I ran across a letter by a bar owner (and about a million responses; http://chrisledrew.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/open-letter-from-a-bar-owner-to-musicians/) and so I thought I’d throw in my 2 bits. I, too have been playing for a few decades and I want to offer my few thoughts on this:
First, to the bands (and my pet peeves):
I can’t count the times I decided to patronize a favorite bar and hear a new band, and happened to walk in just as they were finishing a set. And more times than not, I wait 15…20….35 minutes for the band to appear again. Half the crowd has left the bar. I’m pissed because I paid for parking and spend money on a drink to listen to… an mp3 player? I’ve got friends who play nationally in medium to large venues and they can manage to play very high energy music for nearly two hours straight on the average… They might take a 5-10 minute break before they come back and do a 20 minute encore. And that 20 minute encore usually continual music without breaks, which leads me to my second complaint…
Unless you’re the Grateful Dead (resurrected), figure out a set list and transitions before you get on stage. Yes, it takes time to switch guitars, to change patches, etc… but again I can count the number of times I’ve watched bands take minutes, not seconds to move from one song to another. “Dead air” is exactly that; DEAD. And have a front man that can and will interact with the audience, while the band is making minimal adjustments. The 45 minute set most bar bands do has about as much performance content as 45 linear minutes of an NFL football game…
Be good. Really, really good. Be good enough that dead sober people think you’re good. I believe that if you perform whatever genre you choose — if you’re really good — people will listen to you. If you serve music like the Ritz Carlton serves food, you’ll be appreciated. Many bar bands serve music with the quality of Burger King food: Cold, sloppy, and unpalatable.
Now to the bar owners:
Have a higher calling than selling drinks. Let your choice to be a live music venue reflect a love for live music, not just a means to sell drinks and food. The bar owners/managers that love music do well on drinks too.
Hire quality. Work at finding the bands that excel in their craft, and do everything you can to make them succeed in your venue. You are giving them and your customers a gift when you install a great sound system. Know your bands — their skills, their followers — and promote them appropriately.
Promote live music with your staff. Time and time again I’ve asked “Who’s the band tonight?” and the bartender had no idea.. Your bartenders have facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, and a network of friends too. Let them know what’s going on. It means money in their pockets too, and they’re usually more than willing to help you promote.
And finally: Whether you’re a bar owner or a band member, live to serve. You’re not a diva; you’re not there to be applauded, you’re there to serve your clientele. Serve first, serve best.