There are universally understood rules in place for bands at venues: don't damage the equipment, don't show up late, don't cancel at the last minute. That kind of thing. A smooth interaction is also better ensured by behaving decently – don't get sloppy drunk, and don't be rude to patrons or staff. But what about the venue itself? What are the reasonable expectations for the staff, security, and owners?
When we outlined the 7 Ways to Never Get Invited Back to a Venue, a reader commented with his own real-life issue. Both he and his friend had been treated poorly while performing.
"A musician friend and I had similar bad experiences at the same venue. A suburban sports bar who hosts live rock bands on weekends employs wait staff who are rude and snotty to the musicians. Regulars who are more interested in sports on the big screen television ignore the band and constantly complain that the music is too loud. Even when the band is compliant, stage volume becomes turned so low that it is difficult to monitor ourselves. Both bands were banned for 'bad attitude' and 'lack of enthusiasm' after being treated so rudely by bar staff and patrons.
The kicker: my friend's band is considered the best rockabilly band in town. They have been together for 25 years, received local critical acclaim, and draw well. Still, they were treated poorly by the bar and banned for a natural reaction to disrespect. What to do?" – Jim Hutter
Hutter's scenario points to a missing element in all of these "How Not to Be a Jerk 101" standards. What if it's someone in the venue staff camp – not the band or artist – who is causing the problem? We hope that nobody is enduring poor treatment, unprofessional behavior, or any sort of negativity. Unfortunately, though, it sometimes happens, and it can come from either side. Here's what to do if you're a musician in a situation like Hutter's.
1. Calmly assess the problem
The easiest – and least productive – reaction to being treated badly at a venue is to get angry. So before the situation worsens, and you inadvertently adopt an aggressive mental state, carefully think about the issue.
Step away from the situation. Without an outsider's input, ask yourself some questions:
- What exactly happened that upset or offended me? A disgruntled look from a bartender isn't enough cause for complaint, although it'd certainly be nicer if everyone was always polite to each other.
- Who is responsible? Claiming the venue treated you poorly when it was really just one person can cause further issues. Think specifically.
- Was it intentional? Was your sound turned down by an engineer who looks like a total rock 'n' roller, and you think he hated your country singer-songwriter set so badly he screwed up on purpose? There's an error in that thinking that we hope you notice. Be sure to avoid assuming that someone is out to get you without solid proof.
Now that you've analyzed the situation, are you still upset? If the answer is yes, advance to the next step.
2. How can they right this wrong?
When we feel wronged, we sometimes get so wrapped up in our distress that we end up trying to make the other party feel as badly as we do. While that might seem satisfying, it's not a real solution, is it?
Before you address the person who wronged you or his or her higher-up, figure out what exactly it is you want from this situation. If your complaint is that a bartender is consistently rude to you, maybe all you want is an apology and cordial treatment in the future. Maybe the sound engineer lowered the stage volume, like in Hutton's case. The ideal result of a discussion would be the sound engineer acknowledging the issue and agreeing to maintain a certain volume, right?
Whatever the issue, there's usually a way to find closure for both parties. But it's harder to reach a joint resolution if you approach the situation without an end game in mind.
3. Talk to the appropriate person
Who's the right person to address the problem? The person who wronged you? Or their higher-up? This can be sorta tricky, as the answer can vary depending on the situation at hand. After having worked through the preceding two steps, you should be relatively tranquil. Pissed, sure. But raging? We hope not. Remember, a hot-headed complaint is more difficult to hear and accept than a calmly spoken one.
There should be limited risk of compounding the situation then – at least on your end. Ask the person in question if you can speak with him or her individually. Explain your complaint, let that person tell you his or her side, then work together to find common ground.
Note: if you try to pull a bartender aside during a busy stretch or start waving wildly for the door guy's attention during another band's set, you're doing it wrong. There are, however, some situations that require immediate attention from the venue's powers-that-be, like theft or physical harm. If you think you're in a life-threatening situation, it might be best to call the police, then notify the venue owner if possible.
If speaking to the person directly does not solve the problem, find his or her supervisor, and try the same.
4. What happens if we can't solve the problem?
This is a real possibility, of course. In Hutton's case, if he were to take all these steps and still find no resolution, it might be time to accept that the venue in question simply isn't right for his band. Not every place will be, and that's okay. (If you have this problem at every venue, though, then maybe it's time to check yourself!)
In the instance that things go terribly awry and a complaint turns into a fiery argument, abandon ship. Really, is the problem worth causing a huge scene? Is it worth the potential bad rap in that city's venue circuit just to see the accused get their just desserts? Probably not.
If you want to try one last time to find a resolution, consider emailing or calling the venue the following day. If that doesn't work, then that venue simply may not be a good fit for you. And who wants to work in a disagreeable environment anyway?
We hope that the majority, if not all, of your gigs will be great ones. In those cases, learn how to maintain solid relationships with the venues and their owners!
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.