Seattle’s Live Music Business Model is Broken

Disclaimer: This is not about guilting musicians for playing at clubs with bad deals or badmouthing venues for setting what are, in my opinion, ridiculous terms. This is about informing the live music audience of the realities behind putting on these shows and what I see as an unsustainable situation, and trying to move past the usual finger-pointing and complaining so we can have a constructive, open discussion about what is fair and why.

Every few months the Seattle musician community erupts with outrage over a particularly awful night at one of the city’s many live music venues. For whatever reason there was a breakdown in communication between the musicians and venue, who each had different expectations about the cover, room fee, sound situation, promotion, set times, etc. We all quietly piss and moan to each other after last call, rarely letting our audience know what happened for fear of burning bridges. The fervor dies down and a few weeks later we’re back to where we started, playing the same venues with crowds none the wiser, waiting for the next time one of us gets a raw deal so we can repeat the cycle.

There have been a few solutions thrown out there, all basically centered around some kind of union. Musicians would organize and collectively decide on a set of acceptable terms for playing these venues. The problem I see is that I can’t tell another musician what they’re worth. If someone wants to play for less than ideal terms for exposure or getting more playing experience, that’s their choice. Everyone has their own idea of what they need to be happy and I can’t change that.

In my view, the key to a solution to all of this is information and fairness. People in general want to contribute to a system that is fair, especially in a progressive city like Seattle, and information is the fuel that feeds that fire. When we learn that Walmart treats their employees poorly and puts our neighbors out of business, we stop shopping there. When we learn that buying fair trade coffee contributes to better working conditions for South American workers, we seek out shops that sell it. When we learn that Apple products are made by Chinese teenagers working 70 hour weeks at Foxconn, we get on our iPhones and post about how terrible it is.

If we want fairness in this system, we need to let our audience know where to go, where not to go, and why. Tell them what you think is fair, let them know which venues meet those standards, which ones don’t, and let them make the decision. I’m willing to bet your audience will make the choice to support the venues that treat their musicians right.

In that spirit, here are three issues that I think cause the most problems between musicians and venues, and what I think is fair:

Cover and Payment – For ticketed/cover shows, 100% of a mutually agreed upon cover. For venues with no entry fee, a flat fee of $75/musician for one 60-90 minute set, or $50/musician/set for two or more sets.

Most venues in Seattle are bars. Their business is providing food and liquor. Our business is providing music. Venues should get paid for what they sell, and musicians should get paid for playing music. Venues have no right to get a cut of the cover any more than musicians have a right to get a cut of bar sales. As far as I know, no venue in Seattle gives bands 100% of the door, with even the best venue taking a small percentage for a city admission tax. As of right now, the city of Seattle levies a 5% admissions tax, with exemptions for venues with capacity under 1,000, which is a large majority of the venues I’m really talking about. These venues are charging for a tax that doesn’t exist.

If a venue doesn’t want to charge a cover to avoid turning people away, then they should pay musicians a flat fee. Musicians aren’t food and drink salesmen, so getting a percentage of bar sales makes no sense. Just like a bartender or sound person who are given set rates, musicians provide a service that requires payment. What I have listed may seem low to some, maybe high to others, but it’s the lowest I can charge without feeling exploited at the end of the night. I work for less sometimes, sometimes more, but that’s about average.

Staff – Sound and door person costs should be split 50/50 between venues and musicians. HIRED STAFF SHOULD BE COMPETENT AND TRUSTWORTHY

Bands perform much better when it sounds good on stage and audiences are happier when their ears aren’t being blown out by feedback. Happy audiences spend more at the bar and in turn give energy back to the band. The person at the door collects money for the band, checks ID’s, and keeps out aggressive drunks that can ruin the vibe inside for everyone. With the right staff, everybody wins. Both parties benefit equally from having them on board, so both parties should contribute equally to their payment.

As of now, I don’t know of any venues in Seattle that split the cost at all. Most charge a room fee of varying amount to cover the cost of staff, many charging much higher than needed for a sound and door person.

Promotion – Mutually agreed upon design/print costs split 50/50

Obviously, both parties need to be in the habit of promoting themselves. They should both have mailing lists and a social media presence, and be actively promoting shows. Unfortunately, most venues expect musicians to commission artwork for a unique poster, print out copies, hang them up all over town, and pay for it all themselves. This is shared advertising that should be split evenly between bands and venues. If a venue wants a poster designed and printed, which they should, then they need to have a budget to contribute to the costs. I’m wrong about this. After conversations with venue ownership and staff and other musicians, it’s reasonable that bands cover the cost of promoting individual shows. It’s just part of what we have to do to be successful. I think the reason I wrote this in the first place was related to the many times I’ve printed flyers and dropped them off or hung them up at venues, only to have them left untouched, ripped down, or covered. Anyway…

Most venues already take out ads in the Stranger and Weekly. Really, these ads are for the venue and not for the bands, and shouldn’t be considered shared advertising. The venue name is large and in color, and the week’s schedule is listed below in black and white 6 pt font. I think these ads are a complete waste of money. Is a 3″ spot on a page along with 30 other venue ads really going to do anything for anybody? Apparently, based on feedback, I’m completely wrong about this.

My List

I’ve stated what I think is fair and why, now here is a list of the venues I do and don’t feel comfortable working with. You’ll notice the ones I support don’t meet all my standards in one way or another, but they’re the closest in the city and have a positive, cooperative attitude with their musicians. The venues I explicitly avoid have, in my experience, the highest in the city and have a negative, uncooperative attitude with their musicians.

Venues I Support:
Seamonster Lounge (20% of bar or guarantee for established acts, drinks)
Triple Door Musicquarium ($150 – $300 flat fee + food/drink tab)
Comet Tavern (95% of door, $100 room fee)
Owl & Thistle (??% of bar, compensation in line with attendance)
Vito’s (varying flat fees + % of bar, half off food/drink)
Bake’s Place (varying flat fees, a meal and drinks)
Tula’s (90% of door, $50 for door person)

Venues I Avoid:
(details are to the best of my knowledge, if not accurate let me know)

High Dive ($275 room fee weekends, $170 weekdays)
Nectar ($150 room fee + 30% of door weekdays, don’t know weekends)
Lucid (no cover allowed, tips only, venue records band for Lucid record label without pay)
Lucid now has ticketed shows, with essentially a $13 food/drink minimum added to the cover, along with their tips-only shows. For example, a $20 cover would give attendees a $13 bar tab, with $7 going to the bands. Cover can be set to anything, but Lucid has a $13 minimum.
Studio 7, El Corazon, or any venue that asks bands to buy tickets in bulk and sell them
Got a call from Studio 7 saying they don’t charge bands for tickets. Bands are given tickets and are paid $2-$4/ticket they sell. Called back for more details but haven’t heard back. This weekend’s ticket prices are $8-$10, which means the venue gets at least 50% of ticket sales. Not the same thing, but still a terrible deal.

This is not an exhaustive or definitive list, but only reflects my personal experience. There are other venues I don’t have a strong opinion about, and choose to work with or avoid for other personal reasons. Other musicians may have had bad experiences with the venues I like, or great experiences with the ones I avoid. If so, it’s up to them to let their audience know. There are also plenty of venues I haven’t worked with that may have better or worse terms than the ones listed below. I can only speak to my own experience.

Let’s Talk

I’m interested mostly in hearing from venue owners and bookers. Am I being unreasonable? If so, why? What do we not know about the view from your side of the table?

If you’re a musician, let me know your thoughts on what I covered and what I left out. Let’s avoid a long series of “One time I played at _____ and they totally screwed me!” posts. Be constructive.

