Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

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:

$700.00

-$275 (average for sound)

$425.00 / 5 = $85 per person

$85

-$20 gas

-$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.

 

 

Sue Mucera Houde aka Pretty Rockin Mama – Professional makeup artist(and admitted makeup junkie), licensed Esthetician, part-time rockstar & full-time rockin-mama! Trying to find balance & beauty in my world of raising two boys, one husband while figuring out where I fit into all this madness. Sometimes witty & always brutally honest!

 

You can read Sue’s blog at  http://prettyrockinmama.blogspot.com/

18 Responsesto “Taking Care of Business”

  1. Asa says:

    Just a technical note, bands are actually independent contractors, not “venue employees”. Good write-up. And it’s even tougher for an original band, even with really good songs.

    • Asa, I believe Susan’s point was that the AGENTS are the employees of the venues, or at least give the impression of that.

      • Asa says:

        Jesse -

        “Bands are employees of the bar on a gig night.” First sentence in 2nd to last paragraph. Not that it matters in the context of what was written, just pointing it out.

  2. x says:

    I really don’t think it makes any sense for a local band to have a booking agent unless they are serious and plan on touring, have released a record, etc. Else it’s just a waste of money.

    That breakdown of money doesn’t really make sense, especially since a lot of bands put any money they make into a band fund to pay for merch and other expenses.

    Really, so much wrong in this article.

    • Michael Lawson says:

      X
      The issue is in CT Booking Agents generally represent the bar or venue and you can’t get around them. Otherwise I agree most small rooms don’t need a booking agent, but that is just how it works here in CT. In other words you have no choice.

      • x says:

        actually I meant the band itself having a booking agent, not the rooms.

        • Michael Lawson says:

          Bands don’t have booking agents, they have managers as the article points out. Booking agents work independently and normally represent the clubs in this case.

          • However, with the changes that are coming, there are a few booking agents that DO work for the bands rather than the venues. This is the way it used to be 30 or 40 years ago and that is where some of us are trying to take it again. As Michael knows, I am the owner agent of New Day Enteertainment and not only do I represent the bands’ side of booking but I work as a facilitator of getting bands and venues to work together rather than creating an atmosphere of friction. This way, all parties have a hand in how things will be handled, marketing, hours of the show etc. They may not be “A” list venues, yet, but they are some of the more popular and nicest “B” list clubs in the state. As things begin to change, more of the “A” list venues will hopefully follow step and come around to the same way of thinking. My agency not only does NOT charge the venue, but I charge a flat 10% commission to the bands, a full 5% below the lowest current competitor. Both venues and entertainers save money and have a better experience together. This agency is only 3 months old and already I represent over 15 bands and now have 10 venues that are booking us in there rooms. Obviously this is only the beginning.

            Anyone who wants more information on the agency can visit http://newday.interwebcentral.net and see what I have to offer both entertainers and venues alike. It’s time for this story to be corrected so that it reflects what is about to come to pass.

          • Actually, In CT, agents function in the following way:
            1. An independant agent. These people do a service to both the bands and venues. It is valuable to both parties because

            A. They have pre-existing relationships with venues which means easier access to certain bars.

            B. have clout in the case that a venue wants to “cut a deal.” And why do they have clout? Because the service they do for the venue in handling the music slots allows the venues to focus on other aspects of running a bar.

            C. When a bar deals exclusively with one agent (not an agent OF the club, but a freelance agent who has an exclusive relationship with a club, as well as handling others both exclusively and non-exclusively) it helps to cut down on double-booking situations.

            What a band has to consider is, now that more bars are going “legit” and issuing W9′s for reporting purposes, whether or not to agree to paying an agent fee on gross (as has been commonly done). Otherwise, you’ll be paying taxes on what the agent makes. I would recommend local bar bands to issue the appropriate forms to said agent(s) and claim such losses on taxes. Otherwise, work out a deal such that the agent takes a percentage only on the after-taxes “net.”

  3. Jeff Miles says:

    I believe the point of Sue’s article is to point out that there is a lot more to the cover scene than showing up, playing the show, and getting paid.

    The money isn’t very good unless you can play twice a weekend and are doing so in the so-called “A List” rooms. It is nearly impossible to get into those rooms in the CT unless you use a booking agent. This can be a catch-22 because bands can’t get into those rooms without proving they can draw paying customers but that is usually based on their draw at a smaller, less popular venue – a venue people might not be willing to go to.

    An agent is not a manager is not a promoter. All three seem like they’d perform similar function but, in reality, not so much.

    • Michael Lawson says:

      I agree
      Manager = works for the band and promotes

      Booking agent = works independently can represent either the band, club or themselves and doesn’t usually promote much.

      Promoter = works independently to put on a show with the bands he represents at a venue. promotes the shows, bands and venue heavily.

  4. Sue spells it all out in an accurate, articulate (and fun) way. I appreciate her ability to lay it all on the line and avoid what would naturally, for so many of us, end up sounding like complaining. There is absolutely no glamour on the business end of this job. Hopefully everyone is lucky enough to enjoy the rewards of a fun-filled crowd at a venue that respects the talent it has hired! Well said, sister!

  5. Joe LaPorta says:

    Not to be rude, but anyone who thinks that any part of what Sue wrote was incorrect is just plain wrong. Agents aren’t all bad and certainly there are some who are better than others when it comes to their expectations of the band/room and their general demeanor towards the band (some I can legitimately call friends, others I have dealt with not so much).

    One other thing I want to point out that the article doesn’t mention is “the morning after”. To casual bar goers who don’t get absolutely blitzed, they can still get up at a decent hour and have some semblance of a day the next day. When you get back to your place at 3AM or later then have to unload your vehicle from the cold or heat so your instruments don’t get warped overnight (or if you don’t have a garage, so your stuff doesn’t get stolen) there is no way you are waking up early enough to have a morning. Forget going to the beach, making a trip to vermont to ski, etc. Bands give up a lot more than it seems on the surface to make substandard pay.

    • And, for alot of us, our personal relationships are destroyed because of it. Trust me, if I didn’t NEED to play music to make extra $$, sometimes I think I might not play at all.

  6. Donna-Lee De Prille
    Very true and very well written. I’ve played plenty of places that literally said,” You’re here to sell beer girly, so get to it.” But after many years (decades) in every aspect ( roadie, soundperson, equipment mule, front person, booking agent, counselor,referee) of the business, there are some clubs that appreciate you and treat you with respect, and some who treat you like you are scum. Try to avoid those disrespectful clubs if you can, but always give 100% whether you are playing for 4 people or 4000!

  7. Ed says:

    Very good article, realistic look at the scene which is similar in NY. None of us are getting rich doing this, the enjoyment of playing and performing is what keeps you going.

  8. Wendy says:

    Great article and very enlightening conversation! Of all the live events I have been to, Sue is the only person I have ever heard give a shout out to the bartenders and waitstaff. The establishment should be respectful. We (me and my small posse) caught wind of a popular place in CT abusing and refuse to attend there. I don’t think anyone mentioned the cover charge these places impose and if any percentage of that is paid to the band. I’m sure there are some issues with chasing the money at the end of the night as well. Speaking from “the floor”….live music will never phase out as long as we have you, your love for music, and your desire to entertain! Much appreceiation for all you go through :)

  9. Veronica says:

    I think this is a well written, honest, and realistic portrayal of the music scene.

    I really enjoyed how Sue presented it. And breaking down the #’s($)… Much respect. :)

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