How to Design Your Ideal Performance Venue in 4 Steps

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[Editor’s note: This post was written by guest contributor Diane Untz of Nashville Unleashed with Jack & Diane.]

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About 4 years ago, Jack & I decided to “create” the ideal setting for our music simply out of frustration over the fact that it didn’t seem to exist anywhere. We sat down and made a “wish list,” combining all the elements we thought would be perfect for our music. We approached a fine restaurant about initiating the show in their venue (which didn’t even host music at the time), and grew it in popularity to the point where the staff would fight over shifts and the press couldn’t even get in. We then took the concept to a theater where we polished the act and grew it for another 2 years, then took it on the road to breathtaking resorts, and now present the show in one of the most prestigious luxury destinations in the country. Along this journey, we’ve hit some brick walls as well as experienced some epiphanies and awesome success stories.

I firmly believe we have to set our own value for what we do. As musicians, we are often our own worst enemies. How can we get others to value us if we don’t value ourselves? But the way that “value” is established in this day and age is much different than when we depended on a record label to give us instant credibility, sell us to the masses, and administer the whole thing.

It goes without saying that you have to be able to back it up! I mean, your value is only substantiated if you bring a pro-level musicality, attitude, and work-ethic to the table. You have to hone your craft, be great at what you do, and be objective!

But, many will say things like “I’m an Artist, not a business person,” and I get that…I really do. But if you don’t learn to take some control over your own career in this changing music environment, than you’ll be left behind pining for the glory days.

So, here are some things I’ve learned and that have proven to work beautifully for us and our show in most scenarios. I hope you can take away something useful to apply to your individual musical journey.

Designing your own performance space in 4 “easy” steps

1. Know Your Audience

If you were sitting in your audience, watching your show, what would you want to see/hear? Take a few moments and really think about it.

* Who does your music appeal to?

* What would be the ideal setting for them to really appreciate your music?

* What type of place?

* What size crowd?

* What kind of ambiance?

* Make a list, and the ideal setting will begin to slowly materialize in your mind.

In our case, our original music has elements of romance, it’s a bit nostalgic at times, it’s kind of mellow, and appeals most to baby-boomer couples. We also know what size ticket price we need to charge to make a living at this, especially since we work with a Roster of Pro Songwriters, so we design our shows to appeal to those with some expendable income. When we look at this demographic, we learn they appreciate gourmet cuisine, they are wine and whiskey connoisseurs, they love “atmosphere,” they like to be pampered, they want to be able to “hear the words” of a song at a pleasurable volume, they don’t like to be crammed in to a venue like sardines, they prefer valet or easily accessible parking, it’s important they feel safe in the area of town the show is held, etc. So, with this in mind, we design our show in a luxury resorts with a fine dining room, addressing all of these known elements on the front end, and we deliver an extraordinary experience on every level.

2. Think Like A Business Owner

This is your show, so think like it! This is the time to get your ducks in a row, establish some of your own protocols, BEFORE you approach any venue! Think of yourself as a “team” with a venue and how to make it a “win-win” for everyone. Instead of you being a “nice to have,” make yourself a “GOTTA HAVE”!

In our case, we try to make life easy on them and then look for ways to make them “shine” to their customers. We have a 100-mile-radius-rule…meaning that we won’t offer this to their competition, making it exclusive to their venue and helping to set them apart. Venues respond well, like an audience, when you have your act together and are proactive in addressing their concerns.

So we do things like:

* bring our own PA System

— we know it and we are never at the mercy of a bad soundman

* we have an active and ever-growing E-list

— we are using most viable social media platforms and consistently/responsibly posting

* Tip – don’t “vent” or post negative comments on your social sites…not kool and potentially embarrassing for any venue that teams with you!

*  we have a marketing plan for the cities we perform in

* Enlist the venue’s local publicist who knows the area and has an established, great reputation…and pay her to promote to her E-list and friends/colleagues! Give her some incentives, like comp-tickets for her and a few guests, to the show. It’s much more effective than running an ad unless you have the money to do both

* Offer ticket give-a-ways to radio stations, chambers of commerce, local bloggers where they can run contests for their listeners/readers

* Offer them comp-tickets to the event in exchange for the promotion

* Send the venue professionally appealing posters/framed signs to display at their counter

* Promote the venue substantially in your marketing efforts along with your show and they will likely reciprocate the gesture – you want them talking about you with enthusiasm and they will when they see this as a team effort

* have a professional website that is updated constantly and accurately

— Use Hostbaby or Bandzoogle, ’cause you can easily update them yourself

— Use lots of pictures!!! Especially of the venue you are going to perform in and link those pics to their site

— Venues will often link their site to yours, so make sure it’s a great representation they’ll be proud to link

3. Ticketing

Handle our own ticketing, especially when you tour! This is crucial for a variety of reasons. First of all, with a company like TicketLeap (which I highly recommend!!!), you remain in control of your money and prevent new venues from “stiffing you.” TicketLeap is the best platform I’ve seen, and I’ve investigated a ton of them.

