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Joined: Nov 2003
Posts: 6,403
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Joined: Nov 2003
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Ran across the following on Portland (OR) Craigslist, where there's been a running discussion among musicians about how hard it is to get paying gigs. liked the sentiments. Posting it here because Craigslist makes post disappear entirely after 30 days (and sometimes faster).


No-pay gigs and exploitation by venues (Hollywood, PDX)
Reply to: comm-dbztg-1217063127@craigslist.org [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-06-11, 3:13PM PDT

TO POST FLAGGERS: This musician's forum is for discussions related to the Portland Musical Community. This includes ads for musicians, venues AND DISCUSSING MUSICAL TOPICS. Please read the posting guidelines before you flag.

Yesterday I posted a list of venues that pay well for gigs. It's still floating around this board, so check it out.

I'm still seeing posts, however, from people complaining about being "exploited" by venues. This is bunk. I don't really care about people complaining that they aren't getting paid as much as they'd like, but I do feel an obligation to help educate and support my fellow musicians, just as I received help and support when I started playing this scene.

I now play in a gigging band that makes enough money to support ourselves (meagerly). I have never owned or worked in a club, but I do understand basic economics and the music venue business model.

I love Portland. I love the people here. I love how much support and guidence I received from other musicians when I first got to town, and I want to give something back. So in that spirit, I offer some lessons I've learned from playing this scene:

1. If you are trying to make it as a paid musician, you need to treat your music like a business.

If you play music as a hobby or purely for art, that's fine, but expect to get paid as much as a club would pay somebody to put their model train set on display. For many musicians, this is more satisfying than trying to make money. Playing for art's sake can also lead to a financially successful project, but that's not guaranteed. Just recognize why you are playing and learn to be satisfied with the non-material benefits.

If you want to make money, you need to have a product, which brings me to my next point...

2. As a band or performer, your product is fans.

It doesn't matter how good you are, or think you are, or a review said you are. It doesn't matter how much you spent on gear or how much gas cost you to drive to the venue. Venues will pay you money because you bring them fans.

I see a lot of posts about offered "free" gigs that complain about how little venues value all the time and money they have spent getting their band together. Do you value the cost of kitchen equipment when you buy a $1 cheeseburger from McDonalds? Or do you think, "wow, that's a pretty crappy cheeseburger, even for $1."

Just as you only care about the cheeseburger when you spend your buck, venues only care about your product, fans. They get the same value from an a cappella group with 50 fans as a electronic group with 50 fans, even though the electronic group has sunk way more into their gear. I know this seems unfair, but that's because...

3. Venues are businesses too.

I know everybody "knows" this, but performers seem to forget it when they are trying to get their own paying gigs. Just like your band has gas and equipment costs, the venues have their costs as well. PAs, sound guys, and door guys -- not to mention the operating costs of the non-musical portion of the venue -- all cost money. If your project is not bringing in enough fan revenue to offset those costs, then it isn't profitable to have you play, even for free.

Keep in mind that for venues that aren't dedicated to music, like coffee shops and bars, your band is going to drive away some customers. Some people won't like your genre, some people just don't want to hear live music. For the dedicated music venues, you probably won't make customers leave, but you have to work extra hard to offset the costs of the PA and sound guy.

What's that you say? You have a killer band but no fans? That's because you need to...

4. Promote, promote, promote.

Putting up flyers and handouts is OK, but I've seen almost no effect from these tactics. One of the best ways you can promote your band is by word of mouth. Tell your friends. Tell your friends to tell your friends. Tell your boss and your crazy uncle and that weird guy you met at the bar last night. Meet as many new people as you can after every show and tell them. If you meet anybody in any way related to the music industry, make them repeat your band name 5 times before they leave your sight.

You need to be approachable and likeable after a show. Being a dark and brooding guitar player may be cool when you're established, but people are much more likely to go to your shows if they like you. I used to play in a band where the guitar player acted aloof after each show. Yeah, he was a technical wizard on the guitar, but people aren't going to support somebody who acts like a dick to them.

What's that you say? You have a ton of fans but still no paying gigs? Well the best thing you can do now is to...

5. Play free shows.

"No!" I hear you say. "We're beyond that. We have fans." Yes, but you don't have paying gigs. That's because the venues that pay aren't aware of you yet. But they will be. Just like girls are more attracted to guys that already have girlfriends, venues are attracted to bands that are already playing other venues.

Everytime you play a show, put it up on Jambase. Send it to the Portland Mercury. Promoters and bookers scan these listings to see who's hot right now. If your name comes up week after week, they will notice you. It may take time: my current band played nothing but free shows for a year before we got attention from the bigger venues. But everytime you see a Craigslist post for a free gig and pass it up, you are passing up free publicity.

It's not like you aren't getting something from the free shows. You are getting better at your instrument, you are getting new fans, and you are getting exposure to the local music scene -- all these things lead to paying gigs. If you do well, the venue will contact you again. If you think you're good enough, tell them you won't play without compensation.

I'm sure that some of you feel like you already know all of this. You've got the fans, you've played the free gigs, and the only reason you're not making big money on gigs right now is because greedy club owners are exploiting bands in this town. They know you'll play for any price, and are hogging all of those fat profits themselves.

Sound familiar?

Time to put up or shut up.

If you really think you aren't getting paid because the venues are stealing the profit, then cut out the middleman. Rent out one of the many available venues/warehouses/dance studios in town, rent or buy a PA, and put on a show yourself.

Times are tough right now for everybody, especially musicians. But let's stop taking out our frustration on each other. We need to support each other -- not just the musicians, but the venues, the promoters, the managers, the fans. It's all interconnected. The more that musicians rip on venues, or fans rip on bands, the less success and fun we will all have.

Joined: Jun 2009
Posts: 13
Casual Observer
Casual Observer
Joined: Jun 2009
Posts: 13

All SO very true & well written.

...You can't always get what you want; but if you try sometimes you get what you need......Rolling Stones

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