While the title of this article implies that it is for the guitarist only, it is actually for all musicians battling the current economic slowdown.
Let’s face it, jobs are hard to come by these days…especially in corporate America. Many believe that the music industry is suffering even more. Musicians seem to be having a harder time finding gigs in their local areas. Therefore, for the sake of my fellow musicians, I will not discuss fame and fortune in this article. The theme here will lean more towards local economies and the musicians who help run them.
Truth be told, it’s great to see difficulties in our industry. Because? Because it’s another way to filter out musicians who think the world owes them something. First, the world owes you NOTHING and it owes me NOTHING. Not a thing. Not even half of a thing. This is a great starting point.
Many local musicians (pick any city) are used to the days when concerts grew on trees. Most could walk into a club with a demo and be working that very week. It’s not so easy these days, or so one might think. What happened to the saying and belief that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Once again, the economy is filtering out the weak and opening the doors to the strong.
Here’s the kicker. Gigs still grow on trees if you know what to look for and how to negotiate the deal. This isn’t the first bad economy and it won’t be the last. So, stop whining (if that’s what you’re doing), take off your tail, and THINK! Unfortunately, thinking isn’t easy for some musicians, but maybe it’s time to break new ground. If this sounds pretty intimidating, fine. This was the intention!
In order to fully explain my proposed action plan to you, it’s important to understand where I get my information from, right? In other words, why trust me or this article if you are unaware of some of my early background? By the way, I have no interest in playing for Top-40 clubs, because I did it for many years before playing nationally and internationally. However, all those years playing clubs were worth it for me and I really hope you put your talent to use after reading this article. Where does my information come from? Experience, experience and more experience.
With over fifty years of guitar playing under my fingers, thousands of concerts performed, tours performed, publications, recordings and songwriting under my belt, I would like to thank the East Coast (New York in particular) for giving me my foundation in music. Of course, God is behind everything, so praise him. first for all things
For those of you who don’t understand the East Coast music scene (I’ve lived in Southern California for the past 30 years), it’s important to understand that musicians can still work seven days a week if they want to. The East Coast takes very good care of its local bands and musicians. Money, as I recall, is very good in places like New York, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, etc. Imagine working as much as you want doing what you love to do. The resulting skills (music, industry knowledge, negotiation, public relations, etc.) are honed to the absolute maximum. I played for about twenty years on those East Coast circuits before moving on to other things as a guitar player.
I don’t know where you live, but I can tell you that the West Coast music scene is completely different than the Midwest or East Coast music scene. The difference is work, which equals money. So how can I sit here on the West Coast to describe how good the East Coast music scene is? Because the scenery (wherever it is), it will be whatever YOU do it. Oh, I can hear it now. What is this guy talking about? Let me explain.
Before I moved west and got deeper into the music industry, I dealt with club owners on a daily basis for twenty years. They all have something in common; the desire, the need and the burning desire to earn money. That’s right, money! Cold hard cash. With that thought in mind, do you really think that a club owner in California is any different than a club owner in New York City? Trust me they are not. The only difference is what the local musicians have taught local club owners, and what local musicians accept from local club owners. In other words, many musicians have ended up shooting themselves in the foot, lowering their self-esteem and self-esteem as a musician. Many accept peanuts as payment. This is absurd friends. We all love music, but seriously… come on, put your plan in motion and then put it into action! There is a twist here. The twist is in adjusting your thinking. Especially if you are a working musician and receive only pennies in return.
Make no mistake about it, every club owner has a goal in mind. The goal is how much money customers will spend on a given night as a result of in-home entertainment. And how many people will keep dancing the night away to the fantastic sounds of Jackie Jack and The Blue Plate Special?
The bottom line for the club owner is MONEY! Now, here’s the interesting thing (especially the west coast). It seems that many club musicians are interested in “let me show you my amazing talent”, rather than understanding the value of a well-paying gig. I know it sounds a little cold but it is what it is folks.
The club owners are into this ego thing and therefore only offer talent peanuts. Talent teaches club owners that this process is okay. Because? Because most musicians just want to play and be recognized for their talent. Money is secondary. But wait… isn’t it all for the love of music? You are kidding, right? How many pats on the back do you need before you focus on making a good living in music? One, two, one hundred, fifty million? Trust me, if you have a family to support, those pats on the back are the last thing on your mind. Sadly though, most musicians live to pat themselves on the back. They just don’t get it.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I’m describing here. I remember when I first came to Hollywood. I soon established a great working band and went to the heart of Hollywood in search of a gig. The first club owner I came across offered me less than two peanuts. Being from New York, of course, I laughed in his face. Hey, who cares who’s playing in this town, I needed a gig and I wasn’t impressed with the line of crap and the list of names he spewed at me.
I left his club and walked directly across the street to another club (not as trendy as the one I had just left). I spoke to the owner of the club and he was very open and receptive to my idea. What was my idea? I negotiated a deal of four peanuts for salary, 50% gate and 35% override on alcohol sales (be careful with this. The ABC board watches this), and anything over two grand from all sources gets to keep (unheard of, right?). Guess what! My fast little work band gave a kick to the newly signed band (major label) playing across the street. Also, we left with thousands and the other band left with peanuts. Oh yeah, they worked under the guise of showing off their talent.
The owner of the club across the street was furious. Night after night, we drew massive crowds along with many of his bosses. Eventually he relented and asked me to tell him my price. Think about that….NAME MY PRICE! Wow, who do I think I am! Answer… I am!
Do you have any idea how much money a club with a good bar makes every night? Even a hole in the wall dive bar can bring in $2,000.00 a night. That’s with ten pool tables and a 20-stool bar and a jukebox. A high end club can earn 5, 6, $7,000.00 a night fair in the sale of alcohol. Add food and door receipts to that scenario and guess what you have. A very, very happy club owner. Now what do you get? Misery? Because? Because that’s what you accepted. Boycott that club or creatively assign your sponsors to the club across the street and watch how fast the money shows up in your bank account.
Negotiate, think creatively, put on your business hat, make your own rules, don’t follow the crowd. Don’t knock on the door… break down the door! If someone wants your talent, then it’s PLAY FOR PAY, NO pay to play
There are hundreds of ways to live well from music. However, a certain trust must be present in every negotiation. No rules. There is no set amount of money that a club will pay for a band. Everyone would like you to believe that there is a fixed amount, but in reality there is not. Club owners pay only what a musician or band teaches them is acceptable. Think about the amount of money his talent will win for the club owner! This should clear his mind very quickly. Actually, if you really knew how much money some of these clubs bring in, I bet you would almost get mad and feel a little used and abused.
It is important to have an idea of what you are working for. Is it the ego? Is it to show your talent? Is it because of the applause? Is it to earn money to buy food, pay a mortgage, or send your kids to college? Once you really define your purpose, the rest will fall into place.
Yes, times are tough. Yes, a concert is a concert. However, he remembers that this is the perfect time to negotiate with the owners of the club. They need business. They need to earn money. You too! That’s the whole point. Earn money. If you don’t, someone else will.
©2009 Michael E. Fletcher. All rights reserved throughout the world.