Arts Desk

Head-Roc’s Mouth: Venues’ “Polling” Practice Is Some Bullshit

heady

An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.

I have a question I want to ask all my friends, supporters, and patrons in the D.C. indie music and arts scene.

You attend music, theater, poetry, dance, visual art, and other forms of art events. You have your favorite local artist(s).  You're on their e-mail lists. You might even travel a good distance to see them.  Well...

When you drop $5, $10, $15 at the door to support these artists, do you know how much, if any, of that money actually makes it to their pockets? Do you care? And finally, are you willing to ask a venue’s door staff, managers, and event promoters, “Hey, how much of what I’m paying here at the door will the artists receive?”

Well…

As a local professional artist, and on behalf of my fellow peers, I would like to very humbly inform you, the benevolent patron, that we need you to ask! Why? Because, in most scenarios, we’re just flat out not being compensated as working artists at arts-driven entertainment functions.

I am a professional musician and, in recent years, I’ve been playing in a band. Speaking from my own experience, all too often in cases when we are afforded some loot for performing, it’s not enough to cover the blood, sweat, and tears of our efforts to make the night happen.  For a working musician, it’s horrifying when, at the end of the night, the door "take" doesn't match venue’s "expectations," and we get handed $15 bucks to split amongst four grown, professional musicians—with bills to pay and mouths to feed.  What’s worse is when we deliver an amazing show to folks in the house... and we don’t get paid at all.

A big part of the problem is the growing popularity of a very unfortunate business paradigm taking root in Chocolate City’s live-performance circuit. Rather than pay artists based on experience, creativity, and actual talent, some venues use a scheme that pays artist based on the number of people we bring through the door. The venues call this practice "polling," and here‘s how it works:

When patrons arrive at the ticket office, they are asked which band they came to see. Based on the results of venue’s poll, and after some questionable math—where the venue gets to fully recoup all its expenses (dig that!), it pay bands out according to how many patrons the venue says came to see them.

Flat out, this is some bullshit, especially for seasoned vets working to eke out a living in any local indie-music scene. In my opinion as professional musician, if any polling goes on, it should happen at the end of the night.  If venues are going to be so bold as to actually poll showgoers (WTF?), then they should do so by asking who’s live presentation they enjoyed most. Maybe if venues determined payouts that way, I’d be less suspicious of the practice. Even still, I think that there should be guaranteed compensatory minimums for professional artists rocking at local venues, period.

Venues who poll make me wonder if my job as a musician is to entertain the people in attendance, or rather to make sure I bring enough people though venues' doors to patronize their establishments enough to satisfy their night’s money quotas.  The way some “premium” venues carry it in Chocolate City these days, they fully expect the artists to beat the streets to bring people though their doors to buy drinks and purchase food. Entertaining the folks who came out to see a great show is just something for which the venue rewards us, despite all our hard work…  instead of paying us bread for doing our craft.  That’s whack, and polling sounds like another way of giving the shaft to our area’s accomplished and aspiring musicians.

Too many venues featuring live music aren’t doing their jobs advertising why the public should patronize them.  If a venue advertises that it's hosting live music, then that venue should invest toward getting music-lovers through the door to support its business.  Furthermore, venues serious about supporting local live music, while also hosting regional and national acts, should have an adequate street-marketing element supporting this aspect of their business operations. And of course, the ways venues treat local talent are complementary to the development of the local scene.

Instead, what has happened over the years is that venue owners, managers, and booking agents have suckered desperate local artists, and opportunistic promoters, into performing their marketing jobs for them—mostly free of charge!

Everyone in show business knows that planning a show, putting the bill together, coordinating communications with the acts, designing the flyer, making copies, and distributing them, writing and sending out e-mails, creating Facebook and MySpace events, doing Twitter outreach, and such... is a job!  To promote for a show, someone has to work the outreach game for at least a few hours every day. How many hours of work does it take to do all that? How much are the relating promotional and marketing materials? Is that kind of time and resource expenditure recoupable? (Of course it is!)  My last question is: Whose job is it actually? The venue’s or the artist's?

Let's be perfectly clear here: I am charging that venues, and to a lesser extent event promoters, are using artists (professional and amateur) to fuel their businesses without at least minimal compensation. Together, they prey on the dreams, aspirations, and naiveté of artists.  My man Roger Newell at DC Jobs with Justice hipped me to a term I had never heard of before and it seems to accurately describe what has been happening to musicians here in Chocolate City. It's called wage theft.  As a matter of fact, DCJWJ is having a Workers' Rights Board hearing downtown on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. I just might have to check that jont out! (no, not joint but jont, Joe!)

My point, mission, and hope is that once they become aware of the dynamics, real music-lovers and patrons of the arts in Chocolate City will become instrumental in helping to revert some of the damage wrought by predatory business of some venues. I’m just chipping at the tip of the iceberg, family! Holla black with your thoughts on this one!

I have a question I want to ask all my friends, supporters, and patrons of the DC Metro indie Music and Arts scene.

You attend music, theater, poetry, dance, visual art, and all other forms of art events. You have your favorite local Artist(s).  You're on their email distribution lists. You might even travel a good distance to see them.  Well...

When you drop $5, $10, $15 at the door to support these Artists, do you know how much, if any, of that money actually makes it to their pockets? Do you care?  And finally, are you willing to ask a venue’s door staff, managers, and event promoters “Hey, how much of what I’m paying here at the door will the Artist(s) receive?”

Well…

As a local professional artist, and on behalf of my fellow peers, I would like to very humbly inform you, the benevolent patron, that WE NEED YOU TO ASK! Why? Because, in most scenarios, we’re just flat out NOT being compensated as working Artists… at Arts driven entertainment functions.

I am a professional musician and, in recent years I’ve been playing in a band. Speaking from my own experiences, all too often in cases where we are afforded some loot for performing, it’s not enough to cover the Blood, Sweat, and Tears of our efforts to make the night happen.  For a working musician it’s horrifying when at the end of the night the door “take” doesn't match venue’s “expectations“, and we get handed $15 bucks to split amongst 4 grown professional musicians – with bills to pay and mouths to feed.  What’s worse is when we deliver an amazing show to folks in the house… and we don’t get paid at all.

A big part of the problem is the growing popularity of a very unfortunate business paradigm taking root in Chocolate City’s live performance circuit. Rather than pay Artists based on experience, creativity, and actual talent, some venues use a scheme that pays artist based on the number of people we bring through the door. The venues call this practice “polling”, and here‘s how it works:

When patrons arrive at the ticket office they are asked which band they came to see.  Based on the results of venue’s “poll”, and after some questionable math – where the venue gets to fully recoup all THEIR expenses (dig that!), they pay bands out according to how many patrons the venue says came to see them.

Flat out, this is some bullshit and quite disenfranchising of seasoned vets working to eek out a living in any local indie music scene. In my opinion as professional musician, if any “polling” goes on it should happen at the end of the night.  If venues are gonna be so bold as to actually “poll” show-goers (WTF?), then they should do so by asking who’s live show presentation they enjoyed most.  Maybe if venues determined payouts that way, I’d be less suspicious of the practice.  Even still, I think that there should be guaranteed compensatory minimums for professional artists rocking at local venues, period.

Venues doing business this “polling” way makes me wonder if my job as a musician is to entertain the people in attendance, OR MORE to make sure I bring enough people though their doors to patronize their establishments enough to satisfy their night’s money quotas.  The way some “premium” venues carry it in Chocolate City these days, they fully expect the Artists beat the streets to bring people though their doors. Paying whatever door fee, buy drinks, and purchase food – FIRST!  Entertaining the folks who came out to see a great show is just something the venue “rewards” us with for all our hard work… instead of paying us bread for doing our craft.  That’s wack, and “polling” sounds like another way of giving the “shaft” to our area’s accomplished and aspiring musicians.

Too many venues featuring live music entertainment aren’t doing their jobs advertising why the public should patronize them.  If a venue advertises that it's hosting live music, then that venue should invest towards getting live music lovers through the door to support their business.  Furthermore, venues serious about supporting local live music, while hosting touring regional/national acts, should have an adequate street marketing element supporting this aspect of their business operations. And of course, not to mention, the way a venue treats local talent should be complimentary to the development of the local scene.

Instead, what has happened over the years is that venue owners/managers/booking agents have suckered desperate local Artists, and opportunistic Promoters, and into performing their marketing jobs for them – mostly free of charge!

Everyone in Show business knows that planning a show, putting the bill together, coordinating communications with the acts, designing the flyer, making copies and distributing them, writing and sending out emails, creating the Facebook and MySpace events, doing the Twitter outreach and such – is a JOB!  To promote for a show, someone has to be their outreach game at least a few hours everyday. Now the question is how many hours of work does it take to do all that? How much are the relating promotional and marketing materials? Is that kind of time and resource expenditure recoup-able? (Of course it is!)  My last question is whose job is it actually? The Venue’s or the Artist's?

Just to be perfectly clear here. I am charging that Venues, and to lesser extent event Promoters, are using Artists (professional and amateur) to fuel their businesses without at least minimally compensation.  Together, they prey on the dreams, aspirations, and naiveté of Artists.  My man Roger Newell at DC Jobs with Justice (www.dcjwj.org) hipped me to a term I had never heard of before and it seems to accurately describe what has been happening to musicians here in Chocolate City.  It's called... “Wage Theft”.  As a matter of fact, DCJWJ is having a Workers' Rights Board hearing downtown on February 18th at 6pm. I just might have to check that jont out! (no, not joint but jont, Joe!)

