10 Basic Economic Rules for Cover Bands

Being a musician for most of my life – playing in both cover and original bands – and later, owning bars and venues and of course working in other aspects of the music business, has given me a unique bit of knowledge of basically being on “both sides of the fence” so to speak.  One one side, being in a band that wants to play and make money, and get their name out and build a fan base.  On the other hand, being a venue owner that depends on music to help attract business.

In that spirit, I have put together a list of things focused on the economic realities that will help you if you are really interested in playing in clubs and getting your band out there.  Of course, if you really want to do this, you really must treat it as a business.  Don’t be a drunk idiot, only out to get as much tail as you can get, or see how drunk you can get before you pass out on the stage in your own vomit.  But, I digress.  Read through these ten simple rules, below, and your life will be much easier and you will likely experience much more success in your endeavors.

1. If you have a band, particularly a cover band – looking for a “guarantee” – don’t bitch if your pay is too low when you only manage to bring a few people out to your shows. Clubs that book cover bands are businesses, and they pay money out for bands who will help bring business into their establishment. They are paying you as an investment to help increase their sales, not as an expense that leads to a potential loss. You *must* bring something to the table.

2. Just because the club lists you in the entertainment guide or on their website, doesn’t mean that you automatically will have a big following. This takes hard work, and all of your band members must participate. You need to promote yourselves to build your following. Stop by every table and thank who came to your shows – yea, talk to them! Flyer the venue. Post ads on Facebook (oh my God yes, that might mean you have to actually spend money!) Use social networking (but don’t rely on it alone). Make an effort. Even if your “following” isn’t as large as it needs to be, I promise you that the venue/club will remember that you at least made the effort. Do what you say you are going to do, too. If you make big promises to the venues that fall through, that’s not nearly as good as underpromising and overdelivering.

3. If you think so highly of your band and you believe you are worth more than you are being paid, make a door deal with the club/venue and waive your guarantee. After all, if you are a bona fide rock star, your throngs of followers will no doubt come and pay good money to see you, and you will make a killing.

4. Don’t get hung up on how the club/venue is “screwing you over” if it is part of a corporate chain. Most corporations have definitive limits on what they allocate for entertainment. It is what it is, and until it changes, that’s the way it’s gonna be. The reason these places exist and continue to exist is because they have figured out the economics so that they can continue to do business. In other words, every time they book a band, they take a risk (see paragraph one). So if they have five proven bands that draw well, and several others that do not, the established economic guidelines help to ensure they don’t lose money over time, and hopefully make a profit. So – if you don’t like it, then don’t complain about what they pay and don’t play there. Find somewhere else to play.

5. If you are a new band, and you have not yet established yourself – even if you have players who have played in other bands – you can’t expect top dollar. Make a deal the first time in. It’s not a sin, I promise. It’s a show of good will, that you understand the club needs to make money.  Of course, there are exceptions, when say there are five guys who happen to play in road bands or who have been around long enough to each have a nice fan base, but most of the time this is not the case. And – by making a deal first time in, you are *not* selling yourself short. You are showing goodwill. I’ve done free shows before and I have no problem making this investment to help get established.

6. Club owners are not impressed with drunk musicians that are being PAID to do a job. Stay off the booze and the dope at least while you are performing, or at least maintain until after all is said and done.

7. For crying out loud, do NOT argue about your bar tab!  I’ve seen this a million times, including back in the day in my own band (said musician was immediately fired). Seriously, you won’t get booked again. Don’t be a douche. And definitely, don’t walk your tab, If you do, call or go to the venue and apologize profusely and pay it! Nothing pisses off a venue more, and at the end of the day, the bartenders/waitresses do have influence – their opinions count.

8. Don’t be so pompous that you say “well I hate this owner” or “won’t ever play there again,” etc. You know, it’s kinda small out there in the real world. You never know if the owner you “hate” might open the next big club, or maybe the manager that “screwed you on your tab” could open their own establishments.  Moreover, most venue owners in a given market know each other and likely talk. There are limited resources in each market – always keep that in mind.

9. If you don’t like the pay scales in your market, seek out venues in other cities. There are plenty of places to play outside of your area that would love to have a good band. But remember – if you do not live in that area, the first time you play you are going to have to make a concession, unless you are Bon Jovi or the Foo Fighters. You will need to make the effort to promote heavily, get a decent crowd the first time in, and make sure you leave the place raving about you, so that next time, your following (and your money) in that market goes up.

10. The Golden Rule. If you are “too big for your breeches” then there is always going to be someone hungrier out there that will gladly take your place if you pass up an opportunity.  Therefore, pick your battles carefully. You can either make a deal and build your reputation and following (sometimes it takes a LONG time), or you can sit your ass home on a Friday night when another band that you think “sucks” is taking “your” slot.  Always be humble and build respect through your actions.  Boasting about how good your band is will not get you anywhere.  Prove it.

These rules should help set your expectations and the realities of working in the music business at the club level.  If you want to get serious about it, you should pay close attention to them.  And remember:  There are many more bands out there looking for good gigs than there are actual places to play.  It is the law of supply and demand, and it is competitive.

