Earlier this week, Milwaukee musician Klassik, fresh from a Halloween show at Company Brewing, took to Twitter to speak his mind about a seemingly innocuous subject: guest lists at shows. Here’s what he had to say:
Death to the guest list.
— KLASSIK (@IAMKLASSIK) November 2, 2015
I’ve been in too many productions where everybody and their mama (literally) wanna be on the “list”.
— KLASSIK (@IAMKLASSIK) November 2, 2015
So then the end of the night the artists that rehearsed for weeks and lugged gear across town get shitty payouts. Not ok. — KLASSIK (@IAMKLASSIK) November 2, 2015
There are still issues in this performance culture we need to curb, or we’ll never truly prosper.
— KLASSIK (@IAMKLASSIK) November 2, 2015
I just want us all to prosper and lose the f**king egos. — KLASSIK (@IAMKLASSIK) November 2, 2015
Prompted by Klassik’s tweets, Milwaukee Record reached out to a few local musicians, promoters, and regular show-goers to get their thoughts on what some are calling “out-of-control” guest lists. Here’s what they had to say:
Isa Carini – Heavy Hand
I think musicians that abuse their guest list privileges are not only arrogant, but disrespectful to the people they’re sharing a bill with. As some shows require a cut from the door for the sound person, or a cut to the venue, the payout afterward to locals or touring bands ends up being pretty minimal (if anything) after people add 20 of their closest friends who may not have even shown up to begin with, and will probably leave after their friend’s band is done. I can see adding a significant other, or a friend who lets you practice in their basement or helps transport your gear because they have a van. But if I hear, “…Is that the list?” from behind me and turn around to see someone scrolling through their phone and writing down a bunch of their “best buds,” I’m probably going to be pissed and never book a show with you again.
Luke Chappelle – Drugs Dragons
Guest lists are a really cool way to make sure that the friends you see on a weekly basis don’t have to pay a touring band or sound guy the $5 your friends will most likely otherwise spend on drinks marked up for show night. Guest lists create the perfect opportunity for entitled adult-babies to demand that everyone acquiesce to their delusional worldview, where even the complete stranger on stage trying to make enough gas money to get to the next town is there to serve the adult-baby without need for recompense. Guest lists made sense when shows would sell hundreds of tickets and reach capacity—they were a guarantee that the touring band’s friends or family would get entrance to a show that may be sold out. Now they’re just used to make the band dude’s girlfriends feel special, and to enable the obnoxious behavior of deadbeats and cheapskates.
Ricky Ganiere – Great Lake Drifters
I’m speaking not as a musician who gets asked before every show, “Can you put me on the list?” by at least a dozen folks, but as a music lover and supporter of local business that happens to include my musician brothers and sisters. Guest lists are bullshit. I would never walk into a restaurant and ask the chef for a free meal or whatever you want to equate it to. If you truly have no money and want to experience some music, be my guest. I’d love for you to experience it. If you want me to go out of my way so you can save $5 or $10 or whatever, and you’re getting wasted and buying your friends shots, screw off.
For some reason the arts have monetarily taken a backseat to nearly everything in society. I don’t know why, but not many see value of it anymore unless it is a free download or show. As a musician, I have put in thousands of hours practicing, writing, and rehearsing with bands, and have spent many thousands of dollars on gear and its upkeep. I don’t owe anyone more than that. Hell, I don’t owe anyone anything. My songs are deep rooted in my soul and definitely portals to my darkest and most joyous times. That isn’t enough? Now you want me to float you $5 so you can hear two hours of it live? You’ll have better luck going to a bookstore and asking for a free book.
Whoever is getting the door should have say over the guest list. I had a really unfortunate experience at a local venue where I was playing with a band from out of town. Our pay for the night was whatever we got from the door, and all night the owner of the venue was walking their friends in. We had a great crowd, but only about five paid covers. I ended up giving all the money to the traveling band so they could pay for gas. I never played at that venue again after that. That is my definition of guest-list abuse.
Jim Hanke – former El Oso; Kid, You’ll Move Mountains
I haven’t played live in about four years, but the bands I was in always looked at the guest list—if we got one—as reserved for spouses, significant others, and maybe parents. Not strictly, but those were the general guidelines. Press is obviously different, so if an opportunity came up where a writer was coming to review us or what have you, we’d make sure that was taken care of. When your best gigs are opening for your heroes vs. headlining on your own, you can’t be picky. I think being the “band dad,” so to speak, I was likely the one to organize who we could list, just by checking in with everyone in the band and not having a chaotic situation when doors opened of people just throwing names out there.
DJ Hostettler – IfIHadAHiFi, Body Futures
My bands have utilized guest lists plenty of times, but with a dose of judicious self-awareness. It’s generally been limited to significant others or friends a little short on cash that week that could use the assist to have a good time. But one reason we’ve always felt comfortable utilizing guest lists is because the shows we normally play involve helping out buddy bands on tour, and at those shows, we’re not taking any of the door money anyway. So any money lost from putting people on the guest list is usually made up for our touring pals by the fact that we’re not taking a cut.
Essentially, guest lists are fine as long as the bands don’t abuse them. A weeknight show with lots of competition in town? Yeah, maybe rethink using those list spots (and there were plenty of nights where we passed them up to maximize our friends’ take). If you’re gonna abuse ’em, I guess just realize that you’re taking money out of your band fund, or worse, a touring band’s gas tank.
Basically, don’t abuse the system, and have some self-awareness. Not coincidentally, I tend to find that bands that have actually gone on tour tend to abuse the guest list the least. Go figure!
Maggie Iken – Grasping At Straws
The only person I like to have on my guest list is my significant other (who I share an apartment, vehicle, and bills with), and probably my sister when she turns 21. I don’t even comp my parents because I know they can pay a $5 cover. (Is that terrible? It’s probably terrible) I’m not a fan of having friends on my guest list, even though I think the rest of my band is. I’m more than willing to pay for my pals’ shows, and I hope that’s reciprocated. I want to give local artists my money so they can continue doing what they’re doing. There are exceptions to this, like if someone’s visiting from out of town or undergoing some unseen financial issues, but I guess I’m kind of a stickler.
And let’s not forget about the folks running sound and the door. I don’t want to let half of the crowd in since we’re buds and they might return the favor, and in turn screw people out of their rightful pay.
John Van Lieshout – founder, Top Five Records
Promoting release shows, it would really bum me out to see 20+ people get in without a cover. Most venues give bands drink tickets. If you want to save your pals a couple bucks, give them one of those, don’t take the money away from the other bands playing, the venue, sound guy, promoter, etc.
Alternatively, let your pals into the basement at Linneman’s to drink the case of Schlitz you got at Sunrise. Don’t write a bloated guest list including every band member’s girlfriend, boyfriend, and roommate to the point where a quarter of the people in the house aren’t paying to see the bands.
TJ Matzen – promoter, Mad Planet
Guest lists can get out of hand. I usually say one per member for locals / touring support, and 10 for large touring or a big local. I’m more inclined to allow for more guest spots if there’s high expected draw, not a guarantee, and the bands asking for them actually did some self-promotion. As a promoter, I have friends constantly asking me for spots, and I almost always refuse because I don’t want to take money out of the bands’ pockets. They think I’m being stingy, but really I’d stand to make more if I DID let them in for free, as I’d make more on the bar and I rarely take door cuts out of local shows.
Oh, and it’s usually touring acts that get hosed by guest lists, because locals obviously have friends in Milwaukee and touring acts don’t. So the idea that bands are only taking money out of their own pockets is not the case—it’s gas, food, and lodging for the touring acts. Most local bands are cognizant of that, and a lot of times they’re friends of the touring acts so they want to help them out (and have probably seen reciprocation on tour), but a few are oblivious or don’t care.
Nick Ziemann – GGOOLLDD
I love sharing guest list spots with people if it’s easy—just don’t call my phone four minutes before I get on stage and ask me to sneak in a bottle of vodka and walk you in. Also, just be direct when asking to be hooked up. “I’m broke but I wanna see you, can you list me?” is proper etiquette in my opinion, and I try to use that approach if I’m on the other side of the fence.
I don’t wish to throw myself to the jackals regarding guest lists, but I feel I’m in a unique situation regarding them. For what it’s worth, under condition of anonymity, as a radio DJ, I have no moral qualms being on a band’s list, by giving them spins on the radio and exposing their music and promoting their shows on the radio. I also don’t feel bad getting a promo copy of an album. I certainly still pay my own way for a lot of shows and still buy albums (local and national), but feel it’s a symbiotic relationship. So getting comped in my position for a show or an album is win/win.
One way to nip the guest list problem in the bud is for bar venues to pay performers out of the bar and ditch the cover charge completely. Small bars should not have covers BUT the music should either be the reason people are coming or it should be the atmosphere the bar is trying to eschew. The Beat Series at Art Bar pays some of its performers as does the Bremen Cafe. The crowd that goes there is steady and it is the way to ensure people don’t have a reason to go elsewhere.