Last weekend, I was at a venue with one of our bands and a very big learning experience happened right before our very eyes. The show featured five different bands, one traveling from Indiana, and a great crowd had showed up in support. At the end of the night the bands on the bill were looking to get paid out. Upon asking, I learned that the bands did not know how much they would be paid. The venue owner simply said it would be a paid gig.
After waiting a while to be paid out, I spoke with the venue owner. That's I found out the truth: the bands got screwed. After taking a majority of the ticket sales, the five bands had $50 to split among themselves. While some of the bands didn't stick around to claim their portion, the people that did stay were outraged. How could this happen? Why would a venue do this to the talent that played all night and traveled from all over to perform?
The answer is simple: because they care about the money. This isn't too different then venues all across the country. We have all heard horror stories of artists getting screwed out of payment for their services, especially since the crowd they draw offers more than just ticket sales to these venues. Fans will buy food and drinks that will often leave the venue owners getting a huge payday while leaving the artists scraps. It is an issue plaguing the music industry. How can we expect the smaller, independent artists to grow if venues are going to skimp out on paying them?
I think the solution for independent artists is to make sure you are protecting yourselves with performance contracts. Contracts will tell you outright what you can expect to be paid and the other stipulations a venue might have. The bigger problem is that not many venues will use these. Similar to the venue owner we encountered last weekend, they rely on a lack of information to bring themselves a bigger payday. As an artist, you have a right to know what you will be paid for a gig, plain and simple, and any venue that doesn't offer one to you should put you on alert.
If venues do not offer any sort of performance contract, create one for yourself. You can use the information the venue gave you for pay or you can set your own price. Make them sign the contract before you perform and give them a copy. Be stern on this happening. Don't let a promoter or venue owner screw you over for performing at their venue. Artists carry a lot more value to these venues then you realize. People don't just decide to go to a venue on a random Saturday when the could go to a bar and pay less for drinks and food. You are what people are coming to see. You control people coming in and spending money at these venues. You deserve to be compensated adequately for that.
Independent music is what drives the music industry. There are more small venues throughout the country than large ones. These smaller venues stay in business because of the independent artists that come through to perform. Their fans help them to pay their bills. Realize the power you have and protect yourself this year.