“Why can’t I book a fucking show?!” The rise of pay-to-play and the fall of the booker; exploitation and Airbnb in the Bay Area


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of GAVIOTAS and its members. Viewer discretion is advised. 

  
Exploitation. Shitty, demeaning, exploitation. Want easy definitions of exploitations? HERE: Child sex workers. Hard working illegal immigrants putting in 14 hour days cleaning your nasty hotel sheets for less-than minimum wage. Children losing hands for diamonds we’ll see on some shitty Zales commercial. These all suck a razorblade covered dick and I hope we’ve curtailed our buying habits and voted for candidates to help put an end to this. But did you know our friends and family, to a far lesser degree, are being exploited? 
  
“There are varying degrees of exploitation, yet the smallest of exploitations should be as intolerable as the greatest.” – Some dude 
  
       2012-2016: The rise of soft exploitation - With the advent of unions, labor laws and common sense, one would think that human exploitation would be on a down swing. But if you live in the Bay and have a passion which you’re pursuing, you know that’s bull. In recent years a new form of exploitation has popped up in our own backyard, and chances are you’re either supporting it or being exploited yourself. Though not as shitty as losing a hand or picking grapes without peeing for 12 hours. I’ll get to how this relates to artists and music in a second. 

Uber – Lyft – Air Bn’b 
  
       Whaaaaaa? You know the stats: Air B’nb is one of the largest hotel chains, yet they don’t own a single piece of property. Uber and Lyft are two of the largest cab companies in the world, yet they don’t own a single car  (to it’s credit Lyft is smaller and their drivers seem to have less of a poison ivy branch up their ass). They rely on YOUR apartment, YOUR ride, YOUR gas, YOUR insurance. Even Flywheel (an app which I use) that hails actual cabs with good insurance -if you get in an accident in an Über or Lyft you’re like, really fucked- take a 30% cut of what the cabbies make, and a cut of their tips. Uber takes something like 30% of their drivers tips. That is beautifully ugly free-market capitalism at its finest. Ayn Rand is totally getting a ghost boner right now. 
  
-What the fuck does this have to do with local music?- 
  
Pay to play bookings 
The Über model has a musical sibling. In the last few years there’s been a resurgence in the Bay of “bookers” “booking” “shows” - all in quotes because I use terms mad loosely - who use a pay to play model
“Play this fantastic club with great staff and sound! We take 100% of the first 20 tickets and you get 50% of every ticket after that,” or, “Play this awesome venue that won’t give you the time of day! Pre-sell 30 tickets at $10 a piece!” That’s $200-$300 off the top before you see a penny. Times 3-6 bands. How much does it cost to rent a club? There’s the catch. 
       Let me be clear about one thing: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I’m not condemning the practice… maybe a little. OK, it’s fucking awful. But I applaud the ingenuity of it - though my friend Rod tells me that it was rampant in the 70’s and was shocked and a little pissed to hear it’s coming back - It’s awful to remember you get 0% of $200-$400. But that’s the game and if you don’t like it, don’t play. Someone figured out how to work -or re-work- the system. If a band gets pissy that they didn’t read the agreement, that’s their bad. 















         I’ve been put on bills with some of the worst bands I’ve ever heard who have rotten etiquette. I’ve also been put on bills with some of the most amazing bands I’ve ever seen that are nowhere near our genre. But we’ve done it before. Hell, we’re about to do it again - because constantly performing is a must. Selling 20-30 tickets isn’t hard. But hearing friends and family say they’re happy to pay full price for a ticket because they think it’s going to a good place and lying to their face is. Doesn’t everyone want others to think they’re doing better than they really are?  
There’s the moment of “Wow brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that business model sooner?” followed by a moment of “right I don’t like when people are taken advantage of and treated unfairly.” Again, kudos for working the system. But in the People’s Republic of San Francisco, the system will soon work you. 


