Is this typical bar behavior for gigs?

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by szvonek, Dec 30, 2003.

  1. We played a show about a month ago at a bar that has a pretty bad reputation for dealing with bands already. The show was on a Wednesday night, and although there were three bands on the bill, turnout was really low. All bands play all original music, so the turnout is pretty much hit or miss--usually we get a decent amount of our friends to come out though and maybe one or two actual fans. But this time was one of the 'miss' nights.

    So while the third band's playing, the owner tells us that we didn't bring in enough people to cover the soundman's fee, and the bands had to split the difference. I had never heard of that before, and all of the bands were pretty upset at this little wrinkle. We debated with the owner for a while, my main argument being that we weren't told upfront that this would be the case if we didn't draw enough people. She said it was listed on the website (on 8pt. type font I'm sure), which I thought was a little ridiculous.

    Another argument we had was that we figured the bar must've collected enough money from our band's drinks alone to cover the sound guy, not to mention the other customers/bands.

    She even tried to argue that more people came in on that Monday night when they just had a jukebox, trying to imply that a jukebox draws more people than our three bands. I thought that was so ridiculous of an argument--I mean, of course the bands have to promote a show, but some of the responsibility has to fall on the bar too, right? I scanned the local papers and didn't see any advertising that they did that week. And there had to be other factors involved--weather, day of week, etc. There's no way that people would not go to the bar because bands were playing, as if they'd say "Oh man, I was hoping it'd be jukebox night, let's go somewhere else tonight..."

    Sorry to babble...But I'm wondering--is this standard procedure at bars? Were we off base or in the right? Anyone else have similar stories?
  2. bassmonkeee

    bassmonkeee Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    So, they wanted you to pay out of pocket to cover the soundman's fee? Did you ever go back and check the bar's website to see if it does, indeed, say that (not that it really matters--having it on a website doesn't make it a contract)?

    Were you asked if you wanted a soundman in the first place?

    I would have told her to take a hike with the full expectation that I would never play there again.
  3. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    If it were not stated explicitly before you agreed to play then it is total crap. If there is no contract, then I would just walk out. If there is a contract and it's not included, then my reply would be tough sh!t. If it were a big deal to them, they should put it in a contract. Shouldn't matter if it is on the website. They could add it to the website after the agreement. And if you didn't book through the website, then why would you even have to look at the site.

    I have played a couple gigs where we had to pay a soundman, and it was told to us up front and the amount was agreed upon either verbally or in writing. Sounds to me like the bar owner didn't make as much money as he/she expected and tried to make up the difference from the bands. Either way, it's unprofessional of the club. Screw em, let them get some other band.
  4. I didn't bother checking the site, but I bet it does say that in fine print somewhere. I did go to the site originally, but just to get the contact email address, maybe I should have read all the guidelines, but no we never had a contract. She was trying to make it sound like this was standard procedure--for us to pay out of pocket to cover the soundguy.

    She ended up telling us forget it, that she'll just 'eat it'...trying to put a guilt trip on us really. We were all pretty dumbfounded by the whole thing. I think she got the vibe (correctly) that no matter what we weren't going to pay. And yeah I totally took the attitude that we'll never play there again anyway. The sound isn't even that good there and the bar's on the outs IMO. It doesn't bother me at all that we won't play there again.

    I mean we felt bad enough already that the turnout was so bad, it was like salt in the wounds to be asked to pay out of pocket too.

    (Oh and no we weren't asked if we wanted a soundman, but we knew that this club always uses their own soundman so it was kind of understood that they'd supply one.)
  5. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    Here's how it works. band calls bar or bar calls band. They agree on a date and a price. The band gets their set price regardless of whether the club provides a soundman, Lights, soundsystem etc.... Band plays gig. Bar pays band. Everybody goes home happy. If you are asked to buy tickets, pay for the clubs soundman, play for door only, asked to guarantee the size of crowd etc. move on, you're sure to get ripped off. Bottom line. My band never plays anywhere without a guaranteed dollar amount.
  6. Tim Cole

    Tim Cole

    Jun 12, 2002
    Findlay, Ohio
    Where in Ohio are you? From peeping at the site, I noticed there was a club addy on High Street.....Columbus?

