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Letter to the editor: Let’s retire the $5 show

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Luke Tweedy introduces acts at the Grey Area festival in Lone Tree. Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

By Luke Tweedy

There’s an old joke about how being a musician means bringing $5,000 worth of gear in a $500 car to a $50 gig.

Recently, I was at a show when a kid passed me a handbill to his $5 three-band show. I made a comment about him undervaluing himself to his response, “Maybe you don’t understand DIY culture …”

For more than 15 years I have owned and operated Flat Black Studios and recorded hundreds and hundreds of albums. We’re located in a repurposed 2000-plus square foot barn that I built 90 percent of myself. I started and run Grey Area festival, co-own Long Play Records, play in the band Sinner Frenz and co-own White Rabbit, a store started around the idea of promoting local DIY makers’ work. I’ve devoted my entire life to the idea of DIY culture, honor and ethics in all that I try to promote and accomplish professionally. To say, “Maybe you don’t understand DIY culture” is laughable (and I did). The oddest part was this musician was trying to argue why he was worth less than I valued him at.

I was already thinking about the $5 show, but after our conversation, it was lodged right in the front of my brain. I had conversations with Katy from Trumpet Blossom, Pete from Gabe’s and Yacht Club and Chris from Mission Creek, Witching Hour and Feed Me Weird Things and all agreed: It is past time to kill the $5 show, for the artist’s sake.

When talking to musicians, though, some would argue, “Fugazi played for $5.” To those who are not familiar, Fugazi are DIY legends. They did it right, with ethics, and are the historical standard all others are held to within that community. Thing is, they played for $5 in 1987. Minimum wage was $3.35/hour. Now, in Johnson County, we have a recommended minimum wage of $10.27. By this calculation, the standard show should be $14.50.

The left love saying we need a $15 minimum wage, and they support the arts and music. The right loves saying the free market can dictate value, and they don’t need a law or regulation to tell them how to act properly. To both groups I say, prove it: Act properly, and support the arts. I am suggesting, right here and now, that our community step up and become a leader in how we treat our musicians and their shows. We already have some of the best venues and bands in the state, now let’s have the most supportive show-goers. Let’s show the love, care and respect music and the arts deserve.

I think it is time for every venue in the area and every band to revalue themselves. Do what you want, certainly — I sure don’t want people telling me what to do. That said, I do take advice. Is a goal of $10 shows by 2020 too lofty? Would suggesting that all shows from here on out charge a $7 base price seem ridiculous? If so, ask yourself, do you really support music and the arts? Certainly some do not, but they were not coming out at any price.

We can do better than $5. Venues, please help those who help you sell all that beer and liquor. Musicians, stop undervaluing yourselves, wasting your time and talent. Stand up for what you want and deserve, and place value in what you do. If you don’t, nobody else will, ever.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 250.


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42 thoughts on “Letter to the editor: Let’s retire the $5 show

  1. Ohhh man what a great idea Luke! Also I’ll start charging you $7 for all the shows you don’t go to.

  2. Thank god the punk rock police has weighed in. Don’t tread on my show prices. Sorry Grandpa, nobody cares and your eurorack project is boring.

  3. I WOULD pay $20 to hear good music with good people any day. It is worth so much more than $5. And I wouldn’t be going for the alcohol. Just a good time!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with Luke. I started playing in rock bands in Iowa City a long time ago (like 20+ years), and shows were $5 back then. My current project charges $10 most of the time at regional bars, and more if it’s a special event. We draw well, and we make enough money (most of the time) to feel like we’re not getting ripped off. Another excellent model that works in some of the markets other than Iowa City that we play…NO COVER and a decent guarantee for the band that doesn’t break the venue’s bank, (say $400) plus a donation jar. You will get WAY more people thru the door, sell more beer, sell more merch and, if you don’t suck, people will be happy to plunk cash into your donation jar. Like, $20 bills and such. If you do suck, well, stop playing gigs and go rehearse until you don’t suck anymore.

  5. $10 or $15 cover at any Iowa City venue makes sense, provided the bands are worthy of performing in the first place. Often, they aren’t. Often, I see bands that could be generously described as unpolished failing to achieve even a uniform tempo as they play one-riff songs for far too long, and yet still manage to clock in sets under 25 minutes (I strongly suspect the first two comments were left by members of such bands). For that garbage, $5 is pushing it on value. Really, I’d just be there to see friends and probably smoke outside during the sets, paying my $5 as a courtesy in the name of supporting local music.

    But I’d rather pay $10 or $15 to see musicians that have honed their songs, practiced them sufficiently, and take the stage with something more closely resembling a desire to perform than a desire to demand attention and use a microphone. The DIY scene is a fine testing ground, and I’m happy to have played and organized and attended basement or barn or parking lot shows over the years.

    The $5 show works great when all anyone really wants is the continued existence of the scene. And the scene probably is, even at its worst, worthy of existence. What makes sense to me, though, is that the bands that become better than the DIY basement mainstays should play somewhere with a real PA, working monitors, and someone running sound. That show is worth $10 or $15.

