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senorblues

The joys of booking bar gigs . . . . a recent email exchange

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Hello ****,

We’re booked for March 1, but I just remembered that March 5 is Mardi Gras! Given that that’s my primary musical influence, I was hoping I could talk you into letting me bring my drummer so we can do that whole second line thing right. I also think that’s the lineup you’ll want to hire going forward, so I’m willing to give you a price break for the duo.

 

If you like, I’ll make a poster. Thanks for considering the idea.

****

 

 

sounds interesting ... what are you looking for for compensation and are we talking about a 6 to 9 show time? that's a tuesday correct?

(owner)

 

 

I was assuming modifying the Friday gig, but doing Tuesday - the real deal - is fine. Instead of or in addition to the solo Friday gig? I agreed to knock $25 off my solo rate - from $150 to $125. I’ll do the same for the duo rate - $250 to $225.

****

 

 

okay, you are a retiree. Are you doing this more to make money or to have fun and keep active? I don't make (**scat**) off music... I'll give you $100 for solo and I'll still lose money or $150 for the duo and I'll lose even more money, but I like music. So there ya go... if no, no hard feelings.

(owner)

 

 

 

Years ago, I used to play music full time on the road - six nights a week. It was my only source of income. No cover charge; the added ring at the venue paid for the music. Since then, for a lot of reasons, the business has been taken over by hobby bands and solo pros. I’ve paid my dues, but more importantly, the guys I play with, including ******, the drummer, and *******, the guitar player on the trio clip you heard, pay their bills by playing and teaching. They're not going anywhere for less than $100 each. You like music; I’m sure you - and your clients - can hear the difference.

 

I’m semi-retired. I still tune pianos. Should I cut my rates in half since I no longer have to tune four pianos a day? Same amount of work . . . .

 

It looks to me like every venue feels like they need live music to draw customers, but the quality of music they hire doesn’t bring in customers who spend enough money to make you a profit.

 

We had agreed to $125 for a solo gig March 1. You were interested in the concept of adding a drummer for Mardi Gras. What do you think I should pay my drummer?

****

 

 

Hi ****

I certainly don't mean to insult you. And I am sorry if my message seemed insulting. I realize that you are a professional musician, no doubt your drummer is as well. However, unless you have a personal following of 10-15 drinkers who will show up for your show. I won't make a nickle. If it is a duo asking for $200 we'd need 20 of your people to show up.

 

My clients are going to show up with or without music, we're a regulars place. There are times when the right musicians can have a big draw -- we had (local hobby band) last weekend. 65 people showed up and swilled $1700 worth of beer and whiskey. They have a following of partying friends, most of the band member live in the (local towns) area. The band got paid $450 and some restaurant credits.

 

An argument can be made that I have live music as a building block, an overhead, something that defines the atmosphere of (venue). By in large I agree with that. We have live music every weekend. Most times the individual musician is not the draw in and of him/her self. It is music for the sake of music. The same 10-20 people show up no matter who is playing... they hang around all night if the person is decent. They are the subset of our customer base who are under 40. Sometimes the music can drive them away.

 

March 1st is a Friday. A piano man starting early enough would have been a nice treat for my 60 people strong guaranteed dinner crowd. The crowd that complains my music always starts too late... they are going to be there anyway, but they would enjoy your music. $125 would be the high end of what I could offer. Solos I usually pay between $80 and $100. There are couple guys I like, think are really good, and who have made friends with my clients so I pay them $125... but all of those people start after dinner and appeal to the late night crowd.

 

March 5th is a Tuesday... promoting a Mardi Gras evening would be hit or miss, I have no idea how many people give a damn about it. It's dicey to think a lot of people would turn up, yours or mine. Tuesdays I have Cribbage tournaments... 8-16 people show up, play cards, drink beer ... It costs me zero. And If we have 20-30 people come in for dinner that night it would be considered a big night -- so it's not a big enough crowd to reward with some special music that they weren't expecting. That's why I can only offer $100 or $150 for a duo; big risk nobody shows up and it interferes with a proven draw.

 

We're face with an age old situation. Musicians want to get paid money that reflects their talent and dedication to their art. I get that. But bar owners want to pay based on increased sales. Sometimes those two positions can align, sometimes they can't.

 

I think my question, of being in it to make money or to have fun, is a fair one and I did not pose it to be flippant. One way or another what we can afford is a pittance. Including travel to and from a gig, setting up, playing, and then packing up a musician has about a 5 hour time commitment plus gas expenses. At $100 it works out to $20 or $25 an hour as compensation for a life time of building a skill. Not much. So I always look for guys or women who are in it for fun then there is no haggling and everyone has a better time with it.

