The Red Sea on Craigslist: A tug of war between venues and artists

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Taking the Twin Cities music scene's temperature can be simple as heading over to Craigslist. Pull up a chair in the "Musicians" section of the "Community" postings and just listen for a while. Most folks are looking for a bandmate (Can You Sing AC/DC?.... Ladies?) or offering up their production or teaching services. Then there's the case of the 22-year-old West Bank bar/restaurant/venue the Red Sea.

A week ago, folks at the Sea put out a call via Craigslist to find some new bands -- "Punk, Indie, Metal, Rock" to play at the Red Sea, and then the community's collective teeth began to gnash. Anonymously, of course.

While there's hard to find a "right" answer within this back-and-forth of threads -- and it appears that many comments have already been deleted -- it does provide a lot of colorful viewpoints about the approach new bands can take to getting heard, and how venues should handle their business. (A big 'ole typographical [sic] through all of what follows.)

It all started at 6:10 p.m. on November 27 with this posting looking for some new talent at the Red Sea:

Looking for NEW original bands to play, specifically Punk, Indie, Metal, Rock. Be young and hungry!, bring a bunch of people and you will get paid. All ages of musicians are welcome. If you arent going to get your friends, parents and friends parents to come check you out - dont bother.   We have many weekdays available in Decemeber - but they are filling up fast - hit me up.

"Zing" number one:

11/27 at 8:58 p.m.: Weeknights at the Red Sea? Is this for bands who think the Terminal Bar is too classy?

Point number one: Bands who don't get paid can't be expected to do all the promotion for a show.

11/27 at 9:51 p.m.: "If you expect the bands to do your promotion for you and if you don't have regular patrons who will support your bar and the bands you book and DON'T PAY - don't bother."

Counterpoint number one: Yes, bands need to hustle. It's American.

11/28 at 10:20 a.m.

I find it humorous that people who play in original bands actually expect to get paid without doing any leg work. If you want that go join a cover band. The red sea puts an ad in city pages and thats way more than most jaded original bands do for promotion. It takes 20 people to pay the sound guy. Another 8 to pay the person sitting at the door (who usually is the promoter and usually gets stiffed and ends up sitting there the whole night for nothing because some certain original bands only draw 3 people because they dont hustle.  

Face it people it's Minneapolis, and nobody cares about the music you wrote unless you hustle and make it happen for your self - we are not running any type of scam. We are actually providing a stage for new original bands to play. I know those of you that have been around the block are too good for this venue - but for bands just coming out of the garage it is an opportunity to get started and get your name out there and hopefully their dreams come true and they do it the entrepreneurial "American" way, by themselves. 

So sorry if my call out for new bands offended you grizzled vetrens who expect to be paid even if you only bring your wife and two friends.

Point two: Bands are rarely lazy, they should always be compensated somehow, and promotion should fall on the shoulders of both the bands and the venue.

11/28 at 2:43 p.m.: "I find it humorous that people who play in original bands actually expect to get paid without doing any leg work."

Uhmm, last time I looked it's your venue that bands are playing at. What this means is that it's ALL you. PERIOD!

If you have a halfway decent venue and have decent food, drinks, and bands play on a regular basis, there's no need for the proverbial "legwork", as you call it. Granted bands should always be in self-promotion mode, but it should not be a pre-requsite in order to play your venue. It is neither ethical or even moral to expect a band to be advertising for YOU and providing a financial safety net for you regardless if they're well known, unknown,indie,cover, original or whatever.

Most Venues have a screening process and know, who it is, that they're hiring to play ahead of time and have vetted the band enough to know that they're for real and present a professional front with good song sets. The food and also the drinks should be a draw ON THEIR OWN! It is reasonable therefore...with that protocol, that decent bands are going to enter thier doors to entertain and ...decent food and drink will be served and customers know this as well. It's a classic case of,"rip offs are not a part of the market, because bad wares are not sold." The venues do what the common sense business would do to insure that "good wares" in the form of drinks, eats AND music are thier staple product.

Now, at this point, I must apologize if I have offended you. But to keep the market stable, even and viable, NO BAND SHOULD EVER PLAY FOR FREE...even if they're just getting a free bar tab, they should at least be getting SOMETHING. Musicians, on the whole, have sacrificed to be where they are just as you have, they should not have to act as an ad agency to insure your bottom line. Go price out instruments, rehearsal time, creating demos etc. It adds up my friend. Every venue owner should be REQUIRED TO DO THAT! If they did, I'm sure they would think twice before asking musicians to play free or verify thier worth.

If you have run into a band that is lazy,and I know very few who are, they are NOT the norm, but it is usually a given that the venue that has paved the way for their own success and the "entertainment" is an add-on... not their means of support. On the other hand, if you would like to come to my house party and pour wine and beer for free and if the clientelel at my establishment like you ...they can pay or not, after all.... you ARE getting the opportunity to present your wares to an unknown crowd, you should be grateful. Cheers.

Point three: Forget Red Sea -- just get booked at Terminal Bar, and then soar.

11/28 at 6:33 p.m.: My band played at the Red Sea a couple years ago. It sucked. The place has zero built in crowd. Calling it a dive is way too generous.

