venues in PhiladelphiaWhen I say “venues in Philadelphia are struggling” I’m specifically talking about the small to mid-size venues that support original music. In recent weeks we have seen 2 major original music venues close their doors; The North Star Bar and The Legendary Dobbs. After hearing the news of these venues in Philadelphia closing, musician and long time friend of the station Dave Pitone had this to say:

The business model developed by venues is, in my opinion destroying the local “original music” scene.

The problem here is that the local music venues charge $10 at the door on most nights for a “bill” of mostly mediocre local bands. The real music listening demographic – whether it’s people from the suburbs or the yuppie city residents, or the student populations in University City – will not pay this cover and patronize these venues. This means no patrons, no drink sales.

So venues circumvent this problem by pressuring band members to bring friends out to pay and spend. By doing this, venues are creating an artificial market of patrons, which is not sustaining. Artificial markets like this are almost always a death sentence to business.

In my opinion, there are only a handful of local bands that are good enough to support regular folks from the Philly area choosing to pay a $10 cover. Let’s say there are 10 such bands that live within one hour from Philly, even though I think that is over-shooting. This means that all the other bands playing out will only be able to draw an audience if the band members themselves bring them in.

Do the math – For example, if one bar has four nights of local bands, with four bands per night, that’s 16 bands per week at that one place. And if there are 10 venues within the region doing the same and competing with each other, that’s 10 venues times 16 bands, equals 160 local band gigging per week. And if each band plays out an average of once every 12 weeks (3 months), then that means that venues in Philadelphia need an inventory of 12 weeks times 160 local band gigs, which equals 1,920 bands.

If there are 10 bands good enough to create a realistic and genuine market, that leave 1,910 bands that aren’t. This is not good business and chills the local music scene.

My suggestion would be to have no cover, except for maybe “one” weekend night where they have two bands and an opening act – and to reserve this for the best marketable bands.

The rest of the nights in the week should be “no cover,” and booked with regular local bands that are working on their acts/songs/etc. With this, regular people will start walking in because there is no cover charge stopping them. This will give bands new and real ears to listen to their music, and incentives to improve and get to the door charge night on the weekend. And the venues in Philadelphia will be able to compete with all the other bars in the city that let you walk in the door without opening your wallet.

This is just based on basic business and marketing principals. There’s nothing ground breaking here. It’s just an honest evaluation of this market scene, after participating in it for a few years. I see it as just hurting bands and hurting clubs. No winners.

-Dave Pitone

Should the cover charge at the door be eliminated? How do you pay those bands? Should there only be a small group of bands that get paid each week? Please comment with your opinion, and be sure to join the discussion every Tuesday night on Gashouse Live.