Gas, grass or ass: no one gets bands for free
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
On stage, it’s a glorious hazard. The shake and rattle of strings as precise increments of wavelength dictate the harmonic spurs and groove pockets. The struggle to hear a single note while siphoning 120 decibels of sound in the opposite direction. The careful attention of 20, 40, or 24,000 apprehensive ears as the spotlight destroys any possible subtlety.
And then comes the sweat. The porous rainfall that envelops the bare backs that carried 500 lbs of accoutrements to and from their designated turf. It’s only after fingers are blistered and shoulders are weighed down by maple and ash the band is ready for sound check.
To put it simply, music doesn’t just happen.
Though bands practice 20 or more hours a week, spend thousands of dollars on equipment and place the core of their very being in their music, many musicians still play for free.
It’s time to stand up for the notion of just pay for just work.
I’ve been to shows with less than 12 people in the audience that have been more impressive than nationally touring acts at packed stadiums. So I’m a bit confused as to why venues believe promotional management dictates whether or not its talent deserves payment.
Besides, it’s the venue’s job to promote and to have a built-in crowd. (Without naming names, there have been a few venues in Rochester that my friends have refused to step into.) If the band’s friends are the only people in the audience, the venue is not doing its job.
I’ve also seen up-and-coming musicians take a serious financial hit to play a show, sometimes driving 80 miles only to owe the venue money at the end of the night. Yeah, they paid to provide a service. What other industry sees this type of backwards payment?
“You did a really great job on this haircut. Do you have $20?”
What’s even more depressing is the idea that playing music is fun and thus should not be compensated for. Playing music can be fun; we know this. That’s the whole reason we decided to be musicians in the first place: to make a living doing what we love. There are people in every industry that genuinely enjoy their jobs. But there is a clear difference between volunteering and being exploited. The music industry sees much more of the latter.
If a band wants to volunteer to play a gig, then right on, that’s totally cool. There are many charity events to provide entertainment for, and altruism is always a good investment. I would also gladly play for free at my best friend’s wedding or my girlfriend’s house party. Hell, I don’t mind sitting on the street with an acoustic guitar and playing for the shadows if you catch me on the right night. But when I invite my friends to a venue, force them to pay and then I don’t get a dime to put toward making the next performance better, I get annoyed.
Many music managers will avoid talking about payment to attempt to get a free show or write up a contract that forces the band to pay the crew. Remember: promotion is not the band’s job and is not worth the worry.
And honestly, after 14 posts on Facebook about the same show, no one is going to care.
I recommend searching for the right venue with the right price. After a few successful shows, a weekly slot may open up.
Oh, and don’t try to over-charge. Charging as much as possible is not what this column is about. If you’re trying to get $3,000 for your no-name trio, let this be a reminder that venues are even more frugal and greedy than you. Respect your fans by keeping tickets cheap.