It is a first time sorta place to play. Don't expect to draw any crowd, don't expect to get paid. Play it once and move on to the Terminal Bar (which is alright in my book...glad Flem was able to reopen the place). Then move on to other venues (if you have some well known hipster types in your band that are in more popular bands too...thus getting radio play, press, etc...). Then take over the galdanged world you little dreamers! Fly, fly away...

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This is why I love the Amsterdam Bar & Hall so much and think every music bar in the Twin Cities should strive to be more like them. They know how to treat musicians, even young, aspiring musicians like myself. Our band (shameless plug: The Karma Kicks) just recently played at the Amsterdam. We've played a few dive bars; 400 bar, Big V's, Wild Tymes, etc. We've played a few at the Fine Line, too. All-in-all, NONE of the other places we've played treated us as well as the Amsterdam. We were given a backstage area complete with fresh bar food (which was delicious) and 2 cases of Grain Belt tall boys. On top of that, we were given an 80/20 split on our $6 cover charge, the 80 being for the bands. We managed to draw a crowd nearing 200 people because people were downright excited to see us play there. Not only that, but the venue actually did some promotion for us! How neat is that? In this era of shit like MyAfton, The Red Sea, etc. looking to book bands for free and do nothing, it is refreshing to know there are still some places doing things right. It is a lot of work on the part of the band just to get to the point where they are ready to play a show, let alone the work it takes to play the actual show and get people to come. The Amsterdam recognizes and respects this. Bottom line is, the venue/booking agent needs to have a general idea of how many people the specific band tends to draw, and base their decision to hire that band on that. They are taking a risk on that band, and if they don't bring in the crowd the bar would have liked to see, tough shit. They were the ones taking the risk of hiring that band, so the blame for low turnout should never fall on the musicians. Venues shouldn't just be hiring whoever will sign the dotted line, they need to do a little research and make some informed decisions. 


I've been following the ongoing debate on Craigslist about the Red Sea and it depresses the hell out of me. I'm in a newer band and we've been struggling to find decent places to play. For us, payment isn't a concern (although, yes, it would be nice and, yes, anyone who provides a service deserves some form of compensation). At this point, we'd rather play for free at a place where we're likely to perform for people who regularly make time to see live music but aren't already familiar with us. I'm hustling, trying to network with other bands/bookers/venues, spending a lot of my time and personal money on promotion via social media, etc, but so far it hasn't made a difference. I just don't think it's a viable approach to rely on getting the word out among your friends and family. There's an old quote supposedly from Paul Westerberg: “If you need your family and friends to come down and see you perform you’re no performer.” For us, there's not much value in playing the Red Sea (although we have played other dive bars). Other than getting some practice performing outside of our rehearsal space and getting used to setting up/tearing down, I don't see much long term value. If you aren't performing someplace where people regularly go to check out new, unfamiliar live music, it's a dead end. I agree with the previous posters -- it's about fostering a community and an experience that encourages repeat customers. If your business model relies on an endless string of unknown bands who have to guilt their friends and families into showing up, neither your bar nor the bands are going anywhere. I can guarantee you that my friends and family won't return if I'm not playing, and neither will I. Why would we? Personally, even if I weren't in a band, I'd much rather hang out someplace that makes an effort to create an enjoyable experience and build a reputation as a great venue for live music.


Alright, I'll give it a shot:There's nothing particularly maniacal about The Red Sea, they're just another Music Bar trying to keep the doors open in a town full of them. I've seen plenty of fun shows there, the stage space is pretty decent and the sound is relatively passable for the usual admission price. Like some people on the 'List pointed out, the problem has more to do with the mindset of some of our local dive-y music bars, namely that the way to ensure a good show is to book 3 unrelated acts, put a guy in the booth and another at the door and call it a day. The bar-band relationship is a symbiotic one, and both need to put in a share of the effort to make things pop off and get some drinks sold. 

Where this breaks down is the fact that most local groups of any value put a great deal of effort into their own promotion, and even if it's misdirected and poorly worded, it's still effort expended. Labor, if you will. In contrast, dives like The Red Sea tend to scrape by month-to-month on their regular clientele, who couldn't give half a shit about whatever music happens to be playing that night. They also tend to put zero effort into their own development as a business. Want to know why the Acadia, right across the street has such a strong base of support? It's because their taps list has been updated since 1992, they have interesting and attractive specials, good food and a friendly staff. The Red Sea, god love 'em, has none of these going for it and seems pretty determined to stay that way.Not to hate though, I've seen plenty of good shows there and know that the venue can definitely draw for the right groups. The MNska community made a pretty good run there a few years back, those groups could really pack it in there. But again, that has more to do with that community's hustle than anything the venue did.Oh, and a quick response to the Post Nine: Das Racist dude. Please don't call them the Crack Stacks, there's nothing inherently more suspect about our West Bank community than there is about the Biz-school bros who are within spitting distance. 


I agree that there's a middle ground where the artists and the venues share responsibility—but that only works in a system that is respectful and supportive. In my experience, the same venues that put all the promotion weight on the artists also usually have the worst sound systems, the worst stages, "sound techs" (if you can call them that) who aren't on the ball, and personnel with attitude issues. 

To me, it's a matter of investment in the community you're trying to join: Respect the art, provide a real opportunity for art to happen (with the proper environment, planning and a supportive staff), and get to know people from the community that are already doing it right and learn from them. Unfortunately for venues like The Red Sea, it's a long and hard road to regain lost trust from past mismanagement, even with the best of intentions.

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