Back in the glorious days when bands marketed themselves on MySpace, high schoolers did the “Stanky Leg” at the prom, and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” was starting to make rounds around the interweb, I had just joined a newly-found group of friends in my Senior year of high school in our heavy alternative experimental garage rock band, Backseat Audio.
At that point, I had already been playing in various punk rock bands for a few years. However, not only did I feel the most rewarding sense of collaboration with the dudes of Backseat while nailing out tight musical arrangements that varied in style, but my forays with this particular group taught me the most out of any single experience about how to be in a band and about life in general.
Ohhh, you thought you were getting paid?
In high school, the easiest jobs to find are those in which you are exploited for cheap labor. If you’re a high school student looking to make money doing something even remotely enjoyable, virtually the only jobs are those in which you are exploited for free labor.
Venues and owners love to tell themselves that they are willing to reimburse young bands that offer to play for them and bring in audiences of our young friends (and wallet-carrying parents). However, if a venue is in a rough enough spot to scout local high school battle of the bands and music shops, then chances are they aren’t necessarily in a position to pay anyone outside of their own staff. When push comes to shove, venue owners know that high schoolers in bands live with their parents and don’t really need money for transportation. Owners just pat themselves on the back after telling bands like mine that they can’t find room in their budget to pay us because they think they’re actually doing us a solid by only giving us “exposure.”
The worst part about this time-honored custom of not paying young bands is that the owners in these situations are kinda right. The fact of the matter is, we (the young, infinitely talented band) need venues far more than they need us. If we don’t get a show at the local Hickory Tavern on a Friday night, then they will still rake in thousands of dollars in food/drink revenue, and they may even draw a crowd by hiring a band of geezers for $40 an hour.
However, if your band misses the boat on getting such a gig, you’ll be stuck eating Little Caesar’s Pizza in your friend’s living room while his parents actively watch the Discovery Channel in the background.
It’s important for young bands to try to get paid for as many shows as possible because once you play one place for free, then you’ll cause hard feelings asking for a dime from the owner of that establishment or any other within 5 miles. Soon enough, your high school band that never got paid because your members live with their parents will turn into your college band that never gets paid cause you’re just college kids who would spend the money on partying. Then, your college band will turn into those guys from the office complex who don’t get paid cause, well, the owner just likes to let them have their time to shine when the bar is extra slow. Pretty soon, you become the band Phish.