If you’re a live music fan, let me know what you love about your favorite venues or what you dislike about the ones you avoid. Musicians and venues like to think we know what you want, but chances are we have no idea.

If you’re a troll and just feel like posting something hateful, please do so here.

Thanks for reading. Let’s make this better.

80 thoughts on “Seattle’s Live Music Business Model is Broken”

  1. So there’s this many people living in Seattle proper: 634,535.

    Keep in mind this is not for any of the extending areas just outside of Seattle.

    18 to 24, 38.6% from 25 to 44, 21.9%

    Roughly half of those people are of bar attending, venue attending age.

    That’s 300,000 ish.

    If you apply the unemployment rate average 6.3%, you get 281,000 ish.

    And accounting for people who make enough to go out and be entertained, let’s just round it out to about 240,000 ish.

    It seems to me you should be able to get 1% of those people interested your venue or band, if they are excellent.

    Not mediocre, excellent.

  2. The true root of the problem can be summed up in one word: mediocrity.

    Seattle settles for mediocrity and then quietly complains about it and pats each other on the back for excelling in mediocre things, then, again, quietly complains about the lack of really great things in Seattle.

    The art scene in general is rife with mediocrity.

    Artists are too concerned with hurting someone’s feelings than actually giving constructive criticism. If something isn’t fantastic, we don’t encourage them to reaching the excellent or incredible, we cheer them on for the race to good, and get excited if it’s really good.

    Then if something is excellent, it’s often overlooked. There are people in our community who are great, not just great but phenomenal talent, and they struggle in this city because there’s no support for things being great, only the mediocre.

    Also, there’s an underlying belief that someone needs to struggle for years, nay, decades before they are worth anything in this town and someone will give them a look. Just try to tell me that Shirley temple slaved away for decades before she became entertainment worthy.

    Also, the ageism needs to stop. It’s like there’s a magical age where you are amazing, but then it stops and doesn’t start again until you’re older than dirt.

    If it’s great, it’s great. It doesn’t matter what ‘age’ of the person making the art. No one is asking how old Van Gogh was when he painted “Starry Night,” because it doesn’t matter.

    Make something great. Celebrate greatness. Rally around exceptional art.

    And now venues.

    The same applies to your place.

    What kind of pride are you placing in the food served to your patrons? Does it matter that it’s pre frozen, pre manufactured food? Do you serve things that people can easily make at home for less than what you are charging? Is your atmosphere mediocre? Is your food mediocre? Are you relying on mediocre bands to fill your mediocre space?

    Do you get what I’m getting at?

    Seattle, find the exceptional, it’s here. Rally around that.

  3. Came to this article from the recent poll. It seems that a lot of the problems going are here are of scope. If you pack the house at Nectar, you WILL make good money. If you only bring 20 people, the place is mostly empty, and they will lose money.

    Comparing large rooms with Seamonster and the like is disingenuous, as they would be happy to get those extra 20 people in the door. Grant makes a lot of good points as well about professionalism and musicianship. There seems to be a lot of entitlement in the scene that just because you write cool songs you should instantly find a packed house.

    There’s different ways to approach being a working musician. The Triple Door Musiquarium is a great way to make money by just being an excellent musician. Playing shows at High Dive and Nectar is a different proposition – then you’re in the business of attracting people to the venue. By booking your band there, you’re saying “we need a 100+ capacity room and a professional PA to pull off our event.” If you don’t have that draw (and everyone always overestimates their draw) then sticking to smaller venues will make everyone happier. Their overhead is far lower, so they’ll be far happier to give you a better deal.

    Certain venues will pay well and have their own sound guy paid by the house, if you’re coming in to provide house entertainment with covers and the like (not many of these in Seattle). If you have your own band with your own sound, then it’s your responsibility to get people to like it and bring people out. Original music venues don’t have a built in draw because who would bother paying a cover to see 3 mediocre indie rock bands they’ve never heard of who just stand there on stage (like Grant was saying)?

    Not saying that there aren’t venues with issues (cough El Corazon) but none of these businesses are making money hand over fist by screwing over artists. If you want to be a working musician, play in cover bands or find a house gig. If you want to promote your own original sound, then it’s all on you to bring the people in and choose the right venue for your draw.

    1. Dan, it seems to me that the venues are in the same boat as the musicians. There are not enough local bands that can pack nectar or the high dive or the other clubs in seattle on a nightly basis, nor is there a population of music fans that could fill the clubs 7 nights a week. So maybe the business model of the clubs shouldn’t depend on how many fans any one band can bring in on a Monday night. At least the seamonster/royal room, triple door encourages an environment where people can hang out and know something interesting might be going on, making it a destination spot first. Maybe part of the problem is accepting the mentality of “who would pay a cover to see 3 unknown indie bands” as your primary business model. Maybe if all parties agree to remove as many of the barriers to getting people to check something out first, the audience/customers would be more apt to come. If 20 people walk into a bar to have a drink not knowing who the bands are but stay because they like the music it’s a win win as I see it.

      1. I agree, and think the biggest problems are when the mid-sized clubs don’t have anything else to book for a given night. You end up with a bill of locals that would have been better off playing a smaller venue or a house party, everybody loses money, and nobody is happy.

  4. Great stuff here. What I’ve noticed that needs to be addressed the most is the time slot of shows. It seems that most clubs are still working from an 80’s/90’s mentality where you book 3 bands, start at 10pm & have the last band play at 1am. And to just stand there the whole time as well. That was great when it was mostly underground but the audience is so much more savvy & diverse now. Nobody with a career is willing to do that often & that’s a huge demographic out there. The reason why the triple door is great is because they’re legit. It would be awesome to see more venues do shows from 8-11pm consistently & try to draw out the 9-5 people, they’re the consumers. I’ve noticed some others bring this up but I think it’s a huge component. Most music venues are either gross, inconvenient or just plain hostile to the average person trying to see a show or find something exciting to do.

  5. Very good article and nice to see some balanced discussion on this. It’s a frustrating topic and I think made more frustrating by people from both sides not being reasonable. It’s got to work for everyone. I pretty much agree with your criteria, more or less. A couple of thoughts around some of them.

    As someone else pointed out, the flaw in the $X/person system is the venue has no increased benefit from you having a larger band. I have a trio that sometimes has someone has someone in front. I’ve never felt like “I’m bringing a trumpet player this week, so it’s going to cost you an extra…” was a reasonable position for me to take. True that when I’m marketing a group, the size of the group and needs of the members influence me in terms of what deal I’m looking for, but I have to balance my artistic vision with my commercial one at some point. Doesn’t mean that I’m good with underselling, but that’s always felt like a better guideline for the musicians, than anything we should ever present to a venue to explain what their costs would be. Otherwise, they can just book folk singers, one person band who usually has a bunch of followers and more times than not will work for beer anyway “just to get heard”.

    The second issue is that you’ve got to take into account what the venue is selling. $12 Martinis? Lobster ravioli? They’re going to make money at the register. Wine and cheese + small capacity?, PBR and Cascade Chips? It’s a tough business to stay open in. Choosing not to play there is a perfectly valid decision, coming to an arrangement that feels equitable to everyone is as well, in my opinion.

    I also tend to put a price on what their demands of the music are. “Come in and do your thing” costs something less from me than “Wear a suit, entertain my customers, don’t play too loud and focus on familiar swing tunes, like Satin Doll.”

    It’s just like any other deal. When I was a kid, I didn’t charge the same for any lawn that I mowed. I had a minimum, but it depended on size of the lot, proximity to my house, did they want me to edge? etc.

    I think where we loose credibility in this argument is when we start with “who’s going to pay me for my practice time or the expense of my instrument, or for my private conservative tuition, etc.” The answer to that is “nobody”.