My point, mission, and hope is that real music lovers/patrons of the arts in Chocolate City, once they become aware of the dynamics, will become instrumental in helping to revert some of the damage wrought by predatory business practices in place at some venues.  I’m just chipping at the tip of the iceberg, Family! Holla Black with your thoughts on this one!

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  • No Art

    Preach it.

  • jb

    There are a few things abundantly clear from this post:

    (1) Your band (and you) don't draw anyone to your shows
    (2) You don't understand DIY and the band standard of promoting your shows yourself (also - NEVER RELY ON THE CLUB FOR ANYTHING BUT WHAT IS AGREED UPON)
    (3) You don't understand how much money it costs to run a DC nightclub/venue.

    I'm in a band, and we draw a bunch of people out. I for 1 love polling. If we draw 80 people out who came to see us for $5, and you are on the bill and you draw no one, why should you get any money (or even, take our money)? Whether you are good or not is opinion -- it is fact that people came to the club because of us.

    Stop playing shows if you don't bring anyone -- its bad for you, the club, and the other bands on the bill. The internet is free to network and promote; practice and get your fanbase up there.

    Also, people just dont go to venues because the venue is cool - they go because the band is good. It is your job as the band to be good. But moreover, it is your job to make sure that people know about you and that you are playing the show.

    This post is infuriating. No one owes you anything. There is a lot of work that is not music related that goes with being in a band. Also, attendance at shows is a good barometer of how good your band/you are. Perhaps its a wake up call.

  • Rob

    Agreed a million times. Not only that, but the polling is pretty questionable. Half of the people that come in the door aren't actually polled, so even if you actually drew 50 you might be paid for 20-30.

    I've played shows where 100 people showed up and we got $35. The doorman got paid more than my entire band. W. T. F.

  • No Art

    @jb:
    Jesus Christ. Where do I even start?

    How many people show up is NOT a great barometer of whether you are any good. It's a great barometer of how good you are at shmoozing. Not promoting in the traditional sense, because as anybody will tell you, flyering and making posters and tweeting and having Myspace friends doesn't get people to your shows, not until you've been at it for quite awhile anyway. Having friends who are willing to support you whether or not they like your music does, until you've put that first year or so in.

    I am not bitter, I bring a lot of people to my shows -- I still think polling is horseshit. Your success as a band should not be determined by how many friends you have. It's also really hard on young touring bands, who are basically NEVER going to break the threshold for payout on a show where compensation is based entirely on door poll.

    Beyond that, like @Rob said, half the venues in DC don't even pay you adequately for your draw when you do bring people. I'm not going to name names, but the club "overhead" for a local bill at a certain well known medium-capacity venue is A THOUSAND DOLLARS. Meaning 100 people have to be in the door before the bands get a single cent. And then they have the nerve to take 25 cents on every dollar after that. And they do basically zero promo on their end with all that money. So even if you for some reason consider polling to be legitimate, the points about DC venues mistreating bands still stand.

  • http://www.dcjwj.org JwJ

    Thank you for shining the light on these practices. Many regular show-goers like myself don't really know how the system for compensating artists works.

    "A day's pay for a day's work" is a pretty basic concept, and artists deserve this no less than others.

    If anyone wants to check out more about "wage theft" (in all its forms), you are most warmly invited to our community hearing on the topic:

    Workers' Rights Board Hearing - Wage Theft: DC's Hidden Crime
    Thursday, Feb. 18th
    6:30-9pm
    First Rising Mt. Zion Church
    602 N St, NW (Mt. Vernon Sq metro)
    Every day hard-working people are denied their fair wages. Workers are denied overtime, paid below minimum wage, paid with bad checks, and sometimes not paid at all. Join community, faith, political, and worker leaders in examining this hidden crime wage that robs thousands of workers of hard-earned income - and learn what we can do to fight it!

  • latecomer

    The music industry, from large operations to small operations, has always been super corrupt. Polling sounds very much like a tool venue operators can use to make screwing the performers seem 'official' or scientific. The only thing I recall making a difference when I used to gig was the drummer would have venues sign contracts in advance regarding wages and perks. That seemed to cut down on us getting screwed but ultimately you take what they give. Articles like this could hopefully awaken awareness on the part of the show-going public.
    And for the point raised that 'you don't understand what it costs to run a venue'??? How does that factor in to bands getting screwed? Shouldn't the management be upfront about the possibility of bands not getting paid so that the bands would have the right to refuse up front? Unfortunately the $ handling is not transparent and the managers are free to take advantage...

  • jb

    How about this -- if you feel strongly about it, don't play at places that poll?????

