runs rampant and musicians won’t work for their own good. C’mon guys participate!

    I wholeheartedly support the “stop playing for free” and the inexperienced musicians setting a poor standard, but as a seasoned musician who wants change, how do we motivate our fellow musicians to stop sitting on their !@#$@ and participate in their own future.

    Indeed we may have seen the end of the “live music” in clubs that really supported the working musicians. Certainly, most musicians I talk with are experiencing similar things where ever they are in the US. Is the rest of the globe any different?

    Many of the suggestions being made are good ones; contracts, professionalism, sticking together. Here in New Mexico, I rarely find that club owners will sign a contract, and getting a band to stick together when you can’t get enough work is difficult at best. As for Professionalism, in the last two years alone I have spent about $30,000 in promotional materials, recordings, equipment and more; and the majority of the professionals I know here are in a similar economic situation. How do you keep explaining to the IRS that you spend way more to be a musician than you make? I’d just like to see the club owners show some respect and recognize the imbalance before they offer me $50.00 to play for 4 hours in the near future. That would be a start – hmmm RESPECT!

    If anyone out there has found a way to get these two groups to actually come to the table and have real discussions with actual results, I’d love to hear about it.


    Lydia Clark

  • Rosenidaho

    And, in answer to “Get Over Yourself” – bars and restaurants lie about their product, too. They say “best steak in town” and “excellent service” and “friendly staff” and sometimes those things aren’t true. WE TAKE A CHANCE ON YOU, TOO.

  • 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!

    • Latte2Party

      A local guitar store does that with collectible guitars; raises the price every couple of months until they sell!

    • Roshamon

      you want to compare your music to a car that won’t sell?..

  • Bobby Washington

    Artist Come out Better Going Out Everyday for 4-8 hours and meeting strangers and selling you’re cd for $5 to $10, believe it or not for the past 13 years thats what I have been doing FULL Time. I never searched for a record deal, nor was I ever so anxious to play any where for peanuts! It just didn’t make since to me. You see I go out every day and make $150-$700 a day, depending on how many hours I put in. I didn’t have to rehearse for a show, I didn’t have to buy new clothes for a show, And I didn’t have to break a sweat on some ones stage to get paid. Here’s a link to a News Article About me selling my own cd’s on the streets of Miami Florida: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2007-03-15/music/hustle-flow/

    Here’s my site: http://www.bobbywashington.com

  • Smilinboblewis

    I’ve been preaching this for years and every time a fresh bunch of newbies come in and brag about playing for free. I’ve watched hundreds of them come and go just as quickly and they can never understand why they can’t make a living playing music while doing there best to make sure none of us make a living playing music. Its a terrible cycle.

  • Right on Dave. A friend and former band mate said this very thing some years ago. He added, why should I invite all of my friends to a place so the venue owner can take their money and tell me to “kiss where the sun don’t shine” ? He said “I can have a house party, serve drinks and keep what ever I chose to charge for me and the band, plus if they are to drunk to drive, they can crash here”. We did it and it worked. By the way my friend is also one the most talented voice over people on the plant, you’ve heard him if your alive at all !

  • Davehome007

    You are on the mark. I am watching the entire live music scene dwindle to almost nothing even for the pay to play folks. Continuing in the same way year after year and expecting different results is “insanity” for the clubs etc. It is “Programed to Fail”. Another simple word is just “mismanagement”. The bar is so low most of the “Pay to Players” most show up in their lawnmower clothes, barely do a sound check with cheap equipment and just puke out the barking statements like: Let’s party tonight etc.

  • Eddy D

    The venues in Australia seem to be exploiting bands on Tuesday and Wednesday nights using “band competitions” now

  • Leeziebee

    I’m sorry to report that the situation in New Zealand isn’t much better. My partner played in bars and toured our fine nation for 10 years making a reasonable living but in those 10 years he was never able to put his fee up. I swear he worked the only job in NZ where he never got a payrise and couldn’t even adjust for inflation. Often he would travel long distances to play a gig that paid no more than what he was getting paid in our home town as bars don’t remunerate for travel, set up time, rehearsal time, rehearsal space hire, the AV gear and instruments you’ve invested in over the years and the advertising you already do. It is not uncommon in NZ for bands to negotiate a door charge with a bar, the bar gets the take the band gets the door. The worst bar we ever worked was called Sandwiches in Wellington (affectionately known as Scamwiches by most local musicians). My partners band was invited to play by the bar owner who saw them at a music festival, they were booked in and told they could charge whatever they liked on the door and the door take was theirs so long as they provided a person to sit on the door and collect the money on their behalf i.e me. The doorman or bouncer as we call them here proceeded to lead every patron past me and told me they didn’t have to pay, he made up some line about how they were all on the managers personal door list and never had to pay, eventually I questioned this and said it was far too co-incidental that everyone attending the bar that night just happened to be on the managers door list. He told me he would stop and send everyone to me to pay but didn’t. Eventually I complained to the duty manager that this practice was unfair, that the bar was in breech of their agreement with the band and that I expected every patron to pay the door fee as per the agreement. He agreed and the next 20 people paid, meanwhile he was phoning the bar manager who promptly arrived at the bar, pulled me into a back room and proceeding to give me a bollocking (telling off) for telling his staff what to do and who was I anyway? I explained I was working on the door as requested by the bar, that I had worked on the door for this band all up and down the country and I had never seen this bizarre practice of ‘managers door list’ before and thought it was unprofessional behaviour on his and his staffs part. Needless to say the band never played that bar again. The band made a sum total of $160 that night, far less than the minimum wage here in NZ. I am an events producer and am a true believer in paying good money for a good band, get the right band or musician and it can make an event! Here in my town of Whanganui we now have a Musicians Club, people pay $10 on the door to come down to the hall and see a variety of local bands play and the money goes to the visiting band and back into the club. Each night it averages a take of around $800, meaning a fee of $600 goes to the visiting band, it’s still not great but better than what you would get in a club and a better atmosphere because the venue is always full and the club advertises the upcoming gigs. I say turn your back on the clubs and set up your own digs. Our venue is BYO alcohol so long as we provide food on site, a local bakery donates pies and we heat them in a pie warmer in the corner and hand them out to meet the BYO license requirements. It’s the best gig in town! Check it out http://whanganuimusiciansclub.co.nz/

  • Roy Talley

    My lead guitarist used to tune up, to the song: Mustang Sally.
    I went to a dance that my friends played at, that was an eye-opener. These couldn’t be my fans ?
    But, in reality I’m changing with the days, and summers my time.
    I played one gig, at a saloon, and it was great fun, all the beer, I wanted. A steak diner, and my manager
    didn’t pay me the full, amount, promissed ! That was my only paying gig last year.
    I was hoping to help, a venue out by playing, and have huge crowd’s there.
    I was also wanting to book, the Rose- garden, in Portland, Oregon, and perform there, with a band or solo.
    My friends have done this, but, I’m having trouble, with all of the business ends.
    I’m also a seasonal guy, and was thinking that I’d get alot of offers, to play concerts.
    But, getting a fan base, is to much for me, I was hoping for word of mouth to get fans, but that isn’t
    happening, on the scale that I expected. Playing for 12 year old girls is OK, but the Hola girls
    maybe my only fan base.
    I’m at a lose for Whitney Houston, she was my favorite female singer.

  • RWL

    I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said here but I posted this humorous rant on facebook about a month ago when feeling typically frustrated about promoting my band…


    Fujalada band are now accepting offers for gigs. If you run a music venue in the South West of England, have a good following and are prepared to pay sensible money for your entertainment, we would love to hear from you.
    … Please send any recordings or videos you have of previous gigs and a list of other bands that have played there. A short description about yourself with some images of the venue/performance area if you have them is helpful too. (Close up pictures of drunk people I don’t know, aren’t helpful)
    While we strive to review every submission, we can’t promise to reply to everyone and the process may take several weeks due to the sheer volume of messages we receive everyday (sometimes as many as one!)
    Please send an email to …… or call ……
    We look forward to hearing from you!

    We understand that these can be appealing to some musicians, especially those with little experience of performing live who are looking to gain experience but asking a good quality band to play for nothing is ridiculous. Open Mic nights may well give you the chance to assess us and perhaps we would consider it if in return you offered us an *OPEN FOOD NIGHT*. This would allow us to have a free trial of all your food and drink, just to check the quality before coming back another time to actually pay money for it. Thank you!

  • Al

    My problem is with BMI and ASCAP, not the venue owner. In a place in Wisconsin where we normally play, their BMI rep who normally charged them $150 per year, came up with a bill for $3500! Then he threatened the owner he would take him to court. So the business owner cancelled the music for the winter. I would love to see an article written to expose these heavy handed bastards of ASCAP and BMI. They are the ones ruining the live entertainment business. Record sales are down so they have to come up with the money from somewhere. These people would make a union thug proud.

  • Tom Ghent

    I’ve been saying this for years, Dave…..I’ve even posted many statements on Facebook to this effect….I can’t believe that anyone is so desperate that they will play for nothing ! ! ! People who do, with the exception of an occasional benefit, are shooting themselves in the foot, while stabbing other performers in the back ! ! ! Besides, when clubs get in the habit of having free entertainment, I can assure you, that they are not going to be presenting the best of the best…..which in turn in depriving the audience, and is a formula for running a cheap dive, but not a truly successful music venue……

  • Guest

    This is a great article…game theory at it’s best. Basically, if ALL bands refused to play unless they got paid, all band would get paid and everyone would win, but since there are enough ass clowns in bands that don’t care (probably because their music is total garbage), it ruins it for everyone else.

    When I was in college, I likened it to teacher grading on the curve…if every student selected A for every single answer on the test, every student would have the same grade and every student would get an A. Did this ever happen? NOPE!

    If college students can’t figure it out, then there is no hope for the retards playing these gigs.

    • Risen To Reclaim

      Or maybe every student would get an F? Your reasoning is flawed, even if you could change the mentality of the musicians who just want to play regardless of anything (and most of us have been there at one point, and that doesn’t make us retards, just innocent) it wouldn’t create the desired result. The way to do it is little by little, it’s easier to convince every club owner in the neighborhood than every member of every band that passes through town. Once a sustainable trend has been set up, it will soon take root everywhere. This article circled the globe, it’s ideas can too.

  • Marknesser

    I’ve read this letter before on a linkedin music group and commented there, but I’ll post a simple version of my solution to the problem, The venues set up an audition night each week for 6 bands on a slow night. The band isn’t responsible to bring any people to the club, just play 30 minutes of their show. The club decides which bands the venue’s clientele would like best and then books them back on a busier night and pays the band a fair wage for playing the full night. If the venues try to get the bands to play for free more than once, the bands must hold strong and refuse to play! Bands must flyer, email friends and post the show on the internet, but the venues MUST start advertising on the internet, radio, TV and local papers to create the buzz and excitement that will get people in their doors. I have taught the All Girl band I manage to follow these rules and I tell the clubs and venues that want to book them that they must do their part too. http://www.facebook.com/ShesNotDead

  • I disagree, Vinyl. DJs aren’t hurting bands, cover bands are. DJ’s are not competing for the same venues, in my experience.

  • Amy Correia

    Marry me.

  • Phil Julian

    Diane Untz has it right : If musicians ban together and create their own venue , then we don’t don’t have to be at the mercy of the Bar and owner. I have spent 40 years trying to write decent stuff and give a dencent performance, but run into the circular reference that I can’t get booked if I don’t have a following, and I can’t get a following if people don’t hear me play, and they won’t hear me play if I don’t get booked. So I do my thing at open mics, when I can find them. But the audience also is unwilling to part with their green . Even my friends, who will say “Hey, Great new song !” when I send one by e-mail have never bothered to put down $10 for one of my CDs . Oh, they’ll take on if I give it to them free. But the audioence is also partly to blame – first , they want to hear something they know (oldies) second, when the music starts, they don’t listen, just talk louder to be heard over the music.Maight as well put in a CD and walk off the stage. Mom taught me to be respectful of whoever is on stage or at the pulpit – It might not float my boat, but treat others the way you want to be treated.
    Let’s hear it for people who write and perform their own stuff.
    OPEN MIC BLUES:(sung to folsom prison blues)
    “I know that this sounds crazy
    But it drives me insane
    There’s diff’rent venues, diff’rent folks
    But the songs , they never change
    A million songs to chose from
    Be we hear just a few
    And every week it’s all the same stuff
    It’s worse than De-Ja- Vu”
    Christian groups fare no better: The venues only want nationally known “Professional” groups – the unknowns, no matter how good, don’t stand a chance unless it happens to be their own church sponsoring the event. Been there, done that.
    The one thing I’ve found that will get you known is not talent, but large ammounts of money to pay for booking agents and lots of slick advertising
    BUt I can’t stop writing and keep looking for a chance to perform, no matter how humiliating the venue. It’s who we are.
    Phil Julian

  • This was a very good article and I read most of the reactions and feedback. This pay to play practice is nothing new. I recall in 1967 a promotor telling us we could get a spot at his club and than out came the tickets that we were expected to sell. It reminded me of those obvious scams where some company offers to take your original song and record a professional demo for a small fee from you. Whats needed is club owners who are fanatically commited to presenting live music because that was part of the reason that they decided to open a club.

  • Justin AKA Call Me Evil

    Hello I am a musician/songwriter from Western Canada, at this point in my pursuit in a music career, I would rather just perform at open mics/ jam nights (pass my business cards around), and focus on trying to license my music to TV/Film opportunities, as well as internet promotion, I have realized that letting yourself be taken advantage of by a Bar/club is not just an injustice to you but to ALL Musicians. Sure Open mics don’t pay but you don’t have to show up either, and playing for different people every night is my goal, trying to draw in the same crowd night after night? is that the “BIG PICTURE” Needs to be a Balance of some sort

    Thanks for the article!

  • Todmoses

    All too true… And SOOOOOO f”ing depressing! But the bottom line is; you can get bitter or you can get better. The paradigm has shifted and it’s not ALL bad. I think (or at least hope) that we are in a phase of rebuilding within the music business. Somebody said that the record companies have all the power NOW (as though they didn’t 30 years ago?!?). That simply is not true. They are in fact, all but dead. The indi artist is now ruling the roost the problem is, he/she hasn’t figured out how to wear his/her crown yet. Sadly, too many of us are in the business of feeling sorry for ourselves instead of reinventing ourselves. Believe me, I understand, I fight that same fight every day, And you know what? I lost it today. I spent about half of my day sitting in stupor feeling sorry for myself. It’s okay, I won yesterday, and tomorrow is another day that I plan to WIN.

    I made a couple of great connections in the last couple of days, in ways I would never have thought of, nor would they have even been possible 20 years ago. I live in Vermont and am doing vocals in my home studio for a guy in Florida, that I met online. WTF? I have a recording setup for less than 10K that produces better recordings (assuming the skills are equal) than Abey Road could have dreamed of. Again WTF? It’s not all bad, folks. Until the last decade or so, the only people who got to make quality recordings and get them out the public, did so at the whim of so jerk in a suit, who never played a guitar in his life. I have released two albums in the last year. My first album sucked (recording quality) and took almost two years, and a lot of begging, bartering and downright steeling to make.

    It will all settle back in eventually. No, it won’t be the same but it will get better, maybe better than ever. I do think that things had become so screwed up in the business that it had to implode under it’s own weight in order to rebuild into something usefully again. I will be 50 in April so I don’t know if it will settle back in in time for me but I know that it will settle in. There have been a few posts here that have mentioned ways that people are finding to not only survive but thrive. The question for all of us (not just musicians and other artists) is will we give up in the face of adversity or will we hang in there, learn from the failures, find new ways to succeed, and just do the best we can with what we have?

    In other words; Will we get bitter or will we get better? I am going to choose “Better”

  • Cmlittleboot

    Best thing we ever did was play all these rip off joints and build our fan book, once we thought we had a good amount of people we had back yard and house parties for these fans and we made some money. Another thing performers could do is hand out that ol’ tip jar every set, you never know what you’ll find in it.

  • As stated in previous posts it’s about solidarity. So many of us are so desperate to play we cut each others throats by working for less than minimum wage. We create our own glass ceiling.

    That hurts for all of us in the long run. I moved from NYC (heavy union) to Atlanta (right to work)- I thought I’d never say it, but I wish the Union was stronger here.

    “Exposure” is the longest running con in the public performance sector. I implore my fellow musicians, if you REALLY want exposure, … or to just get out there and play, then do it in a real donating capacity: (E.G. Seniors facility, VA, ASPCA, PETA, your favorite charity, religious, or political party etc. etc. ). I guarantee you stand a much better chance of getting actual reciprocal work from the gig, plus that overused carrot of “exposure”. You’ll sell merchandise and gain fans, with substance you can add to your media kit. You’ll often get free (or low cost to obtain) video or photos from professionals shooting the event. Not to mention some good karma! If you are going to donate (give away) your services then at least do it for a good cause rather than a club that’s continues the endless abuse cycle. Otherwise ask for what you are worth and be prepared to walk away if you can’t get it. That’s the only way to break the chain.

    I’ve learned the hard way. If you are trying to sell CD’s and gain a following, there are tons of new strategies then the old business model. So many colleges and regional theaters have 500-1000 seat venues with regular mid level signed acts, both new and established. Find those who play a similar style as you and is coming to town. Contact the band or the venue. (you’ll be surprised how approachable many are..) Opening for them (even for free) would offer a better shot and return than playing a club for nothing.. or worse paying to play! I’m amazed so many of us bands and solo acts spend so much time begging clubs to play for squat, where there is so much more fertile ground out there.

    Chris Corso

  • Kirsten Nash

    I took a 15 year hiatus from live playing to raise a family, just getting back to my career, and wow have things changed..except how much the local blues bar is paying…still $100 per musician per 3 or 4 set night on the weekends, no matter how much living costs have risen. In that fifteen years off, my husband and I built up our own development company, so I got a taste for how business is done. What I don’t understand is why more musicians don’t pool together their resources, their web pages, social media, all can be done for next to nothing. Rent a hall or if money is tight, make a deal with a local music hall to share profits. Find a band or two who can back up several singers or lead players, whatever your style of music is, find like minded players or bands and put on a show. So you get say 4 bands, one set each. Each band has 50 friends/family to call on, who will be exposed to 3 other bands they may or may not be familiar with, no agents to pay. So you get a minimum of 200 people drinking and paying at the door to get in, say $20 each for 4 bands? Pretty cheap. Then there’s the part where because you have 4 bands, the night becomes an event, more people will come just because of that, give the night a catchy name. So say you get a minimum of 300 people, shouldn’t be hard with the networking of 4 bands(just using that as a number) We’re now at say $6,000 on the door alone, plus some freebies for press folk, etc. I’m sure any independent venue would be happy to throw in hall rental for a night like that, probably give you a share of liquor sales, maybe get a pizza joint to cater. I’m just throwing out ideas here, but I’m thinking that if you can’t climb the mountain, find a way around it, use that fabulous creativity any good musician has. Doing the math without liquor sales, 5 people per band, and again if you could find a “house” band or 2 with different front people, the pay goes up, but $6,000 cut 20 ways is $300 each for 1 set. Stop flogging a dead horse and complaining, take things into your own hands. Just saying:)

  • Zehyachelan

    I totally support this “argument” when it becomes an “engagement” it will be fabulous because everyone everywhere will be applying the same ideology for interactions where service is concerned, eventually we will all be interacting with respect to one another for the things each of has to offer to our communities and our towns and cities and the entire world. Joy and thumbs up to Dave Goldberg for his views on musicians and venues. It’s about time. Being a musician, I have had my share of experiences where I have prostituted myself musically. It’s been “accepted ” for a long time. Letters like the one Dave has written have been in many a musicians mind in the history of live music and venue interaction. It’s awesome to see him stand up to the situation and point out where money and value interact. Musicianship takes focus, dedication, time and money. Just because you could be good at something doesn’t mean that it you should do it for less. Letters like the one Dave has written start people thinking. This is where change starts to affect the whole. Let’s keep it up and see how much can we really affect our reality.

  • Joeorsi

    I go to KState and a bar recently opened in Aggieville (the main college bar district) devoted solely to booking high quality live music. It closed shop after two months claiming that their business model had proven to be extremely unprofitable. The fact of the matter is that we live in the age of free music. No one expects to pay for their music online, and bar owners no longer expect to pay for their music either. In any other industry, if people were no longer willing to pay for a service, no one would be willing to provide it. People will always be willing to provide music and that’s the problem. Supply so far exceeds demand that any money is too much. In fifty years, the economy may have righted its self, but for now, times are hard and in almost every case, it’s play for free or don’t play at all.

  • dude,this is inspiring!!!!!!!!! you told the cheapskates who have no appreciation of value in business,they can go stick it where the sun don’t shine!!LOL!!

    john tinger


  • Songcatcher12

    I am from the Macon, Ga area. At one time this was a great little city for music and of course the home of Otis Redding, Little Richard and the Allman Brothers Band was based out of here. Macon is the birthplace of Southern Rock. I played in various bands around this area from 1990 until 2008 when the club business started going south. I really miss the stage back when we had nice crowds but I don’t miss playing to empty chairs. Chairs don’t dance and there is no exchange of energy. Most of the clubs in this area either hire DJs or have karaoke(the worst thing that ever happened). There is still some venues for solo artists around here but even that is getting scarce. Most bands around here have difficulty with their fans following them because of the strict DUI laws. The people that do frequent bars usually go to one close to their homes where they can get a cab at a reasonable rate or find a DD. Some clubs used to provide transportation home but who wants to shuttle a van full of screaming drunks home who can’t even remember their addresses? So now I just spend more time with my songwriting and just finished a CD. It’s not difficult to open your own record label. You just need a name, a business license and a tax ID. Usually the profit is about 7-8 bucks per unit. So I sell about 75 or 100 per month without all the hassel of sitting up equipment and begging club owners and managers for a gig. I was never in it totally for the money anyway.

  • Sad but true state of affairs in LA. I miss terribly my gigging days in the Midwest 10 years ago where I made more money than I would ever expect to make gigging now in LA. Good live music was really appreciated and probably still is. But we as musicians and bands have the right to say no to these bookers. I have a personal policy of never playing a pay to play gig. No way. No how. Great job Dave, thanks for sticking up for all of us!

  • Wildcat

    In our down economy, I would be the first to agree that club owners and their economics have gotten ridiculous….BUT I am really tired of “Professionals” talking about how it’s not THEIR job to bring in people…NOOOOO…God forbid their great music would actually be drawing people in! If you’re a great musician, that means great communicator!!!! If you’re not reaching anyone, you’re telling me some variation of “our music is better than it sounds” and that B.S has gotten O-L-D. That said, if a venue doesn’t have SOME base of regulars to add you people on to, maybe that is a sign that the owner is a bottom-feeding jerk! And the folks in his neighborhood have already noticed!

  • Tom Hoss

    Thanks for the article Dave! I found this topic to be very interesting and have certainly spent a fair amount of time in my life in band vans, tour buses, and dressing rooms discussing the value of music and musicians, etc.
    I have been a professional musician and bandleader for more than a decade and all of the members of my band make a living playing our original music. I write the songs, book the band, take out the newspaper adds, do the radio interviews, mail the posters, run the website, and all the rest for our independent traveling band.

    In addition I have also spent a few years running a live music venue which has given me an interesting perspective on the “other side of the business” when I was the one responsible for booking entertainment.

    As a musician I used to feel bad when I showed up to perform at a venue and the crowd was small or nonexistant. Often times club owners have blamed me in the same way that most musicians get blamed by venue operators in these circumstances “Where are your fans? Didn’t you put the word out on facebook? How come you don’t have a following? Why didn’t you draw more people, etc?”. Needless to say – it didn’t make me feel very good. I agree with Dave Goldberg – it is not the responsibility of the band to draw 100% of the crowd. The venue needs to be doing their part as well – good food, pleasant atmosphere, good reputation, friendly staff, marketing and advertising, etc and have some sort of a following for the venue regardless of who is playing. It just makes sense that a venue that is running a good business should be aware of this. It is simply not fair to expect the band to be solely responsible for the audience in attendance. In fact – it is counterproductive because a band should be interested in building their fan base and in order to do this they need to perform for new people and not just those who are already fans and following the band around.

    Having said this – I feel that I should warn musicians NOT to feel free of obligations in terms of drawing people into a venue.

    There is a simple law of economics which I am sure that everybody is familiar with called “ supply and demand.” If you are a musician –put yourself in the shoes of a club operator. Who would you book? The band that sounds great but nobody comes to see or the band that sounds decent and draws a good crowd of patrons?”
    Always remember that if you are a musician playing for money than you are an entrepreneur running a business and as such you answer to the laws of economics the same as everybody else. Too many musicians feel that the world owes them something. The world isn’t going to pay you because you are a good musician – people are going to pay you if your music holds value for them.
    You are always free to play music for yourself and for your friends and for the pleasure and joy of it but if you intend to make money playing music then you need to take responsibility for your own music and marketing as much as you possibly can. Sitting around and saying “I am a good musician and deserve to make a good living” isn’t going to get you anywhere.

    The world changes and it always has. There used to be good money in being a cooper (someone who builds wooden barrels) because everything was shipped in wooden barrels. Nowadays it is probably not such a good career anymore because times have changed. That’s just the way it is.

    If you open a flower shop would you expect to say “I make beautiful bouquets and arrangements and because they are pleasant to look at and I am good at making them I deserve to make a good wage and a decent living with my flower shop?” I don’t think so. Everybody accepts that your success as a florist depends not only on your talent at arranging bouquets but also on your location, marketing efforts, the kinds of flowers you sell, etc, and MOST IMPORTANTLY – the DEMAND for your flowers. Do you get my point? Too many musicians don’t take responsibility for their own success.

    As a musician your ability to earn money is directly linked to your DEMAND. Successful musicians realize this and spend a lot of time and energy into building a demand for their product (the same as any other business in the world). If you can draw 100 people into a venue and those 100 people are willing to pay $15 a person to attend your show then you deserve to make $1500 for the night. Simple isn’t it? If a venue doesn’t want to pay you $1500 but instead offers you $300 then you would be a fool to play at that venue because you can simply say “If you don’t want to pay us what we are worth then we will go across the street to another venue and see if they would be interested in paying us what we are worth. They might enjoy having our fan base drinking in their establishment instead of yours.”
    If your show is not capable of drawing any people then it doesn’t have much value to the venue.

    Remember that there are only two reasons in the whole world that somebody is going to pay you: 1) They can’t do it themselves; or
    2) They don’t want to do it themselves

    Unfortunately, if you don’t have a draw (demand) for your music you are not in a very good position to negotiate a better wage for your performance. You more or less have to take what the club owner offers if you want to play. This is a very degrading situation and makes a musician and his/her talents feel under appreciated (to say the least!). This is the situation that you will be in for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE unless you start building a DEMAND for your music. So – get started on building a demand as soon as you can and put your efforts towards this because once you have the draw and demand then you control the terms of your career, your life, and your value.

    Here is my advice: don’t expect club owners to look out for your well-being – look out for your own well-being.

    You don’t have to make a stand against club owners – use their venues as a way to build a demand for your music and you soon will be the one in a position of power. Work hard on your music and make it the best it can be. Work on your show and make it entertaining. By professional, punctual, polite, charismatic, and excellent at what you do and put a lot of effort into marketing yourself and your music and getting the word out about who you are and what you do.

    The CREAM RISES TO THE TOP and this is something that is entirely in your hands. Take care of your fans and they will take care of you. If you wait around for club owners or music unions to take care of your career you will be waiting until the cows come home….

  • Oldgibson5

    Dogfishhead in Rehoboth Beach DE. laughed in my face when I asked for a measly $500. He said he could get national touring bands for $250. And he does! Work a little harder and book chamber of commerce shows, libraries and unique venues bands don’t know about. Stay away from Bars!! The only form of life lower then a bar owner is maybe a tow truck driver.

  • Working Jazz Performer

    Yes, Portland, Oregon has gone down that road and I have a bit to add to the scenario described above. The term “jazz music” has in some places become a watered down generic term for anything either cool, or some style of music a venue can’t otherwise define. That’s bad enough, but a lot of times the people going for these gigs are not the professionals. They are barely competent, and to them working these jobs with friends & family as the audience just gives them a place to play for their friends. They are doing the gig “for fun” and not as a means of making a living. It’s just like playing at a friends’ party or going to Karaoke. Problem is, some customers may come in not knowing “what jazz is” and this is their first experience of it. They hear a bad band and could easily decide it’s the style of music they like and not the people who are attempting to present it. Now you have not only lost biz for the restaurant, you’ve lost a future jazz listener/music supporter who got this 5 cent image of what they “think” jazz is, and they’re not having any of it.

  • Nashville Record Producer

    Ohhh Ohhhh can we talk???????
    Lets start by saying that I am a platinum record artist and have a full time road crew, so I can relate on a very larger scale than some. I have big bills to pay just for me to perform anywhere…..
    He (Dave Goldberg) is very correct about venues and I have had the very same thing happen from a club owner back in my early days starting out. Now, I’m going to push the buttons on a different board, Several well known artist that I speak to on a regular basis commented on the Grammy winners, Ohhh and how they and I had things to say. First of all, I was there and attended the pre show gala and awards show. There were unknown, unheard of, and mostly and I hope never again, individuals who won awards for so really BAD tunes… Ok, this is the climax of what Dave is talking about above.Starting with the small clubs all the way to the larger venues such as theaters, arenas etc. The overall STANDARD of listenes is set wayyyyyyyyyyy low. Very LOW… So, Artist with real talent get overlooked for paying opportunities
    because there are those “Individuals” who are available for less pay, less’er quality sounds. When all you hear are bands that sound like crap, playing their $75 for a five piece show, then listeners get influenced by that sound being the hot item and whats cool. Who needs the bands that use to sound professional. Thus the real ticket groups find it harder to put food on the table because venues like the ones Dave spoke of, are contributing to this awful trend. A trend that is hard to stomach when you work your tail off and the bottom line is so low, that ANYONE can step over it. PERIOD………

  • I live in NZ (thank god by the sounds of LA music scene). I know this is probably a tough ask, but why don’t you boycott the clubs- stop playing there all together, I mean if you have to “pay to play”, what are you losing? Put a mass advert in one of the big papers with a web page link. Get a heap of LA bands to “band together”. I know its probably a heap of work, and not a quick fix. But at the rate this attitude is growing with the bar owners, you’ll end up paying it forward (which you already are by the sounds of things). Who wants to go to a bar/club/pub with no music? Absolutely no-one! Find a way to revoke their license to even play your music and whoever else jumps on board. Use the power of the media- get in touch with a journalist, and use the power of the internet. Change starts with just one pebble dropped in a pond- who’s gonna be the pebble in the bar owners ponds?

  • Colin

    You can’t fight the law of supply and demand. There is a declining market for live music and an increasing supply of people who want to make money playing it because other jobs are hard to come by. At some point the pendulum will swing the other way but right now, club owners are fighting for survival and musicians are hungry.

    There are niche markets where you can make good money playing music, but the average bar or restaurant is not one of them.

  • Ernesto Vega

    I only play if I get paid and I command a good price. I am not famous. Set your standards high and expect to get paid. Musicians want to play so much that the do gigs for free or pay to play. It is akin to “natural selection” in the live music world.

  • Phil C

    Actually, most venue owners and promoters do resemble this example. But they have a right to be that way. What would Ron Paul say? Musicians should get together and form a co-operative mission-oriented venue that makes money (because it’s a good experience being there) and shares the revenue with the owner-musicians. This is another way musicians can take control. Not that there’s anything wrong with reasoned argument, but it’s asking a lot for any argument to compete with greed…

  • rickymix

    You’re just now realizing that the public no longer pays for music? Reality sucks sometimes, but nothing is going to change as long as there’s way too much product compared to demand.

  • Suoninen77

    Welcome to LA. In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, “No Respect…”

  • Bowdle69

    WOW, you are so right. It’s the same here in Michigan. I bust ass trying to make everyone happy the best I can, reaching out to any and all contacts by having a “Bandwagon” we send news letters were we’re going to be next, Text everyone, put fliers up at the venue, drugstores, laundromat, pass them in my travels, call the news paper for free advertising, Etc, etc. etc.. Most Bar owners I’ve dealt with don’t even put it up on there sign out front. They need to be more productive in getting attention to there shows. Be it better drink prices, more ads, fliers, something to attract more bodies. I think it’s the venues responsibility to get people to there show, and by choosing good acts,” they” WILL have a good following. We play approx a 100 mile radius and have followers in every direction that are very faithful, but I sure understand if we’re booked every week the same people won’t be able to or want to make every show. I know things have changed and the economy is very much a part of it, also laws against drunk driving (as it should) has people afraid to go drink and get home safe. Maybe more “Woodstock”/ rock/pot festal s are in order. I’d much rather play outside anyway. I do think we need to “band”together as musicians and stop playing for free unless it’s a family or charity worthy, all the work that is involved to make music/entertain, not to mention the equipment. wow and we have to worry if we can make 100 bucks a person. How sad, and I guarantee you don’t try to not pay the agreed on price with me or our band. It WON’t Be pretty. A preforming contract is a great idea, as they say, it’s only business, the problem with that is so many other bands just roll over and say ok, will do it for nothing. Stand up take notice, make a statement, be somebody. Only so many Gigs left. Dance, Be happy, Music is good medicine. BB hiredhands.org

  • Chriscolumby

    Not only that but MOST Clubs or Restaraunts have No Idea about Accoustics. One of the main Resaraunt that hired Bands had Aluminum Roofing on the walls, No Carpet Anywhere , Nothing but hard parallel sufaces. People screamed at each other because they could not hear anything but 1000’s of reflexions. That was when the Band was not even playing. I offerred to pay for some carpet and atleast some wall paper but theowner just said ” No, I am just a Restaraun”t. People would stay for 20 minutes and had to leave, saying,” I just gotta get out of here , It’s driving me crazy” Every time I tried to play there I went home so depressed I couldn’t even pick up an instrument for a week or two. Made me just want to quit. It seems every place is like that around here. They can’t see sound so they just don’t care.
    I wish Musicians would open venues or restaraunts and just do minor accoustic tuning . It would make a World of difference. People would want to stay around a comfortable place where they can wisper and be heard and the Band could play at any volume and not sound loud or bombarded by 1000’s of reflections.
    When will they ever learn? I think they had carpet on the roof!

