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Why bands get paid so badly and venues are disappearing.

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by BAG, Sep 29, 2017.

  1. I've written this or similar in numerous threads but thought it deserved its own thread. Most of it relates to your weekend warrior bands and unknown originals bands but also, here in Australia at least, to the well known bands with a following and good record sales.

    I've been managing pubs and clubs around Australia for well over 20 years and before that I was a roadie for some of Australia's top bands (Paul Kelly and Dragon to name two), a Lazer and lighting operator/installer/designer for big night clubs, a musician and a DJ, so i've seen the scene from many different perspectives.

    I'm going to give you a short (not so short) rundown on the venue's perspective. Take into account, this is Aussie dollars and, more importantly, Aussie pay rates for bar staff and security.

    Most venues that put on live music now do so because the owner or manager is a live music fan, not to actually make money putting on the band. Why is that? Well, because it's actually very difficult to make money with live music these days as i'll show.

    For example, if you put on a soloist or duo for $300 you need to sell an extra $450 just to pay the act. Here in Oz that's a little under 100 schooners (425ml glass) of beer, so you need at least an extra 25 people drinking 4 beers each to cover the act. Sell less than that (over and above your normal sales) and you're losing money on the live music. For a lot of small bars they will usually make more PROFIT from the night by NOT having a live act however as the manager/owner likes live music they will do this and take the hit of $100 or so to their profit line (still making profit.... just not as much) in order to have the vibe of live music. The thing is, this is a small bar with possibly two people on the bar on a usual night (one manager/supervisor and one staff member) and if you get the extra 25 people you need another staff member. So now you're paying over $24/hour for a bartender so add an extra $100 to the costs for the night. That's $400 extra so you need to sell an extra $650 over the bar to simply make what you would have on a normal night.

    Now lets ramp this up to a band situation in a medium sized venue.

    You want to put on a decent 4 piece and that's going to cost you around $800 which means selling $1200 more in drinks which is about 60 people having 4 drinks each. This is over and above what you would have in the bar on a night without entertainment so you need extra staff. You're probably looking at an extra 2 staff minimum so that adds a minimum of 4 hours each at $24 per hour or 8 hours totalling nearly $200. Your total cost is now $1000 but with these extra bodies there's a good chance that you'll want to put on some security or the local licensing police/laws will demand that you do. Two security will cost you a minimum of 4-5 hours at $45 per hour. Lets call it $400. Your costs are now at least $1400 which means selling an extra $2100 in drinks which is around 100 extra people drinking 4 drinks each. So if you get those people you're now short staffed and need more staff which brings up the costs again. You also need more security....... and on and on it goes. And all this is to just get the same PROFIT that you would get with 15-20 people in your bar on a normal night without a band or with 30-50 people listening to a soloist.
    You've also got to take into account that those wages are for Mon-Fri..... Saturday pay rates are nearly $29/hour and Sunday's are over $33/hour. Security rates go up accordingly as well so costs increase again!

    A big problem is that you have to take a punt with staffing and security levels for the above scenarios. If you are short staffed too often patrons get the sh1ts and don't come as often or stop coming. If you don't get a big enough crowd too often then your profit level drops or, worse still, you actually lose money on the night.

    If you can convince your local patrons to pay a cover charge of $10 then you have a chance of making money on live music but that is getting very difficult these days. People under the age of 28 do not value music. They've grown up being able to either download music for free or simply copying files between each other so even if a group of youngsters like a band usually only one of them pays for the music and the others copy it. This appears to have continued on to live venues where they are happy to pay $15 or more to see some "name" DJ but won't pay $10 to see a good band.

    In addition to all of this is that if you do manage to build a good live music venue with good crowds every week you're going to then be on the radar of licensing police as well as the Gaming and Racing inspectors because with any big crowd of people drinking there are always some idiots who cause trouble. Now you're looking at extra stress because it only takes the authorities finding a staff member serving a person who's gotten too drunk on your premises and you've copped one strike which includes a fine of $550-$5500. Get three of these in three years and you may lose your license. This changed recently where if you cop three strikes the licensee is banned from holding a license, so you can employ someone as licensee who you then have to sack if there's three strikes in three years. Good managers are hard to find to help run your pub and by losing your licensee you'll once again have more scrutiny from the authorities.

