Now you’ve got your gig(s) booked, your girlfriend and her best friend are planning what to wear (OMG! They’ve got to go shopping!!) and your drummer’s memaw want’s to see him play for the first time. These are personal friends and family and you don’t feel like they should have to pay to see you play.

Of course, you want to set up a guest list.

Here are some phrases that may be new to you that you should become acquainted with:

  • Cover or Cover Charge – This is what it costs people to get into the venue.
  • The Door – When discussing pay, a venue might pay “the door” or a percentage of the door. This means you’ll make money based on how much is earned through the Cover Charge.
  • Guarantee vs. a percentage – Some clubs will guarantee a certain amount of pay to a band, but then pay you more if that amount is exceeded at the door. So, you may be guaranteed $500, but if the door brings in $1,000 you could make more. A common agreement is “$500 vs. 80%”, so you are guaranteed $500, but if the door makes $1,000 you would be paid $800.

Clear with the venue first

Guest list aren’t always welcomed by the venue. Some venues keep the cover charge as part of their revenue and pay the bands a portion of the cover. In this case you have to talk to the manager and clear the guest list with him or her.

Some places won’t have a problem with a guest list, but may set limits as to how many people are allowed on the list. If the bar “keeps the door”, they may take the money they lost from letting your guests in free from your final pay. So, if it’s $5 to get in, you let in 10 people, your pay at the end of the night might have the $50 deducted.

If the manager is reluctant to allow a guest list, remind him or her that the money people save at the door is usually spent on drinks and food. This doesn’t always work, but it can help.

Set a limit

Let’s assume that everything earned at the door is 100% yours. If you set up a guest list it will come directly out of your pay. So, if the door makes $500 and you let in 10 at a $5 cover, you will only get $450 at the end of the night.

It’s always a good idea for all the band members to agree to the maximum number of people allowed on the guest list and then agree to how many each person in the band can put on the list.

You can always “give” your portion of the list to someone else in the band if you don’t have someone coming that night (aww, so lonely). This will keep the total number in check.

I’ve worked with people who think it’s perfectly fine to put 20 of their friends on the list, but still expect to get paid as much as everyone in the band. So basically, I’m paying for his friends to get in free.

Not cool.

Getting the band to agree and stick to a limit will save a lot of band fights and hard feelings. I heard it was the guest list issue that broke up The Beatles.

Use as a promotion

One way to get people out is to offer them a chance to get in free. Here are some ways to use the guest list as a promotion:

  • When promoting a show, state that the 100th person through the door gets in free. You’ll have to make sure the door person is willing to keep count for you. They are often counting for capacity reasons, anyhow, so it may not be a big deal
  • If you have an email list (you should have an email list) that you send a newsletter to you can offer to pick a random person from that list to get in to your next show free. This will get people to sign up for your list.
  • Offer to let the first person at the door wearing one of your band shirts to get in free. The cool thing about this is that once people are there wearing your shirt, they will stay whether they get in free or not. It’s really cool to see a bunch of people wearing your shirts during a show!

Reserved tables

This isn’t directly related to the guest list, but another consideration is reserved tables.

There are typically two times when you are asked about reserved tables; 1) When your special guests (Memaw) is going to be there and 2) When your friends call up and say “hey, save us a table”.

As with the guest list, the first thing to do is ask someone at the bar or club if they allow reserved tables. If so, tell them that you’d like to reserve a table (or two). Don’t simply put a “reserved” sign on a table as the club will usually have table reservations planned out.

Sometimes clubs will only reserve a certain number of tables because they don’t want those coming in to see all tables are full early in the night. Those people will sometimes turn around and leave.

They’ll also typically only hold a reservation for a certain amount of time, say until 9pm that night because they don’t want it tied up when others could be using it.

So remember; guest lists and reserved tables are a great way to treat your fans and family to a special night, but check with the venue on their policy before you offer either.