Open Letter From a Bar Owner to Musicians

By on October 17, 2013

livemusicThe letter I have copied below was posted on Tampa Craigslist by a bar owner, but it was flagged for removal before I could provide a link or credit the author. But I managed to copy the content. So here it is, and I agree with a lot (although not all) of what he has to say. If more musicians clued into this perspective, the club scene would be much better:

A bar, that is, an establishment that earns its revenue primarily from selling alcoholic beverages, measures its success by the ounce and the accounting is done everyday because we mostly live on the edge. So we spend our time trying to figure out how to sell more ounces. It’s not just how many people are in the house or how great the atmosphere is (that’s certainly important), but how many drinks, preferably premium, we sell in a day. That’s it.

Live music is important to most of us (if we have that kind of venue). But it is a significant expense and is only worthwhile if it produces more than it consumes, just like advertising and anything else we spend money on in order to sell more ounces. But so many of the bands that come through here have no clue what their job is. Your job is to sell booze. You’re not here for any other reason.

There are some truly awful bands that actually chase customers away. But there are also some bands I would call mediocre who do a fantastic job of selling my product. There are also some really good bands who rock the house but not the cash drawer. While I appreciate good music and would never have an interest listening to that mediocre band’s lame CD, they’re coming back next week. Here’s why:

1. They play simple music people recognize. People don’t dance to brilliant guitar solos or heady changes, they dance to the hook lyrics of a simple chorus. (If you’ve ever wondered why pop is popular, that’s why). When the ladies want to dance, the guys show up and everybody drinks. Simple truth.

2. They don’t ask me for drinks, they ask my customers. This is a subtle art and if it’s done well, the band can more than pay for itself. Here’s a few obvious techniques: If someone offers to buy the band a round, you order shots of top-shelf. Even if you don’t drink it, ask for it anyway. If someone asks for a request, try to make a deal with them. If you buy (your date, your table, the band) a round, we’ll play your song. Some bands beg for tips, and that’s fine, but it’s not what I’m paying you for. (Try to play request anyway. At least you wont chase them off.) We had one front man hold up a mixed drink and make a wonderfully cheesy but impassioned pitch that you simply had to try this because it was, as he put it, “a glass of pure happiness”. It resulted in over a hundred bucks in the drawer in just a few minutes. Those guys are busy.

ShopNowNugWho60023. They may not be the best band in town but they look and act professional. I cringe when I see a supposedly professional band wearing frayed khaki shorts, flip flops, mildly offensive t-shirts and greasy baseball caps (the standard bro uniform). I don’t care if you’re bald, a baseball cap is unacceptable. Live music is a visual form of entertainment. If you dress well, even if it’s hipster, funky, weird or flamboyant, as long as you look like you care about your appearance, and show a little self respect, you’ll go over better with my customers. The good bands also respect their gig and the customers. They show up on time, they don’t make a racket while they setup (hint: keep your drummer quiet especially when the jukebox is on.), they choose their set list carefully, they pace their sets well and stay engaged with the audience (don’t stop playing if the dance floor is full), they don’t get hammered and and they don’t leave a mess. All this adds up to what we call retention. Customers don’t leave. You would be surprised how many customers leave because of the band. And it’s usually not because the band is awful, but because it’s too loud, it’s the wrong repertoire, it’s rude and dismissive, it’s not engaged and basically no fun for anyone else but themselves. And here’s a little tip: Your continued employment is directly dependent on my bartender’s opinion of you. That’s probably true for every single bar you play. 

One last thing. It’s hard to find work. You might be surprised at how much competition you have. I get emails, voicemails, regular mail, fed-ex packages left for me, all with earnestly concocted press kits and demos and I ignore almost all of it. I get walk-ins who, if I’m there, I’ll give a few minutes to. Again, you’d be surprised how many show up in their bro-clothes, tell me how awesome they are, and hand me a business card with a URL to their reverb nation page or YouTube channel. They probably go home and wonder why they don’t get a call, but I’m not going to visit your website or listen to your demo. You’ve got maybe 60 seconds to make your “elevator pitch” and just a few more minutes to make it stick. There is a sales technique I’m seeing that’s impressive, stands out and really works, but out of respect for the bands that figured it out, call it a trade secret. 

