Touring in a cramped van is one of the hurdles all bands must go through, but you still need to get paid. This month we consider the various payment options available for bands playing small venues such as bars. These concepts do not necessarily apply to larger venues, which will be covered in a future installment of this column.
There are three main options for payment: guarantee, door, or door plus guarantee. Guarantee is a flat fee for a given performance regardless of how well the venue does in terms of business on the date of the performance. This fee must be negotiated in advance and should be paid prior to the performance. For this option, a band must consider whether its popularity would justify a cover charge that could possibly exceed the guarantee, in which case the door option may be preferable.
Be wary of venues that offer a guarantee but then collect and keep a cover charge. You may want to inquire about this and request a percentage of the cover or such portion which exceeds the guarantee (also known as “break point”).
A fellow musician recently told me of the following situation: Bass Player A books a gig. He then double-books a second higher paying gig, and without notifying the venue owner, sends Bass Player B to the first gig. The venue owner for the first gig then shorts the musicians on the first gig because the bass player he originally contracted with did not play the gig. In my opinion, this could have been avoided if Bass Player A had communicated with the venue owner and explained the situation. Instead, his fellow musicians got shafted, and the venue owner was upset, even though the individual bandmembers brought their own crowd. Always make sure that the venue owner is aware of who will be playing the gig, and always get approval for substitutions.
The objective is to know the various options available to you so that you are able to negotiate the deal that will provide you and your fellow bandmembers with the greatest economic benefit, while at the same time leaving the venue owner satisfied with a tight performance and a crowded house. Until then, happy rockin’.