    • Tmcardle

      I think the aluminum thing is actually deliberate. That way it makes people feel as if the place is crowded when it isn’t. The logic is that people don’t want to drink in a place that isn’t crowded.

  • jim

    I’ve been offered by a jazz club owner to have me put together a band and play there. He came to ME to play there for 200 dollars on a Saturday night in the middle of DC. Play til 2 or later. I flirted with the stupid idea of playing there with a trio, just once. But he wanted me to have quartet. I asked for cheeseburgers for the band members. He said no. I said forget it you are too cheap.

    The best thing to do…..
    about clubs who want to you to try out in their room on a Friday happy hour, with 1000+ capacity, and multiple floors. The club owner, knowing you are there for free, refuses to have his sound guy set up the PA—tells you to get your own sound guy. The owner finally relents, calls his sound guy. You do sound check 1/2 hour after you are supposed to start with a packed house. The PA does not work, you have to stack the monitor speakers on top of the stacks.
    —– the best thing to do is steal their case of microphones, and walk out the club

  • Bass Guitarist

    I’m 40, live in the midwest of the US, started playing in clubs when I was 15, and have been playing professionally as a rock / blues / country musician for about 20 years now. Toured full time, etc. Great times and lean times, ups and downs, during all of it. I think things are worse now than any time I’ve seen em, and yes the clubs have some blame. People certainly don’t go out like they used to, music as a whole is wanted for free or cheap by the genreal public, and things like Guitar Hero makes being a musician seem like “hey, anyone can do it, what’s so special about it” to the peanut gallery general public.

    To me the worst thing of all is now there are so many bands, many of them cover bands, that “play for the love of music” and “don’t care about the money” and “if we get paid, it’s a bonus”. These same bands also think it’s wrong for musicians to be concerned about getting paid. I’ve had many email inquiries from alot of cover bands the last couple of years, wanting to hire me, and when I ask something like “how much usually does each member get paid per gig?”…they either never write again, are very elusive about it, or say something like “if you’re concerned about play you’re not right for us”. They’re right, I’m not. Yes, I’d rather stay home. I laugh at all these working bands that mostly play covers, and look to “hire” a musician, but don’t want to talk money with that musician, don’t care about getting paid from venues, and will play for free or peanuts.

    Venues want bands cheap or free…the general pubic wants music cheap or free…original bands or artists willing to give away their music for free to the general public….and even worse, a ton of cover bands willing to play for free or cheap “for the love of music”…. and band leaders that want to “hire” a musician to play covers and expects the musician to not be concerned about pay. More like joining a little clique that hangs out together and Twitters. Pro band of unique musicians that loves music but also wants to get paid as much as possible for playing gigs….that’s the kind of musician I am, but where are these kinda bands nowadays? Very few and far between. By many bandleaders and bands out playing clubs nowadays, they look down on musicians that show concern about pay. It wasn’t that way much when I started, it sure is now. And it’s a huge percentage of what’s out there now for the non-famous working musician.

  • Gene Burnett

    I think we all have to find our own place and balance on this issue. One size does not fit all. Venues vary, locations vary, local economies vary. All music is not equal. I’m an aging solo folkie singer/songwriter with no gear and no troublesome set-up. I don’t depend on music for my main income. I live in an area with a very tough economic situation where all venues are having a hard time staying afloat and very few whose sole draw is music have survived. There is virtually no “listening” scene here for the kind of music I play. I also hate to travel and so play only in my immediate area. The internet is my tour bus. So I play wherever I can for whatever they will pay me. I don’t consider the venues I deal with to be adversaries. Far from it. They are my friends and I need them way, way more than they need me. I’ve also stopped fighting the “music is free” trend and have made all my music (26 albums and counting) available for downloading free or with a donation at my site. I’ve also listed all 26 at CD Baby too, just to cover my bases. In my mind there has never been so much music available as there is right now. Probably many hours of tunes have been posted online just since I started typing this. The supply has never been higher and the demand has never been lower. Even at expensive big time concerts people are talking and texting and videoing the whole time. Music is becoming like wallpaper. I’m amazed anyone listens to anything I do, let alone likes it. I’m sincerely grateful if I can reach even one or two people at a show with the kind of stuff I do. I’m not bitter either. Just realistic. I’m just happy to make my sound and see what comes back. In spite of the general trend towards people being lost in their phones and bubble worlds, I have had great nights at all of the places I’ve played…and every now and then I get to play a really sweet gig where people really do listen and like what I do and I get paid well. But if I only played those shows I’d play be lucky to play once every year or two. ;~)

    So clearly, I’m in a different place from a band who has a much higher overhead on every level and who wants to make a living or close to one touring and playing music in clubs. I hear what people are saying about the treatment they’re getting from clubs. I also hear what club owners are saying about the treatment they’re getting from musicians. I also hear what people are saying who’re finding their own unique venues and ways of finding fans. There’s some truth in every corner of the music world. I just don’t like being called a “scab” if I play for tips at a wine bar where I enhance the vibe but don’t bring in more than 1-3 people. I don’t think there is one way that will work for everyone here. We all have to think and feel this through and come up with what works best for us. A union might be fine for some people but not for others. We all have different needs. GB

  • Nate

    I play in a band from what is considered a suburb of Chicago. We have been a band for twelve years. There is no way you can continue to play music, or for that matter do anything, for very long unless u get paid. My suggestion is this. In the suburbs or small towns the going rate even for a no name band is one hundred a guy. It’s a respect thing. Maybe L.A. Doesn’t get that. That’s the bottom line. Perhaps we as musicians should tell the big city’s to suk it and play where they pay. Besides with the Internet and all your playing to a big audience wherever you are. It’s either that, a stronger music union, or music turns to shit. Oh wait, maybe it already has.

  • Terrylogan11

    I’m a Jazz musician in Toronto Canada. I lay guitar and piano. The very same thing happens heres. I was booked to play the Rex Hotel. In discussing money at the time, the $75 per man was naturally tossed in my face during the Downtown Jazz Festival in 1996, because everyone else was doing it. The owner whom I’ve known prior to this having played the bar in 1989 with quality players who saved the place from its last breath of closing brought the place back to life. There was a $2 to $3 dollar door charge Friday and Saturday with seating for about 200 or more. I knew what I wanted and he knew what I could deliver, musically.

    I told him keep the $75 bucks, I’ll talk my chances on the door with my own door handler/s. Put it any way you like, my band was explosive; people wanted ancores at the end of the gig and the door brought in $875.00 that Friday.

    I was booked for 2 nights. Friday and Saturday, after I finished the first night, the owner Bob Ross said, Terry Logan, what a great night! Tomorrow you have to give me half of the door take. Without hesitating I told him to get someone else for tomorrow Bob and have never worked the club since. I don’t even visit the place any more. The reason: College playing beginners with big practicing bands.

    Dave is correct in his findings. The trend in Toronto is pay to play and B.O.P. (Bring your own people) for mainly rock bands who play for zip. My recomendation shadows Dave perception: Fight back by playing to win. Behe best you can and play like every tune or song is your last. The truth is out there!

    A month ago, after more than a year of my first visit to a new coffee bar

  • M.G. Bailey

    Well i do feel compeled to say something…..It does suck that so many great players have to make less than they deserve. And it sucks that a lot of great players get over looked by less talented players just cause they are cheaper/free. This business is a popularity contest and from what i understand it always has been. There is something we can do, don’t buy into it. If i play a great show in front of a room full of strangers and they love it, but none of them came for me so i don’t get paid….screw it. Better be seen and enjoyed than not at all. I might not play there again but thats fine with me too. If a bar owner, doorman, bouncer, bartender likes my music, likes me and the way i carry myself…i usually get something, might be 15 bucks but at lest they make a attempt. I do not know what i am worth as a musician, but i have learned that if play like i give a damn and act like a normal person and not a rock star…things usually work out. Now i have gone toe to toe with plenty of bar owners and bartenders and door men cause they say one price and and then try and low ball me…Thats survival. But i say Do your best, stand up for yourself and try and get some heads in the door and keep the heads in there already from leaving. It’s tough guys. plan and simple…..Like they say if it was easy everyone would do it.

  • Tonesjazz


    Thanks for sharing this and you are absolutely right in your thinking and approach. I have recently come across the same situations and think that it is repulsive. We need to rally together somehow to make a statement!!

    Keep uo the great fight!!

    Tony W.

  • Mike Mudd

    Those clubs that understand what Dave is trying to explain are the clubs that get a great reputation. It’s a partnership -sure the musicians should want to build a following, but it’s up to the venue to make sure that they develop a clientele based on having great music every time. I’ve known a few clubs that I would go to regardless of whether or not I knew the band, because I trusted the venue to provide a high quality act on stage. I’m really tired of hobby bands, and unprofessional bands who’ll play for nothing and the venues that encourage them.

  • Ginhul

    totally agree and have experienced the same. the bar/club gig scene is a total scam. owners know we’re helpless and won’t change. my personal favorite was when owner insisted to pay us by check once we neg’ed him up to $120 each (4 pc). like that’s such a hugh payout. And consider all the pre/post work involved, the travel, gas, tolls, unload, rigging, then performance, afterwards, de-rig, load, on and on… losing money to gig is so wrong.

  • Oz Chiri

    after reading all this I need to play the Devil’s Advocate here, I don’t consider myself an amazing musician neither the worst but what I DO Consider is that I try to make Art and expression , I have something to say through my music and that’s what i care about, i understand everyone wants to get paid for hours of practice or learning their instruments/songs etc, I see it in a different way, I am happy that i am able to play, have an instrument and create music and leave a message there that maybe not today, not tomorrow but maybe in 10?, 20? 100 years will be noticed and someone will respect it, regarding playing or paying to play i wouldn’t pay to play but i wouldn’t get mad if i don;t get paid because for me is an opportunity to show my ideas and my message, if there is money coming in great and even better if i don;t get money at least i get the satisfaction of having some people recognizing my ideas and my art, in history there is many cases of unknown musicians and artists not being recognized in their lifetime and after their death their stuff is worth millions, we should be happy that we have a gift and the main idea of music as every other art is to show your craft your ideas and feelings to the world, if there is money after that great , i have my day job and say thanks to god/Allah/ or whatever god you believe or not to be able to share my feelings and experiences to the world through my music, that is enough pay for me

  • I have really enjoyed reading the original letter and many of the comments. Obviously it’s tough all over, but you ought to try Northern Idaho… everybody is broke and it’s Really hard to work up here. What is amazing is the high quality of musicianship around here. Basically we are all starving muscians and unemployed princes.

  • Sweetadolead

    It is even worse if you are not a “bar” band. We don’t do covers – We do all originals in an way range of styles in and center the music around an old radio style show format. We like the coffee house atmosphere but can they stay in business for more than a couple of years or be open after 5? Sheeesh. When we play we have drawn anywhere from 35-80 people depending upon the venue. None have paid us but we do get tips and CD sales – even so – I live in a city that is full of many cheap cheap cheap people looking for a coupon to get money back on something free. You have to love what you do when you come home with $23 plus change because they thought the venue paid us. We have gotten more outspoken about this with funny shameless crys for tips during the show and have gotten more profitable but then again $75 for six people ain’t much.

  • G446

    I liked the article and comments. Thanks.

    Two things:
    (1) It’s just supply and demand. The supply of musicians wanting to play in venues greatly exceeds the demand by venues and listeners in venues. Abuse follows, like it does in every walk of life where this happens. An example of this tipped the other way occurred and occurs in gold rush towns in the wilderness (the one of the Congos recently and in California in 1849): people get away with selling a cup of coffee for $25 because of high demand enabled with gold and practically no supply. Cold blooded, but big imbalances attract the cold blooded. Most of the warm blooded stay away.

    (2) Here’s a semi-secret exception:
    I know two musicians who make surprisingly good money playing their originals on the street. Granted, their originals fit perfectly in existing familiar, popular genres, but geeez, I didn’t realize how well they can do in a “good” spot on the street. One solo act I know averages about 20 CD sales plus a couple hundred dollars in tips, and on his best day sold over 60 CDs @ $15/each plus over $500 in tips (in about a 4-5 hour block with self-imposed breaks, necessary for sales btw). Another musician I know played on the street with his band (a type of South American acoustic) and they sold over 200 (2 hundred) CDs plus who knows what tips on their best day. I had NO idea this was and is going on. Both of these musicians are very good and also play occasionally at regular good venues, including some small famous ones and on the radio. I won’t say what cities they live in, but the solo act likes to set up by international tourists because they dig his Americana acoustic music. Both of these musicians play the music they love and compose, so you can’t accuse them of selling out. Do the math. It’s remarkable. Plus, they get more sales from customers who order more CDs from the musicians’ websites (“Dear so-in-so, I heard you play last Fall in some city and bought one of your CDs. I’d like to order your others, too”). Also, many people appreciate you brightening the urban outside with good live music and feel compelled to tip and/or buy CDs instead of going home and pirating them on dreary computer.

  • Maddad

    the only reason clubs are like this is because too many artists are willing to give there talent away .
    They think”hey,I’m working” but never stop to think how it effects he market over all
    There is an old saying, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free” used to be fewer good acts around because you had to have the talent, but now bands are a dime a dozen because technology allows Karaoke singers to elevate to the same level .
    I was a touring musician from 1982 until 2005, I had 100,000 worth of gear in my truck but I could make more money working retail than staying on the road, because it was easier to get a karaoke machine instead of bands. and with extreme drinking and driving laws, most people won’t risk going to a bar to pay cover to see a band when they can watch their favourite artist on a 60″ screen with stereo surround sound, and pause it when they want a drink , toke, or piss.
    Point is, there used to be a lot of clubs competing for the few great artists , but now its the tons of artists competing for the few decent rooms and even the real musicians have to give it away if they want to play to an audience or get exposure at all and the club owners know it, I’ve seen a lot of artists that were huge at one time back playing in clubs again. unfortunately the music scene sucks all over.

  • Eric

    Oh Man
    That’s the reason I had to leave the states! I never heard it put so well or spelled out so clearly.
    Thanks Dave for having the balls to take on a serious problem.
    The Club owner that blames bad attendance on a good band is kidding himself and destined to fail.
    What the states needs to do is have more events for new acts to play as to gain experience so they don’t have to bring the price down for the working musician.

  • occupylies

    The real problem is that musicians are going to the wrong people in the first place. Instead of being forced to deal with these bar owners and sleazy shitballs, what we need to do is start kidnapping and extorting executives from the Big 3 record labels. The first time a big name exec from Sony, Universal or Warner gets kidnapped, it will set the tone for the future of music and the American economy, where if you won’t play our records, we’ll fucking kidnap your people.

  • Gordon Haskell

    I’m 65. I’ve done 51 years time as a musician. I ‘ve been ‘lucky’ a few times . 20 of those years I worked 7 nights in bars and the deal then was ‘if you sell more crates of booze than the other guys, you’ll get rebooked’. I did and I worked. That was up til 2001 when I sold a million records and came out of it. It was the the same month as 9/11. From that moment the fascists /corporates came down hard. No smoking meant bar closures . Their rules and regs are designed by a Marxist blueprint to destroy any kind of conversation and bars were where people talked about all sorts of stuff. The media is owned by these people. Bars weren’t. Radio music has been under their control for years. It’s a political agenda . They think they have destroyed the real musician/artist with their strategy and it does seem a huge task to fight back but wonders can occur. My own experience of reasonable success introduced me to the darkness of the inner workings of the corporate -fascist -marxist world. I saw with my own eyes and they hated me for it and set out to hamper my every move. Even The Financial Times called me to investigate how I did it as I had caught them all unawares with my breakthrough driven entirely by the public ‘accidentally’ hearing one song on national radio. My Top of the Pops appearance attracted strange men in grey suits . After the ‘take’ I was informed they would not broadcast as Robbie Williams HAD to be the No 1 due to the Shareholders of a City firm. It’s dark. It’s very dark. And ifyou trace the ownership of every music mag these days you’ll find the same big bank names. The same names go right back to the families who financed not only the Russian Revolution but also Adolf Hitler. I have no idea how to fight back apart from knowing it is only real musicians who can enlighten the world and that is the only reason left for continuing to be an artist. Simply put it is surrender or die. At 65 I would rather die than give in to these perverts and parasites.

