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

Point six: This is the wild, wild (and meta) World Wide Web, wheeeeeee!

11/30 at 11:17 a.m.: This is awesome Craigslist stuff here. These back and forth ranty threads always end up with people using it as an excuse to brag about themselves and all the things they "know". Although, to tell the truth I love it all. I love the bitchy unprofessional posts by the venue worker. I love the instigating one liners about the child molester (Which are actually true, by the way). I love staunch opinions about how things ought to be and how they were better at one time. I love the idea that the music scene is being crushed by a law that was passed in 1986. I love name calling in the posts that always end with something like "I hope I didn't offend" or "Have a nice day". These are especially good because they're a perfect example of Minnesota passive aggressiveness. These are great examples to show your out of state friends what life is like here.

So I guess this is kind of a rave. Please keep up the dialogue, reading your outpourings has turned into a guilty pleasure of mine. Not that I give a shit what some stranger on the internet has to say, but your rants say quite a bit about what kind of person you are. And that is fascinating.

Point seven: Maybe Toby Keith's has the business model the Red Sea needs?

11/30 at 2:50 p.m.: I can't believe the long drawn out posts with perfect grammar striving to get a point across. If you word it just right it might be believable. I've been doing this for a long time.If you keep givin it away, there wont be anywhere to play. In the last 25 years we have lost 80% of our music venues. Most of the really great players that had something to say have quit. I'm am not giving it a way to a bar owner that doesn't know how to run his biz! 98% of club owners want you to do their job! That's getting people in their bar. Think about it for one minute. If you are from Maple Grove, How are you going to get anybody to drive to S.St. Paul? With these laws are you kidding. Most clubs have burned out their locals with high prices and shitty service with really bad attitudes and nothing going on to keep people coming back not to mention karaoke! Let me see, you want me to come in and spend money putting up with bad bar help, some sour voices singing to a machine or a really shitty band because you cant afford good entertainment. I'm not much on country but go over to Tobie Keiths and watch that bar work. They have it down. Go up to order a drink. If someone hasn't served you in 60 seconds with a great big smile, they are f,n up. The same thing applies to a small bar. Stop givin it away and make these owners do their job!

Point eight: There's some context missing, but the band should take an active role to ensure proper treatment by a venue. [This message was shortened slightly]

11/30 at 6:25 p.m.: Regarding this list of good and bad venues: I think it differs from band to band. Some you listed as bad (Amsterdam, 331, Nomad) have been very good for my band, both in pay and treatment in general, while some of your good ones (Big V's, Hexagon) have screwed me royally in the past. I think what it comes down to is that a lot of these venues will treat a band subpar if they think they can get away with it. Meaning the key is to come in with some swagger, make sure you know who's in charge of what, and ask for payment details at the beginning, not the end, of the night. And for the love of Pete, don't expect to get paid if you're the opening band and you all leave right after your set. Make sure someone stays til the end, unless the venue is ok with paying you before the night's done.

Regarding the Red Sea: screw that place. They haven't even been on my radar for damn near 10 years. Its too bad because they have a decent stage, but no, whoever put up that post, it is NOT the band's job to get people into YOUR bar. A good club cultivates an audience, a repeat audience. You know, clientele. What the hell good does it do you in the long run if I get my family through the door? THEY WON'T BE BACK THE NEXT NIGHT. Duh.

Let me make this clear. The job of the musician is: play music. Spend years and years and lord knows how much money on your craft, and then still be ok with getting onstage for $20. I am. I don't' expect much, but I do expect courtesy. Of course any self-respecting band is going to do their level best to draw a crowd, but that can't be their sole, or even primary responsibility. The Red Sea clearly wants young bands because yeah, there is that narrow-ass window of 19-22 or so when people live in dorms and other such situations where you can get the word out to a lot of people with minimal effort and expenditure. And those people will be able to come see a band at 12:30 on a Tuesday night because they have lives that permit it. For those few years anyway.

The bottom line here is that whoever posted the article that started this back-and-forth is clearly someone who doesn't give two shits about music. They care about bodies in the room. Which is fine, but they should at least own it. Because if they cared about anything beyond that, they wouldn't have been so stupid as to post something that's going to put The Red Sea even farther down on the shitlist of 95% of the musicians in this scene.

Point nine: The Red Sea has a nice sound system and a pretty good room, but safety first?

12/4 at 12:24 p.m.: Here's the thing about The Red Sea, and their recent listing looking for bands who can "draw": If you've got a relatively new band and can get anybody beyond girlfriends & family members to show up, you would be a fool to play The Red Sea. You can go to a place like Club Underground, where they usually pay the sound & door staff with bar sales and let bands keep all the gate money. Or you can go to the Hexagon or a weeknight at the Fine Line, where your fans can see you for free and you still get paid a little. If you have any draw at all, you should have no trouble getting in to those places (although it may take a few weeks to crack in to the scene if they don't know you at all.)

The Red Sea has a nice sound system in a pretty good room, but it's a bar in an awful neighborhood (right next to the Crack Stacks) and it has zero foot traffic of its own beyond a handful of Somali regulars who the management will not let you charge. You'll be booked with four other bands, and after the gate money (money paid by YOUR friends) is raided to pay the sound & door people, what you get after splitting the remaining cash (if any) four ways won't be enough to cover the bar tab of ONE of your members. Meanwhile, the bar has a pretty good night of selling overpriced drinks to you and all of your friends. This is their business model. They USE young and naive bands as mostly-unpaid promotors.

Plus, the place is DANGEROUS. Four people were shot there in October, and the police get called to that bar far more than others in the neighborhood. Do a Google News search for "The Red Sea, Minneapolis" and see for yourself.

All of this sums up why the current booking agent for The Red Sea is trawling Craigslist for young bands who don't know any better than to play there. They can't get anybody else. A few years ago, I would have said it's the perfect dive bar for a band to play their first show, before immediately moving on to bigger and better things. Today I would advise pretty much anyone to stay away from that joint. Multiple people, many of them very smart, have tried to turn that place around by taking the booking job there and fighting to overcome the bad reputation, and they all have failed for the reasons I just listed. I'm afraid it would take a complete change of ownership, at a minimum, for there to be any hope for it.

There are plenty of dive bars in this town who will book a first-time band. If you are just starting out and thinking of playing The Red Sea, I strongly suggest you go elsewhere. Or just buy some kegs at Zipps and throw a house party. Either way, you'll be better off.

What we have learned:

Based upon sentiments in these Craigslist comments, venues run the risk of angering artists when they don't pay them. Plain and simple. When cash payment can't happen, what appeasements can be offered instead? Bands like venues that make them feel like they're a going concern, and not just the night's placeholder. 

In turn, artists run the risk of angering venues when they don't get the word out about the show they're playing. Hand-selling tickets doesn't seem to be a popular option among artists -- but in the age of online ticket sales, sending a link around on social media can do a lot. 

Neither side is going to be satisfied all of the time, but there's a strong thread within these colorful remarks that goes back to collective responsibility for a well-attended show that falls on the shoulders of the entertainment and the hosts. Making progress requires discussing concerns face-to-face. Though it can be a momentarily vindicating exercise to spew (oft-slanderous) verbal bile into the Craigslist void behind the cloak of anonymity, it won't be taken as seriously as a real, human interaction.   

Finally, every business and artist should solicit feedback from the folks with whom they interact so that the bathroom wall that is Craigslist isn't where the thoughts linger. There's a comments section at the bottom of this posting, and we have a feedback section so people can write us letters. Tell us what's still missing from the picture here -- aside from some kegs from Zipp's.

Some additional commentary on this thread can be found here.


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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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