By Steve Sarkowsky
When blues musicians get together in the Jet City, there is occasionally much bitching about the current state of the club scene. The voice always missing from this discussion is the club owner's. Well, no more! Steve Sarkowsky (below), the Man Behind the Curtain at Seattle's Highway 99 Blues Club, gives us his perspective on this issue here.
Highway 99 Blues Club. I do all he booking, marketing, ads and such for the club. I have been a working musician (yes, drummers are that!) for many years, and have played/recorded with a long list of bands and continue to enjoy music as much as ever. I am currently playing with the Highway 99 All-Stars and also with Portland's Robbie Laws in his Bigger Blues Band. My reason for writing this article is to shine some light on the nightclub business by speaking from the club/booking perspective. Maybe this will provide some insight, inspiration, or just some direction for artists and bands that continue to complain about (not) getting work. Here then are my thoughts...
Have you been to the club you are trying to get a gig in? Do you know that they book the type of music that you play? Have you gone into the club and met the staff, supported other acts, introduced yourself, had some food, and dropped off your promo package? Are you being realistic about your chances of being booked into the venue? Do your homework; spend some time and figure out what the club does and why you should be a part of it.
You have a CD now - big deal...everyone does! Make sure that it is a good product; if you have to defend it, don't bother. Bad CD's = no gig. Want to send a copy? Great, label it and make sure that Mott the Hoople’s greatest hits have been erased! Most importantly, is this actually you and your band? If what you send is not what you are going to bring, that is no good. Clubs want truth in advertising.
Does your family come to your gigs? Do you know and willingly embrace the art of promoting your band? Let's face it, when the club is empty it is always the band's fault, but when the club is full, it is because of the club. Truth be told, it is a little of both. If you don't promote your gig at the club you won't be back. Be progressive; take advantage of technology and develop your audience. It's shocking, but clubs don't really like having no one show up for your gigs.
The Clever Factor – Or, why is that band working and we're not? Do ya have it? Good promo, nice merchandise, strong CD's, cool giveaways (SWAG), and a show....that's right kids, you gotta entertain the troops. How do you and the band look? Is the set list the same since '84? Do you just call some players up that day and get together and jam? Who is actually in the band? Will they be on the gig? Do they know your material, or is it gonna be shuffles in G all night?
Show you the money? Show me the money! Stop bitchin' about the money today being the same as 15 years ago. You’re right and you're wrong. It is the same because you have not raised the bar on what you do. Good bands get good money. If you have fans come to your shows then you and the venue can prosper. You want the same money as a 25 year veteran of the Chicago blues scene who is on a label and tours every spring and summer? Guess again. You want the kind of money that a band that is rehearsed, consistent, entertaining, does those things previously mentioned here and works at getting better as a band? No problem. Work at your craft, love the music, cherish the time you get to perform and the people that play with you. Appreciate the gift of your musical talent, challenge yourself to be creative and to strive to improve. It will make a difference.
Some final thoughts: Remember, if there were not places that presented live music, you would have nowhere to play. Clubs are at best a risky, expensive, potentially life altering experience. They require your support as a musician and as a patron. It means a lot to a club when the musicians hang out there on their off nights. We are in the entertainment business. Each time a person visits our club, we have to try to make sure that they have a memorable experience - the service, the food, the drinks, the staff, the atmosphere, and of course the music. We are doing our part, don't let us down. Bring your best or stay at home. Music is its own universe. It needs to be fed, supported, and thrilled every day. Will you…just do it?