  • Mintealeaves

    Spreading this awareness is our only hope… I for one am experiencing the negative effects of this phenomenon first hand. I am a young professional musician (all my income comes from teaching and gigs) with several original projects. Whenever I am booking or playing out with these band, I see exactly how far the bar has been lowered out there. Venues often don’t treat me with respect because they are used to dealing with so many hobbyists. They laugh when I ask for guarantees. It does not matter that I am confident enough to say that I have a great band that will stand out, perform well, be on time, and not break things. Many of them just have no idea what is like to be making a living doing this.

    This may come off as snobby but I believe that venues need to exercise some serious quality control. There is a nice way to tell a band they aren’t ready for the stage yet. House shows or private party type gigs and just good old practicing are greats way to hone skills and become worth your salt. If a venue only booked better, tighter bands, they would build a reputation for having good music ALL the time, and attendance would be much more regular. I would know, I manage a small venue / art space in Akron, Ohio. We only have one or two events a month, but attendance is always spectacular because people actually know the music is going to be good and truly eclectic.

  • Picopicante

    Dave, you are 100% right. It is short-sighted and lazy that LA venues function this way. I boycotted playing LA years ago because I have one too many stories about being treated like dirt by club owners who cry poor while my fans fork out a good $40-$60 a piece before the night is over. Then pay me out some insulting reward like $50 for a 4 piece band and won’t re-book me. It’s disgusting. I won’t even patron some of the places I played before because I have so much disgust for their ethics. Not to mention, most of them are empty shells of an establishment- devoid of any real ambiance except the smell of beer and urine.

    Downtown LA has a burgeoning scene that is proving this model is not the only way. Places like Villain’s Tavern, The One – Eyed Gypsy, NOLA and others are claiming a strong “anti-hollywood” stance. They have GREAT decor, GREAT drinks, GREAT food, and GREAT music every night of the week. They’ve gotten creative with a theme- Whisky bar, or Circus theme, etc….Not just anyone can get a gig there- you have to fit in with their vibe be it Jazz, Americana/Steam Punk,etc… but they pay the bands well. I asked the sound man how they can afford to pay so decently when no one else in LA seems to be capable of it and he said “Are you kidding? We make THOUSANDS at the bar every night.” These places are downtowners’ favorite local spot. People are starting to flock from the westside and hollywood. On the weekends there are lines wrapped around the block. There is NEVER a cover charge. And not one person is there because they are friends with the band. They are there because they love the place and the way it makes them feel. PROPS to the non- lazy, innovative downtown establishments. Maybe they can teach the rest of the city how to behave properly by stealing all their business.

  • Adam

    Reading Daves letter I find this all too familiar,I have found the same problems and attitudes for the last 10-15 years in Scotland,reading some of the comments something has to give,we dont progress if we cant play,cant play if your not paid fairly and good music dissapeares,should venues only book bands if they are in a musicians union with a set minimum rate?”You say you want a revolution,well you know I dont want to change the world” be strong stand up for your music,we deserve better for all the time effort energy we spend in our bedrooms, kitchens,Garages and Studios just so we can play live and have a fair pay.Stick it to the man. Take it easy Adam from Glasgow.

  • R. Hoare

    This illness has been spreading for many years. I’m based in Europe and used to make a pretty good living playing a few gigs a week with the ocassional short tour. That’s all changed here too. The situation with venue owners is the same as in North America. Here there’s still quite a few seasoned players out there doing it for next to nothing. I’ve been told by some colleagues that now’s the time to get out there and ‘fight back’ by playing these gigs and showing younger musicians that the music is still alive. I disagree. As a result, after 25 years of professional playing, I’ve more or less stopped and fortunately I’ve found other musical work that’s satisfying.
    I agree with Dave Goldberg. As long as we do nothing, nothing will happen.
    I don’t have all the answers, but it seems to me that refusing to play under ridiculous circumstances can’t be wrong. Talking to venue owners is likely a wise move too, but at the end of the day – if it sucks – don’t accept it.
    One last little story that sort of sums it up … years ago I went to the gig at a club our band played regularly. The set-up there was: play 5 sets of 30 min with a 30 min. break between each set. The policy had changed slightly and we were now to take 45 min breaks. OK, that means being there an hour longer.
    That’s fine, but the catch was for the same money. I complained. After much back and forth the club manager finally said, “Well, musicians are just happy to play at all.” I said, “Is that right?” I packed up my horn and walked out. Everyone was angry with me (go figure). Just as I was loading my gear in the car the bandleader came out and said, “Come on back, he’s paying us for the extra hour!”

  • Three years ago I began managing performances, I gave the musicians a percentage, they brought an audience, We had pre-sold 230 tickets, however the venue did not want to give us a % from the bar. the bar made $2000 or more that night. We tried to renegotiate for another event, this time I was going for a %. We had more than proven ourselves. The venue refused. They decided to DO it themselves, they failed. LOL…there venue since then only has had less than 50 people attend. they asked us to comeback, but they refuse to give us a %. They are just stuck on the idea that musicians must do all the work without pay.

    Musicians should refuse to play for free, especcially if you have a good sound.

  • Rolf-heimann

    Couldn’t agree more with Dave! One of the reasons: baby-boomers, now retiring from well-paid jobs, buy themselves the equipment, form a band – and want to have fun. OK, so they bring 20 friends into the club. Does that make the club work profitably?!
    Another reason: owners open up their place with too little capital, so they can’t really develop it as it should be (regularly played good professional music, which would in time attract regular crowds). They need a quick profit, so they go for the quick (and wrong) fix!
    We have to thank Dave here for giving us all some good arguments to use in negotiations.

  • 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.

  • Mick

    I think the clever venues have regular nights when they put on gigs and book the headline bands and pay them, there is maybe one support slot for a local band who can top up the venue with friends etc this band still needs to be competant and compatable with the headline act. Sometime a headline band plays the whole night but it’s rare, only for bands who can guarantee to fill the venue, I’ve seen Focus do this several times.

    Other nights the venue is available to hire for parties or promoters and the clever bands are getting together with 2 or maybe 3 other bands to hire a venue each. The best way is each band puts on a home gig and take all the door money and the other bands do the same at their home gig, so you are either getting paid to play to your existing fans and friends or playing unpaid to a new audience.

  • 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.

    • Tom

      Um… J.R… you don’t get it.. THAT is the problem! Why are you offering to open? To learn? WTF??? How about… you can open for me!

  • Wade MaVv

    THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS!!!!! Couldn’t be more dead-on!

  • ex club owner

    As a former professional musician who was living in LA in the 60s – 70s I watched this phenomena at its inception. The advent of disco accelerated it. I wound up with a live music venue in Oklahoma in the mid-70s. I paid musicians top dol…lar, thus I got the best bands. I heavily advertised their appearances in print and radio. I usually had a full house. As a result, I had the best bartenders and wait people clamoring to work for me since they knew that the tips would be generous and they could take home a living wage… and have a lot of fun in the process. The club wound up being somewhat of a legend in the midwest, and to this day my old clients find me on facebook and ask me to come back and do it again. The club itself was a dump. It had absolutely no redeeming architectural or design qualities, aside from great acoustics. I do not understand why club owners today do not get it. This is business 101, not rocket science. It is an incredibly simple formula for success… a hot band, attractive and efficient service staff and stiff drinks. People will climb electrified barbed wire to get in… You will not attract top talent with a ridiculous pay-to-play policy – and they are the essential ingredient for success. I guess ya can’t cure stupid.

    • Todmoses

      You nailed it from the club owner end. I came up in the Midwest club circuit myself. Played the Agoras, the Flats in Cleveland, bars at Kent State etc… And I can tell you that what made those clubs hard to get into was that there was a lot of great talent all dying to play there. The last band I played in there made $800 – $1200 a night in 84 (sound and light killed us but that is another story). You are right, club owners don’t get it. But neither do the musicians. I played in a band here in VT for 3 years that had guys with a lot of talent but they would not practice and basically just masturbated on stage. They could be great but instead they are just okay and play or a a few hundred a night. They squandered many opportunities with laziness and drunken fights.

      The secret to any successful business is treating it like a business. Don’t do that and you won’t succeed. That goes for club owners and musicians.

  • 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.

    • Zach

      I used to believe that playing all original music would exempt a small venue from the ASCAP/BMI issues. But I have been informed by several people in the music law field that it doesnt matter, they can still assess the fees. Its more than ridiculous. And I have personally seen and heard the threats that ASCAP makes against venues, and they are illegal and not backed by any law. ASCAP/BMI, etc hires people to work on commissions based on what they can get out of the venues. So these folks 1) do not actually know the law, and 2) are pushing for the highest possible fees so they will get a bigger commission. The venue has to ask for their manager in order to get someone who knows the law, and will at least try to work with them on some sort of plan (though it still is frequently too high for the small venue to justify).

  • 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.

  • Solly

    My opinion is to share the risk. I have great experience with a hat going around most of the time, but even then, it is the responsibility of the owner, to “educate” the audience to appreciate the music in a way that for example there shouldn’t be ANY coins in the hat. I continued to play only places that garuantee a minimum wage for the musician, which should be 150,-€ and only if you play around town. I stopped playing anything else and so my market value went up automatically. I am willing to play for a little less if i feel deeply appreciated. But i guess, Germany is a much better place in terms of being paid well. Still i think musicians should not play for less than a minimum.

  • 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!

  • sadly this is so true. ive been doing shows since 2005 and music since 1999. ive opened for alot of famous people. the fact is theres to many fucking bands now, every single person has the technology to make a song. not everyone can make a good song though, but clubs dont care about that there booking 30 bands for a show and giving them 10-15 minutes and telling them they have to sell 20 tickets and make them x amount of dollars. i tried starting a movement against this and teaching people how badly there getting ripped off. but they think the clubs are actually doing them a favor. no ones making any money and if they say they are there lying to look good in front of there friends. for every ticket show i was doing i was losing money in gas, parking, beer etc. then you always have people who promoise there coming so u hold onto tickts and u get stuck buying them cuz the person didnt show. anyways it seems impossible to start a movement its going to be this way for a while. the only way i found to counter attack this is have nothing at all to do with tickets and do the show just for free that the shows is completely free. it sucks not getting paid but i dont mind it because our free shows are gigantic and im doing what i love to do and i dont need to be anymore popular then i am to be happy. with free shows we just show up and play, our friends dont have to spend all there money to come, the club still makes money in the bar, and it all works out plus i get to control everything i can take merch and have my own merch booth at a free show, unlike headliner shows with famous people they wont let u have a spot anywhere, and we also get to decorate the stage how we want. this isnt the answer for everyone but for us its the answer for us compared to selling tickets. i say i wont sell tickets because we keep crowds there buying beer so any free show they have they give it to us. i just did a show earlier today completely packed entire place.

  • 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.

    • Glofresh

      You see a ton of these “festivals” on ReverbNation. Submit your band for $25.00. This unfortunately has been happening for sometime. I refuse to play clubs anymore. I prefer to pick and choose the gigs I want. This way I’m happy and I perform much better. Bars and clubs don’t know that they should be including music as part of their operating budget. It’s an investment. We need more musicians to open venues, then maybe – MAYBE, things will start changing.

  • EJ Vasicek

    Same exact experiences here in Michigan, Also, less clubs r doing bands, We now avoid places that expect draws, we ask about how the club promotes and we tell them DO NOT EXPECT US TO DRAW. but, they can exect us to be professional, show up on time to set up, we sound great, work the crowd, and create a party like atmosphere. If that is not good enough we move on, We also have minimum charges that we quote up front, We get less gigs now but our revenue per gig is much higher and we play places with bigger crowds now, Your open letter is spot on.

  • As a professional Irish folk singer, songwriter living in Ireland the same problem exists here.
    The real facts are if audiences don’t have to pay an entrance fee for music then payment to musicians must be made from the venue’s takings. The owner of the venue will consider the cheapest form of entertainment because it’s down to profit margins at the end of every week.
    It’s like being a professional singer or musician trying to perform in an amateur environment, it doesn’t work unless you consider lowering yourself to their standards by accepting similar payments.
    That’s one of the reasons I have been unemployed for almost three years.
    Recording a quality CD which I have already done can help if access is available to radio and TV stations.
    In Ireland Irish music gets less than 7% airplay nationwide, while classic hits and pop gets enormous airplay.
    To give you an example in 2010 the royalties collected from broadcasters nationwide in Ireland ammounted to about €10 million, in excess of 93% of the royalties went to foreign composers, songwriters and publishers.
    This means not only can we not generate employment for professional Irish singers and musicians, but also Irish songwriters and composers cannot generate interest in theirs lyrics and compositions.
    The real facts are the multi national record companies control the music industry worldwide.
    Recently the Chief Executive of a music company in Ireland stated to me that 15% of the Irish music industry controls 85% of the wealth, until there’s an industry that caters for all then the problem will continue to exist.
    The same consideration could be made for the USA music industry.
    There is now a need worlwide to develop good quality music at all levels, to help in marketing, sales and employment for all.
    Canada is a country which is catering for the needs of musicians, singers, songwriters and composers, and all involved in the music industry, and also they have percentage airplay in place for Canadian music. This also applies in France who legislated in 1996 for 40% airplay for French music.
    If we choose to be professional musicians then we must fight for our rights, otherwise we must accept the crumbs or continue to be unemployed.
    To conclude I will never accept the crumbs, but I will continue to strive to improve the standards for Irish music, and that can only be won through proper Government legislation in every country where there is injustice for the culture of good music.
    I continue to communicate with Irish and European Government Ministers to seek change in legislation for airplay for Irish music. If change in legislation can be made then Irish music will have a new lease of life.
    I have a new Irish performance starting in April every Thursday and Friday with Irish folk singing and Irish Dancing + Dinner. The venue is http://www.addisonlodge.com and the band is http://www.irelandsfiddlersgreen.com much hard work will be needed to make it work, but my family motto is nothing is difficult to the brave and faithful.
    Danny Carthy
    Singer, Songwriter

  • 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.

  • Bazra007au

    It is so sad to hear this. And it is now starting to happen even more severely in Australia as well. It is not the illegal downloads that are killing the industry, it is the narrow mindedness of certain venue owners and governments that are forcing us to go backwards in the arts.

  • Tomcarpenter1962

    i know bands that are terrible that’s why they play for next to nothing. they want to play out so they take any gig, this is why the industry is watered down. they don’t care if your good just as you can bring the people in to buy the goods. they just don’t care about anything but the bottom dollar. america has become this way why shoukln’t the owners of venues? american idol do i need to say more. the day a kareoke singer can become a star on t.v. the day music is lost forever.

  • 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.

  • It has been like that for years,I remember one time the band I was in had over the fire code number and we were told NEVER to come back (the number was 500 we had 1500) and we never got paid something about the club got a fine?????.Then we played a place with no adds (just our word of mouth).This time we were told not enough money in the door.You really can’t win (try taking some one to court for not paying you-HA-HA).This is the Game…So just say I play for free—because I want to play(it’s all I care about)-also give your music away for free because no one wants to pay for music any more either.Its the TRUTH.But you can still check out my web site @ http://www.jimmiritzreitzler.com or Google Jimmi RITZ Reitzler.I write music because Its all I know how to do (I took the time to learn the craft please take the time to hear it).Jimmi

  • 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.

  • Kiarichardsmcmc

    i totally agree, im in a band in the UK and they expect you to bring a crowd on a tuesday night or we will never be aloud to play the venue again. Check this, if you dont bring the desired amount of people then you meaning I have to pay the club the difference. WTF!!!! What happened to the good old days. One night we brought 200 people and the bar was acting like they just won the lotto. They paid us £150 between 5 people. I went mad because everyone was there for us. Its bollox, they dont get that all the travel and all the stress of setting up is involved.

  • 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

    If you run your own event then you do have an obligation to try to get people out to see you but otherwise it’s another job you are supposed to do on top of setting up the PA, booking gigs, driving sorting out equipment…..it’s a wonder anybody has 5 minutes to practise these days.
    Chris jagger

  • 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.