    And you wonder why so many venues would rather have a quiet bar with a decent acoustic soloist providing some music rather than putting on good bands.

    I could go on for hours on this subject............

    From what I've seen soloists are actually pretty well paid here compared to in the US. The general going rate here is $300-450 for a decent-to-good soloist. Unfortunately the going rate for a decent-to-good three or four piece band is only around the $500-700 mark and gigs booking bands are rare and getting rarer.

    I decided live music was dying back in around 2001 when a venue i used to manage would have a line up around the corner with people wanting to pay $15 cover charge to get into the nightclub just to see a Big Brother reality tv evictee as guest DJ (who we happily paid $5000 for as they pulled 600 paying punters at that price) and we'd have to knock back people as we had a full house, but we only got 300 people at the same price to see a nationally known rock act....:rollno: :crying: :banghead:
  2. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Truth - but you'll find that reality is generally unwelcome here :D
  3. Goatrope

    Goatrope Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2011
    Sarasota Florida
    What you wrote makes a lot of sense. Thanks for that insight.

    I'm a bit depressed now, but on the flip-side, feeling very fortunate to do 50 or so gigs per year as a weekend-warrior cover/ originals 3pc. Also more appreciative of the mangers and owners. I knew it wasn't free, but it's something we rather not dwell on.

    Yes, this truth is an ugly truth. Sometimes it's good to take a step back and appreciate where we're at.
  4. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Hillsdale, Portland
    It demonstrates the change in society that we are undergoing. We are steam pipe fitters in the dawning age of internal combustion engines.

    Your salient remarks about youngsters not valuing live music with the exception of som DJ is chilling. I see it everywhere and just shake my head.

    Dunno, got a gig tonight, 80% of door....
  5. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Fortunately I've not heard of any local bands here not getting 100% :) but I'm sure it's coming :( .
    Mark_70 and StyleOverShow like this.
  6. You're doing well then with a gig each week. The more I listen to modern music on the radio the more I hear some keys, some samples, a drum beat and some vocals (always hit hard with auto-tune) and I wonder what is going to happen to music in the future.

    It's funny though that these days I see young people constantly with headphones in listening to music. The club's cleaners, skiers and snowboarders up the mountain, people simply walking to work or home.... they've all got their headphones in, listening to music and ignoring the world, yet if you asked them to pay to listen to music they'd laugh at how stupid you are to suggest such a thing.
  7. I fully expect this thread to be basically ignored but figured if i put it in a thread of its own it'll be easier to link to in the future. :laugh:
    /\/\3phist0 and Oddly like this.
  8. guitarrophobe


    Mar 20, 2017
    Though I appreciate your explaining the situation , I don't really see how that makes a trend or a development. Haven't things always been like that?

    My impression is that people are more and more unwilling to pay for seeing a life act when they can hear whatever they want on Spotify. Handmade music is less and less popular.

    My 2c.
    Jhengsman likes this.
  9. Goatrope

    Goatrope Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2011
    Sarasota Florida
    I do have a twinge of optimism. I see it too, earbuds on so many people as a constant accessory, it seems to be an expectation or requirement to have some form of music always on tap. But what are they listening to?

    The fact that anyone can assemble a music-like-product, and distribute it freely using a laptop or an app, is disturbing to us musicians. In this context, what we can do with our fingers and our voices makes us that much more special and increasingly valuable.

    Valuable in terms of us becoming a dwindling breed of practitioners sorcery we call music. This thought came to me as I was sitting a couple of weeks ago, dealing with Irma, without electricity, playing an acoustic guitar by the dim light of my mobile phone.

    We can still promote "organic" music, and demonstrate musicianship, so that these things retain some value and are sought after in a live context, because that human interaction between musician and the listener, the entertainer and the audience, is still something special.

