Disappointed in music venues

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by GCPENG, Jun 25, 2018.



    Mar 7, 2017
    Ontario, Canada
    It’s an old story and this is just my turn to vent about it. Catharsis.

    My weekend warrior rock cover band has been gigging for nearly a year now. And not gigging much. It’s tough to break into the bar circuit when most of the bars already have their regular bands.

    There’s a rock club (a music venue, not just a bar) that I’ve been trying to get into for a while. It's in a part of town that I haven't played and several friends that haven't seen us have mentioned it as a place to play. This place has a lot of tribute acts on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as local original bands, artists that were big 30 years ago, and artists that were members of known bands 30 years ago. I spoke to one promoter about getting us on a bill as a support act at this venue. He offered us a pay-to-play deal to be support for a local original band. The band wasn’t a good fit, and the pay-to-play made it a no-go. So we declined. This promoter only does shows at this venue (although not all shows at the venue are promoted by him) and he says that this type of deal is the only way he structures his shows and is based on what management wants.

    Last week, an acquaintance in a band tells me that his band is opening for a tribute band and that the venue’s manager is looking for an additional support band. It’s the same venue as above, but the venue is organizing this one, not the promoter. He asks if I want him to recommend us to the manager. I ask about how the “arrangement” works. It turns out that this is not a pay-to-play gig. Actually, despite the fact that the venue is charging $15 a head, we would not be paid at all for our set. While I did appreciate this guy reaching out to us, I was surprised that any band actually would go for this. As it turns out, one of the guys in my band wasn’t available for the date, but I can’t see us playing for free while someone is making a profit from us.

    Finally, I had booked a show for September at a small music venue that does cover bands on Fridays and charges a $5 cover. Deal was that we get the cover. Not a great deal for us, although a great deal for the venue, of course (i.e. free entertainment for the venue while the bar sells drinks), but what the hell. Last week, they cancelled the September gig, citing a format change in the fall. They did offer us a date in August. I took the opportunity to clarify that we could have someone on the door and that everybody pays the cover charge. The reply was that they reserve the right not to charge regulars. That’s a GREAT deal for the venue. They pay the band nothing, and their cost of acquisition of new customers is zero. In fact, the new customers pay for the privilege of being acquired. The regulars, who I assume come to see a band, don’t get inconvenienced by having to pay a cover charge. We get the honor of paying for the regs and keeping them in the bar drinking, and we get no compensation whatsoever for that. And the people that come to see us are the only ones who have to pay. The venue gets to sell our people drinks, too.

    No dice, man. That’s not going to fly with us.

    I know that this is not a new story. What I find disappointing is that both of the venues that I am talking about are dedicated music venues – not just bars with bands on the weekends. These music venues are taking advantage of musicians – the very people that they showcase to bring in revenue. We get more respect from small bars that have a band on Fridays or Saturdays. They may not want to pay a lot, but they haven’t been trying to take advantage of us or make a deal that costs them nothing and gets them free performers while they rake in money from ticket sales or the bar.

    And now I feel better. If you got this far, thanks for reading.
  2. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    Bands and venues have a symbiotic relationship. If you remember your biology class, that's a close and long-term biological interaction between two different biological organisms. Symbiotic relationships come in three basic types:

    Mutualism - where both organisms benefit from the relationship. This would be where the venue increases its sales when the band plays and pays the band a fair share of that increased revenue.

    Commensalism - where one party benefits and the other is neither helped nor harmed. This would be having the band play for free while the venue increases sales.

    Parasitism - where one party is harmed while the other benefits. This would be pay-to-play.
  3. Ender_rpm


    Apr 18, 2004
    St. Louis MO
    Its hard breaking in to any scene. We had one venue around here that went to a pay-to-play approach to booking, they went under in a year. Most of the local original bands understand there won't be a lot of money, so we grind and work our way up the tiers. My current band is making head way, and we're at the point where we're making enough to pay for gas playing at some decent venues. Next big step will be opening for out of town acts regularly at the bigger clubs, we've done it a couple times at the smaller ones. But none of us are trying to make a living at this.
    Alex O and AaronVonRock like this.
  4. sean_on_bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    To be honest, as a rock cover band i don't know that you should even be hitting the pavement on dedicated music venues. I can only speak for my area, but those type of venues normally don't book cover bands. I think if you just stick to the bars/restaurants/events type areas you will not find much in the pay-to-play/risk based pay and actually get a flat rate somewhere. IMO of course, others will be able to advise better than I more likely.
  5. jdthebassman

    jdthebassman play to live live to play Supporting Member

    the problem is you guys are an original band, where I live they do not get the respect that even a cover band would get. do you guys play any covers? I was in a band that did 50/50.
  6. GBBSbassist

    GBBSbassist I actually play more guitar...

    Nov 23, 2010

    Wisebass and tedious1 like this.
  7. It all comes down to how big a draw you can build. If you will fill a bar you have a stronger negotiating position at a paying bar. If you don't have that following yet, then playing for free (or nearly free) is where you do the hard work to build your draw.

    The only way I can justify pay-to-play is if you are a new band with new material that isn't going to get in anywhere else yet.
    Christopher DBG likes this.
  8. GBBSbassist

    GBBSbassist I actually play more guitar...

