Open Letter to the Bar Owner Who Wrote the Open Letter to Musicians on Craigslist

Subject: Open Letter to the Bar Owner Who Wrote the Open Letter to Musicians on Craigslist
From: Jeff Balke
Date: 17 Jan 2013

Dear Guy Who Owns a Bar in Tampa and wrote this letter to musicians on Craigslist,

I've been playing music for over 25 years. I've worked in a lot of different places from absolute ratholes to really wonderful venues. I've seen all sorts of bad behavior on the part of musicians, fans, sound guys, bartenders, bouncers, managers and, yes, even bar owners.

Contrary to what you may believe, I do actually get that you are in business. I understand that you are seeking out a living running a bar. I know that your job and the jobs of your bartenders are to sell drinks. I'm pretty sure all musicians know that.

But since you decided to give musicians advice on how to improve themselves, I have a few suggestions for you as well.

Upgrade your crappy sound and light gear... or buy some if you don't have any.

Nothing is more irritating than showing up at a bar and our "stage" is a corner where we have to move tables and set up underneath a flatscreen TV that stays on during the entire set. No sound gear. No lights. Good luck. Ought to be loads of fun putting on a show and "entertaining" people while selling your drinks in a dark ass corner with no way to control the sound whatsoever.

Don't expect me to be some ham-handed used car salesman up there to push your watered-down "premium" drinks.

I will gladly tell people to get their drink on, but I'm not running an infomercial. Demanding that I stand onstage like David Lee Roth circa 1980 crowing about the magical properties of whatever high-dollar cocktail you have to offer is only going to make me less inclined to do it. You paid me to entertain people, not sell your booze. I know you think it's the same thing. It isn't.

Acknowledge that the reason those people are in the bar in the first place is probably to see me play AND drink your booze.

This is a symbiotic relationship we have here. We need your venue. Without it, we'd be street buskers. You need our music. You acknowledge it helps you make more money. But those people that file in and stay do so because WE are entertaining them.

Your drinks are a means of improving their enjoyment, but that isn't what brought them in the door and keeps them there. If it is, you don't need to hire a band, but since you do, even you can recognize the value. So, don't start off from the position of pretending you are doing me some gracious favor by allowing me to set up and play for YOUR patrons.

If my band sucks, don't hire us, but don't pretend to be an expert on music.

I once had a guy come up to me in between sets at a happy-hour acoustic gig and tell me that we should really play "Margaritaville" because it's "peppy." You stick to drink specials and promoting your business and let me stick to doing what I do best.

If you think I suck, you are free to never hire me again (or not hire me in the first place), but as John Winger told Sgt. Hulka in Stripes, "If you don't want me in your army, kick me out, but get off my back."

If you want nothing but covers, hire cover bands.

Few things are more frustrating than a bar owner who hires you with full knowledge that you are an original (or mostly original) band and then complains that you aren't cranking out "Mustang Sally." Do your homework beforehand and don't blame me if you wanted a live jukebox and got us instead.

But keep in mind that good cover bands will want real money, not the paltry wads of cash you shove in my face at the end of the night (more on that in a minute). I'm fine with bars only wanting cover bands (though plenty of good original bands can keep the dance floor packed and the patrons drinking), but don't start demanding more covers from me if you knew I was going in bringing original material. Refer to my last point for more information.

If you don't want it loud, don't hire a rock band.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why people hire rock bands and then freak out when the guitars start roaring and drums start pounding. There can be excess, to be sure, but the average rock band is simply going to be loud. If they aren't, it's probably not a rock band.

All musicians understand the need to moderate the sound level in the room - some better than others - and most will oblige if you ask nicely, but if you come to us bitching about the noise after we've already turned down once at your urging, you probably just shouldn't have us back... or any other rock band for that matter.

Pay me better.

Let's get to the crux of it, shall we? When I started playing in the '80s as a teen, the going rate for a gig was $50-$150 per band member depending on the size of the gig, the venue, the patrons, etc. Care to take a guess at what it is today?

If you guess $50-$150 per band member, you would understand my pain. That was 30 years ago, and the pay has not changed. You expect miracles for pocket change. Don't be surprised when you get exactly what you pay for.

Failing better pay, don't try to stiff me at 3 a.m.

Years ago, I was doing a gig with a popular local band who absolutely packed the venue we were in. The deal was we either got paid $500 or 80 percent of the door, whichever was more. We easily brought in 200 people at $10 per person, which by my math is more than $500.

Yet, when our singer went to collect the money, the bar owner tried to tell us we didn't make more than $500 at the door. After a few verbal threats were exchanged and the cash register was yanked off the bar, the bar owner wisely paid us our money. Be smart and, more importantly, don't be a crook.

Bottom Line

Doing what we do is as much hard work as what you do. Some of us even do it for a living. We do everything we can to have a good time, make money for ourselves and the bar all while trying not to get stiffed on pay or get punched by some drunk asshole who thought we looked at his girlfriend funny.

This is in addition to the countless hours we spend rehearsing the same songs over and over just so people will be entertained and we will sound good. So, don't be a dismissive schmuck. Try to have some appreciation for the difficult job we have too, and maybe then you'll get our best effort and our respect.