Running a music venue is hard work. Let’s get that little truth out of the way upfront. Long hours. Liquor licenses. Sound system maintenance. Booking. Oh, and, umm…dealing with musicians! (Face it: we can be a bunch of immature divas sometimes, especially when alcohol is involved.) But that doesn’t justify skimming off the top or inflating projected costs in order to earn a few extra bucks at our expense.

So, here are a few things to be on the lookout for when it comes time to collect payment at the end of the night:

1. The Catering Budget – Did the club keep $250 from the door to cover “catering,” and then leave you with two cases of Budweiser and a snack platter? Yeah, they’re probably pocketing the rest for themselves.

 2. Promotional Cost – Did they print unique posters for your show and distribute them all around town? Did they run an individual print or radio ad for your show? Or did they print posters for their venue that list all the shows over the next week or two, and run an ad in the local weekly for all the shows that month? If you’re not getting special promotional attention from the venue, then your contribution to their promotional costs shouldn’t be that high. If they are, chances are the club is making every band kick in money and then giving the promotional “group-treatment” in order to earn some extra dough.

3. The “We Had to Let Some People in for Free” Excuse – Ever played a club that seemed pretty full, and then at the end of the night the door person hands you a wad of bills that seems a bit…thin? Then they tell you, “Well, it was pretty slow for a while so we decided to just let people in for free.” Yeah, that shouldn’t happen without your prior approval. Otherwise, they could be charging folks and feeding you that line so they can hang on to the cash.

Most clubs are innocent of these crimes, so I’m not saying you have to approach every gig with caution. Club owners, bartenders, bookers, door people, sound engineers, and musicians are usually all on the same team with the same goal: get people in the door, give them a good time, and make some money. But I have seen each of these 3 things happen multiple times. If you happen to be the victim, stay calm. Talk to the person in charge and tell them (with a cool head) that you don’t think their policy is quite fair given the circumstances. If they’re jerks, don’t play at their club again. If they make things right, sweet! Maybe it’ll curb such behavior in the future.

What are some other ways clubs can rip off artists? Got any horror stories of your own to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

P.S. In the comments section below, Roy Linford Adams added a few more warning signs that I thought were worth noting. He writes:

4. WE ONLY PAY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO CAME TO SEE YOU. I’ve dealt with this a few times. The fact is even IF they are asking the people what band they are there to see, it forces the person to have to choose. Maybe they are there to see ALL the bands.

5. THE EVENT IS HAVING YOU PAY JUST TO PLAY. So let’s get this right, you pay them hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars that between you and all the other bands, more than pays for the venue, promotion, and headliners. And they get to walk away with all the ticket sales? 90% of the time the turnouts for these events are terrible because the promoter already has his money. Sure he’ll tell you there’s going to be some massive turnout, that there’s going to be record label scouts, that this will “Make you carreer.” but the fact is he doesn’t have to deliver on a single one of those promises and afterwards, there’s nothing you can do about it.

6. YOU NEED TO SELL TICKETS IN ORDER TO PLAY. Let’s face it, if you can sell the 25, 50, or even 100+ tickets, you don’t need them. Rent the venue for the night, book some friend bands and sell those tickets. Typical club venues want $100-$300 for a night and the avergae ticket cost is $10, so if you’re selling 50 tickets, there’s at least $200 you’re not seeing. Why should YOU do all the work to sell tickets that you know are going to pay for the venue and more… only to let some greeseball walk away with that hard earned cash just for making half an hour’s worth of phone calls to you, the other bands, and the club????

Once you’ve written some great songs, let CD Baby help you sell them on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and more!