Over the past few years, I’ve gotten an intimate look at the local music scene. I’ve been in a band and run sound, both live and in the studio. I’ve attended countless shows in dive bars, houses and arenas with big names. And I’ve posed many questions to fellow customers, musicians (both traveling and local), venue workers and promoters, all in the name of what we can do collectively to keep amazing music flowing into Pueblo.
It can be a bit of a blame game if you ask people in different positions within the local music industry. Promoters blame the general population for being too lazy to get off their couches and come to a show. But there are a lot of reasons customers might not show up: they don’t have a baby-sitter; they’re broke; it’s a school or work night and the show starts or ends too late; it’s always too loud; they’ve never heard of the band. People will gladly pay $50 and drive two hours to a show to see a musician they’ve sung along to on the radio rather than pay $5 ten times to see musicians they’ve never heard of.
Let’s take a look at the numbers of the music business at the local level. Say you pay a $3-$7 cover charge. Where does this money go? Most goes to the band (or is split between multiple bands). Traveling musicians might use a tank of gas per day. If they’re lucky, their share of the door will cover the gas it took them to get there and maybe some coffee and ramen. Bands can also make money from merchandise and album sales, but usually they are only repaying the money they’ve already spent on t-shirts, CDs, packaging, etc.
If the door reaches a pre-defined threshold, a promoter gets a cut, which should cover his expenses for advertising. Another cut from either the promoter or the venue goes to the soundman. Sometimes, if there’s no door charge, the venue has already agreed to pay the band a specified amount, assuming they will make back that money in alcohol sales.
It’s easy to see that most people in the local music business aren’t making much money. There are, of course, exceptions.
The following are possible solutions for Pueblo that successful venues and bands in other towns employ.
Bands: Turn it down. If four people walk out the door on the second song, maybe it’s not because you suck. I liked it loud when I was a 17-year-old head-banger, too. Please, I don’t want to be your mom, I just want to be able to enjoy music when I’m 60. If the girls have their index fingers crammed into their ears, you’re too loud. I want to hear the vocals, so the guitar amps and drummer’s live levels had better be below that. If not, you risk ear-piercing feedback from the vocal mics. This is the single easiest thing you can do to sound like a better band.
Venues: Know your sound levels and enforce them. Invest in some soundproofing and engineering. Hire a soundman who knows the room. Invest in a good website with a frequently updated calendar of events. Have shows at earlier times on weeknights. Do your part and promote shows to your regulars. Give bands free beer; treat them as your guests and your bread and butter.
Promoters: Put together a street team to put up flyers and pass out handbills. Make sure to list all pertinent info (cost, all-ages?). Include other bands that this band sounds like and links to a favorite song. Promote through as many avenues as possible. Facebook invites work well for me, but target your audience. Post flyers on the walls of the venue and ask the band to help promote, too. Have shows start earlier on a weeknight: the people with money to spend most likely need to go to bed earlier during the week. Make sure you come to the show and to see that everything is running smoothly.
People: Make it a goal to try something new. All of the big name bands were once unknowns, too. Start thinking of your $5 cover charge like admission into a five-year-old’s little league game: the kids need the practice so they can get better. Offer a traveling band a place to sleep and breakfast. You’ll be rewarded in much gratitude, I promise.