If you charge them, they will STILL come...

Sparks Of Insanity By Vinny "Bond" Marini Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memphis, TN - Home Of The Blues & The Birthplace Of Rock & Roll...

yup, that is what the signs say.

Unfortunately, over the last number of years things have changed drastically and they might have to add ...and the graveyard of the blues.

Why is that you ask? well, it is amazing what less than a year of talking to local musicians can do to your attitude about a place...

The place in question is the infamous Beale Street.

Let's look at a paragraph on Beale Street:

In the 1960s, Beale became run down and many stores closed, although on May 23, 1966, the section of the street from Main to 4th was declared a National Historic Landmark.

On December 15, 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the Home of the Blues by an act of Congress. Despite this national recognition of its historic significance, Beale was a virtual ghost town after a disastrous urban renewal program with every building except Schwabs boarded up. It was not until the 1980s that Beale Street was redeveloped by Elkington & Keltner (now Performa Entertainment Real Estate) which led to an economic revitalization with new clubs and attractions opening.

Ah...saviors...Elkington & Keltner...YAY...or BOO, depending upon how you feel about music.

You see, today Beale is bustling. There are many clubs and three new ones opened in the last 6 months.

The problem? Simple...the club owners don't pay. Nada...or almost nada that is. A 5 piece band playing a 4-hour set is offered anywhere from $200 and maybe a bit more. Think about that. Less than $40 a person for 4 hours of work...SLAVE WAGES.

During the day on weekdays and weekends, and even at night at most clubs, the bands plying their trade are not paid at all and work off of tips from customers.

This is the street where national acts used to want to play. Where people like Buddy Guy or James Cotton would join a band on stage and wail away.

Now...not so much.

The bands I know all look forward to going on the road and getting paid for their efforts.

It seems that Memphis music is appreciated everywhere but in Memphis.

Recently, the city took back Beale from Performa Entertainment Real Estate. Now, the mayor is putting together a council to discuss how to save the Beale Street district.

The bars all have outside speakers that blare music...Rap, hip-hop, rock and yes, some blues. On Sunday as I strolled down the street on my way to see Victor Wainwright, Josh Roberts and Greg Gumpel play I could not even make out what songs were playing it was so loud.

Victor and Greg play in the Wildroots, Josh is Reba's guitar player. They played from 7pm - 11pm; three sets. Why do they do it? Because they love to play.

If I calculate that every person that put something in the tip jar added $10, I bet they made no more than $50 each for the night...These three guys will be traveling to Norway in about a month where their bands will be viewed as stars, playing to thousands if not tens of thousands.

Thousands and get paid, or 50 people and maybe pay for pancakes at IHOP afterward...which would you choose? Many of the bands that played Beale in the past, choose the former and you can't see them on Beale.

One of the clubs goes totally urban at night and it has caused problems on the street with fights and the like.

This is a link to a very well written article by Mr. Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, who is the harp and keyboard player for the Reba Russell band. He also plays on Beale with the Eric Hughes Band, where they work for tips or get paid the minimum. Why? Because he loves to play.

In his article, he makes some excellent suggestions for the club owners and the city to try and save this wonderful area and the music it breeds.

Do you have a music area in your town? Do they charge a cover to see the local bands?

There is an old adage in business that if you give something for free, the perception is that is what it is worth. If you charge (even a small fee - $5/head), the perception is you are getting something for your money.

I believe it is time that the city of Memphis and the club owners on Beale Street realize they have something special and the tourists who come here will still come even if they have to pay a few dollars.

Last night, this was a subject I had planned to discuss with Reba Russell..she also sent an open letter to the mayor's council on Sunday and I knew it would be more than a few minutes discussion.

How does she feel? You can listen to the archive of the show HERE or just see the player at the top of this page.

