Playing Gigs and The Los Angeles Club Scene
A lot of this will vary from place to place, but there are several types of “clubs” or, as agents like to call them, “rooms” and we can split them into two main sub-sections: Those catering to original music. Those catering to acts performing what are called “cover tunes” or known, hit songs.
The "cover tune" rooms includes bars, restaurants, hotels and to a degree lounges in casinos. As a rule acts must provide their own sound system (PA or Public Address) which including mixing board, effects (such as reverb), amplifier and speakers. Rule of thumb is 1 ½ watts of RMS (root mean squared or average) sound power per person that is in the room. Another rule of thumb is that a single act generally plays all night, often several days a week, which means they need to know at least 50 different songs – 100 would be more ideal! Acts that can handle requests are always a plus. The final commonality to most of these rooms is that they all pay money to the entertainers, starting at around $50 per person, per night.
The neighborhood where you live is probably the starting point for most bands and as a general rule you have to be of legal drinking age to play these venues, which leaves most teen acts or starting garage bands out in the cold.
Some casinos will allow performers of any age to play on the stage, provided they enter and exit only through the official backstage area, but as a general rule you should plan to be of legal gambling age before attempting the play the casinos. Also, most casinos only book heavily costumed acts and really like specialty acts, such as Elvis or Rod Stewart clones, where the front performer looks, acts and dresses like the name star they are portraying.
At places where food is served there are generally no age limits, but they often do have a limited scope of what type of music they will play, tending to favor the mellow side of the spectrum – jazz, R & B, pop, folk and light rock or a specialty act, such as country or island musicians.
Rooms that specialize in original music, as a general rule, have their own primary sound system and even a house engineer to set-up the band and mix the show. Most acts only play one set of 10 songs (about 50 minutes of time) and your position on the roster is based on your status as a performer. First and last acts are often referred to as the “dead meat” although in some of these venues the biggest headlining act may go on last. At one show I saw, which started at 8 p.m., had four opening acts plus the headliner, Warrant, who came on around 1 am!
The club, as well as the night you play are also geared towards your status. Unknown acts, for example have virtually no shot at a club such as the House Of Blues without a connection to their booking people and even then may only get a first or last slot on a Sunday night, needless to say you won’t be playing to much of an audience at midnight on a Sunday or Monday.
These days a lot of clubs in Los Angeles require bands to buy pre-sell ticket at discount prices. The bands pay $200 for 50 tickets that have a $5 face value, if the band sells all their tickets they make $50, if they don’t they lose money.
Some of these clubs also rent the venue (but not the bar or parking) with a going rate of about $2 per person for the maximum occupancy, which means if the club holds 500 people it will cost $1,000 to rent the club for a night, more for a Friday or Saturday when most of the clubs are fully packed. You also have to provide your own house engineer or pay the club’s regular mixing person. We used to get bumped from Club Lingerie in Hollywood all the time when Chris Issak was just signed to EMI/America, as they would rent the club out for industry showcases.
Most of the original showcase clubs have an actual back stage, which is missing from most bars and restaurants (but often seen at the casinos) which can be a single room for all the acts or a smaller individual room for each band in some clubs.
The routine at these clubs is virtually the same: Load-in and sound check is in the late afternoon or early evening, usually starting around 5 p.m. The last band to play sound checks first. At a lot of these clubs all the bands leave all their equipment on stage, except for the drum kits which are often placed off the side of the stage or kept back stage.
Many of these clubs also have full lighting systems with switching board and sometimes even a follow spot. A select few have a drop down curtain so the band can make a grand opening entrance.
Some clubs that don’t pre-sell tickets, sometimes pay the bands on the best nights (usually Friday and Saturday). The pay is negotiable from between $100 and $400 depending on the reputation of the act, but in most instances it’s by a take at the door from band issued tickets. The bands print their town tickets and often set their own pricing against a minimum fee. Sometimes the tickets will be 50% off the usual cover charge. The cover charge at most clubs is from between $2 and $20, depending on evening, club and act. The house keeps all general admissions not made on band tickets.
While most of the showcase clubs are booze only (hence in the U.S. you must generally be 21 to get inside), a few venues have food licenses and sell microwave food, hot dogs or even full dinners so these clubs can allow 18 year olds inside and a few may even allow all ages. These rules apply also apply to those who rent the venues in clubs with a full bar.
The very large venues are generally rental only. I’m speaking of places like Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rose Bowl, Greek Theater, Universal Amphitheater and Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. These are booked a year in advance, with blocks taken by major promoters such as Avalon Attractions, who run major touring acts. However, anyone with the funds can rent most venues. Again, the rates are around $2 to $5 per seat, which means the Rose Bowl rents for between $100,000 and $300,000 for a single day. You must provide your own security (or may have to pay for their people), liability insurance and you do not get the parking fees or in most cases the concession areas which are leased to large vendors who provide hot dogs, soft drinks and beer. You can possibly have some concession space or place your own merchandised with established vendors.
These establishments actively solicit events and promoters to take “down time” – even Madison Square Garden may have an occasional Monday in which no event of any type is played at the venue. Right now in Los Angeles the new Disney events area in Hollywood is struggling to survive and attract the right kinds of events that fit the size and equipment of the “room.” In a few years it may be impossible to get a booking at this same location once the promoters discover some unseen advantages to this new location.
All of these venues also do something that few “cover band” clubs offer: Advertisement. Most clubs take at least a 1/8th page regular running at is most of the “rags” and newspapers. Some take full page ads and usually give each act at least minimal note for date and time. Acts that pay additional fees or are major performers will get larger coverage, sometimes with a picture.
The final grouping of “rooms” to play are the establish draw venues, such as fairs and “street scenes” – these are extremely hard to get into, requiring a definite “in” and you would be surprised who or what the “in” could be! One band I worked with did the Chrysler-Bud Lite Independence Day festival, which was the place to be on the 4th of July in our area. The band’s “in” was a 10 year girl who had heard and liked the band. Her mother was on the selection board, the girl put in a good word for the band and they made the list, so never underestimate any person, place or thing. That “geek” you made fun of back in high school could turn out to be “the” person who books your area county fair and picks opening acts this year for those dates that feature Staind or Creed, both of whom will probably be doing the county and state fair circuits (last year it was Blink 182, prior to that it was Christina Aguilera).
Without an “in” you cannot even get into the “free” shows that are often offered as a part of the general admission. Even with an “in” you may only get a “dead meat” slot. At one of our “street scenes” in Los Angeles dead meat bands played half way across the area in the same time slot as Guns N Roses, so guess who got all the draw that night! Some bands were played at 9 p.m. to thinning crows, others at 8 am and even though it was on a Saturday most people are not up and running at that hour of the day!
(We took an in-depth look at Los Angeles (plus a tour of the local clubs) in our summer 2001 issue. Click on the link for more details...!)
Some other Southern California Clubs:
Chain Reaction - 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim (All Ages)
Entertainment Newspapers For Los Angeles:
Our Music Special continues with these other articles: