Five Ways We Have Screwed Over Other Bands
In order to not implicate Rocks Off's more moral brethren and sistren here, I'm gonna drop the royal we, m'kay? The evil machinations mentioned hereafter are the work of one man with one F, and are not endorsed by the Houston Press.
Ed. Note: We are real paragons of virtue over here, but we'll go with it. Why the hell not?
I'm a Slytherin by nature. I'm ambitious, ruthless, and I believe that it's not cheating if you don't get caught. Being in the music industry is a cutthroat deal, and a lot of the time you're going to have to think your way around the rules to get anywhere. While it would be unspeakably awesome if we all helped each other up - and please believe me, I tried that too - here are five ways to profit at the expense of others.
Maybe you can learn something.
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1. Rigging the Count: This happened a lot a Fitzgerald's, and it should work at any club taking tallies of which bands people are coming to see in order to determine how much those bands get paid. While the rest of the band set up, drank or tried to convert lesbians into guitar-isexuals, I would station myself right at the ticket booth with a bucket of stickers, buttons or even promo CDs.
Most people showing up would say, "I'm here to see so-and-so and the whatchamacallits." Those people are fans, and Odin blesses every one of them.
Then there was a whole group of people who would say, "I'm here for everybody" or maybe, "I don't know, who's playing?" With those people I would spring into action, and offer them free stuff if they would say they were there for my band. Nine out of ten times it worked 100 percent of the time, and the effort was always evident in our payout at the end of the night.
2. Show Up Early and Don't Play Last: If you're reading this article, you are not a headliner. Don't let anyone tell you that you are.
The ideal time to play at a club is around 11 or 11:30 p.m. The early birds are still energetic, the stragglers have finally gotten there, and most people have imbibed enough spirits to get loose, but not violent or broke. Not only does this make for a better show, it can ensure the maximum mojo-tastic mood for which to convince people to buy shirts and CDs.
When you're setting up your gig, always ask to go on at 11 p.m. If the promoter says it's not decided until the day of the show, make sure you're the first band to load in so you can claim the spot if at all possible. Playing last will just ensure that you'll get to watch the audience trickle out during your set without buying anything.
3. Scalp Your Own Merch: You have to be very realistic about how much your merch is worth. It's worth only what people are willing to pay for it, nothing more or less. Next time you're in Kroger, wander over to the DVDs they sell for $9.99. Write down the titles, and then go look up the budgets for those films on IMDB.com. You'll learn real quick that what you put into a project doesn't necessarily dictate the price.
In other words, be prepared to cut your own throat to move your stuff. One of my favorite ways to do this was to scope out other bands' merch tables and lower my prices $5 below what they charged. This worked out real well when we opened for the Misfits.
All the stuff they were selling was $15. That means that if people paid with a $20, then they left with $5 in change. I just moved my merch to the exit door, and told people that all our shirts and albums were $5 as they left. We sold almost quadruple what we normally sold.
On a side note, national touring acts often get fed, and they never eat it all. Free steak rocks if you can get to it when no one's looking!
4. Don't Buy Alcohol: This is more screwing over the club than your fellow musicians.
Believe it or not, I didn't really start drinking until I had to start loading in at a club at 6 p.m. and then wait around until 2 a.m. to get paid. That's eight hours, with nothing to do for three-quarters of that time. Even if you like the other bands, watching them only sucks up a couple of hours, leaving most of us with the desire to drink the boredom away.
Clubs know this, by the way, and use it. Drinking up your paycheck is very easy to do. If you have a five-piece band and you each rack up a $20 tab, you might have been better off just putting your cash into a cookie jar at practice.
The nice way around this conundrum is to simply ask the promoter for some drink tickets when you book the show. It's not an unreasonable request. The cool way is to have fans who will buy you drinks.
Then there's my way; Bring your own in a flask. Be warned: This is technically illegal, and getting caught may get the whole band thrown out or possibly banned from the club. So don't do it unless you know how to be sneaky.
5. It's Not Your Job to Make Sure the Other Guy Gets Paid: It's very, very, very important that you work as much of the details of your gig out beforehand. If possible, get it all in writing via email or fax so you can submit it to the club. Ask exactly how the payout is supposed to work, who pays you, and how.
Be as proactive as you can because the line between success and failure for everyone in the music industry is so thin it's damn near perforated. People will try to squeeze by any way they can.
That means that when the end of the night comes and a member of one of the other bands comes up and complains about their payout, it's not your problem. If you like the band as musicians or as friends, you might impart some wisdom to them on how to guard against these problems in the future, through intense communication between themselves and the clubs and promoters.
It's not your fault you struck a better bargain, and you shouldn't feel bad about it. If the other band can't negotiate with a local club, then national-level agents and executives will eat them alive.
In a just world, we'd all be paid exactly what our art was worth to us. In the real world, we have to do the best we can. Some of these actions may sound like the signatures moves of a grade-A asshole. I won't argue with that. I hope you'll use these tactics sparingly, if at all.
And if you know a more altruistic way to climb the ladder, please tell us.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
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