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You think you have it tough as a musician? If you were a clubowner, you might think twice about booking yourself...


‘The Gig Kahuna’

by David Himes


Having trouble getting booked? Played a club and not being asked back? Feeling like a club is blowing you off and not giving you a chance? Played a show, got paid little or nothing, and feeling ripped off?


While it might be understandable for a lot of bands to feel the way they do about the clubs, understanding the operating expenses, risks, and liabilities that clubs face can go a long way toward establishing a business relationship with them. So at the risk of sounding like the devil’s advocate, I will take you to the “dark side” in an effort to show you what the clubs see. (Fun Fact #1: Yes, I’ve been in that business.)


Bottom line: The club lives and dies by drink sales. If the club doesn’t sell drinks (a lot of drinks), it can’t stay in business. It’s a simple equation. It might or might not sound fair, but if you’re playing bars or clubs (whether you’re a cover or original band), you are there to sell drinks. Period. GET IT THROUGH YOUR HEAD!


I’d venture to say a typical club (100-400 capacity) pays anywhere from $2,000-$20,000 or more on their lease (or mortgage) for the building, depending on size, location, what city you’re in, and other factors. Then there’s the electricity. (Fun Fact #2: The electricity needed for a walk-in cooler alone will make your household electric bill look like chump change.) Don’t forget about the liquor license (The value of a liquor license varies wildly, depending on where you are in the country.), liquor license renewal each year, insurance, ASCAP/BMI licensing, bar staff that must be paid, investment in PA and lights (if the club has a house PA and lighting), investment in tables/chairs/barstools, build-out, beverage stock, taxes, and more. And we haven’t even gotten to the little things like napkins, straws, trash bags, plastic cups, replacing broken glasses, maintenance and repairs, the list goes on and on.


Any club that attracts a crowd (and some that don’t) will also attract the anti-fun police. Yes, clubs and bars (especially the more controversial ones such as strip bars) are always a favorite target for various officials. ATF, MBI, fire marshals, politicians, bureaucrats —all seem hell-bent on harassing any busy club for under-age drinking, drugs, “fire hazards,” and anything else their fertile brains can imagine. I remember one club where a fire marshal actually showed up with padlocks and chains to close the place down, just because their sound system wasn’t set up to automatically shut down when/if the fire alarm went off. Anyone smell politics? And how about the occasional investigative news reports? You know, the local TV news or other media that goes after businesses that don’t buy advertising from them.


Also, if anyone gets caught drinking under-age, dealing drugs, or if someone gets injured, the club can (and often will) be held accountable.


Now that you have an idea of the expenses, risks and liabilities a typical club faces, think what it must cost to operate a theater-size or larger venue! Did you know a lot of the local clubs aren’t doing too hot these days—barely staying financially afloat and/or losing money—and a lot of them are even teetering on closing?


If you’re thinking of that crowd you saw on a weekend night, visit the same place during the week, and chances are it will be dead—also costing the club money just to open its doors. So the money the clubs might make on the weekends has to carry them through the dead nights when they lose money. (Fun Fact #3: Did you know that weekends are around 70% of a typical club’s income?)


So with all of the above in mind, let’s now go to the other side of the table and look at the club’s point of view: Which bands would you want to book? If you answered “the bands that draw drinking age people,” you get a star sticker on your forehead.


As you should now be able to see, if you don’t have a fan base and don’t draw a crowd, you are costing the club money. It might or might not be fair, but that’s life in the scene. There are, however, other ways to enhance your rapport with the venue…


It might not be hip for “Brotha Integrity,” but giving drink-’em-up party raps and encouraging the crowd to tip the bartenders and waitresses is a good way to earn points with the clubs. Better yet is to find out who the bartenders and waitresses are, and mention them by name. Even if you don’t pack the place, winning over the bar staff can tip the scales a little more in your favor as far as being asked back.


And now a word to the metal/core bands: Yes, it might look cool in the big-name videos, but try “fu*kin’ shit up” at your local club, and you’ll see where that’s likely to get you. If you’re not getting asked back to a club, here are a few tips for you: 1) Try to avoid statements on the mic like “let’s fu*k this place up.” Of course, every metal/core band likes to see a pit, but try to ask your crowd to respect the venue while moshing, so the club will continue to have metal/core shows. 2) If something gets broken, offer to fix or replace it. 3) If the place gets trashed, at least offer to help clean up afterward. (Fun Fact #4: Did you know the big-name metal/core bands pay for any damages incurred at their shows?)


Also keep in mind that the additional cost of insurance for injuries incurred for moshing and crowd surfing (can you say “lawsuit”?) is through the roof. And more and more venues and clubs have been prohibiting moshing and crowd surfing altogether.


When dealing with a club owner or talent booker, keep in mind you’re dealing with a person who has been burned too many times by bands and promoters promising to “pack the place,” and delivering little or nothing. You’re dealing with a person who has heard the B.S. a million times. You’re dealing with a person who has listened to the wrong people and ended up with disastrous results.


When many bands play for an empty house, they typically beat around the bush by saying something like “well, we had fun.” Or you might see some kind of posting where they thank everyone for what was supposedly a successful turnout. But the club didn’t exactly have fun when they lost money, and isn’t exactly thanking you.


Sorry to rub the truth in your face, but if you’re getting weak turnouts, you should be embarrassed. However you got booked (more often than not, by lies and B.S.), you probably told them you’d pack the place. The club or venue depended on you and you let them down. It cost the club money to let you have your show there. Bartenders and waitresses went home empty-handed and disappointed, as they depend on tips from drink sales to make their living. Depending on the club’s policies, a house soundman might be angry, because the door came up short and he didn’t get paid. And he might remember that if (a big if) you play there again. Finally, you’ve more than likely blown your chances of playing that club again.


And you think you got “screwed” because there wasn’t enough door money to pay you?


That, my friends, is what the other side sees. There is never a guarantee you’ll get booked or get favorable gigs. But hopefully, agree or disagree, you will now at least see the club’s point of view. You should now have a better perspective on why just having that knowledge alone can go a long way toward getting booked and being asked back.




David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.

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