    I appreciate that you’re looking at this deal from both sides. Healthy dialogue can only help.

  6. I am a director of a newly renovated heritage theatre called the Columbia in New Westminster, BC, and we just launched our live music program. We are not a bar or a night club, but a cabaret style heritage theatre. I found the article and discussions very informative and thank you very much for saving us years of trial and error to learn these views. We have enjoyed tremendous support of local musicians with the launch of our Sunday Blues Revue (Our Youtube channel is 530columbia) and in order to find “the best model”, we are planning to have a series of roundtable discussions with venue operators and musicians. I have shared the link to this forum as a background information to the participants, and I am sure our discussions will benefit from the diverse ad common views here.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we, venue operators and musicians, are in this together. We have the common interest to deliver great live entertainment experience to the public, and to educate the value of such experience. We need promoters who will not only fill the gap between the venue operators and the musicians to deal with the risks and take the profit, but who will add value by promoting the live music industry.

    I have also found Amanda Palmer’s video on Ted Talks to be enlightening on this issue, and am interested in asking the fans to pay the musicians directly in a respectful and meaningful way.

    Thank you again for everyone’s input on this discussion.

  7. As a musician and music fan, I appreciate the discussion here. From the fan’s perspective, I like to go to clean venues with excellent or at least decent acoustics (Triple Door Mainstage, Jazz Alley, Bake’s Place, Royal Room). Granted, these are not necessarily places for up and coming bands, and smaller venues are needed. But frankly, I don’t go out to shows too much at other places because the sound is way too loud, not clean, and/or not well mixed. This is not always the fault of the sound man. They are over-worked, the systems are sometimes not appropriate for the room, and by mid-way through a night, I think their high-frequency hearing is gone. Moreover, sound from the band’s amps can sometimes be too loud and make it difficult for the sound tech to do his/her job. The bands that advertise a show starting at 9 pm, but they don’t actually take the stage until 11 pm are another pet peeve of mine. We once waited through a horrible DJ and audience-dosing of artificial (chemical) fog for almost 2 hours before a group took the stage. After a few songs, I left because they weren’t using a live band, just two vocalists and a DJ which left me cold. By the time I left the club, I had a bad headache from the artificial fog.

  8. I am the front man in a rock/funk band and also perform my own solo hip hop music. I have been playing gigs around town for a few years now. I think your post raises several issues that are long over due for a serious discussion. Thanks so much for posting. In my opinion Portland is definitely on to something and we should try and follow thier lead. Pay to play can not and should not be tolerated. With that said, what are the options for a new or relatively unknown band or musician? YouTube is awesome but if your a true musician you want to be live in front of people. Obviously one size can not fit all as many of us are at different points in our journey as musicians. Some will be willing to play for much less just for the “opportunity”. Anyways, I would totally be willing to get involved in a real discussion with the aim of providing some alternatives to the current situation.
    As far as your list goes, I can say without hesitation that The Triple Door is the best venue I’ve played in terms of how they treat the artist and the pay you get. I’ve also played at The High Dive, Nectar and Lucid. I do believe Nectar has gotten a bit better but they can still improve greatly. Lucid does not pay artist as far as I know. Obviously, the are all different venues with varying costs but surely some minimum set of standards should apply. Thanks again for kick starting a great conversation!

  9. If these venues want a draw so bad – regardless of talent – then they should book weddings & private events. Then you’ll ALWAYS have live music and you’ll ALWAYS have a draw. Exposure isn’t payment. Anybody can upload a YouTube video if they want exposure and they can do that from home. It’s not the musicians’ fault that you can’t draw people in on your own accord with awesome drinks, clean bathrooms and great service. If they’re providing your place with FREE entertainment because you can’t make an upfront offer, then just say “Thank you”! Provide incentive to talk up your business and any artist will be happy to bust their ass to get people to come… I actually do want some of these venues to succeed and would be proud to help make that happen in any way I can (and I don’t bother even trying to book the venues I hope fail). The draw thing is not relevant to talent. Not even remotely. A frat boy hip hop group with 12 members will always out-draw the lone female singer-songwriter anyway because that’s what’s trending lately. It always changes. The genre, the night of the week, location, even if it’s cold and rainy out… will tint the draw. If you get people to even leave their neighborhood, then you’re having a successful night, unfortunately. I don’t know any artist in this town – weather they are good or not – who enjoys playing to an empty room. That’s not even worth loading the car for. The draw should just be an indicator of which night (or placement on the bill) you book an act (so a higher draw earns you a Saturday night for example) which seems to be how it is for the most part and that’s reasonable. But if you don’t ask your employees to come in and work for free, by all means, don’t start doing that with the musicians who are offering you an added attraction to get customers.

  10. for the $75/person idea… sounds fair, but it does place limitations on larger ensembles.

    not sure where we would take our 17 piece ensemble if every venue would get in trouble for not fronting us $1275!

    at this size, of course we do sometimes just rent our own venue for shows.

    but, we do play the royal room on coverless days and the audience pays us directly with envelopes the venue puts on the table for them.
    that way the effort we put into promotion comes back to us, and any effort the venue puts into promotion comes back to them with food and drink sales. (although i think they give us a small percentage of the bar as well?). despite not always needing one, we always have a sound guy present, and we’ve never been charged for him.
    this venue also has a few days a week for ticketed shows.
    i think its a nice compromise they are working out and it leaves room for groups in various stages of development and experimentation.

    while aren’t going to get rich off those shows, we certainly don’t feel ripped off by the venue. we can see the math!

    one of the upsides to the seattle music scene is the informality allows for more innovation. i’d hate to lose that, so i hope whatever fixes we aim for leave room for the unusual exceptions.

    1. As indicated in the post, I think a flat fee should only be for spots with no cover charge like a restaurant or hotel. A 17-piece ensemble would most likely be playing a venue with some kind of cover charge. I like the rest of your post though.

      1. no i understood that. but thats literally what we do right now. 17 piece group, smaller venue, no cover!

        it has been convenient because it helps gets us a following, (can be tricky, when we are an unusual style), and it let us promote our recording kickstarter at our shows. its an informal gig that lets us test out new material, almost “open rehearsal” concept. and when we can’t bring a crowd, we aren’t penalized by the venue.

        i can see times when a group wouldn’t want to be in that position, but this has been helpful for us to develop an identity, and everyone on both sides knew what they were getting into.

        if there was an rule against it that would hurt a club’s reputation, we wouldn’t have had this opportunity.

        so thats why i’m supporting the royal room concept of formal ticketed/covered nights alternating with the informal ones. i’ve played there for both and never felt taken advantage of.

  11. For me, every week or so the same thing happens: Somebody posts a blog entry (though, sincerely, none as good as this one yet!) that describe the situation and mirror – identically – the talking points that a group of musicians here in Portland came up with and decided to take action on .

    The best thing here is that you’re correctly seeing venues as partners, not exploitative villains (though, clearly, some are… ‘educational opportunities.’)

    It was this community partnership, sponsored and supported by the AFM (with no direct or immediate benefit to them) between union and nonunion musicians that created the Fair Trade Music movement, of which chapters have now started in LA, New Orleans, and Seattle (

    Fair Trade Music is about building partnerships. Musicians don’t thrive unless their venues do. Bravo for a call to move past the finger-pointing.

    You may not think you can tell a musician what they’re worth, but we all know they’re worth at least as much as the dishwasher, which usually gets a better guarantee and often gets a better deal.

    The word “solidarity” is unknown to today’s sharkpool of musicians that passes as a ‘community;’ so If you don’t establish minimums, they’ll all race to undercut you so fast it’ll be down to the old “zero minus expenses” before you can utter the two most insipidly venomous words in the business: “Great exposure.”

