Several years ago, the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce commissioned Each owner/manager Bob Porter to write a piece about nightclub management for its annual entertainment guide. He responded with more candor than the chamber wanted; calling the piece “a cry for help,” they declined to publish it. This draft was later found in Ken Morrison’s files after he left the employ of the Raleigh Daily News.
BOB PORTER on bar management 101
Running a bar is definitely a weird way to make a living. You’re dealing with people at their absolute worst, when they’re drunk or, even worse, when they NEED to be drunk. It’s a delicate equilibrium, getting your customers just drunk enough but not too drunk. You want to get people happy-drunk and keep them that way. If they get hammered enough to have a bad hangover the next day, first thing they’re gonna do is swear off drinking. They never mean it, of course, and everybody comes around again eventually. But in the meantime, you’ve lost a few nights (or maybe even a few weeks) worth of business out of them.
So yeah, I’m what you might call a “facilitator” or an “enabler” or one of those other cute little words. “Pusher,” I object to because I just stand behind the bar and pour. Nobody puts a gun to anybody’s head and makes them come into my joint. You want to leave, there’s the door.
Down at my level, the bar business isn’t a growth industry, but it’s like a funeral home: Demand is steady. While you’ll probably never get rich, it’s even less likely you’ll ever go broke. Good times and bad, people are gonna drink.
As far as how I actually make my money, live music is just another expense. My place is called Each, and like most bars it ain’t real long on atmosphere. So you’ve got to give people a pretense of a reason to show up besides just booze. That’s something I wish more bands would get through their thick skulls most people don’t come to bars to listen to music. They’re there to get laid or at the very least drunk, and the band is background noise to their mating ritual.
There are some exceptions, usually out-of-town bands that are already popular. But most nights, when it’s some unknown local band in here, music is a Loss Leader Item for me and one band is as good as another. I’m perfectly willing to give anybody a shot, so long as they’re not too demanding. I actually had one band who’d played maybe three shows present me with a “contract rider” calling for a case of beer and a deli tray. Yeah, right. Save it for Madison Square Garden, guys.
Bands looking for gigs send me tapes or CDs, and I try to listen to as much of them as I can stand. A lot of them are so painfully bad, I don’t make it too far through. If a band is really terrible, it’s always nice if they’ve sent a CD rather than a tape easier to skip through and listen to a little of each song. I’ve been doing this a long time, and can usually tell how a band will do with one listen to their tape (“I can name that band’s draw in two notes”). Hell, by now, I can just look at their picture and almost always figure out everything I need to know. Such as:
There are other variations, but these four classifications cover three-quarters of what I book. I can honestly say there are individual bands I like in each general style (even date-rape). But music is like anything else, 90 percent of what’s out there is crap. Kids sometimes ask me about breaking into the music business as if I’d even know and what I tell them is, “If you like music, stay away from the music industry.” Nothing will beat you down faster than being around mediocrity all the time.
The fact of the matter is that there are 365 nights a year, and lots
less than 365 good acts out there. I see a few hundred bands every year,
maybe two-dozen of which qualify as “good.” Some of the good ones I
still hate, but I have to admit they’ve got skills. I probably wind up
actively enjoying maybe 10 bands a year, and the rest I tune out.
Picking the diamonds out of the barnyard is harder than you’d think.
Not that the good bands don’t stand out, but the crappy ones will wear
you down so much that you get too numb to tell the difference. Keeping
my antenna up doesn’t really do me any practical, day-to-day good; it
just reminds me that I’m still alive.
Until I get rich, that will have to do.