So – you want to be in a cover band. Easy enough, right? You have the musicians, a killer set list, and the drive. Now let’s get out there and bring the noise! Hmm, how do you do that? Being in a band is not all it is cracked up to be. The business side of it is quite different (and more difficult) than what many may think. You see the live show, but it is all the steps it takes to get there that you don’t see: the practice, renting rehearsal space, promotion, booking, hiring a sound professional, load in and break down as well as trying to get paid. Sounds like fun, huh? Think again.
You are a new band and you want to get out there and play to the masses. Simple? Nope! Your first step is trying to get into the bars where the masses are. How do you do this? You have 2 choices: do your own booking or decide to get a booking agent. Think of it like high school. You are a freshman who wants to party with the seniors. How do you get invited to the party? Booking yourself is one option. Good luck with that. The other is hiring a booking agent: someone who can get you those gigs you “dream” of. The booking agent’s job is to negotiate a price for your band to play and to fill in the dates for a venue. This should not be confused with a band manager who works for the band. Some booking agents work for the venue and get a percentage of your pay and a kick back from the bar as well. They are not there to promote your band or get you more money, an ironic concept considering you are paying the booking agent. Don’t they essentially work for you? This is something to consider carefully when choosing someone to book you.
It is up to you and your band to create posters, get them to the venue, and beg your friends to come to the show so you have a great turnout. I believe it is also the venue’s responsibility to promote and draw a crowd as well. You may be told “you are not ready to play at [insert fantastic booze palace here] because you don’t draw enough.” The booking agent does not care the venue is ten miles from the nearest main road and is mostly known for stock car racing parties and parking lot violence. You can’t play the “good” bars without a draw, but you will never get a “draw” if you play at lame-ass bars that don’t draw the masses. Honestly, isn’t the venue the selling point? Sure, you may choose to go out to see a band but if they are at a sketchy bar might you go somewhere else? This is quite a predicament. The job of getting people to a venue should equally split between the band & the bar.
Venues have different ways of valuing live entertainment. I have played at bars where our posters were put up a day before the show or our name was spelled wrong on the marquee or the big screen TV directly behind the band was kept on while we were performing. Talk about feeling like an afterthought. Conversely, I have also played at venues where the bands are treated well with a helpful and appreciative staff. Playing live, you want the venue to make the band the focal point of the night and not a side show to some pool tables and darts.
Bands are employees of the bar on a gig night. We are working. Sure we can have a few drinks and rock it out but let’s not forget it takes work. Load in a minimum of one to two hours before the start time, a four hour gig and then load out. In at 8PM done by 2AM, in the car at 3AM and home by 4AM. Not that glamorous. After a long night I have experienced bar staff yelling at the band to hurry up and get out. Believe me, we are trying!
Essentially, we are all there to entertain and make money. The money is the most interesting and frustrating part of the equation. I had fun breaking this down so you can actually see some numbers. Let’s take it from the general pay scale of $700 and a band comprised of five members and a gig requiring hired sound:
-$275 (average for sound)
$425.00 / 5 = $85 per person
-$20 (3 drinks+ tip x $5, just on average here)
$45 per person / 8 hours of work = about $5 bucks an hour
On an average of an eight hour gig night, where you leave by 7PM and get home at 3AM, we are raking in a whopping five bucks an hour. Now suppose (as shown above) you need gas, want a quick snack wrap before the gig, or would like a drink or two and it is pretty much a wash on a gig night. Most of us do not do it for the money, obviously.
There are many bands that make much more (and much less) per night but I wanted to give a general assessment of the break down so you get a better idea of what bands are actually getting paid. This is why bands complain about wanting more money. If you have a long drive to the venue which, in this state, is a given gas money alone will put you in the red. Most of you out there would not take a job for that type of hourly wage, would you?
Bands just want to know they are valued and they are compensated fairly for their hard work. Most of the bands do not have roadies and dedicated sound. They are just average people doing what they love and trying to make a few dollars doing it. I have had conversations with many bands and they all have the same frustration: who determines the value of your band? Unfortunately, it isn’t you.
The push and pull of the venue/agent/band relationship is exhausting and frustrating. Do you do go out on your own, on your own terms and try to find venues that will book you? Do you submit to the terms of someone else determining your bands worth and reputation without your best interest in mind? Both valid questions
I wish I had a solution to this ongoing argument. In my opinion, there is nothing better than live music. Is live music dying a slow death? Will DJs and their laptops and lower overhead (read: less cost to the venue) totally replace the live band? Sadly, it is looking like that this could be the reality.
You can read Sue’s blog at http://prettyrockinmama.blogspot.com/