    I'm not equating value with money-making, it's value like friendship, love, you know, the stuff money can't buy. The "best things" so to speak. Musicisianship, as a method of communicating what's in our hearts, through our hands, into someone else's ears, and into their hearts.
  10. If you don't see the trend then you're not old enough. In the 70's and 80's making money with live music was pretty easy as there was nowhere near as much competition for the entertainment dollar. If you wanted entertainment there was basically the movies, live music, or you could listen to vinyl at home. There was also no random breath testing and many people drank and drove home.

    Now if you want movies you got 'em whenever you want at home.....netflix gives you your favorite tv shows whenever you want.... you can talk to anyone anywhere in the world on any subject..... you can share your favorite songs with anyone anywhere in the world at no cost.
  11. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    Good post @BAG. I hear ya' man.

    I've found here (in the U.S. of A.) private and corporate gigs are both easier work, and much more monetarily rewarding. I still play enough bar-type gigs to get my fill, but would generally prefer not to.

    Our neo-oldtyme band is booked solid this Fall (Autumn) with wedding prelude/ceremony music, receptions following, dances, and 3 Christmas or New Years parties/dinners. All of which represents close to $1800 total, averaging $200 - $300 each job. By contrast, I've got a 3-hour micro-brewery gig with a Grateful Dead-done-newgrass-style cover band next week that'll net me $100. It'll be louder than dammit in there, and I'll be carry heavy stuff out for an hour after playing a high impact gig, but I'll do it, and smile, because I love it.


    I guess the reality is somewhat the same here.
  12. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Yes. It explains the "how", but doesn't even begin to explain the "why"...
  13. guitarrophobe


    Mar 20, 2017
    Yeah, the cost structure and the consequences of paying a band have always been there. That does not explain why it's getting harder and harder for bands.

    My opinion remains, people don't want it as much as they used to 20 or 30 years ago.
  14. obimark


    Sep 1, 2011
    Pretty much. The 3-4 bars I played with my cover bands have ALL gone under. One is an Indian Food Buffet now.

    For this and almot everything else in life, its just economics.

    Business generally tend to want to make some money. (unless they are a "Hobby")
    And paying $400 for the typical "Dad" band, that at best will bring in 40 people doesn't add up to the bottom line.

    And if you are in the "Dad" band, convincing your co-workers and friends to come out and see you play the same tired songs again is a HARD SELL.

    Kids LOVE DJs, they will line up and pay to see the most half-assed DJ in town. And the music these DJs play is not ANYTHING that you could cover with typical instruments. It is 99% samples with bass notes lower than you 7-string Djent players can even hit and weird voices/rappers.

    And for the folks looking to hook up, the pickings are just as bad as they ever were at the local bar that is still open. You'd be better off going to Whole Foods or the Post Office or trying your luck online. Seriously.
  15. obimark


    Sep 1, 2011
    Answer. Millennials.

    Ever met one? Or even better had one work for you?

    To keep it simple, they can do ANYTHING you can better than you. They don't need you to show them how to do anything, and frankly they should be YOUR boss on the FIRST day. Except they wouldn't hire a middle-age person. Ever. Yuck.

    So when they see someone playing an instrument or singing, there first reaction is "Phhhh" I could do that easily. That is nothing.
    bassdude51, trailer, MrGoat and 17 others like this.
  16. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I'm with guitarophobe.

    Music is nowhere near as important to the lifestyle of younger people as it was when I was in my teens and twenties. I remember live bands playing at high school dances and multiple free concerts held on college campuses. I remember record stores (that's a place where you had to go to buy your LPs, kids) opening early the day a new record came out from big bands like the Rolling Stones. I remember people standing in line waiting for the box office to open when a hot band ws coming to town. I remember radio stations promoting shows, both national acts and local ones, broadcasting in-studio live performances and spinning records from local bands.