    Issue over.

  • http://dcrap.com DC Rap

    "Venues who poll make me wonder if my job as a musician is to entertain the people in attendance, or rather to make sure I bring enough people though venues’ doors to patronize their establishments enough to satisfy their night’s money quotas."

    If you're performing at a venue, they generate money by how many people come to the venue that evening. Bands are there to help with the night's draw from the venue's perspective. I think polling is a great indicator of who did what on promotion.

    I'm a promoter and if an artist doesn't draw but expects payment or expects a payment not relative to their draw...I'm getting screwed if I agree to that. So I don't agree that any of that is wrong.

    I do however agree that venues give bands horrible splits. I don't work with any venue unless I'm getting 100% of the door and sometimes a bar split. Bands normally get jerked because they agree to taking 60% of the door and chopping that up amongst 3 bands.

    If you wanna make money as an artist, you must generate money. A large amount of patrons generates money. Switch your focus from making music to monetizing music for awhile. Strategy & alignment is everything.

  • http://www.upsetthesetup.com upset el setup

    Head-Roc, thanks for speaking on this!

    I love how all these new jacks who were in kindergarten when 3LG was packing it in at State of the Union wanna tell you something bout DIY promotion.

    but for real,
    Fuck these bar&grills masquerading as proper venues that dont give a FUCK about the artists, and fuck these 'ARTISTS' that don't give a what about changing the bullshit paradigm of a local music scene that has maybe 5 venues with a proper sound and stage.

    THERE IS SO MUCH bullshit that goes on in this town around live music - from the segregation (yes it's still real) to the half-assed soundsystems. And don't even get me started on the millionaires who love to nickle and diming artists.

    Just keep making the music brother, the rest of it will come soon.

    UPSET THE SETUP

  • No Art

    @jb: Plenty of people do exactly that. Doesn't mean the community writ large wouldn't benefit from understanding the controversy.

  • jb

    @ No Art -- word. I agree that people should understand what is happening. But this is the music 'business', and like any business that sells something, it needs to track what is succesful and what is not.

    When Nike puts out 4 different lines of shoes - they put barcodes on them and track which one is selling, which one is not and then act accordingly. It's good business to find out what sells and what doesn't.

    Venues are worried about keeping their lights on and their staff paid - not particularly worried about the ethical/morality and artistic integrity of the acts they employ. Tracking which band draws and which doesn't is a good indicator of which bands are helping them with their goal, and which are not.

    If you can't draw people, you shouldn't get paid. Simple as that. If you don't bring anyone out - no money is generated through the door/bar - so if you are getting paid, its coming directly from the operating cost of the venue. That means another venue closing down.

  • jb

    @upset --
    (1) I saw 3LG at the OLDDDDDDDD 930 club and have been in the dc music scene for 12 years.
    (2) 930 club, black cat, rocknroll hotel, dc9, velvet lounge, bohemian caverns, blues alley -- that's 7. If you count IOTA, Birchmere, and Jammin Java, that's 10. Fuck is you talking about. Have you ever been to another city??? Washington DC is in the top 10 in the country with music venues.

  • eric

    the first time i ever heard Minor Threat it made me realize my dream of becoming a marketing executive. So i picked up a guitar and started synergizing strategies and alignments with my band mates.

    I think it was Ian Mackaye who said it best when he said "we're just middle manamgement"

  • eric

    i think my favorite strategised and aligned moment was back at the old 9:30 club where local ska band The Pietasters opened up for the Toasters. Many revenue streams were generated that night, i can tell you.

    the lights were on, the shattered glass on the floor of the bathrooms was sparkling particularly well

    and the bar. so many beers and people drinking them!

    i am so glad that i was there to witness a great part of dc music venue synergesis and alignment.

    oh and some bands were there performing, but man who cared? especially when we caught a glimpse of the accountant who made it all possible. us fans were so thankful

  • lol

    You know I hear innovative strategies about revenue streams worked wonders in the housing market.

    You think Head Roc would be okay with polling when he plays my Mclean McMansion with the underwater mortgage?

  • http://www.upsetthesetup.com upset el setup

    @JB who said I was talking to you?

    "930 club, black cat, rocknroll hotel, dc9, velvet lounge, bohemian caverns, blues alley"

    blues alley is only for a certain type of act, try booking a rock, go-go or hip hop act there.

    bohemian caverns might pretend to be a venue, but the downstairs is too small for anything but an intimate setting of jazz or 'neo-soul' and the upstairs sound at LIV blows.

    and yes I've been and performed in other cities and countries, so.

  • eric

    i think that the venues should take this one step further. who in each band did you come here to see? then we can see who is really popular in the dc scene

  • RM

    If you don't like the way you're being compensated, don't quit your day job. Perhaps you think you're this amazing musician, but it looks like not a lot of people are agreeing with you.

