Fear of fliering
Can the city hold local music promoters responsible for the actions of bands?
During the past few months, local music promoters and venue owners have gone to work, opened their mail and discovered surprising letters from Sacramento’s Code Enforcement Department. For the first time in years, they’re receiving fines for the illegal advertising of gigs—to the tune of $373 per flier.
Problem is, they’re not the ones putting up the fliers. It’s the musicians.
The fines have prompted a Midtown fliering war—between the city and local music advocates—about illegal posting of fliers and whether it’s fair to hold venue owners and promoters responsible for the actions of band members who simply want to pump their shows.
According to city code section 15.148.660, affixing any kind of sign or poster on trees, poles, posts, fences or other structures is prohibited. And no matter who physically placed the sign, the code, adopted in the mid-’90s, states that the sponsor, venue owner or promoter is responsible for paying removal costs.
“A lot of them are saying it’s the bands and that they’ve already warned the bands,” admitted city senior code-enforcement officer Noel Eusebio of the venue owners’ reactions to the crackdown. Eusebio began sweeping for illegal fliers in August after a Midtown resident sent him an e-mail complaint. He found “mass postings” advertising shows, primarily at bars—The Distillery, Old Ironsides, The Press Club, Momo Lounge, Capitol Garage. “We’re talking about two or three postings on telephone poles or light stands,” he explained.
Eusebio looks for illegal fliers between 19th and 23rd streets and I and P streets, then sends out warnings to the venues, noting the number of signs and abatement costs. If the venue is a first-time offender, they receive a 30-day grace, or “education,” period. In most cases, fines far surpassed a few hundred bucks. The Press Club, for instance, would have incurred $2,228 in fines based on a warning they received in August.
Ron O’Connor, the city’s chief code-enforcement officer, says it’s up to the venues to reach out to the bands. “They should inform the bands that play their clubs that it’s illegal to post those fliers around town.”
All the venue owners that spoke with SN&R said they’re trying to work with code enforcement on the matter. Jerry Mitchell, who owns Capitol Garage, says they don’t flier and that posters “look pretty trashy on telephone poles.” Ira Skinner, who books The Press Club, never fliers, but has been fined. Same for The Distillery. The owners of Old Ironsides actually have one of their employees sweep the city to take down fliers that would otherwise cost them money.
Jerry Perry, who books Old Ironsides, says venues can’t be accountable for bands’ actions. “I don’t see how the law that’s written is enforceable. I don’t want to test that the law has teeth, but honestly, I don’t think it does,” he explained.
Some say Perry was responsible for the city outlawing fliering in the first place. Back in the mid-’90s, when he and promoter Brian McKenna booked local and touring bands at the now-defunct Cattle Club, they’d plaster Sacramento with hundreds of promo posters. “It wasn’t illegal. Everyone caught wind of the shows. It was great,” Perry recalled.
He also remembers picking up The Sacramento Bee one morning after a late night of fliering and seeing a photo on page B1: an old man with a garden rake trying to take down one of his posters on a pole near Watt Avenue. Soon after the story ran, the city made fliering illegal.
“It was a blow to my livelihood and the Sacramento music scene in a big way,” Perry said. He also noted that, this summer, a new generation of bands seemed to start postering Midtown en masse for their shows. And he anticipated the city’s crackdown.
Which begs the question: In this day and age, with MySpace and text messaging, do bands really need to flier gigs to create awareness? Or, as the city’s O’Connor put it: “Get with the program. There’s a lot of stuff out there you can be doing instead of posting on illegal places.”
Perry begs to differ, arguing that fliering is the best means to guarantee a good turnout. “With MySpace and the Internet, it’s taking a shot in the dark,” he argued, explaining that interests online are fleeting.
Zack Lopez, of well-known local band Middle Class Rut, who has been fliering shows for more than a decade, says posters ensure that new audiences will learn about bands. He also says that promoting exclusively via text messaging and MySpace is lazy. “[I]f no one shows up at the show [when you flier], it’s not ’cause they didn’t know about it. It’s ’cause they didn’t wanna be there,” he explained, via MySpace.
Local rapper Cawzlos agrees. He says he’ll continue to flier—“in full mask!” he noted on MySpace—but confessed that if he’s fined, he’ll pay up. He wrote SN&R: “I personally have had a fine, and paid it in full. It doez suck, but if u really think about it the city just wantz to get paid just like we’re tryna get paid off the free advertising.”
Eusebio and O’Connor deny that the city targets artists and live-music venues; they said they work off of complaints. But O’Connor believes there’s no need to flier given the other options. “You can go to Starbucks and put it on their community board. Everybody goes to Starbucks,” he said.
Perry, who no longer fliers and says it’s increasingly more difficult to persuade businesses to allow posters inside stores, says artists need to flier in high-pedestrian-traffic areas in order for the scene, and therefore, the live-music economy, to succeed. “When we couldn’t poster anymore, we felt the dropoff,” he said.
The promoter also reminded that the city’s most popular event, Second Saturday, took off because of musicians. “People came to Midtown for the art, but Second Saturday really started getting popular when live music came into the equation, when there were bands on every street corner.
“I look at how things are right now and I get really cynical. I feel like we’re being micromanaged by people who don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
“Go to Seattle or any number of cities around the U.S., and you’ll see every pole on every block plastered in flyers,” Lopez noted of music culture in other world-class cities. “[But] they continue to fine bands, who are notoriously the most broke people on the planet.
“The dollar amounts in fines that are thrown out at artists/promoters are insane,” he added of the $373-per-poster price tag.
Eusebio says the abatement costs are high because “it’s labor-intensive.” O’Connor also argues that it’s a public-safety issue: “Go rub up against one of those poles and you’ll get poked, like, 50 million times. It’s like a porcupine.”
Either way, it’s a thorn in everyone’s sign.