  12. Bartenders are NOT given set rates. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “tip your bartenders?” Bartenders, like servers, get a minimum-wage hourly rate but rely on tips for the majority of their income.

    1. A minimum-wage hourly rate is a guarantee of payment, however low it is. If you’re being honest, I’m sure your average hourly rate is much higher than minimum wage. The musicians that play venues don’t get any guarantee of payment whatsoever.

  13. I am a working sound tech at a couple of the clubs you have listed on your “negative” list. I am also and have been a working musician in Seattle since 1996. I’m on both sides of the equation here, so I can understand your frustration. However, I can’t see any of the complaints about how the scene is “broken” as anything more than sour grapes. Do most “real” venues (as in having a stage, a decent PA, monitors, lights) charge a room fee? Yes. Why? Because all that stuff COSTS MONEY to maintain. There are many other additional costs that a venue has to pay that a “regular” bar doesn’t, so the “booze out/money in” assumption is way oversimplified. Compound that with the the fact that MOST nights at any given venue are money-losing propositions (weak turnouts, etc) and the best the venue can hope for are big weekend nights to offset the everyday costs. Don’t want to pay a room fee? Try negotiating that upfront when you book the show. All the cards are on the table, no one is hiding any information from you when you’re setting the gig up. You might not be able to negotiate on your first time at a club, but if you SHOW them that you can draw, and thus make the club money, then you might be surprised how forthcoming the bookers can be. If you don’t have enough of a draw to demand requirements of 100+ capacity venues, perhaps that should be your primary concern.

    1. The idea that the performing artist should be saddled with the operational costs of the venue (sound, lights, security, etc.) is beyond ridiculous. It’s not an issue exclusive to Seattle, but the problem is more prevalent here in the Seattle area than it is in other area of the country. That said, I see both sides of the issue as well. I personally feel that Tarik’s post was quite balanced in his approach to the issues at hand.

  14. Its great to read what people have to say here. One question that I wouldn’t mind more answers to is, “Is it just the Seattle music scene who’s business models are broken, or is it more widespread.” When bands that play in Seattle’s smaller clubs go on tour, is it better in other cities? Do they get guarantees, or better guarantees in other cities? If there is another city (or west coast city) with music clubs that are able to pay musicians better than Seattle, then why is that? Do they have better tax breaks for the local clubs? I think this is worth exploring. If its the same in other places then I think this topic should be “All cities small clubs in the US have a broken business model”, not just Seattle. I think musicians should be paid more, and I get the impression that people who run music clubs struggle financially as well. Of course there are always exceptions……..

    1. I’m in a band down in here in Los Angeles and yes, this is a very widespread problem. A lot of venues take advantage of the fact that they’re in Hollywood and require crazy draw numbers then charge the band when they don’t draw guaranteeing they make money regardless. I know, brilliant business wise but it’s killing the live music scene. After playing for a number of different promoters and venues I feel a fair deal across the board is this: If you are charging $10 at the door, the band makes 80% of the door provided they bring at least 15 people. That way it’s an incentive for the band to promote and the venue is guaranteed to make money. If it is a free show then the band should get $3 for every person saying they are there to see them. Again, encourages the band to promote while also making the venue money. If there is a sound guy/door girl charge then the venue and all musical acts should shoulder the cost to spread it out evenly. Let me know what you guys think!

      1. If a club is in need of door people and sound guys they should PAY them. I’ve been on both sides of this and real club owners(the ones who are in it because they love it and want to promote it) GET IT. Most clubs are profit based and only book those who ring up the bar. Regardless of how many they draw. If the register don’t ring it don’t mean a thing.

      2. Y’know… if having live entertainment is such a burden for these clubs, then they should just not bother. There are plenty of places that aren’t clubs or bars where you can perform your music to an audience and charge a cover if you think you can manage, you just have to get creative – I’ve had better luck with small art galleries and as for making money – I just sell it directly via the internet and enter a variety of contests (there’s millions all the time) that offer cash prizes etc. It works and I don’t have to lug a thing. If people want me to play that bad, they’ll offer to pay or at least not get bitchy when I donate my time and skill because they have no other attraction beyond PBR tallboys to bring the people in. The industry changes all the time and you actually stand a better chance of hitting it big with careful branding and unique ways to deliver and connect to an audience – If you play a bar or club, you sell maybe a few CDs, gain a few new fans of your work but then everybody goes home drunk and forgets your name by the next day too – and it’s not like talent scouts are actually attending these dive bars. They aren’t hard up for finding new acts. So… local fame is not worth freaking out over. I’ll save that effort for things that involve contracts and higher figures and higher profile situations.

  15. Thank you for posting this. Great article, and a great discussion. You know something is wrong in a city’s music scene when artists, bands, and fans would all rather go see or play house concerts than shows at the established music venues. Your list is a good one.

  16. Hi, I own Skylark in West Seattle and we’ve experimented with a few different business models (free shows/cut of the bar, cheap shows with sound taken from the door and a low house fee percentage, etc.). I’d be happy to meet with you and discuss further (too much to get into here) but since I play around town in a band as well as book a venue I have lots of opinions if you want to hear them. I’m also the current president of the Seattle Nightlife & Music Association, we’re currently focused on fighting the dance tax (which will raise cover charges 10% statewide if not defeated) so that adds a fun layer to this whole conversation.

    Thanks for the venuology link, I’d never seen that before and it’s great.

  17. Hello, Tarik. Tony and Ty here, owners of the High Dive. We appreciate your willingness to address such a complex issue that is facing the entire music community. We would love to sit down with other venue owners, bookers, promoters, musicians and fans to discuss ways in which we can all work together in a collective effort to enhance the live music scene in Seattle. We, at the High Dive, host a community outreach project every Saturday, Fremont Soup Social, from noon-2pm where we serve a warm meal to anyone in need. It would be great time and opportunity to come together as a community, share a meal and discuss this complex but vital issue. Please feel free to contact us directly and let’s work on setting a date. Cheers

  18. Not a professional musician but I often go out for live music. My friends and I would go to a lot more bar shows if the shows were earlier, especially weekdays. Or if the headliner came on first. With two or three acts, by the time the band I want to see takes the stage it’s already my bed time. And with DUIs, the later I’m on the road with less traffic, the greater the DUI chances. Because I work at 8 AM, my weekday drinking doesn’t go past 9 PM. It seems like earlier weekday shows would get more people in the bars buying drinks during their drinking hours. At many weekday shows I’ve noticed that there are more people present during the opener than the for headliner if they don’t take the stage until after 10pm.

    1. I am a music fan and completely agree with this comment. I also want to add that the transition between bands can sometimes be so long that I lose motivation to stick around. Having less bands on the bill and starting earlier would bring me out to more weekday shows for sure and allow me to support the headliner that probably was the reason for going in the first place.

  19. I’ve played in Seattle numerous times on tour before moving here, and frankly, haven’t had any money either way.

    At Studio 7, there were 5 local bands, plus us and the group we were touring with. We didn’t get any food or drinks, and at the end of the night they gave us $30. They did offer to give us a recording of our set though…..for $50.

    At The Josephine, they forgot to promote the show or put any locals on a 3-band tour package. No one came, no one made any money. Only one of the bands bothered to play before we all packed up and left.

    At the 2 Bit Saloon, there were 3 local support acts. The turnout was alright. Made $40 and were offered $1 Genesee.

    At The Highline, the soundguy needed to get paid, so none of the bands made anything. Despite not getting paid, at least the stage, sound system, lights, etc are professional, and we were given free food and drinks.

