Are you willing to trade a paycheck for exposure?
This actually happened more than a year ago, but the owner of this restaurant agreed to share the results with Digital Music News. The only condition was that we wait at least a year (but preferably longer) and that we hide the specific city where the place is now located.
In exchange, we’d get to find out how many qualified bands agreed to play his restaurant opening for free, how many complained, and whatever else happened.
Basically, as part of his splashy restaurant opening, one of the owners — a former gigging musician himself — was trying to figure out if bands like his were still offering themselves for free. “I was definitely saddened by the whole thing,” he admitted after the experiment. “I sort of felt like s–t for posting that and the responses, but I sort of get now what [my band] was up against. Basically back in the day, when [my band was] playing local [gigs] trying to work up the money to tour, we insisted on getting paid on our performances whether a wedding or club date. But we were constantly getting undermined and undercut by bands offering it for free.”
Here’s the ad that went out (the only thing we did is blot out the exact location, but it’s somewhere in California).
And, here are the results.
- More than 10 quality submissions within 24 hours of the posting.
- One serious band with media coverage and a substantial following looking to expand their base (for free).
- More than 18 quality submissions within 48 hours.
- ‘Probably 10 or so’ that were willing to play for free, probably to practice gigging in front of people.
- Overall, more than three dozen submissions.
- Mixture of smaller bands, younger groups, and DJs.
- One angry complaint from a Grammy-nominated artist claiming that the restaurant owner was ‘exploitative’ and questioning why they paid caterers but not musicians.
- 3 different solicitations from professional companies handling band submissions, including Sonicbids.
The angry letter actually came from a Grammy-nominated musician:
Are you paying the caterer? The limo drivers? The event planners? The venue? Of course you are, but I’m just wondering why [they] don’t see this as a great opportunity also and will do it for free?
You suck. I’m sure you’ll get some poor band to do if for free. Hope your party flops big time.
– Grammy nominated musician
There’s actually a pretty interesting wrinkle in all of this: some bands will smartly use free gigs for ‘free practice,’ which means getting out the kinks in front of a live audience. That practice of ‘practicing live’ actually flips the whole equation on its head, and makes the band — not the venue owner — the real winner, especially if there are a lot of kinks that need ironing out. And if the gig sucks, the joke’s on the venue owner (who gave away free rehearsal space and a built-in crowd).
After all of that, the restaurant decided to go with a ‘mellow EDM style DJ’ and paid him $2,400 all in for several hours (plus drinks). The DJ was one person plus a helper (friend), with a lot of PA equipment brought in (and the vehicle to haul it). Plus of course the playback hardware, collection, mic, etc. “I think he got another gig out of that too but I hope he didn’t go for free.”
Currently, the bar/restaurant isn’t booking gigs, because according to the owner, ‘it’s not that type of place’ and frankly, making money with bands is a tougher way to make money. “I need lots of bodies drinking lots of alcohol,” so instead, he’s going with a range of different EDM styles and occasionally a live DJ.
When we asked his advise for other artists, he said: “Really I think bands are wasting their time trying to get exposure unless it’s the Super Bowl, especially if you’re DJing. My advice is charge a reasonable price.”
Top image of Hugh Laurie in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, shot by Antonio Thomás Koenigkam Oliveira (CC by 2.0).