  













   Pro-Truthiness: Bands take roughly $10,000 worth of equipment to a show, sometimes they rent a van - because paying parking tickets in SF requires a 3rd job - and we usually have to print our own flyers, promote ourselves, writing and woodshedding spectrally factor in to cost. Is a little gas money too much to ask? Answer: yes, yes you ungrateful shit - it is. 

-Quit your bitching you whiny piece of shit millennial. You want everything handed to you without having to work for it!- 
  
Which brings us to… 
  
The death of the traditional booker 
  
Them: “Hi, you guys had a really good set. You were able to bring out a good number of people. I’m a booker and I think you guys should play here again!” 
  
Me: “Oh awesome thank you so much. We’d love to.” 
  
Them: “Great! Put together a bill with a few other bands and get back to me!” 
  
Me: “… Uh.. ok then.” 
  
My brain: “Don’t bookers know infinity more bands than we do and have the ability to put together kick ass shows?” 
  
Here’s an equation that explains my frustration: 

 

 

​(Can you tell I barely got through remedial math)

Question: Who was the last Bay Area act to blow up nationally? And is this above equation a recipe for discouragement and keeping good acts who would do well nationally unrecognized (no I’m not talking about GAVIOTAS, we fucking suck)?
  
         If you come up to us after a show and introduce yourself as a booker and ask us to play again, then ask us to do all the work, I’m not going to call you a booker. Bookers are artists in their own right, placing bands together to make dynamite combinations that can make a memorable and exciting night - this is how scenes are cultivated - You’ve seen us play, you’ve seen how many people we can bring out, and you think you could put together a pretty dope bill. If I’m going to promote a show, bring 15-50 people (depending on things like weather, holidays and how well the Giants are doing) AND you’re going to take a fat cut of the door - after you pay security, bartender and the sound guy – I hope you’d do a little more than open the doors and count money. 
  
Are there are still some old school, bad ass promoters who genuinely love bands, fuckface? 
  
       In a barely recognizable husk of an art haven that was San Francisco, beats the hearts of passionate music lovers that doubled down and went all in on living as Bay Area artists. People who have a will able to circumvent mass-evictions, rising rents and gentrification. How these people survive here is beyond me. I don’t ask. I just watch them with suspended disbelief, like beautifully tragic characters in a book who will die if they stop making art. And they will die.   
     I’ve met Jon Orc on a bus one day, he is a fucking mad-man. His band Hemmorage is booking shows faster than characters die on Game of Thrones. Their company, Savage People is a promo-machine that specialize in quality merch. When he hosts events he treats bands fairly; the epitome of a classy, dirty punk rocker. 
       Scott Alcoholocaust is someone for whom we’ve not yet played, but his reputation gets 2 dirt-caked, tattooed thumbs up. He’s been at it for years, treats bands with respect, and carries a sense of comradery. I’ve been to some of his shows and met him, he’s one of the nicest, hard working people on the planet. There aren’t enough like him. #MCM 
       John, Scott, and people like them are burning embers that remain of a once vibrant Bay Area musical clan. Who’s got some fucking straw? 
       
-So what now bitchy little millennial?- 
  
       Dude, stop calling me bitch. It's sexist and you sound like a Republican running for President...

         Now more than ever musicians need to band together - get it? band - to make sure that predatory practices like this are minimized and ideally, one day, eradicated. Right now we’re working on a system whereby local bands from similar genres are able to connect, and put together shows for the well-meaning booker (who asks bands to put bills together themselves), while maintaining large enough pools so the same bands aren’t playing together constantly and oversaturating their respective audiences. 
       Things are changing. We can smell it. The tech boom is over. We're realizing how shitty life can be without human interaction.
Here’s how an SF night might go: 
  
1) Order food at home from a delivery app service 
2) Order weed from a delivery service 
3) Play music on Spotify 
4) Go on Tinder to find someone to smash 
  
You can get an entire experience of a night out without leaving the comfort of your shitty, over-priced condo you fucking loser piece of shit. – unless you’re disabled or agoraphobic and can’t leave your shitty, overpriced condo, then that’s different.. 
  
