[Dixielandjazz] Re: Band renumeration / Break even / The Dixieland scene

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jul 16 13:43:30 PDT 2004

> "Tom Duncan" <tduncan at bellatlantic.net> wrote (polite snip)
> Tex Wyndham wrote in one of his columns reprinted in The Mississippi Rag (or
> American Rag?) about the multiple that a restaurant/bar's take had to be
> over the band fee in order to cover the costs. I believe it was either three
> or four times. In other words, if the entertainment wants $1,000, the venue
> needs to take in either $3,000 (or 4,000) in covers and/or admittance
> charges to meet their nut. Can anyone confirm these numbers or elaborate on
> this issue. If a band can show that they can draw, let's say, 100 diners and
> patrons a night at about $30 - 40 per head, that gives them a talking point
> in setting a reasonable fee.
> Looking forward to hearing about other band's experiences or thoughts on
> this,

Yes, Tex figured 3 times the band fee. He assumed a profit of 50% on drinks and 10% on
food. So he ignored the food for his rule of thumb and postulated, for example, that if
a band cost $600, the venue had to sell $1800 worth of drinks. The 50% margin meant
$900 gross profit on the drinks, minus $600 cost for the band leaving $300 net profit
before taxes for the club.

But, he also pointed out that if the venue can sell $600 in drinks without the band,
the net profit before taxes is also $300.

So, if the band is to be a viable investment for the owner,  the break even just to
cover band cost is sales of $1200 MORE in drinks with a band, than without a band.

That means as a generalized rule, that a band must generate EXTRA drink sales of twice
its cost.

He took it a step further and postulated that most clubs have about 100 patrons and if
they average 2 drinks each that's 200 drinks at say $4 a pop or $800. 3 drinks each
gives you $1200 which is the necessary amount. However, again, these would have to be
over and above any drink tabs that the place got without the band. He did not factor in
music cover charges which many clubs impose.

Therefore, he also postulated that Dixieland is dying because folks will not come to
see it in a club environment. So, Dixieland was not able to pay its way, ergo not
commercially viable in the USA, except perhaps in New Orleans and Orlando and of course
with Jim Cullum in San Antonio.

This was in his "Texas Shout" column in The American Rag. It is also in his book "How
Dixieland Works" in a chapter called "Economics of Dixieland".

I paraphrased it slightly, raising his band fee example from $300 ($50 a man) to $600
($100 a man) because I don't know any decent Dixieland Bands in the Philadelphia area
that would work a club date for $50 a man, even on a weeknight.

His assumptions about Dixieland not being commercially viable do not square with the
actual experiences of those of us who are playing in clubs and other public venues.
Perhaps because he is too focused on OKOM Festivals and/or OKOM Cruises where so called
"Artistic Dixieland" is heard by old folks who neither spend a lot of money, nor stay
out late. That is where his bands play.

That is not where the action is. And that is why I preach about playing for young
audiences. They go clubbing, they spend money and if you have a good band, not hung up
on reprising "dead guy" music, you can have a lot of fun in public venues. Young people
are surprisingly open to good music, presented properly to them. A good band can freely
create jazz within the "Dixieland" framework while also making money for both the venue
and itself.

That, in a nutshell, is why I formed my own band, Barbone Street, two or three years
after joining his "Red Lions" band here. They play 3 or 4 gigs a year in this area and
I wanted to play the many gigs ( we now do 160 a year) which I knew were available
within a Dixieland format. (having also free lanced with several other Dixieland Bands
that were working club dates and other public venues around the area)

Will Dixieland provide a living wage for musicians? Probably not, and for most years of
its existence it never did. The pros. Davern, Wilber, Peplowski (yes I am reed
oriented) ALWAYS took other musical (commercial) gigs to supplant their earnings. They
do radio/TV commercials, they do "society" work, etc. But then, that's nothing new.

Steve Barbone

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