Reba's open letter to the Mayor's Council (she did it in all caps, not me)

GUYS...SOME THOUGHTS

WHILE ONE CANNOT LEAVE OUT OTHER GENRE'S OF MUSIC ON BEALE, IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR BLUES TO BE THE FOCUS? HIP-HOP, ROCK, COUNTRY, AND POP ARE NOT WHAT TOURISTS COME TO SEE ON BEALE. NOR DO THEY EXPECT THAT AT MIDNIGHT ON WEEKENDS THE STREET FLIPS TO A DANCE CLUB ATMOSPHERE, FILLED WITH THUGGISH YOUNG PEOPLE HANGING OUT AND LOOPED BEATS POUNDING FROM OUTDOOR SPEAKERS. AT THE VERY LEAST, ALL OUTDOOR SPEAKERS SHOULD BE PLAYING BLUES EVEN IF THE MUSIC INSIDE IS NOT BLUES. BETTER YET, NO OUTDOOR SPEAKERS AT ALL UNLESS IT IS WHAT IS BEING PLAYED BY REAL MUSICIANS INSIDE. IF THERE IS GOING TO BE A FACADE, LET IT BE BLUES.

OUR LOCAL MUSICIANS ARE GREAT AND BEALE NEEDS TO SUPPORT THEM, HOWEVER, THE FACT THAT TOURING BANDS NO LONGER MAKE BEALE A REGULAR STOP ON THEIR TOURS HURTS THE ATTENDANCE OF LOCAL PATRONS. THE REASON NO TOURING ACTS COME TO BEALE THESE DAYS IS BECAUSE OF THE PAY SCALE AND THE SOUND REQUIREMENTS. THE LOCAL ACTS WHO PLAY SEMI-REGULARLY HAVE DRIVEN THE WAGES DOWN CONSIDERABLY. THE CLUBS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS FACT THUS THE ENTIRE COMPLETION OF THE STREET HAS CHANGED FROM TOP QUALITY ACTS TO SHUCK AND JIVE BALONEY, COVER BANDS, SINGLES AND TRIOS. THIS IS EMBRACED BY CLUB OWNERS SO THAT THEY CAN KEEP THE WAGES LOW. THE ONLY TIME BEALE IS TRULY BLUES IS DURING BLUES FOUNDATION EVENTS. ONE OF WHICH IS THE IBC'S. HOW SAD THAT ENDEAVOR IS FOR THE BANDS. THE SOUND EQUIPMENT IN THE CLUBS IS HORRIBLE. ALL THESE FOLKS WORK SO HARD COMPETING TO GET TO BEALE ONLY TO HAVE THEIR PERFORMANCES SUBJECTED TO CRAPPY SOUND. IN THE MANY YEARS I HAVE ATTENDED THE IBC'S AND LISTENED TO "FULL BANDS" PLAYING, I HAVE NEVER REALLY HEARD ANY VOCALS. IT'S ALL MUD. HELL, THAT GOES FOR EVERYDAY DOWN THERE. THE ONLY CLUBS WITH ADEQUATE (NOT STELLAR) SOUND ARE BB KINGS, THE NEW DAISY, AND RUM BOOGIE. THE REST SUCK. IN MY TRAVELS ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND EVEN IN OTHER COUNTRIES, THE BANDS I HAVE A CHANCE TO SPEAK TO ASK ALL THE TIME...WHAT HAPPENED TO BEALE? THEY SAY, YEAH, WE USED TO PLAY THERE A FEW TIMES A YEAR BUT NOW IT ISN'T WORTH OUR TIME. WHEN I THINK OF THE ACTS THAT USED TO PLAY ON BEALE IT IS SUCH A SHAME TO SEE WHAT IT HAS BEEN REDUCED TO. THE CLUBS ARE ABSOLUTELY STAGNATE WITH THE STATUS QUO.

