He wonders why he can’t get paid more for doing his job. In my experience, this is not a complaint limited to the music business.
Too Much Music
I think the answer is simple – it’s a supply-and-demand issue. While most cities have a large number of music venues, there are many more bands than venues. Most bands will play anywhere on any bill at any time.
In the worst situations, the economics get so bad the clubs can actually charge the bands to perform (known as “pay-to-play”). This sort of thing comes and goes in some of the major cities (Los Angeles being most notable).
Club owners don’t have to offer most bands any (more) money, because the club owners recognize any specific band needs a night at any venue more than any specific venue needs a night with any band. Especially local bands with uneven material and no following to speak of.
The result is that musicians have no leverage when it comes to demanding more money from the clubs.
Most of it stinks
There’s just too many bands. And most of them aren’t very good. I’ve been going to shows since the late 20th century. The bands have not improved much...they’ve just gotten a lot louder.
The quantity “issue” is not addressable, nor should it be. I like that there are plenty of musicians out there. I just wish they were better at what they do. And by that, I don't mean some nebulous definition of "good music". While I am mystified by the hype surrounding bands like No Age, I'm also perfectly willing to posit that I "just dont' get it" because "I'm old."
That said, here are common mistakes club bands make:
- Boring music. This is the usual – the band’s material is derivative or underbaked, or just…bad. The best thing most bands could do is play more covers. Except for…
- • The obligatory cover. You know it’s coming. It will be the last song of the set. It will be something “clever” that shows the audience how much the band knows about music. Most of the time, it’s by far the best song in the band’s set and they’ll actually play it with more fire and fun than any of the previous tunes.
- Dull performance. The Cars could get away with standing stock-still because it was fresh and their songs were fantastic. Bands out there, take heed: You are not The Cars. Put on some different clothes. Move around. Get lights or a slideshow or videos. Make me think you actually care that you have an audience. Perform. Make me feel something or have an experience. Do not resort to cheap gimmicks – Nudity? Done. Attacking the audience? Stupid. Dumping various fluids on the crowd? Great way to keep people from coming to see you next time.
- It’s too loud. Most venues have more than enough sound reinforcement and sound guys who aren’t terrible. The rooms are usually relatively small. Yet every band thinks “sweet, now I can really turn up my amp!” As a performer, I hate the volume – looking out into the crowd and seeing people wince, jam fingers in their ears, or otherwise not enjoy themselves brings me down. And as an audience member, I resent having to enter a hazardous area, bring earplugs, and still risk hearing damage. Enough, already. Turn down. If you can’t play well quietly, you have no business being loud.
- It’s too long. If you’re playing longer than 40 minutes, you better be amazing. I guarantee that even your friends and fans are looking at their watches by then. It’s always better to leave the crowd wanting more, and the bands after you will appreciate you getting off the stage on time so they can start their set. If you’re the last band, don’t drag things out. Let people go home.
A good example of what works is looking at the successful cover bands in your area. As someone who’s done time in both original and cover bands, I can tell you that cover bands (playing in and watching) are usually far more fun for the audience.
Good cover bands:
- Pick hot material – not just good songs, but good songs they can play very well. The material matches the band’s sound and capabilities.
- Put on a show. They spend money on costumes or performing clothes, wear appropriate cosmetics, and look like they mean (show) business. They will also rehearse the music enough that they can focus on actually performing – this could mean just smiling and moving around, but can also mean coordinated dance moves. Whatever is appropriate.
- Play at an appropriate volume level. They never take things personally when asked to turn down – they turn down. They know if they don’t, the dance floor will clear and they’ll never get invited back.
Tribute bands are a whole other bizarre game.