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Thread: The next time you are asked to play for free....

  1. #1
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    Thumbs up The next time you are asked to play for free....

    From a non-mandolin friend:

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    == JOHN ==



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  3. #2

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    While an unusually clever response...above.

    I cannot say how much this hits home.

    I am a lawyer, not a working musician. My BG band have made it a rule, since we are not pros,
    NEVER to play for free for any event which, as we think, is making money, somehow for someone, for profit.
    We do little community gatherings, local craftspeople /artists selling homemade stuff who want atmoshpere, and might offer us lunch for our time.

    We are very much aware of undermining working musos.
    Those GD bar owners who pull this nonsense on hardworking well rehearsed bands -'if you fill the place , we might give you a cut of the door', 'maybe we'll hire you" "invite all your friends" etc-

    I understand that live music doesnt necessarily translate to more sales, often, but this is so common and undermines the real art and joy of live performance, and payment to those who have worked so hard to be able to entertain even modestly. There are bar owners that think they are offering a venue for live performance to fill the 'egos' of the band players-ie pay for stage -just really rubs me wrong. I see both sides, but i find it simply, arrogant and insulting.

    My band does volunteer to play for free at low income nursing homes, and similar 'no dough' events, usually for the elederly and destitute-because these folks otherwise wont get any entertainment, and music, especially BG, seems to be somewhat popular among the aged -

    (obviously at our level of limited, if any, talent, we need a captive , and possibly, immobile audience, even partially deaf, LOL. We have yet to get a standing ovation...unless the walkers are in the room and not in the hall....) i am partially serious albeit written tongue in cheek

    OTOH, a carefully thought out opportunity for promotion isnt always a one way street , and always of 'no benefit' to the musician
    and a bad deal, but, in my travels so far, it almost always IS.

    good post

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  5. #3

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    This has been posted before . It is good though and thanks for sharing

  6. #4

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    It's new to me and appreciated.

  7. #5
    plectrist Ryk Loske's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    John,

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou. A guitar and sometime mandolin student was after me to back him up at an open mike ..... advertised in local papers by the establishment as "Live Music". For which ... the musicians receive NADA. Not even a mediocre pizza. An old trad jazz trumpet player wants us to play at the same place. Nope. The ad and respose will be copied and handed out whenever this comes up again.

    Steve .... my approach is the same as yours. Thanks of your post as well.

    THANK YOU!

    Ryk
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I have found it is getting harder and harder to find any gigs that offer compensation, and when we do find them lately they have asked us to sign contracts that include liability for the event and that do not account for the venue's liability for licensing and everything else. We had a contract recently that we said we would sign if they allowed some changes, basically removing the blanket liability...the event coordinator flipped out. Was actually offended that we wanted to protect ourselves from being sued by someone who happened to be at the concert (trips on a cord, music hurts ears...you name it).

    It has become a real point of frustration for us. We even had a promoter for an arts event tell us they were spending thousands of dollars on marketing, but that there was no budget for music...literally told us how much they were spending for promotions but clearly pointed out we wouldn't be getting anything.

    Like many of you, I am all for community events when others are not getting paid or other events to support good causes...but we are not taking gigs that don't pay while others make money (venue owner, bar, restaurant, etc.). It sucks not being able to play out as much...but at some point we are just completely devaluing what we do when we don't get compensated at all.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    There was a column in Sing Out! magazine decades ago, possibly by Michael Cooney who used to write a "Roads Scholar" column, or perhaps by Mike Agranoff, about open mics and how club and coffeehouse owners got no-cost entertainment. A line that stuck with me was, "It's hard to make a living doing what so many people are willing to do for free."

    Still the truth. I help run a little concert series at a small-town library, on one or two Wednesday nights a month. We get 40-50 people most nights, ask for a $5 donation, and are able to give our feature acts $150-200 above our limited expenses. We have a "Mystery Pickers" segment where we have other musicians do a song or two each. Some people come nearly every time, glad to do their "bit," hoping to get featured sometime in the future. None of the three of us who run it, take anything for doing it, though we do schedule ourselves one night a year and divvy up the "door."

    I never say "never" to freebies, but I use many of the same criteria listed above: good cause, no one's making money off us, minimal hassle (asking bands to sign liability waivers to play for nothing, is unconscionable, IMHO), and professional treatment -- I/we go on when scheduled, get to play as long as agreed, don't get jerked around, etc.