Here’s how San Francisco nights should be again: 

1) Get some friends together (those are people we met in real life and not on World of Warcraft or Instagram), go to a shitty, dirty Chinese restaurant and eat some greasy crap. Stay off your fucking phone at the table. 
2) Call that guy you met at a party who has awesome drugs and buy them in a piss soaked alley with graffiti. Put your phone away, cops can see that shit. 
3) Go to a venue with LIVE MUSIC. Tip the door guy. Tip the bartender. Bands, tip the sound guy. See some shitty bands, see an awesome band, sign their e-mail list, buy their record, add them on Spotify. Don’t record the whole show on your phone. You’re never gonna watch that shit again. Use your brain for memory things. 
4) Delete Tinder. Lock eyes with that gorgeous punk rock chick across the room, walk up to her like a boss and get her fucking number. Then go do coke and get freaky in the bathroom. Put your phone away.

  

These are the dark days. These are the Tech Days. But light is coming. Life will be good and art will thrive again. Have hope Bay Area. We will be back.


(Thanks Chanel)

10 comments

  • Iggy

    Iggy My back porch

    Fuckin baby get over it. Life evolves and the old species die out and the mutations that adapt to changes thrive. I'm gonna go to a bar and stare at my phone all night while booking an Air Bn'b in the city, that I will take an Uber to get to, have DoorDash deliver my dinner, find someone on Craigslist to deliver me drugs and order some pussy on Backpage while listening to your music I stole from you on Torentz, all this on my phone. Just fuckin with you ;) In all honesty I completely agree with all of what you said! I'm old school and like to buy actual tangible albums and enjoy the art inside. When I go to a show in a small venue I want my money to go the the Band and the bar! I don't want to support a blood sucking service that doesn't have skin in the game!!! PS will you blow me again soon?

    Fuckin baby get over it. Life evolves and the old species die out and the mutations that adapt to changes thrive.
    I'm gonna go to a bar and stare at my phone all night while booking an Air Bn'b in the city, that I will take an Uber to get to, have DoorDash deliver my dinner, find someone on Craigslist to deliver me drugs and order some pussy on Backpage while listening to your music I stole from you on Torentz, all this on my phone.

    Just fuckin with you wink
    In all honesty I completely agree with all of what you said! I'm old school and like to buy actual tangible albums and enjoy the art inside.
    When I go to a show in a small venue I want my money to go the the Band and the bar! I don't want to support a blood sucking service that doesn't have skin in the game!!!
    PS will you blow me again soon?

  • Get up, Chucky

    Get up, Chucky Chicano U-turn

    Great Blog, bro!

    Great Blog, bro!

  • Christy Chemical

    Christy Chemical Bay Area

    I enjoyed reading this blog. Awesome points were made! Your equation says it all!!! Also, I'm typing this from an actual laptop cause I don't have or care to have a "smart phone"! Let's play shows soon.

    I enjoyed reading this blog. Awesome points were made! Your equation says it all!!! Also, I'm typing this from an actual laptop cause I don't have or care to have a "smart phone"! Let's play shows soon.

  • Trixie Rasputin

    Trixie Rasputin San Francisco

    I just felt very ripped off at my last gig by exactly what you described. The booker/club keeps first $200 in sales from the door. Are you fucking kidding me??! I'm over it, and actually I won't stand for it anymore. I am fighting tooth and nail to change these policies by working with better bookers and also confronting the management and "bookers" that operate on this piece of shit model. WE have to stand up and speak our minds and demand something better. My bands freakin rock, and yes, maintaining equipment and practice spaces is expensive. Entertainers must demand they are compensated or this hellish system will never go away. I also want to mention that local booker, Alcoholocaust, is keeping it real for Bay Area rock and punk bands. He's a real person who is at every one of his shows and he loves music and people and is super fair to bands. You never leave empty handed. Lee Sobel on the other hand lives in New York but books San Francisco shows, taking the first $100 at the door, even though he does very little to promote or even curate his shows. Beware of shady business deals, friends!

