Tag Archives: merch

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?

So…

  • 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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Gig Checklists


Jim Dunlop Tortex Fin PicksInspired by a post called Gig Preparation, I thought I’d make some checklists.  I think we’ll need one (and a half) for our stuff, one for setting up the gig, and one for doing stuff at the gig.  The lists would change depending on who’s working the gig or who set it up, but you should be able to help with the flow of things even if you’re not the organizer.  This is also from the point of view of a guitar player, because that’s all I’ve ever been.  I’m guessing it would be the same for a bass player & quite similar for a drummer.

Gig Checklists…

-·♠·-

Before the gig:

☐ Get all the details in order:

☐ The bands
☐ The place
☐ The time
☐ The price
☐ All ages or 21+
☐ Is it a benefit?
☐ Any specials if it’s a bar?
☐ Selling tickets?

.
Promote!

☐ …using social media - Link the crap out of details/event pages.
Flyers - Hang ‘em up, pass ‘em out.
☐ Word of mouth

.
☐ Communicate with the other bands…

☐ Sharing equipment? - Cut down on changeovers between bands.
☐ Playing order?

.
☐ Do you need your own door person?

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Stuff to take:

☐ Guitar - In a case or gig bag, I actually saw a guy use a bath-towel once.
☐ Backup guitar(s) - Don’t kill the show when you break a string.
☐ Amp head & cab (or combo)
☐ The merch box(es)
☐ Your gig backpack or briefcase. (“What’s that.” you ask? Keep reading!)

.

|·| |·| |·| |·| | |:|  |  | · |   | · |   | · |  | · |   |   |

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An acoustic guitar string. 0.044-inch (1.117 m...I make sure to have my backpack full o’ stuff with me at every gig.  Over the years, every item in it has proved useful and one time or another.

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In The Gig Backpack or Briefcase:

☐ Tuner (Get a pedal one, so no one can hear you tune.)
Wireless system (Certainly not a necessity, but fun.)
9V battery (Are the lithium ones OK for pedals?)
☐ Guitar cables (1 more than you need)
☐ Speaker cables (1 more than you need)
Strings (At least a full set, …any leftovers you’ve got should be in there.)
☐ Extra power cord
Power Strip (w/ Circuit Breaker)
3-Prong to 2-Prong adapter (or 2)
Duct Tape or Gaff Tape (or both… Gaff doesn’t leave a mess.)
☐ Tablet (Setlists, Merch Prices, Boredom)
☐ A sharpie or 2 (Setlists, Rock Star Autographs)
☐ A Leatherman-type tool. (Crazy or not-so crazy.)
☐ Guitar picks (I use Jim Dunlop Fins.)
☐ An Extra Strap
☐ Flashlight (A really bright one helps)
☐ Extension Cord

[::( )::]

Stuff that I don’t have, but might be a good idea…

☐ Pedal(s) - Wah, Distortion, Foot Switch, Etc.
Mic clip(s)
String Winder
☐ Pick strip or holder
Slide / eBow / Capo
☐ Strap locks
Trem poker
☐ Ear plugs
☐ Nail clippers
☐ acetaminophen / ibuprofen / aspirin
☐ Band-aids
☐ Cloth or towel

.

\m/_(-_-)_\m/

At the gig:

☐ Set stuff on the stage for the 1st band & any bands sharing
Backline the “main” act if there is one & set up in front of them.
☐ Tune (Silently! – No one likes the tuning song! – Tune your backup guitar too.)
Let the Sound Technician do their job.
☐ Set up a Merch Table/Corner/Counter/Box.
☐ Put your door person at the door.
☐ Using a setlist? Reach into that backpack & get one made!
☐ Have a drink? Water, Beer, or something harder.
☐ Tune Again (Silently! – No one likes the tuning song!)
☐ Unless you’re awesome & have a tech, get a string-wingman.

.

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Danelectro Vintage Power Source A cool looking...

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting, but I think this is a pretty decent start.  What do you think I’m missing from the list?  Do you have an emergency gig kit?  What’s in it?

D'Andrea Gmk1 Guitar Cleaner Maintenance Kit

Onlywatchthebandwithaguy(orgirl)thatIknowinit-itis


This ties in with an earlier blog post.  I’m just trying to figure out how to reach people.  When people who have never heard of us catch us play, we generally have people coming up to say they dig it. It’s a good feeling.  I’d like it to happen more often because I think the band is doing a fun thing, and I’d like more people to share in the fun.

Getting people to come out in the first place is one struggle.  Getting yourself in front of an audience that’s already there is another struggle.  Getting people to watch you once they’re there seems to be an entirely different struggle.

We'd like to thank Bobby for coming out tonight!

Has this ever happened to you? Yes, it has.

