I was at a Houston Music Roundtable get together on Tuesday chatting with my friend and mega-talented keyboardist, Ian Varley. We were talking about an article written in the Houston Press where he was quoted talking about the lack of a local music scene.
Ian brought up a really interesting point – something I honestly had not considered – the total lack of a support infrastructure for bands and musicians.
“Name one other industry where the inventor, creator, whatever, has to completely go it alone with no outside support whatsoever.”
Ok, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the point is dead on. When you are in a band, EVERYTHING is on you – EVERYTHING. Promotion/Marketing, Payroll, Billing, Sales, Technical, Accounting, Graphic Arts…it’s all for you.
I own a small business and we are often saddled with multi-dimensional problems. But, we have several people who handle them. I take care of billing, sales and marketing. My business partner manages projects and techincal stuff. We have graphic designers and code guys to do that work. If we need help, we farm out some work to other contracted people.
In a band, you don’t just do it for yourself, you are expected to do it. And, how can that possibly help the art you are attempting to create?
The best example I could come up with for comparison purposes is an artist. When you are a painter, photographer, sculptor, etc, your main job is to do your work and then get a gallery interested. Once you found someone who likes your art enough to put it in a show, THEY do all the work. You just bring your work, tell your friends and show up.
The gallery promotes it, sets up the show and takes a cut of the work.
Locally, there is none of that kind of support for bands. Here is how a typical show works in your average Houston club for original music.
You call the club and, if you are lucky and you have some in with the person who books there, you get a gig. This is usually a shitty day – like a Wednesday – and you are expected to bring a crowd or they won’t invite you back on a day when you stand a chance – i.e. Friday or Saturday.
They MIGHT have a PA system for sound. Maybe not. Either way, whatever they have or you bring will likely sound like crap.
You get paid nothing, but you are expected to work your ass off to get people in the door – flyers, calling, emailing, mailing, bugging friends and relatives, posting on message boards – whatever it takes.
Then, if you do ok, they’ll invite you back on a Thursday with the same scenario. Then, maybe opening for someone on a Friday or Saturday, but they track you at the door by asking everyone who they came to see. If you don’t bring enough people, they don’t invite you back.
Who decided this would work for anyone?
In a big touring show, promoters bid for the right to sell a show for a band. Yes, yes, the bands ARE the draw, but you still have to get a good venue on a good night (low competition), advertise it, make sure the band’s needs are covered for sound, etc. The band’s job is to show up, play and be good. That’s it.
Now, if the band sucks, then they blew it and they don’t get other shots at it. But, if they show up, kick ass and the crowd enjoys it, everybody wins.
Locally, there is nothing like that for bands who aren’t already famous and, in reality, don’t need the help. Imagine if there were actual promoters out there who took 25 or 35 percent of the door. Most bands would be thrilled to give up that cash.
A good show at a decent club might mean $2000 at the door. If there are three bands and you split the door 4 ways (3 bands plus 1 promoter), each band still nets $500, more than you would make almost anywhere else on your own. Plus, that doesn’t even count how much you can make selling CD’s and other merchandise.
A good promoter will also be able to share costs with the bands when it comes to flyers and advertisements. I know that most bands would gladly help split the cost if someone else would just do the work.
Our job is to be good and try to win fans. Is that other stuff a pain in the ass? Hell yes it is, which is exactly why someone other than the band – who should be focusing on playing – should be doing it.
Unfortunately, right now in Houston, no one is.