It would be an extreme understatement to say
that local cover bands are not paid near as much as they should
be. There are many reasons why bands do not make the money
that they should be, such as the bands not being worth the
money or that their song selection is mediocre. But no decent
venue will hire a band that they have not previewed (throwing
the song selection concept out the window). That being said,
I have done a lot of research and discussed with many people
(musicians and non-musicians) to get different views on the
matter. Even my wife had used the exact words “it’s
like they set your band up to fail.” Here’s how.
The 4 hour gig – Possibly the
biggest killer of local cover bands
This is one of the biggest problems that
musicians have, yet do not even realize. But let’s break
it down like this: the longer your band plays, the higher
the bounce rate. This is a huge problem because the person
hiring you is going to say “your band can’t seem
to hold an audience.” From there, you can expect to
never get a raise and that venue has a reason to drop your
band at any time and move on to the next one.
It’s extremely difficult to get even
your closest friends and family to come out for 4 hours
Regardless of where you are playing, if you invite 500 people
to your gig you will rarely see more than 5% of them at your
gig. The reason why is simple, there are multiple negative
thoughts that run through the minds of your potential crowd.
Especially when your audience consists of friends and family.
- If they go to your gig and do not want
to feel like they are being rude, they have to sit there
for 4 hours. That’s insane to ask someone to sit and
watch you play for 4 hours.
- If they go to your gig and get up and
walk out when they want to, it most likely will not be during
your break. This makes people feel rude and awkward, and
so they are more inclined to simply decline the offer to
watch your band play.
- You cannot advertise that your band
is playing a concert, since you are playing so long you
are actually just a house band for the night. How many times
does Billy Joel put on a concert lasting 4 hours?
- You are promoting the business where
you are playing more-so than your band with these gigs.
People will stay if they like the place you are playing
at, since they are forced to stand or eat or drink.
- If a group of people come in and do
not like your music, this will count against you more than
- If regulars of the venue or simply people
who were checking out the place for the first time show
up and do not like your band, they will most likely first
ask how long you are playing for. I hate to make this such
a negative statement against your band, but this is a moment
where a negative statement towards management could be avoided.
- If they find out that you are only playing
for another 30 minutes that group of people might stay instead
of drive around looking for another place to go. This will
work in your bands favor. If they leave because you still
have 2 and a half more hours to go, they will leave. This
will be held against you, guaranteed.
99% of venues are going to pay the same amount no matter
how long you are playing
Very rarely does a venue have multiple bands or artists performing.
Their budget is set to pay a band a certain amount of money,
and it’s typically non-negotiable. So whether your band
plays for 3 hours or 6 hours, the place hiring you is only
prepared to pay you so much money. So of course they are going
to expect you to play for 4 hours. That’s what has been
going on for decades, and they want to get their money’s
worth regardless of if you are getting your money’s
worth. Keep this in mind the next time you plan a gig and
don’t want to be there for 4 hours.
4 hour gigs also make it extremely difficult
for a local cover band to avoid becoming a bar band
Many bands start out with covers to get their feet wet, but
actually aspire to become bigger than a local cover band.
Your band writes music and would like to eventually get their
name out there, maybe go on tour, and possibly even get signed
by a record label. But you have to play gigs to get some local
following and develop a small fan base and to make a couple
of extra bucks. If your band is just starting out, the odds
of you having 4 hours worth of quality original material are
This leads to putting together a set list
consisting of mostly cover songs. From there, your local cover
band will find themselves practicing a lot more to get more
material and running into the problem where people want to
hear certain cover songs as opposed to your own songs. If
your gig was only 2 hours, you could do one set of covers
and one set of original music, or blend the two to guarantee
The sound check – That extra
hour or two that you have to spend at the gig
Let’s say you have a gig where
someone else is playing for only an hour before you. If your
band is supposed to start at 7, they are probably going on
at 6. This means that you now have two people who have to
get sound checks, and means that each of you has to get there
earlier. Most likely you will be expected to be there 2 hours
before hand since as I mentioned you will have to set up before
the opening act and you don’t want to leave all of your
equipment unattended. Well now your 4 hour gig has turned
into 8 hours once driving and set up and sound check and tear
down are considered. But you love what you do, right?
The more music you are expected to play leads to higher chances
of playing a song that people do not want to hear. Sadly,
it’s not feasible to play many of the songs out there
today. Especially if you are attempting to do Top 40. If you
are playing music that is popular today you will have to do
a lot of converting to play these songs with real instruments.
This takes a lot of time already, and you run the risk of
people not liking your version. But if you didn’t have
a ton of time to fill for your gigs, you wouldn’t have
to do this. It’s very unlikely that by your third set
you are still pumping out killer songs that everyone loves.
