Letters we receive

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open letter to club owners

Jazz musician Dave Goldberg wrote a pointed and darkly humorous open letter to club owners that I thought was worth sharing. In it, he argues that it’s actually a counterproductive practice for venues to book bands who are willing to work for free. And when I say “counterproductive,” I mean it’s bad for the venue’s business.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Just the other day I was told by someone who owned a wine bar that they really liked our music and would love for us to play at their place. She then told me the gig paid $75 for a trio. Now $75 used to be bad money per person, let alone $75 for the whole band. It had to be a joke, right? No, she was serious.But it didn’t end there. She then informed us we had to bring 25 people minimum. Didn’t even offer us extra money if we brought 25 people. I would have laughed other than it’s not the first time I’ve gotten this proposal from club owners. But are there musicians really doing this? Yes. They are so desperate to play, they will do anything.

But lets think about this for a second and turn this around a little bit.What if I told the wine bar owner that I have a great band and we are going to play at my house. I need someone to provide and pour wine while we play. I can’t pay much, just $75 and you must bring at least 25 people who are willing to pay a $10 cover charge at the door. Now wouldn’t they look at you like you are crazy?

“Why would I do that,” they would ask? Well, because it’s great exposure for you and your wine bar. The people there would see how well you pour wine and see how good your wine is. Then they would come out to your wine bar sometime. ”But I brought all the people myself, I already know them,” they would say. Well maybe you could make up some professional looking flyers, pass them out, and get people you don’t know to come on out. ”But you are only paying me $75, How can I afford to make up flyers?”

You see how absurd this sounds, but musicians do this all the time. If they didn’t, then the club owners wouldn’t even think of asking us to do it. So this sounds like a great deal for the club owners, doesn’t it? They get a band and customers for that night, and have to pay very little if anything. But what they don’t realize is that this is NOT in their best interest. Running a restaurant, a club, a bar, is really hard. There is a lot at stake for the owner. You are trying to get loyal customers that will return because you are offering them something special. If you want great food, you hire a great chef. If you want great décor,you hire a great interior decorator. You expect these professionals to do their best at what you are hiring them to do. It needs to be the same with the band.You hire a great band and should expect great music.That should be the end of your expectations for the musicians. The music is another product for the venue to offer, no different from food or beverages.

When a venue opens it’s doors, it has to market itself. The club owner can’t expect people to just walk in the door. This has to be handled in aprofessional way. Do you really want to leave something so important up to a musician?

This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician.The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favor of whoever can bring in the most people.

He then makes the point that professional bands will have a somewhat harder time playing the “friend and family” card because, well… they’re pros!
They play every night.

But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again. And the people that were starting to follow your venue are now turned off because you just made them listen to a bad band. The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night. Instead, you’ve soiled your reputation for a quick fix.

If you asked a club owner, ”who is your target demographic?” I doubt they would answer ”the band’s friends and family.” But yet clubs operate likeit is.

… would you expect the chef’s friends and family to eat at your restaurant every night? How about the dishwasher, the waitresses, the hostess? Or how about the club owner’s friends and family? You see,when you start turning this argument around, it becomes silly.

So what does Dave suggest? Start fighting back, with calm, reasoned arguments. He explains:

I’ve started arguing with club owners about this. It happened after I played a great night of music in LA. We were playing for a % of the bar. There were about 50 people there in this small venue, so it was a good turnout. At the end of the night, I go to get paid, and hope to book another gig. The club owner was angry.

“Where are your people?” he asked. ”All these people, I brought in. We had a speed dating event  and they are all left over from that.”

I pointed out they all stayed and listened to the music for 2 hours after their event ended. That was 2 more hours of bar sales, because without us, you have an empty room with nothing going on. He just couldn’t get over the fact that we didn’t walk in with our own entourage of fans. Wasn’t happy that we kept a full room spending money. Right when we were talking, a group of people interrupted us and said ”you guys sound  great, when is the next time you’re playing here again?” The club owner, said ”they aren’t, they didn’t  bring anyone.”

I went home that night bummed out and sent him an email. Telling him most of what you are reading here and how his business model and thinking is flawed. After a lot of swearing back and forth, because I’m guessing that musicians never talk to him as a business equal, he eventually admitted that what I was saying made sense. BUT, that’s not how LA clubs and restaurants work. And he has bands answering his craigslist ads willing to do whatever it takes to get the gig. It’s been a couple of years now since that conversation. I called his bar, and the number is disconnected.

