Self promotion for the DIY musician has always been an uphill battle. You write recordchicken-or-the-egg_7 and promote your original music the best you can, but nobody is listening. You spend years honing your craft so that you can constantly grow and improve, and that alone takes hours, days, weeks, months and yes, decades to master. It’s mostly a solitary existence when you are creating, and when it comes time to gig you hope somebody out there wants to listen. So what are you doing to create awareness around your music and how much energy are you putting into promoting your band?It takes quite a bit of time and creative know how to gain fans that really listen, come to shows and want to support your career. There are millions of bands to choose from so it’s a tall order to get people to choose you. However, this is the path you chose so it’s time to get to work!You do have a responsibility to gather friends and fans from all over the world if your goal is to be a serious professional musician. But what about getting fans to come to your gigs…is that your responsibility or the venues?

This dilemma has been talked about fought about and debated for decades. Club owners typically take the point of view that they are giving the musicians exposure, a place to play and a chance to make a little money and gain fans by booking them into their venue. They don’t feel the need to provide a guarantee that is equal to cost of living wages nor to they usually care if the band makes any money at all. Some regions of the country, LA being the biggest offender, uses pay to play as the standard for gigging. You essentially have all the responsibility of selling the tickets to the show and ensuring that enough people show up to make the gig beneficial for you and the club. That’s a lot of pressure when you are an unknown Indy artist. There are several booking agencies across the country that will get you lots of gigs providing you sell the tickets ahead of time, meet the minimum number required and then the agent is happy to take 80 or 90% of the door. Great deal!Well it’s a gig and you think, it’s better than nothing. Is it? What if you valued your talent more than that and played at open mic jams instead, building up your fans and your buzz until you are ready to get a good paying gig?What if you weren’t willing to accept $50.00 to play a three-hour gig and just said, “No” to the agent when you know that the gig has paid $150.00 per man in the past. When you undercut the scale at venues just to get the gig, you set a precedence that hurts your fellow musicians and you let the club get away with murder. Watch and see how quickly you are the most hated musician in town. So how do I change the situation and book my band for a reasonable fee?guitarmoneycase

First of all find out what the going rate is at venues and don’t undercut that rate just to get a gig. You have a responsibility to your fellow musicians and you need your colleagues and your music community. Ask the venue what THEY are doing to promote the gig, such as listing it on their website, putting up fliers and posting on social media. Offer to re-post and promote their club if they comply. You can continue to bitch about what the club isn’t doing or you can go straight into solution mode and get the word out. If you have built a solid following, agents will see that and be more optimistic that their clubs will be filled, people will be spending money and they can line their pockets. That’s the bottom line for them. Will your band bring a crowd that will stay all night, spend money on food and drinks and bring in lots of cash for the agent? They didn’t book you because they love your music, grow up. This is a business. Why should an agent book your band with no following, when they can book a band that has built a following of  thousands of loyal fans for many years?But if the club promoted my gig you say, then people would come to the show, love the music stay all night and everyone is happy. Perhaps that’s true, but which comes first, the band building the fans who may then go to the gigs, or the venues promoting the bands so that the venue gets filled and then the band can play there again for an even bigger crowd?

If we were talking about any other business the idea of providing a service for the “exposure” would be laughable, but for some reason in the music Industry its common place. Maybe your dentist should give you hundreds of dollars of free dental work so he can feature your winning smile on his website. Or perhaps your mechanic could fix your carburetor for free so that he could post his awesome work on facebook to gain new clients. And shouldn’t Nike be paying YOU to walk around decked out in their attire, advertising their fabulous products?What’s the difference between those ridiculous analogies and being asked to play a three-hour gig in a club for the “exposure?”Alot of this is a continuing problem because musicians allow it to be. They just want to play, so they agree to go into a club for nothing and sometimes lose money because of paying for gas to get to the gig or equipment rental fees. If you don’t value your time and skills why should anyone else?

There have been many letters flying around over the years from musicians to club owners about the quandary of playing for exposure. CD Baby featured one that I found particularly compelling and eloquent written by Jazz musician Dave Goldberg. This is a great letter and one worth reading for sure. One of my favorite parts of the letter speaks to the shortsightedness of the club owners when booking any band just because they played for free..

“But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again. And the people that were starting to follow your venue are now turned off because you just made them listen to a bad band. The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night. Instead, you’ve soiled your reputation for a quick fix.

