Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Battle of the Bands

After the long hiatus, I'm going to switch gears a bit, to an issue that has been bugging me for a long time, but that affects our lifeblood, the bands, rather than us directly:

The rash of battle of the bands scams

Maybe you remember the 80's when some clubs were alleged to have so many scouts at that that bands were willing to "pay to play". A big break, a big exposure. Maybe it was worth it. Maybe not. But at least there was a chance.

From the early 90's the live band business model changed rapidly. It was rarer and rarer to find an actual booking agent at a club as time went on. At first, club owners were happy enough to count on a few bands to show up and hope they had a draw. But from the band's point of view of course, the club itself also better have a draw, or how was the group supposed to get new fans?

Political pressures hit the bars pretty hard with anti-smoking laws, anti-noise laws, and especially, anti-personal responsibility laws that opened bars up to criminal prosecution and lawsuits if they served the wrong person, and discrimination lawsuits if the refused to serve that same person.

Barflies are typically unaffected by the presence or lack thereof of a band, but the semi-regulars started staying home, or going to parties instead of the clubs. It became critical for the band to have a draw, just to feed the bar.

Enter the fake promoter

At this point, a new and especially slimey character came on the scene. What the bars really needed was a way of packing the house, or a way of covering their costs if noone showed up. While ideally this would be handled by a house booking agent, who had a vested interest in seeing the bar do well, it more and more often fell to a mercenary promoter.

The system often shook out to be the bar selling that particular time to a promoter, after which they had various schemes on how to split the money if costs were covered.

Who can you count on to pay? Well, if you are a promoter, then you are out there stapling flyers, calling people, bugging everyone and making sure the house is packed. EVERYONE is happy!

But hey, that would actually take doing actual work. A much easier way to go is to charge the bands themselves. Divide the amount the bar time cost by the number of bands and charge em, bingo!

But wait, bands know a pay to play setup when they see it right? We'll have to be sneaky about it. No problem. Change the no cover charge bar to a cover charge, 100% GUARANTEEING that noone new will see the band, and probably chasing out the barflies and regulars as well.

So do you go pound the pavement to make sure enough people show up to cover charge the bar into the black?

Hell no, you got a ready made sucker pool to bleed: The band. Now, all you have to do is figure how many tickets need to go to pay the bar, and divide the tickets among the bands. And tell the bands to "sell" the tickets. Of course, the band is working 40 hours a week or going to school, chances are they will have to just buy the tickets themselves.

If the band has to sell their own tickets, stop calling yourself a promoter.

Of course there are legit reasons why a band would have to sell their own tickets, but this isn't one of them.

So now, the band is paying to play, the new cover charge on the previous no cover bar precludes any exposure, and some shmoe is getting fat on a job that was previously done much better by a house booker. And with the booking agent, the band might actually get paid to show up!

It gets worse

Political and social pressures increase, bands wise up and club owners need to look for better ways to keep the doors open. Enter "The Battle of the Bands"

No longer just paying off a fake promoter for 1/5 the bar rent, the bands really get to bend over now. Nearly every club that has a live band is claiming to run a battle of the bands every night. You have no choice but to "battle"

In a lot of cases, the fake promoter takes the maximum capacity of the club (a number that has probably never been reached in the last ten years) and hands each band that many tickets to sell. This means, that if every band actually sold their tickets to actual people, the club would be over capacity five times over than legally allowed.

Every once in a while the battle of the bands actually has some prize at the end. The ways of determining who the winner is is dubious and the conspiracies abound. In the end it becomes a contest of who's parents can afford to front the most ticket money to get all the way to the end of a series.

Woe to the "working bands" who have long since died off, they'd never be able to afford $3000.00 to play a house with 10 people in it.