Bottom line: A bar is a business. My bar is my business, my life, my success or failure. What I do in my business is entirely up to me because the risk is entirely mine. If I have a jam night, an open mic, solos, duos, bands, karaoke, or just a jukebox, that’s up to me and no one else. Whatever helps make the most revenue. I have great respect for working musicians and would rather not hire them at all than to short-change them. 

The open mic and jams that seem to get so much criticism here are not about me getting free entertainment, they are about bringing in paying customers and keeping them here. People who play and sing, but not in a professional band, like to get out, get a little stage time, have some fun, bring their friends and I offer them the place to do it. And yes, these nights are pretty good for the bottom line. If having bands was better, I’d have bands every night. It’s just reality, man.

Edit: As if things aren’t difficult enough for both musicians and bar owners, read this update from March 25, 2014…



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  6. RamStone

    July 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    This is typical bar owner mentality. No one wants to pay for a good band anymore they just want the cheapest option but, like someone said before, “you get what you pay for”. As far as setting up and staying quiet, unless the bar has its own equipment and soundman there is going to be some noise when a band sets up. If you don’t want a band to set up properly, check levels, and run through a few tunes before the show then don’t complain when you can’t hear the vocals and there is a 20 minute period of unstoppable feedback in the second set. Finally, this mentality of “only play songs people know” has got to go. The reason people keep asking for the same old s*it is because bands are encouraged to keep feeding it to them. There is a list of songs that my band will not play because we feel like as individuals we have played these songs a thousand times each: “Mustang Sally”, “Old Time Rock and Roll”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “The Twist”, and “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” (among others). If people ask for them we just tell them we don’t know how to play those songs and move on. IF you are a good band whether you are playing folk, country, progressive rock, or funk people will find something they like about your band and stick around. You can be original and still please a crowd.

  7. Rory B

    June 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Interesting article and a good companion piece with the other one floating on the internet written by a jazz musician about how some club owners just don’t have a clue. I have played in a few places that were very decent to the bands and were set up for live music, i.e. good sized stage, good light and sound system and a dressing room. I have also played in places that just shouldn’t have live music, i.e. stage is really a drum riser, unprofessional owner, leaves the TVs on while the band is playing,etc. I think the real problem lies within the attitude and structure of how live music is presented. If you go to a medium sized or arena sized venue that exists exclusively for music, the audience is their for the band(s) and not the drinking. Most people go to a bar mainly to drink. The music is secondary for the most part. What I believe should happen is for musicians and bands to get together and form coalitions within their cities and towns and find buildings (such as warehouses) that have open space for rent. Next,set the spaces up like a concert venue. Of course they would have to find owners who were willing to deal with people (aka the audience) coming into the building. The musicians could get a good sized stage set up and pool lighting and sound resources. The musicians would have to do all the promoting but in some ways that could be an advantage because they would know it was being done. Basically, do it the way actual concerts are done as opposed to just being a bar band.

  8. Monk Coleman

    June 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I’m a bassist who occasionally plays in an “oldies / classic rock” cover band. I’m under no illusion that this part of my musical life has anything to do with art or creativity. For that purpose, I’m the guy who operates the low frequency tone emitting machine and sings harmony. My creative impulses and money needs are served in other ways, thank goodness.

    I agree that musicians should approach the job in a professional manner as far as dress and set up and sound checks and be courteous and available to the patrons and bar staff. They should play appropriate music for the venue at an appropriate volume, and keep playing (up to the agreed upon stopping time) if people are dancing. All that is elemntary bar band stuff.

