As one who spent about thirty years owning music clubs in Charleston and Columbia, it is really simple...bands should get paid what they are worth to the customers who attend. That is to say, the number of people who pay at the door because the band attracts them! How about this...club pays for house sound gear, band brings its stage gear, and if a house sound engineer is employed that cost is split between band and house. Now ALL door $$ minus the door tax goes to the band. Please don't talk to me about your road expenses...promise you they are offset by in-house club expenses...door guys, coolers, etc. Now it is up to you to figure out where you can play and make $$.
Where in the world do you play that only charges $5 for 3 acts (including a National band)?? Really. I need to know. So I can avoid that venue. We play ALONE (no opener... no "follow-up") for a $5 cover on a weeknight. And paying for the house sound, security, and door person on top of that??? You've got to be kidding me. Either you're playing venues that pay shyte or you have too much of your own "staff", or you're getting screwed. We play for a $5 cover on a weeknight... alone. No opener. No follow-up. We handle our own sound and the "security" and "door person" is the bar's responsibility. We don't pay them, the venue does.... because they work for them.
I forgot to add the overzealous DUI police state and the total smoking ban virtually killed the live music scene 20 years ago. Yeah, those are both controversial issues but it cut people going out to clubs in half. Just a fact.
Just visited Charleston. I play upstate NY. Bands get $250-$500 here if you're good. I was surprised that the night I was at the Pour house the inside band had a $25 cover..WOW! they weren't a national act and played a bunch of covers. That never happens up here. What the bar owners do up here is not charge a cover and up the drink prices $0.50 to $1.00 and that pays the band. Many people don't even notice. With a hot spot or a well known local band you can get away with $5.00 cover but thats it. And yes, I was playing for the same money 20 years ago. You play music because you want to, not to make money. Those days are unfortunately over. The musicians today are generally way better than 30 years ago although not necessarily as creative. You can make a studio quality album in your basement so there is much more music to choose from today. And yes the internet has made album sales pretty much a dead issue. The world changed.
Seeing as how Pabst generally only costs a buck, people should have plenty left to pay a decent and supportive cover.
You should write next about how nobody dances at shows anymore. That blows. Much love from L.A.
Seeing as how Pabst is generally costs only one dollar, people should have plenty left over to pay a decent and supportive cover.
You should write in about nobody dancing at shows, too. That blows. Much love from LA.
Not to judge, but Charleston doesn't really have or support a music scene, either for local or mid-level touring national acts. It was better even 10 years ago, but the scene has gradually petered out. Anyone with any drive or talent has moved to another city (mostly Nashville)
If you're comparing who Cumberlands (the Features, the Whigs, etc.) or the Village Tavern (Kings of Leon, Cold War Kids) were booking even 10-15 years ago and what Tin Roof etc. are booking now... well, there's no comparison.
Part of it is the closures of those legendary small venues that booked up-and-comers on the way to and back from SxSW who wanted to play where REM, etc. had played back in the day, and part of it is the steadily worsening and absolutely beyond shitty audiences Charleston gets.
Has anyone noticed that mid-level bands like Interpol and yes, Cold War Kids that regularly hit the Music Farm on every national tour have been skipping it for the last 4-5 years?
You have to make it worth a band's while to drive hours out of the way of major interstates where you can hit 20 small venues in a 6-7 hour radius, and we just don't.
absolutely not. cover charges turn away crowds. all the money to be made at a club is in booze and drugs. bands need crowds. the worthy will get noticed and paid. the rest can play for free like the garbage they are worth.
"there's a local opener, a regional touring act, and either a local or national headliner"
where do you get that for $5?
"The $5 cover has been around forever. My dad remembers paying $5 for Led Zeppelin in Scranton, Pa. in the early '70s."