    Sometimes it seems, if you're not paid, then you're not valued either. I've played some really satisfying "freebies," including one for a local arts council that led to a 35-year paid working arrangement with a local museum. I've also played some where I felt like an unappreciated afterthought, after investing a fair amount of time and trouble.
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    We played a strip joint in Dayton, Ohio back in the 80s when I was just a kid. I didn't know exactly how we got the job (or where I was, actually. Still don't.) Same EM150 I'm using now. While were technically playing for free, alternative payment arrangements were made in house. Best gig I've every had, to be honest about it.

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    Smile Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    ...alternative payment arrangements were made in house....

    Mick
    I've played (ragtime piano) for all the pizza I could eat and stuff into my pockets and all the beer I could drink. But I don't think you're talking about the same thing.

    You say you were "just a kid." Did you get your record expunged?

    This is the edit: I just realized where you were. Were there a bunch of Air Force types there?
    Last edited by John McCoy; Apr-04-2013 at 11:25pm. Reason: more comment
    == JOHN ==



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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    The local "high end folk club" establishment in our small town has figured out how to destroy what was once a lucrative St. Patrick's Day gig for local gigging musicians. He stopped paying for musicians, and converted the event into an open mic night, while still charging the same cover at the door.

    Genius!

    The audience is now getting exactly what the club owner isn't paying for -- not even a regular Irish session (whose members have better things to do on that night) -- but instead, a hodge-podge of local amateurs singing drinking songs badly, and fiddle students playing jigs and reels at quarter tempo off sheet music.

    I tell 'ya, for local musicians the only real money is in corporate gigs and weddings, where the performance requirements are a step above the open mic crowd.

    Not that there's anything wrong with people who play open mics... but that should be more of a no-pressure showcase among friends, or else a proving ground for acts that want to build up to paid performance status. Open mics are not a replacement for hiring an act that can show up and entertain a room, on demand.

  17. #11
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I agree with what has been said here. To expand the discussion, what about jam sessions in bars and coffeehouses?


    I will play in a jam session, for no money, even in a public venue like a bar or coffeehouse. It does provide entertainment for restaurant patrons, and perhaps makes the venue some money. The difference is that, when jamming, I feel no obligation to look at the audience, respond to any audience response, or play anything I don't want to play for the sake of the audience. I am there for the jam, not the audience. I will be very encouraging to anyone who brings an instrument and is hesitant to join in.

    If you want our jam to be a performance, you should pay us.

    Actually the bar owner puts a pitcher at our table or gives us free drinks at the bar, so its all good.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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  18. #12
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I agree with what has been said here. To expand the discussion, what about jam sessions in bars and coffeehouses?
    That's a good question! For two years, I was co-host of an Irish session in a bar, where all the players got their first round of drinks free, but that was it. There is another local session run by a fiddler who gets a free dinner from the restaurant where the session is held, and nobody else gets anything (in this group, the fiddler deserves it as a fee for herding cats). I've played at other 'trad sessions where there is no compensation at all, for anyone.

    In other parts of the world and other local communities, I've heard it's traditional for anyone playing at an Irish session to have all their drinks comped, and sometimes the session leader is actually paid in cash to lead the session. At that point, it's definitely something that could be considered "paid entertainment." At least for some, if not every participant. So there are some gray areas.

    I'm using the word "session" here because it's part of the culture of Irish/Scottish pub sessions, but the same dynamics can apply to Bluegrass jam sessions in say, a restaurant where the jam is also serving as entertainment for the regular customers.

    Here's the thing: Although there can be some overlap on special events like St. Patrick's day for Irish sessions (like the specific case I mentioned), I don't think most pub sessions or amateur bluegrass jams are taking up slots that would go to paid, performing bands. The session I co-hosted was on a Tuesday night, and we picked that night because it was the least likely to conflict with sports on the bar TV's, and it had the lightest crowd of punters for the whole week. Other sessions in this area are timed similarly for off-nights or daytime hours -- Tuesday or Wednesday nights, or Sunday afternoons. It's all about finding a relatively quiet time where the pub owner is amenable to having a bunch of people come in and play music for fun. Because as you pointed out, it's not a performance. It's for us, the players. The pub owner gets free live music, sure, but it's not usually at prime time for the venue.

    House sessions are great, but what keeps regular public jams and sessions going is that there's a place to do it on a regular basis, and the pub owner washes the glasses and cleans up afterwards. Don't underestimate the value of that, if you've never run a regularly scheduled house jam. Do that for a year or two, and you'll be ready to move to whatever local restaurant or pub will take you and your group in, so you can take the occasional vacation without grief, and stop washing dishes.


    So it's a give and take. Unless the pub owner is just taking advantage of the situation, it's not going to be on a night where they would otherwise be booking a paid act. At least that's how it works in my neck of the woods, YMMV, etc.
    Last edited by foldedpath; Apr-05-2013 at 2:11am.

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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    FWIW I am chairman of a foundation that has recently completed a renovation of a 1938 vaudeville movie house in Culpeper, Virginia. Our intent is to provide a place for musicians both professional and non-professional to perform. We have a policy, no one plays for free. There has to be something in it for the musician.

    Our goal is to provide an outlet for local talent, and hopefully generate some income for their efforts. Otherwise we are just taking advantage of them and their talent.

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  21. #14
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I sometimes go to a jam at a bar because I have a great time jamming with the regulars. We dont really generate anything extra to the cafe, but the owner is often in the jam and he enjoys it and often buys a bottle of wine for all.

    I will not do open mic nights and 3 of 4 in my band wont either. Nothing against the bars or patrons that do. I just don't enjoy it enough.

    Our band, amateur as it is, will not play out for free; for part of the door; or for taking on the role of filling the place. We don't charge much ( a minimum of 100bucks/person for 3 sessions and all our own equipment). We don't get many gigs. But we have a great studio and figure we can play for free at our own place with no hassle so why would we want to play somewhere else for free --which requires lots of hassle.

    Some of us will do benefits and in fact the chic drummer and I just did one with a line up of 4 other bands. It was fun but not something I want to do often. It was loads of work. Afterwards the bar owner, who made as much off the event as the charity, asked me to come back but would not commit to paying us. Wants to give us 20% of the profits like he did the poor charity. I told him No Thanks. He explained his business model and why it didn't pay for him to hire a band. I explained my business model and why it didn't pay for me to play when I don't get paid. He said he would think it over. I said give me a call if our business models ever align. I don't expect to hear from him. The sad truth is that many hot spots can pack them in with a DJ and bands do not add anything extra to their bottom line. Bar venues are getting more rare. We target parties/events now.
    No matter where I go, there I am...Unless I'm running a little late.

  22. #15

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I think the main difference between an open mic and a jam session and being asked to perform a set is the time investment, preparation and the overall spirit of the event. If a bar owner asks a band to come in play for tips (lets say an hour set) and there isn't a payment to the band that is much different than a bar owner that has an open mic once a week where it is clearly defined that anyone can play regardless of skill. I agree that for business owners having an open mic is a low cost way to get people in the door, and as long as that doesn't become the alternative to what used to be a paying gig I guess it is what it is. I think there is a fine line between a venue being generous and offering a space for musicians to come in and try playing for the public and for a business to ask a band that is rehearsed, has gear and a formal investment of time to come in and play for free.

    It is tough because we all want to play, and we want less experienced musicians to have a shot too...we also don't want to just sign up do play for free while we get walked all over. I've also noticed that the free gigs are the ones where you get shoved off stage, in a corner and generally treated bad. It is an endless cycle.

    The rule of thumb for me is "would this event or business owner pay another type of performer aside from musician if they had them come in for an event". What about a business that has someone doing massages or something to promote a special event? Is the massage therapist, with training, tools and licenses going to do it free? I doubt it.

    I guess at the end of the day the issue in our modern world is that the public is less likely to go out to see music from a band they don't know, younger generations are less likely to spend money to hear music when they can get it for free and businesses have to find a way to get people in their doors. It is an endless cycle. I hope it changes!

  23. #16
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    How about musicians paying a restaurant/bar owner to get in the door for a jam? Is that worse than playing for free, or is it different?

  24. #17

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Sometimes it seems, if you're not paid, then you're not valued either. I've played some really satisfying "freebies," including one for a local arts council that led to a 35-year paid working arrangement with a local museum. I've also played some where I felt like an unappreciated afterthought, after investing a fair amount of time and trouble.

    if youre not paid, and i have not been, as lawyer and a muso, more often than not, the value and time and effort you put in are not fully appreciated. IE no good deed goes unpunished. Cunical, indeed, but words to live by.

    Plus, theres a REAL plus to having someone have some skin in the race-ie a commitment to you. They decide to make a 1 hour gig for 150 into a 3 hour gig, and you are right to ask for an increase. Happens a lot.

    But his cuts both ways.

    Being really responsible about commitments (as lawyers must be) there is a joy , in a volunteer gig, in not having to take any guff. Sometimes, thats worth more, than the pay (in fact almost always for us (4) as we have yet to be offered what i thik of as decent comp for a 3 hours gig-ie 500 or more. The other weekend we had a gig at soylent green acres and there was a snow storm. a big one. DIdnt think twice about re-scheduling.

    Playing for free, i use the local jams and the open stage, only at the local music school, which is non-profit, and looks like it!!) to polish up what little stage presence we have. There is nothing like a stage to make you feel, 'on stage', and driving the bus.

    Pluls when youre a hack like me, playing for free seems to free me up inside. I feel less pressure to deliver a perfect , polished show, and a lot more like a jazz player-able to be footloose and experimental, more so than i would be, for a fee. This of course, being non-pro, frees up my joy and energy, which does come across in performance. Odd paradox , as i write it down. And this is because, i am thinking, Im doing my best, and , you get what you pay for.

  25. #18

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Tommando View Post
    How about musicians paying a restaurant/bar owner to get in the door for a jam? Is that worse than playing for free, or is it different?
    I can't think of something worse than that as a musician...maybe paying someone to smash your mando for you

    All kidding aside I've not heard of something like that but I would never do it. I could see asking people to pay a few bucks to get in the door for a jam to listen (I don't agree with it unless it is a fundraiser or something), but asking musicians to pay to play? I'm not doing it!

  26. #19
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Maybe it depends also on other behaviors the venue exhibits as well. Case in point is a local winery that is a really good music venue. The regularly bring in good talent; local, regional and sometimes national. They are especially good about showcasing up- and-coming local artists. These folks get paid.

    But one night a month, they do an open mic for which nobody gets paid. This is on a Wednesday, when they probably wouldn't have paid performers anyway. It's a real community thing with lots of locals coming out to listen and to play. Everybody has a good time, working musicians (some good ones) get to try out new stuff, first-timers get to play before a supportive crowd, and unusual musicians who wouldn't get a hearing otherwise have access to the public. Does the winery make money? Sure they do, they are selling wine. But they are a business and if they don't make money; no venue in the future.

    I get the point being made about the need for musicians to be fairly compensated, and this venue does that on an ongoing basis throughout the month. I don't see anything wrong with this one night being set aside for the rest of us. I enjoy it and others sure seem to as well.
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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Pay to play? Sounds like a bar owner scam to me. Jams should be jams, and therefor not have payment involved, it's for everybody to have fun. I agree, when the jam is the same people playing the same tune and all so slowly that you can order tickets to Seattle between breaks using a semaphore, it's a little dull but it's for everybody to learn, build confidence and be expressive.
    Venues need to make money but, when the customers are also the entertainment, I see the cover charge for that as a bit of a slap in the pocket.
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    I think that paying for live music is good and perhaps necessary.... When one works for free he/she is under no obligation to play well, stay sober, and not embarass the owner...

    If paid, almost no matter how little money, there is a contract to do your best, not get drunk and not embarass the owner because you have a contractual obligation to do well and act as a professional.

    Of course charity work is a different situation and no one expects to be paid. The reward is in making folks feel better.
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    To the best of my knowledge, musicians are unique among artists in expecting to make money as an appendage of the food and beverage industry. I know painters, writers, dancers, sculptors, actors and none of them ever work in bars or restaurants. I made my living playing gigs for years. At one time it was a mutually beneficial arrangement between the players and the venues, and there were nowhere near as many people looking to do this as there are today. Now, that world seems like vaudeville...it's pretty much gone and it ain't coming back.

    I live in Boston and one only needs to look at the mind-boggling expansion of the Berklee College of Music to see that there are far more people wanting to play music .

