Monday, February 4, 2008

A Marriage of Convenience?

It seems to me that ever since there have been shows, there have been bookers. While bands and bookers should be able to get along, I'm constantly amazed by the lack of respect and carelessness with which bookers treat bands. (I'm sure this goes both ways, but having never been a booker I have no experience.)

I recently played a show at a local club. We played the club several months ago and were very poorly paid. The booker/promoter/club representative told us the he would make up for this the next time we played and that we would be treated and paid better. So we agreed to play one more time and, lo and behold, we were treated worse and paid less. Our guitar player discretely waited until the end of the night and then tore strip off of the guy who booked us, promising that we would never play there again.

It's amazing to me how often bookers feel that they are doing a band of favor by hiring them, regardless of what they pay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the line "Well, you do this because you love it" while I'm being handed less than half of what I was promised in payment. Or how many times I've driven several hours for a show, pay less than promised with the rationalization that I received "a lot of exposure." (People die of exposure.) You would never go to anyone else and slight them on their payment, much less tell them that the enjoyment they got from providing the service was worth the amount you withheld. Next time you're at a restaurant, tell the server you're not going to tip because you think he/she got a lot of enjoyment out of serving you. See what happens.

In economics there is a theory of compensating wage differentials which argues, in essence, that the utility and individual derives from an activity includes pecuniary and nonpecuniary components of the activity. Equilibrium (i.e., no people switching across activities) implies that all activities yield the same utility (otherwise people would move to those activities yielding higher levels of utility). I think bookers just assume this as a “golden rule for bands” and hence feel okay paying musicians little. On top of this, or as a result of it, bookers also seem to feel that they can be dishonest with the band, in our case telling us that will be better treated yet treating us worse.

For at least the club in question last Friday night, their behavior has been self-defeating: News of our misadventure with the club has been communicated to most of the local bands and, at least in our circle of bands, shows are being refused and/or canceled. However, the only real losers in this will be fans of ours who won't be able to see us a particular club. I feel particularly bad since I've been asked to come down to a jam host of the club on Wednesdays, sit in, and potentially talk to a couple people interested in taking lessons with me.

Wait a minute, maybe on the loser in this.

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