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New Rules: Some bands don't agree with Gaslighter's new policy to come up with $400 for the privilege to rock out.

Pay to Play

A new booking policy at Gaslighter signals a new economic reality for musicians

By Claire Taylor

ON ANY given night, kids of all ages could see a rock show at Campbell's Gaslighter Theater—until about a month ago, that is. Gaslighter owners Susan and Mark Gaetano decided to slow up on rock shows, instituting a policy change regarding concerts at the venue.

Previously, bands could rent the facility for $1,000, control how much was charged at the door and take 100 percent of the show's revenues. An alternative was to put on a concert with no upfront cost. The first $700 made from door sales went to the Gaslighter, and any further profit was split 50/50 between the bands and the house. A successful show meant some cash for the musicians, but if only a handful of people came then no one made any profits, and the venue possibly lost money. "It didn't cost [the bands] anything ... but staff still had to be paid," says Susan Gaetano.

Now the Gaetanos have dropped the second option and created another where acts pay $400. The portion of this deposit they get back depends entirely on how big of a crowd they draw—50 people at $8 a head to get a full refund, to be exact. Any remaining money is split 25/75 with the majority going to the house. Mark Gaetano says this offers less risk to the venue when booking a show and pushes bands to be more creative when promoting concerts. "If you think about it, if there are five bands each with five members, that's 25 people, and if each of them brought their parents, that's 50 people right there," Mark Gaetano says.

Ultimately, it means another venue requiring that bands "pay to play," something upstart acts may not be able to handle. Jimmy Arceneaux, a local promoter and musician, says he's charged bands to perform in the past, in part to cover costs at a venue, but also to weed out acts that had little draw. "I can see both sides," he says, "but I will say this: The majority of local bands do not take promotion as seriously as they should. There was a time when bands played less and drew more, and now bands are just overplaying a very small market, thus scattering their draw."

Local musicians have mixed reactions to these changes. Some, such as Sean Fissel, guitarist for Morgan Hill-based Know You're Waking, say this "cutthroat" form of booking will thin the herd. "Four hundred dollars isn't a fortune," he says, "and it will make bands take shows a little more seriously. It will hurt a lot of bands, but will definitely improve shows." Sean McCauley of StoryTold says promotion, such as fliers and posting on the band's MySpace site, is the lifeblood of bands. "Before you even play a show, get a recording done and start promoting. Make stickers, CDs, buttons, everything you can so that people see your name," he says.

Others think it foreshadows the eventual demise of the venue. "This Gaslighter's going to go out the same way the [Gilroy] one did," says Paul Mestice of 12 Steps to Nothing. "I just think it's going to be one less venue in another few months—it just feels that way."

Mestice says there are other ways to ensure stability at the venue, such as lowering ticket prices as an incentive to choose one show over another. He feels teens aren't able to shell out nearly $10 for a show, so they tend to be pickier about who they see. "When you run shows seven days a week, and you get to a point where you're charging $8 to get in ... it's too hard to pack people in there," Mestice says.

The Gaetanos also point out that running five or six concerts a week was a problem. Susan Gaetano says she felt the acts held little regard for the venue and were often using it as the equivalent to rehearsal space, knowing few other than their friends and family would show. "We tell this to bands regularly: If they ever want to get beyond that garage, they have to put out some effort," says Susan Gaetano. "And we don't want to be their garage."

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From the November 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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