Merch table_Hamilton_Dave Rave_2002

I’ve written previously about the things that whining and impatient hipster millennials need to do to increase their cache and brand in the music business – particularly in this new Wild West music biz. I collected all that sage advice and sarcastic commentary in a new eBook called “How To Succeed In The Music Business With Zero Talent”.

How to Succeed



El Mocambo

I’ve also expounded on the collapsing bar scene and the unbalanced nature of live music – hell, the El Mocambo’s iconic Neon Palms sign just sold on eBay for $30,000. We’re at the end of an era, kids. http://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Original-Elmocambo-Tavern-Neon-Sign-Toronto-/171510328421?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item27eecfec65&nma=true&si=0CMVvIu7NHlrhvA6eGQd4bTmOg8%253D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557


The battle for live music supremacy still rages on. Musicians still aren’t getting paid by many club owners and promoters; Humiliated by the offer of ‘exposure‘ in exchange for selling beer and food to keep the club’s bottom line, and the owner’s wallet, intact.


Musicians have blogged and memed (what else are they going to do during the day?) about equal pay for equal work – even comparing what they do to the wait staff, the chef or the janitors who work at clubs. They continue to compare yourself to folks who have jobs that have a quantitative value and at the cost of alienating my entire Facebook friends network I’ve gotta lay it on the line: You don’t do equal work to these people. Saying you deserve as much money as a plumber negates the fact that you’re not providing the same thing as a plumber – a service that people need, if not entirely desire.

Club act

You have chosen a profession that begins and ends with your ability to entertain – you’re not driving a bus, landing on the moon or curing cancer (though if you were smart you’d have a day job that did exactly those things). That any of us in the music business has ever been able to make one thin cent off it has been an anomalous by-product of a fickle populace attempting to distract itself from the daily grind of life. You distract them with your own dreams of self-fulfillment and, hopefully, stardom. It’s a mutual lovefest that usually ends when both of you leave the club. But when they go home they will still need a plumber…or a doctor…or a lawyer…or a prostitute. Very few of them need a musician (bass players’ girlfriends notwithstanding).

With a Little Help
And club owners know this. If a bar does not hire entertainment they still need the wait staff, the chef, and the janitor. They do not need you. And this is where 99% of the musicians who are not getting paid fail to see the big picture. You need to ask yourself the question that the club owners are asking: What can YOU do for ME? From his perspective you stand on stage, strum a guitar, sing a song – admittedly with great fervor and heart-bleeding sincerity – and hopefully the patrons will like you long enough to buy a beer and stick around for a meal. But the patrons would do that anyway, whether you were there or not. So, again, what is your contribution to this equation?

Horseshoe Is your presence so incredible that patrons will come from anywhere to see you play – even at great personal cost and time? Is your presence in the room so great that the bar owner will double or triple his bottom line…making enough money to pay the wait staff, the chef, the janitor and have enough money to pay you and put cash in his pocket? Is your presence so great that you’ll soon have to move to another, bigger, location just to satisfy the crowds that have amassed, over time, to come see you each and every time you play?

This is the crux of the continued existence of live music. Added value. There are thousands of acts out there doing what you do. It is presumed for the sake of this conversation that they don’t do it as well as you. So you need to make sure the club owner knows this. How? Create a business plan. He’s in the selling beer/food business. You’re in the entertaining people business. It’s any wonder that the two twains ever meet. But he understands money. And you need to understand it too. You need to work with owners to formulate a strategy that maximizes your time in the room, your impact on people buying his products and minimizes his staff’s headaches. That’s right. It’s a short-term business partnership. One that involves both of you walking away at the end of the night with your pockets full.

Tshirt Club owners are under-valuing what you do because you haven’t proven that you are worth more than he thinks. If you want to be paid like one of his staff you need to BE one of his staff. Find out the capacity of the room. Find out what his per-head margin of profit is on each body that walks in the door. Negotiate a percentage of that gross (not the net) instead of just the door – which you’ll get screwed on because everyone’s on the guest list anyway. Make the price negotiable on a sliding scale. Minimize his risk. If you don’t draw “x” number of people to the room and “y” in sales he can dock you. If you exceed that, he can give you a bonus. Don’t just presume this, talk to the owner in a language he understands in advance. He’ll appreciate that you’ve removed the volatile artistic emotional element out of the transaction and approach it as a business deal.

Jager Make sure you get a piece of his coveted, and protected, alcohol sales by offering him a piece of the merch sales. Find out what his beer and alcohol specials are for the night. Jägermeister shots for $3? Announce it from the stage. 2lbs of chicken wings on sale for $9.99? Same thing. Promote it. Sell it. Cash in. Emphasize that people need to tip the wait staff. If it’s a good night for them, they’ll be sure to tell the owner that you should be hired back more often. My bands were always asked back on this concept alone. If the waitresses know they’re making money off you they’re also more tolerant of the fact that you are too loud or suck squirrel balls.

58679_438597224871_6204506_n Yeah, I know. You’re there to play songs not hock wares. But, you can do that at home and isn’t it the place from which you’re trying to ultimately escape? On stage you’re there to enhance the ambience of the room, the fun for the people who came out – including those who don’t give a shit whether you are on stage or not – and the success of the bar. If you have to P.T. Barnum your act you better be prepared to do it. I point to my friends Two For The Show who are the whole deal; A duo that mixes racy comedy with great cover tunes and danceable tracks. Yeah, not everyone’s cup of tea or genre of choice but it is possible to keep the energy high and the impulse purchases of audience members frequent with some clever patter and engagement with the captive bodies. https://www.facebook.com/TwoForTheShow

anthony-robbins You have an uninterrupted stage presence for 4 or 5 hours a night. That’s a pretty powerful platform for converting even the most cynical of patrons into eating from the palm of your hand. Don’t waste that opportunity. It’s how motivational speakers have conquered the world and extracted millions of dollars from people’s bank accounts. They have a presence that’s less salesman and more trusted acquaintance. Or so they lead you to believe.
Dancing crowd It’s easier to sell people things when they’re at ease and trust you’re going to deliver music they like. It adds to the overall success of the evening. Even in a drunken haze people will remember you the next day. And it’s that memory that will surface when it’s time to decide who they’re going to see the next time they want go out for a night on the town. It’s also a night that the club owner will remember well because he made more money than God. And your name is the God he now trusts to put his kids through college.



Send your CDs to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: