JJ Rocks Article # 99: Gig Robbers
I can remember back when I first started to play music for a living. I was 15, I was in a band, and we had a manager. I thought that things were very cool because managers stood behind the bands and took the same ups and downs and that’s exactly what this guy did. It didn’t matter that his real occupation was driving a pastry truck because we only saw him as the manager and he was at all the gigs that he booked, took care of all the money and even put up some of his own when we needed something. He also had to sort things out when we sometimes were at each other’s throats. But my whole attitudes towards having someone handle the bands gigs changed when we had to start going though an agent.
Back in the early seventies around the Baltimore / DC area there was only one way to get into a good club circuit and that was through an agency. There were a few around but for the good rooms you had to go through one main agent that for now I will call “Gig Robbers”. And at first we had our manager connect us with this agency which meant there were two commissions coming out of our paychecks. But it was ok with me because I was happy being paid a decent salary to get on stage 5 to 6 nights a week and play music for great crowds with beautiful women! I had no worries about how much someone was getting paid in the manager / agent department, only what was going in my pocket. I used to live my days just to go to my gig each night and be treated with respect from the moment I walked into a club and the doorman shook my hand until the end of the night when the owner would do the same and say “Great night! Drive careful”. Those were wonderful times but they did not last for long.
Near the end of the 70s’ when disco was infesting our song list and the DJ’s were getting many of our gigs and most of the girls, there was a major breakdown between the musical part of my life and the business end. Managers were a thing of the past and the band’s leader dealt directly with the agent. Now at first this may seem financially uplifting for the band but in reality it was a nightmare. Gig Robbers had the monopoly on all the good rooms and they were treated by most musicians (not me) as Gods who brought forth their rent money and put food on their tables. And when they would walk into a club that we were playing most of the guys in the band would almost bow down to these jerks that played the role of control freaks disguised as the almighty providers.
To me it was sickening to have to watch and I soon became Gig Robbers “Rebel without a cause” because I wouldn’t run over to where they were sitting and pay them the respect that they thought that they deservered from taking 20% of our paychecks. Instead I was the one who was saying “Hey guys! Who is paying who?” “Shouldn’t they be thanking us?” But all they could say back was “Sssssssh, don’t let them hear you!” “Do you want us to loose this gig?” This disgusting power play by a group of non musical morons who tried to control our lives and take our money was more than I could handle.
Now I agree that an agent who books you should get a percentage of your money. And so should a promoter who spends money to advertise your gig and bring in the people. But to see musicians bending at the knee and practically kissing the hands of these self made moronic monuments in fear of loosing their livelihood was totally disgusting. Maybe my rebellious moods started when agents would come in each week and check our song list against the top 40 in Billboard Magazine and then say "The guitarist isn’t smiling on stage” or ‘His clothes don’t match the rest of the band” . And if anyone didn’t look up to them as if they were kings the agents would say “You know, there’s another band that would love to have this room”. Around that time my fellow musicians would always try to escort me out of the area because of what I was about to say in response.
Even if someone had the thought of starting their own band and not go through Gig Robbers they would be “Blackballed” by the agency and wind up playing on weekends at some low class bar being paid next to nothing. It was a real trap but not for long because one night a guy from St. Croix told me that he would hire my own band to play the kind of music that I wanted to play (classic rock at the time) and then told me that he would also fly us to paradise. Now seeing how the only musicians in Baltimore that were playing their kind of music also had to get day jobs, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. The rest is my own personal history. I’m still here in paradise and I have grown to love any band that shows true independence with their music and approach in promoting themselves. So now you all know where the fuel came from that keeps lighting my fires to write this magazine without pay and promote independent bands from around the world.
Please let me close by saying that there are some great agencies and promoters in this world who will treat you with the respect that you deserve when it’s time to launch your music. My only advice to you is to spend a little more cash to have a manager to handle those matters and whose only concern is to look out for the needs of the band and become a friend and family member that you will trust with your future.
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Musically Speaking : Gig Robbers
JJ Rocks Article # 99: Gig Robbers