  • No Art

    @RM: Nobody quits their day job. You have to move out of DC for that. Which is kind of the point.

  • need the info

    @JB -- what band are you in? if you're not comfortable saying that, what kind of music do you play?

    @No Art -- why not name names? What's the $1000 venue?

  • wut wut

    HAHA YOU IDIOTS THINK THAT THE VENUE AND PROMOTER ARE THE SAME THING. PROMOTER SETS THE DEALS. VENUE HOSTS THE SHOW.
    IF YOU ARE PLAYING A VENUE THAT IS POLLING CHANCES ARE YOU ARE PLAYING AN EVENT THAT THE "PROMOTER" RENTED THE "VENUE" TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF "YOU"

  • havefun

    Venues have to make money. Polling is the fairest way to tell who has the bigger fan base. All other barometers are objective.Just because YOU think your band is amazing doesn't mean anything. The fact is: if you can't pull out large numbers of people in your hometown then you should probably go back to the drawing board.

    Calling yourself a "pro musician" does not entitle you to anything. This is the real world. Promoters get paid to make venues money. If venues don't make money promoters get fired. Running a club with a full staff is not cheap. The venues are struggling right now as patrons are spending less and less money so they try to squeeze out more and more funds. Its all simple economics. The fact remains, there are still venues in DC that are quite fair to artists. I have friends who own bars that pay flat fees to artists.

    However, the break downs artists receive in many DC venues are criminal. As an attorney, who has friends in local bands, I can't believe some of the stories I hear. Even if you do draw a large crowd you still won't make much money in many clubs.

    All this leads to my bigger point. If you depend on shows at local clubs for your livelihood then you should probably find a new profession. Music is art. Art is done for love. Stop whining about not making money off of art. Do it because you love it, not because it feeds you. Venues and record labels have ALWAYS screwed artist's. That is a fact. The artists that ultimately prevail are the ones who build REAL demand for their product. If you SELL OUT any local club, believe me, you can bargain a better deal next time around. Make good music + promote + bring out crowds = making money.

  • Lockz

    @Havefun good point , as a professional artist if you are trying to make a living playing local bars and grills and shit like that you should find another hustle As long as cats operate with the attitude "Fuck the rest of you,I'm good" theory nothing will change. I see DJ's all of the time get guaranteed money, more than most of the bands get all polled together. So JB I feel you on we as artist need to bring people to our events, but for the most part it is about popularity because trust me, how many people come out is not really about how good you are in a lot of instances. There is no need for any of us to get indignant,it doesn't help plus it's easy to be hard online so no one is impressed with that. Everyone has made good points I've had my heart broken more than once, but I have also played in front of thousands of people who were there for the event not necessarily for me but because I am a professional and I am extremely good at what I do, those thousands of people loved me and are now part of my fan base. It was the guaranteed wages that made that possible, and it was the event hosts and promoters tat made the guaranteed wage possible. As my Grandfather use to say "sometimes you eat the bear. and sometimes the bear eats you"... I'm trying to eat more bear! Artist unite , and don't fall for that my band is better than yours bullshit!

  • local hero

    "Stop whining about not making money off of art. Do it because you love it, not because it feeds you. Venues and record labels have ALWAYS screwed artist’s. That is a fact."

    This is dumb. What you're affirming is that artists are indentured servants, whether for labels or for venues. By your reasoning, why should anyone expect money for anything they do? This is why so much bad music is successful: it's all about raw ambition over talent.

    These aren't open-mic nights we're talking about. 5 drink tickets and 20 buxx split among a whole band for good turnout on a successful weeknight show is plain robbery. It's happened to me and people I know multiple times. You shouldn't have to be a rockstar to negotiate some kind of payment before a show, but that's how it is.

    Props to Head-Roc for speaking about this openly.

  • havefun

    @localhero If you read my post carefully you'd see that I did make it clear that I think bands are getting a raw deal at many local clubs. In fact, I called it criminal. But there are places that pay a fair fee to play a venue. Bands should play the venues they feel comfortable with, period.

    With that said, ART is not an occupation the way being a doctor or construction worker is. Playing music, painting pictures, or writing books is something one should do for love. Money comes if enough people think your art is worth buying. If no one shows up to your show then that means no one feels your act is valuable enough to spend their hard earned dollars on. Almost every successful artist I know is humble and surprised that anyone would even pay for what they do for love. I think it is ridiculous to expect great pay for playing an empty club! The fact is if you draw 10 people at 10 dollars a piece and expect to get paid 100, that is unrealistic. The club has expenses too. A large venue with a proper sound system and engineer cannot just pay all of its employees with the bar proceeds.

