Open Letter to the Bar Owner Who Wrote the Open Letter to Musicians on Craigslist

Categories: Music Bidness

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Dear Guy Who Owns a Bar in Tampa and wrote this letter to musicians on Craigslist,

I've been playing music for over 25 years. I've worked in a lot of different places from absolute ratholes to really wonderful venues. I've seen all sorts of bad behavior on the part of musicians, fans, sound guys, bartenders, bouncers, managers and, yes, even bar owners.

Contrary to what you may believe, I do actually get that you are in business. I understand that you are eking out a living running a bar. I know that your job and the jobs of your bartenders are to sell drinks. I'm pretty sure all musicians know that.

But since you decided to give musicians advice on how to improve themselves, I have a few suggestions for you as well.


Upgrade your crappy sound and light gear... or buy some if you don't have any.
Nothing is more irritating than showing up at a bar and our "stage" is a corner where we have to move tables and set up underneath a flatscreen TV that stays on during the entire set. No sound gear. No lights. Good luck. Ought to be loads of fun putting on a show and "entertaining" people while selling your drinks in a dark ass corner with no way to control the sound whatsoever.


Don't expect me to be some ham-handed used car salesman up there to push your watered-down "premium" drinks.
I will gladly tell people to get their drink on, but I'm not running an infomercial. Demanding that I stand onstage like David Lee Roth circa 1980 crowing about the magical properties of whatever high-dollar cocktail you have to offer is only going to make me less inclined to do it. You paid me to entertain people, not sell your booze. I know you think it's the same thing. It isn't.


Acknowledge that the reason those people are in the bar in the first place is probably to see me play AND drink your booze.
This is a symbiotic relationship we have here. We need your venue. Without it, we'd be street buskers. You need our music. You acknowledge it helps you make more money. But those people that file in and stay do so because WE are entertaining them.

Your drinks are] a means of improving their enjoyment, but that isn't what brought them in the door and keeps them there. If it is, you don't need to hire a band, but since you do, even you can recognize the value. So, don't start off from the position of pretending you are doing me some gracious favor by allowing me to set up and play for YOUR patrons.


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If my band sucks, don't hire us, but don't pretend to be an expert on music.
I once had a guy come up to me in between sets at a happy-hour acoustic gig and tell me that we should really play "Margaritaville" because it's "peppy." You stick to drink specials and promoting your business and let me stick to doing what I do best.

If you think I suck, you are free to never hire me again (or not hire me in the first place), but as John Winger told Sgt. Hulka in Stripes, "If you don't want me in your army, kick me out, but get off my back."


If you want nothing but covers, hire cover bands.
Few things are more frustrating than a bar owner who hires you with full knowledge that you are an original (or mostly original) band and then complains that you aren't cranking out "Mustang Sally." Do your homework beforehand and don't blame me if you wanted a live jukebox and got us instead.

But keep in mind that good cover bands will want real money, not the paltry wads of cash you shove in my face at the end of the night (more on that in a minute). I'm fine with bars only wanting cover bands (though plenty of good original bands can keep the dance floor packed and the patrons drinking), but don't start demanding more covers from me if you knew going in I was bringing original material. Refer to my last point for more information.


If you don't want it loud, don't hire a rock band.
I cannot for the life of me figure out why people hire rock bands and then freak out when the guitars start roaring and drums start pounding. There can be excess, to be sure, but the average rock band is simply going to be loud. If they aren't, it's probably not a rock band.

All musicians understand the need to moderate the sound level in the room -- some better than others -- and most will oblige if you ask nicely, but if you come to us bitching about the noise after we've already turned down once at your urging, you probably just shouldn't have us back... or any other rock band for that matter.


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10 comments
therealex
therealex

Just my own follow up to that original letter, which I saw posted on Facebook, posted as "The Ugly Truth About The Music Scene":

Ok, here's another ugly truth: this bar owner is a jerk. When my group (the Hitman Blues Band) plays in England, or Scotland, or Austria, or Holland, do you really think I bring people from home? Yet, the venue is packed. Why?

