Even if you’re not new to performing, navigating the payment situation after a show can be awkward, especially if the turnout was bad. I’ll never forget my experience after a show in Dallas a few years ago. After a nice write-up in the Dallas Morning News and coverage from a local blog, my band hoped some locals would come out, but the 200-person capacity Deep Ellum venue was empty save for a lone bartender who was on his phone during our whole set. Knowing full well we weren’t getting paid, I asked him if there were any drink specials for bands after the show. “Only bands who bring people get drinks,” he answered without looking up from his phone.
It’s hard to ask for compensation from a venue when you know perfectly well that your band didn’t bring in any business, but it’s something you’ll have to learn to do if you want to make music seriously.
Taking disappointments like this on the chin over and over again is simply a part of the cost of admission for trying to share your music with people. It’s hard to ask for compensation from a venue when you know perfectly well that your band didn’t bring in any business, but it’s something you’ll have to learn to do if you want to make music seriously. And depending on the arrangement you have with the venue, it’s most likely as much their job as it is yours to get the word out about your performance. No matter how the show went, always ask about compensation.
To get paid after a show, you’ll either have to speak with someone working the door or possibly a promoter or booking agent if the venue is bigger. But no matter how large the venue is that you’re working with, it’s important to know their payment terms long in advance.
If you’re a new band, it can be exciting to book shows at as many venues as you can, but how bands get paid changes a ton from venue to venue, and you could find yourself agreeing to a situation where you’re asked to give a lot without getting much in return if you book a show at the wrong place.
Most venues offer their bands a cut of the door, but some venues, especially ones in massive music scenes like LA and New York, require bands to bring 20-25 people before bands make a dime. That’s a bad deal for small bands, but many willingly jump at the chance to play big cities because they’re seen as important music industry centers.
“Pay-to-play” schemes, or situations where your band pays money to play at a venue, should always be avoided, and it’s always better to book shows at venues who build and promote real shows, not just nights of a bunch of random bands that sound nothing alike. Venues who book these kind of shows ask people at the door who they’re there to see and then pay bands accordingly.
When you’re ready to settle up at the end of the night, it’s a good idea to ask the person you’re working with how many people came out and why you’re getting paid what you are. Professional venues will be upfront about how much money they brought in from the door and how it’s being distributed amongst the bands. And this is an unwritten rule, but if you’re playing a show in your hometown with a touring band, it’s always a good idea to throw some extra money you’ve earned their way.
A little extra cash goes a long way for touring bands who routinely deal with situations like the one we did in Dallas.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.