IN OTHER MUSIC DISTRICTS ACROSS THE U.S. THERE IS A COVER CHARGE OR AT THE VERY LEAST A DRINK MINIMUM. BEALE NOW SEEMS TO BE TOUTING FREE MUSIC, BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN GET MORE PEOPLE IN. I AM NO EXPERT, BUT WHEN YOU MAKE SOMETHING EXCLUSIVE, MORE PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED. TO LET PEOPLE IN FREE TO A PLACE WHERE LIVE MUSIC IS BEING PLAYED SCREAMS...HEY THIS BAND IS MEDIOCRE! BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY TO SEE THEM SO COME ON IN! NO COVER MEANS LESS PAY FOR THE BAND, WOULDN'T IT BE BETTER TO SAY...DAMN RIGHT YOU'RE GOING TO PAY TO GET IN HERE BECAUSE THE MUSICIANS WE HAVE IN HERE CAN PLAY! TOURISTS EXPECT TO PAY A COVER CHARGE OR A DRINK MINIMUM. TO HAVE A FEW FREE NIGHTS A WEEK IS FINE ON A NIGHT WHEN YOU HAVE A SINGLE, DUO, OR TRIO PLAYING, HOWEVER, A FULL BAND OF "MEMPHIS" MUSICIANS IS WORTH AT THE VERY LEAST $5.

NOW...MEMPHIS MUSICIANS....WE ARE BROKE DOWN AND BEAT UP. WE HAVE BEEN SHOWN TIME AND TIME AGAIN WHAT BEALE THINKS OF US, WHAT THE CITY THINKS OF US, WHAT THE PUBLIC THINKS OF US...AND THAT IS, YEAH...BIG DEAL, SO WHAT, WHO CARES. WE'VE LIVED IT SO LONG, NOW WE BELIEVE IT. WE HAVE THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME, WE LOVE AND WORK FOR OUR OPPRESSORS...WE'LL TAKE ANY GIG, ANY WHERE JUST TO GET TO PLAY. WE'LL EAT THE SHIT HANDED TO US ON A GARBAGE CAN LID AND CONSIDER OURSELVES LUCKY TO GET THAT. MAN..WE PLAY ON BEALE STREET!! WE'RE BROKE AND WE CAN'T MAKE A LIVING BUT ISN'T THAT WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT? ISN'T THAT WHAT ALL THE OLD BLUES GUYS DID? AREN'T WE COOL THAT WE CAN BE LIKE THEM AND SUFFER FOR OUR ART? VERY, VERY FEW CAN EKE OUT A LIVING, YET THE CLUB OWNERS ARE MILLIONAIRES. OF COURSE THEY WILL NEVER ADMIT IT.. BUT IF YOU GO BY ONE OF THEIR HOMES I CAN TELL YOU, IT AIN'T A SHACK, AND THERE ARE NO CARS UP ON BLOCKS, OR EVICTION NOTICES ON THE DOOR. THEY WANT US TO BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE STRUGGLING TOO, AND THAT "WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER". BULLSHIT. LUCKILY THE CREAM RISES TO THE TOP AND THOSE WHO HAVE THE GUMPTION AND THE TALENT EVENTUALLY LEARN THERE IS A GREAT BIG WORLD OUT THERE WITH FOLKS WILLING TO PAY WELL, TREAT YOU WELL, AND A PUBLIC THAT APPRECIATES GREAT MUSICIANSHIP. THOSE PEOPLE (LIKE ME) LEAVE AND NEVER LOOK BACK.

THE ONLY REASON I GIVE A DAMN AT ALL IS BECAUSE I LOVE MUSICIANS. ALL OF MY BAND MEMBERS PLAY ON BEALE WITH OTHER BANDS AND IT PISSES ME OFF TO SEE THEM BEING PAID $6O-$80 A NIGHT. I WILL NOT PLAY ON BEALE AT ALL. WHY SHOULD I? WHAT DOES BEALE HAVE TO GIVE ME? IT IS NOT A SPOTLIGHT AND HASN'T BEEN FOR A VERY LONG TIME. IT IS A SLAVE LABOR JOB NOT A CREATIVE MECCA. $60? i DON'T SING A DAMN JINGLE FOR $60.

