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The Cost Of Rock And Roll

I don’t go to shows as much as I used to. Not that long ago I would go see local bands several times a week. I became friendly with many of the musicians and the other regulars at these clubs. There was a communal aspect.

Nowadays, not so much. I tell myself that I’m not getting old, I just can’t afford to go every night, pay an average $8 cover and then buy drinks on top of that. And I don’t think I’m alone, because when I do go, I don’t see the same crowd. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe I’m remembering things being greater than they were. But I can’t imagine that the Great Recession hasn’t affected music fans. People have less disposable income, and knowing that it costs almost $10 just to walk in the door places is going to keep at least some people away.

At least a few non-traditional venues have started having original music in the area. These are bars that are not known for hosting music, but I’ve seen more people attending these shows than I have at most nights at the Saint or the Brighton recently.

Part of the reason has to be that these venues aren’t charging covers. You come in with, say, $20, and that’s what you can spend on booze for the night. Chances are once you start drinking, you’re going to spend the whole $20. Whereas, at the Saint or the Wonderbar, you go with $20, you’ll end up spending the amount, but only half of that will be on beer. So you spend most of the night nursing your drinks and wishing you were able to get another drink. It’s a worse experience.

So either way, the bar is getting that $20 from you. But by being more inviting about the cover, these new venues are probably going to be appealing to a lot more people. More people, each spending the same amount of cash, leaves a larger pot at the end of the night.

My band recently played EJ’s, a dive bar at the end of the Seaside boardwalk. Normally this part of the boardwalk is more or less abandoned during the winter, but somehow we were able to draw people out on a Friday night to come dance and drink. Everyone there had a much better time than if they had had to lighten their wallets just to get in. And that means they’re more likely to go back. And at the end of the night we were paid as much as, if not more than, we would have been playing to a half empty bar with an $8 cover.

The goal should be to get as many people as possible to come out. Build a community around the music. This benefits the club owners as much as the musicians.

Ultimately, we can’t afford to turn anyone away. Money shouldn’t be a barrier to going out and experiencing a show. We all want to get paid. The club owners want to make money. The bands want to go home with something in their pocket. Some of these guys have aspirations of doing this for a living. It’s tough to remove a source of income. You don’t have to squeeze every dollar out of your audience. Open the doors and let people in. It’s a win for the fans, the bars, and the musicians.

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