    However I am not there to shill for your bartenders, or do porn dancing with your drunk female patrons, or let some guy play my bass, and it’s not my job to “bring people”; considering the conditions and clientele at some of the places we play, I would never ask my family and friends to set foot in the door. Since I would never hang out in your dirty smokey bar with the urine smelling bathrooms, why should my friends?

    Free beer is nice, but I don’t expect it, and will not buy drinks on a job. When I do a gig the money only flows one way. Coffee and water are fine.

    The open letter writer makes some good points staing the obvious, but if this is the tone he takes with his employees, band members, bartenders, whoever, I suspect his days running a bar, (or any business), will be short. He deserves the same respect he gives.

  9. Big Ed

    May 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Great peice of writing! It is the club and the bands responsibility to get the crowd there and stay and drink till closing! Simple! Bands should dress there best all the time, looking like u just climbed out of bed is a huge no no. Look like you are somebody and act like it too, be cool, respectful, treat everyone the way you would like to be treated!

  10. The Dawg

    May 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    As clubs/bars and the entertainment industry as a whole continue to struggle adapting to the 21st Century the underground scene continues to flourish. House parties, private BYOB events in warehouses, backyards or barns and amazing musicians that are intelligent enough to understand the social dynamic and its implications ensure that those whom lack the ability, or intellect, to comprehend the relevance, and reverence, of live music will be consigned to the dusty pages of an ancient past.

    The real trade secret is the fact that bands no longer need bars and nightclubs to promote their wares and a simple Facebook, YouTube, or Reverbnation page is really all that is needed to propel even the most mediocre talents into the Stratosphere.

    As for the analogy about hooks, leads and popular music I’d save the argument for groups like Phish, Flaming Lips or perhaps The Grateful Dead – all of whom did it their way and appear to be remarkably successful without much of the aforementioned.

    My simple advice for the club owner is to sell his establishment and buy an ice cream truck. Your business acumen and understanding will be better suited for something like that and I hear the music is to die for.

    Welcome to the 21st Century musicians and entertainment professionals. Embrace, nurture and understand it. It’s a good thing.

  11. Steve W

    May 20, 2013 at 3:01 am

    This conversation has really spawned a variety of opinions and perspectives. I’ve been a musician for 30 years and totally agree with and understand this article. I just wrote a companion piece from the musician’s point of view (where I also linked back to this article)that I hope some working musicians will find helpful. Please check it out if you like.

  12. Jim Robbins

    May 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    While I am a working/ Touring musician and completely understand just how much work there is involved for ‘a typical show’; I happen to completely agree with this particular Bar owner.
    He is the one paying rent / waitress and bartender’s wages / Utilities; etc… and in the end; he has to make a profit. I agree that Clubs are just as responsible for Promotion as the Act; however; this is obviously a local Bar owner. Different conversation altogether.

    In this case; it is solely up to the band / ACT to drive traffic. This guy can easily make more $$$ with a DJ; Bar league sports team; or even just by having multiple TVs with different games on; however; he still gives the chance to some bands. If I owned a bar; I’d probably do the exact same thing.

    The big 80’s are long gone. Also; this isn’t Art to him – it’s business. If you want to make music your business; then either make the most amazing; infectious; irresistible music ever – or make a Product that people want; that people want to keep coming back for. Your fan base is a brutally honest assessment of your success as an Artist. If you had even 100 dedicated fans going to every gig; you wouldn’t be complaining about ‘him’. I’m sure he’d take 100 definite drinkers every single time. I would.

    • TJT

      May 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm


  13. Steve

    May 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Expecting the band to fill your club because you kind of pay them is like expecting a plumber to fill your club because you kind of pay him.

  14. Mr. Charleston

    May 16, 2013 at 5:23 am

    I totally agree with the bar owner. As a lifelong musician and person who has hired hundreds of bands over the years I can tell you that nine out of ten musicians have no clue that Show Business is two words and that successful bands get it.