    Furthermore, you can sit here and talk about how amazing your band is but that is purely subjective. Some people may like your music, others may think its crap. So to even suggest that a band should be paid on how "good" they are is ridiculous.

    Let me present a scenario. Lets say Band A and Band B play Venue X. Band A bring 100 people to the show and Band B brings 15. Should Band B get paid more because they think they are better than Band A?

    Should The Roots get a better record deal than Radiohead because you think they make better music?

    Polling is the only way to fairly determine who gets paid how much. However, that polling should be done fairly, precisely, and artists should take most of what comes in at the door. An unnamed mid-size venue in Chicago--which a friend of mine owns--takes 2 out of every ten dollar ticket at the door. The rest goes to the acts depending on how many people each band brings.

    This is the real world and I suggest we ALL start living in it.

  • Jess

    LIGHTFOOT SUCKS. SO DOES HEAD-ROC, TO BE HONEST.

  • Pingback: Is Polling Bullshit? Head-Roc Says Yes, Venues Say No - Arts Desk - Washington City Paper

  • http://pilesarmusic.com littlegreenjason

    I think polling is bullshit too. I understand that venues are businesses and that they have to make money but that doesn't excuse unethical and impractical business practices.

    Simply put, if a club promotes itself as a music venue then it should act as such. It should help promote its shows and participate in bringing in the crowds, not leave it all in the hands of the "promoters" and bands. A lot of times people don't go out to shows because they charge ridiculous covers and no one is going to take a chance on a band they've never heard of if they've got to pay $8 just to get upstairs. How is anyone ever going to be able to build any traction like that?

    It's hard enough to get people in DC out to a live show on a Thursday or Friday night so you give a couple of local acts and an out of towner a Tuesday and tell them that they've got to draw at least 100 people or they can never play there again? Bullshit! What happened to allowing up and coming acts the opportunity to open for larger bands in an effort to gain exposure? The "promoters" do nothing but sit on their asses and fill up a calendar. I have NEVER seen a "promoter" do any promoting. Once they put you down on the list, they basically wash their hands of the show and put all the pressure on the artist to sell it. I'm not saying that an artist shouldn't have some of that responsibility but if you're going to call yourself a promoter then you should help sell the show. Otherwise you are just a BOOKER.

    I have more or less given up on getting paid for shows and I refuse to play places like the DC-9, Red and the Black and rock n roll hotel. I've always gotten screwed. And I'm not bitching that I should've been paid hundreds of dollars for my performance but there have been times that I've played in front of a crowd of +100 people (that I busted my ass to get in there) only to walk away with less than $20. That, my friend, is just plain wrong. The bar made money, the soundguy made money, but the bands walk away with nothing. And what's so fucked up about it is that the soundguy wouldn't have a job and the venue couldn't be a music club without the bands. Where's the proper compensation?

    Bottom line is if venues want to make money then they need to put some effort into reworking their business models. Charging huge covers at the door keeps people out and the less people are in the club the less money you make at the bar. It's quite simple really. Charge less of a cover and help promote the shows. That way, everyone gets a piece of the pie.

  • http://pilesarmusic.com littlegreenjason

    And btw, polling may seem like the fair, democratic way to run things but I wholeheartedly disagree. It is a fundamentally flawed system and it doesn't take into consideration a number of variables (many of which have been discussed above).

    I think that 100% of the door or a percentage of bar should be split evenly among all the acts with the exception of the Headliner which should be paid slightly more depending on their guarantee or whatever they worked out in advance. Every band contributed in some way to the turn out so everyone should be compensated for the night as a whole. This might also be viewed as a flawed system but I think it's the most egalitarian.

  • local hero

    "This is the real world and I suggest we ALL start living in it."

    What? Listen, nobody is claiming bands that can't bring anyone out should get piles of cash, but rather that lots of bands DO bring in a crowd and get paid squat (lilgreenjason just emphasized this). And in the case that the band brings nobody, the venue should harbor some of the responsibility, esp. in a touring situation.

    This is bullshit, and unlike you, I don't suggest bands and musicians and crowds roll over and take it.

  • Random DC Musician

    "What? Listen, nobody is claiming bands that can’t bring anyone out should get piles of cash, but rather that lots of bands DO bring in a crowd and get paid squat (lilgreenjason just emphasized this). And in the case that the band brings nobody, the venue should harbor some of the responsibility, esp. in a touring situation."

    The author is certainly claiming that if you can't bring anyone out, then you should get piles of cash. When Head-Roc performs, whether solo, or with his current group, Godisheus, he is lucky to draw 8 to 10 people TOPS. Then, after the show, Head-Roc gets mad when he doesn't get paid.

