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February, 2005

"Making a Profitable Club Date - The Changing Scene"

by Fred Holzhauer

Too many times, as we book a club (we're leaning towards events now, anyway) I get the, "Do you have a following?" query. Sure, we do. All our Moms would make it, if they weren't too busy, and I'll bet I could whip up a bus for a couple dozen fans all around the state, to cover the miles to the show. All this, too, for just 50 bucks a man for 3 1/2 hours of playing and labor to set up and tear down. You'd BETTER buy the beer!!

Sarcasm aside, just try to explain that the days of deadheads following a band around are long gone by. Many folks today have adopted a responsible attitude. They don't want to drink and drive (far). So it's up to the club to develop itself as a local resource for music. The only way that'll happen is if the club establishes a reputation for bringing in good tunes. You'll have to do your part, too - we'll get to that.

It's a catch 22 for a club. They need the entertainment to attract patrons, who more increasingly will be locals (regulars), but they also need the cashflow to pay the bands. Almost any band with some mileage is managing an email contact list, has a web presence, and practices postering. They do what they can to get folks into their shows.

What else can we do toward making a profitable club date? We start by being professional (see the site archive on "Professionalism"). Beyond that, we can raise ourselves above the junk bands by offering a little help. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking about the opportunities in your neck of the woods, keeping in mind that clubs will be getting more provincial, if trends continue.

1) Try associating with, or hosting, an event. This idea can range from a jam night, to a festival, (we've been paid for benefit functions) or in the extreme, a themed production. Jam nights and open stages can get stale, so how about rotating hosts ? Variety is the spice of life. Venture into a new category of tunes from your usual. Not only will it delight your fans, but once you get enough under the belt, it'll go toward doing a themed event. Once you get to the ideas beyond the music, the sky is the limit. For instance, encourage a poker run or rally to make a favorite club into one of the stops. Be there to play at the lunch stop or the end stop.

2) Cover charges. More than one place we know has a standard cover when they have feature bands. The band gets a base fee and a piece of the door; in other words, they get rewarded for both the work and also for having a local success. Nothing too wrong with that. If the cover's not too excessive, say near the price of a beverage, and the beverages are reasonably priced, that could be a formula that won't deter the stingy sorts from making the show.

3) Analyze the people in the room. Bar and wait staff are cool? Or are they stealing the club owner, blind? Is the clientelle cool? Are they buying club product, or doing most of their imbibing (etc) in the parking lot? If the folks are uncool, you'll not be gigging there too long. Eventually, the poor economics will convince the club owner that he doesn't need a band.

4) Partner a bit with the club. You can see yourselves and the club as teammates in the effort to provide an evening of entertainment to the patrons. We have offered to help a young club develop their sound system. We'd come in early and test different speaker locations and sound pressures to help them form their PA purchase and installation plans. Glory!! Having a hand in buying a useful PA for a club you'd like to play in - and developing a long term relationship in the process!!

5) Help develop the scene. Be creative here, and not afraid to take a risk. Recommend to the club other bands that will be a good counterpoint to your own (you didn't expect to hog all the gigs, did you? - you'll get stale .....). You'll need to resort to professionalism rather than cronyism to get the best results, here. Acousticbylines.com is a good example of an emerging service in this vein.

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