    These have been my more negative experiences here. The best spots for me have been at The Black Lodge and The Morgue, which I guess are technically not even necessarily ‘legit’ venues, but both places paid the touring acts well.

    I’ve just grown to assume that if you want to play music in Seattle, you better have a couple day jobs.

  20. What’s a “room fee”, is this were they charge you to play?

    The best we can do is keep track of which venue is which, and to focus on booking the good ones, and don’t accidentally get yourself booked in a crappy one.

    Maybe it has something to do with the quality of the band. The good venues will stick to the best bands, and they’re very hard to get in to, leaving the crappy gigs to the crappy musicians.

  21. I posted this an hour or so ago and I don’t see it on the page so am reposting it. This pertains more to bar bands than jazz bands which have a much tougher situation to deal with but still some of it applies.

    It has been my experience the less than minimal wage earned by players is due to owners not knowing how to run a live music venue and agents that don’t know how to maintain or raise a bands pay. In the 80’s working with Shots we made $5000 a week. It was because clubs did different promotions to get customers in. Like running 12 week contests that paid the winner $100 a night and at the end of the 12 weeks the grand prize winner was rewarded a trip for two to Hawaii for a week. Today this promotion one night a week costs a club $150 a week and it’s easily paid for because it packs the house. This also kept the audience in the club on breaks so there never was a dead moment for them to get up and leave. Agents made 10% booking fee. They knew if they could get more money for their bands they made more money and worked to better and groom the bands and aid the clubs with promotion ideas to fill the house even with a fairly unknown great band they knew they could get exposure for to help them gain the following they deserved to eventually fill the room. Yes clubs actually helped musicians knowing they were helping themselves. Bands didn’t just show up and play what they wanted to. They played what the public wanted, put on a concert style performance rather than just stand there looking bored to tears. They worked harder. We would do hour and a half to two hour sets with short breaks. We would incorporate our originals into the shows allowing for a chance to be discovered by A&R people and to sell our tapes to afford to be able to record more or build our own home studios. The bands that made the money were the better quality musicians with a most professional concert style performance. One tune right into the next. Now everywhere I go I hear minutes of dead air between each song. You lose the audiences attention. And once you’ve lost them it is ever so hard to get them back. And that is with a front person who’s job it is to make sure there is no dead time. They just stand there and talk amongst the band. I find it leaving the show with no flow, timing, or “clever” entertainment. Yes. We “entertained” people in a professional way. There was always music being played or a front person talking to, relating with, and pumping the audience up. And a contest going on on the breaks. I see ever so little of this anymore. I don’t think most musicians work hard enough on stage to make a true “exciting as possible show” everyone tells their friends about and comes back to see again. They just stand there and play the music they want to wondering why they haven’t got a huge following. It’s plain boring. What’s more exciting? A TV show, video game, or you and your band? The answer had better be you. If it’s not you’d better change your ways. After you have given the people what they want and have gained a good enough following to command a higher price then you can start doing originals and album cuts that are great but didn’t get the airplay. The true hardcore artists who only played original music or just did their own thing always suffered and ever so few gained recognition. Not to say it can’t be done or they should give up on their dreams. The bottom line is you need a professional show, clubs that know how to promote not only with posters or ads but with competitions for the audience with a cash rewards, and an agent that actually works “with” the bands and clubs for the betterment of both. It only puts more money in his pocket. Not an agent who works for themselves. But then players won’t have to work for $100 a night if they can find the work. There is so much more to it time doesn’t allow. I could go on for hours about why we have such failure in our local live music scene. It can work. Even in this economy. Look at the bands that play the highest paying rooms. I’ll bet they are bands with a high profile professional delivery. I am proof of it. A local musician who makes six figures a year. Not to boast but to prove my point. You can do it too! What I have written is just the beginning but a powerful one when applied properly. We can change our scene for the positive and it really isn’t that hard to do if we work hard and work together. Anyone who wants more information can message me on Facebook and I’ll give you my ph# and we can talk. I have two accounts. You want the one with the profile pic of me in the studio playing piano and B3. I’ll be out to see you play. You’re special brother.

  22. I just watched your videos. You are a world class player. I will come see you live. My previous post had more to do with bar bands than jazz. Jazz is the toughest nut to crack in the bar scene. Most people want to listen and only drink a glass of wine or water. They don’t tend to get shit faced and spend a ton of money so the club doesn’t make money. But where there is a will there is always a way. You just have to think hard and clever. Out of the box. Separate yourself from what everyone else is doing the same in the same clubs. Anyway… Great to watch and listen to some great talent in you videos. You deserve to be rich beeotch.

  23. Where I come from most rooms pay flat rates.These rates usually range between $50.00-$150.00 per man.Depending on club size,band size,artist may or may not receive discounted food/drink. Sound and door people are employed by the club and paid BY THE CLUB. The practice of artists selling X amount of tickets is usually for the up and coming that are inexperienced and eager to be seen. Seasoned performers are never victim of these scams. Most established clubs and artist respect each other and have a nice work arrangement as artist can demand their price for whatever venue and clubs have set the boundaries.Everybody WINS.

      1. As the old saying goes, “People who can do, do…People who can’t do, teach.” It seems there are a lot of teachers out there doing gigs.

        And then their students graduate and go out into the world and realize there’s nowhere to play except for the places like those which have been described as being unfair. Of course, these graduates take the shameful gigs, anyway…because they’r anxious to do what they’ve been taught to do. A few years down that road, after realizing and getting fed up with how the club scene works, they, themselves become teachers because they have nowhere else to go. And once they get their teaching jobs together and start getting a steady paycheck for it, they don’t really care what the gigs pay and end up doing the same shameful gigs again -except with a different perspective.

        Why doesn’t anyone create a curriculum for teaching how to make a successful jazz club? Why aren’t there classes for that?

        And when was the last time any jazz student flunked? Nobody flunks.

        What used to be an art form that was attainable by only the select few, has now become an industry into which anyone can enter. With that in mind, there will always be someone willing to play for the door…or for a meal and drinks…or even for free…or even if they have to pay to play. It’s a gigantic episode of American Idol now. Everyone is a musician everyone is a singer.

        The truth is that there are very few real jazz musicians left. And any real venue for them is simply non-existent. If any kind of what could be called a “scene” exists at all, then it’s gone underground. And it’s likely better that way, in all honesty.

    1. This sounds good. Where do you come from? Maybe there is something to be learned from this city’s practices.

      1. I came here from Texas. Most “bar” gigs are this way. They have what they call “A” clubs and NO ONE plays “A” clubs without a label. It has changed somewhat over the years. There are clubs that ask bands to sell the house ahead of time. They prey upon the up and coming. My kids did this for years before they figured out what was up. Clubs employ their own sound guys and pay them to ensure quality sound all the time.This system works because everybody involved knows “their” bottom line. Good bands always work and book their schedules according to the income level they need to achieve. It’s a win win when everyone participates to ensure quality,and keep the music alive. Compromise and competition must flow from both ends.A club that is all about making the money Does Not even need to pretend to be pro entertainment.

  24. I gotta say, this has good intentions but fails on some levels. The writer doesn’t have any concept of just how regulated different venues are and how much the state strangles them to make the business of putting on live music barely a worth while business at all. The admissions tax is actually 10% not 5% and they also fail at understanding how different rooms have different security and staffing requirements by the city or county. Even when giving 75% of the door to bands, venues are usually still paying plenty of money out of pocket on top of that %25 to pay for the production.

    And in terms of ads, you make it seem like bands do their part and I’ve worked both sides of the fence and can tell you for the most part, it’s the bands that fail to meet the venue half way, not the other way around. And when a venue takes out a weekly calendar, its NOT FOR THE VENUE, it’s for the BANDS. The shows are what attract the audience, not the name of the venue.

