The Red Sea on Craigslist: A tug of war between venues and artists

The Red Sea on Craigslist: A tug of war between venues and artists
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Taking the Twin Cities music scene's temperature can be simple as heading over to Craigslist. Pull up a chair in the "Musicians" section of the "Community" postings and just listen for a while. Most folks are looking for a bandmate (Can You Sing AC/DC?.... Ladies?) or offering up their production or teaching services. Then there's the case of the 22-year-old West Bank bar/restaurant/venue the Red Sea.

A week ago, folks at the Sea put out a call via Craigslist to find some new bands -- "Punk, Indie, Metal, Rock" to play at the Red Sea, and then the community's collective teeth began to gnash. Anonymously, of course.

While there's hard to find a "right" answer within this back-and-forth of threads -- and it appears that many comments have already been deleted -- it does provide a lot of colorful viewpoints about the approach new bands can take to getting heard, and how venues should handle their business. (A big 'ole typographical [sic] through all of what follows.)

It all started at 6:10 p.m. on November 27 with this posting looking for some new talent at the Red Sea:

Looking for NEW original bands to play, specifically Punk, Indie, Metal, Rock. Be young and hungry!, bring a bunch of people and you will get paid. All ages of musicians are welcome. If you arent going to get your friends, parents and friends parents to come check you out - dont bother.   We have many weekdays available in Decemeber - but they are filling up fast - hit me up.

"Zing" number one:

11/27 at 8:58 p.m.: Weeknights at the Red Sea? Is this for bands who think the Terminal Bar is too classy?

Point number one: Bands who don't get paid can't be expected to do all the promotion for a show.

11/27 at 9:51 p.m.: "If you expect the bands to do your promotion for you and if you don't have regular patrons who will support your bar and the bands you book and DON'T PAY - don't bother."

Counterpoint number one: Yes, bands need to hustle. It's American.

11/28 at 10:20 a.m.

I find it humorous that people who play in original bands actually expect to get paid without doing any leg work. If you want that go join a cover band. The red sea puts an ad in city pages and thats way more than most jaded original bands do for promotion. It takes 20 people to pay the sound guy. Another 8 to pay the person sitting at the door (who usually is the promoter and usually gets stiffed and ends up sitting there the whole night for nothing because some certain original bands only draw 3 people because they dont hustle.  

Face it people it's Minneapolis, and nobody cares about the music you wrote unless you hustle and make it happen for your self - we are not running any type of scam. We are actually providing a stage for new original bands to play. I know those of you that have been around the block are too good for this venue - but for bands just coming out of the garage it is an opportunity to get started and get your name out there and hopefully their dreams come true and they do it the entrepreneurial "American" way, by themselves. 

So sorry if my call out for new bands offended you grizzled vetrens who expect to be paid even if you only bring your wife and two friends.

Point two: Bands are rarely lazy, they should always be compensated somehow, and promotion should fall on the shoulders of both the bands and the venue.

11/28 at 2:43 p.m.: "I find it humorous that people who play in original bands actually expect to get paid without doing any leg work."

Uhmm, last time I looked it's your venue that bands are playing at. What this means is that it's ALL you. PERIOD!

If you have a halfway decent venue and have decent food, drinks, and bands play on a regular basis, there's no need for the proverbial "legwork", as you call it. Granted bands should always be in self-promotion mode, but it should not be a pre-requsite in order to play your venue. It is neither ethical or even moral to expect a band to be advertising for YOU and providing a financial safety net for you regardless if they're well known, unknown,indie,cover, original or whatever.

Most Venues have a screening process and know, who it is, that they're hiring to play ahead of time and have vetted the band enough to know that they're for real and present a professional front with good song sets. The food and also the drinks should be a draw ON THEIR OWN! It is reasonable therefore...with that protocol, that decent bands are going to enter thier doors to entertain and ...decent food and drink will be served and customers know this as well. It's a classic case of,"rip offs are not a part of the market, because bad wares are not sold." The venues do what the common sense business would do to insure that "good wares" in the form of drinks, eats AND music are thier staple product.

