Right now my band is in the process of setting up shows for the summer, and today actually turned out to be a pretty good day in terms of promoting gigs (we got three new shows!). However, one of the bars in Denver gave is this warning that they expect the band to bring in at least 50 people into their bar. According to the bar, if they don’t think we can bring in 50 people, then maybe we should consider partnering with another band – or consider not playing there.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and while I do understand the intention of a bar owner saying this, the impression couldn’t be any more damaging to both sides.
I understand why bar owners say this: they want you to take your performing there seriously. It’s not good enough to just show up and play your set, you need to go out and promote for the show. You need to make an effort to get your fans to come out to their bar, and you need to ultimately help the bar bring in money. The incorporation of live music in their venue is a business decision to drive people into their bar. Lazy bands that don’t draw a crowd don’t contribute to their bottom line.
At the same time, this puts new and establishing bands in a very tough position. While we have a strong fanbase in Northern Colorado, we’re working hard to build a fanbase in Denver. We’re working hard through every channel available to us, but if you’re not playing shows in Denver, how can you expect to start drawing a crowd there? It’s a “chicken & the egg” type of problem.
From a musician’s standpoint, it bothers me when a bar will place a quota on your band to define your success. And in many ways it conveys an expectation that the bar expects the band to do all the work to get foot traffic in the door, and if they don’t do well that night, it’s somehow the band’s fault. It bothers me that some bar owners think they’re doing musicians some kind of favor by letting them play there.
Both attitudes are wrong on so many levels – because it disregards the fact that the band and bar are forming a partnership to help each other succeed. Both sides need each other: the band needs a place to play and outreach to current and potential fans, while the bar needs to bring new people in the doors, as well as use the presence of live music to draw people into their venue. Setting goals is a good thing, providing people with tools to succeed are a good thing, but setting some kind of magic number for success only sets everyone up for failure. So if we only bring 40 people in that night, will the venue consider us a flop?
Here are a few ideas how bands and bar-owners can capitalize on partnerships:
- Bar owners: Give the band resources necessary to promote (give us the bar’s logo, show times, necessary information ASAP). I’m surprised just how hard it is to get the confirmation we need to be able to promote shows. (One time a venue never got back to us to confirm, so we couldn’t promote the show because we couldn’t guarantee the details to our fans – it turned out that they canceled the show anyway, but at least we didn’t look like idiots to our fans)
- Musicians: Go out and promote the show – make sure that posters and fliers are posted at the venue, and at other places where there is potential audience for that bar. Promote the venue to your fans – many might be checking out this bar for the first time.
- Bar owners: If you have a band that is relatively new, pair them up with a band that’s well established, with a similar sound. That way if the fans enjoy the opening act, they may also become fans of them as well – thus adding to their fanbase.
- Musicians: Work hard – and bar owners: acknowledge that hard work. I’ve seen a lot of live music, and it’s easy to tell who has a good work ethic, and who is looking for hand-outs.
Bottom line – both sides need to help set each other up for success, and ultimately support each other.