    Yes, venues are in the business of selling alcohol, they have no other choice. But if you make it an argument of the band getting 100% of the door and the venue only making revenue from their bar you are going to do nothing but further inspire venues to work more and more based on how much a bands’ audience drinks, rather than their artistic merit or draw.

    1. Kevin, thanks for the comments. You’re right, most musicians, myself included, don’t know all the taxes and regulations venues have to deal with. That said, venues don’t tell us. I linked to the City of Seattle site that lists a 5% admissions tax, and another that lists an exemption for venues with capacity under 1,000. Is there a county or state admissions tax that brings the total to 10%? I looked through the city, county, and Liquor Control Board sites to find more taxes and regulations specifically related to live music, and the only one I could find was an admissions tax that most venues are exempt from. Please point me to the information if I’m wrong. Just like I think staff costs should be split 50/50, any taxes venues incur because of musicians should be split as well.

      As far as band/venue promotion, I’m positive there are plenty of bands that don’t promote enough and just show up to play, but that’s not my experience because I promote all of my shows. I’m not advocating that lazy/flaky musicians be paid $75 for just showing up. I’m talking about professional musicians who spend all their time on their craft and put the word out when they perform. As far as weekly calendars, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Venues buy those ads to get bodies into their room spending money, not to as an altruistic gesture to the bands listed. You’re right though, the shows are what attracts people, not the name of the venue, which is all the more reason that the musicians should be paid fairly!

      I can’t speak to specific venues’ motivations, but it seems to me that the goal of the venues I already avoid is to make profit and not to promote artistic merit. It’s hard to argue they want to cultivate artistic merit when they make it so difficult for musicians to earn a respectable amount of money for the amount of effort they expect of you.

    2. I agree with this. There is SO much going on behind the scenes in WA that directly affects the ability of a music venue / bar to make a profit. In my opinion, both sides of this issue need to be addressed equally. The musicians have a reasonable gripe given the poor working conditions and low pay scales. The venue owners also often have their hands tied due to oppressive regulation and incredibly high costs. For instance, just recently, when WA privatized liquor sales it instantly caused bar liquor costs to go up over 30% overnight. That’s money a club owner could be using to pay a sound engineer or the band.

  25. Thanks for writing this. It is a good starting point for opening up dialogue with clubs. I don’t play many gigs these days but do go to lots of live shows. [Did a gig a while back at one of your listed clubs in Capital Hill and the sound guy told a band member we’d have to cut our set times down because he smoke hash earlier and was really hungry. He got $50 out of the door money and each of the three bands got $12 to then split amongst their members…we all kept our day jobs.]

    If there were common known rates per club then musicians would know which venues to choose over others and clubs might tend to tweak things if they found it harder to get bands playing at their clubs. For some gigs the exposure at a better venue might be worth the minimal pay….more likely for the new band getting out for the first time rather than seasoned pros.

  26. One question in addition is do musicians have the follow-through? I won’t name names but I’m seeing many of the people replying here continually supporting the (current problem) venues in question.

    You do realize what you have to do, right? (it goes well beyond web suggestions to venue owners. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better).

    1. That is a good point Joe. Follow through is very important.
      What is that your suggesting we do? We would all like to hear your perspective on this subject, given your experience and success in this market.

  27. Tulas’s, Billed as a jazz joint, should put a little effort into making the room “sound” better, acoustically. Other than that, its a cool spot, with a good location, and nice folks running it.

  28. As a working musician, and a live sound engineer, I am uniquely situated to understand the plight of both sides of this argument. I am very interested in supporting an open dialog on this subject but, I feel that your list is unfair and unbalanced. The “support” side has no explanations, and is reduced to a very small percentage of places that one could argue are not real venues, and the “avoid” side is woefully small and inarticulate. There are so many more clubs in town that have much higher room fees than the ones you list here that it is suspicious. Have you actually played at Studio 7?, (They are a metal/hard Rock Club) I am fairly certain Nectar’s fee is bigger than 150, although the % thing is accurate, and High Dive is 270 on weekends, I think week days its like 170. Lucid in my opinion isn’t a real venue, much like several of the ones you list in the “support” side of your post (Comet has a room fee, Tulas is great but caters primarily to jazz, and does it well). I am a fan of your work Tarik and I believe you mean well, and these things should be discussed, and a mutual understanding reached, but the only way to do that is to engage with clubs. Invite them to these discussions, simply bashing them and demanding they handle things your way financially isn’t realistic. You and many other people dont understand how much it costs to keep the doors open at a venue…Rent, taxes, fee’s, payroll, it would make your head spin. Telling people not to support these places, can actually hurt them and their employees. That isn’t constructive. How is this any different from your asking people to not post “One time I played at _____ and they totally screwed me!”? Your list is irresponsible and unfair, and I think it does a disservice to your arguments. All that said I really do think this is a good discussion to have and am thankful you are bringing it to light.

    1. Paul, thanks for your feedback. My list is based on my personal experience and, as I said, it is not exhaustive or definitive, and the ones I do support “meet my standards to a varying degree, and have a positive, cooperative attitude with their musicians.” They don’t meet all the terms I laid out, but they at least make an effort to and are supportive of, and cooperative with, the musicians that play there.

      Yes, The Comet does charge a $100 room fee and 5% for taxes. More importantly to me though, their staff was really helpful and appreciative to musicians and, when the last show I did there went really well, they waved that fee. They also promoted the show thoroughly on social media. My experience with them was one of a partnership and we all did well that night.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “real venues.” Those venues are all places that present live music regularly, sell food and drinks, and pay musicians in various ways. The only difference between Seamonster and Showbox is size, otherwise they’re both empty spaces with a bar and a stage. I have played Studio 7 with a rock band, and it was that same ridiculous deal where the band had to buy tickets and sell them, and even still made little to no money while the venue made plenty. The details listed for Nectar and High Dive are based on my personal experience and I’ll update to reflect the weekend/weekday difference, but either way those figures are unfair and those clubs have been generally uncooperative with me when I’ve played there.

      I also don’t think listing a club’s terms qualifies as “bashing” them. I’m not name-calling, I’m just presenting my case as to what I think is a fair deal for a musician performing at a venue and pointing out the places whose terms grossly violate my stated idea of fairness. I’m not telling anyone to boycott those venues, but given the information about how they compensate musicians, people can make a choice about where to go.

      You are right about a couple of things. First, I will add more detail to my list, as more information is always better. Second, musicians don’t have any idea what it takes to keep a club open. However, I would argue that those difficulties have nothing to do with paying people fairly. If High Dive is having trouble staying open, the answer is not to short-change and/or gouge the musicians that draw their crowds. As a sound person, my understanding is that you get a guaranteed amount of money for your time because you’re rendering a service. Musicians are also rendering a service that these venues would be completely empty without. Are the bartenders or sound people paying a fee to work at High Dive? No. Why should musicians?

      Again, thanks for your input, and I’ll make the changes you noted.

