Wilbert's asks, What's it worth to ya?

As the economy continues to falter, concert promoters and nightclub owners are getting creative as they vie for a cut of your paycheck. The world’s biggest concert promoter is dealing in volume. And in downtown Cleveland, one club owner is using a performance-based honor system.

This week, Wilbert’s owner Michael Miller has debuted a model he calls “FPAYG,” which is short for “Free! Pay as You Go.” For 21 of the 27 shows on his schedule, music fans can enter for free. If they enjoy the show, he asks they give the band a few bucks on the way out. (Miller says some bands play just for the door. Some play for a guaranteed minimum. For some shows, the venue and bands split the take.)

In recent months, Miller had been experimenting with suggested donations — usually around $6 — for local acts. He’s usually glad to work cheap: Located just across from Progressive Field, he’ll let patrons in free with an Indians stub. Miller says he got the idea for the FPAYG model from a video of a presentation at this year’s NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention. The free model is based on two ideas: to motivate people to come out, and to give people a reason to spend money.

“My thinking is, ‘OK, free, and pay what you think [the acts] deserve,” explains Miller. “What I get from it is, they want customers and I want customers. It’s putting the value directly on the customer: ‘What do you value on it?’”

Miller, who makes his money on food and liquor sales, says the acts understand the need for some flexibility. “Most of the bands I book want to play to more people,” says Miller.

“I don’t know if this is an effective model, but am certainly willing to try it,” says Jeremy Mackinder, bassist of Whitey Morgan and the 78s, a Michigan band that plays Cleveland regularly. “I really look forward to the gig, and I hope that this plan works out well for both the club and ourselves.”
Small independent clubs aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. This season, Live Nation — the world’s largest concert promoter, which owns the House of Blues chain and books concerts at Quicken Loans Arena, Blossom and Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City — has been offering “four-pack” deals for most shows. From club concerts to Blossom shows, fans can buy four tickets for a discount that usually amounts to a free ticket.

“It’s very popular and appealing with people who are traveling in a group or on the bubble of whether to got to a show,” says Michael Belkin, senior vice-president of Live Nation’s Midwest division. “It’s no mystery what’s going on in the world in 2009. Our mission statement is to keep people coming to concerts.” — D.X. Ferris

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