For the people that you bring to your
gig: If the venue sucks, you suck
When you bring a following out to see
your performance, you think that a message is sent to the
owner that you can bring a crowd and in turn this makes your
band more valuable. But if you have a restaurant / bar / whatever
it is that serves garbage food (which a lot of them do) or
they have horrible wait staff (which a lot of them do), those
people may not come see you ever again. They may also choose
to leave early due to poor treatment from the staff. You can’t
blame them, but it sadly only works against you, not the venue.
The reason why is unfortunately very simple: When your band
is playing at, say, a restaurant and you convince all your
friends and family to come out, that restaurant is part of
your performance. Just like going to a dinner theater. If
the food sucks, those who paid to see the show will probably
never return. 4 hours is a show, not a concert, and people
always want their money’s worth.
The cover charge: Your success turned
around on a dime
One of the commonly assumed situations
is that if you bring a crowd, you can ask for more money.
Well many venue owners will take this as an opportunity to
put a cover charge on the event. This idea is okay in some
cases such as if the venue does not sell food, or if you are
putting on an actual concert. But if people come to see a
show and stay longer than 2 hours but aren’t buying
any food or drinks, why would it be the band’s fault?
It’s not, but I guarantee that the person who runs the
place will suggest that it is. So the idea is to charge at
the door, usually starting around $5 or $10, and then expect
each person to come in and spend more money on food and/or
drinks. This concept is fantastic if you live in a rich area
or where people don’t mind spending all of their money,
but there’s a huge loss to be expected. Here’s
Charging a cover at the door of a small
show can destroy any opportunity of gaining new fans
If you have a family of 4 and want to
go to a restaurant that you have not been to before, but you
do not know the band that is playing, you probably won’t
pay the door charge to get in. Because once you get in, your
family still has to eat and you don’t even know if you
will like the band performing. Even if they only charge $5
to get in, you have spent $20 for your family to get in. Two
people can eat at Chili’s for $20. Now you have this
concept that is actually a hybrid (concert and dinner show
combined) that is analytically a poorly billed concert (very
poorly). If you sell tickets to a show, you are certain that
your profits will be met immediately. If you are taking a
risk, it is instantly not worth it. Local cover bands, unless
guaranteeing a huge following, are a risk. Therefore charging
a cover hurts both the business and the band, but mostly the
How do we fix this? Can we fix this?
Yes, we most certain can fix these problems
and all of the others. But it takes some work. All of the
following are simply my suggestions from a business stand
point and a musician’s stand point. But we have all
watched the live band scene die slowly over the years. Few
of the major concerts that come to town even feature musicians
anymore, as people are allowing their entertainment to get
away with bringing a DJ booth with them and simply performing
the songs via pre-recorded tracks. So here is what we have
1. Create a show worth seeing
This is an example of how more effort
leads to better results. But if you and your band mates can
put on a show instead of simply playing a bunch of songs,
you increase the chance of success ten-fold. Here are some
- Don’t pick your songs on the fly,
professionals use set-lists and stick to them
- Plan on starting and ending each set
with your best songs, this keeps your crowd wanting more
- If possible, create a guideline for
the look of each member. For instance: everyone wearing
a black shirt and jeans, or each member wears white except
- Bring some colored lights and/or a fog
machine with you. Small effects for a small show can create
a big impact.
- Talk to your crowd the way your favorite
band(s) talk to their crowds. Interaction is a great way
to keep your crowd involved.
2. Do not sell yourself short
When you are making arrangements for
your performance, be stern that while you are willing to accept
a smaller fee to play the first time, the cost will go up.
Otherwise, the owner of your selected venue may not take you
seriously if you do not take yourself seriously. And of course
they are going to pay you as little as they possibly can,
why wouldn’t they? Nobody wants to give their money
3. Make the venues need you, as opposed
to you needing them
Everyone has Facebook, Twitter, and a
million other Social Media accounts. Use them to your advantage.
Promote your event weeks out, and remind people daily (even
multiple times a day sometimes). Remember that after your
post goes up, everyone else’s posts start to bury it.
If you put enough work into even just your very first show
and bring out enough people to pack your venue, you can forever
say that you are able to pack a house. And if your crowd truly
loves your performance (which you are going to make them love)
you can count on most of them coming to your next shows.
4. Take pictures and videos of your crowds
You did all kinds of work to get your
first show to be a success, and it was. Make sure that you
have pictures from your view as well as other views throughout
the place. This way, you can show the next place that you
are looking to play at how your shows go as far as crowds
are concerned. This leads to being able to ask for more money
from the get go, as you are able to assure the owner that
your shows are worth their money.
5. Most importantly – Have fun
at your shows
You love to play music, and showing this
during your shows will prove to be the greatest advice that
anyone can give and receive. If you are having fun, your crowd
will have fun. And they have fun, they will give you great
reviews and not only make you love what you do even more but
help show to your employers (the venues) just how worth it
your band is.