How To Get Paid After The Show

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.

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“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.

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  • Rhan - November 1, 2017 reply

    Playing at venues with rude employees is bullshit. Know the terms in advance and insist that the deal is maintained and honest. Sure – if you don’t bring in anyone – you’re probably not entitled to much money – but if the staff can’t treat you with respect and courtesy – then why in the world would you put up with that?

  • rod haltom - November 1, 2017 reply

    this is more of a story about how to ‘not get paid’ after a show!±

  • Goran P - November 1, 2017 reply

    Nice article, yeah it does suck not being able to bring in people. It may not be that you are not good at it it’s just people don’t know about you. Also paying to perform is not a good idea but if you haven’t performed and need practice, that’s a perfect way to get in the door and get your practice on and spare the embarrassment of getting paid for potentially sounding bad. More opportunities will arise after you get a few practice runs in where they may offer you pay if you improve.

  • Dennis Erickson - November 1, 2017 reply

    The music game is a money game on all levels. If you can’t draw 20 people to a 200-seat venue you’re simply not ready for a 200-seat venue. Also, all money talk needs to be conducted up front, before the show. As in “If you play to an empty house, you get $100 for showing up. If it’s full you get $1,000 for the night” all agreed and, if you’re a real pro, written down on something other than a bar napkin. Also, if sharing your music to an empty venue is what’s happening, you need to realistically consider just simply playing for nothing until your music evolves into a money making venture. IMHO.

  • Mike - November 1, 2017 reply

    stupid plasy for a gaurenteed amount or don’t play!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • James - November 2, 2017 reply

    Get it in writing. DO NOT play without a contract. PERIOD! Also as mentioned, no pay to play shows put together by “joke” promoters. Anytime a promoter books a show, where YOU have to give him an envelope with cash/remaining tickets at load in, is a JOKE! Find a professional promoter, I can’t stress this enough.

  • D.Francis - November 2, 2017 reply

    This is in my opinion very wrong. My job as a band is to provide entertainment. Their job as a venue is to bring in patrons. I won’t sell drinks and the venue won’t play music. Set a price for your service have the venue agree to that price and thats that. It’s not your job as a band to finance their bar.

    Steve - November 2, 2017 reply

    D.Francis – you are correct and would have done a much better job at writing the article. A band is a business, not a self admiration society. Ever hear of a construction company building a house without a signed CONTRACT? You provide a service of creating music and entertainment and if you do that and fulfill the CONTRACT’s conditions, you are entitled to your pay according the the CONTRACT that you and the venue’s representative have signed. It is the venue’s responsibility to bring people in. It is the venue’s (or their agent’s) responsibility to check out the acts they hire and provide consistently high quality entertainment for their customers. Those venues will always have a packed house. Venues like the one in Dallas from the article obviously do not check out their entertainment, often hire the cheapest they can get and rarely draw much audience and then blame the band and refuse to pay even if the band did a fabulous job. If I know the venue’s owner / manager and have played (and got payed without hassle) there before, I will usually do business on a handshake, phone call or whatever. But if they seem hesitant or I don’t know them, it will be with a signed contract or not at all.

    mark Bertolet - November 2, 2017 reply

    I totally agree with you on everything except, it doesn’t hurt to do everything YOU can to bring in customers/fans. Use fan base and word of mouth & social media etc. like FB and Twitter to “get the word out”. Remember… you AND the club/venue are in a symbiotic relationship, where both of you benefit from the success/popularity of the other. If the band brings in customers, the venue will most likely appreciate it, and if the bar gets the customers for you, then you benefit from the exposure, and hopefully building your fan base. Also, tactfully ask your fans through the same media, and networks, to let the venue’s management & staff know WHO/Why they are there & exactly WHO they came to see and hear. Self promotion cannot be emphasized enough, and pays huge dividends for YOU.

