Venues: Friends or foes
There are many hundreds of places where bands can play. Every city, town and even small villages have venues of one sort or another. Some are permanent live music venues, with stages, sound systems and lighting. Some are pubs that play bands maybe once a week. Some are part of big national chains and others are just owned and run by one person.
In this article we discuss some of the issues that bands have raised about the way in which they are treated by venues. We would like to hear your comments. This draft work in progress will eventually become a permanent article in the GYBO magazine (no longer available)
Why do some venues make us pay to play there?
It has long been the practice on the part of some venues to make bands play for the ‘privilege’ of performing. This is often in the form of making a band pay a deposit, which they will lose if they fail to sell enough tickets for that show.
It is often the case that a live music venue will send a band that it has booked, a batch of tickets to sell. They might ask the band to pay for these tickets in advance. The band might be able to sell the tickets at less than their face value and pocket the difference. If the band sells above a quota of tickets the venue might give them a bonus. If it all works well and 30 to 40 people buy tickets to see that band play, both the venue and the band make money.
In cases where the show is free entry and there are no tickets to sell, the costs of putting on bands and any money paid to the band has to come from somewhere. That money might come from drinks sales. Pubs have tills and if live music brings people into the pub, they spend money at the bar. At the end of the night the pub landlord takes money out of the till to put for the PA, sound engineer, any publicity he might have done and some cash to pay the bands. If it has worked and enough people have come in to see the band, the venue owner has achieved his objects. If not, then there is a loss. Not all venues have sufficiently good profit margins on their wet side sales to be able to afford to pay bands.
There are a few pubs where there is always an established crowd wanting to be entertained. So the pub landlord knows that on a Friday or Saturday night his pub is going to be full of customers and he can make enough money to put on a band or two to entertainment.
A more common situation is a pub that has hardly any customers on mid-week evenings and, so get people in, hires bands to play who will bring in a crowd with them. If the landlord does not want to charge on the door, he or she has to be certain that the band with come with its own crowd. The fans buy drinks and enough money is made to give something back to the band.
Even in permanent live music venues, bands have to bring people with them. It’s not common for music lovers to go out to a venue and have a night out listening to what ever band happens to be playing that night.
I have seen serious live music venues go bust and close down because bands were accepting bookings to play there and have done nothing to get fans to come with them. Do this often enough and the venue goes broke.
I have also come across bands who can’t be bothered with all this fan stuff and expect to be provided with a stage, a cash payment and a large audience who wants to listen to the music they have composed. Which planet do you think they are from?
There is no following in this country for unknown music. If your band is not known and is playing its own music, you have to sell that music to people like it.
The bands that get hired and paid serious money but who are not signed and not known outside their home towns are nearly always covers or tribute bands who play stuff that people are willing to buy into because they know it.
There are plenty of Pink Floyd tribute or covers band who people pay to see. But for the Job Blogs Band, playing their own original songs, they will only get paid if they have a fan base that likes what they do.
See the broader picture on this issue: there are probably over 75,000 bands in this country writing and playing their own music. That is way, way over the number of live music gigs per year.
A large percentage of those bands often play for nothing, simply to get a chance to play live with some kind of audience.