In this open letter to music venues, Evan Zwisler details the ways in which performance spaces should be more upfront about their business operations, and how they should bands and artists before, after, and during the show.
You — the bookers, talent buyers, space leasers, show promoters, and venue staff — are the Gatekeepers of the Stage. We, we are the humble artists requesting permission to step upon it.
We need you. We need your rooms to showcase our music, we need your sound systems to broadcast it to the world, we need your promotional capabilities and online platforms to grow our careers, we need your audiences to help us learn by doing. But you also need us. You need our talent to fill your space, you need our energy in the room to sell drinks, you need our uniquenesses and popularity to continually refresh your brand, and without our amps, your live sound engineers would be out of work!
We know that a lot of painstaking work goes on behind the scenes when it comes to setting up a show, and you must know how much work goes into our side of things as well. We know that there are empathetic promoters and malevolent ones out there, good apples and bad apples just like in every other industry, but we also know that coming up as an unknown independent artist is hard, and the trend of being rude and disorganized is altogether too widespread not to address. We bands often end up feeling like pieces of meat with no other purpose than to be seared, served, shoved out the door, and sold at a premium.
Everyone on our side of this symbiotic coin who has played music live and toured different cities and venues only to find that this doesn’t exactly go away when you cross state lines, has had to battle frustrating experiences of managerial disrespect. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are our modest requests.
Be upfront about payment.
We’ve all played shows where there have been miscommunications about what the door split will be between the bands and the venue. Most venues will include some information about who gets paid what somewhere in their booking communications, but due to the discrepancies between whoever programs a space and who works the evening, a lot of bands still end up arriving at venues with little idea how, when, and what they’ll be paid, and by whom.
Whether that information exists buried in some PDF somewhere or not, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make that pretty clear. Bands often worry that bringing up “the money thing” will put them on thin ice with a venue, and so they may be uncomfortable asking these questions. Is this going to be a door-split, a fixed guarantee, a pass-the-hat, or a free benefit show with in-kind remuneration of some kind? It’s always best to be clear and upfront as early in the process as possible.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Check out this video called, “Thinking About Money” from our free Touring on a Shoestring online course designed to help you book, manage, and promote better tours on the DIY circuit!
Be transparent about your business model.
There are venues out there with only one sound engineer running between two stages, and where the revenue from the first ten tickets sold for each band goes to the house. Those venues could put five bands on each stage every night and make a couple thousand dollars off the bands and their fans. Why take that big a cut? Who is this for? That one sound guy running up and down stairs all night?
We seriously doubt it. Bands have no problem paying the people who make the show happen and make sure things go smoothly, but we want to know where the money is ultimately going. Don’t try and scrimp and save, and then scam bands into giving up more of what they bring in than they should.
Don’t shuffle out the bands at midnight so you can start a DJ dance party.
Running a bar is a business. We understand that dance parties probably generate more money off drinks than gigs where people are mostly seated or standing around. If you must play Cinderella and transform your bar into a night club at the stroke of midnight, then paying attention to time management is key here.
Either don’t double-book the night, or give enough of a window in between parties so that the bands who perform don’t have to rush out because the bouncer can’t handle their amps taking up stage space for another 10 minutes. It’s a terrible feeling to have just entertained a bunch of paying customers and then be asked to leave immediately because your expensive instruments are in the way of some DJ’s CD wallet of techno remixes.
Please help us with the promotion.
Is it that hard to meet bands halfway with promotional efforts? We’re never going to tell you how to do this, everyone has their own methods, but you gotta make an effort. Too often, we spend months going back and forth on dates and setting up the support acts and all the relevant details, and then the bar doesn’t even bother to update their website or share the Facebook event we had to end up making, let alone send out a newsletter featuring the show. If we make a poster and spend money on the designing and printing, the least you could do is hang it up.
A little effort really goes a long way to a lot of bands.
Please don’t treat bands like they’re on a conveyor belt.
Perhaps it’s the promoter’s job to “curate” the evening, perhaps there isn’t a promoter, and it’s all being done through the venue’s in-house talent buyer (that job title alone demonstrates part of the problem). Either way, we’re all human — from the headliners to the first support act — and we don’t like feeling like inanimate products on a conveyor belt.
We’ve all had run-ins with some arrogant, overworked coordinator who enters into every situation with an attitude, claiming, “well if your band isn’t bringing 50 people, why should I give a sh*^ about you?” Being treated with respect — and like we’re all part of the same jigsaw puzzle of building an audience, fostering community, beautifying the neighborhood with art, enlivening people’s days with creativity and positivity, and making a bit of money in the process — makes all the difference.
Venues, don’t think we don’t appreciate you. We’re just looking to turn this relationship from a combative one, into a collaborative one.