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By Henry Rollins
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By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
"As a business owner," Denkins continues, "to not ensure advance ticket sales is nearly the death of the venue and also the death of a band's morale if they don't have a confirmed number of fans coming to see their show."
The whole idea of presales is simple, she explains. "It's to ensure that a band doesn't perform to an empty venue. Not everyone comes to a venue just on the venue's name alone. Even with being the oldest and most legendary venue on the Sunset Strip and in much of the world, the Whisky doesn't always have instant fans in place for a band night after night, 365 days a year. No venue does.
"I don't have any idea of what angry band or inaccurate journalist created the misconception of 'pay-to-play,' " she adds, "but we have always been a venue who has supported local artists and encouraged local artists to reach out themselves for fan support."
8901 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Out of Town
Moreover, if a band were to become truly worthy of the Lizard King's old haunts, according to the system's defenders, then it wouldn't have to worry about presales. This way, the dreaded presales system becomes a kind of motivational incentive for bands to get better and more popular. "If a band has established themselves at the Whisky," Denkins explains, "we offer nights that offer little or no presale effort."
Still, it could easily be argued that getting a crowd is, in fact, the venue's job. If the venue consistently booked good bands, so the layperson might think, people would show up of their own volition, right? It doesn't seem to make any kind of business sense to book a band that isn't good or popular, regardless of how many tickets they can unload. And the technical difference between pay-to-play and presales, which is very clear-cut for the bottom-line-minded club owners, often gets lost in translation.
Metal and punk, the bread and butter of the Strip, are full of passionate characters who have no time for parsing two commercial practices they equally despise. "Bullshit!" scoffs Tod Junker of Die Fast when asked. "Not that I can blame [the Whisky] — what's the cost of a business over there? Just don't fucking lie about what you're doing. If I give you money before I play, that's pay-to-play, I don't care if it's tickets or drinks."
For all that footwork, money and time, what does a band get in return? According to bands, it depends on the venue. But frequently they get instability, no promotion and a bad attitude. Valencia claims some clubs "will give bands attitude and say, 'Bands should be honored to play here, since X, Y and Z have played our stage,' yet local bands get screwed on sound check, [the] guest list, and you're not even allowed to film your own show because they tape it and sell you your live set for $100."
Many bands are still just looking to be able to say they've played the Roxy, the Viper Room or the Whisky. They'll do almost anything to get that gig, even going through third-party promoters who may be far greedier than the club.
Francesca Ranieri used to assist in making those deals happen. She laughs as she explains, "I was selling these novice bands the 'Sunset Dream' of playing the famous Hollywood venues, but any intelligent person could have made the same connections themselves."
For patrons, Sunset is a hard sell: They're going to pay for parking (either a tiny space in an awkward lot or a meter that runs all night), drinks and high door fees, just to see the one band on the mixed bill they know or like. Doing a strict cost-benefit analysis, the Sunset Strip seems way more expensive and less accessible than its cousins east of Hollywood.
"I can see the appeal to the bars on the Eastside," says Adler, referring to venues like the Echo and Spaceland. "It's expensive to run a place over here, but we try to bring quality acts to make it worth it. We want everyone happy: the business, yeah, but the patrons and the bands, too. We're working with other venues in the neighborhood now, trying to build a community again."
This sincere effort by several clubs to restore the Strip to its former glory is admirable. While reversing negative preconceptions (both true and false) among musicians and fans seems like an uphill battle, it would be rad to see Sunset become once again a place where you could show up any night of the week knowing you'd find good live music.