This is an email I just received from a booker. Coincidentally, the following quote did not come from New York, but it is the exact same self-destructive approach to the music "scene" that we ran into nearly everywhere we played there (with a few exceptions, especially dearly departed Stain, R.I.P.) and that ultimately sparked our relocation:
"playing *name withheld* is more about how many people you can bring to the party and not how well the band plays. we do not have a built in crowd. the band brings them. this is my only business and quality of music comes second to the business side right now."
All I can really think is no wonder they don't have a built in crowd. How can you divide the "quality of music" and the "business side" if music is your business? A live music venue is a place people go to hear music. Will they go there if the music isn't good?
Especially in a smaller city where there aren't as many places to go, wouldn't you want to establish yourself as the bar with really arse-kickin' tunes? Even if it takes extra leg work and promotion at first, you'll establish a loyal crowd instead of relying on a bunch of bands to bring in their friends.
And how about this: if the bands lack quality, are their friends going to come to more than one show? Even if they do ever come back- if all they hear is bad music, will they ever return? Instead, won't they go tell all their friends about what a terrible show they saw at this place? Is that the kind of word of mouth you want spreading about your only business?
If you come to be known as the bar that books crappy bands, far from attracting any kind of crowd, you will repel it. It's like a burger joint saying they can't buy beef because they have to focus on the business side of things for awhile.
The question shouldn't be "Why didn't the band bring anyone?" but instead, "Why isn't there anyone in the bar?"
This is certainly not to say that all the bands that play at venues with this attitude are bad. And in this person's tragic defense, they did imply that our band plays well, which we always appreciate :), and they didn't say we couldn't play, they just put their hands up in the air and said we could try to hook up with one of the headlining bands they've already booked. They also took the trouble to respond at all, which was very kind.
I'm also happy to report that now that we've moved, this approach seems to be the exeption and not the rule. We've found many wonderful (and crowded) venues that we're pleased to return to and that are fostering a healthy music scene.
This music vs. business attitude has just always baffled us because it is so clearly a case of cutting your nose off to spite your face. And I've rarely seen it layed out so clearly.
I'd be really interested to know other people's thoughts on this. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined.