Dear Venue Owners: Grow A Pair

musings of a professional dreamer

You arrive at work one day and the boss man calls you in and proceeds to give you a long, lame story about the manager getting drunk on the weekend and forgetting to write up the shift roster, the PR manager who forgot to send out the press releases about the product you’re launching today, and the stress that he himself is under because he has to rush off to another meeting with the directors of the other company he’s involved in. At the eleventh hour, due to these aforementioned circumstances, he cannot pay you for today but you can still work if you want to, seeing as you’re there anyway. This doesn’t happen in the corporate world, so why is it different in the music industry?

I’m a relatively cool, calm and collected person. I don’t suffer from heat-of-the-moment outbursts of anger. In fact, when faced with an issue that causes my blood to boil I retreat temporarily, to analyse my response with a cool head, to ensure that my counter attack is well thought through. Sometimes, I wish I was a little more reactionary, although in this case my fist may have ended up in someone’s face.

I was booked for a show that paid a guarantee – not a great guarantee and certainly not my usual set fee, but a guarantee nonetheless – at a venue on home soil which meant that I could enjoy the comfortable routine of being home for a change and play for a home audience who I don’t often get to play for. A happy compromise. After confirming that the venue would pay an additional guarantee if I pulled in another artist for a double bill, I invited another solo artist to join the event. The entrance fee would be a measely R20, marketing would be a threefold effort (both artists and the venue pulling in all their resources) and it was guaranteed to be an awesome night. But that was not the case. While the gig itself was fun, it was clouded by venue politics and is now tainted with disappointment and bitterness. And before you ask, no, there was no contract in place, and yes, I am an idiot. Usually I would insist on a written agreement, but in Durban, more often than not, things are a little less formal. Case in point, perhaps these venues are altogether the wrong kinds of venues to conduct business with.

If you’ve been privy to a few random outbursts of outrage on Facebook or Twitter by myself over the past few days, this is why. In the week leading up to the event, I had noticed a deathly silence by way of press for the event from the venue, nevertheless I did my usual online and print marketing and trusted that all was in order, having confirmed details with the booking agent three times. On arrival at the venue on the night of the event, I was given the following story: the agent who was supposed to be in charge of running the event was getting drunk at a festival in Cape Town for the weekend, hadn’t done any marketing and hadn’t arranged for a door person to be charging at the door from the arranged time. The sponsors had pulled out two months before (which is strange considering I had confirmed payment arrangements only 2 weeks prior) and this, coupled with the unfortunate behaviour of the drunken agent (who I was assured would be “dealt with”), the venue could not issue the agreed payment. They suggested cancelling the show due to “technical problems” and rescheduling for another time. The time at which this incredible suggestion was made was 20:15, with the gig scheduled to begin at 21:00 and an already half-full venue having witnessed a full soundcheck by both artists involved just 5 minutes earlier. Technical issues? Really?! The alternative offered to cancelling the show was to play for R300 each and a bar tab, an alternative which we regrettably felt obligated to accept so as not to disappoint our audience. Apart from the fact that every venue should include some level of hospitality when hosting artists (which I won’t get into right now), offering a bar tab to artists in lieu of payment is insulting and insinuates that you’re worth nothing more than a beer and a pat on the back.

I am livid!! The unfortunate thing is that this happens often and is mostly due to the fact that venues in this country do not perceive music as a business. Even more unfortunate is that the level of trust between venues and artists is fast disintegrating as a result. While they may see their business as an integral part of the music industry by providing a platform for artists, they still seem to perceive music itself as a hobby for the artists that they rely on to essentially run their business. In this particular case, instead of shifting blame to anyone and everyone they possibly could, the most professional thing to do would have been to take a hit and accept that they had dropped the ball. Instead, they have lost the respect of two artists (amongst others who have heard this story or suffered a similar fate) and I have lost yet another Durban venue at which you will see me perform.


There are 2 comments on Dear Venue Owners: Grow A Pair

  • What a terrible situation to be in Shan, and how remarkably well handled. Don’t apologise for your sentiments or rantings, they’re totally founded and simply the manifestation of a feeling that I am sure is universal to the majority of South African musicians. Artists of all ilk are regularly the punching bags of corporates, conmen and unscrupulous businesspeople. As an artists’ nature to put your passion and love for what you do ahead of everything else, even money. You are honest and trustworthy, and therefore assume those that the people you deal with will be too, and this is a noble trait. But sadly there are people who don’t share their ethics, and it seems you’ve encountered one. Well and good, there could have been honest miscommunications and mistakes, but they were the organisers, and as you rightly point out they should have taken it on the chin – not you. It is a disgrace, and your decision to still play for the crowd was the right one. But I think you should still be more vociferous in your criticism. Name and shame the venue and those involved. You will not be revealing anything other than the truth, and it will 1. Warn other artists so they don’t suffer the same treatment; 2. Ensure patrons are aware of the situation and don’t support the venue, rather supporting venues that treat artists properly; 3. Throw down the gauntlet and let dodgy operators know that Durban and SA’s artists aren’t going to tolerate their shady dealings, and that such dealings will be exposed. Don’t turn the other cheek. Don’t let them take advantage of another artist. Don’t let them happily take patrons’ money at the expense of a muso. Go against your natural instinct to do the right thing and not rock the boat too much, and tell the world who these skelms are. That’s my two cents anyway 😉

  • Thanks for the vote of confidence (and two cents) Baz! Yes, I could’ve named and shamed, but I decided to take the high road on this one. There will always be artists willing to sacrifice good business for a fast buck unfortunately, which is part of the problem, so I don’t think my shaming them would make much difference to be honest. And anyone wanting to know which venue it was, could easily check my tour dates… As karma would have it though, the venue has since had it’s entertainment license pulled (evil grin).

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© Shannon Hope 2017