Live & Touring

Top 3 Ways To Know That You’re Getting Ripped Off By A Club Or Booker

image from This article from the CD Baby blog has been getting a lot of attention. As the founder of a booking agency, I sadly know just how true this tale sometimes is. Read the Top 3 Ways To Know That You’re Getting Ripped Off By A Club Or Booker and share your own experiences.

Running a music venue is hard work. Let’s get that little truth out of the way upfront. Long hours. Liquor licenses. Sound system maintenance. Booking. Oh, and, umm…dealing with musicians! (Face it: we can be a bunch of immature divas sometimes, especially when alcohol is involved.) But that doesn’t justify skimming off the top or inflating projected costs in order to earn a few extra bucks at our expense. So, here are a few things to be on the lookout for when it comes time to collect payment at the end of the night:

1. The Catering Budget – Did the club keep $250 from the door to cover “catering,” and then leave you with two cases of Budweiser and a snack platter? Yeah, they’re probably pocketing the rest for themselves.

 2. Promotional Cost – Did they print unique posters for your show and distribute them all around town? Did they run an individual print or radio ad for your show? Or did they print posters for their venue that list all the shows over the next week or two, and run an ad in the local weekly for all the shows that month? If you’re not getting special promotional attention from the venue, then your contribution to their promotional costs shouldn’t be that high. If they are, chances are the club is making every band kick in money and then giving the promotional “group-treatment” in order to earn some extra dough.

3. The “We Had to Let Some People in for Free” Excuse – Ever played a club that seemed pretty full, and then at the end of the night the door person hands you a wad of bills that seems a bit…thin? Then they tell you, “Well, it was pretty slow for a while so we decided to just let people in for free.” Yeah, that shouldn’t happen without your prior approval. Otherwise, they could be charging folks and feeding you that line so they can hang on to the cash.

Most clubs are innocent of these crimes, so I’m not saying you have to approach every gig with caution. Club owners, bartenders, bookers, door people, sound engineers, and musicians are usually all on the same team with the same goal: get people in the door, give them a good time, and make some money. But I have seen each of these 3 things happen multiple times. If you happen to be the victim, stay calm. Talk to the person in charge and tell them (with a cool head) that you don’t think their policy is quite fair given the circumstances. If they’re jerks, don’t play at their club again. If they make things right, sweet! Maybe it’ll curb such behavior in the future.

What are some other ways clubs can rip off artists? Got any horror stories of your own to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

P.S. In the comments section below, Roy Linford Adams added a few more warning signs that I thought were worth noting. He writes:

4. WE ONLY PAY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO CAME TO SEE YOU. I’ve dealt with this a few times. The fact is even IF they are asking the people what band they are there to see, it forces the person to have to choose. Maybe they are there to see ALL the bands.

5. THE EVENT IS HAVING YOU PAY JUST TO PLAY. So let’s get this right, you pay them hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars that between you and all the other bands, more than pays for the venue, promotion, and headliners. And they get to walk away with all the ticket sales? 90% of the time the turnouts for these events are terrible because the promoter already has his money. Sure he’ll tell you there’s going to be some massive turnout, that there’s going to be record label scouts, that this will “Make you carreer.” but the fact is he doesn’t have to deliver on a single one of those promises and afterwards, there’s nothing you can do about it.

6. YOU NEED TO SELL TICKETS IN ORDER TO PLAY. Let’s face it, if you can sell the 25, 50, or even 100+ tickets, you don’t need them. Rent the venue for the night, book some friend bands and sell those tickets. Typical club venues want $100-$300 for a night and the avergae ticket cost is $10, so if you’re selling 50 tickets, there’s at least $200 you’re not seeing. Why should YOU do all the work to sell tickets that you know are going to pay for the venue and more… only to let some greeseball walk away with that hard earned cash just for making half an hour’s worth of phone calls to you, the other bands, and the club????

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  1. The Fair Trade Music initiative in Portland, OR ( was started to deal with exactly these issues and let the public know which venues don’t engage in these practices. Artists here were continually upset with what they thought was unfair arrangements. Many were similar to this list and many venues have multiple of these as their “standard” arrangement. One venue has such a lopsided standard arrangement that the best you can earn if you pack the house is about half of the income from the door. Another obvious sign is that the venue makes you pay their staff to sell your merch and keeps part of the sales but is unwilling to share part of their food and drink sales with you. Obviously, CDBaby is located here as well but the initiative has been taken up in other locales. San Francisco as well as the traveling musicians of Local 1000 of the AFM.

  2. Forget about trying to make money in NYC if you’re a new band. Most places require you already have a minimum fanbase and/or they take the first varying percent of ticket sales that you’ll never see any revenue. 🙁

  3. The first 3 yes, 4 & 6….it’s all good if your band regularly draws 50 people. At that point yeah, book your own night, get some friends bands and enjoy your double scoup of ice cream.
    As a promoter I have to guarantee that people who will generate revenue for the venue show up and that it was worth the “30 minutes of phone calls” it takes to organize and promote the show. I regularly have my bands sell tickets and only pay them for tickets they sold (people that came to see them). They earn 1/2 the door after a number of tickets sold. They don’t have to pay for the tickets up front, or any unsold tickets, but if they miss the mark twice they won’t get booked again. I can’t afford to loose my overhead or worse my night because a band doesn’t draw.
    In LA there are only a few of us that aren’t pay to play and to keep the venue, the band and myself happy this is the medium. It’s not ideal, but its fair. I’m talking 50 – 150 capacity, I’m working on booking some 250 – 400 seaters for the end of the year. I’ll let you know what we work out for those.
    Saying that put one of your friends at the door to take his own count on your sales. Do a quick head count yourself and do what ever you need to to make sure your not getting ripped off, which is usually just being on top of them and letting the promoter/venue know your watching.

  4. Even simpler… ASK FOR RECEIPTS FOR EVERY DOLLAR SPENT!!!!! Know what you’re looking at, a very limited knowledge of accounting will suffice.

  5. We Charge either 100% of the door or 15% of the bar. One or the other..So far so good. Although we’ve had a few run-ins with greedy promoters, that take all the cash and blame us for drinking the 12pack of (free?) beer. But you learn your lessons, and we now typically rent the venue out and keep it all between the bands.

  6. Here’s a story about how B.B. King handles those types of guys.
    Randy Bachman (BTO, Guess Who) tells the story of when they were just starting out in the U.S., they got to play in a club where they were opening for B.B. King. At the end of the night, Randy and Burtan Cummings went to the club owner’s office to get paid. The club owner says, “Sorry, but it wasn’t a good night, I’m not going to be able to pay you. If you don’t like it, you can just F.O.” Randy and Burton were just about to leave, when B. B. walks in, sits down and asks for his money. When the guy starts to give him the same storey, B.B. reaches into his jacket, pulls out a .45 and puts it on the desk in front of him. The guy turns grey, starts sweatin’ and almost breaks his fingers divin’ into his desk to get B.B.’s money. B.B. says, “While your at it, pay these boys their money too.” “Yes Sir, Mr. King” the guy says and B.B., Randy and Burton all walk out with all their money.
    Money talks. Some things talk louder.

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