Now, notice how I phrased that sentence about the bands in the past tense? That's because the days of Thanksgiving Eve being an awesome gig night are coming to an end. Yes ladies and gentlemen, strap yourselves in for another rant on getting paid to play gigs!!!!
Why does one open a bar/club/restaurant? (we'll just call it a bar for the rest of this post.) The answer is simple. To make money...a lot of money. No one goes into the bar business if they think they're going to make a little money. Yet some bars come and go quickly while others seem like they've been around forever. This is because the bar business is a high risk business. With the markup that bars charge on food and alcohol, they could potentially make a seriously large amount of profit. However, if you have no customers, you will quickly lose your ass and go out of business. This is the nature of a high risk business. Excellent profit potential, and moderate probability of failure.
We know that reasons why people like to go bars, but let's look at some of the reasons why people DON'T like to go to certain bars:
So there you have it. If a bar sucks, people won't want to go there. As a bar owner it's important to make sure that all of the elements listed above will appeal to your desired customers.
Now to make my point. I turned down thanksgiving gigs this year because they weren't offering holiday pay. I have nothing against any musician who does a holiday gig for regular pay, but I try to avoid doing that because I don't feel it's fair. So now bar owners don't feel the need to cut the band in on the most lucrative night of the year. As abhorrent as that is, that's still not the point of this post. I've heard from friends that bar owner's are expecting bands to take a pay cut if they're not satisfied with the customer turnout on Thanksgiving eve.
So, not only are you not paying them what you should, but you want them to make less than a normal gig in the event that your place isn't able to attract customers? This is insane, and more importantly it's wrong. Here's why:
The bar owner stands to make a staggering amount of money on thanksgiving eve. They have agreed to pay you a reduced rate to play on the busiest night of the year. That should be the end of story, but by them asking you to take a pay cut if the turnout is less than ideal is the same exact thing as them asking you to incur all the risk for their bar. The bar owner would never ask any of his staff to take a pay cut, but as a musician they now feel that you are responsible for their risk. This is totally ridiculous and it's completely wrong. If you enter a high risk venture, you don't get to pawn off the risk onto someone else. That takes the risk out of it. It's not like they're saying, "if we have a great night, we'll give you double pay." They're saying, "if we have a great night, I win. If we have a bad night, you lose."
This is an unfair business practice and it needs to stop now. See the list I wrote above? The one that says Location, Prices, Selection, etc...? It is the bar owner's responsibility to choose these elements to create his bar. The band is only a small fraction of the total picture. Why do they take the brunt of the loss? If they buy beer and nobody drinks it, do they call up their suppliers and ask for a refund? And on top of that, you can be sure that they don't pay their staff less on a bad night.
One analogy I can think of is a casino. You go to a casino to make money. It's high risk. Your chances of losing are very high, but you can potentially make a lot of money. If you go to a blackjack table and lose all your money, do you ask the dealer to share the loss with you? Of course you don't. Do you ask the Pit boss for a refund because you didn't know you were going to lose so much money? No!
As a band, it is not your responsibility to incur the bar owners risks. You are a service that he is hiring to entertain his customers. If the night turns out badly it falls on him. He can then choose not to hire you again, but he may NOT ask you to take a pay reduction. You should make that clear when you book gigs. As it is, local gigs don't really pay that much. This new practice is turning gigging into a gamble. If I'm gonna go out and bust my ass all night, I shouldn't have to gamble on getting paid. People are supposed to get paid for work that they do.
Bar owners, if you don't like handling the risks involved with owning a bar, then you should go into another line of work. Maybe retail, an office job, or even McDonald's. If every night was a winner then I'd open my own bar and do my own gigs there.
One more point I'd like to make, and then I'll shut up. A DJ would not deal with this sort of thing. I'm not going to say if a DJ is better than a band or whatever. I'm not going there. My point is that bar owners generally don't pull this stuff on DJs. They do it to bands because they think that we love playing so much that we don't mind lugging our gear around, getting treated badly and not being paid for it. This needs to stop. I feel like I'm going to have to start renting out spaces and putting on my own shows just so I don't have to deal with this.