    This is why I always tell my musician/art friends that they should never rely on what they love/their passion to make their money. If you're lucky enough where people like your music, and you've been able to EARN not having a job, then you're one of the lucky ones. I've had too many friends who think that just because they're decent at music, then everyone owes them something. So they quit their day jobs and begin relying on bars in the area to pay them for bringing no one out to see their shitty band. Then they get mad at music.

    What the fuck are venues supposed to do? Oh, you didn't bring anyone out, here's $500!!! Do you think that these places have a bottomless pit of money to just throw around?

    Here's an idea, stop bitching about people not coming out to your shows and instead, write some new songs. If they're good, then people will come. Until then, stop making excuses for yourself.

    Signed,
    Random DC Musician

  • Lambo

    HEAD-ROC IS AN UNCLE TOM.

  • Back in the day Bebe

    WOW!

    Some of yall are mean is all i can tell from these posts. Instead of attempting to have a conversation regarding the polling practice we are now calling Head-Roc an Uncle Tom. Sad state.

    Off course many great musicians that we now adore couldnt fill up a club in their day. But so be it, business is business.

    So my first point, great art doesnt always make money and some bullshit art does, that is not standard by which to judge the art.

    Second, I think the state of this country is sad. Arts (music, poetry, paintings,photography) are the soul and spirit of any society. When you decide the only value of it is making money we are in a sad state. So be it that is the way of this country, capitalism and privatization.

    Here are my questions regarding the polling practice (from a single working mom who rarely makes it out now a days but used to travel the "scene" back in the day):

    1. Who is doing the polling at the door, and how is it verified as accurate? Since my pay is riding on it I would want that very clear, and I would want someone who is not polling on behalf of the club due to a potential conflict of interests?

    2. If I go to a venue because it is a spot I like and I didn't come out to see a particular artist, how is the counted in the polling system?

    3. What is I came out for all three acts on the bill, how is that money divided up and counted?

    Finally, if I recall I used to go to State of the Union (back in the day) because i liked the venue. I may not have always liked every act I saw or remember half the shows I want to, but it didn't matter I knew I liked the people and generally they offered some good music. The venue rocked!!!! I went there regardless! I dont agree it is on the artists, the venue is also responsible for creating the spirit for itself. That is why it will survive.

  • http://www.rastafaritoday.com rastafaritoday.com

    Polling is wack! When we go to a show we expect a great show from everyone on the bill. If promoters dont want to pay an opening act, then dont have an opening act; but all musicians that work to make a show happen should get paid a decent cut of the takings.

  • http://frankojazz.com Onome

    Hey Heady, glad you brought up this subject. In order to fully explore this issue, I believe we have to be able to look at the dynamics at play and the types of music venues we are talking about. From my experience, there are 2 types of venues: 1. There is the restaurant/bar that moonlights as a music venue. In other words, they make their money from what they set out to do in the first place which is to sell food and drinks. Music is an after thought as you probably know as you have to pretty much rearrange the joint to accommodate a live music crowd and supply the "Sound" as the establishment usually is not equipped for it, not to talk of a stage and other essentials associated with live music. In this case, it makes sense that the establishment has a responsibility to pay for the'Sound" and advertising that comes with trying to make that afterthought extra income. If the partnership is a successful one, good business people would want to encourage and expand on it in good faith which translates into candid support of musicians and artists and the local indie scene.

    The other situation is established music venues who have the freedom to deal with musicians and artists whichever way they choose to as they have a plethora of bands who are trying ' make it', and would do anything to have any established music venue on their resume, thus the live music venue uses polling as a way of measuring a bands worth or success. All that says is that a band does not need to be good or talented as long as the band members have a lot of friends who are willing to come out and see them, then they're in and have the possibility of being booked again. Does this help the indie music scene in terms of dedication to the art? probably not. It just says that an artist or musician needs to go out and make friends in order to perform and be taken seriously based on the number of heads coming through the door that the establishment is counting. Furthermore, musicians are not accountants or auditors, all they want to do is play their music and be treated with respect and dignity.

    Another situation which is rather disturbing is establishments that pay a very minimal fee to the artists and then charge them for food and drinks. At the end of the night the musician goes home in the "red" after 4 hours or so of performing. It is hard to justify. I believe that musicians and artists have to come together themselves and try to seek creative and beneficial ways to use their talents and be respected for what they do.

    One possibility could be to share audiences/fans (cross-present) which would expose fans to music which they would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear.

    Another possibility is to have sub-level venues in other words not as big and geared up as established venues where bands can still perform and their fans can see them. So far the culture regarding bands and clubs has been stagnant and in many cases just getting worse. There are some who argue that you knew what you were getting into before you got into it. I respond that it does not mean that the situation cannot and should not be IMPROVED. A fraction of the time that an artist or musician spends trying to organize, promote or book a gig could be spent with other artists with the same dilemma to explore other avenues that may not otherwise have been previously considered.

