Friday, March 13, 2009

A Lesson In Punk Rock Economics: The Harper’s Bizarre Ledgers

I moved a while ago, and in doing so came across an interesting bit of punk history: the financial ledgers of the Harper’s Bizarre club, which operated in Springfield circa 1996-1997. They provide a good example of how DIY music shows were run at the time, as well as how little money is to be made in such endeavors. Let’s start with a small show. On Oct. 26th, 1996 the Richards played along with Dysfunctional Family and the Sex Offenders, both out of Kansas City. 51 people paid to get in, which was actually pretty solid for a Springfield show (Joplin shows usually drew better). At four bucks a head, that comes to $204. A few Cokes were sold at a buck a piece, and the bands sold some tapes and shirts for themselves. At the end of the night, the club had $214. Both of the KC bands got $40, and the Richards got $20 for gas, making for a profit of about $90. Not bad, but consider that the rent on the place was $425 a month. On Aug. 30th of that same year, Naked Aggression (a fairly popular anarcho-punk act at the time) played with Brine and Squelch. 60 people paid to get in, plus the club sold a bunch of Cokes and waters, bringing the profit for the night to $286. Naked Aggression was guaranteed $200, along with $20 for a couple of pizzas (they also got a free place to sleep that night). Brine got $40, as their singer had to drive in from KC. Squelch got nada, as was the norm at the club for bands that came from in town. That left the club a grand total of…$26. You can start to see here why booking smaller time punk acts was often more profitable, at least in the Ozarks at that time: About the same number of people would show up, but you could pay the bands less money. For a good laugh, consider the Mustard Plug/Rowskabouts/Bishops show on Oct. 12th, 1996. Mustard Plug was a pretty big ska act, while the Rowskabouts brought out the Joplin folks. The Bishops, if I remember right, were a local ska band from Columbia, Mo. Punk shows are usually a handshake thing; contracts are very rarely used. You could make a lot of money off of ska bands, but they were a bit too professional for their own good. Consider the contract in this case. The club was supposed to supply “a clean, well lit, lockable dressing room able to comfortably accommodate 5 to 10 people”. Those of you who remember Harper’s Bizarre are no doubt laughing by now, as the club had nothing even remotely approaching a dressing room. I won’t even get into the P.A. requirements, which a DIY punk club could not even hope to meet. All of this was explained to the booking agency beforehand, yet they signed the contract anyway. Contract silliness aside, the show was profitable (as I noted, ska was a good moneymaker). 74 people paid to get in at $6 a head, giving a total of $444. Drink sales took the total to about $460. Mustard plug got $200 plus a $50 meal buy out. The Bishops got $40, and the Rowskabouts got $20. The club ended up with about $150. Perhaps the ultimate moral of this economic story: If you want to make any real amount of money running a music club, book cover bands and sell alcohol. Only book punk if you love it.