  • Theodore Kloba

    The last anecdote points to something that we as musicians might be forgetting: Just as there seems to be an endless supply of musicians willing to play for peanuts or less, there also seems to be an endless supply of people who want to open a bar and are willing to borrow or save to start one up. Venues fail and turn over. The new owner learns the old lesson and by then it’s too late. Like many other businesses, you have people who go into it for the love of the “thing”, but they are just poor businesspeople and the thing fails.

    It’s great that Dave Goldberg at least tried to build a bridge and approach the club owner as a business partner. Hopefully some will answer his call, and those are the ones to work with.

  • 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

  • Rudy Diddley

    I appreciate all too much what is said in this article – having read the highlights – and coming from England. This isn’t actually new over here, and I had similar problems in Miami back in 1980.

    In Northern England, people speak of what is known as a proper job – and performing artistes, no matter how good, do not have a proper job. For proper, think worth-while or hard graft, whatever you like. But it is floated partly on the fact that most performers have a talent for either their art or entertainment or both – but not always for management and administration, or even promotions. So we cannot discuss terms very well and settle to perform for whatever because our soul needs it as much as our cash flow. Even more.

    There is much to be said about my field, ‘musicianship’, where it is hard to get reliable band members who are also talented/able before you even go gigging. I tried solo but mys strengths are in the three piece. So you tend to loose work cos a member fails to show for a gig – giving musicians a bad reputation. Then you get acts with ideas above their station asking for phone number figures. Between the flawed musos and poorly managed venues, the trade whatever yo want to call it suffers.

    It gets called an industry – and if you go there, expect peanuts pay. We all know that this brings in the monkeys, so actually swinging management do themselves no good in the long run. They put on poor artistes (when they turn up), often sell inferior or tampered libation/foods, have mucky toilets – in effect make no effort other than to count money.

    But in the fortyish years I’ve been chasing my self round the block, I’ve seen venues – and management – come and go. There is a resurgence of well-managed pub venues here now. And while forty or so pubs a month have been closing, these people are dong better. The have quiet events, but they are still managing to pack them in when decent acts are on.

    The rumour machine works here. Naff venues get ignored by the decent acts and they go under or resort to big screens and sport. They do us a favour as they keep the piss-heads entertained and away from more respectable joints. I often doubt my abilities as many like me do. But when my little band can still keep management happy, we’re all happy. Cos we get paid reasonably, even rather well; we get re-booked and we rely on a bit of web space but mostly word of mouth. If you desperately drag disinterested folk into your gig all you do is watch them walk out…

    So, not that I’m a marketing wizard, but I just pick on venues that pay. The only freebies we do are for worthy causes – and we do the ones we get asked to do – setting them up yourself smacks of self interest and puts people off. Through such eople-oriented work (instead of business) we get further interest. It doesn’t al come through, but there’s always a party/wedding/local venue opportunity to pursue.

    Yes there are dead venues and dead businesses, but just like eyes and noses, performing genes will keep coming – as will numpty management who have sod all experience. Yes we might starve between gigs – but I’ve never shied away from proper jobs (I’m just crap at them) so I find a way to survive. We can’t all expect to even get regular work, let alone anything special – even if we think ourselves special.

    It might be considered quasi-religious to say tis, but if you look for the positive in things, life gets easier. The sun is shining now, so I’m off out on the bike. I hope what I say helps and thanks for leting me bleat on…

  • Rob

    I would like to agree with everyone – the UK is the same. I would say nearly 99% of venues now do it. Its a disgrace and each promoter/venue that does it should be ashamed.
    I love this post and its about time someone pointed this out and spoke out about it.

  • bassie

    i’m in a band with 5 others, we run into this kind of stuff all the time. the best is when they reach out to you to play their venue. i love this – “i’d like to book you guys, but you need to bring 20 people to get paid” We say No, we don’t work like, but thanks for reaching out, and move on. We are the band, not the promoter. You bring 20 people and well make sure they stay and drink, that’s what we do. Club promoters should do their job and promote the club! as a band we are our #1 priority, we are not promoting your venue, we promoting us and where we will be that night, Get it. We don’t sell tickets either, if a club want us to play and bring our following they have to pay us. We can play anywhere and we don’t need a venue. If you’re in a good band, your worth the money, don’t play for free!

  • Big Boy Bloater

    Sadly it is musicians doing this to each other by agreeing these ridiculous terms, and sadly it is the ones who don’t rely on it for a living (and are therefore possibly not as good – not all, but some!) that do these gigs for kicks. In the UK we don’t have the bar music culture in quite the same way but this kind of thing does exist. Luckily in London there are a lot of good music venues who completely understand about their reputation for live music only being as good as the band playing there each night and they will pay good money for good bands. It is a lack of respect for music and musicians by those who still think it is a ‘laugh’ to play gigs and not hard work at all. It’s a long-fought fight that will continue ever more I fear.

  • Tmcardle

    I agree with much of what is said here. The basic argument is two-faced as a mad man’s arse. You’ll get exposure, but bring you own trade. If I can bring my own trade, why do I need exposure?
    I only work for guarantees.

    However, I would add a few caveats. Walking a press kit around to bar owners and restauranteurs will always be a trip through small businessman hell. I’ve been in the business since 1978 (not in L.A. but in Washington, D.C.) and I’ve seen a lot of things change. In the late 70s, most places had music 5 to 7 nights a week. At that time, music had very little competition as entertainment. There was no internet and no cable tv. People weren’t into ‘cocooning.’ They went out a lot more than they do now. However, even in that era, music was a loss leader. Bar owners have always made their money selling alcohol. The band was there to bring people in the door. A major bump in the road for most bar owners has been the enforcement of DUI laws that started in the mid-80s, followed by the sociological trend of cocooning. It wasn’t bands that saved the bar business after the DUIs, it was ESPN.

    Bar owners are up against it. If they lack vision or business sense, its because most of have watched too many episodes of Cheers and bought a bar thinking it will be fun and games. Its not. If a bar owner survives the first two-three years and develops a trade, it usually means the neighborhood is gentrifying and then his lease is up for sale.

    Also, I really have to take the original music people on here to task for slamming cover bands. When I first got into the business, there was no dichotomy between originals and covers. Most bands played both and needed to. Nils Lofgren played Beatle covers when he was in Grin. Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, arguably two of the more innovative guitarists of their generation, primarily did cover music (especially Gatton.) I’ve spent most of my time doing traditional blues — Jimmy Rogers, T-Bone Walker, Roy Milton, Louis Jordan — so what I do is mostly covers. And no, unless its a wedding gig, I don’t play Mustang Sally. I’ve been working in music for over 30 years and still have to have a day job. When I hear some guy who thinks that he is the next Neil Young complain about cover bands, I’m not terribly sympathetic. Bands from my era had to deliver 3 to 5 sets a night. The idea of showcasing four bands on one bill, all working for the door without a guarantee, came in with punk rock and new wave. In fact, the first generation of punks were the ones who were too willing to play for free. They started us down this primrose path. Many of the early punks couldn’t tune, let alone play, but they always brought their friends to the show.

    I think 60-75% of most original music is self-indulgent if not utterly solipsistic. Not all singers or instrumentalists are poets like a Dylan, a Van Zant or even a VU-era Lou Reed, The emphasis on originals has come from record companies who want to buy up publishing. I will grant you that there aren’t many Sinatras, Arethas or Sam Cookes out there (and I’m not one), but when the business finds them, they should not be expected to be writers.

    We don’t have the worst pay-to-play scenarios in D.C. or Baltimore. There are still places that will guarantee an decreasingly, paltry guarantee. The newest wrinkle is that the Indie places that put three or four bands on a bill are asking at the door which band the customers came to hear. Then they apportion the door based on that! You can imagine what that does to the sense of community among musicians.

    • Jeff Blanks

      They were asking patrons who they came to see on the Sunset Strip in the ’80s. So much of it really does seem to come from that era. Nice to see someone else questioning the unquestionable (i.e., punk), at least.

      Funny thing is, we seem to be living in something of a “singer, not songwriter” era right now. It’s just that the singers are more like Britney Spears than Aretha Franklin. (Does Sharon Jones write her own songs?)

  • Jason

    Great article. Been playing in London uk for 20 years and it’s the same here. Made a commitment a few months ago to never play in a venue where the owners(or usually promoters) expect you to do their job of promoting. I think the best route is building relationships between musicians and promoters one by one and turn the tide so all of us can develop our culture and flourish as people.

  • 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

    • Jayeff

      “If they don’t already have a followering (?!) they are not ready to perform in public” – and how, pray, are they supposed to acquire a ‘following’ if they DON’T play in public…? Idiot!

  • I’ve worked as both a professional musician and club owner. There are too many variables that matter when running a successful club/music venue. It’s easy to speculate on how to succeed, but hard to come up with profitable results.

    As an owner: Audiences are fickle and not always the best customers for consuming food and beverages. Especially when the prices are raised to pay for musicians. They expect music to be free. Musicians walk a way with most of the proceeds, on a regular basis. I found it more profitable to sell alcohol with just a jukebox. Pay BMI, ASCAP, a bartender, and be done with it. If you need musicians to fill your club with customers, you’ve chosen a poor business model. I can spot a club headed for bankruptcy in a heart beat.

    As a musician: I found it hard to be booked solid enough to call it a real job. There are too many musicians, competing for the same watering hole (venue). There was a time when everyone who played music, did NOT aspired to be a pro. Now the scene is diluted with indie artists and armatures. The music business has changed in the last 40 years. Success comes with hard work and imagination. But, don’t waste too much time “paying it forward” hoping for rewards in the future. If you are not good enough to draw an audience now, chances are, it’s the quality of your product (your music).

    In conclusion after being on both sides of the music business… there is no sure fire way for success. The most impotent thing to remember is that there is a limited amount of entertainment dollars in any given community. There are too many choices and monopolizing those choices is impossible. Bands need to learn to to be skilled at their profession, as players and self promoters. Clubs need to have reasons for patrons to be there other than music. Big audiences are made up with regular club patrons and fans of the musicians. Usually the bands that draw in the beautiful women have the biggest crowds. Eventually—if you’re lucky—you can create a SCENE.

  • Welcome to something economists call “supply and demand.”

    • Guest

      The LA music scene sucks balls, but in my opinion part of being a ‘professional’ musician these days is learning how to promote yourself/your band. It should be a 50/50 effort on the part of the club and the artist or their management to promote a show. If you don’t have a following somewhere, then you have no business booking yourself as a headliner. You are better off building a strong local following in your region, and once you have learned how to do that you can branch out slowly to surrounding areas. If you want to go on tour, you really need publicity and hopefully some kind of airplay. Sorry, but that is how venues get filled.

  • SidneyVaught

    This article makes me glad my music genre isn’t fit for a drunk crowd. I’ve sung in bars when I was younger singing rock and roll…HATED IT!! Not only were the crowds unpredicatble, the club owners were usually cheap, crooked slobs that many times would screw you out of a “promised” amount of money. I now have a firm rule for potential venues…no drunk crowds. I just won’t do it anymore.

    These days I do more easy listening music, jazz, blues, faith-based and show music etc; not usually what young kids in clubs want to hear these days and I find this to be a good thing actually. I do sing in churches quite a bit and in my church, there have been times they’ve collected at least $1,000 in love offerings (donations from the congregation) for a single individual performing.

    There are also so many little theatre style venues that seat about 50 to 200 people where I live, you can rent them out fairly cheaply and sell tickets. We also have one little place that seats 100 people and it’s basically a music hall that doubles as a small movie theatre when there is nobody performing. I’ve performed there before and I did like performing there. It was a laid back crowd and they were a very giving, responsive audience.

  • Rich Martinez

    Fundamentally, you are absolutely correct. You are talking about low-end club owners. They don’t have a grip on their own business nor their own destiny. When I used to be in the booking business, the key to my success was I literally ran the venue for the owners. I matched the band to the venue; I guided the promotion, advertising, etc. I explained how their business would be built in terms of establishing the venue, etc. And it worked. I viewed this as a value added service I was providing. It was not hard to do in terms of extra time and energy, it didn’t take much. But, the venue owners had no idea. Most of them went along with me because it was working. It was a “duh” situation.
    The club owners you describe are the hit-and-miss type. No consistency of product (their venue). They may surf a wave for a while (never significantly) and get by for a bit. But the wave will be only the result of random circumstances they had nothing to do with and don’t realize or understand. It will ultimately peter out, and their phone number will be disconnected also.
    If they are going to get into the music end of things, they have to know as much about that as they do their food menu, the importance of a good chef, good service, cleanliness, good presentation, etc. Unfortunately, in terms of music, they don’t have that knowledge. In fact, many of them don’t have much of a clue about the other aspects of their business either. But if they do, they have to understand that they must approach the music with knowledge and professionalism – as you explain very well in your article.

  • Brilliantly said, Dave.

  • Dusty

    What I am seeing in North Dakota is the small clubs are having problems with BMI and ASCAP they don’t have a plan for a few times a year. So they are doing with out music and don’t always come out and tell you why. My business has been cut in half from last year. Because of the economy is slowing down they are working harder to find clubs that they left alone in the past. So the clubs will not run any adds so, they hope, they will not get caught by BMI or ASCAP. It is not fun to play when people come into the club and say “I did not know there was a band tonight”. Word of mouth does not work. I am looking into a way to pay the two per event or I may just have to hang it up. Dusty

  • Rich Martinez

    Marilyn Carino: You are correct. To a large extent musicians do bring this upon themselves. I myself am an amateur musician. I play by myself and with some friends for my own pleasure. I have played in front of folks both solo and with others. I often explain that I have never played for pay; therefore I am strictly an amateur and not a professional. If it goes so far that you actually pay to play, then what are you and what hath thou wrought?

  • D Watson

    The demise of good paying bar gigs goes back further than Ipods and internet. I think it started back in the 80’s when Mothers Against Drunk Driving got stricter drunk driving laws put in place. Some bars stopped having live music right away, others started paying less because people drank less, As the laws got stricter and stricter the gigs paid less and less and became more scarce. DJs and karaoke have compounded the problem for musicians. That said, I have never had to pay to play, even when I was living in LA, though the pay has not always been great.

  • Katblu2000

    Business is business in every industry and, to succeed and thrive in business you will have to support your business with money. You can invest money, you can invest time,Love ,Talent, and many other things into you business but, business is business and you have to make money to be in any successful business. Just Because You play an instrument ,Play in a band , write and record songs and you’re Really good at all of that stuff doesn’t you’re gonna make money doing it. Also Just because someone Starts, buys or owns a business -(bar, club ,Restaurant, Band,etc ) that it will thrive ,you know ,Make Money. Anyways i don’t know everything ,and i don’t wanna rant on forever but where there is a will there is a way. The world will keep turning and the world will keep changing and People will fail and people will succeed. The only thing we change or not change is our self and the way conduct our self’s and our business.

  • Coates Rd

    I was told by a Coffee House owner that playing here for free is a good deal for you because I don’t take a cut of your CD sales! We absolutely will not play for free or for peanuts but we get undercut by musicians willing to play for nothing all the time.

  • 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!

  • Alan Murphy

    I like and agree with most of Goldberg’s article, but the statement that “great music should be the end of the expectations for musicians” is only true at some events/venues. Anyone getting this article from a DIY organization like CDBaby knows that we do have some responsibility for, if not getting people out every time we play, at least getting them out sometimes. If we’re proactive we at least try.

  • I book myself as a solo guitarist and the lowest I will go for is $75 for 2 hours. I book myself solo because I found it hard to get musicians in Baltimore to make a commitment to practice weekly and get a group going. I agree with the article and think those owners who do the pay to play don’t last long and don’t get the quality music on a regular basis.

  • George

    Wow!! I agree with Dave that educating venue owners is all of our responsibility. Those who continue to play for free are causing the rest to play with a fight pending. I am actually a booking agent in a midwest city and when we first started out (a year ago) the bands here were playing for a maximum of $350 per gig. Our bands now play for a minimum of $400 per gig. We are able to do this by educating venues and bands as well. The bands have to understand walking away from a gig will help everyone in the long run. If they can’t get musicians without paying, they will have to pay.

  • The logic is correct and I agree the slant has been to expect the band to provide the crowd against all common sense. The other thing that has been on my mind is that the musicians take themselves and their music way too seriously and have forgotten that it is the entertainment business not the music business. So there they stand on a stage not relating to the people very much as people who are spending money to be entertained but as persons who should simply want to go out and spend money to hear how great they are. The greats love the crowd they don’t just stand there. Paul McCartney said about their time in Hamburg that they got it that they were playing to sell beer, so they made a show for every patron instead of being an “artist” and angry when people don’t care.