So what do you think? Can this battle be won by reasoning with one venue at a time? Or have the economics of the live music world shifted forever beyond our influence? We’d love to hear about your experiences as a live musician. Please feel free to comment in the section below.

To those that profit while destroying the SOFLA scene... WOW!

After reading some of the letters and articles in this magazine I felt I needed to write this in the hopes that others may also feel the same and respond with their thoughts as well.

The entertainment business, like any other has always been filled with individuals that continue to value their own interests over those of venues they are hired by or the musical community they are a part of as a whole.  This is NOT directed at those that truly are out there every day, working hard and always trying to do the right thing for their peers and those that hire them. Those are NOT the folks I am speaking of…Of course there are always those that will blame others for the problems while taking on no responsibility or action of their own.  There are many talented bookers, bands etc who care very much and I sincerely applaud all of those individuals that continually try to improve the scene.

However, the weasels I am referring to are very much like the carpet-baggers after the war and are continuing to destroy the music scene here in South Florida by their actions.  All the local musicians clearly know who they are and speak amongst themselves but fear reprisals or threats, so they sit by helplessly and watch the situation continue to get worse each day for everyone. 

Clubs are all about filling rooms and making money. Musicians are all about playing for fans and getting paid. Fans are all about seeing great entertainment and having fun as they choose WHERE to spend their hard earned cash.

What I see happening is a clear case. Certain parties maneuver their way in to having a degree of control and the ear of certain troubled venues that seem to be struggling in drawing fans to their locations. Then they proceed to promise venue the delivery of fans and dollars in what seems like a good deal for them.  So far so good… right?  WRONG!

But it all backfires for everyone, and actually only the sleazey weasel profits while wearing the hat of ' I Am One Of You ', continually smiling to the face of those they are stabbing in the back. What ends up happening is that now instead of getting the best acts for the venue, the weasel now decides which friends or favorites to choose or who provides them the best kickback. That is who then gets to work the venue and lines the sleazeball's pocket.  This usually has no basis on what the best act for the room would actually be.  At this point it is now the FAN that really gets cheated into viewing what is in most cases a second rate performer or act.  Pretty soon they feel it is not worth spending money on and eventually stop going to that spot.  The spot now feels the bite hard in the end financially and does not have any dollars left to actually pay for the cooler acts anymore or any cash to promote what could have been a GREAT room for everyone. Very sad indeed, as we have seen many new places that had so very much potencial open and close within short periods as a result of this self serving crap.

Then the bands all whine cause they have no cool places where to perform, clubs lose money or go out of business, fans don’t get to see the choice stuff, get tired of going out and …  oh yeah the carpet-baggers…. Well those predators just move on to do damage some where else and repeat the whole thing over and over.

What is the solution?  Clubs…don’t be lazy and do the research to find out what the better talent really IS for your room and don’t rely on someone that has their own interests first by screwing bands and lining their pockets. Work TOGETHER with the bands. Bands help one another and try to deliver the BEST acts possible to your fans and work hard on bringing in your fans to support you.  Screw these people that are just screwing you again and again. In the long run, it will only hurt you anyway if you go along with the plan and play their little games. And fans PLEASE speak with your wallets and don’t patronize the rooms with sub par entertainment that treat you poorly. 

Look at other major cities and what kind of scene they have. We should be embarrassed by this scene in SoFLA. We CAN Actually Improve It. You DO have a choice where to go and if we all work together the bar can be raised and there will be NO need for these vultures that just lower the level of Florida music.

Thanks to Metro Music Mayhem for allowing me to publish this anonymously and not get attacked by those I speak of.
I await your response to my letter and hope it makes a positive differance in the right direction.

musicians for life

For musicians, its all about the art. Some choose to make music their only source of income, others keep their art separate from their daily 'bread and butter'. Both are musicians for life.

When we choose to pay the bills with music, we start making choices outside the realm of art. Sometimes this works out but most times it changes the art into a drudge routine...taking gigs we might not otherwise choose. I have 'quit' the music biz several times due to this conflict. The music/art gets contaminated by the need to survive. People start compromising on their needs (financially and spiritually). Not a good scenario.