    I have also worked for years in the resturant business as a cook, and the people who own these places are putting their necks on the line every day paying rent, insurance, taxes, labor, food costs in a business with a 90+% mortality rate. They also provide employment for a lot of people. They survive by keeping cost to a minimum. In a world where 1 guy won't play for free but 10 more will, or you can make the same money putting up a flat screen TV for sports or hosting trivia contests why would they feel responsible for providing paying work to musicians? A LOT of the players I know these days actually have high-paying careers in the professions and sciences...they really don't need the dough but want to have a part of their life in actively playing music. They have no problem being one of 4 acts playing for the door to sell their self produced CDs and build a fan base to enable their musical existence. It's a sort of gentrification in a way, and I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

    I don't pretend to know what it is, but if people want to make money making music, they need a new enterpreneurial business model to do it. We need to build this for ourselves.
    Steve

  31. #23
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....



    If you want to "play for exposure", you should do it at a nudist camp!

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  33. #24
    Ted Heinonen
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    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post


    If you want to "play for exposure", you should do it at a nudist camp!
    Hei poika!

    Up here in northern Minnesota by the unsalted sea - folks can die from exposure.

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  35. #25

    Default Re: The next time you are asked to play for free....

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    To the best of my knowledge, musicians are unique among artists in expecting to make money as an appendage of the food and beverage industry. I know painters, writers, dancers, sculptors, actors and none of them ever work in bars or restaurants. I made my living playing gigs for years. At one time it was a mutually beneficial arrangement between the players and the venues, and there were nowhere near as many people looking to do this as there are today. Now, that world seems like vaudeville...it's pretty much gone and it ain't coming back.

    I live in Boston and one only needs to look at the mind-boggling expansion of the Berklee College of Music to see that there are far more people wanting to play music .

    I have also worked for years in the resturant business as a cook, and the people who own these places are putting their necks on the line every day paying rent, insurance, taxes, labor, food costs in a business with a 90+% mortality rate. They also provide employment for a lot of people. They survive by keeping cost to a minimum. In a world where 1 guy won't play for free but 10 more will, or you can make the same money putting up a flat screen TV for sports or hosting trivia contests why would they feel responsible for providing paying work to musicians? A LOT of the players I know these days actually have high-paying careers in the professions and sciences...they really don't need the dough but want to have a part of their life in actively playing music. They have no problem being one of 4 acts playing for the door to sell their self produced CDs and build a fan base to enable their musical existence. It's a sort of gentrification in a way, and I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

    I don't pretend to know what it is, but if people want to make money making music, they need a new enterpreneurial business model to do it. We need to build this for ourselves.
    I'm note disagreeing with you on this, I know that these small business owners put it all on the line every day...and that having a free music jam or putting in karaoke or TVs in place of live music is a low cost alternative that doesn't have a big impact on the audience. That said, does the small business owner get their marketing and advertisement for free? Do they get to promote their business and get people in the door without an investment? I'm not saying it is apples to apples...but in some ways having live music is an attraction to get people in the door. If you hired a well-known act to play in your restaurant or bar it would bring a lot of new people that may not come otherwise (assuming people knew about it). To me this is the same as marketing or putting dollars out there to spread the word of your business. Sure you can do free marketing on Facebook, etc...but I don't see many businesses succeeding just on free marketing outlets.

    If a venue wants to have a jam or have off the street people come in as a form of entertainment then fine. But the idea that a band should come in and do a set...or multiple sets...just for the chance to sell CDs or for exposure while a business makes money is the issue at hand. And, I'm not talking about paying a band a ton of money here...just compensation (heck $100-200 for an hour or two set would even be fine in a lot of cases) so that the service is seen as professional. That's my opinion at least. I know of venues that music every night and pay bands in the $100-200 range. They get good crowds and they get talented music and it creates a cool vibe. I think the main issue is that you can't have a pinky toe in the world of having live music at your business. Either it is a part of your model for success or you find other ways to get people in the door. I think you also have to love the idea of having your business be a place for live music...which means maybe taking a bit of a loss as you establish yourself. My friend owns a coffee shop and puts on shows with world class bands (Frank Vignola, Pierre Bensusan, John Jorgenson, Bright Light Social Hour, etc. and he pays for this out of pocket and packs the place because people know it is going to be a great show. This model is not for everyone...but it sure is cool that people are out there willing to make this kind of investment!

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