Stay tuned… there will be more in this series.

©2018 Zach Bair

It Is Time for Performance Royalty Reform – Soundstr is Here

Last week, my company took a monumental step toward protecting the rights of musical artists and writers, by acquiring Soundstr, technology that, in a nutshell, will help reduce music licensing costs in bars, restaurants, radio stations, and many more businesses, and will in turn also help increase the number of businesses who are licensed.  This has been a passion project for me for some time, driven from personal experiences and my almost lifelong desire to help musicians.  This is the story of the more recent events.

About two years ago, I had simply had enough.

It seemed like every other day, my venue was getting calls, letters or even visits from every single one of the three major US PROs – performing rights organizations.  The message was clear:  agree to a “blanket license” and pay a large sum of money every year to each of the three major PROs, or face a potential copyright lawsuit claiming tens of thousands of dollars in damages.  As many bar and restaurants will tell you, this is a heavy-handed tactic that has been literally going on for years, and scares the hell out of most owners and even puts some out of business (yea, that helps musicians).  But unlike many of my fellow bar or restaurant owners, I’ve been working in the music industry for a long time, and had a good bit of knowledge about rights management, through my work with DiscLive.  So the first question I asked these folks was “how do you know what songs are being played on a nightly basis, and how do I know that the money I am paying actually goes to the artists and writers that deserve it?”  The answer was always “that’s not my department,” or something along the lines of “we have a formula that calculates that.”  In other words, they have absolutely no clue.

And that’s not good enough.

As I learned, there is and was no way for the PROs to truly know what is being played in these businesses, so they just go for the throat and demand a blanket license, which means that the business must license that PRO’s entire catalog in the off chance that a work under their stead is played.  As noted, this is already a huge issue with business owners, and several organizations such as the Fairness in Music Licensing Coalition, to which my company VNUE is aligned, are working to change this.  An even bigger issue, I learned, is that artists that I personally know and associate with have not been paid for public performances of their work.

At. All.

So, already frustrated about the repeated calls and harassment by these organizations, I used my technology and process engineering background, wrote a patent for a system to solve this problem, filed it with the USPTO, and set about starting to publicly evangelize the need for a change, all while working on the technology design for our solution.  Along the way, I was introduced to the FMLC (above), and in turn, they introduced me to Soundstr.

Soundstr is a Cincinnati-based startup company that was started by Eron Bucciarelli-Tieger, who gained notoriety by being a founding member of platinum selling band Hawthorne Heights.  Amazingly, much like I had approached this issue from frustration of how my venue was being harassed, Eron had approached this same problem from a different angle – from that of the artist – and had in fact already come up with some nifty devices that go in venues to track music plays.  He found out he was not being paid from his public performances.  And, frustrated from the “non-answers” he was getting, he also decided to do something about it.

Call it an alignment of the stars, or possibly a burgeoning rocket sled that cannot be stopped, but after several months of work, Soundstr is now part of the VNUE family, and we are about to seriously blast off with a combination of the Soundsr Pulse™, pictured below, and the additional system designs and processes in our patents.


Soundstr Pulse™

And all of this gets me very excited.  Not because this is going to be ridiculously big – and it will – but moreover because I know that we are about to inject a massive change into an industry that hasn’t budged in 50+ years.  In fact, the basic “general licensing” model has been around since 1847!  According to research conducted by Soundstr, in that year, French composer Ernest Bourget, along with other composers, witnessed their music being used without compensation in a popular cafe.  They successfully sued and won a royalty settlement.  In 1851 they founded SACEM, the world’s first PRO.  In 1914, one of the first big American PROs was founded, ASCAP.

Now there is no question that PROs do a good thing, by helping to protect artists rights.  However, there is a lot of murky accounting that no one really knows about and a big part of that involves general licensing royalties ($3B globally by the way).  Remember – this is what the PROs charge for playing music in music venues, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, etc.  And this needs to be updated to 21st Century standards.

Here is a great example of the problem.  It stems from the main issue that if the song is not being actively played on the radio and/or the artist is not in the top touring artists list as published by several industry trades, the songwriters and artists won’t get a royalty for their music being played in a venue or business (again, murky algorithm alert).  Soundstr recently conducted a small study to highlight the problem.  They surveyed 12 businesses over a two week period, to see what music was being played and identified almost 3000 songs.  They compared that data to Nielsen radio charts for the same time period.  Only 19% of the music being played in the venue was actually getting any radio airplay at all (this is also not weighted data, mind you).

This means for the whopping 81% of the music being played in the businesses, the songwriters and artists were not being compensated.  And some of these were big artists.


The problem extends further too, into radio itself.  Most stations are not actively monitored, and some PROs only take a small sample of data every quarter to justify the blanket license fee that is paid by the station to the PROs.  This fee can be up to 3-4% of the stations gross revenue – a huge figure in some cases (as in five figures or more).  The issue is that without knowledge of exactly what music is played, combined with the exact percentages of each song controlled by the PROs, it is highly likely that the PROs are charging for music they may not control and therefore justifying a higher rate to each station.  This is particularly true in the case of new, innovative PROs popping up taking market share away from the more established ones.

