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

Point four: NEVER play even a hole in the wall bar without SOME form of compensation, ouse parties are excellent, and free dental work is extremely hard to come by.

11/29 at 10:15 a.m.: I can't believe there are afew douche bags responding on craig's list to DEFEND the venue! WTF! NO WONDER the music scene is dying in the metro! ANY decent band that has rehearsed enough and equiped themselves through acquisition of gear and skills and has the confidence to play... should NEVER and I mean NEVER agree to play even a hole in the wall bar without SOME form of compensation.

A few of you who have responded to these ads GET IT. You definitely understand if musicians agree to sell themselves for NOTHING, they reap, you guessed it...NOTHING! To the rest of you...you seriously are the ones making it hard to hold venues to any kind of standard. If you recognize that your talent and contribution as a musician/band has value, then you are under an obligation to ALL musicians to demand compensation for that value. Otherwise we all might just as well be spinning disks as a DJ. Or...in the case of Red Sea...listen to a juke box.

To anyone that defends venues, here you go again, as you obviously did not listen earlier when this was posted...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. This logic is rational and criticism proof and yet some will still ignore this or write it off. Let me ask all you clowns who oppose this idea....when was the last time you saw a doctor GIVE away anything, how about a dentist or a hairdresser, Chef, or how about a nurse perform biopsy and blood tests free....jeeeeze what has to be done to get through to you people!

Point five: This business model is flawed, and Red Sea would make "GOBS" of money if they focused on booking better-known headliners to lead bills.

11/29 at 3:32 p.m.: Look, what it comes down to is that using your place for starter bands to 'showcase' for free is a bad business model, especially if there is a cover charge.

The bar will never get a regular crowd because it will be hit and miss, mostly miss, which means the good bands won't be able to draw new fans, because they are the ones expected to bring them, and move on to the better venues in town.

So we've got a situation where the bar owner is pissed because his investment isn't working out and is therefore going for bottom of the barrel talent that will work for free, and the bands are pissed because they are supposed to do most, if not all of the promotion, bring people to the bar, not be able to play for anyone new, and be happy that they have a stage to play on.

The core issue is not the owner, the band, or 'the scene', it's the piss poor business model that is guaranteed to fail. All it would take to really succeed is to get one major band a night that can draw w/ 2-3 other bands that will play for free and you're already in a better situation, the bands would be happy to play in front of a lot of new people, the 'good' bands would get paid, the good 'free' bands can move into the paid rotation, and the bar owner would make GOBS of money. This is how the successful places are run and they are already booked solid through February.

Counterpoint two: Red Sea is fiiiiine, but paying for our rehearsal space is a bummer. Overall, a more zen attitude solves this whole issue.

11/29 at 4:33 p.m.: Ya know....Iv've played the Red Sea before.....I recall we played on a Friday night and got a $1 per head who paid at the door....seemed fair....we pulled about 90 people......sold 25 CDs at $10, 2 Vinyl at $20,, each band member had two drink tickets, we met other bands we could join up with in the future, had a great sound mix from the board, and had a great time. Total we walked away with about $400 divided by four...each of us had $100 in our pockets. We practiced probably 50 hours before the show so at the end of the day we made about $2 per hour. That would be fine...except we had to pay for the pesky rehearsal space $400. How much did we make ...ZIP. Would I do it again...hell yes. Would I play there if there was no pay to the band from the club directly. Sure. Life is about living not money.

Point five and a half: The Fine Line has a pretty good little system set up if you want a business model to adhere to. Stop the scamming and greed, and start putting up posters, okay?

11/29 at 7:08 p.m.: Lots of noise about the Red Sea post. Understandable of course.

First of all, the pay to play thing is not very popular and unfortunately, young bands get sucked into the scam because they want to play gigs. Understandable. But not reasonable. MyAfton and Gorilla productions made it a national scam and therefore, places like The Red Sea and other venues who are desperate think they can apply the same model. Doesn't work like that. A venue advertising on Craigslist needs to serious consider their business model and wake up a little.

Selling tickets to a show is not out of the question. But, the way it works is you get to keep at least half of the ticket sales. The venues depend on their money from sales of alcohol or by ticket sales from more popular bands. Bands used to negotiate a percentage of the door, but those days are gone due to the economy and all the scams out there. So, selling some tickets is not a band thing unless you only get a buck a ticket.

The Fine Line's model is very reasonable for starter bands, for example. You play a show case night, usually a Monday or Tuesday and invite everyone you can. Free entry, if you bring in more than 15 people you get a little money, not much, but the more you bring in, the more you get. The risk is that they expect people to drink a little so they can make a few bucks. If you draw, you get a better slot next time. What the Red Sea is attempting to do is something between what First Ave does adding a bit of Afton and Gorilla to it. The problem is it simply does not work that way and bands get burned one way or another. The death of the music scene is due to the scamming and greed. More venues need to start looking at business models such as The Fine Line.

Starter bands are what is called an "opening act". A term that has been around for a long time. If an opening act does well, they progress. Venues also need to promote the bands. The problem is that most of these sub standard venues wanting bands to sell tickets in advance do not advertise. They expect the band to do it all. Kind of stupid since it is extremely cheap to put up a few posters. The problem with the Red Sea is the location and no many quality customers want to go there.

What they need to do is quit bitching and BS'ing people though. I know of a few bands that have been called at the last minute to play the next day and they wanted them to sell tickets to do so. Right, like you can sell enough tickets in less than a day, all while trying to get your band together for a last minute gig. If you call them on it, they get offensive and hang up on you. Not very good business protocol. There is place in the music market for The Red Sea, they simply need to look at their business model and start consulting people who understand the music business, marketing and how the younger starter bands work. Its not rocket science. The main clue for anyone is if a venue is advertising on Craigslist, well, that should be enough said......

Good luck Red Sea, hope you get your business model fixed and are able to help the musicians out their looking for a break.

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5 comments
OrangeAppeal
OrangeAppeal

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. 

drewta
drewta

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.

ZeeMickCee
ZeeMickCee

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. 

argyle
argyle

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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