A Gig’s Eye View of the Field

Volume CIII, No. 10October, 2003

Allegro asked musicians what they think of the state of the single engagement industry.

The club date industry today is not like it was 10 years ago. A lot of couples are hiring DJ’s as opposed to wedding bands.

–Tammy Banks

Club dates are always evolving and changing. When I started there were only a few female vocalists – and one guitar player covered all the rock. Now there’s more contemporary music on the jobs than standards. Some people forget that even a 60-year-old client grew up with rock-and-roll. The only way to survive is to change with the business. Every generation of players believes that the music they played in their 20’s and 30’s was the best – and that’s when the business was good. In 10 years, we will be calling today’s business “the good old days,” too.

–Kim Wertz

In New York, the club date scene is alive and well. However, some agencies do not take care of their loyal workers as they should.

These agencies charge $1,000 to $1,200 per musician for a wedding. The owner and partners have every right to make a profit, but they constantly try to cheat musicians out of the union wages that they are due. It could be trying to get out of paying an additional preheat – or not paying the correct amount of money in meal expenses when you’re on the road.

If only the agencies realized that if they take care of their own musicians, the musicians will go farther to make the bands sound even better. They will bring more gear and have more pride in how the songs should be performed. This will make the bands tighter in terms of everyone getting along better as well.

–Andrew Sporn

The market for club date bands seems to be shrinking at an alarming rate. The Jewish part of the business appears to be strong, though. I expect the market will improve somewhat when the economy improves – whenever that may be!

–David Katzenberg

I’m noticing that more musicians are turning to club dates for income either to augment or make it a major part of their income. I’m happy to see the single engagement sector increasing. My only concern is that I would really like to see a flat scale. It’s always been my opinion that a gig is a gig is a gig – I don’t play with less enthusiasm or accuracy on a Wednesday than on a Saturday. I think that a flat scale would attract even more musicians.

–Ben Gramm

I think the idiots are running the asylum. The problem is that the clients dictate everything. Bandleaders are on their knees and never stand up for their musicians. They will do the most insane things that clients want. But the only request that bandleaders can’t fulfill is: “Will you turn it down, please?”

–Steve Gluzband

Club dates have dropped off significantly. Fortunately, I’ve spread myself enough so I can fill my dates with other engagements. Everyone I’ve talked to says they haven’t had much work. I’m doing 25 percent of the club dates I was doing even two years ago.

–Bruce Eidem

D.J.’s are killing the existence of live music. The public is unaware of the importance and impact of live music – a P.R. campaign is sorely needed.

The term “club dates” (or “casuals” in L.A.) creates an unrealistic image to the public and musicians. Musicians are many times considered equal to waiters, busboys or valet parkers – instead of artists.

–Robert Lindner

Club date bands are competing harder and harder over a smaller and smaller pie. And all of the successful bands have more singers than horn players. The Hasidic field is the only place that still has a fairly robust club date business, probably because they don’t have Hasidic D.J.’s (although they do sometimes hire one-man bands).

If you want to make a living doing club dates, unless you are a leader don’t quit your day job.

You are considered to be a great success in the field if you are making as little as $30,000 a year. That means you maintain an average of three gigs a week all year long – one on Saturday night, one (maybe two) on Sunday, and one midweek. That would be about 120 gigs a year at about $250 a gig. Ouch!

–Jack Bashkow

The single engagement field is certainly in a period of transition. We have a couple of generations of audience who think musical entertainment is someone spinning LP’s or playing CD’s for them. There will always be a pocket of people who love live music and seek beautiful melodies and poetic lyrics. But for the time being, that audience is seemingly getting smaller!

–Richard Iacona

I believe the industry is still adjusting since the terror of Sept. 11, 2001. Corporate and private parties have been on the decline, and Windows on the World – a major venue – is no more. The only constant in the industry seems to be the amount of wedding events.

The major club date offices seem to be focusing more on the Top 40 end of the business – as they should, because the “society” end has been on the decline. I have found that some of the Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey (nonunion) wedding bands have been doing this in even more depth.

As far as volume of work is concerned, none of the major New York offices has a monopoly anymore. The clients are switching bands more often on annual corporate and private jobs.

The summer months seem to have gotten slower than the winter months.

What needs to be done? The club date offices have to constantly upgrade their bands’ repertoires so that the client will not decide on a nonunion Top 40 band or D.J. for their event. If this doesn’t happen, then possibly the major New York offices would need to hire a D.J. as a supplement to the band for a particular event, to secure the job.

Also, public awareness of the industry is important. If the club date industry could have more public exposure, like the way the Broadway industry has, then perhaps the industry could be healthier overall.

–Mike Ponella

Ironically, as a consequence of the lack of work, hiring is confined to the best musicians and, as a result, the bands on the whole are historically the best New York has ever offered.

–Ken Rizzo

The club date industry is coming back but people are very cautious.

–Fran Dana

Thanks to Senior Business Rep Rich Schilio, who helped gather quotes for this story.