For most of the month of October, Arts Desk contributor Justin Moyer and his band, D.C. modern rock quartet Edie Sedgwick, are touring Europe. Here is his latest dispatch.
The club in Berlin is called “Schokoladen.” Translation: “broomcloset and a P.A. speaker.” One must walk through the men’s bathroom to get to the dressing room. Yet, the advantage of a small club is that it is easy to fill. In Berlin, this is important—-we do not have a guarantee, but a door deal.
EXTENDED ASIDE: GUARANTEES VS. DOOR DEALS
Even though I am 34 years old and have toured Europe approximately 10 times, I am the leader of a relatively unknown ensemble. For this reason, I prefer “guarantees,” or flat fees, for performances. Because I always (reasonably) doubt that audiences will come to see my group, I want a guarantee for a performance that is high enough to cover daily costs. (On a three-week tour, I will never earn enough from guarantees and merchandise sales to cover the costs of flying four people to Europe. But, if I ignore flight costs, I can trick myself into thinking that a European tour is profitable. I deploy this trick daily.)
So—-guarantees are good. Still, guarantees can be too high. If I drive a promoter to bankruptcy, he or she might be unwilling to book my band in the future. For example, a promoter who wanted to pay me 1,000 euros might be alienated when only 10 people come to the show and he loses the bulk of his investment. If offered 1,000 euros for a show, I might say: “Hold on, sir or ma’am. Why don’t you pay us 400 euros this time and see how it goes? Maybe you can pay us 1,000 euros next time.” (Who am I kidding? If someone really waved 1,000 euros in my face, I’d take it.)
So: Because we have no guarantee in Berlin, the show could be a disaster. Our “door deal” is 70/30, and the entrance fee is 8 euros. Translation: If five people come, the bar makes 40 euros, and gives us 70 percent—-28 euros—-and keeps 30 percent. (For reasons unknown, some people at the door only pay only 6 euros. Let’s exclude that from the discussion for now.) But, by some miracle, almost 90 people come to the show. After paying the opening band 150 euros, we make 300 euros and sell about 100 euros’ worth of merchandise, and live to fight another day.
Some lauded D.C. bands of yore have an “anti-guarantee” reputation. Their thinking: Why should we be paid money that we didn’t earn at the door? The amount we earn at the door is enough—-perhaps even more than any guarantee. There is much to admire in this position, but it is not a realistic strategy for any band regularly playing to fewer than 100 people. In this case —-as in many—-integrity is expensive.
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