And, like the problem with venues, these fees are not properly applied to the songwriters and artists who deserve it, and stations are in some cases vastly overcharged.  We recently signed our first radio deal, and expect to roll out in July.

To be clear, our goal at VNUE is not to go to war with the PROs, but rather, introduce technology that will provide a much needed end-to-end transparent solution to this problem.  In turn, the goal will be to reduce operating costs for the PROs, reduce licensing costs to venues, businesses, radio stations, etc., and further, by having a lower price point based on actual usage rather than a blanket fee, encourage more businesses to become licensed.  And most importantly, ensure that the proper writers and artists are being paid.

It can be estimated that probably only about 20-30% of applicable businesses are properly licensed, even though the PROs typically claim more market share.  What that means is that there is a huge amount of revenue out there for songwriters and artists, just waiting to be tapped.  Our solutions will help to drive this additional revenue, and hopefully, remove the antiquated method of threatening lawsuits to become properly licensed.

In theory, Soundstr should be treated like a utility model – just like the gas, electric or water, which is a pay-per-use system.  Music is intellectual property and if it is a service, it must be paid for – fairly, and the same way: on a per-use basis.  But those who create it MUST be compensated, and there MUST be transparency.

So if any of you musicians or writers are reading this, keep this in mind:  If you have a song that was once on the radio, or popular enough for other bands to cover it, guess what?  You probably aren’t being paid.  Even if you have songs that play on the radio frequently, there is a good chance you are not getting paid.  Do you think the writers of “Mustang Sally,” notably probably one of the most covered songs ever, are getting paid properly?  Probably not.  But we don’t know for sure, because there is zero transparency.

To facilitate real change, you musos need to be vocal about this problem, because even with our technology, and our evangelism, this is going to be a mountain to move.  We must move it together.

You will be seeing a lot more of Eron and I in the coming months, as we continue our quest to get that mountain on the move, and I hope to hear your voices add to the chorus.

For more information about the Soundstr tech, and how it could help you as a musician or a venue/business owner, you may email “contact” @ “vnue” dot com.

Graphic source:  Soundstr


Revisting Steve Jobs, who changed my life


Recently I ran across my op-ed that I wrote in the Commercial Appeal, back on Oct 16, 2011 (the crunched up newspaper photo, above).  This was a mere week after Steve Jobs’ passing, which was on Oct 5th of that same year.  I was going to simply repost the article (copy and paste), but I could not find a digital copy anywhere, so I was forced to re-type everything that I had written almost seven years ago, word-by-word.  And I’m glad I did.

When I wrote this article, I was genuinely devastated, much as if you had lost a loved one or a close family member.  It was a strange feeling, never having even met the man in the flesh.  Yet this guy impacted my life so much, in almost every way, that it was truly painful.  Because of him, and his ideas, motivations, and his philosophies, he shaped most of my adult life (after I had the common sense to eventually find a purpose).

Those who know me will know that I am incredibly picky.  I think through everything, probably to the point of overthinking.  I walk into one of my venues, and instinctively, I turn the chairs to exactly 45 degrees facing the front and make sure the chairs are matched up because it drives me nuts.  I don’t even notice I do it, but I am, of course, teased about it.

But this is part of the value that Jobs instilled in me.  Nothing less than perfection, as much as possible, is acceptable.  It is paying attention to the details that make all the difference in the world and set you apart from your competition, and the rest of the pack.  For example the fact that even in early Mac apps, they all basically had the same menu (file, edit, view, etc), so that as you learned one app, you could fairly easily pick up another.  This was brilliant, and it was due directly to Steve Jobs’ penchant for demanding perfection.  And those menus still exist to this day.

Further to that point, since his passing, I’ve borne sad witness to many bugs that would have been completely unacceptable when Steve was among the living.  Bugs in the MacOS, in iOS, and hardware issues, as well as stupid moves like slowing down the OS for older phones for the sake of a battery bug (yea, right).

Mind you, none of these issues are earth shattering, and Tim Cook has absolutely done a good job in attempting to fill Steve’s enormous shoes.  But even these very small bugs are an indicator that the man whose grand vision spawned nothing short of a revolution in technology is no longer at the helm.  Its sad.

So as much as it drives those who know me absolutely batty, I can assure you that I will still subscribe to Steve Jobs’ philosophy, and most assuredly you can bet that if someone tells me that I cannot do something or “it’s not possible,” then I am going to go out and do it just to prove that they are wrong.  I will continue to be picky and demanding, because that’s what it takes to be the best.  I won’t settle for second best.  I may not be Steve Jobs, but his spirit definitely lives in me, and drives almost every decision.

So again, even seven years later, thank you Steve for your impact on my life.  I haven’t changed the world quite yet.  But I will.

Read the below original article…. I hope you enjoy it.

(from the Commercial Appeal, Sept 16, 2011)

Steve Jobs saved my life.

Now, I’m sure you say those are some pretty strong words, coming right out of the gate. Especially given that I never knew the guy personally.