IN THE 80'S MY BAND PLAYED MONDAY NIGHTS AT BB KINGS FOR $650. I PLAYED THE RUM BOOGIE FOR THE SAME AND EVEN MORE ON SPECIAL EVENTS. SO NOW THEY ARE SAYING THAT THE TOP PAY SCALE IS $300-$400...BUT HEY! YOU CAN ASK FOR TIPS AND SELL YOUR CD'S! HUH> WHAT? OH, AND YOU GET TO PAY TO PARK, NO BREAK ON ALCOHOL, AND YOU COULD EVEN GET A TICKET FOR LOADING IN AND OUT! OH BOY! WHERE DO I SIGN UP!? THE POORMOUTHING THAT COMES OUT OF THESE CLUB OWNERS IS SOOO RIDICULOUS. STILL, MUSICIANS BUY INTO IT BECAUSE THEY ARE HUNGRY TO PLAY, AND BECAUSE IN THEIR HEARTS THEY KNOW AND UNDERSTAND WHAT BEALE STREET WAS AND RESPECT IT AND CHERISH IT.

THIS PANEL THAT THE MAYOR HAS PUT TOGETHER IS A REFRESHING CHANGE IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS, HOWEVER, IN MY HEART OF HEARTS I DO NOT SEE MUCH HOPE FOR ANY REAL LASTING CHANGE. JUST ANOTHER VEHICLE FOR THE CLUBS TO GET SOME PROPER'S FOR LISTENING AND PERHAPS MAKING SOME CONCESSIONS ABOUT THE FACADE OF THE STREET...BUT NO REAL CHANGE FOR MUSICIANS. IF ANYTHING IS ACCOMPLISHED IT WILL BE THE PANEL, THE CITY GOV, AND THE CLUB OWNERS WHO WILL RECIEVE THE ACCOLADES, NOT MUSICIANS. (EXCEPT THOSE ON THE PANEL)

MY MAIN BITCH OVER ALL THESE YEARS HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE FACT THAT MUSICIANS ARE THE ONES WHO MAKE THIS CITY A DESTINATION FOR TOURISTS, YET THEY ARE TREATED LIKE NOBODYS. MUSICIANS ARE THE FACES PEOPLE REMEMBER. MUSICIANS ARE THE ONES MINGLING WITH, TALKING TO, AND SELLING MEMPHIS TO TOURISTS, NOT THE CLUB OWNERS. MUSICIANS ARE THE FRONT LINE OF ALL INCOME THAT COMES TO THE CITY VIA TOURISM....NOT KEVIN KANE, NOT AC WHARTON, YOU MR. JAY S, BUD CHITHAM, TOMMY PETERS, PRESTON LAMM...ETC...THE PEOPLE MEET THE MUSICIANS. MUSICIANS ARE THE MEET-ERS AND GREET-ERS, HANDSHAKERS, BABY KISSERS...MUSICIANS ARE THE IMAGE, THE DRAW, THE TAGLINE FOR MEMPHIS. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND THAT FACT. TAKE MUSICIANS OUT OF THE FORMULA AND ALL YOU HAVE IS ANOTHER TOWN FROM ANYWHERE USA. WELL, I GUESS YOU CAN SAY THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER IS A BIG ATTRACTION..BUT YOU CAN'T REALLY SPEAK TO OR HUG THE RIVER, AND SHE RUNS IN MANY OTHER CITIES TOO. OUR MUSICIANS ARE THE NUMBER ONE ASSET IN MEMPHIS.

THE WAY TO CHANGE OR DIRECT THE FOCUS ONTO MUSICIANS IS TO MAKE THEM A PRIOITY. MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD, MAKE THEM SOUND GOOD, MAKE THEM A BIGGER TAX BASE BY PAYING DECENT WAGES. HELP THEM TO SELL THEIR PRODUCT, MAKE THE PUBLIC PAY FOR THE PRIVILEDGE TO SEE AND HEAR THEM. MUSICIANS WOULD THEN HELP THE ECONOMY..BUY MORE GEAR, BUY HOMES, PAY MORE TAXES, SPEND MORE MONEY IN STUDIOS AND MANUFACTURING, ARTWORK, LEGAL ASSISTANCE ETC...PERHAPS THEY WOULD EVEN CREATE JOBS THROUGH PUBLISHING, SONGWRITING, MARKETING ETC...THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH IS THERE, AND IF GIVEN HALF A CHANCE MUSICIANS CAN CREATE AN EVEN BETTER MEMPHIS THROUGH DIVERSITY. MUSIC AND THE ARTS IS ONE AREA WHERE THERE IS VERY LITTLE DISCRIMINATION. RACIAL BIAS IS ALMOST NON-EXISTENT IN MUSIC....ALWAYS HAS BEEN, ALWAYS WILL BE. THE MUSIC COMMUNTITY IS A SAFE PLACE TO BE ANY RACE, CREED, OR RELIGION. TOUT THAT FOR GOODNESS SAKES!