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  16. Deanna Echols

    May 16, 2013 at 3:37 am

    I SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN BARS. I don’t go to a bar to drink, I go to a bar to hear music, play pool, karaoke or watch sports…I go to a bar for ENTERTAINMENT…I can go to the liquor store, buy liquor or beer, go home & drink in a less expensive & safer environment where there is no line for drinks or restrooms. If I simply want to eat & drink but do not wish to prepare it myself then I go to a restaurant that has a bar.
    For the most part I do not care how a band dresses nor do I need them to SELL ME on buying alcohol. If I have money & am thirsty then I buy myself a drink. If some bars were smart they would sell iced tea, coffee, bottled water & soda. Some nights I drive too far to consume alcohol but do want to see the band…on those nights I would be insanely happy paying $2-4 per correctly prepared coffee. I care about if I can understand the words they are singing, if I like the music, the quality of the sound from the sound equipment & the product & service I receive while patronizing the establishment. I care about the cleanliness of the establishment & the friendliness of the staff. As a patron, if I am satisfied with the quality I WILL PERSONALLY PROMOTE THE BAR MYSELF & SPEND MY HARD EARNED DOLLARS THERE. If there is some magic to what I just said then that’s awesome.

  17. GuitaristPAX

    May 16, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Seems as though there are some passionate viewpoints here …

    I just wanted to name a few …

    It angers and saddens me to here that a Club Owner can be so condescending toward the good ole’ fashioned “vibe” of wanting to have Live music because it’s THE COOL THING TO DO … in the Fresno area, a while back there was an actual Ad Subject Line that stated: “Your Band looking for exposure?” The content said, we’ve scheduled a Grand Opening for our new bar and we are looking for a Band that wants to come on out and get some exposure…we are offering pizza and beer…I wrote back saying:

    I AM a Licensed Surgeon…I usually get $15,000 for services…but I’ll operate on your child for pizza and beer…sound cool Bro?

    I AM a Licensed Contractor…I usually get $200,000 profit to build a Custom Home, but for you, I’ll do it for pizza and beer.

    My point is simply this … it is RARE for ANY OTHER PROFESSION to be subjected to such demeaning and indignant treatment really.

    The Club Owner’s “choice” of Talent is a device of his own making and can be easily avoided by actually taking a little time to actually OPEN some of the Press/Bio packages that he says he receives so often and actually LISTEN to what they have to offer so he can at least HEAR for himself whether or not the Band is suitable for his venue…that is only elementary…why go on and on about some of his worst experiences when I can guaran fucking tee that I have FAR MORE than he does…as the one gentleman stated, I’ve been ripped off by venues, lie to by venues, gear ripped off by employees of Clubs, Bartenders and Waitresses filling my ex band members noses with blow and meth, the Club Owners allowing the Band to drink so much onstage that they totally suck ass by the time the 3rd Set comes around…and then blame the BAND and not pay me for the actions of others.

    I do whole heartedly agree with the opinion that so many “Bands” walk, talk, say and DRESS the same…the filthy, torn up Rock shirts, the hair up in the ball cap and the shorts … PLEASE you friggin’ Poser bastards … there’s a Uniform for EVERY OCCUPATION … just like a Fireman would never show up to fight a fire in a danskin, neither should your egotistical ass show up dressed like a shade tree mechanic…it’s like the old timer’s say, Irregardless of whether or not there’s 3 or 3,000 people at the Club, you do the SHOW OF YOUR LIFETIME…it’s called a “work Ethic”…would any of well known bands ever do a show half ass? I’ve been involved with every aspect of Entertainment and Production since 76 and the classiest, most respected Bands never show up in their fucking shorts and sneakers…it’s fucking pathetic to have to say it even…