Now lets talk about gigs, shows, etc. We all need to realize that there is very little altruism in the music, entertainment, or restaurant businesses. C'est la vie. It is what it is. As 'business musicians' we need to understand the game a little better. Bars & restaurants may love to support up and coming artists but they also must watch the 'bottom line'. When they look at the weeks receipts broken down by days/nights, it is very simple to decide who gets re-booked. If the artist/band packs the place but little food or drink is sold, the gig may have been a 'social success' but it was a financial failure. (this is a case where a cover charge will save the day) Remember, the statement about altruism. These owners have a lot at stake, including taking care of their families and making sure their employees have jobs from which they can support their families. The bottom line: it's all about how many 'paying' butts you can put in the seats. Again, they will look at the nights receipts and correlate to the entertainment. (yes, I agree that there are casino and corporate gigs that don't necessarily work on this formula....but casino or corporate gigs are interesting entities unto themselves...these gigs are not for everyone)

This is the way it is for most venues. Gotta accept it.....then figure out how to work with it, thats what the successful do............it's the part of the circle that is most time left incomplete.

Hakuna Matata!

Bob Cleary

Club Owners & Working Musicians, Fight to make a living

One of the sad items about artists and working musicians is the pay $$ or lack of it. Take it from me who started playing music at age 8 and retired for several years. After 15 years working the local and regional clubs and concerts around Washington DC. Maryland and Virginia, the pay today mirrors the dollars we got back in 1980. So some 30+ years later here we are without a cost of living increase. When I started playing again in 2005 my jaw dropped at the rates...

Lets talk about Club owners for a few short paragraphs and why there is a problem in the industry.

If you would take the average pay of $ 75 to $ 125 dollars a man which is 100 bucks from the year 1980 then correlate in the cost of beer in 1980 roughly about 50 to 75 cents and use today's beer number of $3 to 5 bucks a piece. That's a 800% increase for the Glass of Suds, so lets do the math together... using 1/2 the increase of beer % at $ 100 dollars a man from 1980 and today the number should be about $400 dollars a man, for local clubs. .What's wrong with this picture you ask? Its a combination of the musician because they settle for less and the cheap club owners who cry poverty.

Is there a solution to the pay crisis? Not really, but you have to make a decision as a player to either say no to the cheap club owners and get a second job to supplement your income hand picking the shows you want to play or aide and abet the Club owners by taking dip pay.

Biggest problem is so many amateur musicians and that's what I call them Fifty Buck Chucks will do and play anywhere for peanuts and think they are doing something good. Fact is they are not....they hurt the overall industry because they will settle for stinky pay. Real professional musicians have to "Band Together" and set the price which is.easier said then done. Unions don't work and most young amateurs are clueless as to the history of clubs and bands over the last 40 years.

Hence the answer is ...
Get Lucky and hit the big time, have a solid full time job and pick when and where you want to play and for a decent amount, or continue to play for peanuts and allow the dirt Cheap club owners the alternative to paying professionals the right amounts.

AZ Kenny Tsak

chicken or the egg here?

I agree,in principle , to what our friend said. I also agree with AZ Kenny, that while costs have sky-rocketed not only for patrons going to clubs but the costs for keeping a club open. True enough. The odd thing about it is - the pay for an act in a club has not only not gone up with inflation but, sadly, actually gone down, or stayed the same. Musicians are affected by the economy too. I have heard arguments from both sides - club owners and musicians - The club pays for a band to come in to play and for what they pay, they expect the band to do their own promotion and bring a following. The internet definitley helps with that... no more flyers on parking meters & street signs... The other side of it is: if the club is going to pay a bargain rate, the bands feel like they are there to entertain the club's existing patrons and that they should get extra if they bring their own people, especially if the bar does nothing to help promote the performance. Hmmmmmmmmmm, is this the chicken or the egg here?

I have lived in many areas around the country, and have never been anywhere there are no, or very few places, that charge a door fee to get in. Let's examine that for a second here. Most people that go out to a bar/club to see live music and hang with friends would be willing to pay 5 bucks to get in. If you have a club that does charge a cover, we won't mention who does, we all know.... they make more money on the bands and have a good, consistent crowd but still pay lousy fees, even though they do charge a cover, and expect an extra long performance... five sets and not four, there is something wrong with that. If they get a cover charge, the bands should get paid more for longer commitments for entertaining. Any musician knows how much work goes into selecting, rehearsing and preparing an extra set... even if the set list is big enough, it still gets prepared to perform the music. There is cost attached to that. Gas to/from rehearsal, moving equipment, the whole magilla.

