Expand Your Gig Opportunities with Alternative Venues

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Some big-city folks out there may have a hard time imagining a town without a “proper” music venue; but, in fact, those towns make up most of this country– and, I’ll bet, any country.

A small music scene probably doesn’t warrant a full-time music club. Realistically, it might not be possible to build the kind of infrastructure necessary to support one.

But what do bands in those towns do? Give up? Practice endlessly in the basement without a show in sight?

No– they take matters into their own hands, either by touring or by booking themselves at an “alternative venue” in their hometown.

Here are 3 articles that will broaden your performance horizons (hmmmm: that phrase sounded like something you’d read in your junk folder):

1. DIY Venues: Get Creative with Your Performance Spaces– How to turn your local movie theater, restaurant, art space, ice-cream shop, or hardware store into an event space for one magic night.

2. Strip Down/Double Your Reach– (Again with the spam-worthy headlines!) How to alter your setlist, arrangements, and presentation in order to fit comfortably into more performance settings.

3. Touring Tip: Play In-Studio and In-Store Shows– Some towns that do NOT have music venues still have record stores and radio stations. Play those!

Have you had experience creating your own gig opportunities despite a lack of local venues? Let us know how it went in the comment section below.

[Band photo from Shutterstock]

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  • The problem I see is the expense of getting an ‘alternative venue’ compared to the amount of people you might reasonably bring in – probably won’t balance out.

  • Actually, sometimes it's cheaper. There are some venues (I've heard of bands throwing shows in American Legion halls, for instance) that rent for cheap. Then if you bring your own door person and sound engineer, you have the potential to earn more money than through traditional venues– provided some people show up, of course (as you mentioned). Also, I've played shows in clothing boutiques, bookstores, a magazine/coffee shop, etc. and ended up making some decent dough. (They didn't take any cut or charge me anything for the space– it was just something to help draw more customers).

  • This is a test.

    • Maybe

      Test of faith? Harharharharrr

  • JD

    I travel 3 hours round trip to play gigs with my current working band because the area I live doesnt have a thriving local music scene and only 2 clubs….The club owners use djs and the few festivals the area has are controlled by acoustic jingle jangle reired music snobs who cater only to their kind..My band plays in the surrounding 3 states of Va,Del and MD..We get paid and have a great time entertaining everybody who comes to see us! 100% Road Dog / Working Musician here and loving it..lol!

  • There are also other ways to get paid – you can barter for goods & services, rather than actual $$. For example I played an event at a hair salon, and in exchange I got a free haircut ($65 value). Or I've played at a cafe, and been taken care of with some yummy food and drink. Maybe it doesn't help you pay the rent directly, but it definitely goes towards earning a living. Plus, your exposure at these shows can lead to other gigging opportunities or CD / merch sales.

  • Anonymous

    If course these places most likely do not pay ASCAP/BMI, so you may need to all originals

  • I run a small production company called Artsville, and we specialize in the DIY venue. We've hosted a house concert series for about 18 months now, and we've attracted performers from all over the world! Just last weekend we debuted The Lakeside Music Room, a free concert series at Cheraw State Park in Cheraw, SC. I feel like everywhere I look I see a potential concert venue. Thanks for the article!

  • Jackanddiane

    I agree completely, Chris! This is our specialty…creating an elegant, living-room style, Dinner Concert in gorgeous resorts. We take our stage set and drop it in the center of a beautiful room, work with the staff to design the setting around our center-stage, and make it a win-win for everyone. We have taken on much of the business process, (ticketing, marketing, branding) in order to do this, but it’s SO worth it! Sometimes you just have to think outside the box. We’ve worked tirelessly to refine, tweak and polish our show (over the last 4 years) and we really find fulfillment now in performing. I would just say to anyone thinking of doing this that you MUST think it all through! Make sure you’ve got a plan before you approach these venues and you must be able to “back it up” with your level of both musicianship and professionalism. This is not the kind of thing you want to go in halfway. There are tons of details to consider and you really need to be proactive at covering them. It’s a different world out there now and if you think it all through carefully, then this method could prove to be one of the most rewarding and help you avoid the frustrations that we’ve all faced. http://www.nashvilleunleashed.com

  • Hey J, that sounds like a great performance routine. Would you have any interest in doing a guest post for this blog with some tips about how to go about launching such an operation? All the back-end details– ticketing, marketing, etc. I think our readers would find that really useful. If so, what is your contact info? I'll send you an email with some further thoughts.

  • Angwish

    I've done movie theatres, dentist offices, high schools and middle schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, furniture stores, busked in parking lots and made more money in tips and merch sales than in "real" venues. Where there's a will there's a way!

  • Alternative venues I play in a lot: schools, libraries and senior communities. I find that many independent living (also alf and nursing) facilities are very open to singer/songwriters. They get tired/bored with the same old/same old big band stuff. Hearing original music for them is refreshing. You have to engage and interact with them though.

  • Fiddlin Pete Watercott

    This summer will mark the eight season of Pokonobe Lodge Dinner Concerts. I partner with a caterer that has access to a historic lodge on beautiful Lake Mary outside of Mammoth Lakes, CA. We, (the caterer and me), share in the marketing costs, and split the proceeds 75/25% Caterer/Artist. We both share in the risk and success. We charge $45 per person and can seat up to 50 people. The $2,250 evening gross equals $1,687 for the caterer, and $562 for me. I keep a ledger near my phone and take all the reservations, get to meet the guests in advance, and feel most qualified to answer any questions. After seven successful years about 75-90% is return business!