Some businessmen play golf to drum up clients. Gerald Wayne (“GW”) Staton has a nightclub.
Staton, a longtime insurance salesman in Washtenaw County, started the Black Crystal Café six years ago. “Initially my intent was to just use it to entertain clients,” he says of the fifty-seat club located in the basement of his family home near the Ann Arbor Airport.
But Staton, himself a singer-songwriter, soon found a larger purpose. The fact is, he says, that many good but “under-the-radar” artists aren’t particularly well paid when they perform at regular nightclubs or other venues. He mentions a friend who’s had one million plays on Internet radio yet received a check for just $16.98.
Staton wanted to improve on that experience—for both audiences and for musicians. So in 2007, he created a “listening room” that offered artists a high-quality performance space and decent compensation—as much as $1,000 a night—and gave audiences a once-a-month chance to see some of the finer pop, jazz, and classical performers touring the country.
If he sells insurance, fine. If not, that’s fine too. And there’s absolutely no sales pitch.
Many of the people who now attend the intimate concerts aren’t there to do business at all. Those original clients brought their friends, who told others, “and then it kind of went from there,” Staton says.
The Black Crystal Café has all the trappings of a professional club—a raised stage, a backdrop, tables, and a bar. But the venue is inconspicuously located on a cul de sac in a condo community.
In fact, many first-time concertgoers are taken aback when they pull up to the house, thinking they’re going to be seated on bridge chairs lined up in “someone’s living room,” a notion from which Staton draws some amusement.
“You don’t feel like you’re in somebody’s house,” he says, chuckling.
Staton says the club complies with all zoning and condo regulations, and in fact many of his neighbors are frequent guests.
But Staton stresses this is a private club. To attend, people have to register through his website, privatemusicnetwork.com. Tickets are a $20 “donation,” and all money goes to musicians. Beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres are on the house.
Staton plans to add two more venues in the coming year and hopes to sell concert recordings to generate even more revenue for artists. Yet even with all he’s investing, he says, “I have friends who spend more on golf than I do on music.”