BECAUSE THE CLUB OWNER GETS OFF HIS/HER ASS AND PROMOTES IT.

For example, I'm playing at the Eel Pie Club in London at the end of August. Warren and Gina are already promoting the hell out of it. It's one of the few places I'll play for the door, because I know they will get a huge crowd. If they want posters or whatever, I'll supply them. When I played the Rocking Horse in Nottingham, they made a huge damn sign to put over the stage. Was it a good crowd? Hell yeah.

We're not on the level of Shemekia Copeland or Derek Trucks. We play smaller venues (sometimes WAY smaller). We cannot guarantee a crowd. If we could, we'd open our own damn club.

We don't need your $100 a man, which is what we made in 1990. Thanks, but it won't cover our bills. What do WE want? More fans. We're trying to build a buzz, and are willing to work for what (in 2013) amounts to gas money to do it. But you have to do your part.

If you can't get your own people to come to your club, then we cant' help you. Your club is going to fail, because you don't have a following. People don't know that YOUR club is the place to go to hear great live music, get drinks at a reasonable price, and have a good time.

And that's your fault. We can't fix that. Unless the band is so lousy (or so loud) that they're actually driving people away, an empty club is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.

Oh, and by the way - do you really think you can get a band that brings in 100 people, or even 75 people, for $500? Any band that can absolutely guarantee that many clients is not going to play at your club, or at least not for that kind of money. The same as YOUR till, the math doesn't work for the band, either.

Adam Castaneda
Adam Castaneda

And now expect to pay us much less than they agreed to initially because they didnt do their research and they're unhappy with the product.

Adam Castaneda
Adam Castaneda

Beth, I'm not sure if you were agreeing with my point or making a counter-argument. If a bar chooses to hire a band for a show they should make sure it's appropriate. This benefits the bar, the band and the regulars. If a venue is set up for low volume singer songwriters, and the regulars and bartenders have adapted to that then the bar owners need to hire those acts. If one day a loud, raucous, inappropriately energetic band shows up and has to reinforce a weak or inadequate PA with additional speakers and amps it kills the vibe for everyone. Regulars tend to avoid the bar on those nights or leave early, the band will not want to play there again because it's not a comfortable place to play, and the fans of the band may not return because the venue isn't set up for their interests. I play around 70 to 100 gigs a year with groups of various sizes that all play original music with nominal levels of profanity, some in spanish. I've been booked in some strange locales -- from tea houses, VFW lodges, Catholic churches, weddings, breweries, taquerias, circus' to every music club imaginable. Every bar or restaurant is not necessarily a music venue. I've seen a lot of bar/venue/restaurant owners with dollar signs in their eyes when they book us only to be mad when our amps take up half the room and the regulars are running out the door.

Jason Ison
Jason Ison

But assumptions are the order of the day so, yeah the bar owners must be the 1% sticking it to us. Tell me again how much the HOB's sound system sucks.

Jason Ison
Jason Ison

Or the band members, parents let out of the cage, and the bar owner are just working class people trying to make ends meet and, make coming out to the live event as worthwhile as possible for the least expense.

Dave Huckabay
Dave Huckabay

Classic moron bar owner. Bands are hired to entertain not peddle your liquor.

Joshua Justice
Joshua Justice

Valid points on both sides. What it comes down to is the bar owner is likely from a suburban or other gentrified bar talking to crackpot creed cover bands performing to college dropouts and 27 year olds pining for the high school glory days and Mr. Balke is speaking for musicians who take themselves seriously and want to perform at music-centric bars.

Adam Castaneda
Adam Castaneda

Bars with inadequate equipment is one of my biggest peeves. If your bar only has 1 mic and no monitors why did you hire my 9 piece band with three singers and full horn section? The $200 PA-in-a-box has done some real damage to live music.

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