    As far as “SELLING” booze, it’s a dual edged sword … I personally abhor the notion of pushing people to flood their bodies with human pesticide … but given the Nature of the beast, is a necessary evil … I don’t care how much of a friggin’ Holy Roller some of you music prudes fancy yourselves as, there are hundreds of exotic and mouth watering cocktails to choose from and for us to raise a toast and encourage the Club patrons to enjoy one is perfectly fine … the driving home drunk isn’t a solid argument, although it is very considerate and humane, it’s kinda’ like after selling a person Ammunition … if they go home and load their gun and rob a store and kill someone, you can’t be responsible for their actions and it’s EVERY ADULT’s RESPONSIBILITY to drink responsibly and if they over do it, get a friggin’ ride home…easy solution. When I played the Top40 Clubs(as they called them in the 80’s…LOL…) I was constantly making up Drink Specials with the Bartenders between Sets and such … makes it fun and unpredictable … I actually used to have a Vodka bottle onstage that had been drank and refilled with Water … between every Song and often times DURING the Songs, I’d throw it back and guzzle it and whence my face up and “get my bitter alcohol face on…” and as a result of that little “Act,” it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bar sold TONS of Vodka … BUT … every time I encouraged people to drink I also told them NOT TO WORRY that we have transportation so that they would get home safely … never mentioned the DUI thing…buzz kill…just said that we would make sure that they got home safe…no secret there…just get with the Club Owner and make sure that there is a Local Cab Company that makes sure that they have Drivers available to take people home at closing time … we used to work out a discounted fare in exchange for their Drivers getting another “Stand” to possibly make some of that late night money…and getting people home safe is a noble gesture.

    I think there needs to be an overall “inventory” taken and for the loser wanna’ be Guitar Hero bands that wanna’ show up in their skater outfits … or the wanna’ bees that “play the role” of dressed down Rock Star guy … should not quit their fucking day jobs because really, there is no shortage of genuinely talented individuals and every day some “Musician” in convinced that “they were called”…the reality is that while SO MANY FEEL THEY ARE CALLED, SO FEW WILL EVER E CHOSEN … so move the fuck aside and let the Pro’s do it and stop clogging up the Live Entertainment pipeline…for EVERY Pro like myself, there are a THOUSAND idiots that by virtue of their demeanor, their attitude or ego, only DRIVE the value of my Talent DOWN. My Grandfather was a World Famous Country player that did the Grand Ole Opry a FEW times once told me, “if you ain’t gonna’ be the Top Notch Professional that people EXPECT TO SEE when they are being Entertained, that’s ok because there’s a Pro that needs that Gig anyway…and all those superficial [“Artistic”] types are soon exposed for the no talent that they really are underneath the acting job they been puttin’ down … and they will have to accept the fact that not everyone gets to be a Star and that the World needs ditch diggers too.”

    For whatever it’s worth … just sayin’

  18. Lucas

    May 15, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I’m sorry to see the bar owner publish this info, because the fact that other musicians don’t get it keeps me gigging. I understand the bars motivation and I’m happy to help them. We are a mutual aid society. It doesn’t bother me to have a quid pro quo.

    It only bothers me when the bar underpays or is disrespectful. If I do my thing right, they make more money than they would have and they owe me a slice. Often enough they want to cheat the band. Players need to beware of exploiters.

    The Pour House in San Francisco, for example. I learned my lesson there. We played our asses off to a good house, had an enthusiastic crowd, then didn’t get a penny from the bar. One drink each. Eh. It’s my fault for accepting the gig, I know.

    Aside from these hassles, I love making music. The bar owners are my customers. We understand each other, and if I make them happy then they make me happy.

