That Was Then, This Is Now Venue Owners Need Love Too
Loyalty is an easy thing. Particularly when theres no money on the line. And in the live music business, most of it anyway, there aint much money floating around. Sure, theres big bucks at the top, but for every cash cow named Phish, theres hundreds of touring bands barely breaking even.
Make no mistake, music and loyalty are intrinsically entwined. In our wired up world where email names reflect musical loyalties rather than family histories, folks take pride in publicly identifying themselves in terms of their favorite band. With the exception of the ties that bind within the bands themselves, the relationship between fans and their favorite groups are the most public display of loyalty in the music business.
But theres more to the music business than fans and bands. A lot more. Booking agents, publicity people, music journalists, promoters, and plenty of others, all depend on some degree of loyalty from each other, as well as the bands themselves, in order to survive.
Even more so with venue owners. Because of a fixed location which limits their ability to grow, venue owners are more dependent on the loyalty of others than any other player in the live music scene. Thats why so many live music venues die. Ill stand by my original statement: loyalty is an easy thing – particularly when theres no money on the line.
Throw a few bucks into the equation though and things get weird. Not always, but often. Face it as much as bands are in it for the music, they need to make a living too. So whos to blame a band when they outgrow a venue that has worked its ass off to promote the band when it was just starting out, only to book its shows at a larger, competing venue?
Not me. I get it. But think of it from the venue owners standpoint. Having a band take a show down the block, or across town, after helping that band build a following by giving them a place to play when nobody else would, well, it sucks. Plain and simple. It hurts and the feeling of betrayal is understandable.
Thats not to say that bands are evil for working their way up the music biz ladder. Theyre not. The problem is that venues and bands have to look out for their own interests. And while bands have a blast onstage, engaging in the stimulus-response energy loop that makes the live music experience so powerful, the venue owner is sitting in the back of the room, arms folded and shoulders slouched, wondering if this will be the bands last show at his club.
I dont have an answer to the problem, but I do have a suggestion. Next time your mind is blown at a show in a venue that has supported your local scene by taking chances on new, unknown bands, go out of your way to thank the grumpy looking old fart in the back with his arms crossed and shoulders slouched. Hey, you may not realize it, but venue owners need love too.