Would you show up to work at McDonald’s if they told you you’d get paid in experience and exposure, and it might lead to getting a better gig down the road? No? Then why are you willing to do it in your band?

As many of you know because of my shameless self-promotion, I run an agency called SSS Promotions. Essentially other bands realized that because of the consistent good bookings that Walk of Shame has been getting that their manager (aka Yours Truly) was doing something right on the business side of things. I’ve developed good relationships with a lot of venues, and I love helping out other talented, like-minded musicians.

When I say “good bookings” I am referencing several key components of what constitutes a solid show:

– Good crowd
– Professional sound, stage, lighting, and production
– Venue that is profitable for the show (good gross sales)
– Lots of energy, lots of fun.

And here is the kicker…


Yes, local bands – YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GET PAID!

Pittsburgh has a really bad music scene. Actually, Pittsburgh has a piss poor, exceptionally bad music scene. You know what else Pittsburgh has? Some really amazing musicians and groups that could really be successful if they got the right opportunity.

So since I’ve never been shy about voicing my opinion, let me tell you why YOU are killing music in this area:

An open letter of advice to music and event “promoters” in the area:

I put “promoters” in quotes because I can’t say it without doing it like Chris Farley in his SNL sketch.

I don't "pay bands" or actually "promote"

I’ll start slow:

1. a person or thing that promotes, furthers, or encourages.
2. a person who initiates or takes part in the organizing of a company, development of a project, etc.
3. a person who organizes and provides financial backing for a sporting event or entertainment.

Ok, now #1 EVERYONE seems to do great with. Tons of shitty Facebook events, badly made flyers, and a constant stream of “Hey check this out” stuff out there. This is the bare minimum, remedial, even a trained monkey could handle it part of what a legitimate promoter should do.

#2 gets a bit more complicated for the average local promoter. Wait, so you are expected to actually organize the event, sell tickets, develop advertising and marketing? You know… PROMOTE. Think of it this way: If you book Lady Gaga to come play a show in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t tell anyone – who is going to show up? I laugh right in the face of “promoters” who say things like “Oh, well it’s up to the band to promote the show and make sure people are there.” Really fuckface? Why am I talking to you? You know where else I can invite my friends and family to come hang out? My house. I can play in my garage, call myself “Rock God”, and not have to charge them $5 at the door and $3 a beer. So basically what you are doing is opening the doors to a venue and allowing a band to come in, bring the entire crowd, charge them a cover, make them buy overpriced venue drinks and then…

#3 Not pay the band? Financial backing implies that the people you are booking are being compensated for their time. I’m the first person to donate my time and band to support a good cause or charity. A shitty promoter who doesn’t think that paying the talent is NOT a charity – it’s a fat guy with a coke habit who is taking advantage of artists. There are exceptions for gigs that have what I call “upside”. For example, if you are opening for a national act and playing in front of over 1,000 people, it represents ACTUAL exposure and credibility for your band, which translates to bigger and better gigs down the road. A venue that is offering a 50/50 split on the door after they tell you to bring them their business for the night is not doing you a favor – you are essentially paying THEIR bills, and for what? Oh, sometimes their “professional sound” – they want the band to kick in for that, too.

If you are a “promoter” and you are advertising a BIG MASSIVE EVENT coming up, and when bands ask you about what pay range you are offering your range is “zero”… You need to fucking stop. Seriously, just stop. You are ruining the industry. Furthermore, your “event” is a joke because if you can’t afford to pay the acts that you are trying to book, well you haven’t really organized things properly. I’ll try to take a really simple example for a small show:

250 people @ $5 cover = $1250
Sound = -300
Advertising = -250
Promoter = -200

Quite frankly, that is a pretty generous expense breakdown, and still leaves $500 to pay the band. Does that seem out of line to anyone? Why is this rocket science to venues and more importantly – why do bands suck at math? I’m not saying there aren’t costs associated with putting on a show – I’m saying there is enough pie to throw the band a few bucks, even on a slow night in a dive bar.

If you are a venue who doesn’t have a dedicated person to booking your entertainment (in other words, you are a bar that tries to handle everything in-house to save money) you need to stop relying on bands to fill your venue. Bands perform, promoters promote. Know your role, and shut your mouth.

Which brings me to…

Local bands and DJ’s in the area

I include DJ’s in this because they are just as guilty of helping to ruin Pittsburgh nightlife as bands who are willing to play for free.

If you are a band or DJ who is stepping foot on stage without being paid, you are not a performer – you are a volunteer.

Oh, and you are also ruining the industry. Stop it.

Here’s the problem: There is a better-than average chance that you suck. Your band is garbage, and will break up in 3 months. You phantom spin in Virtual DJ all night just running downloaded mixes from DJ’s with actual talent. Regardless, for every 100 of you, 95 of you are jokes. I’m not saying that with any type of ego, or “my band can beat up your band” kind of attitude, because it’s not about that at all. What it IS about is taking a realistic look at what you are doing, how you are building your business, and how you are contributing to the overall “scene”. If you don’t have solid answers to those basic questions, ask yourself why.

Now, the compounded issue is the 5 out of 100 bands or DJ’s that have the talent, drive, motivation, look, attitude, and intelligence to actually be successful (and be successful I mean “hey, I can actually make a living at this”) in this industry are being blackballed because shitty bands willing to play for the shitty promoters for shitty money exist – and are begging for gigs!

“Why would I book your band for $1,000 a night when I’ve got this other band who can bring 100 of their friends and family and is willing to play for free beer?”

“Why do I need to spend $1,500 for a good wedding DJ? My cousin has an iPod and some speakers – it’s pretty much the same thing, right? He’ll do it for a hundo.”

Every time you are playing an event with 20 other DJ’s spinning 15 minute sets, you are killing your BUSINESS. Every time you sell tickets to a “Battle of the Bands” where you help generate thousands of dollars in revenue for a venue to eventually pay one “winning” band $500 bucks, you are killing your BUSINESS. Every time a promoter contacts you to play at their big “event” but that event doesn’t seem to have any budget to actually pay the performers, you are killing your BUSINESS.

If you are booking bands willing to play for free – Well as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

If you are a band willing to play for free – I guess we know what you are worth… nothing.

On behalf of the people who do like to get paid to show up for work – please stop, because you are destroying an industry at a time in this area where a lot of people could use a job.

In the words of a great poet of my generation: “Alot of sharks out there try’na take a bite of somethin’
What’s hot – Lot of chameleons out there… try’na change up. Anytime somethin’ new comes along…everybody wants a bite. Don’t happen overnight.”

It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job.

So you wanna be a rock superstar? Treat it like a job.