Alternative Performance Venues for Musicians

Because you don’t have to be at the mercy of music clubs

If you live in a small town with few (or zero) traditional music venues, or in a region where folks are generally antagonistic towards your genre, then you probably already know the importance of performing in alternative venues.

But even bands in cities with thriving music scenes can benefit from playing in alternative venues once in a while. When you explore performance opportunities outside of the usual circuit of local clubs, you have the potential to:

* play in front of a new (and sometimes “built-in”) audience

* create a special event and atmosphere that is centered around your music

* control the budget, ticket price, logistics, and promotion of the show

* earn money from live performance without “killing your draw”

* experiment with new approaches to your music

* perform songs that don’t fit into your usual set

* sell more merch and build your email list

Tired of playing the same old places? Here are some other performance venues you can try

Below is a list of alternative venues I have played in various solo and band configurations, as well as some unique places where I’ve seen friends perform:

1. Movie theaters — So many performance options: on stage at a historic theater, or in between films during a film festival, or in the lobby as theater-goers purchase tickets. Just wash the popcorn butter off your hands first.

2. Shopping malls — Ya know, like Bieber did. Best of all, they probably have a house piano!

3. Ice-skating and rollerskating rinks, bowling alleys, etc. — You can play a few romantic “couples skate” tunes, can’t you?

4. Retirement homes — Serious $$$ can be made, especially if you can play holiday songs and Golden Oldies.

5. City functions — Such as tree-lighting ceremonies, dedications, etc.

6. Churches — Rent the church for your own event, or perform a few songs during an existing event or service.

7. Busking — If you find the right spot, you can earn some good money as a street performer.

8. Radio stations — In-studios, especially if they’re in front of a small live audience, are a great way of getting your music out there (and capturing some footage for YouTube, too).

9. Boat rides and booze cruises — Just make sure you wait until after your set is over to really join the party.

10. Concerts in the park — Besides having to bring your own PA, family-friendly outdoor shows can be a lot of fun.

11. Restaurants — As long as you don’t mind being “background music,” restaurant gigs are great for finding new listeners and making some money. Or wait until after regular dining hours, and then crank up the volume.

12. Retail stores — Particularly book and comic book stores, vintage and clothing shops, or boutique/oddity stores. A great way to create an event that brings together your fans and the store’s patrons for “cross-promotion.”

13. Tented stage — Work with a local business and perform in their parking lot. Again, cross-promotion!

14. Coffee shop — No real revelation there. It worked for Dylan. It can work for you.

15. Art galleries and art walks — These things usually have built-in crowds and good foot-traffic. Just be sure that whatever you perform doesn’t totally upstage the purpose of the event.

16. House parties — Rock out in backyards, basements, garages, etc. How very punk rock of you.

17. House concerts — These intimate, invite-only events are different from house parties, as the music is featured front-and-center, and often attendees pay an admission fee.

18. Warehouse spaces — Got some friends living or working out of a half-empty warehouse or loft space? Venue!

19. Corporate parties — “Selling out” to The Man was never so sweet as when you got payed $2000 to play for 45 minutes at a Halliburton luncheon.

20. Hotel rooms — Granted, most hotels won’t be happy to hear there’s a rock concert going on in one of their rooms, but it happens every year at the International Folk Alliance Conference, where the top 3 floors of the hotel are full of tiny little showcases… happening everywhere and all at once! If you need more space, rent out one of the hotel’s event rooms.

21. Record stores — The big bland chain stores have mostly closed, but many of the coolest record stores are still alive and kickin’, and some of them host in-store performances.

22. Guitar shops — It’s tough to top the vibe when you’re playing a solo acoustic show in a room full of acoustic guitars, the different woods all resonating with your song.

23. Virtual concert — Use an online streaming service to host, perform, and promote your own concert from home.

24. After-parties — For other people’s concerts, for local theater productions, for… anything that needs an AFTERwards with music.

25. Meeting halls — Does your town have an American Legion, Elks Lodge, Masonic Temple, or Rotary Club? Do you know the secret handshake and have access to the special Poobah hat? Even if you don’t, you might be able to rent their hall for a night or two.

26. Airports — Another chance to use the house piano! Or bring your own small, portable rig and play to an ever shifting audience. Get permission from the TSA first, though.

27. Colleges — Student unions, commons, frat parties, lecture halls, oh my!

28. Political events — rallies, protests, conventions, oh my!

29. “Green” events — farmers’ markets, county fairs, wellness retreats, oh my!

30. Conferences, conventions, and book fairs — Do you sing about horses? Maybe the Arabian Horse Association has an annual event you can play at. Do you dress in Victorian or Vaudeville attire? Maybe there’s a Steampunk convention that’s dying to have some music this year.


Hopefully that gives you some ideas for going beyond your local music clubs. I’m sure I missed quite a few, too. If you have some performance possibilities to add to the list, please comment in the section below.

For more info about alternative venues, check out:

DIY Venues: Get Creative with Your Performance Spaces

Expand Your Gig Opportunities with Alternative Venues

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[Picture of piano player from Shutterstock.]