Paying the Pipers

These days it starts on Facebook: a direct message to your page and with a link to theirs. “Hi, hope you’re well. We’d love to do a gig at your pub. We’ve recently returned from a summer tour playing festivals…” This, roughly translated, means: “Hi, I’ve never met you but I’ve just spent ten minutes on the internet and I see you do live music. Me and my mate learned a few Mumford and Sons tunes and decided to play them for our parents who loved them and paid for us to travel to festivals so that we could perform to ageing hippies and people who breathe fire.
We’re now better than The Beatles, but unfortunately have to endure playing in your shithole for a hundred quid on the way up to The Albert Hall”

I love live music.
Correction. I love good live music.
Rare is it that a pub is better than when a band are smashing it to an appreciative crowd. It seems to solve all your problems: People drink faster and they’re happier – there’s seldom trouble when everyone is focussed on having a good time. Spilled drinks are met with apologies and refilled. A bash of shoulders between two strangers heading in opposite directions is laughed off when, in a different situation, it could easily be a flashpoint.
The till fills up quickly and your bar staff usually love it.

So why don’t we do it every night?

There are a couple of main reasons. Firstly, there aren’t that many good bands around. Oh there are plenty of musicians of all kinds, ranging from the X Factor wannabees – who turn up with a laptop, an amp, a speaker, a microphone and too much make-up, and expect to get paid a hundred and fifty quid to scream Celine Dion songs at you with their eyes closed – to the twelve piece soul bands that are still flogging the Commitments pony and will probably cancel the gig a month before they’re due to play because they got offered three times as much to play Gary and Matilda’s fucking wedding.

Secondly, it only really works, for most pubs, at weekends when people will spend big and get drunk. It’s not easy to make money out of a band and trying to get musicians to realise this is one of the problems. Let me explain:
If we pay a band £250 then we have to take around £500 more than we normally do on the night that they play before we hit the break-even mark. Considering that they will only be on for a couple of hours, at a time that you would normally be fairly busy anyway then this becomes a difficult equation to fathom. A landlord must also work out how much trade they cost you as they prop the front door open for 30 mins on a cold January night so that they can haul in their gear then play the same song part way through again and again whilst they tune-up, although I do enjoy it when women who have started their Saturday night drinking session early start dancing to this and moan every time it unravels and someone on the stage says something like “more echo” or “too tinny” or “my bass string’s a bit flappy”.

So the band plays and takes the plaudits and encores, and the sycophantic afterpraise as they go outside to cool off and smoke a roly, and if it’s been busy will mention to you how well they did and what a good crowd they brought in as you pay them their money, and all the time you’re thinking of how much you’ve pushed this gig, talked it up and, over the years, built up a good reputation and taken the hit when bands have failed. You think of how most of the punters in tonight were in last week for a different band and you resist the urge to tell this accountant – who puts on a leather jacket and a Joy Division T-shirt on Saturday nights so he can fulfil some boyhood dream of being a rock star – just how much you’ve contributed to the success of the night and how little praise you’ve received compared to the cheers and applause that this bloke has just milked for all that it’s worth from a crowd soaked with Jagermeister for murdering Mustang Sally.

But in the end you pay them, give them a drink, massage that rock ‘n’ roll ego and hope that they don’t ask for more money the next time they direct message you on Facebook.

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