(owner)

 

 

I appreciate your thoughtful response. If more venues and musicians took the time to communicate honestly, the restaurant/bar/music scene would be a lot healthier for all concerned.

 

You’re right about the Tuesday slot. I probably wasn’t as clear as I needed to be about proposing the duo format as an upgrade to my Friday solo slot, not the following Tuesday. I was suggesting that we promote it jointly as a special event to coincide with Mardi Gras and that that would bring in at least twenty people who otherwise wouldn’t have come, but more importantly, I was thinking long term. If the people who are there like what they hear, and if we’re booked the first Friday of every month, and if it’s posted on our Facebook events and website, eventually that first Friday slot would be a day to look forward to. It’s that kind of following - one that is tied to your venue, not merely friends of the band - which used to be the standard marketing model and still is in a few places.

 

I don’t know much about the personal finances of the musicians I work with, but clearly the fee for playing, small though it may be, helps pay the bills if they’re in regular rotation at enough venues. That isn’t to say that enjoying the music isn’t important. They wouldn’t have agreed to commit to my project if that wasn’t the case. What’s key here is that we’ve put a lot more work into refining our craft than the hobby bands. We have to believe that the music that comes out of that effort is something both clients and venues recognize and enjoy.

****

Edited by senorblues
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At least you’re having an open dialogue. The club owner seems like an up-front and reasonable guy.

 

Bottom line is “live music” is either enough of draw for a venue on its own that they are able to pay a good chuck of what “live music” brings in on its own to the best acts they can get for that money, or the act can bring in its own crowd. Ideally, it’s a bit of both.

 

Back in “the day” I played full time in a “circuit” band who was among the highest paid because, in addition to playing venues that already could pay bands pretty well as they were well-known “live music” venues, we also drew our own crowd. Not friends of ours we had to ask to come out and see us, but a fan base we had built up due to repeated live performances.

 

To a large degree, I don’t think that this has changed all that much. It was never enough to ask for the top dollar from the venue simply because we were good musicians or had a lot of professional experience. If all of that didn’t translate into a higher ring for the venue than the crappy band that played the week before, they wouldn’t have cared less how good we may have been.

 

All you probably can realistically do in this case is, if you truly believe that your duo is a better act that the audiences will appreciate (i.e. stick around longer and spend more money) than you as a solo, then offer yourself at whatever-rate he’s willing to pay to try you out and then, if after a few weeks, you see an increase in revenue at the till, you can ask for more.

 

But if he isn’t going to be able to make anymore with a duo than he is with cribbage night? :idk:

Edited by Vito Corleone
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Dave, I think you've assumed that he's going to book me on a regular schedule which, as you say, would allow him to determine whether there's been an increase in the ring on my nights over time. There are a couple venues here that book that way - "Uncle Carl" every second Sunday - but most don't get it. We're lucky if they keep their web page calendar and Facebook events page current. Even if it's a wallpaper gig, why wouldn't you??

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This place has music all the time? It doesn't sound too conducive to it though? How important is it that you play there. Is there a lack of venues around where you are?

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This place has music all the time? It doesn't sound too conducive to it though? How important is it that you play there. Is there a lack of venues around where you are?

 

There are plenty of venues, but they're almost all small and the hobby bands playing to friends for $150 - $250 is the model everyone seems to follow. It's hard to tell how often they book music because they don't keep their "events" pages up to date.

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I hate to say it, but this is the way it is in many places...too many wannabes, too many good players, price competition pushes downward...no one makes money, and the venues, for the most part, can't tell quality [or aren't willing to try to sustain it] from the schlock, or they just don't really care...hence not keeping their calendars current.

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I understand and have empathy for your situation. You know this, but the club owners don't care what you play as long as the patrons are drinking, eating, and having a good time. Have you tried changing your set list, doing more advertising\marketing, seeking other venues, signing with a booking agency, etc.?

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I understand and have empathy for your situation. You know this' date=' but the club owners don't care what you play as long as the patrons are drinking, eating, and having a good time. Have you tried changing your set list, doing more advertising\marketing, seeking other venues, signing with a booking agency, etc.? [/quote']

 

The central issue remains. . . . . Who is responsible for getting patrons to the venue? It isn't me; it's the venue! It's their reputation and their marketing. I'm responsible for making sure they enjoy themselves and somehow also spend money in the process. If they enjoy themselves and if the venue hires me often enough so that they recognize that this will be the place to come see me, then it will be self-sustaining. assuming the venue, not me, makes an effort to post a schedule and otherwise promote the event.

 

I live in small town, USA. There are no agents.

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