Why do cover bands make money?

Red Ryder

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Posts
1,405
Age
67
Location
Sulphur Springs Tx.
I was in a saloon in a remote part of the desert one night when a guy doing a solo act got money from everyone in the bar. He didnt play covers or originals. He had a .38, I even threw 5 bucks in his pillow case.
 

Ronzo

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Posts
1,966
Age
70
Location
South Florida, USA
Respectfully, I think you've missed the point. As I told telemnemonics above, I'm not defending or endorsing this state of affairs (or any philosophy or agenda), I'm simply describing the situation that exists. I've spent a lot of time working with bands in various capacities, and I've found that most of them have absolutely no clue about the reality of the music business at the club level. It's a harsh world of social Darwinism dictated by the economics of alcohol sales and precious little else. As a starry-eyed 18 year old I had no clue about it myself.

Club owners and bookers do not care about your music. They only care about your ability to produce revenue for their business. Once you've figured that out, it's a much easier world to navigate. High minded idealism is great, but it won't get you a repeat booking at Dave's Sports Bar if you played to an empty room, and it sure won't get Dave to give you any gas money if he's in the red for the night. Patrons care even less, they have a wider variety of entertainment options than ever before (Escape Rooms are a thing? Really?) and live bands are no longer de rigueur for nightspots. Live bands bring less value to the market than ever before, and a sense of entitlement will get you exactly nowhere. The US is a very different market than Scandinavia, where governments are willing to spend money to promote the musical arts. Here's it's just the cold, merciless logic of pure capitalism.

Don't hate the player, hate the game.
If you check my profile, you’ll see that I’m not a young player starting out in this business. I’m 70. Started playing with at age 11. Played my first paying gigs at “Going to Vietnam” parties at the local VFW/American Legion halls at age 13. Played private parties and fraternity parties at 15. Played bars at age 16, mainly because I was a lot bigger than most kids my age. Went to the Salvation Army for a used tux and worked for a wedding office when I wasn’t quite 18. Pulled the plug on music at age 22, after marrying and fathering a daughter. Re-entered the music business in my mid-30s, as a partner in a MIDIband. My partners and I all had good day jobs, and we treated it as a Business. No delusions of a record deal or fame. If we weren’t making money, it wasn’t worth the time to us. We worked all over the NYC Metro Area. NO job without a contract, which had terms and conditions for stage power safety and code adherence. We developed one of the first electronic press kits. Contract and other negotiations done via email, in the early to mid 80’s.

So, I hope you understand that I found the post quoted above condescending.

One thing I’ve never done is perform original music with a band. I have nothing to say artistically as a composer. But I’ve a pretty fair grip on what the general public enjoys, and how to put a song over.

For the last 20 plus years, I’ve avoided having to hustle gigs in the South Florida market. I’ve done worship music as a choir director and organizer/player of Special Music for my Church. Hustling gigs is a young person’s game. I’ve opted out of that.

I agree with you that bar/venue owners are only interested in income. Most of them I’ve worked with are poor business people who don’t understand their market and what drives it. Most seem to run their businesses as adjuncts to their chaotic personal lives. Case in point: the foolishness relating to ASCAP/BMI/(insert licensing company) licenses for music. These fees should be small change to a working business, part of the “cost of doing business”. Instead, some bar/venue owners cry about these costs… while they’re pouring free drinks to their “customers”. CUSTOMERS PAY. They don’t freeload. The bar/restaurant business has margins that are terribly low. Owners typically overfocus on cost control because they don’t know any other way to balance their books. Instead, if they examined their business to stimulate higher-paying customers to patronize them (and knew how to write a proper business plan to make sure an idea will work), they could be more successful with less stress and fear.

TL/DR: You’re correct that this is a business, not an artist’s colony. Expectations need to be managed to expect the difference. And, please don’t be condescending toward people whose history you don’t know.
 

beyer160

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 11, 2010
Posts
5,232
Location
On Location
I agree with you that bar/venue owners are only interested in income. Most of them I’ve worked with are poor business people who don’t understand their market and what drives it. Most seem to run their businesses as adjuncts to their chaotic personal lives. Case in point: the foolishness relating to ASCAP/BMI/(insert licensing company) licenses for music. These fees should be small change to a working business, part of the “cost of doing business”. Instead, some bar/venue owners cry about these costs… while they’re pouring free drinks to their “customers”. CUSTOMERS PAY. They don’t freeload. The bar/restaurant business has margins that are terribly low. Owners typically overfocus on cost control because they don’t know any other way to balance their books. Instead, if they examined their business to stimulate higher-paying customers to patronize them (and knew how to write a proper business plan to make sure an idea will work), they could be more successful with less stress and fear.
Yep, small businesses in general are usually poorly run on a business level. Whatever skill/interest people have that leads them to start a business (carpentry, pro audio, restaurant, bar, whatever) is totally different than the skills needed to run a business (finances, marketing, etc), as you've pointed out. The fact that bar owners count on cover bands themselves to put butts in seats is backwards, but that is the prevailing model and most musicians don't understand it when they first encounter it because it's illogical.

