I once played a show at a certain venue. And I will never play there again. Here’s what happened…
For the sake of the venue, I’m not going to use its real name — I’ll call it the Cap’n Crunch Cafe. I’m also not going to say what city it’s in and I’m going to change the name of the venue manager to Daniel.
Now usually, coffee shops don’t/can’t pay artists, but rather encourage them to sell merchandise and collect emails for their newsletter. I understand this.
And I knew before the Cap’n Crunch Cafe gig that I wouldn’t be getting paid. That was fine.
But because coffee shops often don’t pay, they always — in my experience — give you a free drink.
So, before the show while the place was still pretty empty, I went up to the barista and asked if my band mates and I could each get a free drink.
“Uh,” the barista hesitated. “I can give you like $0.25 off.”
“Oh,” I said.
Sort of a letdown, but I placed my order and got ready for the show.
Strike one, Cap’n Crunch.
By the time we were ready to start, there were nearly 100 people in that cafe, which is way more than that place got on any regular evening.
It was packed.
So we did our first set and it was really fun.
Then after the first set, we took a quick break. So I went over to the barista to grab my drink.
As I was getting ready to pay, he said, “No, man. No charge. I should be paying you for bringing all these people in.”
I took my free drink and we went back up to play our second set.
Now, the verbal agreement I had with the venue manager was that we would play for two hours. We played for a total of 1 hour and about 35 minutes, with a five minute break in between sets.
I didn’t think it would be a big deal, since we weren’t getting paid and we brought in a lot of paying customers. I honestly didn’t think anything of it.
But … several minutes after we said goodbye and thank you to the crowd, my bassist came up to me.
He said the manager was in the back complaining we hadn’t played for the full two hours, saying, “When I say two hours, I mean two hours.”
Yes, it wasn’t a full two hours like we had planned. But if Daniel wasn’t happy about that, he could’ve come up to me and said something professional like, “Would you be able to keep the music going? You guys ended a little early.”
Totally fine with that.
It was not so much the request, it was the snarky way in which the request was conveyed.
Strike two, Cap’n.
So we went back up on stage to jam for the next 20 minutes or so.
But in the middle of a song, I looked over and there was Daniel, stage right.
He was making a cutting motion across his neck with his hand.
“You done?” he lipped.
Me and my bassist exchanged a glance, like I guess we’re done now. Apparently, our two hours were up.
Cutting us off mid-song was unprofessional, unnecessary, and made me feel like Daniel didn’t really appreciate us being there.
Strike three, Cap’n Crunch Cafe.
So we cut the song short and said our second goodbyes and thank yous to the crowd.
And those were my last goodbyes and thank yous to any crowd in that venue.
Takeaway point: if you’re a musician and a venue treats you like this, just move on. Find venues that treat you professionally, whether they’re paying you or not.