First, are you comparing yourself to Led Zeppelin? healthy ego there
Second, my band played a club called "Ballyhoo" in Scranton in the 70s. We were a 7 piece band with a pretty fair following and we would get a $1 cover and that cover charge got you entry and a token for a free 25c draft beer. That's what regional working bands got in those days. So if we could draw a couple of hundred people, it would have to be split 7 ways, less a booking agent's percentage and we had to pay for the gas in a guzzling van for the 300 mile round trip. That's why so many people "used to be in a band"
Led Zeppelin at a venue would get $5, I saw bands like The Who at performing arts centers for $7.
Why do the big bands get so much more today? Because people are willing to pay it. You get $5 because that's what people are willing to pay.
I gotta say I don't really get this article. Open for assistance. But it seems to me that there is no way to make a "minimum cover charge". That's a thing that doesn't make any sense. this person wants to make a law or something? I completely agree that clubs should pay more to musicians, bottom line. But it's up to the clubs to figure out how to do that. If they get more people in the door by having s free show and are then able to pay musicians off of bar sales, that's their model. If they pay strictly off of draw and attendance, that's their model. Making a minimum cover charge isn't logical. Every single bar and club works differently in the business end so m a bit confused at the aim of this article. I feel like the writing has been on the wall for these concepts for a long time. Imo clubs need to do more promotion themselves, do their job to get people in the door. I've played clubs that are established "places to be" and played a free show, and made a wonderful wage. Because the venue was awesome and people wanted to be there no matter what was happening. And because it was free. And I want to play there because their business model works in a way that pays me well.
Here's an idea: write decent music and stop playing at dive bars. What I get out of this is, "I want people to pay more at local bars to see my mediocre band because we aren't good enough to play at bigger venues." As a gigging musician this article saddens and disgusts me.
Megan: You should have wrote this case to your agent, "Don't book me on $5 shows" or if self managed resist those tiny offers. Be glad you get paid to do your passion, not many of us do. Every deal is different. If you don't like the $5 deal, forget it, there's always a table in Charleston that needs a waiting.
The Sparrow typically has little or no cover and The Mill I don't think has ever charged a cover, although they may have slipped one in that I don't remember. I took a quick peek at the Tin Roof's schedule and they vary between free and $8, one night coming up will be Megan Jean and their cover charge is just $5. The Pour House deck bands are cover free from what I could see but their inside bands went as high as $18 to get in. It seems that at some locations, at least, there is no $5 line of death for cover charges.
As for cash at the door, it is easy and cheap enough to get a square swiper to take cards. And most places where I have seen cover/party bands (like Wild Wings, DIG in the Park etc) I don't remember paying cover charges, the house just pays the band outright and usually it is fairly cheap but a set price. Several times, whether there is a cover or not, I have either tipped the band or bought a round of drinks because I have enjoyed their performance.
I guess my point is if you want to start charging more at the door then do so. If your music is appreciated enough any drop in people coming in with the higher door price will cover it and you still end up getting a little more. If your music (this is to any act, not just MJ&KFB) has enough popularity then hopefully there will be no drop in attendance and you get to reap some even bigger rewards.
I'm torn with this, as a musician playing originals. It really does depend on the show. However, at least in Charleston, SC, it's difficult enough to get people to pay $5 for a show on a Friday or Saturday. Different story in larger markets. I think there are more factors to this too. This may work if you are a band that plays once every 2-6 months. Not going to work for a band that plays every 1-2 weeks. If people feel that they are going out to an event, that they can't witness again next week, they may be inclined to fork over that cover. Also, playing on smaller bills could help. One opener, one headliner. Instead of a stacked bill of 3-5 bands. And I don't think this is something across the board. When you can start pulling those 200-300 number from your band alone, then yes, by all means, charge the $10 cover. It's about putting in the work, gaining a following and delivering a show stopping performance. But if you are gathering 10-50 people per show, I don't see this happening in Charleston.
The bar-hopping response is valid, but more applicable to cover band shows like at Charleston Beer Works, the Dollar, et cetera. Those typically do get a guaranteed payment based on projected crowd because, although we might bristle at the notion, most all-cover bands are interchangeable once a certain level of musicianship and comfort with the job is attained.