    For now, the humanity in me tells me that those established venues ought to consider a minimum payment to the artists, guaranteed with some beverages and/or food. The polling at the end of the night would then be an indication as to whether the band will be allowed to perform at the venue in the future or not.

    I do recall a club owner ( a former drummer in a band) who once remarked that being a professional musician was for the birds and that he would rather be on the receiving end as a club owner making money than on the receiving end taking shit. Oh, by the way he always made sure he let out his frustrations and broken dreams on my drummer's set, every time we play at the club. So you can imagine that if that is the attitude espoused by club owners is what I have just described, many of which are former musicians and artists, then I do not see that situation getting better anytime soon unless artists and musicians come up with a plan B
    all the best and thanks for bringing up the subject

  • collin

    in my experience as a local musician, a touring musician as well as someone who has booked/promoted shows:

    it's definitely okay to give the actual touring band some money, whether or not people knew about them or not, whatever.
    they're on fucking tour. it should be very obvious they need gas money more than the local bands do.

    the whole point of touring is to get people in other cities to know about you. but how is that possible if you play at clubs like these?
    it's still totally okay for the headliner to make some extra cash for bringing people out, if it's obvious that the headliner is the main act people came out to see. but that doesnt mean you can fuck over the rest of the bands. they worked too.
    you don't need to solicit the showgoers over this nonsense. it needs to be treated as a case by case scenario///
    at the end of the show it's very easy to figure out how to divide the money in a way that makes everyone happy.
    it's not rocket science it's usually common sense.
    it takes like 10 seconds to figure out.
    it's not like the club doesn't take half the door anyway, i don't understand why these clubs have to pin bands against eachother for money. it's perverted and certainly no way to foster a positive experience for anyone. involved

  • http://MultipleStreamsofincome Sanity

    The venue owner should be able to do what they want. There are plenty of places in DC that artists can rent out themselves and turn into a venue and keep the profit but that would require work that many self-righteous, lazy, loud and arrogant artists are not willing to do. Instead, we have to listen to why we need to care why you get paid or not. Maybe if this was about teachers, child care providers, community organizers or people actuLly doing something to better the community maybe I would care, but, insteAd, ur argument is whiny, accusatory and offensive--and Im a performer!!!

  • Enoch 7th Prophet

    Man... This is crazy!!!! I heard a U street club ripped off a Blind man..who was actual set to perform.book by the club paid by the club but had to buy his own drinks...

  • Realist

    Quote:"Rather than pay artists based on experience, creativity, and actual talent, some venues use a scheme that pays artist based on the number of people we bring through the door"

    Reverse the scenario, band A (you) bring in 500 people to a show, band b brings in 34. Are you still against polling... or will your next article be about how pay equity is unfair in the local music scene.

    I feel you but venues do not operate for free. Take note: if you pack the venue, you get paid.
    People will not pay or enjoy your music based on experience, creativity, and actual talent, rather they will enjoy it and love it based on how it makes them feel or your ability to touch a universal chord...

  • http://www.dmvallaccess.com DMV ALL ACCESS

    Maybe its just me...but I don't work unless I know exactly how much I'm getting compensated for my service. PERIOD.

    I enjoy your music HEAD-ROC. I'm a fan! However, reading this post it's clear to me you have a deficit in your business. You need a manager under no circumstance should you try and negotiate for yourself. You just don't have a grasp on supply and demand.

    Take a look at GoGo bands. They have been shut out of every venue in the city. They could care less about the (not saying they do polling) 930 club, Black Cat or who ever else dose polls.

    SUPPLY
    However, their crowd will follow them to an rented event center where you can bring your own liquor and DJ, or they do a $1000 to $2500 bar guarantee and take 100% of the door.

    DEMAND
    They tour the same 10 square mile town for 20 years and sell out every week at $20 to $40 a head ($100 if you have on Timberlands) lol.

    Head-Roc you have no demand. You do minimum marketing. Who knows you other than your parents. Your internet presence is weak. I have looked for you on Youtube for the latest reason of why I should come party with you. I haven't found one other than the fact I think you are a good artist. Men go where girls are. If you are not making music women want to hear then women wont come and men wont either. My website is FREE to blog, post videos, and events just for DMV artist, businesses, and bands. Check it out it my help your exposure.

    The venue doesn't owe you anything other than to provide you with electricity and restrooms.

    The club owners pimp you, I mean poll you because you let them.
    This is the music business. Notice the word business is the bigger word. Business is handled in writing so there is no misunderstanding at the end of the night. PERIOD. You seem like your negotiating after you have provided a service. If you keep falling for it, I would keep doing it to you myself. Stop trying to sneak your way onto the bill and be up front about what you want in advance. Peace!

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