  6. Why would I go to a show when there’s so much free pornography online? And trust me, I understand DIY culture.

      1. Zuul is the best band. There is only Zuul . ..I would pay $20 to see them play. The lead singer with the glasses and Bowie voice is a genius . Iowa City does have some amazing musicians but also High cost of living that is going to make it really hard for people to tuck themselves into paying more than $ 5-8 to see music when they have high rent and bills to pay and food to buy. But I do think if the band brings in a bunch of people and those people spend a bunch of money at that establishment the band should get a juicy cut of the profit from the night ….

        1. The high cost of living effects the local musicians too.
          If it’s DIY level $5 might be fine.
          If the musicians are spending hours refining their craft then they’re worth $10 in this economy.

  7. Most iowa bands suck and aren’t worth even $5 also the scene doesn’t support itself you all are a bunch of cancer, if you’re not trying to be the same over played metalcore sound then you aren’t accepted and have no draw. Cedar rapids a casual affair (also generic metalcore) is the only band that has a draw. Also if you’re going to a show just to drink and not support or watch the bands you’re the reason the scene is dying.

    1. It’s really easy to find decent Iowa acts of you avoid metal. There are a few good netal acts too. But it’s utterly incorrect to say that a CR metal band is the only thing around with a pulse.

  8. As an artist, I understand where Luke is coming from. Pricing art is very tricky. At the same time, it is difficult to attend concerts anymore because of high ticket prices. There are some music festivals, including Grey Area, that I’ve really wanted to go to. In situations like this, there needs to be an “in between”, so to speak…scholarships, for example. These music events and festivals are a really great way to connect with people. But economic factors can prevent many people from accessing these opportunities.

  9. This is a symptom of the larger problem at hand. The cost of living has increased exponentially, while wages have not. Wage increases are not in-step with inflation, and even though the U.S. is generating more profit than ever, all the money goes to the 1%, and not the laborers.

    Until that problem is fixed, I don’t know what anyone is supposed to do. Yes, musicians should make more than $5 a head at the door. Absolutely. At the same time, wages haven’t gone up with inflation, so the $14.00 comparison is meaningless.

    The system is screwed. Everyone is screwed.

    1. This. Maybe we need real underground venues with bootlegged booze to make live music thrive. Cover os $10 but the bathtub moonshine is only $1 per jar. I wouldn’t mind giving that a shot. Meet in the basement of Cactus 5 anytime after 8 on Friday night. The password is “Money Laundering Probably”.

  10. Luke, So proud to have you representing Lee County! Every step you take, Every move you make, and no word is wasted. You Don’t know me Luke I think we shook hands one time. Lol I rode the school bus with your brother good friends with your dad. I’ve even taught your cousin how to pick a few tricks on that banjo LOL! The talent, the hard work, the dedication, and the DIY that you represent is definitely Underrated and undervalued. You Couldn’t have said it any better and anyone who means anything is behind you and agrees with you. Keep up the good work Luke! It feels good doesn’t it? A feeling that Those who are trying to belittle you by the ignorant comments on this article will never feel! And it’s not acquired through genes,through luck ,or bought, It’s your attitude,your faith, and your purpose!! God Bless

  11. I’d pay $10, $20, $30, whatever to see decent up and comers, give ’em a chance. But I’m pretty fortunate. Problem is, most simply can’t afford to. When your rent is $1300 and you’re only making $13 an hour, I can see where you have to cut costs. It sucks, but it’s just the reality of most working class young people in 2018.

  12. Send your demos off to Luke and the rest of the IC establishment so they can tell you how much your music is worth. So thankful that we have them. How would we ever know what to listen to? But in all seriousness, get over yourselves. The rest of us have.

    1. You will soon get your chance, bud. Expect a Leg show within a few months. New material, too. It’s super exciting.

      Luke, I hear you. The thing is that that music is, for almost everybody, either a hobby or an artistic labor of love. The days of Hammer of the Gods and buying your own jet are gone forever from the arts. If you look at the list of all the millionaire bands in the world, you’ll see that they all broke before Spotify. I’ve seen (and been in) fine bands playing to empty rooms over and over again. Charging more won’t fix it. What will fix it? Hell if I know. I’m going to keep playing, though, whether there’s money in it or not.

  13. Yes to flat fees!!! Also I pay money for professional shows, but stay away from $5 shows because I assume that it’s a new toddler band. Ticket price is PART of the marketing. Bands should all consider themselves a business, $5 is a silly price.

  14. This dude is so out of touch with DIY culture in 2018 that it’s unreal.
    He starts by listing the fact that he owns a business and a recording studio and then states that he also runs both a record label and a local festival.
    He then goes on to name drop a bunch of people from venues/festivals, none of whom are active local musicians.
    If the minimum wage is $10.27 per hour and we charge $10 for a show, that’s roughly an hour of time that someone has to work to be able to afford a show.
    As someone who’s been an active local musician and show goer for the past ten years, I say that’s too much to regularly demand of college students who are already overtaxed on both time and money.
    It may have been different in 2003, but in 2018, DIY is about one thing; making shows happen because we love to play and see live music. The cost of living has drastically increased in the past twenty years, and affordable live music is both a bastion and a comfort to local music fans who live paycheck to paycheck. The DIY scene isn’t just about supporting long established musicians. It’s about supporting everyone, old and new, fans included.
    Luke can muster up all the name dropping, ironic guilt trips and behind the hand condescension he wants to, but should ask himself one question; when was the last time he was involved in anything local that didn’t involve someone, somewhere, making money? There will always be a strong local scene that’s more concerned with putting on good, accessible shows than we are with making enough money to pay our mortgages.
    Luke just can’t seem to get past the fact that he’s not a part of it anymore.

