Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Music venues in today's music scene

The Solo Musician Network of the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley (here's their Facebook page) posted this snarky response that mirrors disgruntled sentiments shared by many independent musicians:

Every performing artist has faced a situation like this. Venues love to use words like "exposure" and "networking" as if it's something they can guarantee in lieu of any tangible compensation. Just recently, I played at a venue (that will remain unnamed) that was run as if they decided to tack-on music in the hopes of making a profit. 

Tell me if this seems like a familiar situation: It was a restaurant with good food and a decently sized bar. My band, the Way Home, were coming from out of town and were tasked with the responsibility for filling out the bill, bringing four mics and stands, providing the entire back line (drums, bass amp, etc), and, of course, drawing a good-sized crowd. Thankfully, we'd be compensated with free food and drinks. No, wait ... we weren't. What a deal, right? Because we had a show the next night in the relative area, we foolishly accepted. 

As the opening act was finishing up, we were happy with the crowd that had filled the venue. We then realized, to our horror, that no one was taking cover from the door! When we brought this to the attention to the venue, they responded, "Oh, I thought you guys were going to handle that." As one of my astute bandmates pointed out, that's an incredibly flawed assumption, especially from a legal standpoint. If you're a business owner, do you really want a non-employee, someone whose income is based on how many people he/she admits, to be the gatekeeper for a 21+ venue? Is that really a risk worth taking?

But I digress. This is a symptom of the crumbling relationship between musicians and venues. As a musician, it's easy to point the finger in frustration and make everyone else out to be the bad guy, but the fact of the matter is that venues are hurting too. I feel that venues are shooting themselves in the foot if they're relying on bands, most of whom have little to no draw, as their primary source for patrons. Both parties have habits of trying to exploit each other for whatever they're worth. Venues want bands with big draws (big draws = more $$$). Bands want to play at venues with a big draw in hopes of finding new fans. If both places are constantly taking, neither benefit.

Now I'm not one to be able to speak intelligently about running a music venue, but I would think that running a successful venue is not terribly dissimilar to running a successful band. Both need to reach out to press, media, blogs, etc., to get "exposure" and good reviews. Both need to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Ultimately, both need to have good, compelling content and have a clear idea about their expectations. 

What I would love to see is an open dialog between venues and musicians. Both have needs and concerns about which the other side might not be fully aware. So I ask venues, what do you wish musicians knew about your side of the business? Musicians: what do you wish venues realized about the services you provide?

Next week, I'll be writing a post that explores profit margins between musicians and venues. 

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