Back to AZ's statement about where a band chooses to play or not. Kenny's argument is: hold out, there are too many acts that bend over and play for fees that are ridiculously low. His premise is; if your band is good enough, you should get paid more. I agree. Back to the chicken or the egg.... ok, you have a great band - but only play out once-in-a-while - so the so-called "market" isn't saturated with your act, set list, etc.. and the following goes with another band that your friends are going to see... it's fun - but the music is lame - and that band gets paid nearly the same as the killer band... Another compromise. Bob Cleary also pointed out that there are musicians who play for a living and are backed into playing with acts they don't necessarily enjoy playing with, but need the money because they don't get paid well enough at each gig. Not everyone has a day job and the money they make playing is how they pay the bills. The result, as Bob pointed out, they whore themselves out, musically speaking, and make decisions they normally would not make and compromise the musical integrity. No correct answers here... just points of view. I think the overall point is economy of scale.

The folks booking the smaller clubs aren't helping the cause - simply lining their own pockets. Why does ANY club that pays $250-300 need a booking agent? REALLY? Ok... so you play by their rules and go audition, the club likes you, and tells you to call their agent to get a date. You call, several times, send emails, and they are too busy to return a call or simply acknowledge a message, and then become stunningly rude, snotty and grotesquely full of themselves... all after the CLIENT said to contact them. Nice, professional business acumen for a so-called agent representing a club that said get in touch with the agent to get booked. For $300 .... Who needs it? Given the weak pay for a gig as it is, the agent clips another $50-$100 off the pay. It's not Madison Square Garden. All to play in a bar that holds 50-60 people. Clearly a case of BIG fish in little ponds, and over-fed. There are a few good agents that do actually have better paying gigs, but most, 99.9%, don't AND, the better agents don't deal with the little clubs. Nobody has mentioned the same bands are playing the same 8 or 10 clubs all the time and the set lists are very close to being the same.

Set lists. This is a loaded point of contention. "Your set list needs to be updated" Ok. Then, you go see a band they book and the band is playing a set list that has no current music and a wide selection of music from the 60's thru the 90's. At the end of the gig, it's all about how the music is delivered and ringing at the til. The club owners don't care WHAT gets played as long as people are in the seats and they sell drinks.

Maybe our friend had it right with his idea of getting folks together to decide how best to keep the music scene vibrant and fun to go enjoy & play. It would be great to see a committee gather, with equal representation from musicians and owners, to help shape the direction for the entire scene down here. There's room for everyone.

Matt Jaroszewicz

Music Culture And It's Transitional Losses

Nothing is more humbling than to walk into a large music store and in the electric guitar section is a kid with a hotshot lead guitar tweaking an amp. He’s playing part of some legendary lead guitar solo from forty years ago. After asking him where he heard that stuff he responded, “My Dad has this record collection and he plays this stuff. I think it’s way better than what I hear on the radio today”. Of course, I am floored to hear this come from this fifteen year old kid but, he knows what he likes.

We experienced an era from about 1955 to 1965 where producer’s helped musician’s make great music. This was a golden age of cooperation and desire to come up with something that was going to be revolutionary, spontaneous and made you want to listen to it. This type of cooperation has largely disappeared with the arrival of the singer/songwriter/producer. The epitome of this was Jimmy Page. Here was a guy that was a studio musician. His guitar playing was included on forty percent of all pop records coming out of England for the middle sixties. He was known as a shark because he knew more than anybody, based on his experience, in the technical world of making a record. This has changed the landscape of record making permanently. The high point worth noting here, Tom Schultz of the band Boston engineering their first album while the band was experiencing a total breakup. Once everybody heard the album the band reunited and went on to a great career. This still excludes the producer. He may have the money but trying to read minds is probably beyond his or her scope in the dispensation of trying to help musician’s create a viable radio ready product. 

This has stripped out some of the primary forces that go into making a great record. This is not due to the fact that the producer does not try. There is just no real need of that second opinion based on what musician’s have in mind. They come up with what they think the audience wants to hear, not what would please an audience. It’s a cultural loss. So how do they do it today? A producer is actually a technical person or engineer. This is a tough job as any musician or studio associate will tell you. Today the hope of a fantastic production is in the mixdown. I can personally attest to many bouts of production sickness. This is the act of sitting at a sound board so long that you are literally driven nutty.

Tony Wylder

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