    I just felt very ripped off at my last gig by exactly what you described. The booker/club keeps first $200 in sales from the door. Are you fucking kidding me??! I'm over it, and actually I won't stand for it anymore. I am fighting tooth and nail to change these policies by working with better bookers and also confronting the management and "bookers" that operate on this piece of shit model. WE have to stand up and speak our minds and demand something better. My bands freakin rock, and yes, maintaining equipment and practice spaces is expensive. Entertainers must demand they are compensated or this hellish system will never go away. I also want to mention that local booker, Alcoholocaust, is keeping it real for Bay Area rock and punk bands. He's a real person who is at every one of his shows and he loves music and people and is super fair to bands. You never leave empty handed. Lee Sobel on the other hand lives in New York but books San Francisco shows, taking the first $100 at the door, even though he does very little to promote or even curate his shows. Beware of shady business deals, friends!

  • The Mission Seven

    The Mission Seven right behind you, so don't turn around

    I had to share your diagram on various social media (no I did not use my phone),

    I had to share your diagram on various social media (no I did not use my phone),

  • David Kaye

    David Kaye San Francisco

    As someone who has booked shows for the past 18 years I can say that the problem is the AUDIENCE. Shawn McGee sold Amnesia because he said he was tired of curating really good shows that drew no audience. He told me that he had to have DJs on his most lucrative nights, Friday and Saturday because they carried the live music during the week. I put on 2 free live shows a week at the Atlas Cafe. The Atlas pays $50 per show plus food and beverage for each performer. As such they have to triple their gross during that 2-hour show to make ends meet. That means they must make an extra $150 above what they normally would make to cover the payout plus the food and beverage. Often they barely do that. They've done it mainly to establish a reputation as a live music center. In fact, unless I can bring in more customers on Saturday nights we'll have to shut down the live music on Saturday nights. This isn't the days of the Beatles or Nirvana. People don't go out to be with their tribe anymore. They download songs, go dance to DJs, or go to music festivals. Ask any music booker how much a music festival DEVASTATES their business 2 weeks either side of the festival. Outside Lands, Treasure Island, Hardly Strictly, even distant festivals like Coachella and Burning Man KILLS OFF local live music for weeks.

    As someone who has booked shows for the past 18 years I can say that the problem is the AUDIENCE. Shawn McGee sold Amnesia because he said he was tired of curating really good shows that drew no audience. He told me that he had to have DJs on his most lucrative nights, Friday and Saturday because they carried the live music during the week.

    I put on 2 free live shows a week at the Atlas Cafe. The Atlas pays $50 per show plus food and beverage for each performer. As such they have to triple their gross during that 2-hour show to make ends meet. That means they must make an extra $150 above what they normally would make to cover the payout plus the food and beverage. Often they barely do that. They've done it mainly to establish a reputation as a live music center. In fact, unless I can bring in more customers on Saturday nights we'll have to shut down the live music on Saturday nights.

    This isn't the days of the Beatles or Nirvana. People don't go out to be with their tribe anymore. They download songs, go dance to DJs, or go to music festivals. Ask any music booker how much a music festival DEVASTATES their business 2 weeks either side of the festival. Outside Lands, Treasure Island, Hardly Strictly, even distant festivals like Coachella and Burning Man KILLS OFF local live music for weeks.

  • Alan Monasch

    Alan Monasch Union City CA and Pittsfield MA

    House concerts and Patreon. Both of these maximize value for the artists, especially those that don't have bar-worthy material. And there are venues in the Bay Area that continue to be righteous for musicians and audiences alike, including the HopMonk chainlet and Doc's Lab among others. Consider, please, how KC Turner Presents approaches the matter of connecting with venues, musicians and fans to create optimal music experiences for all; go thou and do likewise, yes?