    Rory - November 5, 2017 reply

    It’s up to both the band(s) and the VENUE to bring in people. If the bars aren’t bringing in people that are outside of your existing fan base how the hell are you ever going to expand your fan base? Eventually even your hardcore followers will drift away. My band has about a dozen people that come to every show and then a rotating group so that we draw about 30 people (It may not sound like a lot but we’ll take it) to each performance. We play about 3 to 6 times a year locally so it’s almost more like we’re pretending to be on a tour and only come through town a few times a year. Some of the venues we play have people who just come in off the street because the place has a reputation for good music. As for some of the other venues we have played however, we are doing them a huge favor by playing and bringing our crowd because even on a Friday or Saturday night they would be lucky to have a half dozen to a dozen people frequenting the place at the same time. I’m not exaggerating about that.

  • Mr Magical Truth - November 2, 2017 reply

    If a club had to choose between band
    A. The reincarnated Musicians of Jimi Hendrix, Freddy Mercury, John Bonham & Jaco Pastorius but no one comes to watch them play or band …….
    B. A punk band that only knows “Blitzkreig Bop” but the lead singer eats his own poo on stage but also has 400 people in line to see the 2nd show, who do you really think the Club is going to keep hiring??? Remember, the club has No Comcern with Art. It’s only concern is generating money. If your band doesn’t have a gimmick to draw people to listen to your incredible music … You aren’t quite ready for clubs yet. Don’t be afraid to Draw a crowd anyway you can and watch the promoters Beg you not to play at their competitors club.

  • Donny Rocker - November 2, 2017 reply

    Always remember: musicians can play for free ANYWHERE.
    Bands have the same expectations to meet their overhead costs as venues do.

  • Mike - November 2, 2017 reply

    “Professional venues will be upfront about how much money they brought in from the door and how it’s being distributed amongst the bands”.


    Agree on an amount up front and stick to it.

  • Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi - November 2, 2017 reply

    @Rhan. I absolutely agree with your comment because I believe in the notion #MakingMusicIsAProfession and #MusicAintFree. Only “unprofessional” musicians don’t get paid. (Check out:

  • Willard Capen - November 2, 2017 reply

    This is all BS. When I was a musician back in the 50s and 60s we had the Musicians Union. They were there to see that the owners complied with the written contracts. Yes, we had contracts back in those days. Plus we had a minimum that the owners were expected to pay us at the end of the night, usually in cash from the bar tills and we signed a receipt that we were paid. I remember paying .02% as a traveling band to the San Francisco Musicians Union. I also played in the Oakland Letter Carriers band that was paid by the Musicians Union and other jobs at various institutions and in the park At Lake Merit in Oakland all paid by the Musicians Union. Yes during the day I worked as a Mailman as well as 6 to 7 nights a week at local clubs. It was gruiling but the pay was always there. I was even able to buy a house.

  • Robb - November 2, 2017 reply

    This is not the way to get paid! My bands through the years NEVER allowed a venue from getting away without the agreed-upon quoted price for the band ‘services’. We won’t play for the house receipts or guarantee a certain number of fans. Anyone who does is lying. The venue is responsible for having regular clientele at their restaurant or bar and they need to promote the event. Nothing gets me madder than providing band posters in advance and when you arrive for the gig, the venue didn’t even put them up! If they had a caterer bring food for 200 people, the venue would pay the caterer in full regardless of attendance. And that should apply to the ‘entertainment services ‘ that you provided. Any venue that tries to screw you on your gig based on attendance should never be used again You should put the word out that that they should be off-limits for any self-respecting musicians or bands. Once again, keep value in what we do!

  • Steve Hill - November 3, 2017 reply

    A band is a business and like any business needs to make a profit (no matter how small) in order to STAY in business. I have worked many a lousy day job in order to pay for my “music fix” and regardless of the job there was one thing they all had in common; I knew what I was going to be paid. Why should music, or any art for that matter, be any different? Book only into venues that will pay you a flat rate. Better yet, if you are a consistent draw, get half before the show and half after. If you pack the place don’t ask for a penny more (until next time). If one person shows, you should not accept a penny less. It’s called “business,” and that is the way it needs to be conducted….LIKE a business. If the venue won’t agree to these terms, then don’t play there and save yourself grief.

