Op-Ed: Response to “It’s Time for Local Bands to Raise Show Prices”
ColumbusUnderground.com posted an op-ed by Columbus Songwriters Association president Joey Hendrickson (read it here) that’s been sparking a lot of discussion in Columbus and beyond. The article presumes $5 as a benchmark cover charge for “local bands” is a policy that sells the artists short. Phillip Reed of rising Columbus band The Wind and the Sea (Facebook page, Official site) has many thoughts on Joey’s idea and the idea of a new venue implementing it. Below is his op-ed piece:
Last month Joey Hendrickson requested my attendance at an “invitation only” tour of the new restaurant venue hybrid Copious/Notes. He was very excited about the project and spoke as though the venue would be a game changer for the Columbus music scene. I had done a similar tour earlier in the month and had reluctantly agreed to attend a second time with the intent to clear up what I hoped were some misunderstandings regarding the venue’s business plan, particular the raising of ticket prices to $15, and “hopefully getting them up to $25 within the next few years.” Throughout the evening there was a lot of rhetoric similar to what Joey implemented in his article “It’s Time for Local Bands to Raise Show Prices.”
After the tour had concluded Joey introduced me to Notes’s Vice President Bob Breithaup and we discussed my misgivings with the proposed ticketing policy. Bob made it very clear that tickets would never be sold lower than $15 a head regardless of the positive impact lower prices would have on concert attendance and likened the venue’s curation of artists to “picking items for the restaurant’s menu” whilst likening The Wind and The Sea’s ticketing policy of $5 a head maximum to a “$1 wing night.” Notes would be a venue where artists get what they “deserve” and we were not welcome to cheapen the venue’s image by suggesting lower ticket prices.
Joey called me later that night audibly upset about the exchange between me and Bob and promised to speak to the Notes’ board about softening up the ticketing policy, if only for a special case involving The Wind and The Sea. During the call he requested I write a letter so that he could make a case to the board, as well as utilize some quotes for a forthcoming opinion article that would deal with the matter of ticket prices. That article was posted via Columbus Underground today, and apparently he had a change of heart.
Below is the letter I wrote in response to my evening at Notes. I hope that its publication may do something to stimulate more meaningful dialogue regarding “death to the $5 cover.”
August 4, 2015
I apologize for the slow response, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and am (sometimes detrimentally) careful with voicing my opinions. I’ve had a lot of conversations and written a handful of really lengthy drafts attempting to articulate my thoughts, but, to me, the heart of the matter is this:
People create to give voice to something in their “spirit” and something really wonderful can happen when that is shared in public. It goes without saying that the means to create and to present those creations are expensive, and of course many musicians desire to make their artistry their vocation. There is nothing remotely wrong with that (The Wind and The Sea are in the same boat), BUT we absolutely do not believe that the desire to profit from our labor should come at the expense of sharing our work with the maximum number of people possible. I believe that last statement is the crux of the difference between meaningful artistry and cheap entertainment. As I see it, the expansion of fan/listener/”consumer” base is paramount to true success in this industry, and hosting affordable concerts is a huge part of this, particularly at the juncture where most aspiring professional musicians find themselves. Our experience has proven this model to be wholly effective, and despite some initial nay-saying from promoters, events for which we have leveraged our guarantees for the ability to sell tickets at $5 have ended up more successful in terms of both turnout and money in every case.
Based on my conversation with Bob Breithaup I do not believe that Notes is the type of venue that values spirit over profit. Even financially speaking I do not believe that the “brand” Notes wishes to cultivate makes sense. I am obviously not an economist, but the suggestion that a business can successfully implement a new, higher price whilst tapping the same supply and demand structure the city currently has seems unlikely. Furthermore, the notion that Notes will lead the charge in Columbus’s cultural acceptance and embracing of this scheme is ridiculous, unfortunately haughty, and distinctly un-Midwestern.
The business of Notes, like our band, is an experiment, and this one is just beginning. I might be wrong. However, at best, I see Notes becoming the home of a cottage industry of professional local musicians, or a playground for those that prefer their $12 cocktail with a side of antiquated “culture.” That is only if it’s model can sustain long-term success at all.
As for The Wind and The Sea, we would much rather continue to work with the Spacebars, the Carabars, the BravoArtists, and the PromoWests who understand the things I have stated above, and believe that real success, longevity, and maybe even money, come from labors of the spirit. If this equates to a “$1 Wing Night,” as Mr. Breithaup has suggested, then it’s gonna be a goddamn feast.
All that being said, I appreciate your personal commitment to bettering the music culture in Columbus, and your work with the Columbus Songwriters Association in particular. I truly believe that we are bursting at the seams with some “genuine articles,” and in this sense, I am optimistic.
The Wind and The Sea