Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Opinion: When Cheap Music Venues Ruin Local Music Scenes.

by Steven Masone

Many years ago, as a Talent Agent and Producer, I was in a major metropolitan live music region where at least several hundred live music venues were thriving, and top notch bands were able to supplement day jobs enough to still have time to live normal lives, yet furthering their music careers. I had my share of both very good to great musical groups, and Venues that paid well, and understood the value of booking only the top bands on for 4-5 nights a week. Smart venue owners usually had an off-night to audition up and coming bands seeking to both get exposure, and hone their skills in "real-world" performances. When the Cream rises to the top, cream (music) lovers win, venues win, and working musicians win! We all win! However, when Disco took the country by storm, live musicians began losing venues left and right. Music budgets dropped from an average of $1,200 a week for a 5-7 piece band to $500 a week club DJs.  

Then, when Club's began installing their own DJ systems, wanna-be DJ's who knew nothing about programming the right music, or knew how to mix and segue properly, began undercutting pro jocks offering to work for $25-$50 a night, greedy club owners with no eye nor ear for quality, welcomed those amateurs and ruined the Disco scene as well. When drunk driving laws were passed and enforcement and crackdowns started police to stake out nightclubs with check points, the industry saw the music scene both live and disco, crash tremendously. 


Now, we see the resurgence of live music venues facing the same crisis where amateur musicians will play for next to nothing, or free, bringing down the music budgets of greedy club and venue owners who are in it for a fast buck with no regard for the long term damage done to quality bands and artists who can't afford to stay in smaller music markets. If they want to play week-ends and get paid even anywhere near the pay scale of the 1980's...they have to move to major urban cities where corporate and private events are the only way to make ends meet. The result? Medium to small music markets lack good musicians and the public's music tastes are dumbed down by wanna-be rock-pop-stars who dilute the music scene with milk-toast talent. The ceiling is lowered and greedy club owners are the only ones making money. The so-so bands never get better as there is no high-bar set in the community for bands to strive to be good enough to get paid top dollar if there are no bands left to set higher standards.

The Blues communities in most medium markets are an exception, where small venues are still featuring great talented blues players who play for the love of the blues, and understand if they abandon the traditional blues jam sessions, the blues will suffer as well. There is no contest between the quality of good blues players vs the thrown together bands of fad music genre that changes with it's pop stars and idols. It's usually either musicians of the genre du jour who play oldies and some classic rock, just to showcase their originals and play for peanuts, for a younger generation that is attracted to the scene over the musicality because it's more of a fashion and fad scene. 

For blues, the talent is always the draw! But because some Jam sessions make more money for venue owners than the week-ends make, they feel they have to bring in out of town bands which costs more, and local musicians see no advantage in putting in the work to form new bands and rehearse enough because very few venues will pay enough. So local bands fill up their calendars playing out of town. Most medium markets are down to a handful of blues venues where people tire of the same players that just jam and have no exciting stage show people will talk about. 

What is the answer? More venues for one. Competition always breeds excellence! Business breeds business. Festivals and innovative productions and events are needed on regular basis to expose the community to quality musicians. If a city of 200,000 population or more has only three or four venues, and jam sessions are as good as the imported talent, week-ends are less attended and that venue's music budget will shrink and stagnate. Soon. the venues will dilute the genre and experiment with cross-genre booking which has never been a winning formula for building a music venue successfully, especially if the venue relies on food & beverage as well. If a venue does not cultivate their base of regulars, in like manner in keeping their food and service staying consistently good, it has been a proven fact that their music menu has to also stay consistently top notch! However, when venue owners are only in for for the quick fix, paying insulting rates for their bands and other entertainment, they get what they pay for, and the community is cheated of their resident talented musicians artistic potential.

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