Lately I’ve seen a trend of bands telling people saying “hey we’re 1st, come early” or “hey we’re last, come late” then their fans show up for just them & don’t bother to check anyone else out.   I generally tell people to come for the whole show & check out the other bands.  We try to book shows with bands we dig, just for this reason.

Spider-\m/an

Spider-Man :: This has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I found it hilarious.

I hate to come of as a whiner, and I know I will to some readers.  I’m just trying to express my frustrations, and this blog is a forum for just that.  In fact, it’s my forum for just that.  I’m trying to work it out for myself & to possibly get some insight from other local (and some not so local) musicians.

In fact, I think I have ranted about this very topic online before, maybe just a similar one… but I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

I also don’t want to dismiss the people that come see us at just about every show.  Your presence is incredibly important to us, and we value it.  We just want some more people there to watch with you, and we don’t want things to get stale where you’re seeing the same show over & over.  Even if you’ve only caught us once, or if you’ve bought a T-shirt, or told us you liked a video online… you are awesome and we truly appreciate your support & attendance.

I recently saw the worst case ever of this crazy only-watch-the-band-with-a-guy-I-know-in-it thing going on.  We played a show where people watched the band they came to see, then just absolutely bailed.  Not even the bands stuck around to check out the other acts, one of which was a touring act & the reason we were all playing the show.  It’s disrespectful.  I get that stuff comes up, & sometimes you need to go.  It happens.  Sometimes there’s burnout.  Sometimes there’s arrogance.  Sometimes there are good reasons.  Sometimes you’re just being ignorant.

I know personally that a bunch of people from my wife’s family came out to a show at a bar once where my wife & I absolutely love the wings.  We had told everyone how cool the place was, they all decided to come to the ‘Burgh to eat some legendary wings & watch my band play… killing 2 birds with one stone.  They sat through one band that everyone liked, then through a 2nd band that was just absolutely awful… one member was so drunk and/or high that he would strum the guitar and look down at it dazed for a minute or so while apparently hearing stuff that none of the rest of us could.  This was all endured just to see us play.  The place was packed all night, the bands & their fans watched each other, and everyone had a good time.

Not to judge a book by its cover, but I all kinds of judged books by their covers the other night and I hit the nail on the proverbial head.  A quick scan of the room revealed some crazy demographics.  More specifically a bunch of old people trying to look cool and standing on tippy-toes watching their kid play with no general comprehension of what was going on up on the stage or around them.  If I’m calling them old, you know they were old.  We knew these were parents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors… and they were going to split as soon as their kid’s bands was done.  Boy, did they ever.  If it was a cartoon, there would have been a cloud of dust & a cartoon noise.  Whoop!

It must be happening everywhere because the touring band had it written into their contract that they weren’t to be slated to play last on any of their shows.  You can’t blame them.  You tour to build support for your album, and if no one sees you play, no one’s going to buy your album or you merch or come see you the next time you roll through town.  We took the cleanup/closer spot because none of the other bands would.

Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for fifteen minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? Don't talk to ME about Rock n' Roll!  I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it!  I AM ROCK N' ROLL!

Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for fifteen minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? Don't talk to me about Rock n' Roll! I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it! I AM ROCK N' ROLL!

We didn’t help their cause because we apparently weren’t a draw either.  We watched the touring band, & they watched us.  The handful of people that came to see us were there for all of the sets that night… and the show started an hour or so later than it was supposed to.  It was awesome that the touring band actually stuck around to see us play.  I’m sure on the road they’ve seen crappy band upon crappy band night after night… but it was an unparalleled show of respect for us, and assured us that the sound guy & doorman had to stick around until we were done.  Ha ha.

My boyfriend's lame-ass band... live at the Radisson

Playing their new hit, ''Girl Girl Girl''!

Well, there were more people there to watch us… since it was a rare all-ages gig for us, we had an under-ager and her mom eager to see us… we were told we’d be rocking about 8:00pm.  We eventually went on much much later, way past the under-ager’s bed time.  So, two people who bought tickets & came out expressly to see us had to leave early and were unable to see us because of all the ridiculousness and shuffling.  Then the dozens of people who came out to see the other bands watched them then left.  Immediately.

The Sitter

Try as he might, Jeremy could just not meditate in front of a stereo. Live music is the only way to go.

It would be nice to say that whoever sold the most tickets had to go last… but then again, they did sell a lot of tickets, so that has a certain amount of pull as far as when you want to go on.

I didn’t hear any of the opening bands even mention the touring band… the headlining band that (again) we were supposed to be there in support of.

Before you say that my band sucks (you’re certainly entitled to your opinion), I’ll say that no one who left early would know, because they didn’t even give us a chance.  I’d rather clear the room myself than have it cleared for me.  How do you expose people to your live show, if the people in the place don’t even stick around for one song?