Bars and clubs in Ireland are in trouble. That won’t be news to anyone – outside of the major cities – who has been in one on a Saturday night recently. One of the reasons for this is that many have stopped booking live music. Now, I understand the dilemma bar and club owners face: they can’t afford to pay X amount of Euros to a band only to have two people sitting at the bar watching them. But, conversely, if there isn’t live music in a pub, people are not going to go out.
So, they have tried to come up with a quick fix solution: replacing live music with DJs. Because DJs are cheaper. But the big difference between the DJ and the live musician is that, while people will listen to a DJ in a bar, they’ll listen to the music as background music while they chat. But live music will actually bring people into a pub. A DJ won’t do that. People faced with the prospect of getting ready, booking a taxi (and possibly a babysitter), and heading out to a pub to listen to a DJ playing songs they’ve been listening to all day on the radio will oftentimes just buy a couple of bottles of plonk in Lidl and opt to stay home.
So … venues need live bands. But there are two major problems with this.
Problem Number One: Money
Or the lack thereof. Because – for some bizarre reason – bar and nightclub owners don’t want to pay bands. I say bizarre because, in any other business, where would expect to get a service supplied to you free of charge? As a case in point, the following is something that has been doing the rounds on social media for some time.
The reply is funny but the original ad is 100% genuine. And it proves the point.
Problem Number Two: Expecting the band to supply the crowd
Jazz musician, Dave Goldberg, addressed this in An Open Letter to Venue Owners
This is where the club owner needs to take over. It is their success or their failure on the line, not the musician. The musician can just move on to another venue. I’ve played places where for whatever reason only a few people have walked in the door on a Saturday night. The club owner got mad at me, asking where are the people? I turned it around on him asking the same thing? Where are all the people? It’s Saturday night and your venue is empty. Doesn’t that concern you? What are you going to do about it? Usually their answer is to find another band with a larger following. This means the professional bands get run out of the joint in favour of whoever can bring in the most people.
But here’s where the club owner doesn’t get it. The crowd is following the band, not the venue. The next night you will have to start all over again … The goal should be to build a fan base of the venue. To get people that will trust that you will have good music in there every night.
So, what’s the solution? Venue owners have to bring the music back but it means being creative. And this applies equally to musicians. There needs to be a much more proactive approach by both musicians and venue owners at getting the word out about their respective gigs and venues. Venue owners and musicians became complacent during the boom times. The owners thought they could book any old band to entertain the crowds and musicians thought they could just turn up without any advertising and there would be a ready-made crowd there. And that was often the case. Not anymore.
There now needs to be a partnership between the owners and the musicians. And it needs to be more than just a band turning up to play a gig. There needs to be some fresh new ideas. Come up with themed nights: if it’s a bar that likes rock music have an AC/DC or a Rolling Stones night; if it’s a bar that likes Irish music, have a Christy Moore tribute night. Have a request night where the musician passes around a book of songs and the audience get to choose which one the musician plays. Or – if you like your improv – just do what Springsteen does and have the crowd shout random covers at you. You might not be able to play all the requests but, sometimes, trying to is half the fun.
And that’s what it should be about these days: fun. There are so many venues in this country that look like a morgue on a Saturday night. It’s time to bring the fun – and the live music – back into them.
© Derek Flynn 2015
(Click on images for credits)