  • 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

  • Franksnbeans

    This story is so right on. In my former market (Northeast PA), there’s a ton of terrible musicians who now play actively in bars for $40 and a few beers. It’s a shame – because the owners and musicians don’t realize they are killing live music by playing out when they suck. Bar owners expect you to pack a place despite their lack of promotion and low pay. They think we’re supposed to do it because we love it, which we do, but they don’t realize how difficult it is; especially when you factor in having to bring a PA 80% of the time and so on. There’s also no education as to what’s good music – our local music writer is clueless and would write about terrible bands who made a cd on their computer in their garage just because they would kiss his ass. Example – he wrote a full page article on some crappy metal band made up of a bunch of 50 year olds – their music is terrible INSTEAD of an awesome young woman writing amazing dreamy folk music she recorded with a well known producer in NYC. I used to have two residencies at two hot spots – 300 people in each place, each night. The first place we’d play as a trio and the bar would sell about $6000-8000 average in food and drink per night, with no cover, and would pay us $300, demanding a trio. I’d bring in a drummer from NYC and the area’s top bassist, but the owner could care less. One Memorial Day, we played to a capacity crowd, almost 600 people. I than discovered they were charging $10 at the door. I had around 50 people there myself, and the rest of my mates had the same…and they tried to short us $200!!! They did $7000 at the door and another $10000 in sales! The owner said tough luck!!! So we quit and they replaced us with a crappy band, and now their crowd is less than half of what we’d bring in. The next place would have no cover and do the same amount in sales, on a Monday night. we were expected to bring a 4 piece band and a PA and get $300. After two years of having packed, capacity crowds every week, i asked for a $100 raise so each man could get $100. The owner told me to fuck off and that our bonus was our drinks…so i politely told him to fuck off as well…after making him a few hundred thousand dollars a year. He then replaced us with a bunch of Bar Star rock and roll heroes who no one cared about, and their crowd and sales dropped about 75%….it just goes on and on. Bar owners want to screw over musicians, and musicians just want to be paid for their work. The owners don’t seem to realize that when you put in some hack with a crappy PA and cheap guitar that has 3 friends that come to see him – the rest of the general public will not be entertained by someone who sucks. it doesn’t help when local publications in any market don’t write about what’s actually happening on the scene, either. Writing about the Nickelback cover bands two shows that month instead of the original perfumers 22 shows that month doesn’t make sense. NYC is no better – i used to play there once a week and draw an average of 20 friends. Never made more than $30 despite my 20 friends paying an $8 cover to hear me and than a couple of pat-myself-on-the-back-for-how-hip-we-think-our-music-and-clothes-are bands…but in Denver i made $75 for a 30 minute set because they paid me according to how much money they made while i was playing!!! Crazy.

  • Gregdecoteau

    I have always gone with the attitude that if bands and musicians are willing to play for free or extremely little money then that’s probably what they are worth. I can’t count the number of times that patrons of a restaurant or bar come up to us between sets to tell us how much they are enjoying the music and stay till the last set and still we have a hard time booking gigs there because management simply doesn’t want to pay a proper scale for the service that we provide. We also refuse to use the local booking agency because of past experience. Still there are establishments who treat us with respect and pay a reasonable scale when services have been rendered. These venues are usually fairly busy when we get there and remain busy throughout the night. Those places that make unreasonable demands on live music providers are just not serious about maintaining the quality of their atmosphere and are doomed to eventual failure. We don’t play that game and we never will

  • 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.

  • We get what we settle for.

  • Gobbo

    It’s shame, we players in little country name Croatia in the corner of the Europe have better conditions.

  • 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.

    • Jacqui Simmons

      I don’t think the writer was saying because of the situation with them the venue closed but rather if this was their attitude about handling their business, promoting, running a venue, etc., etc. it might have led to their demise.

  • Tgorle

    If you place no value on yourself, don’t expect anyone else to.

    Musicians in general just need to start doing some basic math. If you have a following of 50 people you’re going to bring into a club on any given night, you can equate that to $1000 you’re bringing in the door (without a cover). Know your draw and state your fee. If the club isn’t willing to pay you $500 for allowing them to make $500 while you promote their bar to your fans for future potential business, to hell with them.

  • Mstreblemaker15

    In 1979, I played 6 nights a week in a cover band for $65/night the entire year. That was enough to support a family of four and live in a nice 1500 sq./ft. rented house.

    In 2012, the average job in a restaurant pays $75/night. At 6 nights/week, I would barely be able to afford a one room “cellblock” apartment for myself.

    I would have to make $250/night today to have my standard of living that I had in 1979.

    Enough said.

  • 15 years ago I lived in LA and belonged to a group of activists called Players Against Pay to Play – the scenario was alive and well then, and is now, because musicians WILL play for free. I can’t really blame it on the clubs anymore, who can blame them really?

  • David

    I wonder if changing our focus from how club owners run their businesses to how we musicians run ours might be productive at this time. Perhaps we can put some energy and time into organising/educating younger players in our local/national scenes. I understand that the Musician’s Union in Chile owns venues itself, and puts on it’s own shows toward the benefit of the union’s members. The American Federation of Musicians is creating a new national booking agency called AFM Entertainment. For more info: http://www.afm.org

  • Been in music for 35 yrs. as a pro. Yes there was a day when people would go to clubs to hear bands and they knew they would hear a good one. PA Lights great sound and show. People have quit going to venues because now they have some kids from a college or some wanna be’s that wish they could do what we’ve done, and they”l do it for free just for the opportunity to play on the same stage as other great musicians, thinking that this will mean they’re great. In reality no one wants to hear them except for a few of their friends. Now the club owners have inherited the leftovers from the age of good bands.
    And they really expect their customers to come out to hear the band, when they’ve proven they will not hire a professional band because they’re too cheap. So now they are left with nothing and still blame it on the band.
    Wanna get a band together? Just kidding. Great article.
    Ian Steven Little

  • I’m trying to book some shows in Vancouver for my funk band from Calgary. Every venue I’ve contacted charges a room fee! We keep the door, but have to pay a couple hundred $ for staffing, etc. It sounds like bullshit to me, but every venue does it. And in a sense we are desperate to get shows because we’ve never played in Van before and want to build a name there. Aside from not playing any shows at all, what can we do???

  • 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


    • Jeff Blanks

      You want “real artistic vision” and yet it’s about the audience, not us. Well, which one is it??

  • D

    So many bands are young and naive, they are manipulated into thinking that this is the general consensus. The club owners and thieving promoters take advantage of this to get cheap/free entertainment. But there are good clubs that promotes their events them selves and book good bands, im not plugin this venue but rather using it as an example but Fat Lils in whitney England has great bands on every week and has had bands like guns n rses play there even though it’s a small pub style bar. Its well known for many miles around, sure they have open mic nights for showcasing which doesn’t pay but it is clearly defined.

    Basically, the industry is saturated with newbies and it’s the same in the IT industry, SEO or website design is being offered for completely free by teenagers breaking through to build their portfolios.

    You get what you pay for!!!!!!!

  • 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

  • Dale Leitch

    I understand a lot of what Dave is saying and on the whole makes good business sense and that club owner in L.A who held the speed dating was just cutting off his nose to stick to his own daft rule.

  • Joel

    Great article. Thanks!
    This Monday evening in NY @ Bello Giradino (intimate/with excellent food) 71W71 @ 7:30 PM we will have a very high end and most entertaining Jazz trio. In addition there will be a wonderful art exhibition by a renown artist..
    Please call 212-799-1837 for reservations.
    The person running the restaurant is bright and fair. He pays the musicians well and respects and appreciates what these talented artists bring to the table.
    As you bring out in your article it must be beneficial to all parties in order for an event to work successfully.
    (clearly this is true in all walks of life)
    Since you wrote such an important article so well, if you want to attend please let me know and you will be my guest. Anyone else who sees this response and wants to attend please call me. I will buy you a glass of wine. There are only 50 seats. Reservations are a must.


  • jerry865

    I stopped playing clubs for the most part a few years ago. I decided that since I was living in a city notorious for not supporting songwriters it just didn’t make sense to work that hard for the kind of money people wanted to pay me. I decided to invent my own gigs. I started out with a very small coffee house series based out of a church that was attached to a Celebrate Recovery ministry. The first year we did three shows and attracted 8-10 people. The second season we averaged about 15. The third season started with a line at the door and the church offering us their state of the art auditorium. That was seven years ago and we usually attract about 200 people to listen to different groups of four songwriters sitting on bar stools playing their songs and talking.

    Its funny that when you have that kind of success how all the club owners start getting in touch with you to put on events at their venues. There is one place that we have consistently brought in about 60 people (they can’t fit any more) to hear some of the same performers. We worked out a door deal, $8.00 a person with the room taking $2.00 and the songwriters taking $6.00. Not a great deal but it worked out OK. Now they want us to throw in another $20.00 to pay a door person. I love the venue but to me that just got out of hand and I have to seriously consider playing there after our next gig. t never does end. And it never will because musicians want to play. We continually screw ourselves in the process. My advise, screw the clubs and invent your own gig. If you want to play more, bring that invented gig to another church (in my case) or wherever you can find a place that won’t screw you in the process.

    • SidneyVaught

      Well put, Jerry. I live in a small city of about 200,000 people and there are all kinds of little places you can rent cheaply that are equipped with small stages and lights. You might have to pay a lighting person but around here, you can find someone to do that fairly cheaply if you can avoid fancy lights and the lighting person basically just has to work the switch. Plan a few months ahead, look for good, cheap advertising options, design posters on your computer and print them out yourself, sell tickets and you gotta show.

  • Don Vortexx

    The problem is still musicians not club owners. We as fellow musician need to be helping each other realize that you don’t play for free or cheap. You can’t blame the clubs for wanting a deal, when so many bands are offering just that. And you won’t change the club owners mind if they think they know better so don’t waste you energy with them. Paying to play is what it is. The club has a reputation and you don’t, and they are exploiting bands who are trying to “make it big” and will do anything to have such a club on their resume. And if you must play those clubs, after you build your own following in the area, you can pay them and make the money back with your own ticket sales, if you can’t then don’t play there!(sounds like economics 101 to me). If you are truly good you will eventually get paid. I agree with Eli below….try a new venue that isn’t used to having live music, and build your own seen, don’t use agents, don’t pay a lot for sound. If you are good people will start to show up in numbers. If you build it, they will come. Also, just cause you play in a band on the weekend doesn’t make you a professional. If you have a day job outside music, and you play for cheap on the weekend, you are an asshole. Do I go fix people cars(cause I i’m a gear head who dabbles) for fun on the weekend under cutting all the professional mechanics in town and post it on facebook trying to get everyone to go to me instead. The problem unfortunately is Us. Have pride in what you do! Bands should also stick together and help each other. Power in numbers. I could keep going…but no

    I’m Out!!

  • 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?

    • Tom

      PERFECT point! Hey, as an older musician, my following is older as well (despite a newer set list). Getting them to go out at 9-10pm … no way! They are headed to bed… Start playing 7ish, keep the “stopping for a beer after work crowd” there because there is SOMETHING besides a cute bartender (who is flirting with everyone else as well)… give them entertainment WHEN they are there! Not to get them into the door! The trick is keeping them there!

    • Dee_M

      Indeed- a lot of the Clubs in my area ( Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Indy, Louisville) have the bands play from 9-11:30pm- then the DJ takes over for the Hip-Hop crowd…it’s the best of both worlds, 2-50 minute sets and we out.

  • 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.

  • I don’t think you should allow this link to be distributed, will give Venue Owners in Illinois bad ideas…is already hard enough w/o articles like this, and to those who will play for free, when if YOU didn’t they would eventually be forced to pay SOMEONE..you are the same as a scab crossing the picket line for the Unions. I have been on both ends of the spectrum here and it is just outright disrespectful for the Venues to do this, maybe, ‘am sorry, times are hard and I can’t pay you exactly what we know you are worth, but we will work towards that’ at the VERY least !! I had a venue owner tell me he only (in Countryside, IL) ‘hired’ bands for the door….R U kidding me?? I just looked at him and said, sorry, but I can’t see any Grown (as in not in High School) Artist’s doing that, & we said our goodBye’s. (he also added that he didn’t charge any of his regulars at the door !!!) (LOL) so, KILL this article OR BAND Together BROTHERS AND SISTERS !!! Blues Kathy of , http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chicago-Blues-Kathy-Music-Society/106397246068625

  • Stan

    How it used to be, and why it is no longer like that.
    I started performing as a full time musician in 1966. Full time means earning a living performing. (Not as a “star” but just what we called “a working musician”) (ie… The Beatles in Germany – playing clubs-doing mainly covers….etc…) At that time, getting gigs in clubs usually meant playing 5 – 6 nites a week at the same club. Sometimes one week, often multiple weeks. The “club following” and the “band following” were one and the same. We left our equipment there in the club, and could usually get in to rehearse new tunes during the day. So, we could just show up and play at night with no setting up. This meant that “weekend warriors” “part- timers” “casual bands” were not in competition for those gigs because they could not handle those hours every night and still get up and go to work (or school). You could work pretty much full time doing this in a small town or a large metro-area, or “town to town”. The idea behind the band was to make a living, not a CD. We might go cut a 45 record, shop the radio stations, etc. Usually this 45 would have a cover tune on the “A” side ( like Chubby Checker’s cover tune, “The Twist”, etc… and maybe an orig. on the “B” side.— we all had hopes of being “discovered”.) Most clubs were closed on Sunday’s, so we might score a “casual gig” on that night (Wedding’s etc…)

    That is how it used to be…Now the why it is no longer.(Not a definitive – “The only”)

    In just a word, “one nighters”. As the great majority of these “working musicians” got family’s etc…they got “day-jobs”. Many of them still wanted to gig a little, they might do “casuals” party’s etc…Little by little they started working their way into the clubs. At first maybe on the regular bands night off. (Usually Mondays) They naturally charged a lot less (not that we got much $), as many of these bands members were X “pro’s, they were pretty good bands. As things evolved, little by little, the “working bands” started being hired on the weekend;( where the club wanted the “top” bands in those slots, and paid more), while these “casual” bands started booking the weeknights. (Almost anyone can play the one late night and still get up to go to work or school.) This saved the clubs money, and these bands could bring their friends out. This situation started happening around the 70’s on the coasts, then later in the mid-lands. Once the “one-nighters” thing started taking root, “casual” bands started taking over the club scene. That has morphed into the situation we have today.

    This is the way I saw it happening. It is of course just my “reasons” from that “working musician” point of view. I am not addressing a lot of other factors, like supply and demand, etc…
    What to do about it? WOW–big question,–many answers. If you depend on performing music as a living, you somehow find the work, (To eat and have a bed.) If you do not depend on it for a living—? (You are then one of those “casual” bands.)

  • Greyson Swan

    I simply gave up on the scene. Labels, promoters, distributors… all meaningless. All I do is write and post stuff, free of charge. For me, music is not a product, it’s not a commodity, it’s a meditation. The “scene” has always been a superficial, surface-dwelling mirage and it always will be.

  • Debaser

    This was entirely your fault for not doing your homework. And if you broke the venue’s mic on the way out, you suck.

  • neicie888

    I’m a singer/songwriter living in northern ca. I was surprised to learn all of this, showcases/gigs/contests. I had to learn the hard way, that it’s not about how good you are, covers or originals, you are treated badly as a musician. You’re supposed to bring all the people in, and like Chris said, you don’t see the chef bringing in all his friends and family. it’s ridiculous. It can take years to become a good musician, much like any other profession, which takes dedication and skill. another example of an upside world. back in the day, you could make it as a musician if you had enough gigs lined up. That’s not the case anymore. Neicie with Odyssey

  • If you are a professional musician, then you would NEVER play for free. Period. (Unless it’s a sick jam session, and there are networking/career opportunities) The pay to play model only attracts desperate amateurs who can’t get a gig otherwise.

    • Jeff Blanks

      Or it’s a charity gig. I’ll play for free if it’s a charity gig.

  • That Blue News Guy

    I played a gig in Chicago a few years back and had a similar letter I wrote for the venue. They were an up-scale restaurant / bar and we were being paid a percentage of sales. The entire experience was ridiculous. They offered a free meal but as soon as they brteaought us the food, the bartender told us we needed to get started playing. So we didn’t eat a bite. We even teamed up with a “local scene” magazine / website for promotion and played 3 hours for a packed house. Everyone was into the band and we sold a few CDs, etc… People told us we were incredible and most bands playing there were driving people out. At the end of the night, we were loaded up and the bartender hands me $35. As I walked out, he asked me to give back some of it to tip the servers. I’m assuming they just stopped having live music because they didn’t understand that they had to get a reputation by treating bands well and getting quality entertainment.

