OPEN LETTER TO CLUB OWNERS:
Dear Club Owner,
If you are going to run a music venue, then there are a few things you need to do to make it a success for everyone involved:
1. Pay the musicians! Just like you have to make money to keep your venue running, bands have to make money to sustain themselves. There is equipment to pay for, fuel for the vehicles and oh yeah, they have to eat. I understand that you think all musicians are platinum selling and only play your esteemed venue on Tuesday nights for the fun of it, but the truth of the matter is that most musicians are hard working, dedicated, passionate and well-practiced individuals who are extremely focused on their futures and their craft. Playing Tuesday night's at the local bar/club for free just so you can sell more beer shouldn't be tolerated by anyone. And in any other profession it wouldn't be. Now, if you can't afford to pay the musicians something maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
2. If you are going to have live music at your venue, then do your part to promote it. Don't just leave it up to the bands. They have enough on their plates than to have to worry about doing all the promoting themselves with no help from you. Print some flyers. Post to your social networks. Put flyers with a list of upcoming shows on each table. Update your website on a regular basis. Ask your customers for their email address and in exchange you give them a one time discount on their purchase at your venue (i.e. drinks, food etc). You can then build up an email list that you can send out once a month with a list of upcoming shows. As each show gets closer you send out an email with that week's shows. Be proactive. Don't wait for the customers to visit your website to see who's playing. They won't. If an art gallery has a showing they don't leave it up to the artist to promote the show. The gallery promotes it. Musicians are artists, you are the gallery. If you can't do that, then maybe you shouldn't host live music?
3. Get a decent sound system. That means get some subwoofers, some monitors, a real mixing board and some actual mains. You see, the better the band sounds, the better the band plays. The better the band plays, the more fun the audience has. The more fun the audience has, the more drinks they buy. The more drinks they buy, the more money you make. And the the more money you make means you can pay the bands. If you don't want to get a better sound system, maybe you shouldn't host live music?
4. Get a real sound guy! This means someone who actually knows how to run a sound board. Someone that knows what impedance and ohms mean. Someone that doesn't double as the bartender but actually knows how to run a 32 channel board. This means hiring a dedicated sound engineer because YOU know how important it is for the band to sound good (see #3). If you don't want to pay for a dedicated sound engineer, then maybe you shouldn't host live music?
5. Invest in some lights. No band wants to walk onstage and perform while your house lights are still on. Make it feel like a music venue. Not like the band just walked in from the street and are playing some bedroom somewhere. If you show the music respect then the bands and the fans will show your venue respect. If you don't want to invest in lights, maybe you shouldn't host live music?
6. For God Sakes, turn off the TVs while the band is performing. There is nothing more disrespectful to a band than to see a bunch of people watching TV while they are performing. It doesn't matter who is onstage. If you have TVs on, people will invariably turn their gaze to the screen. The local news or Duck Dynasty can wait. If you can't respect the bands or the music enough to turn the TVs off, then maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
7. Designate a dedicated merch area for the bands so they can display their merchandise in a professional manner. I'm pretty sure you can allocate a corner or wall where they can set up a table right? And please provide some lighting so people can actually see what the band is selling. All you need is a clip on light just above the merch table. Not only does it help the band but it shows you actually care. If you can't provide a merch area then maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
8. Okay we know not all venues are big enough for a stage, but for those that are, build a proper stage for the band. That doesn't mean just throw some plywood on 2x4s and calling it a day. That means making sure that there are plenty of electrical outlets around the stage so everyone can plug their equipment in and not blow a circuit because now you have a 250 watt bass amp sharing the same circuit as the lighting and the subwoofers (that is if you've installed them). If you don't want to install or build a proper stage then maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
9. Stop telling the band that playing your bar or club is good exposure for them and then turn around and tell them they have to bring 100 people. If it were good exposure for them then YOU would be providing the exposure not the band. So if you don't want tp pay the band then YOU provide the audience. That's only fair right? That means you promote, you advertise, you bring the crowd. Then the band can sell their merch and you wouldn't have to pay them because you provided the exposure. But that's not how it works is it? No it isn't. So how about if you are expecting them to bring the crowd so you can sell them alcohol, then you pay the band. No ifs. Ands. Or buts! How is the band bringing their fans providing good exposure for them? It's not. What it's actually doing is providing exposure for YOUR venue. You get free publicity out of the band and don't even give them a cut of the bar? Shame on you. If you can't stop taking advantage of musicians, maybe you shouldn't host live music?