  • Lightning - November 3, 2017 reply

    I always use the analogy that if the bartender, dishwasher, service staff are getting paid regardless of the attendance then so should my band. Show me a venue who would refuse to pay the cook or the dishwasher because it was a slow night. Not going to happen. Why do venues continue to pay little or nothing for bands. Because musicians continue to accept little or nothing.

    One of my most empowering moments as a band is when I looked a venue owner in the eye and told him no when he tried to cut our rates after playing the venue one and off for three years. I informed the owner that we had always brought in a decent crowd and that I had been to his establishment when the only people in the place was me, the bartender and another performer on stage. I explained that I treated my band as a business the same as he treated his venue as a business. I then wished him the best of luck with his business and left. What’s the point of having a day job as a musician if you can’t fall back on it in times like this.

    He called a month later to book us at our regular rate. Go figure.

    It felt fantastic to tell a venue no instead of the other way around. I didn’t do it in anger, nor did I burn a bridge with the owner. I kept it very professional as a business should and simply explained why I couldn’t go along with his proposal. Try it sometime, it will do wonders for your musical morale.

  • Rico - November 4, 2017 reply

    I played the Canadian nightclub circuit during the seventies, and was a Toronto Musician’s Association member, (Union Local 149 of International Federation of Musicians). We always earned at least union scale, (union scale for six nights was not much more than scale for one night, so most clubs opted for a Monday-Saturday six night contract). Only three bum clubs stiffed us over a ten year period of six nights per week, and in those three rare cases, the International Federation of Musicians Headquarters in New York City stomped in fast with their full weight, and lawsuits on our behalf . The process took time, but all my bookings were signed union contracts, and those three bum clubs soon opted to pay up. I don’t think the union has as much power anymore, but it was a good thing. How was it paid for.. brilliantly simple.. never a cover, and in every club every drink price in the house rose by twenty-five cents from when the band stepped on stage until closing.
    I was invited to a rally for worker rights and unions in Rochester, NY a few years ago by a friend who was playing in a duo, ( they had agreed to play for a free dinner). The Chavez movement’s national lead advocate for American worker’s right to unionize was the headline speaker.. (can’t remember his name). He gave a lengthy passionate talk to an adoring crowd about the value of unions, a brief history, and the legacy of Cesar Chavez . Mingling with attendees later, (while my friend played subdued Reel Book jazz standards), I asked the glowing speaker why, he had not hired Union musicians instead of the non-union duo, who working at his rally unpaid for a dinner had deprived two hard working union member musicians of a living wage that night.. His beaming mustachio turned a busted shade of frown.. and he excused himself saying, “Oh, I’ll have to look into that..”. Getting paid always seems to be a scrabble for players, but I liked those golden union days so much better.

  • Sergiu - December 1, 2017 reply

    This is not the way to do things and the article looks like it’s been written by an amateur. First of, don’t play for free, ever, if you don’t want or need the money just give it to charity, but never play for free if you are a professional. The only time it’s ok to play for free is when you are starting out and taking apprenticeship under other bands or DJ’s like opening or supporting acts, but that deal is ONLY between YOU and the other MUSICIANS/DJ’s, never with the venue owner. Always get written contracts before hand.

  • Tom - December 6, 2017 reply

    I have one or two community events that I play annually for free. I contacted them to volunteer because I wanted to support them. Other than that, when I’m working, I’m working – I want and deserve to be paid. That said, I play a lot more private parties and small community festivals than bars these days. When I take a bar gig, it’s a flat fee.

    There have been four occasions over the past 35 years I’ve not been paid when the time came. Only one didn’t pay eventually. He was trying to reserve money for his cocaine habit and went out of business after he couldn’t get anyone to play his venue at all. One was picked up, turned upside down and shaken by a large bandmate until he agreed to pay up. His own employees wouldn’t back up his police report. The other two instances, a phone call the next day to the owner of the business resolved the issue. Funny thing is, all four had packed houses. I’ve played empty rooms and felt bad about taking their money. I have always avoided venues with a reputation for stiffing the entertainment though and would certainly recommend letting everyone you know if you are stiffed by a venue.

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