There are essentially three different types of music venues.
The first type of venue is one that really knows what they’re doing. It’s managed by someone with good business sense, and they have plenty of experience booking and promoting bands.
The second would be a venue that is partial to music, but has little to no experience booking or marketing music.
The final venue type are those that have little to no business sense, aren’t terribly excited about music, but will go ahead and book a show anyway, just because.
Of course, there are plenty of shades in between, but if you have been performing for any length of time, I think you can see the various venue types reflected in your own performance history.
Identifying the opportunities that are right for you
I recently had a conversation with one of my band leaders (I play in a couple of different bands right now), and it was pretty clear that he only went after the first type of venue.
Of course, for three 45-minute sets entirely made up of cover material per night, the band members expect to be rewarded for their work.
This arrangement works quite well for situations like that. If you’re in a cover band, a tribute band, or you just want to play every once in awhile and walk away with a decent amount of cash, you’ve found your fit.
The problem is that the first type of venue isn’t always accessible to bands or artists whose material is made up primarily of original material (unless you have some serious clout).
If the last two venue types are the only ones that will even open their stage to you, you’re going to have to think strategically about your approach.
How creative problem-solving can make a substandard gig worthwhile
At a venue that has their act together, you’re not going to have to worry too much about the details once the agreement is in place (as long as you deliver on your promise).
However, venues that really don’t know what they’re doing – or those that have a tendency of exploiting artists – aren’t going to keep your interests at the forefront.
In cases like that, it’s up to you to come up with a solution. You could turn down the gig, and there might be times when it’s appropriate to do that, but if you’re willing to problem-solve, you can sometimes find a way to make the venture profitable for you and your group.
Example: my band performing at a well-known local venue
There’s a venue in town (that shall go unnamed) that doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation.
They regularly put on live shows, but their business sense is suspect, and they don’t have much of a regular client base.
A couple of years ago, they reached out to my band and asked if we would be willing to play at their venue. We knew that it wouldn’t be terribly profitable if we let them run the whole show.
That’s when we put our brains to work to come up with a creative solution.
First, we wanted complete control over the bands playing and the order in which they would perform. We reached out to a couple of local acts and got them onboard.
Then, we had to figure out how to address the issue of the doorperson, which was no small matter. The people at the venue were far too laid back about ticket sales, and had a history of letting people in without checking to see if they even had a ticket.
We were expecting a good turnout, so this just wasn’t going to fly. If we brought out dozens of people (which we did – probably closer to 100), we didn’t want to get paid $25 each as a three-piece band for the night (been there, done that).
So, we approached the venue with our terms. Of course, we didn’t frame it like I just did. We made sure they understood that this was a value proposition.
Instead of them having to find and call other acts, we offered to do that legwork for them. Instead of them having to pay someone for the night to run the door, we said we would provide our own doorperson.
The result? My band members each walked away with $100 that night!
Considering the fact that I hadn’t made much more than $25 for a performance at that venue in the past, the fact that we netted $300 as a band was pretty exciting.
Though we managed to book a profitable gig at a venue that didn’t have their act together, when all was said and done, it didn’t exactly go perfectly.
The venue somehow managed to shoehorn a party gathering into our performance date, which unfortunately left no room for some of our fans to get in. We actually had to turn away a few people and refund their tickets!
And, though we were profitable, our supporting acts weren’t, because they didn’t really put any effort into promoting the event.
That’s up to their discretion, of course, but we would have loved to have made it a win-win-win situation (we win, the venue wins, the supporting acts win).
Hopefully what you’re taking away from this is that it is entirely possible to make a less-than-ideal situation a better one by applying your creative problem-solving skills.
You could limit your efforts to venues that really have their act together, but you might end up shrinking your options. By giving some thought to the value you are providing, you can work towards making the most of the gig opportunities available to you.
About The Author: David Andrew Wiebe is the founder of The Music Entrepreneur, and he has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, and music instruction. He is getting ready to launch his new book about musicians in the information age, and you can learn more about it here.
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