    House concerts and Patreon. Both of these maximize value for the artists, especially those that don't have bar-worthy material. And there are venues in the Bay Area that continue to be righteous for musicians and audiences alike, including the HopMonk chainlet and Doc's Lab among others. Consider, please, how KC Turner Presents approaches the matter of connecting with venues, musicians and fans to create optimal music experiences for all; go thou and do likewise, yes?

  • Manos Lindas

    Manos Lindas

    how can we get connected to the good bookers?

    how can we get connected to the good bookers?

  • Gaviotas

    Gaviotas

    Thank you guys so much for the feedback! It's refreshing and heartening to hear what everyone is saying; the good and the bad. Because it means we're still trying and we're not alone. The Mission Seven: Share away! Trixie: I feel you. So much truth. Alan: Thank you for the info! Let's build on this Iggy: Of course I'll blow you again soon.

    Thank you guys so much for the feedback! It's refreshing and heartening to hear what everyone is saying; the good and the bad. Because it means we're still trying and we're not alone.

    The Mission Seven: Share away!
    Trixie: I feel you. So much truth.
    Alan: Thank you for the info! Let's build on this
    Iggy: Of course I'll blow you again soon.

  • Gaviotas

    Gaviotas

    [quote=David Kaye] As someone who has booked shows for the past 18 years I can say that the problem is the AUDIENCE. Shawn McGee sold Amnesia because he said he was tired of curating really good shows that drew no audience. He told me that he had to have DJs on his most lucrative nights, Friday and Saturday because they carried the live music during the week. I put on 2 free live shows a week at the Atlas Cafe. The Atlas pays $50 per show plus food and beverage for each performer. As such they have to triple their gross during that 2-hour show to make ends meet. That means they must make an extra $150 above what they normally would make to cover the payout plus the food and beverage. Often they barely do that. They've done it mainly to establish a reputation as a live music center. In fact, unless I can bring in more customers on Saturday nights we'll have to shut down the live music on Saturday nights. This isn't the days of the Beatles or Nirvana. People don't go out to be with their tribe anymore. They download songs, go dance to DJs, or go to music festivals. Ask any music booker how much a music festival DEVASTATES their business 2 weeks either side of the festival. Outside Lands, Treasure Island, Hardly Strictly, even distant festivals like Coachella and Burning Man KILLS OFF local live music for weeks. [/quote] I talked to a very respected booker and former club owner who told me exactly what you said. And I couldn't agree more. Places have to turn a profit to stay open, and rock crowds are very flaky. Something is in the works to remedy this. Here's to a bright future. Stay in touch!

    David Kaye wrote:

    As someone who has booked shows for the past 18 years I can say that the problem is the AUDIENCE. Shawn McGee sold Amnesia because he said he was tired of curating really good shows that drew no audience. He told me that he had to have DJs on his most lucrative nights, Friday and Saturday because they carried the live music during the week.

    I put on 2 free live shows a week at the Atlas Cafe. The Atlas pays $50 per show plus food and beverage for each performer. As such they have to triple their gross during that 2-hour show to make ends meet. That means they must make an extra $150 above what they normally would make to cover the payout plus the food and beverage. Often they barely do that. They've done it mainly to establish a reputation as a live music center. In fact, unless I can bring in more customers on Saturday nights we'll have to shut down the live music on Saturday nights.

    This isn't the days of the Beatles or Nirvana. People don't go out to be with their tribe anymore. They download songs, go dance to DJs, or go to music festivals. Ask any music booker how much a music festival DEVASTATES their business 2 weeks either side of the festival. Outside Lands, Treasure Island, Hardly Strictly, even distant festivals like Coachella and Burning Man KILLS OFF local live music for weeks.


    I talked to a very respected booker and former club owner who told me exactly what you said. And I couldn't agree more. Places have to turn a profit to stay open, and rock crowds are very flaky. Something is in the works to remedy this. Here's to a bright future. Stay in touch!

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