  19. Tracey W

    May 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I’m a singer, and the writer makes many valid points: show up on time, be dressed (I can’t stand it when bands look like they just tumbled out of bed), play the right music for the venue, etc, etc… that’s elementary. However, I agree with Mark Powell – why mention a “sales technique” if you’re not going to tell your audience what it is! There are few things I hate more that being excited about reading an article, and being left hanging at the end. Coitus interruptus…

  20. Chuck Boone

    May 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    There is something that has not been mentioned and should also be taken into consideration by the bar owner/owners which is the issue of DUI laws.The bar owner says that the band’s “job is to sell booze” and also to keep people dancing so that the customers will buy and drink more booze.Ok.All well and good,but if one or more of those customers leaves the bar and is involved in a serious or fatal car accident,then who is at fault and who should take the responsibility?The bar owner or the band since he says it’s the band’s job to sell booze? That is why at the end of my band’s performance I always caution the customers to drive safe on there way home because I would feel absolutely terrible if something happened to someone after leaving one of our gigs.Especially if it were a friend of mine or someone I’m close to.But with that bar owner’s logic I can almost see a scenario where such a situation may arise and a bar owner may try and throw the band under the bus to save his/her own ass.Maybe saying that our music was too wild or we verbally encouraged the customers to drink more and more,in attempt to shift the blame onto us.Another thing bar owners don’t realize is that IT IS ACTUALLY BECAUSE OF THE DUI LAWS THAT PEOPLE TEND TO NOT DRINK AS MUCH,AND NOT SO MUCH BECAUSE OF THE BANDS.I can remember back before the DUI laws came about bars were always packed no matter what type of band was playing.And even if the band sucked there was always a great crowd as long as there was live music mainly because people could drink without fear of losing their license and everything else they would lose along with it.So Mr.or owner you should also keep that in mind as well.As for my responsibility as a musician and band member….As far as I’m concerned I’m not a public relations person.And it’s not my responsibilty to bring people to your bar.You should already have a good customer base regardless of a band or no band.I’m an entertainer and my duty is to entertain your customers whether theres five people in your bar or five hundred because no matter the amount of customers my band is still going to put on the best show that we can.When I leave your bar at the end of the night I want to come away with a good feeling that we put on a great show.Not because we helped you sell a lot of booze.

  21. Kyle

    May 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I’ve been writing and performing every weekend within a 50 mile radius for the last six years at about 20 different venues. We are as professional as the next local band that knows anything about performing, but we have NEVER pushed alcohol sales. We’ve proudly kept it about the music and the songwriting. If you put out a good product, and gain a following, you don’t need to push drinks, and try to get people to spend extra money. It’s not my job to make people spend money on drinks. I believe you’re looking for a shitty cover band.

    • HDS

      May 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      ” I believe you’re looking for a shitty cover band.” Dude, did a cover band shit in your cornflakes?

  22. Kev.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:02 am

    Most of what he has said is spot on.

    I had a small venue years ago and I am not surprised to see that the ones who conformed with the above are STILL playing gigs and the ones that did not are nowhere to be seen, at least not in this town…

  23. DandiGirl

    May 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I disagree with the bar owner. You can not ask the bands to conform to what makes the owner the most money. If the bar owner doesn’t like tending to having bands then he shouldn’t. Or, if it matters that much to him, his bar can cater to a certain genre or popular local band so he can ensure he gets what he wants. But real musicians have a singular purpose, too; they need to get as many people as possible to hear them perform in the hopes of selling a CD or future stage time. A bar with a proper stage, or a music venue (which is better) should be there to serve as a stage, if you will, for musicians to work. If it’s not a symbiotic relationship then there shouldn’t be one at all. Maybe this guy should consider how he can make his bar/business better without relying on musicians to do the job for him.

