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Sterling Howard, Owner/Founder

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After operating Musicians Contact for 43 years I’ve witnessed the number of live music opportunities steadily declining from the late 60’s up until the last couple of years, when it seems the situation has finally bottomed out.  So I guess it’s good news that the number of available gigs has stayed the same for the past two years.  Now the challenge is to see if the trend can reverse itself and start climbing, which brings me to a few observations about some conflicts between musicians and club owners which should not exist.

We all know there’s a lot of free and low paying gigs out there.  Today’s crappy economy doesn’t help, but these gigs will continue to be around even after the economy recovers, believe me.  The problem is that too many venue owners expect the band to promote their venue and also bring the crowd.  Based on my own gigging experience, I think this assumption started around 1978 for original bands, and about 1990 for cover acts.

We must realize that many clubs and restaurants are struggling to make it, just like everyone else.  But they don’t hire a lousy chef who then cooks lousy food which therefore scares away customers, so why is it ok to hire a lousy band?  Plus, the chef is not required to bring a crowd to the venue, even though musicians seem to be required to do so.  And yet they are both technically employees of the venue.  So is the soundman, bartenders, waitresses, etc.  Why aren’t they all required to bring in customers just like the band?

The club owner is trying to attract loyal customers that will turn into repeat business.  That’s why he hires a quality chef, waitresses and bartender.  The bands he hires should therefore be of the same good quality for the same reason.  The music is actually just another product for the venue to offer, no different than good food and drink.

It is important for the club to market itself well.  Should they leave something as important as this up to the band?  Club owners need a shot of reality – it is THEIR reputation on the line, not the band’s.  Remember, the band can just move to another place.  If the owner complains that the band didn’t bring enough people, his usual reaction is to get another band with a larger following.  But the club owner may not understand that the new crowd he sees is following the band, not his venue, so the next night he does the same practice.  Result?  He is not building REPEAT customers.

If he hires bad bands just because they may have a decent following, any person that might begin to be considered a repeat customer is now turned off to the venue. So the owner is not building a fan base for his club using this method.  Band members must convince the owner or manager that it is not in the club’s best interest to operate in this fashion.

Since venue owners and managers fancy themselves as good businessmen, bands need to relate to them as businessmen and not as available talent willing to do anything to perform.  Decades ago, owners were always older than the musicians playing in their club.  These days, many band members are older and wiser than the club management, so it should make convincing them easier, not harder!

Musicians must make it clear that it is impossible to expect that their friends and family are going to come in every night.  Does the chef’s family and friends eat there every night?   Do the bartender’s own family and friends come in and drink every night?  The bottom line is that musicians must communicate more with venue operators so they both can see how everyone will wind up on the same page with the same goals as opposed to being at odds with one another.

Agree?  Have an opinion?  Toss me your views at I’ll be glad to mention them in a future newsblast.

Meanwhile, keep the music LIVE!


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