Bands vs. Venues: Who promotes? Who makes money? Can everyone “win”?

Rick from the Fallout Shelter brought up a great discussion topic on Facebook, and it inspired me to blog about it.

That’s a private group on Facebook, so here’s what was said in case you’re not a member:

Rick D'Agostino Looking for some feedback from the music community out there. Do you think that the $5 cover charge keeps you or your friends from attending shows at the Fallout Shelter that they might otherwise attend to check out new bands? In other words, are folks only willing to pay a $5 cover to see bands that they already know? And as a band member, would you rather play to a larger crowd with a tip bucket or to just a few people and make some gas money? I am thinking of making some changes. you can reply here or message me if you want. thanks!

Rick D’Agostino is looking for some feedback from the music community out there..

Dig?  So now, you have the gist of it.  My blog may go on its own little tangent, you never really know with these things.  It’s certainly worth talking about.

First, it’s clear that I’ve never been in a band where making money is the ultimate goal.  I’m amazed over & over that venue owners let me come in, set up, and play in front of people.  Sometimes we get money from the door, sometimes we get money from tickets sold, sometimes we give it all to the touring band, sometimes it’s a charity gig, sometimes no one shows up to pay anyone, sometimes we get some gas money or a couple of bucks to dump back into merch or something.

This is how it’s worked nearly everywhere and every time I have played:  Most of the time, the cover is $3 to $5, unless we’re opening for a national act & it’s through a booker where we’re asked to sell tickets.  Some call the latter “pay to play“, and rail wholly against it.  Some people have no problem selling tickets.  Some bands like mine do, but we try anyway.  At bar gigs, the cover charge is usually $5.  Sometimes it all goes to the bands, especially if it’s a bar & if you provide your own door person.  Sometimes it pays for a sound guy (if there is one) & a cut goes to the bar, then the bands get paid.  Sometimes locals defer and let the out-of-town bands take the cash (if there is one).  Sometimes you can play for free at open stages, sometimes you pay to get in at open stages.  Sometimes no one comes out to see you, and no one gets paid.  Sometimes the band gets free or discounted drinks.  It’s generally a no pay or break even situation.  You hope to sell merchandise and/or CD‘s if you have them, and the bar hopes to sell drinks & food.  The bands should promote and the venues should promote.  Some venues think the bands should do it all, some bands think the venue should do it all.  Generally 3 or sometimes 4 bands are all on the same gig.  Sometimes, it all works out, sometimes… it doesn’t.  This is how bands who largely play their own music are forced to operate.

That’s only 1 way.  There are many other “scenes” here overlapping in the ‘Burgh.

Cover bands… or human jukebox bands, can generally charge a fee for playing a certain style, genre, or “songs that people know”.  This is to provide entertainment to drunken Yinzer patrons who want to yell out requests.  You probably usually play 3 sets, maybe 4… and you’re the only entertainment all night.  You’re probably playing pop country, classic rock, or a little mix of everything.  Professional singers/songwriters operate pretty much the same way as described above, but can get away with putting in more of their own material.

High-class…  I know a band that plays funk, and can get $5000 a gig at the least.  They put their twist on a bunch of songs, dress up, bring lights, and put on one hell of a show.  I’m pretty sure I could never command that much cash for what I do… but how is one less relevant or entertaining?  They do weddings, corporate parties, and “events”.

I’m sure there’s other stuff out there that I’m not even aware of.  I can’t really speak for any other parts of the scene than the one I’m in.

I’ve heard the argument that charging only $5 is devaluing our craft.  Bands should demand more to be heard live.  It worked for Yuengling.  They raised the price on their beer in the late 90s/early 00s and they took off ahead of the other “microbrews”.  Should we then put a higher value on ourselves & our art?  If we raise the price do we raise our expectations?  Do we raise our worth?  Do we raise the value of our music & entertainment?

I also see that a cover charge can make or break a show.  Times are changing.  People aren’t spending money on entertainment.  Music is seen like it’s all supposed to be free.  Why would someone pay for a live show?  To me, if you don’t have $5 on you for a show, maybe you shouldn’t be going to a bar in the 1st place.  $5 might get you 2 beers if you’re a butthole & don’t tip the bartender.  Then again, we hardly ever walk away with any money anyway (the Fallout Shelter is an exception here, we get paid well there, regardless of turnout), so why not let people in for free?

