The Catch 22 of Playing Gigs in NYC

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-authored by Marc Montfleury (aka Eloh) of Indie Band Guru

 

 

It’s 9:30 pm on a rainy Saturday night. You have spent the last two to three weeks sending out sending out bulk emails, passing out flyers, texting everyone in your circle. Your Facebook, your Myspace and your Reverbnation pages are stock full of event invitations that you have sent out and posted in hopes of filling out a room.

An isolated room, in the back of or down a staircase, of any random bar in the city. This room costs no less than $10.00 to get into. You are scheduled to go on at 11:00 pm. Yet by the time you load in and try to get settled, someone with a clipboard steps up to you with one of two lines. “We are running late so you will have to go on at 1:00 am”. Or “I know you are scheduled for 11:00 pm, but get your stuff onstage now and get your set started as quick as you can”.

You are a good sport right? So you do as you are told. Even though the band ahead of you was slated to hit the stage after you, and you are forced to play a 30 minute set as opposed to the 45 minute set you came prepared to display. You get on. You do your thing. Some people clap, others just stare as if you have done them some cosmic wrong in a past life. By the time you are finished, everyone that played before you has taken all of their “People” and moved either upstairs or to the front room of this random bar.

You pack your stuff up and for the final kick in the balls, Mr. or Ms. Clipboard comes to inform you that instead of 15 people, you only got 12 in the door and next time you need to hit the minimum or they will not be able to work with you again. Oh, and you will not be paid.

This is where I get a little pissed off. Why, you ask, would this upset me? I mean is this not what we all want? A chance to play in NYC? To be heard and seen? To build a fan base? To spread your music around like butter on the bread of the human condition? Yes it is. The problem is that there really is no support system for the musicians. Nine out of ten venues in Manhattan will not even distribute drink tickets anymore. You are lucky if you can get your girlfriend or boyfriend in the door as a guest.
This is not even touching on the fact that Mr. or Ms. Clipboard and company have made $10 per head on 12 heads that your band got in the door, yet you will not see a cent of that money. For those of us that cannot multiply, that is $120.00 of passive income in the pocket of whatever booking agency you happen to have worked with.

Now, I understand, that this is a business where everyone needs to do their part. But as a musician that did not grow up in the city, I have to say that I do not have a bunch of friends from work or kids I came up with 20 years strong that are going to come support every two weeks. That being said, the only way I can see of building a fan base is by playing as often as possible. At every venue possible. Converting ears one by one night by night. To do this, I cannot conform to some two week rule when there is no real benefit to it for the band.

It seems like this system is in place solely for your friendly neighborhood booking agency. Half of the venues they book seem to be empty unless, there is some kind of musical or artistic performance in progress . And if you stick around until it is over you will realize nothing else is really going on in these places, even on a Saturday night with a few exceptions (Birthday Parties). Its damn near usury. This is a sin unto god herself, for art is the grandchild of creation.

After spewing all this I must concede that I have no answer to my questions. I do, however, feel very strongly that there has to be a better way. I have been playing here in NYC for about 3 to 4 years and I see the same bands coming to the same venues drawing the same small crowds. They seem frustrated, like I am. Some of them are great and others not so great.
I have found a bit of hope in Brooklyn though. A few of the venues that I have been blessed to play actually feed and beer you. Also, they seem to nurture the idea of artistic expression as something more than a pocket feeding duck hunt, booking you as often as you want to play and actually working with you to create that fan base we all need to get us to the next level.

Some people will disagree with me here and others will laud it as if it were set in stone by my keyboard. My problem is I still see Rock and Roll as a middle finger to the establishment. “Rebel Rebel and your rules are shit to me”. I will break them and be blacklisted until I get what I want out of this music that is my trade. This is what we do. Some people build houses, others conquer empires but through it all they use music to push all these things along.

For any bands out there looking for a some supportive venues, try booking @The Hibachi Tiki Club and Rustik Tavern In Brooklyn.

-Marc Montfleury (aka Eloh)
hear his music at www.myspace.com/negjones

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