    I hate to say this, but the harsh reality is, in a market like that, in an original hard rock band (assuming), you will more times than often end up paying to play, one way or another. Look at the alrosa, the "selling tickets" crap.

    As far as the jukebox doing more business, she was probably telling the truth. A lot of patrons (read: drunk assholes) don't want to bother with a loud band playing stuff they have never heard, and a cover charge, be it a quarter, or five bucks is a cardinal sin, they will go find another place to waste themselves.

    Original bands are a tough business, especially in that kind of market.

    Don't even get me started on DJ's and Karaoke.
  7. Hey man, don't talk trash bout karaoke! :D

    Yeah we're in Columbus...I don't want to name the bar (OK I do but I'm trying to be cool about it)...but really anyone from this area can probably guess the bar I'm talking about.

    You're totally right about paying to play being a reality, and we've done it more than 50% of the time easy, when you consider the net profit for the night. And like I said it wouldn't even have been an issue if they would have told us what was expected upfront--I would've told them thanks but no thanks in a second. But I refuse to pay out of pocket for the honor of playing in front of 10 or so people. We'd be better off just practicing that night. It's not exactly fun promoting a show and hauling gear to and from a bar, especially on a weeknight when you have to go to work the next morning...

    ...Speaking of, I better get some sleep...!
  8. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Well, I've played in every sh*thole and stinkin' dive bar from here to Schenectady, and over time I'd say the average ratio of bar owners and booking agents who try to pull crap like that is around 33%.

    So, over time, I've come up with the following rules for me and my band:

    1. Absolutely no "pay to play", ever, under any circumstances. No "sounds like" or "looks like" either, like if you have to sell tickets to make a buck, forget it.

    2. Everyone gets a minimum of 50 bucks, period. Since there's six people in my band right now, that's a 300 dollar minimum. That's peanuts for a good band. It usually takes an hour to set up and an hour to tear down, and if we play for four hours, that's pretty much minimum wage. We don't play for less than minimum wage. Tips or no tips, and beer or no beer. Everyone goes home with at least enough green to cover a tank of gas, and maybe make up for some of the time and effort hauling gear.

    3. We will "occasionally" play for a fraction of the bar. But only when we know the owner, and usually after we've already played the place several times. Never when we have to go through a third party (like a "booking agent"). If the booking agent works for the house or is an independent, we always negotiate a fixed price.

    4. In a situation like yours, we'll make it known to the booking person that it's is the last time we'll ever play their establishment. And also, we'll threaten them with bad publicity. Word gets around fast in these circles. I've known of several bars that had to shut down 'cause they couldn't hire any more musicians. One of 'em became a comedy club. There's some karma in there somewhere.

    We've done quite a few "free" gigs and charity gigs, but only when everyone agrees to it up front. Those have been some of our best gigs. There's no pressure, everyone's just there to have a good time. I'd much rather donate my 50 bucks to a good cause!
  9. No doubt...I completely agree, and like I said we've played for free (and a loss when you factor in our bar tab) many times. We don't expect to make money at gigs being in an unknown original band. But we certainly don't expect to actually pay either. I think that's unreasonable and unrealistic.

    Right, and I don't claim we're a great band, but I expect the bar to do some kind of advertising as well, which they didn't. They're expecting the bands in essence to be their marketing department, which seems a little lazy and just a bad idea.

    Of course...we would love to play on weekends. But we realize we aren't going to get weekend gigs before proving ourselves with some weekday gigs first. We book our shows about a month apart, totally agree with that strategy. We'll definitely be on alert in the future, but not at this bar anyway. I still don't think it's standard protocol to be asked to pay out of pocket, and it sounds most people on here agree. We didn't end up getting screwed since we didn't actually pay, but I will spread negative word of mouth wherever I can in the local scene to help others out.