For original bands it makes sense- people go see the Stones because they want to see the Stones, not because they enjoy seeing bands at the local sports stadium.
TL/DR: You’re correct that this is a business, not an artist’s colony. Expectations need to be managed to expect the difference. And, please don’t be condescending toward people whose history you don’t know.
Please understand that nothing I've posted is directed at any single person. This isn't personal correspondence, everyone can read the responses- maybe one or two of them don't have your background and can gain some insight. The post you're referring to wasn't written to educate you personally on the perils of the live music business, it was more about expanding on a topic I'd previously touched on.
 

String Tree

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Dec 8, 2010
Posts
18,213
Location
Up North
@Jakedog observes in another thread that cover bands make money, and certainly more money than bands doing originals.

I believe him, but I find it hard to believe. Anything a cover band can do, a good sound system with wifi can do better and cheaper. There is way more risk in hiring a cover band than in piping canned music everyone knows.

Why would a cover band make more money?
Because they deliver a Product that People are willing to Pay for.
It is a known quantity. That's just Business.
If the songs we write are so good, then we should have no problem selling them.
People who pay for Cover Tunes have more disposable Income because they have Jobs.
When they get through putting in 40 hours, they can count the Minutes until they have to go back to the job they Hate. In that time, they want things to go their way. They want to dance, have fun and, feel safe.

Add to that, most "Original" Bands don't have enough Material to cover 4 sets.

I play in Bands that do both. While we can't cover 4 sets of our own stuff, we can throw them in when we please and, keep everybody happy.
-ST
 

fretWalkr

Tele-Holic
Joined
Apr 10, 2019
Posts
678
Location
DFW
This is a complex issue. There are a lot of people who would prefer a DJ, or canned music. Some folks don’t like live bands. I work with and help manage a small live music joint. We have some regular customers who spend good money, who will watch our schedule and only come in on nights when we don’t have music.

The really big money is in tribute bands. At least in my area. Tribute bands rule all. If can get yourself a really good tribute act, you can pull anywhere from $2500-$15k per gig. In some cases more. Depends on the venue. You can easily sell out the 1000-2500 seaters, and kill at the summer rib burnoffs, River festivals, etc. I had the head of one the biggest summer events in northeast OH tell me recently that he will not even look at a submission unless it’s a tribute band. Because they sell out. Everything else is a gamble.

The whole tribute band thing is something that I've been aware of and surprised at it's popularity. This explains a lot. After all the business of music is about selling product, whether it's beer, tickets, records, or whatever.

As a musician I never understood the appeal of the tribute band...you're doing cover music from one source only and playing it exactly like the record. No creativity or room to put your personal touch in.

But I did not realize that tribute bands were so lucrative. As a former working musician I can see the appeal of the money. But from a creativity and artistic point of view it seems like such a dead end trend.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
If no one will pay you for it, what value does it have?

I spent a bunch of time putting together my Ultimate Spinach tribute band, now who's going to pay me for that?
If you’re playing for free on your porch that’s one thing. If someone else is charging cover and using your performance to sell drinks, you deserve a cut, otherwise that’s straight up theft of your surplus value.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
Because they deliver a Product that People are willing to Pay for.
It is a known quantity. That's just Business.
If the songs we write are so good, then we should have no problem selling them.
People who pay for Cover Tunes have more disposable Income because they have Jobs.
When they get through putting in 40 hours, they can count the Minutes until they have to go back to the job they Hate. In that time, they want things to go their way. They want to dance, have fun and, feel safe.

Add to that, most "Original" Bands don't have enough Material to cover 4 sets.

I play in Bands that do both. While we can't cover 4 sets of our own stuff, we can throw them in when we please and, keep everybody happy.
-ST
Who wants to see four sets of the same band? That’s overstaying your welcome and boring the audience.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
And there is a very good chance that you will be in the minority of customers.

I have walked out on original music that stunk. Being a musician doesn’t mean you are a competent writer with a melody and lyric that appeals to others.

I don’t want to spend the money my hard labor earned, listening to lame original songs from a single source when I can listen to a variety of proven “good” songs. To my mind a cover artist isn’t restricted to playing songs in a slavish manner.
It depend on where you are. Maybe somewhere rural or suburban, people want to hear that classic rock cover band. It seems like it wouldn’t fly in a city.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
Respectfully, I think you've missed the point. As I told telemnemonics above, I'm not defending or endorsing this state of affairs (or any philosophy or agenda), I'm simply describing the situation that exists. I've spent a lot of time working with bands in various capacities, and I've found that most of them have absolutely no clue about the reality of the music business at the club level. It's a harsh world of social Darwinism dictated by the economics of alcohol sales and precious little else. As a starry-eyed 18 year old I had no clue about it myself.