Now, at this point, I must apologize if I have offended you. But to keep the market stable, even and viable, NO BAND SHOULD EVER PLAY FOR FREE...even if they're just getting a free bar tab, they should at least be getting SOMETHING. Musicians, on the whole, have sacrificed to be where they are just as you have, they should not have to act as an ad agency to insure your bottom line. Go price out instruments, rehearsal time, creating demos etc. It adds up my friend. Every venue owner should be REQUIRED TO DO THAT! If they did, I'm sure they would think twice before asking musicians to play free or verify thier worth.

If you have run into a band that is lazy,and I know very few who are, they are NOT the norm, but it is usually a given that the venue that has paved the way for their own success and the "entertainment" is an add-on... not their means of support. On the other hand, if you would like to come to my house party and pour wine and beer for free and if the clientelel at my establishment like you ...they can pay or not, after all.... you ARE getting the opportunity to present your wares to an unknown crowd, you should be grateful. Cheers.

Point three: Forget Red Sea -- just get booked at Terminal Bar, and then soar.

11/28 at 6:33 p.m.: My band played at the Red Sea a couple years ago. It sucked. The place has zero built in crowd. Calling it a dive is way too generous.

It is a first time sorta place to play. Don't expect to draw any crowd, don't expect to get paid. Play it once and move on to the Terminal Bar (which is alright in my book...glad Flem was able to reopen the place). Then move on to other venues (if you have some well known hipster types in your band that are in more popular bands too...thus getting radio play, press, etc...). Then take over the galdanged world you little dreamers! Fly, fly away...


Point four: NEVER play even a hole in the wall bar without SOME form of compensation, ouse parties are excellent, and free dental work is extremely hard to come by.

11/29 at 10:15 a.m.: I can't believe there are afew douche bags responding on craig's list to DEFEND the venue! WTF! NO WONDER the music scene is dying in the metro! ANY decent band that has rehearsed enough and equiped themselves through acquisition of gear and skills and has the confidence to play... should NEVER and I mean NEVER agree to play even a hole in the wall bar without SOME form of compensation.

A few of you who have responded to these ads GET IT. You definitely understand if musicians agree to sell themselves for NOTHING, they reap, you guessed it...NOTHING! To the rest of seriously are the ones making it hard to hold venues to any kind of standard. If you recognize that your talent and contribution as a musician/band has value, then you are under an obligation to ALL musicians to demand compensation for that value. Otherwise we all might just as well be spinning disks as a DJ. the case of Red Sea...listen to a juke box.

To anyone that defends venues, here you go again, as you obviously did not listen earlier when this was posted...if you would like to come to my house party and pour wine and beer for FREE and if the clientelel at my establishment like you ...they can pay or not, after all.... you ARE getting the opportunity to present your wares to an unknown crowd, you should be grateful. This logic is rational and criticism proof and yet some will still ignore this or write it off. Let me ask all you clowns who oppose this idea....when was the last time you saw a doctor GIVE away anything, how about a dentist or a hairdresser, Chef, or how about a nurse perform biopsy and blood tests free....jeeeeze what has to be done to get through to you people!

Point five: This business model is flawed, and Red Sea would make "GOBS" of money if they focused on booking better-known headliners to lead bills.

11/29 at 3:32 p.m.: Look, what it comes down to is that using your place for starter bands to 'showcase' for free is a bad business model, especially if there is a cover charge.

The bar will never get a regular crowd because it will be hit and miss, mostly miss, which means the good bands won't be able to draw new fans, because they are the ones expected to bring them, and move on to the better venues in town.

So we've got a situation where the bar owner is pissed because his investment isn't working out and is therefore going for bottom of the barrel talent that will work for free, and the bands are pissed because they are supposed to do most, if not all of the promotion, bring people to the bar, not be able to play for anyone new, and be happy that they have a stage to play on.

