Life In Clubland: Some Advice On Being in the Industry

It isn’t often you get to pick the brain of a guy who runs a successful nightclub. We asked one what they wished more people knew and understood about life in clubland. It’s not advice specifically aimed at DJs, but it applies. Understand the environment you’re working in, why things happen the way they do, the boundaries of decorum and the like, and your career in clubland will last longer and be more fun. – ed.

Nightlife is a Business

It’s not as profitable as many people think. I’ve met any number of tech geniuses in Seattle who were ready to design some proprietary app for nightlife, until I told them the real numbers behind an average mid-level club scene. A good nightclub will probably gross in a year what a McDonalds will. There’s no shame in that, McDonalds makes good money, but there’s a McDonalds on every corner, and only a few dance clubs in town.

What does this have to do with you? If you’re reading this article, you are most likely some sort of nightlife affiliate. You’re a DJ, promoter, groupie. regular, “follower”, etc. You are past the level of standing in the pay line and forking over your $10. You’re on a first-name basis with the staff. You have to make an effort to remember when the last time you wore that outfit to that club was.

A Cautionary Tale

KOThis means that you are now in a position of influence, a position to start asking for things, and more importantly a position to start receiving the things you ask for. However, with great power, comes great responsibility. There was a bar owner I once worked for, who took his entire staff to Vegas after a solid year and was buying them drinks at a casino. The entire staff was respectfully doing shots together, washing them down with beers, and then waiting for him to make the next move. There was one bartender however, who was repeatedly ordering double shots of Patron, at $30 each, and yelling “put ‘em on the tab!” This bartender unfortunately, was knocked out by that same owner who decided in his own somewhat intoxicated state that repeated doubles of Patron were excessive and insulting. There just comes a time when a man or woman, or transsexual for that matter, has to draw a line in the sand and say “enough is enough,” and it happens more frequently regarding free drinks than in most other areas.

Free Drinks

drinksYou get the hookup at the bar? Awesome! You bought a couple of rounds for your friends, and the bartender appreciatively comped you a few drinks? You should a) tip, b) say “thank you,” c) do not get comfortable and expect it. If you are a promoter, DJ or any other contractor who gets comp drinks, remember: liquor isn’t just different prices at Safeway (CVS, Kroger, Waldbaum’s, wherever). Hennessy VSOP costs a lot more per bottle for the owner of the club than well vodka does, just like it does for you when you go to the store. So, swallow your baller pride, step up to the bar and say “how about a round of vodka tonics for me and my friends?”

The Line & The Guest List

lineYou can get your friends in for free! You’re the man. It makes the club happy that you like their place and invite your friends. It makes your friends happy that you get them in for free. Win-win. However, if you know that a huge artist is coming to town and tickets are $30 each, sure, you can ask your club connect if you can get on the list. You’ve put in the time, it’s worth a shot. DO NOT ask if you can get your ten friends in. It is your job to get in for free, and tell your ten friends to meet you there, and buy tickets!

Also, if this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some person perform that you’ve always wanted to see, they are most likely unreasonably expensive to book, and the club is probably taking a bath on the show in the name of “exposure.” So if your friend says they can’t hook you up, just take a hint. They need your $20 more than you do. Help them keep the lights on and chip in. They’ll appreciate it, they’ll be glad to see you, you’ll enjoy the show, and they’ll probably buy you a beer or two next week when the resident DJ is back in the booth at a much more reasonable rate.

Why Clubs Sweat The Small Stuff

the manThe law, the fuzz, big brother, the man with his foot on your neck, my neck, and more than anybody, the owner of a big nightclub’s neck. You might not live in the town where they shot the Kevin Bacon classic Footloose, but best believe, the heat is breathing down your favorite club’s neck, with a constant, steady “I wish you would” stare.

When your best friend starts a fight, throws up in the bathroom sink, takes off his shirt, does a cartwheel, tells the bartender they’re a douche or, the worst of all offenses, TOUCHES THE VELVET ROPES…you may think they’re overreacting when they freak out a little bit. But you have to understand, the entire staff is instantly paranoid that The Man is in the house, viewing and taking notes on the shit show your best friend is putting on. Unless they’re open to the prospect of looking for a new job on Monday, they really want to get this dude the hell out of the club as quickly as humanly possible. Yes, they are also offended that your college roommate would be disrespectful of their glorious house of hedonism, but really, the reason they’re freaking out is that a ticket from the Liquor Board could close the place down. Barf is a health code violation. A fight is bad news for everybody.

Cops, fire department inspectors, liquor board observers, none of these things are necessarily reassuring presences to the nightlife professional.

Do your best to calm your boy down, but once they’ve gone and done did it, you need to just let it go and tell him you’ll meet him outside, and then start searching the floor for his phone and house keys. The staff are protecting a business, and everybody has some mouths to feed at home.

The TL;DR:

Be respectful, be cool, and the clubs will shower you with love, affection, and free stuff. Be a prick and it will get cut off quicker than child support from a failed paternity test.


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