    How do you get radio coverage? Do you work with the bar or the station?
  10. Also, regarding the jukebox theory, I know what you're saying, but this bar in particular is not a pub type place. I think if someone wanted to just hang out and chat with their buddies they wouldn't even consider this bar at all, jukebox or not. There are hardly any tables, it's almost all bar stools, and it's known as a punk band bar. Which is why I think it's a faulty argument for the bar to make in this case.
  11. Tim Cole

    Tim Cole

    Jun 12, 2002
    Findlay, Ohio
    Smash is right, when it comes to local bands, particularly original ones, there are hundreds of BAD bands to every one good one. When you're playing a door gig, that is YOUR gig, not the bars. hence, it is your job to do the promoting, not theirs.

    Original music is a TOUGH gig, prepare to work your tails off, sleep on pool tables, and PAY to play, in order to get somewhere. It sucks no doubt, that is why I am in a cover band playing buble gum crap, it's what pays.
  12. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    Depends on what you mean by radio coverage. Do you want advertising/promotion, or airplay? I guess most bands would want both.

    As far as working with the club, all they will do is advertise. I wouldn't expect them to advertise for a weekday showcase of unknown original bands, but it is possible. If they advertise, then they are promoting the club, but not necessarily the bands. If they mention your band and hype up your show, then awesome. But, I wouldn't expect it unless your band is a proven draw. You could work something out with a club to share expenses for advertising, but I never have done this nor would I do it. Radio advertising can be expensive, and this will only add to the "pay to play" situation.

    Smash is pretty dead on about contacting the station. The best results are here. But, there is a fine line between befriending and pestering. The better stations get tons of CDs and promo materials from bands seeking to be the next insert band name. Be earnest in your dealings with these guys, and give them something that answers their question to "what's in it for me". Offer them free tickets to a show, buy em drinks when they are there, and invite them to your after show party. Free CDs, T-Shirts, etc. are ok too.
    Radio station folks are in a business too, so they are looking to increase their listener population. Give em music that will help them add to it. If you have an interesting story to compliment your interesting music, you increase your chances of being played. As Smash has said, make sure that you have a pro quality CD. It should sounds good on crappy speakers on a boombox as well as on an audiophile hifi system. A crappy mix will detract from your music, no matter how good it is. If it's not suitable for the radio, then make it so.

    Aside from airplay, there are other ways to get promoted on the radio. If you are doing a charity event, you can submit it to them as a community service announcement. That's free advertising for your band. Some radio shows will have a "What's happening around town" segment that will clue listeners into events around town. You can also get on the radio as news. A press release sent to the news dept. of a local station could work. The more interesting your story, the more likely you'll get on the radio. Having a press release available for your band is a helpful way of getting free advertising regardless of media.
  13. Great comments guys, thanks a lot...useful info. for promoting.

    Right now we only have one song recorded since it's so expensive to get a good recording, but the goal is to get a 5-song EP done in the not-distant future. That should be the key to doing a lot of promotional things...we also need to get shirts made, I'm working on that right now. All we have is stickers for now.

    The other thing is, of course we'd love to break out, etc., but we realize how unrealistic that is, for not only the obvious reasons but also because we all have regular jobs, and to make the transition to even regional touring would be really tough given the number of vacation days we have, plus a couple guys have families, etc. So we mostly look at it like a hobby, something just for fun that we invest time and effort into because it's worth it, and we don't mind not getting paid really. But I'll be damned if I'm going to actually pay a bar for our efforts. The way I see it the night sucked for both us and the bar, not just them, and it wasn't necessarily either of our faults, prob. just bad luck/timing. And just to clarify, when I say the bar doesn't advertise, I don't mean advertise our show--I don't expect that--but just advertise their bar in general, which this place doesn't seem to as far as I can tell. It's pretty poorly run from what I see.

    And I'm with you SMASH on the headlining thing, that whole concept is a total joke when it comes to local acts. There's no such thing at this level...the best slot is almost always second, so if we book a gig we always take that slot, and we never say we're headlining or whatever. I laugh when local bands talk about headlining a show, so ridiculous...
  14. Stinsok

    Stinsok Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2002
    Central Alabama
    nonsqtr and I have been to the same school of hard knocks! Always know the deal before you play. If you are just starting out club owners/managers will surely try to get the best of you. You can play somewhere any day of the week for free. Unless it is for charity don't let anyone make money off of you while you get nothing.