The core issue is not the owner, the band, or 'the scene', it's the piss poor business model that is guaranteed to fail. All it would take to really succeed is to get one major band a night that can draw w/ 2-3 other bands that will play for free and you're already in a better situation, the bands would be happy to play in front of a lot of new people, the 'good' bands would get paid, the good 'free' bands can move into the paid rotation, and the bar owner would make GOBS of money. This is how the successful places are run and they are already booked solid through February.

Counterpoint two: Red Sea is fiiiiine, but paying for our rehearsal space is a bummer. Overall, a more zen attitude solves this whole issue.

11/29 at 4:33 p.m.: Ya know....Iv've played the Red Sea before.....I recall we played on a Friday night and got a $1 per head who paid at the door....seemed fair....we pulled about 90 people......sold 25 CDs at $10, 2 Vinyl at $20,, each band member had two drink tickets, we met other bands we could join up with in the future, had a great sound mix from the board, and had a great time. Total we walked away with about $400 divided by four...each of us had $100 in our pockets. We practiced probably 50 hours before the show so at the end of the day we made about $2 per hour. That would be fine...except we had to pay for the pesky rehearsal space $400. How much did we make ...ZIP. Would I do it again...hell yes. Would I play there if there was no pay to the band from the club directly. Sure. Life is about living not money.

Point five and a half: The Fine Line has a pretty good little system set up if you want a business model to adhere to. Stop the scamming and greed, and start putting up posters, okay?

11/29 at 7:08 p.m.: Lots of noise about the Red Sea post. Understandable of course.

First of all, the pay to play thing is not very popular and unfortunately, young bands get sucked into the scam because they want to play gigs. Understandable. But not reasonable. MyAfton and Gorilla productions made it a national scam and therefore, places like The Red Sea and other venues who are desperate think they can apply the same model. Doesn't work like that. A venue advertising on Craigslist needs to serious consider their business model and wake up a little.

Selling tickets to a show is not out of the question. But, the way it works is you get to keep at least half of the ticket sales. The venues depend on their money from sales of alcohol or by ticket sales from more popular bands. Bands used to negotiate a percentage of the door, but those days are gone due to the economy and all the scams out there. So, selling some tickets is not a band thing unless you only get a buck a ticket.

The Fine Line's model is very reasonable for starter bands, for example. You play a show case night, usually a Monday or Tuesday and invite everyone you can. Free entry, if you bring in more than 15 people you get a little money, not much, but the more you bring in, the more you get. The risk is that they expect people to drink a little so they can make a few bucks. If you draw, you get a better slot next time. What the Red Sea is attempting to do is something between what First Ave does adding a bit of Afton and Gorilla to it. The problem is it simply does not work that way and bands get burned one way or another. The death of the music scene is due to the scamming and greed. More venues need to start looking at business models such as The Fine Line.

Starter bands are what is called an "opening act". A term that has been around for a long time. If an opening act does well, they progress. Venues also need to promote the bands. The problem is that most of these sub standard venues wanting bands to sell tickets in advance do not advertise. They expect the band to do it all. Kind of stupid since it is extremely cheap to put up a few posters. The problem with the Red Sea is the location and no many quality customers want to go there.

What they need to do is quit bitching and BS'ing people though. I know of a few bands that have been called at the last minute to play the next day and they wanted them to sell tickets to do so. Right, like you can sell enough tickets in less than a day, all while trying to get your band together for a last minute gig. If you call them on it, they get offensive and hang up on you. Not very good business protocol. There is place in the music market for The Red Sea, they simply need to look at their business model and start consulting people who understand the music business, marketing and how the younger starter bands work. Its not rocket science. The main clue for anyone is if a venue is advertising on Craigslist, well, that should be enough said......

