I’ve been playing in bars, venues, restaurants, strip clubs, arcades, parties and weddings for the last eleven years. After over a thousands gigs, I decided to compile this list, because I’ve seen over and over how all the things that bars and clubs want are the same things that musicians want. We want customers to have a great time, we want the place to be packed and we want people to leave raving about their experience. Here are some things we wish club owners knew about how to do all that.
1. Average music is worthless, great music is priceless
Live music is not like pizza. A great musician can give one hundred people the best night of their lives, but an average musician can clear out a bar in thirty minutes. Have great music and pay well or have no music, everything in between is a waste of your time and your money. Sometimes paying just $50 or $100 more per gig will have a huge effect in the quality of musicians you can attract, and the return on investment in revenue and reputation will pay for itself.
2. There is a big difference between a “bar gig” and a “show”
A Bar Gig: Our mission is to entertain people and be a professional employee. We typically play cover songs, and original songs if it’s appropriate. Pay is typically a fixed amount. We do not necessarily promote a bar gig, and it’s not assumed that we will bring our friends or fans to the gig.
A Show: We play shows to showcase our original music, give our fans an awesome experience and build a following. For shows, we get paid according to the amount of people we bring, and that’s it. We play shows in venues that we can be proud of, where we know our fans will have a great time. For that reason, we will promote these gigs as much as we can, and we typically won’t want to do more than one of these a month.
It’s common that bars want musicians to treat bar gigs like shows and promote them, however that won’t happen unless there has been clear communication and agreement that it would be in our mutual best interest.
3. We really appreciate lights, stage and a PA
So often, it amazes me that bars and venues don’t put more effort in lights or a stage. Six inches of stage and a couple LED lights make a huge difference, and not only will your customers enjoy the music more, musicians will be much more willing to return and play gigs with you. If a venue has a PA built in that sounds good and is easy to use, I will be excited to come back and play there again, since I won’t have to lug my equipment (a huge bonus for me). Also, make sure if you have a PA that someone at the bar knows how to use it!
4. Communicate your desires and expect us to be professionals
Just because we play music and have fun, doesn’t mean we should act anything less than professional. Expect us to start on time, take breaks when we say and deliver what you hired us to do. In that regard, communicating your expectations and being clear about what you want is crucial for everyone to walk away happy.
5. Do the little things, and we’ll love you forever
Here are some little things you can do to make musicians really happy… and most of these ideas cost nothing but time & effort. Two men that are worth mentioning here are David Heine from Beaumont’s in La Jolla and Dave Miller from Tiki in PB. I’ve never seen two people care more about the music, they will forever be remembered by every musician who plays their gigs. Thank you to both of these men, and all other owners who really care about great live music.
- Keep a precise schedule. Getting double booked is a sign that you don’t care about our time. If you do double book, make it up to the musician who has to go home.
- Keep the water coming. Nothing will make a singer’s day like a glass of water that never gets empty.
- Help us carry heavy stuff. Most venues have extra staff that can lend a hand when we are carrying gear in and out. It makes our day when someone helps us lug a 40 pound amp to our car.
- Book in advance. Booking shows 2-3 months in advance helps us, and it helps you, yet 80% of places book about a month out.
- Applause, applause, applause. Even if we are terrible (and if we are, see #1), encourage your staff to make some noise at the end of our songs. All it takes is a few people to clap and the whole room will get involved. If nothing else happened but servers and bartenders went nuts for my music, I would go always go home with a smile on my face.
- Pay as soon as we’re done. As a band leader, I love paying my musicians quickly so they can go home and get some sleep. When managers pay me right after I’m done I really appreciate it. I also love cash, it helps me easily split the pay with the other band members.
- Be extra nice to us. I once had a manager mime shooting himself in the head with an imaginary gun as a way to let me know he wanted music with a faster tempo. As much as we are absolutely here to serve you and your audience, we’re not robots and we have human emotions! Musicians that are in a great mood will play great music, great music keeps people spending money. Treating musicians well will always pay off for your bottom line.
- Take good care of the house music. Musicians really appreciate it when you put extra effort into making sure the house music is off when we start and on when we take breaks. Also, make sure when it’s off, it’s really off, not just turned way down.
6. Make the gigs fun for the musicians, and everyone wins
Great musicians are picky, and we won’t play somewhere that’s not fun, even if it pays a lot. However, if we have a blast at every gig, we’ll come back and play, even if we get paid less than average. You can control this! Don’t bring us in when there’s no one in the bar, use drink specials or promotions to get people coming in. Set us up somewhere where people will pay attention, and make sure you have lights, and a stage. Help us help you, and remember – if it’s a bar gig, we probably aren’t bringing our friends (see #2).
At the end of the day, this isn’t a job where we punch the clock, it’s the coolest opportunity in the world. Still, after eleven years I will play a four hour gig with no breaks, but only if I’m enjoying myself. I’ll run around the bar and high five everyone in the audience, I’ll play guitar solos standing on tables, I’ll call people up on stage and embarrass them and all their friends. I get to do this and get paid.
If I’m having fun, the audience will have fun. If the audience has fun, your business will go up. When your business goes up, you’ll have fun.
My fun = Your fun
7. Give hearty compliments to musicians
Even if we hear it every night, a sincere compliment on how much you enjoyed our performance will make a huge difference in how we feel about your gig. We play from the heart, and to get the best performance out of us, show us that we matter and that our music makes a difference to you and your customers.
It may not seem like it, but a well placed compliment can make our whole night.
How do you stop yourself from loving people fully?
Come find out at IntimacyFest, happening June 15-18