But back in the mid-1980s, I was as lost as I could possibly be. I had served in the Air Force, and after my stint, jumping from job to job, mostly in the “hair net and name tag” category.

Back then, Jobs had yet to invent the iPhone, much less personalize the world of technology and music. It was the “dark ages,” and we were excited to just have beepers.
But he did invent the Mac, and shortly before I decided I had had enough of “Do you want fries with that?” and returned to East Texas to go back to school. I managed to procure a Mac Plus, with a 10MB hard disk, and a whopping 1MB of memory.
Of course, I really had no idea what I had. It came in a little black bag that I could lug around, which I thought was cool.

I finally took my Mac out of its bag when I arrived back in East Texas. I plugged it in, turned it on, and along with the “bong,” it smiled at me! From that moment on, I was hooked.

I’ve always been a visual type of person, by my prior classes in computers had been righteously boring, and because my particular school (which shall remain unnamed) seemed to be stuck in the stone age, involved things like punch cards and green screens. And I don’t mean like the green screen you would get when you run-of-the-mill PC crashes.

So needless to say, until I pulled that little tan computer out of its hip little bag, I seriously had no interest in computers at all. But all that changed, literally in an instant.
I became a Mac-phile. An apple “fanboy.” I read every Apple article I could get my hands on, and I grew increasingly skilled at every aspect of the Mac. I saved my hard-earned fast-food pennies and bought a truly amazing invention: An Apple LaserWriter. Forked over five grand for that baby! Was the first in my town to own one. Such a proud moment!

Soon I was supplementing my meager income by typing up school papers for other kids, and it dawned on me pretty quickly that I was relatively good at graphic art, too. That evolved into the creation of ads for local publications, and at the same time, I pursued my “geekdom,” and became certified in Apple technologies by the “mother ship” so I could actually consult.

Soon I bought a copier and was running my own little design, print and copy business right out of my one-bedroom apartment directly across from the college. I would have so much gear running at one time, every light in our building would go dim. It was wonderfully joyous.

This eventually led me to my first “real” position outside of the burger-flipping world: art director and a columnist for the Galveston Daily News, and the caretaker of all the newspaper’s Macs. It was a big move – going from little old Nacogdoches, Texas (fondly called “Nacanowhere”) to the big city of Houston.

There, I took care of the News’ computers and convinced them to go digital prepress, something that very few newspapers were doing at the time. It was very exciting, and I was the textbook Mac Evangelist.

From there, I moved on to various positions in Houston and then Dallas, most of which involved Macintosh and Apple equipment.

I continued to soak up everything Mac, and at the same time had to learn about PCs because they were so prevalent in the corporate world. And that taught me something very important:

Steve Jobs’ genius is what separated the Mac from all of the other PCs. These were elegant machines, superbly engineered and well thought out – adhering to Apple’s famous “Human Interface Guidelines.” The same company that made the hardware also engineered the operating system to rigorous standards. It was brilliant.

Between then and now, I’ve started and run several companies, all of which ran on Macintosh technology. I became interested in technology in the first place, because of the Mac. I have my career because of the Mac, and Mr. Jobs’.

I’ve been in the music business about 10 years (with a heavy technology side) and almost exclusively use Macs for everything from recording and production, to design and virtually every other imaginable task.

I owe it all – my life as I know it – to Steve jobs and his brilliance. He not only allowed me to find my talent, but also give me the inspiration to “think different” and push boundaries, to be foolish and to not let people tell me I could not do something just because it had not been done. I’m sure he has touched countless others in the same manner.

As Steve said, and I’ll never forget:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things…they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Thank you Steve Jobs, for everything.

Yes… It CAN be done!

I was reading the news today, about how a billionaire by the name of Isaac Larian and a couple of other investors are pledging $200 million to try to save around 400 of the remaining Toys “R” Us stores.  According to Larian, “This is an American icon that needs to be saved.”  Apparently they have set up a GoFundMe page, which is here.

Larien is the CEO of MGA Entertainment, a successful toy making company behind such brands as Bratz dolls and Little Tike.

What struck me as interesting about this article was not just the act – which is pretty cool unto itself – but the drive and passion behind his decision to do this.

What caught my attention, however, was one of the comments that he made:

“During my life as an entrepreneur, I was often told that something couldn’t be done, that no doll could challenge Barbie.  And we’d still get it done.”

That statement really, really hit close to home.  I wish I could count the number of times I have been told that throughout my life.  Myself being creative and driven, it was frustrating to me when I would present an amazing idea, and that idea would not be embraced, but instead would be shot down because either (a) the person didn’t think of it, (b) because they were afraid to rock the boat, or (c) they felt threatened.

I recall working for EDS (Electronic Data Systems) in the mid 90s.  As a tech guy, I had been a contractor for some time and eventually they offered me a full time job.  I ended up taking it, working as the sole employee reporting to a mid-level manager who was in charge of something called “Infocenter.”  This was an internal electronic bulletin board system, that you could probably compare to AOL at the time, which allowed information and files to be shared across EDS’s tens of thousands of employees.  It was actually pretty innovative at the time.  I became the administrator of that system.