      1. Agreed the “real venue ” thing isn’t fair but, I also dont think its fair to compare Owl n Thistle, or Sea Monster with a bigger joint like Nectar. Seamoster is great but doesnt have half the cost of doing business that a bigger room has, and they dont have a real PA. O and T is a dive bar with what passes barely for a PA. I like to have a drink there but, the sound is awful, unless its Folk. Your list is still inaccurate though. Your saying the negatives are the most expensive fees in the city, and have uncooperative staff? Ive played all those places and I have to say that was never my experience. Id like to know the last date you actually played each venue? Also I have to say that your idea of fair, just isn’t realistic man. If every venue had to pay out every musician(average 3 bands, 4 or more people per band) regardless of the draw of drinkers they bring in, the cost would be astronomical, and the venue not only not make a profit, they wouldn’t cover cost. You would soon see many clubs going away, or switching formats to things like Dj events and karaoke. I also think your statement about the “good” clubs you list are more interested in promoting artistic merits over profits is naive. If they were not making a profit, they would not be open. They sell booze to pay the rent.
        I am curious also why you don’t mention places like White Rabbit fee $175, Barboza $300, Croc$ 1000,
        Neumos $1000plus etc. I know your speaking from your own experience but, again I think you are being disingenuous in calling out this small # of clubs for not paying out what YOU think people are worth. Frankly, I believe I am worth significantly more than what you think we should all be paid. Again I call on you to get your facts straight, and stop cherry picking the information. Post all the room fees of every club in town. Then email each club and invite them to the conversation, learn why it is these business’s do what the do instead of just making baseless accusations. This conversation will never move beyond people bitching and unrealistic expectations otherwise.

        1. Again Paul, I can only speak to my own experience. I haven’t listed other places because either I haven’t worked with them ever, it’s been a long time since I have, or I just haven’t any overly positive or negative experience with them. If you want to advocate for or against any of those venues, you should do that. I’m just stating what I think is fair for me (not everyone), and advocating for or against the venues that are or aren’t cooperative. I’m not cherry-picking information, just putting out there the information that I know from my own experience. I can’t post all the room fees because I don’t know them all, but I’ll be meeting with folks from the Royal Room and High Dive soon, and am already in conversations with other venues and promoters to get their side of things.

          Also, just to be clear, I don’t expect venues that charge a cover to pay bands a per-musician fee, I just think bands should be able to get that money minus a fair portion of the cost for sound/door staff. The only time I think a musician should be paid a flat fee is if the venue doesn’t have an entry fee. Otherwise the musician is in the business of playing music, bringing a draw AND selling alcohol. I don’t think that’s fair, you may disagree. The layout/wording of my post was unclear in that sense, and I’ve fixed it.

          Thanks for your input Paul.

        2. I would also like to respond to your engineer comment. I work as an Engineer. It is my “day” gig.
          It is my job and has been for 11 years. I spent thousands of dollars and several years of my life going to school, then busting my ass, being an intern (being paid nothing) before I started to earn a living doing sound. I love my job. I get paid to help people express them selves. I would not trade it for anything, and I bring that experience and attitude to the table every night I work. Live sound is a legitimate trade, much like a carpenter, or electrician. You can not say the same thing for every band that gets up on stage. We offer a service to the venue and the artist. Often times between 8 and 10 hours a day. We do the jobs of 5 people. Stage management, lights, day of show contact, Monitor Engineer, and Front of house Engineer. It is hard work on a good day. Trying to decipher the needs of up to 12 people per night, creating a working relationship with 12 or more strangers, then accurately recreating the mix on a what is often times a sub par PA system. We are here to help you translate your art to the audience, and protect the Clubs gear. We are your ally’s.
          So yes, I am comfortable being paid a guarantee, You should be asking for one as well, that is if you have worked hard enough to ask for one. Simply being a good player is not enough any more. Times and the economy have changed, evolve or be left behind.

          1. Paul, I’m going to copy your reply and switch “engineer” with “musician.”

            I would also like to respond to your musician comment. I work as a Musician. It is my “day” gig.
            It is my job and has been for 11 years. I spent thousands of dollars and several years of my life going to school, then busting my ass, playing crappy gigs (being paid nothing) before I started to earn a living playing music. I love my job. I get paid to help people enjoy them selves. I would not trade it for anything, and I bring that experience and attitude to the table every night I work. Playing music is a legitimate trade, much like a carpenter, or electrician. You can not say the same thing for every engineer that works Seattle rooms. We offer a service to the venue. Often times between 8 and 10 hours a day. We do the jobs of 5 people. Band management, composers, day of show contact, promoter, and performer. It is hard work on a good day. Trying to decipher the needs of venues, audiences, and other bands on the bill, creating a working relationship with 12 or more strangers, then performing our music on a what is often times a sub par PA system. We are here to help you translate your skill to the audience, and protect the Clubs existence. We are your ally’s.
            So yes, I am comfortable being paid a guarantee, You should be asking for one as well, that is if you have worked hard enough to ask for one. Simply being a good engineer is not enough any more. Times and the economy have changed, evolve or be left behind.

          2. Paul,

            As a live sound engineer and tour manager, I essentially left the Seattle music scene because I could not get paid a living wage here as an engineer and I refuse to work 10 hour days for $75 (this is what a lot of local venues expect). I also have to say that your attitude and sense of professionalism is lost on a majority of “sound engineers” who work in the Seattle bar and club scene. I applaud your hard work and dedication.

  29. Nice work, Tarik. It’s great to have people talking about this sort of thing. A couple variations:
    If a band brings their own sound guy, club waves fee for sound. Same with door. Or even: band pays sound, venue pays door.
    I’d like to add, being a solo musician sometimes, the minimum should be $100 per 60 minute set (or even split of 100% of door).

    1. Sorry, but expecting to bring your own sound tech to a gig in order to avoid paying for a “house guy” is unrealistic and impractical. On a three band bill, are you going to have 3 techs? How many of those are going to be qualified, much less familiar with the particularities of a given system and acoustic environment. The reason a house tech is paid, even if you bring you r own, is to make sure your guy isn’t some shlep that’s going to damage/reconfigure/otherwise misuse the system. The venue has to have someone held accountable if there is a problem.

      1. Kris,

        I agree with your position on the role of the “house tech” However, any REAL professional sound engineer is going to be fully competent to operate ANY sound system, even a pile of garbage that he/she encounters. The “house guy” should be paid by the VENUE, plain and simple. I’m the house engineer at several venues, I also tour all over the country, and I can tell you, the bias against band engineers (yes, it exists) in the Seattle area simply ignorant and disgusting (although, I agree that some bands also employ entirely incompetent so called engineers).

        I solved this issue for my bands by employing an explicit contract that allows the band engineer FULL ACCESS to the sound system, processing and anything else needed for him/her to do the job (this is standard practice on every professional tech rider).

  30. This is a tough city to play, no doubt. I have been playing out around town in the funk and soul scene for a couple years and played punk venues with a “Black-Eyed Soul” outfit for a couple years prior. To jump from the punk scene to the funk scene was like jumping, relatively speaking into a swimming pool full of cash. Meaning I actually walked away with an American denomination in my pocket. Sometimes it was even a $20 bill. *baller!*

    One of the venues that has treated my band REALLY well as far as pay goes is The Scarlet Tree. I have made twice as much there with 40 people than selling out the White Rabbit, because Pete doesn’t charge for door or sound. Yes we got 100% of the door. The draw back is that it is pretty hard to get people down there and the stage is in desperate need of an expansion skirt so that more than 3 people can comfortably fit on it.

    Door fees in this city absolutely need to reflect what the bands will be receiving at the end of the night or the fees have to go up. For as long as I have been playing in the city cover charges have been between $5 and $10. I think right now $10 should be about average and the bars still need to be taking on half the responsibilities of the door and sound. That a sound guy get $150 for reading a book during a show is frankly bullshit when three bands (in my scene that could be a total of 18 different musicians!) that are up there doing the best to give the best show of their lives to the 40 people in the bar have to split $125 between them. Sure sound guys need to make a living, but do it like a musician in this town does it, during the day from 9-5.