OK, THANKS FOR BEING WILLING TO READ THIS AND FOR BEING ON THE PANNEL GUYS. I SINCERELY HOPE AND PRAY THAT SOMETHING GOOD COMES FROM ALL YOUR EFFORTS AND THAT IT CAN BE A NEW DAY FOR MUSICIANS WHO GIVE THE BEST YEARS OF THEIR LIVES, THEIR ENORMOUS TALENTS, THEIR HEARTS, SOULS, BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS TO ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS STREETS IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN MUSIC.

8 Of Your Sparks

  1. Jay Says:
  2. I agree that there should be cover charges and the bands should get paid. I'm amazed that there aren't any already. No cover charge sends a message to people that the band isn't worth paying for and that just isn't the case.

     
  3. ...I don't buy the theory on cover charges...a cover charge does not a good band make...haven't you ever paid a cover charge to see a mediocre band? I have. And I have walked the streets of Nashville and gone into many bars to see excellent music for free...I understand musicians wanting to be paid better, but who doesn't?...

     
  4. TechnoBabe Says:
  5. Your post shows how your support the local music and want the musicians as well as the patrons to be happy. You have some good thoughts and I applaud you for supporting what you believe in and being part of your community.

     
  6. JAY: We are not talking about $20-$30 here...a $5-$10 cover will allow for the bands to get some decent wages for their skills

    PHFRANKIE: Sure, I agree a cover does not make for a good band, and no one is asking for $1000 paychecks here...but $200 for 5 people for 4 hours of work is ridiculous

    TECHNOBABE: I love music..I support live music anywhere. Reba did mention last evening she has received emails from other bands in other cities where this is also happening.

     
  7. I also don't believe that the cover charge is validation of the quality of the band inside, but as was said, a lack of cover charge MIGHT indicate that the music is not worth it. It's debatable either way. Still, if one wants country, one thinks of Nashville. When it comes to Memphis, one thinks of blues and Elvis. For cryin' out loud, what is so FREAKIN' hard about sticking with one's brand image? Marketing is NOT rocket science, people. If you have a brand, then you stick with what sells. When sales lag for reasons other than economy, then you 'TWEAK', not necessarily do a major overhaul.

     
  8. Travis Cody Says:
  9. If I'm going to a club, or several, to see a band play, I expect to pay a cover charge. In my mind, that's money for the band. The club is making money off alcohol and food sales.

    If I walk into a club that doesn't charge me to see the band, then the I go deep pockets on the tip jar.

    A musician may play because he or she loves to play, but that's no excuse not to pay a reasonable wage when they get on stage at a club.

     
  10. Tug Says:
  11. The research you put into your posts is amazing Vinny, simply amazing. I agree a $5-$10 cover charge is not too much, but I also think that liquor usually has a HUGE markup; especially mixed drinks (not straight up or on the rocks). Maybe have a specialized drink (nothing fancy) for each band that plays & pay a portion of those drinks sold towards the band as well? Keg beer does as well - serve pitchers with portions going to the band? Little things can add up, and the effort is usually appreciated.

     
  12. DrillerAA09 Says:
  13. Time doesn't permit me to read all of Reba's letter, but I read enough to agree completely with her.
    Maybe the Memphis council and a few of the club owners should take a field trip to 6th street in Austin or Bourbon Street New Orleans. I don't know if the bands are well paid, but the primary music genre, blues, is well protected.
    I can't speak much to the pay scale. It seems that low pay is a part of the musicians life, until they hit the big time. It's a shame, but that's the way it is.

     

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