    Nov 23, 2010
    I know it's a total bummer, and unfortunately the result will also be a double edged sword. Clubs that run like that simply don't stay in business for the long haul.

    Doing booking for a band these days almost requires a sales background. If you don't have that, or your sales pitch isn't quite cutting it for most of the venues you're trying to book at, all you can do at that point is evaluate the product you're trying to sell. Can you guys improve things? Do you have a decent website? Any live video or demos?
    GCPENG likes this.


    Mar 7, 2017
    Ontario, Canada
    Generally speaking, I agree with you. In these cases, though, one of the venues has a dedicated cover band night, while the other one has their calendar 50% full of tribute headliners supported by tribute and cover bands.
    Wisebass and Seanto like this.
  10. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Don't hate the player, hate the game. I never used to understand that phrase, but i now realize it's just the situation -- weekend warrior bands are like a cottage industry, with low entry barriers, so there are a lot of them around. More bands than bookings available. People will take advantage, just as you would probably raise your prices if there were fewer bands than bookings and you were busy 3 nights a week.

    My goal, in this situation, would be to change the game.

    I have done this a few ways. I am into non-profit work and service, so I have put on a ton of events that require live music. We sell sponsorships, and I always insist that my musicians are involved and paid. Also, if the place gets hit by BMI, go in there with 3 hours of original music as the savior of live music at the venue. That netted me 10 bookings in a row, and then regular quarterly gigs.

    Think of other ways of changing the deal/situation/industry so you are paying bands to play, including your own. Find new places and encourage them to start holding live music -- on other words, expand the market. Learn marketing so you have the clout of a promoter -- then start taking a piece of bands you book as well as getting your own band bookings whenever you want them. Check for legalities associated with running this kind of operation before you do -- in your state. What about entrepreneurs who want to own their own bar. If they are not experienced, they are easier to work with. Sell them on the idea of setting up a mobile bar situation in a place that is dirt cheap with bands and help them promote the heck out of it. Make it novel. I once packed a place with 104 people because I didn't advertise the location unless they RSVP'd. I made it secret, but novel. Massive interest from the following...

    Seriously, Last of all, have you considered live streaming from someone's living room? Concert Window allows you to do this and charge. Charge people to come, and provide drinks and food for a fee. I have visions of a trade event where I partner with a hotel or venue that needs more business. I will organize and invite all kinds of people who do events, while charging event service providers a fee to be there, and of course, my bands will be the only ones there -- getting paid from the sales to the event service providers, or doing it for TRUE promotion to our target market -- event planners, wedding planners, and more.

    Not all of these will work for you, but they represent the kind of disruptive thinking that expands opportunities.

    it's work, believe me, but it can pay off it you hit on that idea that makes you independent of these people who won't give you what you want!!!
    alanolynn, nolezmaj, Spearsy and 11 others like this.
  11. GCPENG


    Mar 7, 2017
    Ontario, Canada
    Thank you for taking the time to share this. Very interesting thoughts.
    PauFerro likes this.
  12. Ellery


    Mar 25, 2015
    Good thing you see it for what it is. You've got to watch out for yourself, noone else will
    GCPENG likes this.
  13. Charlzm

    Charlzm Guest

    Mar 25, 2011
    In the Los Angeles area, we have the following pay-to-play venues:

    The Viper Room (opened in 1993)
    The Mint (overhauled in 2004)
    Genghis Cohen (opened around 2003?)
    The Whisky-a-Go-Go (opened in 1964)
    The Roxy (opened in 1973)
    The Troubadour (opened in 1957)

    They may be struggling, and many other clubs have closed along the way, but as of now these warhorses (whorehouses?) still have open doors.
  14. A band I was in last year played a little dive that paid 15% or 20% of the bar (I forgot exactly what the number was).
    What they failed to tell the band until the end of the night was that they tallied the bar to pay us while we played. But on break when a lot of people stop dancing and get drinks, they stop tallying the bar. So we did't get the cut when on break. Pretty sleazy!
    -Asdfgh-, hrodbert696 and MrLenny1 like this.
  15. GCPENG


    Mar 7, 2017
    Ontario, Canada
    MrLenny1 likes this.
  16. 4001

    4001 Inactive

    Sep 29, 2004
    Lake County, IL
    Bar bands.... yeaaa... play Mustang Sally! :poop:
  17. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown

    Feb 16, 2011
    Country is where it’s at these days.
  18. They usually get hard rock/metal bands that play at literally deafening levels (I've seen stacks of 412's in pics of bands playing there and it's not a big place).
    The manager had the stones to say "Wow - you guys sound great. We really want to book you back. The bands we usually get are way too loud and don't sound good to boot".
    Could the band pay be one of the reasons they only get decent bands (cause/effect)?
  19. I played a bar here 2 weeks ago where the bar tender said rule number one is NO MUSTANG SALLY.
    If he was a she I woulda kissed her :thumbsup:
    alanolynn, Chris76 and 4001 like this.
  20. lbbc


    Sep 25, 2007
    Seaford , DE
    Pay to play, not charging regulars
    ...so does that mean only YOUR friends get charged? Between that and 1099's it's almost better to stay home or play private parties... everybody wins.

    Almost half of our gigs are private parties...we get paid cash (better than some gigs), get a meal, free drinks and usually help with setting up and loading up. The only problem is that only a few people see you at these gigs, but man... it's certainly fun!