    The other thing I have to say is that musicians in this town trying to make it solely as musicians might want to re-consider that career trajectory. Playing in bars every night is not a sustainable way to make money. I have met several musicians that think that we should be paid enough from bar gigs to make a living at it. I disagree. It’s just not practical. Teaching music, working in the industry, making instruments and gear, selling gear, are all more logical ways of going about making a living. Frankly the ridiculous pay of the venues around this town has resigned me to not paying myself or my musicians. Instead I save it for recording and rainy days. That being said we still need to get paid for the costs of doing business and I still won’t take a cut. I’d rather save it. That’s for gas, studio rent to practice those sick grooves that are going to make people stay and drink, advertisement for the gig (split 50/50 with the venue), sound and door, etc.

    I don’t know if this will change. Maybe each band needs to have a sound guy as a band member so we don’t need to pay the guys at the bar. Maybe we all just stop playing for a while. What’s a silent city like?

    1. Why all the anti-sound tech mentality? We do a hell of a lot more than “read a book.” We show up before the musicians, leave after the musicians, manage the show, maintain the system, and we aren’t even paid all that well for our time. If you think you can do a better job mixing front of house FROM the stage, good luck with that. To say “Soundguys should get day jobs if they want to get paid” is frankly, pettiness. Do you think $100 for 7 hours of work is too much money? I don’t. Stop treating the sound staff as professonals and guess what you get? Bad sound.

      1. you’re not saying that you intentionally mess with a band’s sound in retaliation are you? Because it sounds like that’s what you are saying.

        1. @ los.
          Hes not saying that at all. WAY too much finger pointing and complaining in this conversation. Hes upset becuase engineers get treated poorly by and large by clubs and bands. They are mis characterized by people that dont understand what they do. Engineers and bands should be working together on this issue and many others. Its in our common interest. At least until they make robots to replace us. But by then maybe we will all be replaced with robots on stage, or laptops. :)

        2. That is absolutely, unequivocally, NOT what I was saying with my post. To deliberately undermine a band, for any reason, would be not only unprofessional, but tremendously childish. What I meant was that any reasonable tech is going to cost someone some money. The band is more than welcome to hire their own tech, but anyone worth their salt is going to cost something. The club, in addition, has a substantial investment to protect, so of course they’ll have their own house tech regardless. It’s a moot point to argue.

      2. Kris,

        A lot of Seattle club/bar “sound engineers” do indeed “read a book” or leave the venue during the band performance. It’s certainly not fair to paint all engineers that way, but there are a lot of guys who do exactly that; way more than there should be!

  31. As a note, I believe that the 2 Bit Saloon is a venue supporting 100% door sales to the bands, and don’t charge the bands for personnel. At least that has been my experience when playing there. Thanks for the article!


  32. Thank you for bringing to light an issue that has been degenerating since the late 1990’s in my experience. I’ve been playing in regional bands for 25 years, and there was a time when bands made the door, or a generous percentage of the bar, and got PAID. Even mediocre bands got paid. The only place on the west coast that I played back then that forced bands to buy tickets to their show and sell them was the Whiskey a Go-Go in Hollywood. Folks thought that was downright evil back then…
    I wanted to make a couple of points here:

    As you said above, the music scene here is broken, and it really is up to us to fix it. No one else cares as much as we do about it, and no one else really can. But how?
    The way I see it, our music scene tends to involve MUSICIANS, FANS, and VENUES.
    I propose that, under the circumstances we face, that we cut out the VENUES all together. Make our own shows.

    When I was a kid in Las Vegas, there were virtually no venues, as casinos didn’t like entertainment competition and they are the government there. So we built stages in the middle of the desert and threw parties. Or we threw house parties. Guerilla style. It sometimes ended with cops, admittedly, but everyone had a blast and no one I knew got busted for anything.

    In Seattle, one of the bands I play in simply avoids the clubs. We got fed up with the policies of one of the clubs on your *bad* list, and decided we’d throw events instead of playing club dates. Our fans were thankful to have something fun and unconventional to do, and we have a much better relationship with them since cutting out most the club dates.

    The clubs do provide a service in that they have a sound system, a place to drink, and often a variety of music in one night. But here’s what I think they get wrong from a fan’s perspective:

    1. expensive night out. drinks cost a ton, and after paying $10 a head to get in, a couple spends around $60 at least just at the club.

    2. you either take a cab, have a D. driver, or worry about your consumption until you drive home. Either way it’s a hassle.

    A few suggestions for improving the Musician’s experience and the Fan’s experience:

    Throw the event yourself. Play at someone’s house, rent a distillery or loft or other medium sized hall, or any place you can get away with. Our band has *events* open to the public in spaces we rent. You can tailor the event to your band and your fans. They’re much more likely to come if it seems like a special, one of a kind event, rather than just another show at that club in that neighborhood. Renting a space sounds expensive, but consider what you pay and what you get in most venues. And houseparties don’t have to be the kind you attended in your 25 and under days. (But they can, if you like.) Sharing events, of course, is also a great way to pull it off.

    If venues are becoming unreasonable, just leave them out. They won’t change for the better until it’s economically viable for them to do so, and they won’t try to figure that out until they have to. It’s not 100% their fault, but until they figure out how to contribute to the symbiosis that should exist between a band, it’s fans, and the venue, then I for one am going to continue being the band AND the venue.

  33. Very well written article and I hear similar stories from friends who play locally. I had never seen a list tho and appreciate it since I will be one of those that support places that treat musicians fairly.

    I personally love local shows and have heard some fantastic music. Often, I feel a bit of guilt for having done so for next to no money. On the other hand, I don’t myself make a lot of money and the number of shows I attend would dwindle greatly if the prices for admission went up too much.

    We’re spoiled here in Seattle with many options for places to listen to music and for very little money. I do my best outside of venues to support the local artists by spreading the word about shows, buying cd’s and supporting kickstarters.

    Thanks for the article..

    1. Your perspective is important in this conversation im glad your a part of it. Id like to point out that these “avoid” list clubs have music 6 and 7 days a week. Times that by 3 or 4 bands a night. Many of those bands have great experiences and make plenty of $. Dont let one persons opinions and experiences dicate your choices. You will miss out on awesome bands in great sounding venues.

  34. Here are two ways musicians can work together to improve our situation:

    Become active in Fair Trade Music Seattle. A grassroots movement of musicians, fans, club owners and local government trying to raise the standard of living for all working musicians. Our next open meeting will be March 18th, 7:00PM at the Labor Temple on 1st and Broad, downtown Seattle.

    Rate clubs on Talk about your experiences. Let others know what happened when you played there.

    1. I was going to say the same thing. Another organization is Musicians Against Pay To Play. There is a Facebook Group but Honestly much of that work is being done in Portland.

  35. Very well stated, thank you. In short, the economic model as it now stands is not viable for the long term interests of real musicians. As I see the current model, many venues now present 2, 3, even 4 bands in one night because there is a glut of ‘bands’ willing to abide by the terms offered. The per-musician payout is of course minimal under this arrangement. With the advantage on the side of liquor vendor bar owners, and bookers who defend this status quo, we now have an economic culture which is hostile to musicians.

    Indeed the audience, the fans need to be informed as to what has happened here. I can’t speak for this group with authority but I believe many fans would recognize the inequity of the current situation, and we might generate a dialogue supporting fairness to musicians. Certainly the list of fair practice clubs can be a powerful tool in this discussion. Which clubs are attractive to patrons? Are they aware of the fee arrangements enforced by their preferred venues? Let’s go public with the discussion. There was a time I made a living as a musician. I’m fine now, but in this hipster ‘music city’ of Seattle today, a local musician could not be self supporting. Ultimately, venues and fans, you’ll get what you pay for.

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