Which came first? The chicken or the egg? One battle that gigging musicians have is the club owners expect them to bring the crowd. Grassrootsy posted a great blog from the musician’s point of view. That’s all well and good if you’ve been around for a long time. However, the local band starting out may have a different aspect to deal with. Here is a normal scenario:
You are the guitarist and/or singer and have assumed the role of band manager to book gigs. You find an ad on craigslist. You send your band page and whatever demo that you have off to the club owner and you swear your music must be experienced live because no recording will be good enough.. however, you are going into the studio to work on that…. right?
Well next, the owner looks at the likes on your band’s page and sees it’s hovering somewhere around 300-500. He gives you guys a chance. You promote the show heavily on facebook and twitter. On the day of the show, only 30 people show up. Probably half are underage or they “pre gamed” in the parking lot so they wouldn’t have to buy overpriced drinks at the bar when they went in.. The club owner gets angry at you for not bringing people in, you get angry at the club owner for not promoting your show at his venue. But the crowd liked ya. Of course, you know them all too.
So who has a right to be angry here? Both sides. As strange as it sounds, it does come down to location location location, as a realtor would say. If i have a venue on a road with a lot of foot traffic, especially within distance of a college, My bar would be open every night whether there is a band or not. Do I need to advertise? Sure. I put a flyer in the window. If it’s a college night (Wednesday or Thursday) or the regular Friday or Saturday night, I’ll be fine whether you show up or not there will always be someone in there drinking who “has a band.” If this is my venue, don’t expect expensive radio blasts and maybe not even a serious push on social media aside from creating an event and posting it a couple of times. My crowd is already built in.
Now if I own a venue that’s not close enough for college kids to walk back to their dorms or apartments and the stage is the centerpiece of my venue, I would be more serious about who I book and if i don’t know you, i’m taking a chance on you. The chance i’m taking is not that you’ll sound terrible or have potential… I’m risking my nightly profit that pays the mortgage on the club, the employees’ salary, the cost of beverages, etc. So this is why you need to bring everyone you can and rock this place. If you don’t, that’s it. So this owner will more than likely give a heavier push on social media and expect you to do most of the advertising work. You aren’t his only show. He probably has live music 3-4 nights a week and if you are on stage Thursday, but Soundgarden is on stage Saturday, you shouldn’t expect too much help from the owner about promoting your Thursday night.
For the musician, it’s a different view. Having a 45-90 minute set is harder than people think. Especially if you’re only allowed a few covers. So that’s weeks and months of writing and chord progressions and dealing other band members and their problems. But here we are. A 90 minute set locked in. Everyone has the night off from work to do the show, we haul all the equipment in, we’ve promoted it to the point where we feel like people are starting to hate us and our event listing says 200 some odd people are going. Then 30 show up. Hey, we’re rock stars. We’ll play for 2, 20, 200, 2,000 or 200,000! But for now, we’ll settle for 30. We just need to grow our fan base some more. And then the venue owner tells you that’s not good enough. WHAT!? Your head count while the other guitarist is retuning his guitar, had to be at least a hundred people in there. Quick calculation of 100 x $7 at the door, not including their bar tabs says that $700 was made at the door. So how in the world is this owner mad about us agreeing to play this show for $75 split between 4 people? We didn’t get any free drinks, none of us are drunk, the people we brought didn’t get rowdy…. and this is the thanks we get? ATTITUDE!?
Music is a business. And when business is good, everyone is happy. When it’s bad, it’s someone’s fault. For musicians, I say pick your battles. By battles, I mean venues. You won’t always have to play for free, but expectations come with a guarantee. If the owner is guaranteeing you an amount of money, he expects to you exceed his expectations. Build up your fan base at venues with a high foot traffic area. Network, offer to open for local bands who bring in a bigger crowd. They won’t have to play as long and you are in front of potential new fans and an owner looking for prospective bands to fill his monthly line up. Think big, but start small. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.