The tip bucket.  I’d play for one.  I have no doubt that we’re entertaining.  Why not, right?  Do all bands split the tip bucket?  Or go per performance?  That if the 1st band up gets all the cash & the “cleanup” band gets nothing simply because the patrons ran out of cash?  Are we nothing more than indoor buskers if we play for a tip jar?  Is it a better measurement of our entertainment value to work for tips?  Does it devalue our art to basically beg for donations to support the rock n’ roll cause?

I certainly don’t want to see my favorite venues close because they can’t afford to operate.  I like to play them, I like to see other bands in them… I want them to do well.  I want them to continue to host my band & other bands.  I even want them to make a buck so it’s all worth their while, and so they can do it to make a living.

I just want to play.  I don’t care where, or for how much.  I have fun doing it.  I think this is an important discussion to have, though.  What is the value of live rock n’ roll?


  • Would you play for less of a cover charge?
  • Should we charge more for shows?
  • Should bands play for tips?
  • How should the tips be split?
  • How does the venue make money?
  • Who pays the sound guy?

Leave your opinions in the comments below!

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11 thoughts on “Bands vs. Venues: Who promotes? Who makes money? Can everyone “win”?

  1. As a non-performing-musician who often likes to attend shows…

    I have paid 0, 1, 5, 7, 10, sometimes more, to go see local bands — sometimes with out-of-town bands I had heard of, sometimes I hadn’t but they sounded interesting, sometimes the headliner actually didn’t sound appealing to me but I knew I liked the opening band(s) enough to go anyway. Sometimes it’s been only local bands.

    First – I don’t think my enjoyment of the show, or the percieved value (i.e. how much effort the band actually puts into entertaining me) has been heightened or lessened according to how much I’ve paid to be there.

    To be continued.


    • On the other hand, paying some amount of money does create a subconscious desire to “get my money’s worth” — that is, if I went to a free show, heard the first band, then the second band was really unappealing to me, I might be more inclined to leave than if, say, I had paid ten dollars to be there. In that case I might feel more obligated to suffer through it and hear the rest of the bands. Of course I would probably feel the same way if I had specifically come to see the third or fourth band.

      I do not think $5 would ever deter me from going somewhere. A higher cover/ticket charge might make me think twice if I didn’t already know and like SOMEone that was playing.

      A lower price paid for admission is more likely to have me feel like spending more on drinks AND merch. I always go to shows with my wife, so whatever the cover, I’m already paying double. So I might look at that $10 CD or t-shirt differently depending whether I paid $10 or $20 for us to be there. The same with drinks, simply for the fact that I probably have a limited amount of cash with me. It’s unfortunate if a bar is booking a travelling band who is more popular – if I pay more for a ticket, I’ll probably be buying fewer drinks than if I just paid 3 or 5 at the door.

      Continued (again)…


      • And my final point (for now)…

        Once again, speaking as a show-attender, not a show-performer. There have been times where I have been entirely disappointed by a particular band, while perhaps the band opening for them really impressed me and surpassed my expectations. Or times when I especially enjoyed two or three bands on a bill, but one of them just seemed like they were “phoning it in” or hadn’t bothered to rehearse or … well, or they were just downright terrible. In my own opinion.

        However, I’ve gone to the bar (club, theater, whatever), and paid my $5, watched all the bands, and now the venue owner is dividing up my money amongst all those bands. But the venue owner has no way of knowing that (for example) I hated the second band, really enjoyed the first band (who I had seen before, and who enticed me to come to this particular show) and was pleasantly surprised by the third band (whom I had never heard of prior to the show).

        Therefore, the venue owner has no way of knowing that (working with this hypothetical situation I’ve laid out) if they book the second band again, I will probably skip that show. Unless I really like someone else they are playing with — but even then, I will either leave early or show up late. Also for the one show I am theoretically discussing, I might not want any of my $5 to be distributed to the band whose performance I completely did not enjoy, in favor of giving a larger chunk to the other two bands who I thought did a great job.

        So I propose that every audience member be given a blank pie chart (I guess technically that’d just be an empty circle) to fill out according to their level of enjoyment of the show. I could be like “60% first band”, “0% second band”, “40% third band” or whatever.

        Or, I guess this is actually how the tip jar business model would work (assuming that it would be emptied after each band finished performing). But then again, percentages of my admission price would be a very small way of showing which band(s) I prefer to support, so once again it also makes sense that I would buy a t-shirt or CD (or hoodie, LP, coffee mug, sticker, lunchbox) from the band I liked the most, and buy nothing from the band I did not like.

        In summary: somebody smarter than me needs to figure this crap out, and I’ll keep coming to the shows when I’m able. Also venues should quit booking bands I don’t like, and focus on the ones that I do like. Other people’s tastes are irrelevant.


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