The Struggling Musician: Part One Dealing With Venues

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Rocking the bass at the Black Bull Pub in Folkestone, England circa 2006.

One of the many pies that I have a fingers in is music. I write songs, I perform them regularly in various bars and pubs, and I one day hope that I will gain recognition for my song-writing ability.

I have been on the music scene since 2005 when I was part of a rock and blues covers band called BackBurner. There were four of us in the band and for three years we entertained crowds all over the county and beyond.

Our first gig was arranged by the drummer at his local pub, The Castle Inn, Saltwood, England. The gig was a success and so we decided to perform regularly. I set about contacting local pubs and we were quickly booked up with weekly gigs all over the town.

 

Generally we were paid £200 to play from 9pm-11pm although we mostly finished at 11:30pm after a few encores. We usually agreed to play for £180 for the first gig if the pubs hadn’t heard of us but mostly word of mouth had gotten around the town that we were a pretty good band. Rarely did we have issues booking gigs. Occasionally a pub would ask for a CD to which we would offer a live recording, admittedly not the greatest of quality but if gave a general idea of what we sounded like.

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Rocking out at a birthday gig in Hawkinge, England Circa 2005.

Having moved to Canada in June 2011 I naturally wanted to continue performing as it’s something I enjoyed doing although this time I would be solo. Luckily my first gig (KJ Shack in Port Perry, Ontario) was offered to me after I was invited on stage to play a few songs at a local gig. Other bookings weren’t as easy to acquire.

I was also shocked to discover that instead of playing for two hours most venues expected the musicians to play for four hours, mainly from 9pm-1am. Four forty-five minute sets? That’s approximately ten to twelve songs per set. I had the material but like most musicians singing for four hours tends to take its toll on one’s vocal chords.

The pay was also a lot less which I expected because I’m a solo act but I feel that playing for four hours is just too long. Three hours is just about enough but hell, I’m even bored after four hours. I wouldn’t even want to listen of my favourite bands for four hours straight.

I continued to call up every bar and pub that I learned existed in my local area and first question I would be asked by venues surprisingly isn’t “What genre do you play?” or even “Do you have a recording for us to hear?”. No, the first question was always “How many people can you bring?”. Now this question always gets my goat. I appreciate that bars and pubs are businesses and they are mostly only interested in profit but surely their question should be “Are you going to bring in a crowd that will spend money?”

Over the years I have witnessed many gigs where the crowd are too young to drink, they drink only soft drinks or, if there is more than one band on the bill, leave after their band has played their set. Now when a venue asks me “How many people can you bring?” I retort with “Why is your bar not popular enough to have a regular clientele?”. I would also explain that since I wasn’t born in Canada, let alone the local area therefore needed time to build up a following but would also need to perform live in order to do that although this excuse didn’t seem to hold any weight with the bar owners.

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Performing solo at Main’s Mansion, Markham, Ontario in 2011.

As time went on and I began to gain a small following I would say to the bar owners. “Yes I could bring in thirty people….for one night. What about tomorrow night when you don’t have a band on. Who will come to your pub then? No-one? Then maybe you should ask yourself why doesn’t anyone want to come and hangout in my pub?”

To further increase my anger when dealing with bar owners, I have even had several venues contact me almost on a daily basis wanting updates on crowd numbers and what I am doing to promote the evening. Now I can understand them wanting to know how many people musicians will bring so that they can ensure that enough staff members have been arranged to cope with the numbers, but when a venue hassles musicians and then, this bit infuriates me, neglects to promote the evening themselves (A few venues haven’t even put up posters that I have sent or even mentioned me on their websites or social media sites) then there is something wrong with that venue’s business practices.

It needs to be a joint effort by venues and musicians to promote and make the evening a success, and every business should be talking to their regular clientele informing through word of mouth, internal advertising and use of social media about upcoming events.

To make matter worse, a lot of bars and pubs in Canada, or at least the Toronto area where I was living, have booking agents who you need to go through because they haven’t time, or can’t be bothered, to deal with musicians directly. The agents will take a chunk of whatever you earn which can be up to 25%.

Excuse me! You get $50 for phoning and asking “Is this date free?”. Big smegging deal! A lot of musicians I know undercut the agents by dealing with the pubs directly after the first gig. Some pubs will do this but others won’t.

At the end of the day you need to be thick skinned as a musician. You have to deal with rejection everyday….idiots too.

If you enjoyed this post please check out The Struggling Musician Part Two: Dealing with the Audience

Should any of you wish to check out my originals, please click the links below:

NickLawrenceMusic.co.uk – Where you can purchase my recorded material

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My Music video for “Time to Leave This Town”

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8 responses to “The Struggling Musician: Part One Dealing With Venues

  1. It amazes me the trouble you end up going through just trying to find gigs here – I have been to many pubs in our area where the band that is playing is either god awful, or they don’t have a band at all. It’s a shame that bar owners don’t want to promote new artists, I think they are missing out on a huge opportunity.

    • I know. I understand they are worried about the bottom line but if you pay $200 for a band for four hours and you don’t even cover your costs…bearing in mind its a Friday night and people averagely spend $40 each after a few beers and a plate of wings. If you can’t get six people in to spend that much in four hours then you have issues with your business.

  2. I have had gigs cancelled after the first set! I have had pay disputed because of low turn out. My argument is always “Did you pay the bartender any less because he didn’t bring people out? How about the waitress’s?” The bar hires the band, the bar does the promo, the bar brings the ppl in. You get hired to provide entertainment for the bars crowd. Too many inexperienced owners/managers only care about short term.

    • I agree totally about too many inexperienced bar owners. That is a very good question to ask and I may steal it for further use if I may :). The need to advertise seems like common sense to me which alot of them obviously haven’t got. I am thankful that I haven’t had a gig cancelled after one set. How soul destroying for you. I hope you have been treated better by other venues.

  3. Pingback: The Struggling Musician Part 6: Busking | Lawrence of Canadia·

  4. Pingback: The Struggling Musician: Part Two – Dealing with the Audience | Lawrence of Canadia·

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