However, once I wrapped my arms around it, I was shocked as to how low tech that the system was actually being rolled out to the users.  Instead of capitalizing on EDS’s state of the art intranet – a network that spanned the globe and connected all of the EDS offices – my superior had been distributing the software via diskette and then mailing it.  I couldn’t believe it.  This company was spending, or rather wasting, no doubt hundreds of thousands of dollars a year instead of just sending the required software digitally.

Well, being the disruptive and slightly rebellious but nevertheless innovative person that I am, I of course brought this to my boss, who was terrified of trying anything different.  In fact, he had a complete meltdown after I showed him the amount of money the company could save.  And when I mean meltdown, I mean bad.  And, needless to say, I got the boot.  It was a hard lesson learned, but I knew that I was right.

Fortunately, a later engagement at Sabre/American Airlines was better.  I joined that company in 1998 or so, as a network engineer, helping to roll out the network they were building to airports and travel agencies.  It was a significant job.  During the course of my work, I discovered that the method in which they were accounting for TCP/IP addresses and really the entire methodologies for deployment was very manual and many processes were needlessly repeated.  So, I took it upon myself, on my own time, to write and design a web-based application that I dubbed “Warped,” for “Wide Area Router Production and Design”.

This is where things started to change for me.  Instead of being booted, my superiors at the time saw this benefit and not only blessed the system, but promoted me.  After the ordeal at EDS I was shocked, but very happy about it obviously.  And this is where my life completely changed.

One of my fellow engineers suggested that this system was so good, that I should take the invention, patent it, and go raise money.  At first, that seemed lofty.  As you can imagine, there were many folks telling me “you can’t do that.”  Which of course pissed me off and motivated me to actually do it.  So I took the idea to my director, and he actually thought it was a great idea.  I ended up negotiating a deal with the company so that I could try and raise some money.

Although still a long shot, I decided to try it.  I put together an investor deck, and when doing so, read an article in the Dallas Morning News about a venture capital fund based in Dallas called HO2.  They had recently raised a fund and in the article were talking about how they were looking for innovative startup ideas.  On a whim, I cold called them and sent them an email about my system, which basically automated the entire process of deploying Cisco and other types of routers and network equipment.

In a matter of days, I received a call, and was invited to present my idea to HO2 as well as an entire group of investors at a local incubator called StarTech.  I was floored!  Someone was actually listening to me!

I remember the day I arrived at StarTech to do my presentation.  Nervous does not even begin to describe the feelings I had when I walked into a completely packed conference room to deliver my pitch.  When I say packed, I mean there were maybe 12 chairs at the conference room table and probably 25 guys in the room.

Nervously, I gave my pitch, went through my slides, and did a quick live demo.  Once the demo was over, I took questions.  One of the first questions that I got was “Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?”  I thought for a second, and simply said “Because they haven’t.  Someone had to come up with the idea, why not me?”

And the rest is history.  Less than three weeks later, I had $600,000 in seed funding, and started to build a management team of guys who were 15 years my senior and some of whom had held executive positions in Fortune 500 companies.  Three months later, and we closed a $12 million Series A venture capital round.  And at that moment, my life changed. I had crossed over to what I call “the dark side,” never to return.

Although reference to the dark side of course is a joke, in reality what it means is that at that moment I became a full-on entrepreneur.  A space where the words “you can’t do that,” serve only as motivation to actually go out and get it done.

That company, my first venture backed entity (Voyence, at first known as PowerUp Networks) was my catalyst to continue to pursue things that other people say can’t be done.  If you speak to any entrepreneur, believe me, those words are an absolute driver for their motivation.  That motivation is driven by passion.  Passion for creation, or for positive change.  Disruptive market ideas.

Since that first company, that I was told could not be done, I went on to start another tech company, Immediatek; took that company public; commercialized DiscLive; created the first “instant” DVD; sold that company to Mark Cuban; started more companies, two music venues, etc., and in every single instance, there were naysayers along the way in my ear saying whatever it was couldn’t be done for whatever reason.  Um yea, whatever.  Watch me.

So if you have something you want to do, just go out and try it.  Don’t listen to the people that want to shoot your idea down. You’re probably going to get fired from a job or three, like I was.  That’s because you are a leader and an innovator, not a follower, and you have real ideas, and others feel threatened by it.  And in the days of social media, yep, you will no doubt get your “haters.”  If you do, hey, that’s a sign you are doing it right!  Wear it proud, as a badge of honor!

If you think there is a way it can be done, then push hard, stay focused, and prove it.  That’s pretty much what has to be done if you want to be successful and cross over to the dark side.  Because, if you want it bad enough, and for the right reasons, and you have the passion, then yes.

It CAN be done.



Lack of Transparency in the PROs – Exemplified

(Originally posted at

No doubt anyone in the music industry who has anything to do with writing or publishing songs, and/or performing them, has heard of the issues that have cropped up in regard to ASCAP’s “premium payments”.  These payments, supposedly, are paid to songwriters to reflect the importance to ASCAP’s repertory that achieve high level performances on radio, and to compensate members that have some type of a “prestige” value.