    All of that stuff is gone, long gone, and it's not coming back. Just as my parents talked about the decline of going to ballrooms to dance to the big bands, the era of music consumption by boomers has come to an end.
    Phud, jerry, younkint and 11 others like this.
  17. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I think the OP explains the realities very well. I do think there's an aspect left out. In the advertising world, there's "product" advertising that is meant to make people go out and buy, and then there's "image" advertising that doesn't so much try to push a sale as to raise the public's awareness of the brand. If you look at having a band as a way of advertising your venue, I think that venues often tend to treat it as "product" advertising; that's the logic behind always talking about a band's "draw." "If we have X band play here, how many 'followers' will the band 'draw' and how much extra revenue will that add up to?" That's almost always a losing proposition for everyone, for all the reasons the OP shows. Bands are not draw machines, especially not new bands - they are musicians. They CAN build up a draw but in order to do so, they need to get out and play gigs so that people can hear them and like them and decide to come back next time they play. That means the venue has to invest in them over the long term while it builds up. But meanwhile depending on the band to draw builds up the BAND's brand, not the VENUE's.

    An "image advertising" approach would entail a venue having a marketing plan where they have decided what kind of a crowd they want to draw, and thinking comprehensively about what measures they want to take to appeal to that crowd. That includes the menu, d├ęcor, etc. If live music makes sense for their strategy, they should invest in bands that will build that appeal. The bands contribute to the success of the establishment not so much by their draw but because they help build the image of the venue as the kind of place where the target audience wants to be.

    I wonder if the scenarios the OP mentions, where the venue owner takes a loss on live music just because he likes live music, may (deliberately or accidentally) be "image advertising" scenarios. On a night-by-night product sale perspective it may look like he's losing $100 every time he has a live band in. But if the place is popular enough and profitable enough that he can afford the $100 loss and still be making money, maybe part of that popularity is that people have a positive impression of the place in part because it's a place to hear good music. It's not really a loss but an investment in image. In retail they talk about the "loss leader," the sale item you mark down so much you lose money every time you sell one. But having those drastic sale items creates positive buzz for the store so that more people come over the long run and buy the stuff you DO make money on.

    I think about this a lot with my current cover band. I've played in the kinds of bands that play classic rock and the jukebox bands with a little bit of everything from classics to current pop. For the most part the crowds are middle-aged and older and the writing is on the wall that this is a scene that will fade out and die as its audience does. I wanted a project that would try to buck that trend, so we play recent alternative and indie music. Nothing older than 2000. I'm hoping as we go that we'll get traction with a younger crowd and help keep live music cool.

    We've only played a couple of gigs so far. What struck me is that the venues are not paying attention. One place I called, they didn't even ask what kind of band it was, just gave us a date and a pitifully small pay offer. We had another gig last night. The guitarist walked in to set up, looked at the dinner crowd, and asked, "Did they even look at our set list?" No, they didn't. We're playing Death Cab for Cutie and the Arctic Monkeys and a guy at the bar is shouting out, "Play Guns and Roses!"

    Another aspect of not paying attention is that the venues themselves don't promote the night. For image marketing to work, you have to MARKET it. These initial gigs, they didn't so much as post a facebook announcement of the band coming in that week, let alone anything else. The place last night, we got the gig on just two days' notice. I assumed someone had canceled and asked the bar manager about it. No, he answered, it was just that the owners were on the fence about whether to continue having bands at all, so he had empty days on the calendar until he found out, which was last minute (he appreciated us pushing out a FB announcement right away). How is the band supposed to build up business with no time to promote?

    To be honest, I knew the gigs would be likely mismatches of band to crowd. My job, though, is to push the band and get us in anywhere we can, and try to build it up to the point that we can afford to take our pick of venues. We're not there yet.

    Not every place should have live music. The scene is contracting in most places, but I don't think it will die out entirely. In 70s New York, the whole punk music scene was all of three clubs. Three clubs in all of NYC. Up here in NH, I can hardly expect that we're going to have so much more.
  18. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    This is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Fretless1!, clintb, JGbassman and 4 others like this.
  19. packrat

    packrat Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2017
    I work with and hire a lot of millennials, and really wouldn't say that's a fair characterisation. Many of them regularly follow small interesting acts, live when they can, and in other media otherwise.

    My experience might be different because I'm specifically more senior in their specific technical field, though.
  20. My theory on this regarding bands in bars is that in the U.S. the cost of leasing on renting the building/property has skyrocketed since late 90s early 2000s Liquor licenses are now double what they were where I live. I used to blame the club owners but I have shifted the blame to the corrupt people above who are greedy.

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