  24. tom

    May 13, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    This guy is a bar owner, for sure. he makes valid points, and at the end of the day its about money, FOR EVERYONE. but much has been left out.
    1. When a bar books a band, the bar becomes “promoters”, not the band. The band is a for-hire independent contractor that has been hired to come in and do a professional job. The band does not pay for posters or flyers. The band does not spend excessive time promoting a show. That is the clubs responsibility.
    2. $100.00 a man..yeah right. More like $7.00 an hour. A 4 hour show is an 8-10 hour work day with expenses…do the math.
    3. A club bartender doesnt deserve to make more money than a club musician. Most musicians could step behind a bar and handle a medium night rush, right now. Certainly NOT the other way around, my friends. Whose really working hard here?
    4. At the end of the night if a band member has a tab, he pays the tab. No tipping. Or else tip the band back…2 way street. Both people worked for each other.
    5. Most lame bands and musicians give a the few good bands and musicians bad names. The movie, music and food industries are full of some of the laziest, most pathetic creatures alive. They are also some really great people and talent.
    6. Tourist cities are the best place for pro musicians. in small club america, the only thing worth a damn to an owner is how much money the ind. contractors bring to the register, REGARDLESS OF tourist destinations, talent is the only consideration because the customers are already there. talent keeps them there. Most of the food and most employees in small club america suck, and so does their business. They are having bands in to try and save it. It doesnt usually work. They blame the bands. OWNERS: Look at your accounting, food cost, labor cost, how much coke you are doing, theft, free drinks, etc. Oh and hey, charge a small cover and make people pay will offset you band expense by 40-80%. If your customers wont pay $3.00 to get in your club, it sucks anyway so just bag it.

  25. mark

    May 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    true..but upon further review, mr not-a-big-enough-set-to-put-your-name-on-it-club-owner (typical for craigslist)…are you the genius you think yourself to be?—do you even have a real stage?..howsa bout a ‘dressing room’, or any other band amenities…house sound & lights?(not required, but nice)…or is it, “yeah, yeah, set up over there in the corner, you got this much room, dont move anything, dont make any noise while the customers eat, and keep it down”…are you a music-friendly club, or a restaurant that has no business having bands anyway?…a neighborhood bar w/ 500 sq ft and neighbors who hate the noise?…a sports bar with 400 big screens and they’re all on while the band plays?…in the middle of nowhere?…do you hire 70s- 80’s bands for your 20-something crowd?…new pop covers for your 40-somethings?—metal bands, ever? you have an agent (one you’ve only seen in your club maybe twice) running you talent, sucking up your entertainment $$, and sending you only the bands she wants you to see, and who has convinced you that you need a different band on saturday than friday?…this goes both ways, friends, and it is, as you say, your place of business..decide what you want it to be and run it right, cause it cant be everything to everybody–i have played in hundreds of clubs over the last 35 yrs, and my general impression of many was that, if they were successful, it was in spite of whoever was running them

  26. Dave Fagnant

    May 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I’ve been playing for approximately 45 years in the bar scene…..and the story when it comes to clubs is pretty much the same no matter where you go……how much is in the register at the end of the night. That seems to be all, or most, of what a club owner cares about. Here’s a few other things that might make your business more profitable. (1) Advertising for the bands that will be playing your club. I’ve been asked many times about how many people we were going to bring as if it was our job to fill the club. (2) Pay for a good band. You have heard the saying “you get what you pay for”. I see nothing mentioned in the article as to what is being paid for a band. Well, if you want to pay as little as possible, or have “jam” nights where musicians play for free, what caliber of players o you think you will attract? A $200.00 a night band is gonna sound like a $200.00 a night band. As for me playing for free at a jam night….probably isn’t gonna happen. (3) The type of band being hired. Again, this could be related to what a band charges, or will play for, but if the style of music doesn’t fit your venue, customers will not come or stay for long. This is a two way street here and better choices will probably result in a better bottom line for all concerned.

    • Kyle

      May 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Thank you!

    • A.