If you asked a club owner, ”who is your target demographic?” I doubt they would answer ”the band’s friends and family.” But yet clubs operate like it is.

… would you expect the chef’s friends and family to eat at your restaurant every night? How about the dishwasher, the waitresses, the hostess? Or how about the club owner’s friends and family? You see,when you start turning this argument around, it becomes silly.”

Goldberg brings up some great points in this open letter. It would be interesting to know how this played out for him and what type of response he got from various club owners. Dave did finally get a positive response from the club owner he wrote his letter to, and now the club is out of business. It’s fabulous that he fought back and he encourages other players to do the same in his letter. After you read Dave’s letter, think about it and let me know your thoughts. I have a feeling this battle is one for the ages. But if you want to make a change, you do have to start with yourself.




12 Responses to The Chicken or The Egg

  1. James says:

    Great topic! Like many musicians I have struggled with this, but one thing I didn’t see mentioned was booking gigs out your local area. I have faced numerous times where the club some how magically expects me to know people from the area even though I have never been there!! You talk on the phone or email them about working together with a well known local act to help fill the venue and they think your nuts. It seems as though the days of a club working hard to promote are long gone in most cases, they might has well get a bunch of flat screens and be a sports bar.

    • Ghezzi says:

      Hey Thanks:-) Yep, even out of town you have to do the promoting. Send flyers ahead of time and make sure you have a street team in place to create buzz in that town and check on the club promotion. Otherwise, you will show up to an empty club and never get booked again! Lots of clubs do have TV’s on during the show. Great, isn’t it:-0

  2. Frenchie says:

    Hi Ghezzi! I read the letter you referenced a few years ago and distributed copies to fellow musicians and several venues too. Most of the musicians in my area are cover bands that just want to be under the lights and they didn’t get it. Several of the venue owners thought I either just made it up or it was a stupid way for them to do business(Really? Promote my own events!?!?? OUTRAGEOUS! Go away silly little musician!) Most are closed now. It has always been my belief that the venue’s job is to fill the seats by promoting the venue and the musicians job is to add their fans and keep everyone in the house and happy. Here’s another thought. If club owners have no problem asking for a percentage of the door then musicians should have no problem asking for a percentage of bar sales.

    • Ghezzi says:

      Hi Frenchie! I love it! That’s great that you distributed the letter. Amazing how people just can’t open their minds and think differently. It’s a serious issue that bands and clubs have fought over for years. Of course those clubs are closed, notice how many times many change management or even their name?How about just promoting your venue and events? Great idea about bands taking part of bar sales. Makes sense to me!

      Hope you guys are feeling better:-)

  3. Nikki G says:

    Awesome post! Fantastic article by Chris Robley. This is ridiculously true. Pay to play, short cutting the bands, offering 40% of door sales?? That one really gets me. The worst one I had once was, All Ages Show, first $300 goes to the venue…and it was a fundraiser….wtf! I built the line-up for that fundraiser and no one went to it because the venue didn’t do ANYTHING to help us promote. I made the flyer, promted on event pages, recruited bands that were willing to play for a good cause and for free, on a Sunday night where they had to be away from their families. Besides that, the venue took everything we made so when it came down to giving anything to the sick guy with liver disease, we were empty handed. It was a disaster. I struggle constantly trying to get gigs for my artists. Now, I stopped booking tremendously, but the hot list is different and I focus really hard to figure out how to get them there. Other than that, they are better off playing an open mic than the run down Beat Kitchen in the city that expects 50ppl on a Wednesday plus $25 to the promoter there PLUS $50 for the engineer. Pisses me off with a smile 🙂

    • Ghezzi says:

      Yep, sad but true. Musicians need to learn to stand their grown and own their worth. Do the open mics rather than pay to play. Get contracts or at least a letter on intent, and ask for what you are worth. On the flip side, be prepared to do your part as a musician to get your fans motivated to come to shows. If the fans don’t show up, you are doing something wrong. They either aren’t connecting with the music or the artist. Either way, it can’t be ignored if an artist is serious about a career in the business.

