IF YOU WANT GREAT FOOD, YOU HIRE A GREAT CHEF…IT NEEDS TO BE THE SAME WITH THE BAND. YOU HIRE A GREAT BAND AND SHOULD EXPECT GREAT MUSIC.
– Dave Goldberg
So I’ve recently been confronted with the age-old band question of “Well, what kind of crowd will your band bring?” when booking shows for my band. I’ve always hedged on the question, because I believe that a band is hired to be a band, and NOT the marketing, advertising, and promotions director for the venue. I just don’t get it. It’s a moral conundrum: Bar owners WANT you to tell them that you have 5,000 people who can’t WAIT to come to their bar and spend all of their money, and that’s generally what you have to say to get booked. I hate bands that give the canned, “Oh yeah man, we are awesome, we’ll pack this place.” type of answer, and then bring their girlfriends and 6 burnout friends with them. We are a high-end cover band. My response is always, “You get them there, we’ll keep them there.” Smart bar owners understand that a good band keeping a full bar there singing, dancing, and DRINKING all night long is substantially more valuable than a band who draws 50-year olds who will dance and drink Diet Coke. We are there to sell booze by playing songs that people like. Period.
What if I told the bar owner that I have a great band and we are going to play at my house. I need someone to provide and pour Jagerbombs 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 bar. The people there would see how well you pour Jagerbombs and see how good your bartenders are. Then they would come out to your 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?”
Welcome to the unrealistic and terrible expectations that bars have now for the bands that they book.
We recently played a show for a smaller crowd in the Pittsburgh area. It is generally death to book entertainment if there is a home Penguins playoff game, or other massive event in the city. There is just too much going on, thus the “hit or miss” aspect of providing entertainment most nights. We get to the venue, set up, barely drink, tip well, offer lots of “please” and “thank you’s” to the staff. The feedback from those in attendance is overwhelmingly positive. We played a damn good show, and I rarely leave a gig satisfied with the overall performance. We did well, and nobody thought anything to the contrary. Then we are asked at the end of the night, “Where is everyone? I thought you guys had a lot of fans.”
Now here’s where it gets fun. I ask the manager what kind of crowd the bar typically gets when bands are not booked. Her answer: “We don’t really have a crowd here.” When I explain to her that other bars in her area seem to be able to attract a steady base of regulars, she tells me that “they offer more than we can.”
Then I ask her what the venue did to promote the fact that we were there. She said they hung some flyers inside the bar and put us on the sign out front. They posted a message on their facebook, where they have about 1,000 likes.
Now, the simple question I have is: If your bar has no built-in crowd, and the majority of your promotion happens INSIDE your bar, where you admittedly have no crowd… How the hell can you expect anybody to show up? Lady Gaga could be booked, but unless you were taking a leak in their smelly bathroom and glanced up at a flyer, you’d never know.
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 a professional 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.
But hey, Jim Bob and the Fucktards can bring 500 of their friends in, so they MUST be a better band than the one who only brought 300, right? Nobody asks, “Did the band play well? Did the crowd respond to them? Were they professional, on time, and easy to work with? Did they take care of the staff? Were they a good band?”
So yeah, that band might have an awesome built-in crowd. Guess what? When that band leaves, so does the crowd. Also, Jim Bob might run off the few regulars that they have with their terrible music that only their friends and family tolerate.
Where does that leave your venue? Maybe you should fix that, eh?
If nobody wants to go to your bar in the first place, why should MY fans?
–Sean Kemmerer is a freelance writer, administrator of Politics Without The Crazy Pills , and wonders if a tree falls in the middle of your empty venue, did he STILL have to sing “Timber?”