As I've been looking for gigs lately, I've never seen so many free and low paying gigs. Well the economy is bad, so I can understand that a little bit. However, it is no longer good enough for the musician to be willing to perform for little compensation. Now we are expected to also be the venue's promoter. The expectations are that the band will not only provide great music, but also bring lots of people to their venue. It is now the band's responsibility to make this happen, not the club owner.
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.
I don't care about the money. And i don't have any pretenses that our band is so great that club owners should be banging down our door trying to get us to play there. But the "pay to play" (or "make your friends pay to play") model seems to be the only game in town, so i don't really understand how any band gets beyond that stage, or how any clubs build up a sustainable customer base. Every gig i've been to, the audience consists entirely of the people that each band dragged to it.
Eddie Mechanic who has slaved all week fixing cars at the local dealership also plays guitar. Not very well, but he's been practicing once a week with Doctor Drummer, Banker Bass Player, and Salesman Singer. Usually they just drink beer between rehearsing a few tunes in Eddie's garage, but this week they answer a craigslist ad and line up a big gig. Well they don't sound that good, but they sure all work with a lot of people everyday. All these people can be given a flyer on Monday and after being asked "are you coming to my gig?" everyday all week, will most likely show up on Saturday night. So mission accomplished, the club owner has packed his venue for one 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.
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."
Sure, once or twice a year we can drum up enough friends and co-workers to be polite and come out and see us, but after a while i stopped seeing the point. Again, we're not professional musicians and we're probably not very good. But it seems to be a universal experience. I'm sure club owners have their own side to this story and there's no easy fix, however.