The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Of the Music Business

TOp3z2BP4D0buTIBWRlyKiAVv-pjEEuIygLDG9XMwqo,M7PkHcgnFPUw_Q5AHpOtJP_oBaDtUKm8uMUp-KNlhtQI had a conversation with another musician the other day. He was grousing to me about how hard it was to get a gig in this town. I hadn’t had that problem, so I asked what he meant by that.

“It’s obvious!” he began. “These club owners expect you to bring your own following to the gig!” He waited a bit, apparently expecting some sort of condolence from me. When he got none, he went on.

“I mean, nobody in our age group goes out anymore. Nobody has the time! Nobody has the money! I mean, I don’t go out unless I’m playing.”

I was about to say something to all of that. I wanted to tell him that of course the owner expects you to bring a following, that people in his age group (mine as well) do go out, and shame on him for being part of the problem: not going out and supporting other musicians. I changed my mind, though. I realized whatever I said would make no sense to someone who actually believed the world owed him a living, a club owed him a place to play, and that he didn’t have to lift a finger to draw a crowd. The crowd would be there, waiting on him, chanting his name, and waving the Zippos in the air.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, there are more musicians out there just like him who believe that if a club owner could only hear how good they are they would land the gig. Here it is, the ugly truth: the person who books your band does not really care if you are any good! Being good is a perk. He or she expects the booking to put butts in seats, sell food and drink, and make money. In the case of a club, the owner that pays your band $800 expects to earn at least four times that amount because you’re there. He has overhead in his lease, his insurance, his staff, and his product, plus he has to make a profit. If you’re not bringing in fresh faces, it’s only good business if he replaces you.

250878012_55b96c985cAnd the club owner isn’t the only one interested in your money-making potential. If you have an agent, he wants a cut, too. Same with your publicist, your merchandise company, and your CD distributor. Don’t forget: you are the product, not your music. You may be the best act out there, but that title means nothing without fans.

So the next thing you have to consider is why you don’t have a following.

The Bad

If you’re not doing what you can to market your band, then stop wondering where your friends are and start telling them. Send out emails letting them know where you’ll be next, and when. Put that information on Twitter and Facebook. Create a group of contacts in your smartphone and text them a couple of hours before the show. Make up some flyers with upcoming show dates and contact information: put these on tables at your gigs. Take pictures at the show and put them on your website and Instagram. And don’t expect the club to do any marketing for you.

But if you’re doing all of that and you still have empty seats out in front of you, then you don’t have a following because no one likes your music. Period. The tribe has spoken.

Your friends may listen to a track you uploaded to Reverb Nation and become fans; they may like you on Facebook and hang out with you on Google+; they may even tell you that they’ll make it to one of your shows. But if they haven’t shown up in 3 months, then you either need new friends, or you can assume the old ones are just not into your music. And that isn’t the club’s fault, either.

The Good

So what can you do if you this article hits close to home? Plenty. First, determine why you’re not getting gigs or why the ones you do get have low attendance. Then do one (or both) of the following:

  • Work at your craft until you’re ready to perform. Get good here. Go back to the basics of scales, modes, and arpeggios. Study. Take lessons. Listen to lots of different music, both inside and outside your genre, and learn how to play it. Read a wide variety of poetry to help you with your lyrics. Go out and listen to other musicians.
  • Work on your business chops. Get good here, too. Read all you can about the business of music. Get some networking skills and use them when you go out to listen to other musicians. Learn as much as you can about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You don’t need them all; learn which ones are best for you.

Notice the first word in those points: work. Like the musician at the beginning of this article, you can grouse all you want to, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t make you a better musician. All it will do is alienate you from those working hard on their own careers and who have no time to listen to someone else complain.

So if you’re not getting the bookings you want, take charge of your career and figure out why. Assess your music honestly and be willing to make changes. And don’t waste time and energy blaming others: you are the master of your fate.


Image credits: Top – the author; Bottom – Chad Miller


3 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Of the Music Business

  1. When it comes to playing in bars this is one of those subjects where both sides are about 75% correct, lol.

    Time is the fire in which we all burn, although the music we love to play is timeless, the people who grew up listening to it are not. Your friend is spot on, the people who grew up on Classic Rock, Motown, Blues etc. etc. are just getting old, they’re either too busy trying to keep their families together or just too tired to stay up late and whoop it up like they used to.

    Another observation is the musicians who love to play those styles are getting old as well. We can play the music note for note but we can’t help looking like the balding 50 & 60 year old’s that we are becoming. It may still work at the concert level for a few more years like The Eagles, Clapton or Steve Miller but at the local level I believe it’s hard for walk in audiences to get fired up about bands that look like they may need a hip replacement after the show.

    Social media may work for younger crowds and bands in heavily populated urban areas but I’ve found from experience that it’s pretty useless for your cover band bar gig. We play a lot of recurring private events and have built up a large following of terrific fans who look forward to seeing us return for the next event but as much as we reach out to them via FB Calendar Events and Tweets, for public gigs at terrific venues we’re lucky to see 3 or 4 show up from a list of a couple hundred followers. When I meet those followers later they always mention they knew about it and were planning on going but got in the way. I have several friends with terrific bands that I always plan on seeing but the same thing happens to me too so I can’t complain.

    I think we may finally be at the inevitable point where DJ’s, Rappers and Trancers take over “live” music simply because there’s only 1 or 2 “performers” involved that play the sh*tty music today’s younger crowd knows.


    We turn our public gigs into band parties where the venue is the one picking up the tab! All of our lives are quite busy and we have many friends we wish we could spend more time with but just can’t seem to find it. Start having one gig a month your social circle’s hot spot. Each band member’s intent is to have 2 or 3 couples join them for a night out on the town for great live music and dining. It’s hard to have quality friend time with more than 2 or 3 couples throughout an evening so consider alternating couples every other gig. Time flies so it’s a lot easier for people to plan for something every other month than monthly.

    So what have you just done? You’ve created a band that club owners want to book often knowing that not only are they a great band, but they bring a couple dozen enthusiastic friends with them for dinner and drinks. There’s a minimum 12 dates a year where you’re getting paid for doing what you love to do with people that love you for bar owners that love what you do for them. It’s a lot easier to book a new house when you tell them you bring your own crowd. It also helps you avoid those irritating “Play for the Door” situations as you’re bringing in people with dollars to spend all night long.

    The only social media that has worked for me is FB Calendar Events. It’s not enough to create a FB Calendar Event, you’ll get some going responses and some maybes and a ton of invited with no responses either way. The secret is that you have to take the time to REACH OUT TO EACH INVITEE THROUGH A PRIVATE MESSAGE. You will get almost a 100% response either way which is all you want to know. Disregard the ones who can’t make it and stay in touch with the ones who can, leading up to the club date. A simple “We’re looking forward to see you, which one of our songs do I need to make sure is in the set list for you?” is quite powerful. Your follower will now feel more committed when everyday things pop up that may make it harder for them to show up as they know you’re going to be there with a song especially for them and they’re not going to want to let you down.

    This works for us and with a little thought I’m betting it will work for you too.

    1. Great observations, Kevin, and thanks for your suggestions. You are correct, Facebook works well for the older crowd, and bands should always do their homework to find out which platform works best for them. (Google Plus seems to work pretty well for my blog!)

      Take care!

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