Blues for the Common Band

One of our biggest gripes is the sad state of affairs that is bands trying to make a name for themselves performing live in NYC. Inquiring as to our availability, we recently we got an e-mail from a local promoter who strikes us as not only someone who we’d like to work with, but also a stand up guy who is genuinely invested in doing the right thing. Suffice to say, we regularly forward his emails to friends in bands actively playing out and looking for gigs, as well as looking forward to working with this promoter in the very near future.

But this particular email of his reminded us once again why, as performers, we're so disappointed in the NYC live music scene. (When fellow musicians tell us it’s actually WORSE in L.A., we just sigh dejectedly and count our rather limited blessings in that regard.)

The whole point of playing live—aside from developing stage “chops”—is to get exposure for your act and connect with an audience. But we live in a city where clubs don’t cultivate a following of their own—there are very little or no places out there that prompt people to say “Hey, let’s pop into 'Bar X'; there’s always great live music there. It may or may not be our cup of tea, but it won’t suck”—so, consequently, folks come out ONLY to see bands they know and leave as soon as those guys are done.

Why? Well, after sitting thru a couple of bills loaded with crappy bands, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the vast majority of clubs/promoters book their venues based on draw and not on quality. Which explains why people split after their buddies are done with their sets. They don’t want to risk sitting thru some crappy-ass bands, and rightfully so: they’re spending their hard-earned cash on this particular experience with so many other sure-thing entertainment options available to them out there.

Bands need to reach a wider audience; not just friends coming out to give their support. Don't get us wrong: we think it's an awesome thing to have friends and family come out to see you play—God bless 'em—but they have lives and can't be coming out to all your shows. The idea is to reach people whose only connection to you is your music and their desire to see it performed live. The question then becomes, where are these people and how do we get to them? Not in the bar you’re playing, unfortunately. And in this city—with the aforementioned situation and myriad of entertainment options available to folks—it's an uphill battle. Facebook and MySpace help, but only so much.

But that’s how it is here, and so we deal with it.

Here’s the big question, though: how does one get any exposure and expand one’s fan base under these circumstances? And if a new/upcoming band can draw 50 people on their own—and are not guaranteed extra exposure—why have a club make that money when they can find some loft space to set up their gear and play, charge $10 a pop, buy a couple of kegs, get a buddy to DJ between sets and make a party of it? It might be a much better option all around. (The same applies regarding what we told an industry buddy who stated that indies are looking to sign acts that can sell 3000+ albums on their own: “If you can sell 3000 copies on our own why would you WANT or NEED a label?”)

For the record, this particular promoter was looking last minute for a band with substantial draw to play a venue with promised exposure to A&R guys and a decent technical set-up. Very cool. We commend him for providing that kind of opportunity. But he is a lone wolf in that sense, since most clubs make high-draw demands on a daily basis, and yet have nothing to offer in return but a time slot. (And we didn't even get to the infamous pay-to-play policies of certain venues and/or their catering only to acts whose management and/or label can foot the bill for an entire door cover charge—$400, give or take—so they can perform in front of an audience.)

Sorry for the rant. But we needed to get this off our chest and hopefully it will reach someone who understands and is in a position to do something about it.