Recently, this has come under fire, with those in the industry starting to speak out – loudly – about it.  An article I came across in Billboard, entitled “At PROs, Transparency Shouldn’t Be Just A Buzzword,” by SMACKSongs president Michael Baum, went into great detail about this issue and how country hitmaker Shane McAnally’s (pictured above) woes with ASCAP have put these payments into the spotlight.

To summarize the issue, McAnally notified ASCAP that he was leaving ASCAP to join another PRO, Global Music Rights.  Although he expected his payments to keep on coming – including the premium payments for which he was owed – he was shorted about a million dollars of what he had been anticipating.

He is now in a fight with the PRO to get what he was due, and promised.  And as is typical with ASCAP and the other major PRO, BMI, he got the run around.

According to Baum, they repeatedly asked why the money was being withheld.  ASCAP responded that it “takes a long time” to manually create statements.  Baum pointed out that nobody ever cited a rule as a basis for withholding payments, or in fact that they were phasing out the payments.

Typical of snarky behavior that small venues are used to dealing with (when it comes to “blanket licensing”), no one said anything to the point that removing works would also mean leaving those monies at ASCAP, even while ASCAP continued licensing McAnally’s work.

This is beyond snarky.  I would say it borderlines on illegality, but since I’m not a lawyer, I cannot make that assessment alone.  It sounds like Baum, however, is going to take this to the Justice Department, and I hope he does.

This practice is yet another glimpse into the tactics that these organizations utilize to withhold money that songwriters, artists, and publishers expect – along with the already egregious tactics used to force mom and pop shops to license a PRO’s entire catalog.  There is ZERO transparency.  They state that they are “protecting” the interests of their members.  But in my eyes, and moreover the eyes of more people every day, they see this as a money making machine and somehow, somewhere, someone is lining their pockets with the hard earned money of the songwriters and creators as well as the licensees that pay for it.

Through our technology at VNUE and through education of the public, and working with organizations, artists, writers, and publishers, we hope we can help to facilitate change that will ensure folks are being paid and that the entire process is transparent.

Opioids and Futures Lost

This morning, as I usually do before I start my day, I was perusing my FaceBook feed.  One of the first things that popped up was the image of a beautiful young woman, obviously a “car selfie.”  With big eyes, long brown hair, and a smattering of lipstick, the photo would make anyone take pause for a second look.  She also looked familiar – I am fairly certain I have run across her in one of establishments, or mutual friends.

However, as I read the caption for the photo, which was written by someone else, it became apparent that this young lady, one Angela Cates, of Bartlett, TN, had passed away unexpectedly, and far too soon.   I messaged the person who had posted the photo, and learned what I had already suspected and feared:  that she had apparently become yet another tragic victim of an overdose of opioids.

Angela was the parent of two young children who will now be without their mother.  And her parents lost their child, something no parent should ever have to endure.

Although I did not know “Ang” personally as she was known to her friends, and these overdoses seem to continue unabated, this loss struck home a little harder than most.  Why?  Well, a year ago (within days), another young woman lost her life because of the same problem.  Emily Billings, who I did know, and who had a kind, gentle spirit, died at the age of 26, a victim of the same deadly circumstance.

Emily and I shared the same birthday (March 6th) and had an unusual bond because of that.  I knew she had some issues and demons she was fighting, but when she would call me (randomly), I would try and help her now and then – give her a ride somewhere, or lend her twenty dollars.

The last time I saw her was a week or two before her death.  I knew in my heart that there was something going on, and likely she was an addict, and encouraged her to stay away from people that would enable that addiction; she promised she would.  Soon thereafter, she was gone, and my heart broke for Emily and her family.

Like Angela, Emily was a beautiful young woman, who had her entire life in front of her.  Although it is unlikely either one knew each other, they both shared the same demons, that of a powerful addiction to drugs that are far to easy to obtain.  Too often, addicts have people around them who claim to be their “friends,” but in fact are the very people who provide them with the drugs, and who bring them one step closer to death.

In Angela’s case, sources report she had been clean and sober for 81 days.  And in the case of many addicts who have a relapse, she apparently relapsed and dosed with the same amount of narcotics that she had been using before getting sober, resulting in an overdose and her untimely passing.

After Emily’s passing, I made it a point to become more vocal about the crisis that is embracing our country.  It is far more prevalent than most people realize.  Memphis, where I reside, is absolutely terrible.  I know of at least a dozen people who have lost their lives because of opioids in the last couple of years, if not more.  And I fear many others will follow.

This crisis cannot be addressed unless it is tackled on all fronts.

First, laws must be put in place that severely punish those who supply drugs to people who then die of an overdose.  They should be charged with second degree murder at minimum, and ideally, possession of illegal narcotics that contributed to death, i.e. “murder one.”

Dealers, regardless of those who have caused a death, should have strict penalties.  There should be no “third strike.”  There should be “strike one” and you are out.  Life or even the death sentence.  Zero tolerance.  Those who manufacture or import illegal narcotics also need the book thrown at them.

