Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I've been playing music semi-professionally now for about 5 years. I say semi-professionally because even though I'm working almost every night, I'm not making a lot of money. In fact, at least one night a week, I play strictly for free beer. And that’s why it pisses me off when clubs think they can get away with ripping bands off on booze. The plain and simple fact is if you want to run a joint where bands play, you have to expect to give away a certain amount of free hooch. Those pints and wells drinks are often the line separating a lousy gig from a decent one for both the band and the crowd, but especially for the former, especially when your cut of the night’s take amounts to $20 bucks or less. Unfortunately, some bar owners don't seem to realize this.

For those of you who aren't in a band (and george carlin predicts that someday everyone will be in a band, so i guess that means all three of you), this is how it works. First, you lug all your equipment to the club an hour or two before you're supposed to play. This equipment is going to weigh out to somewhere between 100-300 pounds per musician (my bass rig alone weighs 300 pounds). Then you wait for the soundman to show up, at which point you'll help set up the microphones, plug in the various cords, etc. Then you'll play a song or two to make sure everything sounds OK. This will take about an hour or so, depending on the soundman and where your band is on the bill.

Then the doors open and you wait around your turn at 45 minutes in the spotlight. How long will you wait? Depends when you got there, depends on when the door opened, depends what time you play: figure on two hours at least. So you wait, and what else do you do in a bar? You drink beers. At the end of the night, if the club is honest, you'll get some amount of money. This will usually be about $100-$150, split between the 5 guys in your band. So for working from 7:00 PM, when you showed up to load your stuff in, until 2:30 in the morning, when you load your stuff out, you earned a whopping 20-30 dollars for 7 hours worth of work. That's not even minimum wage. When you're working for less than peanuts, the last thing you want to hear is a barmaid saying "No we don't do free drinks for the band. Half-price on domestics is the best you're going to get."

This kind of policy is about the same as playing for free or for company scrip. How many musicians do you know that DON'T drink? Ok, well how many teetotaling musicians do you know that used to be drinkers before they had to check into rehab? It's well-known that alcohol lowers your inhibitions. For a performer, lowered inhibitions are crucial to running around onstage, jumping off amps and into crowds, and in general making an ass out of youself. Try to imagine Led Zeppelin fueled by Coca-cola, or AC/DC drinking herbal tea: it's dead in the water, it's a joke. Man, what the fuck are you thinking? I need that fucking beer man, that free beer is about the only thing making this fucking shithole worth my goddamn time. Oh yeah, like your fucking stupid hole in the wall is going to further my career. You’re not CBGBs or the Whiskey, you don't have the 30 odd years of credibility that allows you to get away with treating bands like shit, and by the way, both of those joints give you free beer. Call me a drunk, but if I'm not getting a few free drinks for my efforts, my enthusiasm tanks. It's a dirty scam: the money you get at the end of the night is going to go right back into the venue's pocket. How fucking disrespectful can you get? You hired my band in hopes that I could bring you more income, and by the way some of that income is coming out of my pocket?

I suggest to you that by failing to provide bands with some amount of free booze, club owners aren't just disrespecting the bands, they're ripping off the fans as well. These people pay good money to see their favorite band rock out. You show me the band that's going to put on an over-the-top show after they've been denied the very fuel that makes them act like rock-n-rollers, and I'll show you the biggest suckers in town.

You'll notice I haven't named names here. That's because I am a total pussy, and need gigs as much as I need beer.


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