  4. Philip Scales says:


    Spot on…moreover,its critical for musicians,groups to go through the lean gigs to motivate them to adjust their marketing mix…
    In the days of the four person group …splitting a limited amount tendered by club owners places many musicians as “field hands”…but…approaching the owner and assuring him/her not to pay a penny other than reasonable food and beverages.Moreover, negotiate with said owner to allow your people to handle cover charges for the gig…most owners…would agree to such as the financial risk has been leveraged to only food and drinks…and he/she figures their getting free entertainment…
    Our keyboard player had a five foot two…blonde haired,green eyed hotty whom manned the door…guys are more inclined to hand over a cover to a cute girl (where ever that rainbow of beauty may lead one)…but we’d always have a six foot seven football player as backup…contingents!
    This marketing/business approach changed our bands intake exponentially…from a mere $150.00 split four ways for a one night gig to splitting $1200-$1600 for a three night engagement….not bad for college/university students…oh…less the roadies and business expense…we made good money.
    When a club owner comes to you shaking his head…”I’VE sold out of all my call brand and suds”…your business approach just made a friend and a notch on ones “axe” for a return visit….and it (music) is a business…and good business is when all parties walk away…with a smile…

    • Ghezzi says:

      I hear you Phillip! You really do have to be strategic when dealing with clubs. Getting as munch information as possible about every club before booking is essential. If you take control and agents see you have a well thought out plan and that you are confident, you are much more likely to get what you want. At the end of the day, you do have to deliver a great show, but if you do, word will get around to other clubs. Booking agents do talk to each other. So… it’s best to keep a cool professional approach to all of this madness!

  5. Yes, I find this particular issue to be one of the most frustrating problems in the music industry. Many musicians blame the venues, many venues blame the musicians, I blame both. Another factor that comes into play is the recession that has whacked the live music industry hard. Strangely, this has not affected higher level artists – i.e., artists that play in high profile venues such as theatres and arenas as ticket sales are at an all time high – but rather the lower level indy bands that are trying hard to get noticed in the little clubs and local venues. Until one can make that leap up to the next level it really is like being caught in a catch-22.

    ‘Tis indeed a conundrum and one that I just cannot fathom a solution to. Perhaps we are witnessing the evolution of the live music club, one in which the survival of the fittest will become more transparent as this era of technology revolutionizes the live music scene. Perhaps our efforts should be put towards online platforms like Stageit where we can perform for the multitudes of people that would rather sit at home than go out to a club. Perhaps we just have to be stubborn and find those old fashioned clubs that are musician-friendly.

    Whatever the case may be, my fellow musicians, DO NOT PLAY FOR FREE!!! You are undercutting and belittling your peers.

    • Ghezzi says:

      Leah, I do agree that both artist and clubs are at fault. I think it’s easy to become complacent and say, “well, it’s always been this way so it will never change!” That is a self fulfilling prophecy. Musicians need to stand their ground and stick together around standard rates and not undercut each other. Online shows are fabulous, with the power of the Internet, once you have a solid fan base, it’s a no-brainer. However, that being said, I still think slugging it out live in the clubs is equally important and would be much easier if artists leveraged each other, participated in show sharing and had each other backs with the clubs. The Industry is changing and this situation can be changed as well!

  6. Cal says:

    This seems to be a huge problem here in Connecticut for sure. I run into clubs almost always that just want to filter bands through and expect me to sell 10$ tickets to a show that takes place on a Monday night in a location pretty far from where me and my family/friends live. Why would they seek me out? I wonder. I think it’s because they have a delusion that people are going to actually attend these shows and I see the poor souls that come as a touring band and play these venues with me and the crowd is MAYBE 20 people if they’re lucky. I remember playing a show where the venue had just about every other gig listed except for mine on their website. I can only do so much to get people to come. My compelling reason for people to come only goes as far as them liking me or not(whether as a person or as a musician, or both). The venues need to build their reputation just as much as I do. I see now how then clubs/venues bottleneck their attendance counts simply because they just expect the musician to scratch and claw… I might as well be an employee of the venue at that rate!

    • Ghezzi says:

      I have relatives in your neck of the woods so I know the drill. This is evident across the country. The venues do need to step up for sure but musicians really have to be strategic about reaching out through twitter, facebook music, music sites, etc to target people in the location of their gigs. Any touring artist should use a street team to get the word out in a city/club well before their gig. Never count on the club to create the buzz, you have to do it yourself. Ah…it is the world of DIY…in every way!

      As always thanks for your feedback Cal! You are diligent for sure and THAT will serve you well:-)

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