Dear Bars That Host Live Music…

Turn that damn TV off.

It’s disrespectful to the musicians, and annoying for the photographer.

This is going to be a rather friendly open letter to all bars hosting a live music performance. I have spent a sufficient amount of time in different venues in southern California, shooting bands playing different styles of music, and there is always a list of things that annoy me. There are many issues that need to be addressed, and I know I won’t be changing the industry by writing a rant, but I’m going to do it anyway. For the sake of my musician friends, and my own sanity.

***

Dear bars that host live music,

Turn that damn TV off.

It’s disrespectful to the musicians, and annoying for the photographer.

I know you didn’t design your bar thinking ‘how would a band look like in it’, but if there is a giant flatscreen right above the stage, and you have a band playing, turn that thing off. It’s unnecessary, it’s unappealing, it’s annoying.

It doesn’t matter who is on stage and how good they are. If you have TVs on, people will turn their gaze to the screen. The local news or the baseball game can wait. Nothing is more disrespectful to a band than to see a bunch of people stare at a TV screen while they are performing.

Bands that hire me to shoot their performance do so because as independent artists, they need to promote themselves through photographs. Having a big, bright rectangle floating on top of the drummer doesn’t help anybody. I don’t mind maneuvering around unnecessary lighting to get a good shot, but most of the time there are TV screens in every corner of the bar anyway. If your customers didn’t come to watch the band play, they can see the game on any other one of your flat screens.

Pay your musicians.

Live music is not like cheeseburger. A great musician can give hundreds of people the best night of their lives. Look at hiring a musician as an investment. The return on investment in revenue and reputation of business will pay for itself. When you pay musicians what they truly deserve, you will attract better quality of music which equals more people in your bar. Don’t pay the exact same wage as you did in 1984, so that the musician now has to work seven jobs a week instead of four to make a decent living. Be fair.

A musician is an artist who has devoted their life to learning something useful that can contribute to the well-being of the human race and the world as a whole. A musician is someone that deserves respect, regardless of what they play. You are bringing in a band for a reason, don’t ever forget that.

We are all responsible for each other’s well being. Everyone that listens to live music should contribute to the income of musicians.

No, a guitarist sweating on stage for five hours for your entertainment does not want to be paid with an $8.00 glass of IPA.

Playing on a Thursday night at a local bar for free just so you can sell more beer should never be tolerated by anyone. And in any other profession it wouldn’t be. If you can’t afford to pay a musician, maybe you shouldn’t be hosting live music to begin with. Musicians don’t do it all for beer and blow jobs. They have mortgages and car payments.

Besides necessities like equipments, fuel and food, many musicians (just like anyone else) have families and children they have to take care of. If you don’t like giving away food and liquor at no charge, don’t expect a musician to work for you for free. Just like you need money to keep your venue running, musicians need money to sustain themselves.

I understand that you may think a musician is someone that plays in your venue on a Thursday night, just for the fun of it. But the truth is, many working musicians are dedicated, passionate, hard working and well-practiced individuals who are extremely focused on their futures and perfecting their craft. Respect that.

Invest in quality lighting.

No musician wants to walk on stage and perform while your house lights are still on. Make the band feel comfortable. Create an ambiance. Don’t make your bar look like a band just walked over from across the street and started playing in someone’s bedroom. Show the music respect and the bands will show respect to your venue.

Stage lighting is very, very important. It can make or break a performance just as easily as the failure of the lead singer’s ability to remember lyrics. Get lights that are appropriate for your space and everyone, including you, will look good.

Don’t ignore how important lighting angles are. Generally, in order to light up a single performer you should have two spot lights pointing in at the performer at forty five degree.

Also, colored track lighting above the stage sucks.

Give a shit about safety.

Don’t hang 50 pounds of fixtures from the drop ceiling. Make sure there is a safety wire on every single fixture. You won’t be climbing up there on a weekly basis to check on these things, so they need to be mounted in a way that they are considered as permanent as the lights above the pool table. If the ceilings in your stage space is too low of trusses, Make sure that wherever you put your stage lights, the stands are well away from any kind of human activity. This is especially important for when you’re hosting a band with a lot of movement.

Respect the stage. People can tell that you have gone the extra step and spent a couple of hundred dollars so they can see every band in your venue. Customers appreciate this, and they will come back for more.

Make sure there are enough electrical outlets around the stage so the band can plug their equipment in without blowing a circuit. Understand that you will have a 250 watt bass amp sharing the same circuit as the lighting and the subwoofers.

Stop telling musicians that playing your bar is good exposure.

Everyone, literally everyone hates that word.

So many times I have been asked to shoot an event in return for “exposure” and making “connections”. The answer is always NO! “Exposure” doesn’t pay bills. And a musician with a $3000 guitar doesn’t appreciate you saying that. Understand that as a bar owner, your success is on the line, because the musician can always move to another venue and you will be left with an empty bar on a Saturday night.

Don’t tell the band “it’s good exposure” after asking them to bring at least 50 people in with them. If playing at your bar was really “good exposure”, you would be providing the audience, not the musicians. Don’t expect the band to bring their own entourage of fans so you can sell them more alcohol. Stop taking advantage of musicians to get free publicity for your bar.

Give the band proper sound checks.

Allow the band to get to your bar a few hours early and do one or two songs before the audience show up. Hire a professional sound engineer if you can. Go that extra mile. You should want the best for your bar, your customers, and the band. This is a good place to start. If your sound guy doesn’t want to come early because he’s been out partying with his bros the night before, fire that bastard and hire someone who understand what their job means, and it’s your job to make sure they show up on time.

Update your website.

Have a designated “event” page. Make a calendar. It only takes a few minutes to do that, and you don’t need any special skills. It’s the band’s job to do their own promotion, but you are also responsible for how many people you bring to the venue at the time of performance. Do your share to promote the live music you’re hosting. Make a list of the bands you’re hosting. It helps the fans to know where their favorite band is playing, and it makes the musicians feel like you actually care about their music. Include a short biography of the artists who will be playing at your venue. Ask musicians for updated photos and what they like included. A sample of their music, link to their Bandcamp or Youtube account are all useful resources you can include. Show that you care.

Don’t tell the musician what to wear.

How would you feel if you saw a bro band in tuxedos? Doesn’t make sense, right?!

Bands are a product that you chose to hire because you believe their music, look and attitude will sell your drinks. A musician’s job is to get up there and do what you have hired them for and what they have practiced to do for the last 10-15 years, in a professional manner that entertains and pleases an audience. If the performer is wrong for your bar its your fault not the musician’s. After all, it was your choice to hire them. If you want the musician to do something other than play music, you should ask if they are willing to do this before hiring them. If musicians wanted to sell alcohol, they would have been bar owners, not musicians. Don’t make the band push your liquor sales. Just as musicians appreciate you for giving them the opportunity to play, you should appreciate that they are willing to showcase their talent and express their creative faculty to the local community by choosing your venue as a platform.

***

Live music is the one real and true item that music fans can experience the way the musician intended it. The feeling of their favorite band standing only a feet away, performing their craft to the highest of their ability. All those years of practice and rehearsals all culminate into that one single stage performance at your bar. In one night, the bar, the musician and fans all come together to experience music in its purest form. That feeling of raw excitement and passion will never be replaced by digital downloads. Music is a living, breathing entity. We, as humans have to make sure that experience never goes away. And you, as a bar owner have the opportunity to cultivate it. Take advantage of your position.

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