In the past several years, patrons have surely noticed a change in philosophy at Atlanta’s stalwart music venue, the Masquerade. Once known for its diversity, the club fell into a bit of a rut in the early years of the new millennium.
After spending half a decade publicly viewed as a heavy music hotspot, talent buyer Tim Sweetwood and crew have taken it upon themselves to reclaim their venue’s reputation and give the public what they want, bringing in bands like Battles, Black Angels, Little Dragon, The Kills, Delta Spirit and M83, just to name a few.
With that being said, I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Sweetwood to get his take on the redirection of the Masquerade and what that means for the live music scene in Atlanta.
(Tim Sweetwood & Jeremiah Edmond, Director of Marketing and Promotions)
I just need to get this question out of the way. I understand that the Masquerade asks local bands to sell their own tickets to their shows. Can you tell me more about this policy?
Bands have always had a misconception of selling tickets at the Masquerade. First, when a band opens a national show at the Masquerade, they must sell tickets. We are putting the band on a very big show with a large guarantee for us to pay. We need to make sure that a band is doing everything they can to push the show and pull their weight. It is absolutely, 100% NOT Pay-to-Play. A band is given a large stack of tickets, and they only owe us for what they sell, and then we give them a few dollars back for each ticket they sell.
Second, in regards to a local band selling tickets for a locals-only show, they are not required to sell tickets at all. We are happy to let them just promote and bring people to the door. We encourage them to sell tickets because it is still the best way to promote and to ensure that once someone buys a ticket, they will show up–or at least do their absolute best. We have actually tested this out with bands we know, and they always do better when they sell tickets, but again it is up to them. I hope this is a more clear explanation of ticket sales at the venue.
Thanks for breaking that down. So, fill me in, man. What’s new around here?
Purgatory has been totally re-done. We have a brand new stage in there, much larger and fully functional–new PA and boards, as well as some new monitors in there. We’ve got a brand new bar that is bigger and more accessible. There’s also a new backstage room as well as a room to store band gear. We think it answers everything that a band needs at that level. The deck is also still there right off the room so you can go smoke and still be within earshot of the bands. We can do all-ages shows in town, so bands have options with that. We get a lot of requests for shows in the range of 50-200 people, and now we have an answer for them because the room has a 275 cap.
You guys have made physical changes to the building. What’s changed internally?
I’ve worked here for about six years now. When I first came on I was doing a lot of local booking but I quickly switched to doing national booking. I guess as far as you mentioned, seeing the Masquerade change and the refocusing came from–
You see in the 90s everything under the sun happened at the Masquerade. You know what I mean? When it first came around you could see anything… Like when I snuck in to see Nirvana open up for Primus or Radiohead in 97 on their OK Computer tour. You name it. Everything came here. Metal, indie, dance – just all kinds of stuff. Over the years some of that left with the openings of different venues around town.
We used to have it all concentrated here, but as new venues opened around the city, some of those scenes sort of spread out a little bit. And I think when that happened, the Masquerade took on the label as being sort of a metal venue.
I know exactly what you mean. I’ve seen countless metal shows here, myself.
Right. So what I tried to focus on in the past few years is to get the Masquerade back to that point where we’re doing everything again.
That makes sense from a business perspective.
Well actually, from a business perspective, I say, “Don’t be afraid of metal.” It’s really good business. I mean, a lot of people, concert-goers especially, are into it. But, again, what I’m trying to focus on is just diversifying so that the club isn’t viewed as being so one-dimensional. So it’s seen a place where you can go to see any kind of thing.
We’ve been doing a lot of indie rock lately. A lot of hip hop, too. We just had the AC3 Festival. Three full days of hip hop.
So you’re trying to avoid being pigeon-holed, then?
Yes! Because we know that everything in life, let alone the music industry, goes in cycles. And when that cycle comes back around, and let’s say jam bands are popping, I don’t want to miss out on that.
It’s not about someone’s particular taste, it’s about what the customers want. About what sells tickets.
One hundred percent. I just want the venue to be approachable to as many people as possible. I want people of all types to feel comfortable and not shunned.
Basically what you have happening is you get back into some of those genres, and there’s a different mold to those people. You know what I mean? If there’s some metal head coming in, downing PBRs, he’s going to likely be able to deal with the security being a little more abrasive. Where someone whom you might think of as an indie rock, pop, hipster type person – you know, the type that wants to chill and bob their head – they typically want to be left alone. They want to be able to watch the show without someone bark at them to, “Get off of there!” or whatever.
It’s just a different vibe.
Right. So I try to go around to the people working security here and make sure that they’re being as forward-thinking and courteous as possible. Because, let’s face it, this place is a great room and we don’t want to ruin the environment with bad attitudes.
Absolutely. Back to what you were saying about the public perception of the club and how it shifted when the focus became metal and hardcore shows, I totally understand that. I haven’t been here in, I don’t know, several years, but when I drive by and I see the acts scheduled to play, it is making me want to come back. I see all kinds of acts I wouldn’t have expected to see here five years ago.
See, you’re a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I’m at the same point myself. I mean, I like a lot of metal, but I also like a lot of other stuff. I like country and folk. And I’d say that, in general, people like that make up about half of concert-goers. There’s the other half too, where it’s like that guy listens to metal and metal only. Or that guy listens to dance music and dance music only. But there is a ton of people out there that are more like you and me who will get all stoked over the Sword coming and hearing some bad ass stoner metal. Then the next week there’s some DJ coming, and they can’t wait to see them either. And that’s what we’re trying to go after.
That makes perfect sense to me.
And like we were saying, from a business perspective it makes the most sense too. We get to have more shows and frankly, make more money. A venue and the music industry is always a touchy sort of thing. You’re dealing with artists, and for the most part artists don’t like the idea of things being about business. But everything in life is business.
Whether we like it or not.
Right. And you sort of have to embrace that.
Photo Credit: Zach Beiser