Secondly, there needs to be considerably more outreach and treatment options for opioid addiction, mental health, and public funding necessary for it.  There needs to be resources available where addicts can seek treatment and know they are not going to be judged, and there should be more paths through churches and volunteer organizations to help these people kick the addiction and stay off of it.

Lastly, addicts should not be treated as criminals.  Instead, those caught with small amounts of drugs should be drug tested and if that test is positive for addictive substances, maybe have a mandatory stint in an in-patient clinic.  They need help, not punishment.

Until all three things happen, this epidemic is going to continue to grow and take the young lives of people like Ang and Emily.  Families and friends will continue to have heartbreak, and entire futures will be devastated.

If you think drugs are “cool,” I’m sorry, you’re completely misguided.  Drugs take lives, especially opioids.  They destroy people.  Families.  Futures.  They suck the life out of everyone and everything that they touch.  If anyone who frequents my establishments wants to complain about my absolute zero tolerance for ANY kind of drug in said establishments, this post should make it clear, and you can simply stay the hell out.

I’m angry.  My heart breaks again, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time.  But what I can absolutely, 100% assure you of, is that I will in no way contribute to that culture, and I will do everything in my power to help facilitate positive change.

RIP Angela Cates.  RIP Emily Billings.  You will not be forgotten, and I hope your deaths have not been in vain.  If I have anything to do with it, they won’t.  And all the others who have recently been lost to this crisis as well.

If you have a loved one you have lost, please feel free to eulogize them on this blog post.

Artists and Musicians Earning Potential: Time to think outside the box

As many of you know, I have been an artist advocate since before I even moved into the music and technology sector.  Having the benefit of being a performing musician at times (granted not at the level of many of our clients at VNUE), it is very easy for me to see and identify problems and current trends in the industry.  With the added benefit of having worked in technology, and constantly looking for solutions that will help artists make more money and give them more control over their art, I’ve been fortunate enough to create viable solutions and have a very good understanding of how to fit the pieces together.

But what many artists and musicians don’t think about is this:  They are ultimately the sole decision makers when it comes to creating more of an opportunity to create revenue (income) for themselves.  They are the facilitator; and they can also be the roadblock.

For example, if you think you are going to make a record and strike a big deal with a label, guess what?  You’re wrong.  Well, at least 99.9% of the time.  These days, things are a lot different.  Unless you already have 100K or more followers on your social media, a major label won’t take a second look at you.  And even if you get a deal, you likely will still be relying on your touring income for years.

But there are other ways to take control of your career and make a good living, and even succeed.  Innovative solutions such as what VNUE is rolling out such as can help make that difference.  Utilizing Youtube and generating interest and followers is a positive strategy.  Old-school posters and flyers when you play your gigs are never out-of-style.

To be clear when it comes to, I’m not tooting our own horn, so to speak, but using this as an example.  You MUST be able to think out of the traditional box. is our technology platform that we use with VNUE to record major artists and release the content to fans right after the show via mobile devices and the web (this is in addition to our traditional physical DiscLive products).  There is no risk to the artist – we do a net split – and the artist gets the major percentage of a revenue share.  As we like to say in the business,  it is “found revenue,” because the artist just gets on stage and does what they always do:  play music.

But did you know that our technology is available for ALL musicians and artists?  Musicians can download the “STUDIO” app, and utilize it to capture and upload pristine live recordings of their performances, and market it to their fan base.  Artists can set their own price, and have total control over the content.  You need only go to and sign up.  There is no cost.

The biggest thing for artists both large and small alike is getting over the jitters for putting something out that is live and “raw”. VNUE has overcome this to a large degree because we mix and master everything on the fly for our clients – folks such as Peter Frampton, Devo, Blondie, Simple Minds (above), and others.  We have built up trust in that regard – quality unsurpassed.

For the average artist, however, you simply must be confident in your art, and treat it like a live broadcast.  It is going to go out, like it or not, right after the show (which is how you can increase your sales potential).  This additional revenue can help underwrite your tour costs, and provide additional exposure so you are not GIVING away your content to gain exposure.  You have worked hard for it.  Let fans support you buy buying it – and buying into you.

There are a lot of other opportunities out there too, today, to help you make money.  But you must be willing to think outside of the traditional box, and take some risks.  There is a glut of content out there, and everyone wants to call themselves an “artist”.  You need to differentiate yourself, not just by your music, but by your effective grassroots marketing, and your strategies.  And you must tour.  Tour hard. Fans are built one by one, at each show – not by hoping you get a “LIKE” on social media, or a one-hit wonder on the radio (fading fast, folks).

At the end of the day, the industry has changed – but the work ethic to get to the top has not.  Work hard, play hard, and create a name for yourself.  Be smart, and use smart tools to help get you there.  Focus on that, and you stand a good chance of making a living at your art.