Club owners and bookers do not care about your music. They only care about your ability to produce revenue for their business. Once you've figured that out, it's a much easier world to navigate. High minded idealism is great, but it won't get you a repeat booking at Dave's Sports Bar if you played to an empty room, and it sure won't get Dave to give you any gas money if he's in the red for the night. Patrons care even less, they have a wider variety of entertainment options than ever before (Escape Rooms are a thing? Really?) and live bands are no longer de rigueur for nightspots. Live bands bring less value to the market than ever before, and a sense of entitlement will get you exactly nowhere. The US is a very different market than Scandinavia, where governments are willing to spend money to promote the musical arts. Here's it's just the cold, merciless logic of pure capitalism.

Don't hate the player, hate the game.
Every promoter i know promotes a certain “brand identity” for the music they book. It helps get people back to the next show. And they are VERY invested in the music they book.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
Sorry. I have to disagree. The rise of DJs in venues that used to offer live bands knocks down your premise.

I believe that when people want to dance, they want music with energy. If it’s spun/playlisted by a DJ with little or no energy, it’s almost the same as a poor cover band mailing in a performance - except the music played will be better.

What decision do you see a bar/venue owner making?
Just like there are bad bands, there are bad djs. Spinning records well for people to dance to is a skill that you have to develop, just like playing in a band. It took me a while to get a handle on it, and i think I’m only an ok dj.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
If you check my profile, you’ll see that I’m not a young player starting out in this business. I’m 70. Started playing with at age 11. Played my first paying gigs at “Going to Vietnam” parties at the local VFW/American Legion halls at age 13. Played private parties and fraternity parties at 15. Played bars at age 16, mainly because I was a lot bigger than most kids my age. Went to the Salvation Army for a used tux and worked for a wedding office when I wasn’t quite 18. Pulled the plug on music at age 22, after marrying and fathering a daughter. Re-entered the music business in my mid-30s, as a partner in a MIDIband. My partners and I all had good day jobs, and we treated it as a Business. No delusions of a record deal or fame. If we weren’t making money, it wasn’t worth the time to us. We worked all over the NYC Metro Area. NO job without a contract, which had terms and conditions for stage power safety and code adherence. We developed one of the first electronic press kits. Contract and other negotiations done via email, in the early to mid 80’s.

So, I hope you understand that I found the post quoted above condescending.

One thing I’ve never done is perform original music with a band. I have nothing to say artistically as a composer. But I’ve a pretty fair grip on what the general public enjoys, and how to put a song over.

For the last 20 plus years, I’ve avoided having to hustle gigs in the South Florida market. I’ve done worship music as a choir director and organizer/player of Special Music for my Church. Hustling gigs is a young person’s game. I’ve opted out of that.

I agree with you that bar/venue owners are only interested in income. Most of them I’ve worked with are poor business people who don’t understand their market and what drives it. Most seem to run their businesses as adjuncts to their chaotic personal lives. Case in point: the foolishness relating to ASCAP/BMI/(insert licensing company) licenses for music. These fees should be small change to a working business, part of the “cost of doing business”. Instead, some bar/venue owners cry about these costs… while they’re pouring free drinks to their “customers”. CUSTOMERS PAY. They don’t freeload. The bar/restaurant business has margins that are terribly low. Owners typically overfocus on cost control because they don’t know any other way to balance their books. Instead, if they examined their business to stimulate higher-paying customers to patronize them (and knew how to write a proper business plan to make sure an idea will work), they could be more successful with less stress and fear.

TL/DR: You’re correct that this is a business, not an artist’s colony. Expectations need to be managed to expect the difference. And, please don’t be condescending toward people whose history you don’t know.
A fair amount of places i play are more like the “artist colony” you mentioned than a traditional bar or club. This argument shows a lack of familiarity with live music.
 

cyclopean

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Posts
7,367
Location
innsmouth, MA
How so? Please explain. Thanks.
Lots of DIY spaces and art spaces exist for music and art, and while these places need to secure enough money to keep the lights on and the landlord away (or cover other expenses if they’re lucky enough to own the building, they take the art side as importantly or more importantly than the business side. Places like Gilman Street, ABC NO RIO, the Dorchester Art Project, and a bunch of places that aren’t at that level of prominence because they’re flying under the radar and tend not to last very long before the same people start something else up somewhere else. For me, as a show goer and a musician, it’s been like 50% this (or someone’s basement or another weird place that isn’t “officially/legally” a venue, and the other 50% has been bars and clubs.
 




Top