However, this article is about original music shows, which are handled primarily by different venues like the Sparrow, Tin Roof, Mill, Pour House and formerly the Village Tavern at the $5 level.
The double- or triple- bill is standard because of reciprocity. You tour to my city and I share a bill with you and get the ears and eyes of your fans, and then we'll do the same in your town. Then we have some newbies open because that's how you grow the scene. I'm not used to the openers getting paid the same per person, but I'll submit to MJ on this one because I've only done a small fraction of my work with touring, original acts.
I agree wholeheartedly! As a lover, fan, supporter of live music, and a wife of a musician, your article encapsulates the monetary struggle of many of my friends.
In Chattanooga, there are a number of bars & clubs that host live music. And there are a few bars that book "all original" regional and/or national acts that aren't well-known enough to play the "big" music venues. The bars that book these bands generally offer a percentage of the door, split between the bands (3-5 per night), after bar costs. There's normally no guarantee.
The bars & clubs that offer a guarantee also expect the band(s) to play a 90/10 or at the least, an 80/20 split of cover songs versus originals. There are a few exceptions, depending on the club/band relationship. But not many.
I think that if you have a 2 band night, the main act should get a larger percentage, as they're the ones that are expected to play longer. If you have a 3 band night, everyone should be expected to play the same amount of time for a 3-way division of pay. Having more than 3 bands on a nightly bill is just too much work for not enough pay. Not to mention the loss of listeners due to being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by 2-3 bands that aren't up to par.
If you hang out at a bar that has live music, and you don't really care who's playing, but are complaining about a $10 cover, go find another bar. There are plenty of jukebox or sports bars that will take your cash and act like they care about your first world problems. But if you are a true fan of live music, drink one less beer and kick the extra few dollars towards the musicians.
After all, without musicians writing songs that parallel our lives, how would we know if we were normal?
The problem with covers in general is that many people want to go to multiple bars in one night. There is a reason why bars are generally located in clusters close together. With a $10 cover, it becomes cost prohibitive to drop $30+ in just cover charges to go out with your friends. It limits you to staying in one place, which most people do not want to do. We are in the ADD generation that gets tired of anything within 30-45 minutes and is constantly searching for the next best thing. Add in the fact that very few people carry cash anymore to pay cover charges and you see why bar managers push for no cover. Bands should start pushing to get paid as a small base fee plus a percentage of revenue for the night instead of just a flat fee. It adds some risk, but if you are positioned in a good bar and are an entertaining band, you will reap the rewards!
Why not just play at venues that either let you have higher cover charges, will pay a minimum or that don't schedule three bands on the same night? The last one has little to do with the actual cover to get in, it has just gotten to be silly to go and hang out to listen to a little live music and every forty five minutes the band is changing, just a personal pet peeve.
I understand the desire to be paid more and if the market will bear it and a band has enough of a following I say go for it. When you are talking to a venue tell them that you have enough of a draw that you deserve more. And I would especially stop playing three band shows where you are splitting the door, that is too thin. Also, I am curious why the split is even? Why does the local opener who is getting stage time get paid the same as a touring band that is promoting and making all kinds of other efforts to get people through the door getting the same as some random act that is only known by their friends and family?
I have been surprised that the push to a ten dollar cover has not happened earlier. If you can afford to come out and have a few drinks you should be able to afford a ten dollar cover, if not, you need to re-evaluate. And for the acts, push for more pay. It should be a symbiotic relationship, the bands need a venue to perform and the venue needs the band to draw patrons to eat and drink. If the quality is there, people will pay for it.
I hear you, Megan Jean, and the reality hits me every time I get paid the same or less for a show than I did back in 1996 for the same amount of work to the same sized crowd. And playing original music as a rhythm section member for a singer/songwriter often means a few comped bud lights and that's it. I don't know how one sells this idea to the broader crowd, but the financial calculus of being a musician, especially one that tours DIY, is going to be completely untenable soon. If gas prices bump back up to 3.50/gal, say, that could cause a lot of people to hang up the guitar and go strictly the 9-5 route just to make rent and car payments.
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