  15. I believe venues need to step up a little as well. There’s an odd psychology to paying the cover, but the same patrons who hesitate at $10 at the door have zero hesitation with their $80 bar tab. Some venues have two tip lines on the credit card payment: one for the bar staff, one for the entertainment. It would be nice to see all venues adopt this.

  16. Although I’m not from here, I have never been treated like an outsider in Iowa City. But, as an outsider looking in, it is shocking how negative and misguided the comments are on this topic. There is no controversy in wanting artists to be paid more for their art. Cultivating a business that creates art, etc. and making a profit does not disqualify you from falling under your precious DIY precept. That is absurd. That is the very definition of ‘doing it yourself.’
    There are people that try to be a positive influence and support the people they choose to support, and there are people who are a psychic drain on the music scene. If a man or woman who creates everything themselves and is successful at it is not DIY, who is your beloved DIY archetype? Who is this transcendent benchmark? The LV comment board is no place for anonymous, personal attacks. As an outsider it sincerely saddens me to see this scene filled with incredibly talented and motivated men and women torn apart by cowards who have nothing to contribute. It will only sicken you, not us.
    *This is the last time I’ll be reading this. Such a waste of time.

    1. Thank you, Brendan. Reading these responses made me so sad. Like him personally or not, whatever, shitting on someone who’s devoted their life to supporting Iowan artists and trying to support paying artists what they are worth and deserve by taking *anonymous* cheap personal shots is super pathetic. Is he an out of touch yuppie grandpa because he’s over 25 and fairly successful? I’m pretty over anyone who grows up in this town and does well being called the establishment. I’ve lived here almost my whole life and been going to and supporting shows for over 20, and am so thankful of anyone who devotes themselves to making our music scene what it is. And I think bands are selling themselves short and actually working against themselves charging that little unless it’s a house show. Promote yourself, play well and I’ll come see you, but honestly, when I see a bill at a local venue that had more than one act and costs 5 bucks, I generally assume they are desperate to get folks in the door and maybe not that great. Maybe part of the ticket price goes to subsidize those who have financial barriers to going to concerts-like having a few free tickets at every show. Thank you to Luke for giving so much of himself and speaking up when it obviously opens you up to naysaying scene trolls. Those who cant, gripe.

    2. Thanks for saying that Brendan. I agree fully. The anon commenters on here are destructive, cowardly and full of crap. These days if we’re not on a label, (and sometimes even if we are) we are ALL D.I.Y. artists. It just means “Do it Yourself”…duh. It isn’t some badge to wear. It’s a work ethic. I’m guessing many of the detractors on this comment stream don’t have much of one, or they’d be out working on their music or musicianship instead of trolling editorials written by REAL working artists, who’ve busted their ass to make a living as an artist, and who’ve gotten better and better at their art over the years. He deserves respect not your spiteful chicken-shit, half-witted verbal vomitus.

      Luke works his ass off for his family, his friends, and his clients. I’ve known very few people who exemplify a do-it-yourself ethic more than Luke, or his wife.

      And yes, “Call me Grandpa and I Will Kick Your Teeth In” is not only my pseudonym on my earlier comment, but it’s also a solid promise. :)

  17. Many of the comments on this thread read like a DIY circular firing squad. I feel we should do whatever we can to ensure artists can at least have a shot at supporting themselves with their art.

  18. Agree. Musicians are over worked and underpaid. Venues need to step it up. People going out to the shows need to realize musicians have so much time and money invested so only wanting to pay them a minimal amount is an asshole move. If you can’t afford 10 or 15 bucks then stay home and listen to music. And anyone who disagrees is an idiot and probably posted anonymously because they don’t have the balls to put their name up there next to their opinion.

  19. DIY isn’t a business though–his might have come from that, but many small business do start that way–they start from a community, like the guy who fixes bikes for neighborhood kids, then decides to open a shop. But is Luke offering services or sustaining the underground? It seems like he is trying to blend both, which is difficult. So what is it? DIY is radical and communal, it’s not a club. So as uncouth as some of the LV reader comments are, I think they are speaking, in a way, to that. I see where Luke is going, but if you are in business then you are in business, it’s not entirely DIY anymore. It’s something different or on a different level. And the DIY people need to find a way to work (or not) with that. They can take his advice, or not, as he says.

  20. Totally agreed Tweedy. The music gets better when folks get paid enough to devote their time to it. People practice more, put money into their careers and get more focused. Well put all around. Keep on keeping the flame.

  21. Luke is right. If you love music and want to see it thrive, you need to pay for it so musicians can live.

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