* It’s incredibly user-friendly

* your ticket pages are very professional and appealing

* It’s fully integrated with social media, so when folks buy a ticket, they have the option of sharing the info instantly on Facebook or Twitter with their friends

* you can assign a seating chart if you wish

* you can embed a ticketing widget easily on your own website so that folks don’t have to leave your site

* and the best part….you are paid instantly!

— You can set up a PayPal account (business/merchant is easy to set up and you don’t have to have a credit-check or a biz-license number) and the moment someone buys a ticket, it’s immediately deposited into your PayPal account.

— You can get a PayPal Mastercard (again, no credit check, works like a debit card), and pull the money off or use your Mastercard like any regular debit card. It’s AWESOME!

This helped us a lot when we were touring because we no longer had to “front” the money and wait to get paid. Instead, we had the money in our account to cover gas, travel expenses, on the way to the gig.

The only drawback is that if, for some reason, you have to cancel the show then you must be prepared to refund that money to ticketholders yourself. So, keep that in mind.

4. Team With A Venue

Once you’ve made your lists, gotten your ducks in a row and set up your ticketing, you’re ready to approach a venue. When you come with all of this to the table, most venues will take you seriously and strongly consider teaming with you. If you aren’t going to cost them anything (’cause you’re handling your own ticketing), you have a plan, and you are going to bring them new customers, and offer a great experience, then why would they not team with you? Make sure you have an agreement that covers all the things “you will do” and all the thing “they will do” on the night of the event. The main “unforseens” we’ve come across are things like logistics:

* Tables/chairs – if this is going to be a sit-down event, and the venue doesn’t have enough, then you’ll have to be proactive about renting them…most venues are not going to want to do this on their own, but they may split the cost with you if they see this event as a benefit to their business. Think also about table coverings, candles on tables, etc. All these things are the “details” that you need to think through.

* Catering – if your event is going to include a meal, and the venue doesn’t serve food, then find a local caterer that can set it up buffet-style and add the per-plate cost into your ticket price.

— We’ve had tier ticketing in the past: 1) Ticket including Dinner 2) Show only without Dinner.

— Most caterers need a head-count, guarantee so they have an idea of how many to cook for, of course, which is why I suggest adding it into the ticket price. That way, you know for sure a few days before the event and you don’t get stuck with a big catering bill that eats up your profits.

* Door Ticket Coordinator – Crucial to bring your own…and your laptop! Ticketleap will provide you with a real-time, online attendee list, in case someone forgets to bring their ticket to the show. Also, you have the option to get a credit card swiper from them that attaches to your computer for door sales. But you must have your own, internet-savvy, gatekeeper to make sure folks don’t slip in and to also to professionally greet your VIPs.

* Merch Person – Again, like the gatekeeper, make sure you have somebody you trust lined up for this. Also, something I’ve learned the hard way, make sure you use a lock box and have change for buyers!

* Set up/Soundcheck – Make sure you do this early in the day (between 2-5pm) so that you are not soundchecking as folks are arriving for your show. Not only does it look unprofessional, but it takes away from the downtime you’ll need to prepare to actually perform after all this business thinking!!!

Don’t forget to have fun with it! If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that something is probably going to go wrong despite your best efforts to prepare. Roll with it, give your best performance, and then continue to tweak and polish at future shows. You don’t have to get this all perfect, you just have to get it going! It’s a much different world out there now in music and we have to think outside the box and carve new paths! Don’t get overwhelmed…it gets easier!

Have you had success designing your own performance space? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • ChuckT

    Really like the concept and have been looking to do something similar with a World Music focus. Sort of like Kitaro on a more intimate smaller scale. I am curious – how are you handling sound reinforcement for these shows. I’ve looked through your photos on your site and don’t see any obvious speakers except on the floor in the center of your circle. Could you address the equipment you use and how you’ve handled sound reinforcement, feedback & stage plot for these kinds “in the round” shows? Thanks! Great article.

  • Brickfields

    I love this! Yes about five years ago my husband and I created our own venue at a local downtown outdoor cafe. We began playing for tips. Soon we started drawing a consistant crowd and now bring in people every year from miles around. We have decided to expand and begin traveling. This is a perfect plan for us to take advice from. Thankyou. God bless your musical adventures.

  • Hopefully Diane is still checking these comments. That is a great question.

  • Jackanddiane

    Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for your comment and question. We use our own PA and you wouldn't believe how simple it is, actually. It's a basic Samson system, with 2 15" mains/12" horns, one monitor, and a powered 12 channel board. We set the board up in the middle of the circle, between Jack & I, and then set the speakers in the far corners of the room and tape down the cords running to the board. We place one monitor, facing upwards (believe it or not), in the center of the circle. We just use something to prop it upright so it doesn't fall over. Jack uses a small mackie board for all the instruments, instead of DI's, and then runs one line from it to the powered board to save channels and to have instant control over mute buttons and such for the guest songwriters guitars. We run all the mic's straight into the channels on the board. We don't use a soundman and find that this concept works much better for our concept. It's a little tricky in some rooms, cause of fabrics, layout, and sound-bounce, but we can usually work around any scenario like this. We constantly get comments about how great our sound is at our shows, both from the audience and the Artists. Who knew?

  • Jackanddiane

    Thanks so much and best to you, too, in your musical vision:)