I have been involved with music my entire life. I have seen many things survive that should have been killed. I have also seen music endure a lot of ups and downs. But having run across some information on a club’s booking requirements tonight, I felt compelled to author a short blurb about it.
I have seen clubs go from paying literally no money at all but the door cover charge. For you non-musical types that is the amount of money people pay to enter a bar or venue. I have seen the pay go up as times got good and back down when disco came along.
Bands were again relegated to accepting whatever money the club felt like paying and that was often the door again. All of this was going on while a club was willing to pay almost as much for a disc jockey as they did for a whole band. That too came to pass and currently decent clubs pay a disc jockey to play music during band breaks and the band gets paid to perform music live. Not a bad compromise.
There have been a few bumps in the road. Clubs at one point started trying to charge fees to the bands for ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. For the non-musical folks, this is an operating expense that clubs have to pay for the use of music, both from live bands, disc jockeys and juke boxes to help pay royalties to the songwriters. I quite often informed the offending clubs that this was an operating expense for the club just like buying beer or whiskey and in turn just like buying new gear is an operating expense for the bands. Both are operating expenses. After a few years that little bump got smoothed over for most clubs as well.
Then clubs decided that since they had to employ a doorman and that they were going to put in a sound and light system that the bands should cover those expenses and so the first hundred or so dollars that the club made on cover charges usually went to the club to pay the sound guy. I can even live with that one because it’s often worth it to avoid load in and running sound while trying to perform for an audience.
But now there is a new wrinkle in the fabric. There is a club I ran across that is now charging bands to play. Yes, in order to secure a date at one venue I found, you have to send a non-refundable $100.00 to cover the cost of the soundman and secure a date. If you don’t pay then you don’t get a booking, plain and simple. On top of that, the band is then responsible to find a local supporting act or acts, build the bill, and provide a doorman to collect door money on the night of the show.
So not only do you pay to play, you have to do all the promoting, secure your local opening act and put together the entire show for the club including a person to take the money at the door. I have to wonder where will it end and I pray that bands are not going along with this. I know some bands do play for the door. Other bands play for a lousy $300.00 a night guarantee when they are a four, five or larger piece band. The bands that do fall for the rip off clubs antics are selling out and unfortunately must not think to highly of their own musical abilities. They also make it harder for the better bands to secure gigs from new clubs until experience educates the clubs. I will say however clubs realize quickly in most cases that you get what you pay for and those $300.00 a night bands are asked to please not return. That is about the time I start getting calls for my acts.
I see another downward spiral happening with clubs making up these ridiculous non-refundable fees and taking 60/40 at the door. As a booking agent as soon as I find out what the club is offering or not offering as the case may be, I politely decline to do business with them. When the economy is bad, one of the first things cut are entertainment budgets. Times are hard but in some cases it is simply better to stay home than to pay to play.
If this is what the clubs are coming too, perhaps we should see the end of live music.