Good luck Red Sea, hope you get your business model fixed and are able to help the musicians out their looking for a break.


Point six: This is the wild, wild (and meta) World Wide Web, wheeeeeee!

11/30 at 11:17 a.m.: This is awesome Craigslist stuff here. These back and forth ranty threads always end up with people using it as an excuse to brag about themselves and all the things they "know". Although, to tell the truth I love it all. I love the bitchy unprofessional posts by the venue worker. I love the instigating one liners about the child molester (Which are actually true, by the way). I love staunch opinions about how things ought to be and how they were better at one time. I love the idea that the music scene is being crushed by a law that was passed in 1986. I love name calling in the posts that always end with something like "I hope I didn't offend" or "Have a nice day". These are especially good because they're a perfect example of Minnesota passive aggressiveness. These are great examples to show your out of state friends what life is like here.

So I guess this is kind of a rave. Please keep up the dialogue, reading your outpourings has turned into a guilty pleasure of mine. Not that I give a shit what some stranger on the internet has to say, but your rants say quite a bit about what kind of person you are. And that is fascinating.

Point seven: Maybe Toby Keith's has the business model the Red Sea needs?

11/30 at 2:50 p.m.: I can't believe the long drawn out posts with perfect grammar striving to get a point across. If you word it just right it might be believable. I've been doing this for a long time.If you keep givin it away, there wont be anywhere to play. In the last 25 years we have lost 80% of our music venues. Most of the really great players that had something to say have quit. I'm am not giving it a way to a bar owner that doesn't know how to run his biz! 98% of club owners want you to do their job! That's getting people in their bar. Think about it for one minute. If you are from Maple Grove, How are you going to get anybody to drive to S.St. Paul? With these laws are you kidding. Most clubs have burned out their locals with high prices and shitty service with really bad attitudes and nothing going on to keep people coming back not to mention karaoke! Let me see, you want me to come in and spend money putting up with bad bar help, some sour voices singing to a machine or a really shitty band because you cant afford good entertainment. I'm not much on country but go over to Tobie Keiths and watch that bar work. They have it down. Go up to order a drink. If someone hasn't served you in 60 seconds with a great big smile, they are f,n up. The same thing applies to a small bar. Stop givin it away and make these owners do their job!

Point eight: There's some context missing, but the band should take an active role to ensure proper treatment by a venue. [This message was shortened slightly]

11/30 at 6:25 p.m.: Regarding this list of good and bad venues: I think it differs from band to band. Some you listed as bad (Amsterdam, 331, Nomad) have been very good for my band, both in pay and treatment in general, while some of your good ones (Big V's, Hexagon) have screwed me royally in the past. I think what it comes down to is that a lot of these venues will treat a band subpar if they think they can get away with it. Meaning the key is to come in with some swagger, make sure you know who's in charge of what, and ask for payment details at the beginning, not the end, of the night. And for the love of Pete, don't expect to get paid if you're the opening band and you all leave right after your set. Make sure someone stays til the end, unless the venue is ok with paying you before the night's done.

Regarding the Red Sea: screw that place. They haven't even been on my radar for damn near 10 years. Its too bad because they have a decent stage, but no, whoever put up that post, it is NOT the band's job to get people into YOUR bar. A good club cultivates an audience, a repeat audience. You know, clientele. What the hell good does it do you in the long run if I get my family through the door? THEY WON'T BE BACK THE NEXT NIGHT. Duh.

Let me make this clear. The job of the musician is: play music. Spend years and years and lord knows how much money on your craft, and then still be ok with getting onstage for $20. I am. I don't' expect much, but I do expect courtesy. Of course any self-respecting band is going to do their level best to draw a crowd, but that can't be their sole, or even primary responsibility. The Red Sea clearly wants young bands because yeah, there is that narrow-ass window of 19-22 or so when people live in dorms and other such situations where you can get the word out to a lot of people with minimal effort and expenditure. And those people will be able to come see a band at 12:30 on a Tuesday night because they have lives that permit it. For those few years anyway.