    I remember reading another post on DIY and there was a player from the 80s saying that bands were being paid $100 / guy in the early 80s. That, among other things, led me to stop playing the bar / club circuit 2 years ago. I’ll never regret it. For me personally, it isn’t worth all the hassles for what exposure and money involved. Do yourself a favor and get some great sounding songs and push for some licensing deals. Of course if you like being paid with free booze and girls… then keep playing out in the bars!

    • Paul Hoogeveen

      In the 80’s I played house gigs that paid $50 per band member per night. By 2008, I found it was hard to find gigs at that level of venue that would offer more than $50 for the entire band. Consider that at that level of a pay a typical cover band would probably drive itself ever deeper into the red on transpo costs alone. Not worth it for that reason alone, never mind paying for your gear investments, dealing with drunks, douchebag club owners, etc. There are better ways for good bands to get their music out these days. Clubs–and musicians–need to redefine their roles.

  • Paul Hoogeveen

    One problem relating to this issue that remains little-discussed — and I know this is probably going to rankle more than a few musicians — is the ongoing degeneration and devaluation of popular music’s place and meaning in a highly consumerist culture. Dave’s letter kind of opens the door to these kinds of questions: What is the de facto function of popular music in modern society? What is its real value? What do musicians hope to accomplish with the music they write and/or perform (other than simply make money, that is)? Why do club owners see music acts as merely pied pipers dragging patrons in tow, as opposed to (roughly) equal business partners? After asking myself these questions for several years, my own solution was to turn my back on pop music and play whatever happened to really speak to me. (In my case, Flamenco guitar.) With that I also turned my back on the multitude of pay-to-play scenarios and chose to forego club gigs in favor of a select few gigs. Mostly, that means special events (fairs, destivals, weddings, cultural events, etc.) and small venues that favor cultural exploration over packing the house with drunks–that valued my music, and not some prerequisite entourage. Of course, that doesn’t solve the issue of how to “make it” as a musician. I’m just no longer willing to whore myself for free–or sell my soul–to get there.

    • Paul Hoogeveen

      I should add that as a solo musician I have made more in a year playing a handful of select $100 to $200 gigs than I would have made playing one gig a month at $50 a pop. (One a month being the maximum I would choose to perform.)

  • Victoriakane.es

    This is like prostitution: it will always exist because there will always be sick clients. Well, there will always be exploitative venues because there will always be stupid “musicians” who will play for free and say ‘thank you for this chance, when can I play again?’ to the mananger at the end of the night.

  • Ssvocals

    When the venues hand you tickets to sell, they usually give you a couple bucks on each ticket sold. That, in my book is not a pay to play situation, though people seem to be calling it just that. The Whiskey a go go is one of those venues. You basically buy your slot in the line up, but they give you the chance to make every penny back and more. Then the opportunity to sell merch, get fans, etc. is yours. They last club we sold tickets to, we sold 75 tickets and made $150. Played in front of 700 people, sold 200 in merch. I think that’s a great way to go!!

  • guest

    Some interesting points, but one telling comment: “This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favor of whoever can bring in the most people.” This begs the question that if your band is so professional, why can’t you bring in more people? Isn’t attracting fans part of being a professional band? If no one wants to come see you, how “professional” are you, really?

    • Paul Hoogeveen

      I think you miss his point, which is that from a business standpoint, as a musician his role should not be to act as the primary marketing vehicle for a given club on a given week. It should be more of a roughly equal partnership with the club operator. If the club is relying solely on the entourages of the bands it hires to provide sufficient bar tabs to stay in the black, that is a recipe for said club to fail. Quickly.

  • Mike

    Union Bands A,B,C, class with a minumum pay scale set for each class. ..and Union Clubs A,B,C class clubs depending on the venue and then we would have a music industry agan..the Bands would have to audition for the union to see what class thay are sutited for or even sutatble for the job ..union contracts for the bands and the clubs owners..bands can always negociate for more money depending on there popularity and success but never under scale. every transaction would go through the union, the union would be payed by a percentage of what ever the band was making ocording to the contract . musician would have to join the union and pay union dues, the clubs would have to join the union and pay union dues…that is the way it was in th 70’s and 80’s in southern Ontario and across Canada we had an amazing club seen..it was destroyed through arrogance with in it’s self ,every one is responsible that is how it works …..Thanks Mike D

  • This is the downside of living in a major music town. you have more of a chance getting consistently paid in #$@!nowhere Utah than New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles. These towns are flooded with desperate talent and the gamegamegame. At this time the only way to monetize these shows is to use them to get clients if you’re a producer; and sessions if you’re a player. If you’re a band trying to make it-maybe play once a month-ish and promote the hell out of it until you get offered something better and BE SELECTIVE about where you play.

  • Lenore

    I only know that supply and demand dictate the universe. We have endless free entertainment on American Idol, The Voice, and the X Factor…and Youtube and…do I have to go on??? So how can we expect club owners to see things any differently?

    The social structure of previous generations was built around clubs where everyone danced to live bands and met their future spouses…now people stay home, date online and watch their mega home entertainment systems. And also we have a world of people dreaming of being stars themselves, thinking they are great singers, (and some actually are) so Karoke reigns…and brides don’t think bands can cover the spectrum of recordings from rap to Michael Buble at a wedding (and most can’t), so DJs dominate that market…

    The truth is that being a musicians has always been a struggle, and we are living in difficult economic times. If you do find a club owner willing to work with a your band or form of entertainment as a team to develop a “consisitent” business model, hang on to that situation. I’ve had that oppportunity and nothing beats it! Building a reputation and loyal audience is very doable…politicians do it everyday. Unfortunately, it requires the best of people skills and diminishes the time we musicians need to work on our craft.

    Another truth here is that this is all tied into having an expectation that the mere fact that one has talent means you will be rewarded financially. Many of the greatest artists throughout the ages never made a dime…and think about the average club owner whose bank account is filled with revenues from selling alcohol…and then think about how many hours you put into learning how to play your instrument and putting your show together…seems like strage bed fellows indeed!

  • LionTamer!!

    This is old, but i’m glad u wrote the story, ’cause this is what happened up in seattle in the mid 70’s! The truth of the matter is this happens all the time! this past week I was talking with an owner and he had no clue on how to run his business, a lot of folks in the community are sad now cause the place is just an empty shell! if say, you have a band with 5 cats, and each, lets say has 20 years of experience, that adds up to 100 years of music/business related experience, most owners are no where near that! As for my self I’m bored with knucklehead owners who don’t know what their doing, so, I’m going to start renting out places and doing mini concerts! Also, said owner has now decided to start using DJ’s! so, my solution to this is: musicians Unite, find a place, pool resources, and do your own creative thing, than invest the funds in whatever U see as nescessary to take it to the next level! Stay Tuned, peacE & lovE, ova’ & ouT!

  • Kevin Sur

    LA is a shit hole that has lost touch with the music industry. If you want a career as a musician, move to Seattle, or Austin.

  • While I agree with most if the sentiment and if taking the view from an established artist’s perspective…putting a general business and marketing hat on and looking at a new/emerging artist … from the venue point of view -why would the…y pay a lot of money for an ‘unknown quantity’? There have been heaps of cases where acts sound good on a produced cd or look good in a staged video but suck live …so unless the act can prove they are any good ..the new artist has to consider that the venue is taking s chance by even thinking of booking any non established act, and probably shouldn’t expect full rates on the first occasion there.
    From the emerging artists perspective….having a gig at all (even a feeble) can sometimes be very valuable from a marketing point of view. While social networking, emails, YouTube clips, etc are needed activity, being able to blog/post/message your fledgling following of an ‘actual’ place you are playing helps to build hype and also ‘proof sourcing’., especially if get positive comments from the owner or patrons that you can use in your marketing. Also it gives you that very needed ‘actual performance experience’, practice entertaining as well as playing etc…so sometimes, even if free there is value in it for the artist …..however, it also needs to be limited and for a purpose. If you were in tamworth you would have seen the number if established artists using the ‘in-store’ mini free concerts to create some hype for their main (paid) shows….while not the same, its the marketing philosophy behind it I am referring to ….give a bit, doing a few freezes can be seen un the same context as spending money on other marketing activity if used right…. but need to use it.
    Having said all that ….for semi-established/established artists I think (inoperable Australia anyway) if that is the situation you are coming up against, you are looking at the wrong venues…mist if the time its the amount getting paid, …source (% or fee) and how- that is the negotiation …not if getting paid at all (that only happens with venues that are not ‘entertainment experienced’ themselves (which again might be a marketing consideration – ( eg. helping them develop and building a ‘residency’ style place for you with increasing $) ……..
    Sorry for long post but though an alternative thinking was worthwhile

  • EBNY

    Unless musicians unite on this front, venues will continue to take advantage. Part of the problem is that the general public does not see any value in music, they consider it background music when they`re socializing. Then when we consider how many illegal copies of music are flying around the web, its no wonder that yet another generation is being taught that music has little value. I have not played out in 5 years and have no plans to do so in the future. I am fortunate to make a living as a musician but not for performance so I have a choice but musicians who make a livelihood performing live MUST unite. Look at the unions in professional sports… the player unions have become more and more powerful from year to year because it finally occurred to them that THEY ARE THE PRODUCTS that the fans are coming to see, not the owners. So it starts with the Musicians. WE ARE THE PRODUCTS and we must UNITE and DEMAND PAYMENT FOR OUR PRODUCT.

  • Great post and insightful comments! Coming off of multi-decade careers as professional instrumentalists, my husband and I decided to have a go with our original cross-genre instrumental project a few years ago, and needless to say, it didn’t take me too long to figure out that trying to navigate the “play-for-free” L.A. bar/restaurant scene is a fool’s errand, especially given the style of music we do. (Well, I’ll come clean and admit that it probably took me longer than most to figure it out since my career was concentrated in the classical and musical theatre world, so scrumming for bar gigs along with indie rock acts and folk singers was totally alien to me!) Here’s a blog post I wrote on this subject: http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/bars-or-no-bars/ and another one: http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/money-for-nothing/

    Since I finally last weekend figured out how to get a live stream up and running, we agreed that apart from corporate dates and festivals and house concerts, that is going to be our primary live performance platform for the time being. The hell with the venues!

    Oh, and our new channel can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/PanacheOrchestra?sk=app_142371818162

  • Fabian Anthony Rivera

    I’ve learned that if you wanna get paid to play music, move to smaller towns. They really appreciate live music there and compensate generously. Everybody in the bigger town is just buying that flash in the pan lie of making it big after some big record exec sees them play. The record execs don’t give a fuck about you is most likely they case. Musicians need to bind together and boycott the clubs that are pulling this type of shit in bigger towns.

  • Steve Ibach

    Before Reagan was President we didn’t have this problem. He ended closed shops for unions and that had drastic affects for us musicians. I joined in 1970 and quit in the early 80’s because Reagan took away the unions power. During the 70’s we always got paid really well. You had to be a member pretty much if you wanted to work, but it was definitely worth it. The union even bailed my whole band out of jail and covered the cost of our lawyers when we got busted for smoking pot one time. As you all probably know, unions got started by workers going on strike. This means refuse to play without good pay.
    I have always refused to “pay-to-play” or even work for the door without a guarantee and I’m still working, but sometimes for less than what we used to get before Reagan came along. Musicians, please refuse to get screwed.

  • I think there is another angle to look at which I think many musicians are missing. Many Pop/Rock live music venues, not pubs/bars (which can have a regular clientle but often have cover bands), have bands as their target demographic. They are in the business of providing a place for bands to play live. Rather then charge the bands a rental fee, the venue takes the fee out of the alcohol sales. If enough bands don’t draw enough people who drink, then the alcohol sales are low and the venue has trouble staying a float. So most of these types of venues are not interested in building a clientele of the general public, they’re interested in building a clientele of bands who have a good draw. So in many cases, if a band wants to get paid, they should charge a door cover and take their money from there. If a band feels they deserve an upfront guaranteed fee, then they should be prepared to prove that the money being paid to them by the venue, will be recouped in alcohol sales.
    A venue which tries to build their own clientle based on live music still needs an audience. Unforuantly, as someone else has posted, this is getting more difficult as people just aren’t going out as much anymore, live music has to compete with other types of entertainment, and many people aren’t willing to take a risk on seeing unknown bands at the same venue on a regular basis, even if that venue caters to a specific genre.
    I’ve sort of been on both sides of the fence as a musician and a promoter/organizer. I tried to hold regular evenings of Live Progressive Rock music and sometimes the turn out was OK, other times not so good. So what’s a venue to do.


  • Zyzxyzxy2784

    The problems are two fold: The first is supply and demand. There is an inexhaustible supply of musicians of all stripe available. There is a limited amount of demand for live music, a commodity that must complete with every other type of entertainment, from bowling to stock car races to the ice capades. However, there will always be the exceptional talents who will out the situation, and make a living. Unfortunately, most of those are acts that have been around forever. Madonna, U2, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springfield and the rest take a disproportionate amount of the live performance action. I remember reading one analysis that estimated 2% of the touring acts take 90% of the aggregate live gates. That is because the economy of scale kicks in, and they can fill the largest halls and stadiums AS WELL as charge the highest prices.

    The second problem, and the more profound one, is that the music business, indeed the very essence of music has changed more in the last 20 years than in the previous 1000 years. Through history, music has always been associated with dancing, either as a religious (in Africa, or David), or, more recently, (say, the last 200 years) as an aspect of romantic courtship. Think about it: Most all of the forms we recognize as club music: Ragtime, jazz, blues, square dancing began as dancing music. Even Broadway type show music can be seen in that context, as the origins of the theater were in religion. When those aspects of culture, religion, and courtship are are no longer vital, there really isn’t much need for music. What remains either functions as a communal function (big time rock concerts), or a literary experience (singer-songwriters).

  • Wilton Said…

    Lots of great ideas here, especially the get your own space and put on your own show. But by putting on your own show, you’ll need to pay for the PA equipment yourself if you don’t own it already, pay for the rental of a space, promote and bring out the people yourself. Hopefully the money you make from your door sales will offset your expenses. If you think you could do it, wouldn’t it be less of a financial risk to just play a venue, charge a cover, and not have to worry about expenses? You’d probably make more money.


    • Jynxlex

      no, that is what happens when you are a band that has no fans or following (or friends…) in that case you shouldnt be playing any venue, but practicing.

  • LanceNightmareRecords

    BRILLIANT, this man obviously has more sense than many of the people he’s worked with, I started playing shows 30 years ago when there were, what in those days we called A, B and C rooms. Bands that were C quality worked at bars willing to pay for C quality bands, generally we’re talking about $100-300 a night and weekends only, B rooms were running 3-4 nights a week, and paying about $1500-2000 for those nights (Wed-Sat) …and A rooms were open every night of the week, and paid up to $1500-$5000 per night on the weekends depending on the artist being local or National touring artist.

    Not many of these around these days due in part to the world changing in drinking age, drunken driving legislation (thank you M.A.D.D.) and let us not forget entertainment technology and social networks.
    There is BIG merit to what the writer has written, I do not want to take it away from him, but…. there are other factors that have led to the decline and the clubs struggling to gain crowds.

  • Peter Mc

    I live in Australia where the band scene up untill 10 years ago was still pretty good. I play in a classy blues/rock band and find it hard getting gigs as less than average top 40 bands seem to rule and play for low rates. The live music scene has died I think for other reasons as well. Not only has the internet a lot to do with peoples atraction to music, each club or bar has multiple screens (with sport, gambling, videos and whatever) competing for peoples attention and the live act in some corner becomes more of a distraction. Most places also have noise restrictions (ridiculously low) so honing your craft becomes a real challenge. We as pros must rethink the music business as a whole and become pro active! Power to you all!!!!

  • Chris Thomas

    This was terrific! Ty!!!!

  • John P.

    I have a small venue. Coffee shop with beer and wine. 150 capacity. College market. Lots of competition. We realize that musicians need to be paid, but we also must make money, or there will be no venue.

    We’ve attracted and paid lots (for us) for national acts, and pay fairly to regional and local acts. The musicians we hire understand that it’s a business for both of us. We want them to have an audience so we print posters for every major event, and promote heavily on our website, Facebook, Reverbnation, etc. We try to bend over backwards to accommodate them, and guess what, they do the same for us. If it’s a bust, it isn’t good for either of us, even though they get paid. As long as each side is fair to the other, it CAN be a win/win. It needs to be a common goal. The best nights we have is not always with the best talent. Local name recognition is important, and if musicians realize that, and venues have built a reputation on good music, everybody should share in the successes AND failures.

    We also pay dearly for ASCAP and BMI, even though we only have music up to 3 days/week. It’s another cost of doing business.