Gumption, Ambition and the Music Business

(Originally published on the Music Think Tank, 27 Sep 2017)

I’ve been lucky enough to run several successful businesses. VNUE, along with its partner DiscLive, has grown to be the global leader in recording live concerts and releasing them in high quality to fans on limited edition CD sets and USB drives, immediately after their performance. We’ve worked with venues and artists all over the world, from Father John Misty and The Pixies to Blondie and 3 Doors Down. I also own and founded both RockHouse Live venues in the great city of Memphis, offering live entertainment every single night (as well as some killer grub).

It’s surprising how often people assume that someone like me was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, or that I somehow stumbled upon these businesses and got lucky, or that my clubs are just a write-off.

So I’d like to rewind a bit and talk about ambition and “gumption,” which is defined as “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness.”

I was raised by a single mother – a lifelong educator and an English professor who was very hard on me growing up, but did teach me values and lessons that I employ every single day in my life. While she could barely afford to keep a roof over our head, what’s important is that she succeeded, and she often worked 18 hour days to do it. We never, ever went without necessities, but we did not live lavishly by any stretch.

My skinny butt was out mowing lawns at a very young age to keep a few coins in my pocket, and then I got a job at 14 as a Sonic carhop. (Sorry, unfortunately no skates.) At 16, I was already promoted to night manager because of the aforementioned “gumption.” I paid for my books, I bought my own lunches, I bought my first motorcycle, and after that, traded up for my first car. I did it all on my own, without a cent from my mom, and felt great about it.

So even though I didn’t have the proverbial “silver spoon,” I did have the very smart values my mother had taught me, and unknowingly leveraged that in virtually everything I did. She gave me the skills to forge my own path, and the ethic to do my best to treat people right, both of which I’ve been working hard to do with VNUE and both RockHouse venues.

I also have an undeniably deep love for music – which is a must if you want to make it in this business – from my days as an engineer and producer to my current, more entrepreneurial role at VNUE. I’ve been so fortunate to do what I love at the intersection of music, business and technology, and create things that make people happy. I’ve worked with amazing artists and been to amazing places, and can trace it all back to the lessons my mother instilled in me – not luck or fortune.

While pretty much any position in the music industry takes sacrifice, most of the musicians and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years know that you can’t stand on a corner and expect success to come to you. You are the only one who can create your own destiny, and you are responsible for your successes and your failures.

So if you have to take something away from this post, let it be this: Work hard, focus on your objectives, and don’t make the mistake of thinking there are any shortcuts, because there are none. If you don’t go out and fight for what you want, someone else will take it. Don’t be afraid to stand up to people who say “that won’t work” or “that can’t be done,” and don’t be afraid to show them that they’re wrong.

​And more than anything, if you’re going to make it in the music industry – show some gumption.

Making Live Music Fun and Fair

Originally published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, 9 Mar 2018.

Memphis is a music city with a rich musical heritage. With Beale Street and the wide assortment of music venues across the metro area, on any given night you can find just about any kind of live music that you want.

But did you know that many of the rightsholders of the music you hear are not being paid for the songs being performed?

There are organizations in the music industry called “Performing Rights Organizations“, also known as “PROs”. Their purported goal is to protect these rights and look out for their members, usually writers, performers and musical artists.

However, unlike radio and TV, where everything is tracked digitally, there is a gaping hole in how rights are protected and monetized for music that is performed in venues. In short, it ain’t right.

PROs use what is called a “blanket license” in order to convince (usually force) a venue or a bar that it must license its entire catalogue of music in the event any song from that catalogue is played.

These are expensive and generally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, and you must license from all the three major PROs (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). Major PROs collect several hundred million dollars per year in “general licensing” fees.

Many venues cannot afford these expensive licenses and, therefore, will avoid it, despite the very real threat of a copyright lawsuit coming from the PROs if they do not comply.

Many of my peers in Memphis have received continued threats of lawsuits and non-stop phone calls from PROs suggesting that venue owners who do not comply are in danger of a copyright lawsuit. Mom-and-pop shops are put out of business each year or simply stop having live music when faced with this dilemma.

It’s not that they don’t want to license. They cannot afford it;  moreover, they don’t know what they are actually paying for, or even if the music that is being played is being paid out properly.

The murky licensing structure is antiquated and based on decades-old laws and lack of suitable technology. As a result, most writers and artists whose content is actually played in these venues are not being properly compensated.

We need better technology. Shazam can quickly identify recorded music using digital fingerprints. Why not do the same thing for live music? Some of us are working on that.

My company VNUE, is developing the MiC System. It uses AI and custom algorithms to identify songs and facilitate payments to exact rightsholders.

We recently announced the acquisition of a music tech outfit called Soundstr (, started by Eron Bucarelli, a founding member of platinum-selling artist Hawthorne Heights. Their “in venue” device called “Pulse” will become an important part of the overall system.

Meanwhile, organizations such as the Fairness in Music Licensing Coalition ( are lobbying Congress for copyright reforms and other changes.

Every musician, artist, writer and publisher out there needs to be aware there is a good chance they are not getting paid for their work (i.e. ripped off). They need to sound a steady, constant and loud drumbeat to move the industry forward.

Let’s start that movement right here in Memphis.

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