The bottom line here is that whoever posted the article that started this back-and-forth is clearly someone who doesn't give two shits about music. They care about bodies in the room. Which is fine, but they should at least own it. Because if they cared about anything beyond that, they wouldn't have been so stupid as to post something that's going to put The Red Sea even farther down on the shitlist of 95% of the musicians in this scene.

Point nine: The Red Sea has a nice sound system and a pretty good room, but safety first?

12/4 at 12:24 p.m.: Here's the thing about The Red Sea, and their recent listing looking for bands who can "draw": If you've got a relatively new band and can get anybody beyond girlfriends & family members to show up, you would be a fool to play The Red Sea. You can go to a place like Club Underground, where they usually pay the sound & door staff with bar sales and let bands keep all the gate money. Or you can go to the Hexagon or a weeknight at the Fine Line, where your fans can see you for free and you still get paid a little. If you have any draw at all, you should have no trouble getting in to those places (although it may take a few weeks to crack in to the scene if they don't know you at all.)

The Red Sea has a nice sound system in a pretty good room, but it's a bar in an awful neighborhood (right next to the Crack Stacks) and it has zero foot traffic of its own beyond a handful of Somali regulars who the management will not let you charge. You'll be booked with four other bands, and after the gate money (money paid by YOUR friends) is raided to pay the sound & door people, what you get after splitting the remaining cash (if any) four ways won't be enough to cover the bar tab of ONE of your members. Meanwhile, the bar has a pretty good night of selling overpriced drinks to you and all of your friends. This is their business model. They USE young and naive bands as mostly-unpaid promotors.

Plus, the place is DANGEROUS. Four people were shot there in October, and the police get called to that bar far more than others in the neighborhood. Do a Google News search for "The Red Sea, Minneapolis" and see for yourself.

All of this sums up why the current booking agent for The Red Sea is trawling Craigslist for young bands who don't know any better than to play there. They can't get anybody else. A few years ago, I would have said it's the perfect dive bar for a band to play their first show, before immediately moving on to bigger and better things. Today I would advise pretty much anyone to stay away from that joint. Multiple people, many of them very smart, have tried to turn that place around by taking the booking job there and fighting to overcome the bad reputation, and they all have failed for the reasons I just listed. I'm afraid it would take a complete change of ownership, at a minimum, for there to be any hope for it.

There are plenty of dive bars in this town who will book a first-time band. If you are just starting out and thinking of playing The Red Sea, I strongly suggest you go elsewhere. Or just buy some kegs at Zipps and throw a house party. Either way, you'll be better off.

What we have learned:

Based upon sentiments in these Craigslist comments, venues run the risk of angering artists when they don't pay them. Plain and simple. When cash payment can't happen, what appeasements can be offered instead? Bands like venues that make them feel like they're a going concern, and not just the night's placeholder. 

In turn, artists run the risk of angering venues when they don't get the word out about the show they're playing. Hand-selling tickets doesn't seem to be a popular option among artists -- but in the age of online ticket sales, sending a link around on social media can do a lot. 

Neither side is going to be satisfied all of the time, but there's a strong thread within these colorful remarks that goes back to collective responsibility for a well-attended show that falls on the shoulders of the entertainment and the hosts. Making progress requires discussing concerns face-to-face. Though it can be a momentarily vindicating exercise to spew (oft-slanderous) verbal bile into the Craigslist void behind the cloak of anonymity, it won't be taken as seriously as a real, human interaction.   

Finally, every business and artist should solicit feedback from the folks with whom they interact so that the bathroom wall that is Craigslist isn't where the thoughts linger. There's a comments section at the bottom of this posting, and we have a feedback section so people can write us letters. Tell us what's still missing from the picture here -- aside from some kegs from Zipp's.

Some additional commentary on this thread can be found here.

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