      May 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      1) If it’s a decent club then they usually do advertise the bands in the local paper or on their website. If it’s a lower level bar or club then it’s the band’s responsibility to advertise. And yes, it is your responsibility to fill the club. Who else’s responsibility would that be? 2) if you have a track record of filling clubs every time you play, you can negotiate a guarantee. This is very common, but only for bands that definitely deliver. If your band can’t do this, you get a portion of the door charge, and maybe a couple of free drinks. If you can’t fill a room every night of the week then being in a band isn’t your job, it’s something you do for fun. 3) Club owners don’t care if your band is “good”. There are plenty of great bands that no one is interested in watching. Bar owners want popular bands, and if you do your job right and your band gets popular enough that you don’t have to play bars anymore, congrats, you win. Until then, you work for the bar owner. If one day you get popular enough maybe you’ll get the chance to work for some giant media company and they can take their turn screwing you. Music is a fun business. (just kidding)

      • Mickey

        May 29, 2013 at 10:08 am

        How long have you been a musician?

    • Steve

      June 25, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      It’s amazing how many Bar owners won’t lift a finger to advertise the bands playing in their establishment. I wouldn’t expect them to do all the work, but after all, it is their business. I would think they would want to do whatever it takes to fill the seats. Not even a post on fb? We’re all in this together. We should both be working together to pack the place!

  27. Mark Powell

    May 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    The bar owner states: “There is a sales technique I’m seeing that’s impressive, stands out and really works, but out of respect for the bands that figured it out, call it a trade secret.” Why even mention this at all if he feels he needs to keep it a secret? I could use the information and I cant see any good reason to keep this a secret, it’s not like every band in the world is going to use this mystery approach to get work and why would that matter?

  28. Larry

    May 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Agree or no? Share your thoughts here. Discussion is encouraged!

  29. Chris LeDrew

    May 9, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    The ongoing conversation/debate can continue here in this section from the original commentary on LeDrew’s Muse. There’s been some great stuff so far, so feel free to give your opinion on the letter and what it means to you as a musician, club owner, music fan, etc.

    • Mike Spinner

      May 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      First, thanks for the thought provoking article. The comments are especially a great read and do a good job of making up for what the article misses. I understand a musician’s desire to entertain, I am married to one and I have absolutely no musical talent (not even allowed to clap :-); however, I do know business. Here is one rule of thumb that has not failed to hold up yet with my travels with the bands: There seems to be a significant difference with attitudes in the way band members are treated, and sometimes people in general, when a club owner measures a band’s entertainment value vs a band’s success in ounces of alcohol. Plus, from my experiences, the owner(s) who hire based on the entertainment value have a better quality crowd (less “rundown” drunks) and more regular long term customers that look out for the club’s interest. A talented band’s job is simple, provide the best entertainment value. First performance measurement should be based on their talent to please the crowd, second should be based on their popularity, no measurement on hangovers counts. With that said, selling the “party atmosphere” is part of the entertainment value. My 2 pennies, the quality of people is noticeably better with the clubs that hire bands for their talents vs quantity of top shelf ounces.

    • Tony Smith

      May 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      I see what the guy is saying, btu it seems to me if all you want is familliar tunes then just leave the jukebox going. He will save a lot more money that way. I have been a drummer for 18 years, and the last couple of bands I have been in has some production value to them meaning we will deserve a hell of a lot more than $200. The bands i am part of seek a following, a fan base, as well as putting butts in the seats and cash in the till. The way that bar owner talks he dont give a hoot in hell about ANY band as long unless it works for HIM. The only reason bands tend to play in bars and clubs is, we cant waltz into an arena, hook up and start playing. Some of us bands ARE trying to get noticed for our worth,I.E. sell cd’s, t shirt’s, jackets, what have you. The bands I play in have fog machines, rotary lights, strobe lights, auto LED lights, and such to create for the patron, as close to an arena type show as possible. So people see our show and say “Man they ought to be playing in Madison Square Garden, not here!”

      I do agree fully with the dress code of the band that the owner eluded to. I have seen “ROCK” guitarists look like they should be singing Sunshine,Superman on the corner of Haight and Asbury.

      In closing, remember some of these bands have dreams and asperations of someday making it in the big leagues of music someday. Dont treat them like a jukebox.

  30. Pingback: Open Letter From a Bar Owner to Musicians | LeDrew's Muse

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