10. Update your website with ALL the bands that are performing each show not just the headliners. It takes 30 seconds to update a website and list all the bands. This not only helps the fans of the opening bands know where their favorite band is playing but it makes the opening band feel like you actually give a damn about the music and the band. Also, a website consists of digital text. That means you can include as much text as you want on a page. That means you can include the bio of every band that is going to play your venue on your website. Websites aren't like print. You don't have to pay per word. This isn't 1846. If you can't update your website then maybe you shouldn't host live music?
11. Give the bands proper sound checks. That means letting them run through a song or two BEFORE the audience is in the venue. If you have to let the bands get to your venue a couple hours early then so be it. If it means that the sound is going to be better, then isn't that a good thing? You as a club owner should want only the best for your venue, bands and patrons. This is a great place to start. Yes we know your "sound engineer" doesn't want to get there early for soundcheck because he stayed out late partying with his buds, but that's his job and it's your job to make sure he shows up on time (see #4). If you can't give the bands a proper sound check, then maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
12. Stop treating touring bands like they just drove around the corner to get to your venue. Touring bands drive thousands of miles to get to your esteemed venue and most of the time you are not the first venue on their stop. That means they've been sitting in a van for hours upon hours and the last thing they need is attitude from venue employees who are disgruntled because they have to play a Tuesday night for a show that barely anyone will be at because you didn't bother to print flyers, update your website or social networks. Touring bands can only do so much promoting while on the road. Sure they can update social networks and websites from their smart phones but you are right there in town. You can tell everyone in your venue about the amazing band on tour that you've got coming to play your venue! Imagine how successful each show would be if that happened. If you can't stop giving the bands attitude, then maybe you shouldn't be hosting live music?
13. (this one is for the bands) Stop walking into the venue like you are the greatest musicians on the planet. You don't own the place and unless you're selling out the local arena, keep your attitude in check. You are a musician and your job is to play your music and entertain the audience. Yes, we understand that you are tired from your long drive, you are hungry, you're broke, you're mad because your girlfriend put too much starch in your jeans etc etc. but you are not God. Don't slam the venue's microphones onto the stage. If you want to do that bring your own. Don't smash their monitors if you can't pay to replace them. They aren't yours. Don't get wasted before a show. That's so cliched and this isn't the 70's. Stop being a stereotype of what people think musicians are. You are a creative individual. Act like it. Don't act like some spoiled little kid. Your audience deserves better. If you can't conduct yourself in a professional manner that the music and the fans deserve, then maybe you shouldn't be playing live music?
14. (Back to the club owners) If you have a marquee outside then list the bands (all of them) that will be playing that night. The show you have coming up in a month can wait. This is another way you as a club owner can help promote live music and make your venue a live music destination. Marquees are a great form of advertisement and most venues have them. Use them the way they should be used not just to advertise cold beer. If you can't update your marquee, maybe you shouldn't host live music?
15. End pay to play! This is a scam started in Los Angeles and benefits no one but you, the club owner. Asking a band to sell 250 tickets to your venue on a Monday night and keeping 75% of the money is a disgrace and a slap in the face to the musicians. You tell the bands that if they can sell 250 tickets on a Monday then you'll give them a Friday or Saturday night? You would be hard-pressed to find any local band that could sell 100 tickets let alone 250 on a Monday night. And again, you do no promoting. If you are going to demand pay to play, then we as musicians demand you take out radio ads on your local station. Why would you do that you say? Because if we have to pay to play then so should you. You want us to guarantee how many people we are going to bring through your door but you guarantee us nothing. Even if people buy tickets they don't always come. That's the nature of society. If you aren't going to stop pay to play then maybe you shouldn't host live music?
You see Mr/Mrs Club Owner, the live music business could be a much better place if the musicians didn't feel like they were being taken advantage of every time they walked into a venue. Of course not every venue is like this. And not every cub owner is either. There are many owners and promoters that truly care about the bands because they know the bands are the life blood of their venue. Take away live music and you have a couple of salty dogs sitting around your bar on a Friday night. Bring in live music and you have a couple hundred people buying drinks and eating food and coming back again and again.
The musical landscape has changed over the last decade and most people download their music and no longer buy physical CDs. They no longer hold a tangible product in their hands. Live music is the one tangible item that music fans can experience the way the artist intended it. That feeling of their favorite band standing feet away from them performing their craft to their highest ability. All those years of practice and rehearsals all culminate into that one stage performance at your venue. In one night, venue, band and fans all come together to experience music in its purest and rawest form. The excitement is palpable and like no other feeling in the world. That will never be replaced by digital downloads, YouTube or any other online format. Music is a living breathing entity that excites the soul. We as humans have a right to make sure that experience never goes away. And you, as a club owner have the opportunity to cultivate it.
Guitarist, Music Fan, Human Being