  • Blessing Stones

    He gets that they do operate this way the point is that it is not a sound business model. @Marilyn – did you read and process the article? Maybe you need to all join a Music Association and Union and get organized about how you do business. No one else is expected to give it away for free and good musicians shouldn’t either!

  • W.N.S.

    You know I have read this article and I find it to be pretty inspirational in the fact that more and more musicians are fighting back against a completely predatory system in the pay to play era of live music. But I also get discouraged to see that musicians STILL can not work together on a large scale over COMPLETELY ridiculous reasons. For the most part the comments to this article are informative and helpful but then you run across a comment from someone basically calling out different musical genres and blaming those genres for “killing the industry”. A lot of that seems to be aimed at electronic music or any variation of and that is just ridiculous. I myself have played in a completely electronic harsh industrial band for 10 years now. I and my band have worked our ASSES of to get the meager local success we have. I write and record everything myself in the studio and then assemble my live band so we can play some live gigs here and there. I see a LOT of trash talking and straight disinformation being directed pretty much at anyone who doesn’t play a guitar and its just ignorant. Most of these asinine comments indicate that the posters haven’t the foggiest clue on what is entailed in a legit electronic music project (and no I don’t mean DJs ripping off music written by others by way of sampling and then calling it their own. I am talking about genuine original electronic musicians). We use drum machines, I use step sequencing, and guess what we also play live drums, and keyboards and synthesizers (but drums and keyboards aren’t “real” instruments are they, neither is the piano for that matter I guess). I write the music beat by beat, sound by sound, line by line from scratch, which is something a lot of traditional 4 piece bands can’t even manage to do worth a damn between 4 members! A musicians instrument of choice is not the issue, music is music and in this pay to play sh#* storm we are in now we are ALL struggling. It is not the fault of any one genre at all, but of a lot of greedy people paired with a lot of musicians who have made the mistake in presenting themselves as if their art is worth nothing by agreeing to this pay to play b.s. on a huge scale.

    You can sit there and talk about how bad it has gotten with crooked and lazy promoters, venue owners, and club owners (and most of it is truth) but then to turn around and start blaming the music a musician (musician meaning people who play music, not just people who play guitar) chooses to play, the art he chooses to make, for breaking the music industry is abhorrent. If you are one of those types of people know that you are doing JUST as much to divide and break up the music community as much as any label or club/venue owner. Grow up and learn to work together, or stay an island unto yourself and your personal favorite genres, its your choice but things usually go a little smoother with TEAM WORK!

    Its amazing, here in our little local area we play gigs with metal bands and rock bands and other genres and have a great time together, so I know it is not completely unreasonable for musicians of different genres to get along and appreciate eachother’s art and its validity.

  • Wnottonson


    I’m a musician living on the NH seacoast and this is exactly what goes on here too. Venues want great music, but don’t understand or respect the meaning of decent compensation. And it should first be the restaurant/club’s responsibility to build their own following based on great food, drinks, atmosphere, service, and great music. Of course, the musicians should continue to add to that clientele base which will then add to a bigger clientele base. Also, that quick fix – lousy band – that comes once or twice a week with all their friends spoils the reputation that the club is trying to build AND holds the pay low.


    ORGANIZE, use information technology to create a website index to indentify those music venues that are not willing to pay for muscians. Perform only at music venues that understand the business.
    Eliminate the sharks from the business by refusing to feed them. Unwilling music venues will close and
    those venues that are in compliance with the business will be very successful.
    Now is the time to restructure the music industry in this country.

  • Tim Milk

    If I may, there is a problem with the whole paradigm. Musicians want to play great venues, a new venue wants to be great (or at least turn a profit) and both are leaning much too heavily on each other to reach true happiness.

    What is lacking is what was quite common up until the 1970s: an MC. That is, a master of ceremonies, someone who carved out the lineup, reviewed and auditioned the bands, made promises of payment, and served to introduce the band lineup to the audience in a manner that was entertaining and revealing, telling them that the music they were about to hear was special, extolling it’s allure, making both the musicians and the audience feel that what was happening was something special; and worth the trouble and the price at the door.

    Ed Sullivan introduced dozens of incredible bands to the American audience. He was a great (if eccentric) MC. Bill Graham: who would doubt his accomplishment as MC? We might off-handedly call them “promoters,” but that is a mistake. A promoter is an agent. He (or she) may not necessarily take the stage to introduce the band(s). An MC, a true MC, is a sort of magician. He or she is a person who turns doubts into gold. He or she is worth every bit of 20 or 30 per cent. It is the MC, after all, that can turn a venue into a special place, a band into a headliner, and create profit for both club-owner and musician alike.

    Where is the MC magicians of our time? I ask you! Where?

    You might want to seek that someone out, stake a claim at some venue, (a nice one, and not a dump) and see if people respond positively to the concept of being “entertained,” which I assure you, has not gone out of style.

  • Productions1

    I am a musician that also is a promotor/booking agent in the New York area. Dave had a great point with: if you book bad bands people wont come back. This is what happened alot in New York. The scene became so oversaturated that most venues, booking agents, promotors started booking ANY bands that would bring people into a place. I have always stayed apart from the hurd by trying to book quality acts. Marilyn down below had a good point where she mentioned that at least some of the fine wine bars and restaurants are offering some money for good jazz acts,even if the money is peanuts. Personally if you are playing a whole nights worth of music you should get paid a little better than $75 total. Especially for lugging your own PA and whatnot. The problem is alot of these places have no clientel. People just dont come out anymore like they used to. Pay to play, pertains more to original artists that are just trying to get their feet wet that agree to pay a set fee to get on stage. A better practice for a band is selling advance tickets, which is not pay to play unless you know you cannott sell them and are willing to pay the amount for the unsold ones. what it comes down to is, if you know you have a 10 person draw, dont agree to sell 50 tickets at $10 because you will wind up with a $400 loss. Wether you agree with this sort of thing or not, if you sign up for it, its your own fault.

  • Jefftripoli

    Learn HOW to say no. That can be a valuable tool when investigating clubs, festivals and other venues.

  • This doesn’t just happen in LA, London is a big cesspool of so many of these types of venues and promoters. HOWEVER… there ARE good ones, you just have to find them. If we can find them and support them and not the dodgy ones, maybe they’ll go away!

  • 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.

  • DJ I.N.C

    Very refreshing letter/article. I have actually had this conversation w/ a few promoters and venue owners in Chicago. I DJ and I produce original music. I am a part of a music collective that includes Djs, Musicians, Singers and Hip Hop artist. I DJ w/ a live jazz band and artist and it is a fun set. I produce original music and sell my music independently. People often ask why our collective doesn’t play out more often and I tell them it is because of the very issue Dave’s letter has addressed…’the pay to play mentality’. Venue owners pass the buck of marketing & promotion onto the artist as well as point the finger of blame onto the artist if the venue is thin or not packed to capacity. I have used Dave’s suggested approach in the past and just act and address venue’s very calm and professionally and always speak w/ a business minded attitude. It garners myself and my cohorts a lot of respect but it doesn’t translate to many gigs. The few venues that try not to operate w/ a pay for play mentality usually try it out for 1 or 2 dates but then resort right back to ‘pay to play’. With my collective, we do for self and hold our own events (when everyone’s schedule permits).
    Also…it is very surprising to me how many ‘promoter’ play into this same mentality. They cannot promote an artist or band or venue if the artist or band or venue doesn’t already have a following. I just thought that as a promoter…you should be able to ‘promote’ anything in order to build a following for a band, artist or venue. Anyone could cosign something that already works.
    Best regards to everyone.

  • Lowfreq13

    There was a time when you would make a living playing clubs here in the New York Metro area, but that hasn’t been true since the mid-Eighties. The whole economic landscape has shifted radically in a number of ways. First, demographics. The Baby Boomers who used to pack the clubs are aging and less inclined to go out. Second, the younger people who are haven’t been educated to appreciate live music. Musicians play to empty bars while the club down the street with a DJ is packed. Pop Music is now largely created with computers, difficult to reproduce in real-time for live bands. Third, stricter DWI enforcement. Police stake out bars and wait for people to drive away at closing time. I have been pulled over several times leaving gigs – how annoyed they were to discover I don’t drink! Everybody’s afraid to drink because DWI = $10,000 hassle, you lose your license and you are basically “guilty until proven innocent.” Fourth, the smoking ban (thanks for nothing Mayor Bloomberg!) which almost instantly disappeared about 1/3 of my audience. It’s so hard to make a buck owning a club these days you can’t really blame them for nickel-and-diming you. Best advice I can give young musicians: pursue a separate career outside Music and don’t quit your day job. I haven’t and have never been sorry. Music never paid my mortgage, my health insurance, or my kid’s college tuition!

  • 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.

  • Pm3xmm

    When you say we will play for free, what you’re really saying is we suck and are worthless.

  • 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.

  • Yes I totally agree . If I owned a club , my customer’s would be my biggest concern . I wouldn’t expect musician’s to bring my business but only compliment my club . Who want’s to play under stress ? Besides the cost of gas to travel with equipment is very expensive – so if you make 75.00 and you have no bar tab , you might break 30.00 – just not worth it . Thank goodness there are some good clubs out there that do pay ! Musician’s pay to play !

  • Eodbailey50

    I’ve been a musician for decades and will never lose the itch to perform or create original music; it’s in my heart and soul. However, this sort of thing (discussed above) has been going on for a long time too. I ended up deciding to go to school for business and public administration; straight up SUCKED! I learned a lot about stuff that is paying me six-figures, but it’s not “living the dream.” I joke at times and tell my friends (who’ve seen me play live and have my CDs) that there isn’t a school I can go to that guarantees me a job as a rock star… It’s a crap shoot and the supply/demand curve with musicians and venues are in the venues’ favor currently. Suggestion: Either move to the money or change career fields and do music as a hobby… Before the turn of the century, there were no rock stars; only court jesters (who were considered servants of entertainment). Unfortunately for the musicians of today, things have gone full circle and we aren’t put on a pedestal anymore…

    Maybe one day in the future everything will come back around…?

  • 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.

    • Jynxlex

      Yes because people thought Shoenberg sucked when he had concerts that were only attened by a tiny amount of people… (if you know anything about Schoenberg you’ll get the intense irony)

  • 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.

    • Jeff Blanks

      Maybe you’re lucky. Is his complaint not legitimate?

  • 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.

    • Tom

      Mike.. you also make a good point… you ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL.. Regardless of your set list… bands still have that stereotype of little pay and free booze. End up going home plastered… I have always abided by my own rule… NO DRINKING.. it is unprofessional… Most bars do not allow their bartenders, waitresses, etc.. to drink on the job. Why should you! When you tack on the xxx dollars plus drinks clause ( I tack on plus soda – I also tack on xxx dollars in drink tokens – which I give to the “less than partying” peeps…. encourage the attendance to have fun… YOUR WORKING !

  • 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.

    • Jynxlex

      Wow, talk about bull headed stupidity for people who play music “professionally” and think they are better than amateurs that the market thinks are better.. Y’all wanna be part of a musical market and correct the venue mistakes but cant even see beyond yer own ego! MILLIONS of people could practice and dedicate the time many “musicians” have dedicated to music and be EONS better than that “professional”, we’ve all seen it innumerable times: the amateur or first time writers gets massive attention from friends (or in the industry “media”) and people who’ve never heard of them before (so it becomes novelty).

  • 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.

  • I’ve been in several bands for about 10 years now and I’ve dealt with everything that you’ve said…it sucks..Most of the time the venue is too arrogant and pissed of to reason with. And most of the time the venue will change numbers just so that they can get away with not paying us..BUT there is this local venue/cafe in Dekalb IL called The House Cafe and they are the only venue that is doing it right. They treat everyone with respect almost like it’s a restaurant and then everyone that shows up is always treated to entertainment and great service. There is this local college following that goes there almost every night, just to hang out, drink, socialize, dance and SPEND MONEY… And as a band member we always have gotten paid and treated like a friend and client. We go there nearly monthly because we love the place and we love the people who ALWAYS come out. Check out THE HOUSE CAFE in dekalb IL.

  • Recently, we’ve been setting up our own shows. Get the room, do the PR, get the money. No arguing with anyone. If it tanks then you figure out what went wrong but it’s sure beats arguing with bar owners and dealing with bad music setups. Our sound is just the way we want it and we usually come out way ahead of where we would begging to play at some stupid venue. We are, however, an all-original band and the cover band thing is a whole different head.

  • 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…

  • Aja Lee

    Hi Chris,
    This is such a great article to see! I have found that by cutting out venues who scorn you for not bringing in their quota for the night ( while i notice the paint in peeling on the walls and the food that is turning my fans away ) it leaves me room to play for fabulous places that run their business with integrity and value.
    Also, for us single female performers who often travel alone, i find it best not to save any mindshare for pushy or selfish biz owners who have no problem putting you on the spot after you have provided them with a service they needed.
    My favorite thing that has come out of refusing to accept just any ol’ venue- is that I have found places that are not normally music venues – and turn them into one! My new mindset when looking for venues is that any person can be a new fan, and the building they come in doesn’t need to hold me back. Now I get to play at a fascinating array of events and locations that operate professionally, and most importantly, appreciate my worth as a songwriter and performer.
    I have taken this stance in hopes that all musicians will follow, leaving the shady venues to choose whether to: change their ways in order to attract us amazing musicians back- or become the dial tone you described above.

    With love and hope for the venue circuit,
    -Aja Lee

  • Glenn Turgeon

    Glenn Turgeon

    I believe we as professionals we need to do a root cause analysis of the aforementioned situation.
    The problem is as mentioned, and again without beating a dead horse; as long as their are those who are willing to be taken advantage of the conditions will not improve.
    It is all about choices and conditions.
    If you choose to enter into this practice you will most certainly loose.
    When ever a business or individual can get you to work for free i.e. : playing music and or drawing a crowd or providing free advertisement, they win.
    Imagine hiring a chef and bar tender and telling them they need to supply all the materials?
    In conclusion “When everyone succeeds you are surrounded by Winners.”

  • 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! 😀

  • Ed

    I agree with most of what you are saying, I own a cafe/pub and have been booking shows almost every night for fifteen years. It’s up to the venue to try and get a crowd in the doors and the band/artist to help hold them there. If the band has a following both parties should benefit from it. Some places have a crowd because its a pickup joint and the band is just a background filler no matter how good they are. But venues like mine that try and focus on the music need want the artist/bands to play. We don’t do hard liquor mainly because it doesn’t promote music, however we do sell beer and wine to help the band hold their crowd (and so I can make some money). I short booking bands/artists like getting a crowd night after night is like riding on a roller coaster as the night starts do don’t know the outcome of the ride. I do a door that way if either of us pull a crowd they make more, if neither of us pull a crowd the less they make. I am motivated by the desire to stay in business and they are motive by the desire to make more money. I have had group after group tell me they will pack the house only to find that its my crowd in the building, and that’s OK it takes time for some to build their crowd. The cost to be in business make some people do and say things, but if you like music both parties can almost all way come to some sort of agreement.

  • 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??

  • Nightfire

    This also happens with DJ’s and KJ’s. It demeans every facet of the industry – and there will always be that guy who will work for tips only. Sad.

  • 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.

  • Davemanning206

    As a venue owner and a musician I think that both partys should benefit from the relationship. I think that an agreed upon base be set then a performance bonus be givin when or if the register shows a certain goal/multi goals. We are all in it to pay our bills. We don’t want venue owners to ask thier dish washer to get his laptop and act like a dj and hurt live music like it did in the 80s & 90s. Larger venues have an advantage over smaller venues how ever we don’t want to se an end to that smokey jazz club or poetic coffee house so waddaya gonna do?

  • King Abaddon1

    I share your feelings ,yet I wont worry per seconds a day ,a dog is a super star to them but a man is a slave to every rich cock crodile . man dont worry and go on play ina babylon , you will be better than them in the long run .Jah is Almighty and you should be Mighty too. God bless you. My name is King Abaddon1.Am a;ways honey.www.facebook.com/KingAbaddon1

  • 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. I do many bedside performances without any compensation.
    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:
    my telephone number is on my website. Call my office I would like to speak to you.


  • 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.

    • Chris

      My band needs you or someone like you then, Evan. Getting a manager is even difficult now because the ones we’ve talked w/use that same attitude the clubs use. They want you to have X amount of this and Y amount that before they will even fool w/you – if then. It’s almost like asking a sports Hall Of Fame owner how to be inducted into the HOF – the answer would be, of course – learn the game, get on a good team and excel – oh – but you have to be in the HOF first before a team will pick you up.

      It just seems to be a vicious cycle that can never be won – except certain club owners.

  • 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."