9 Things You Must Know Before Choosing A Music Venue

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You know where to play locally. You’ve been to most clubs, played many of them and have made mental lists of the venues you’d like to play. Some you’ve vowed never to play again and some you can’t wait to get back in at. But what about booking a tour where you don’t know the town, have never seen the venues and don’t have people on the ground to report back?

Here are 9 things to consider when choosing a music venue either at home or when booking a tour:

1) Capacity

Every booker wants to know what your draw is. If you have no history in the area (and no online buzz) then your draw is 50. Well, that’s what you’ll say. You can get 50 people out to any show if you’re smart about promo (and team up with great local openers). Locally, once you’re experienced and have a name around town, you’ll have a pretty good idea of  how many you can bring.

When you can, always book a venue with a capacity one person smaller than your draw. Meaning, if you can draw 500, book a 499 cap room. If you can draw 50, look for 49 cap rooms. It’s better to sellout a 200 cap room than play a 500 cap venue and have it two-thirds empty. Sure, it’s cool to put well-known venues on your tour calendar, but it’s better for your overall career to pack people in and give the best possible show to a full house – regardless of the size. Those who get in will be buzzing with excitement that they can experience an exclusive (to ticket holders) event and those who get turned away will know your next time through they’ll need to get tickets quickly.

2) Ages

If you’re a YouTuber with a target demographic of 12-19 you don’t want to play 21+ rooms. If you’re a bar band and need a bottle of Jack on stage with you at every show, you don’t want to book the all ages (dry) teen center. I try to book all ages or 18+ shows whenever possible. I remember what it was like before I was 21 and couldn’t get into any clubs to see my favorite bands. It sucked. I wish more clubs were 18+ or all ages all the time and left the decision up to the parents, but I get it, insurance costs, additional security on and on. The club has to take on more expenses for all age shows (and they don’t make as much money on kids – no alcohol), so most don’t like doing them. But here are some of music’s biggest fans! The money you’ll lose on the deal (to cover the venue’s extra costs) you’ll make up for on merch. Kids buy merch!

3) Reputation

I use IndieOnTheMove and Yelp when doing my venue research. IndieOnTheMove has band reviews for most venues (and full contact, capacity info). Yelp has mostly customer reviews. You can get a great sense of the venue by reading reviews. If the customers don’t like the place then you’re going to have that much harder of a time getting people out. If the bands have a horrible time there, then you’re most likely not going to have a good show. Choose a venue that’s generally liked by both the patrons and the artists.

+Tour Booking Will Never Be The Same After This

4) Vibe

Metal bands shouldn’t play coffee shops and singer/songwriters probably don’t want to play S&M clubs. Every venue has a vibe and you have to figure out which kinds of clubs will help provide the most enjoyable experience for your fans.

5) Payment

When you’re booking directly with the club, the talent buyer (booker) will most likely offer a percentage of the door – especially if you’re unproven. If you prove yourself and can consistently bring a good crowd then your cuts will increase and potentially even move into the guarantee vs. percentage of the door deal. Aside from a few select spots in LA and NYC, nearly every deal is negotiable. Do your best to work out the best deal for yourself.

There are venues out there (typically run by musicians) that make sure their deals are fair and favorable to their guests (musicians). Some venues (typically run by dicks) try to screw the musician out of any possible money and all but turn each band member upside down at the end of the night  and furiously shake down for loose change.

+Should You Pay To Play: Here Are The Worst To Best Deals In The World

6) Promo

The biggest disconnect between venues and musicians is: musicians believe the venue will promote the show and the venue believes musicians will promote the show. You need to understand that most venues will NOT do anything to promote your show except display a few posters (that you provide) inside their establishment and list you on the website concert calendar. However, some venues out there take out ads in the entertainment weekly newspaper. Some venues have street teams distributing flyers for upcoming shows. Some venues exclusively work with promoters that handle this (and you’ll then have to book your show with the promoter). It’s good to know going into the show what promo the venue does and what promo you’re expected to do as the band. Word to the wise: you’re expected to do 99.99% of the promo. Asking venues what promo they do will most likely piss them off, so just do some research.

+This Company Will Print, Label And Ship Tour Posters

7) Advance Tickets

You always want to setup advance tickets for every show. Getting people to buy tickets in advance ensures they’re actually going to show up. Most venues have a way to setup advance tickets – if it’s not done by default. But some venues are stuck in the dark ages and, oddly do not. Check the calendar on the website to make sure that they actually sell advance tix and get them setup for your show.

8) Sound

The sound engineer is THE MOST important person for your show. Not enough bands realize this and have their music (that they worked so hard to perfect in rehearsal botched) coming out of the speakers – resulting in a horrible experience for the audience.

+How To Fix The Sound Guy Problem

Best thing to do is to hire your own talented sound engineer who you trust (if you can afford this). If that’s not possible, attend shows at the local clubs and pay attention to which mixes you like and which you don’t. Take notice of who is running the board. If you really love a mix, go up to the sound engineer and tell him or her! They rarely (if ever) get compliments from the patrons. You will make their night. Introduce yourself and get their card. When you’re booking a tour this won’t, obviously, be possible to do. Read reviews, ask around and do your best to choose a club that has a reputation for good sound. When you show up, treat the engineer with respect and pray to god that they will give a shit during your set. Tipping them $20 at the start of the night definitely can’t hurt!

+9 Things Every Musician Needs To Know About The Sound Guy

9) Perks

One of the perks of working with a promoter (instead of the club) is that they will typically meet riders (veggie tray, tub of beer, bottle of Jameson, don’t ask for blue M&Ms… dick). They’ll also provide parking for your bus, van, car and sometimes lodging. But you have to ask.

Venues rarely provide any of this when booking directly with bands. But some will. However, most venues will have a green room, but not all. If you need a space to clear your head, dip away from the crowd, warm up, rub ice on your nipples or whatever weird pre-show routine you do hidden from the audience, you’re going to want to make sure the club has a green room. So ask!

The venue is a direct reflection on your band. Your fans will associate your band with the venue they saw you in – for better or worse. So don’t pick the wrong one!

11 Responses

    • Willis

      Cmon, get real. Artists don’t just “hire a booking agent.” That isn’t the way it works – oversimplified. Agents are not on-call. They choose who they spend their time on and who they open their contacts to based upon opportunity. Most artists do not present opportunity worthy of an agent.

      • Anonymous

        Cmon, get real. Artists don’t just “hire a booking agent.” That isn’t the way it works – oversimplified. Agents are not on-call. They choose who they spend their time on and who they open their contacts to based upon opportunity. Most artists do not present opportunity worthy of an agent.

        the states sounds like it sucks then…

        you guys never cease to amaze me with your ridiculousness of trying to screw and scam people, always you guys, scam city should do an episode on some of the music business charaltans looking to grease people, its pathetic, however funny, as its such a surveillance state now, yall just out yourselves constantly…

        anyways, up here there are plenty of different levels of people, many of them more then willing to be open and talk and help in some form or fashion, whatever your genre is, whether that be by booking a tour, or opening slots, or hooking you up with the right connections, be it business or artists, CMON WILLIS GET REAL WOULD YA, these people need and want to grow and inspire and cultivate, so get over yourselves already…

        if Ari and this site is here just trying to educate kindergarten toddlers by ramming a pacifier in their mouth, or to build up some new whatever out of delusions or bitterness from an industry they cant get in no matter how much they scratch and claw and bang on the door, then maybe just say so, as it will help everybody…

        otherwise, cmon Willis get real my man…

        always trying to make yall seem so important and better then everyone, its freaking music, its in the basement, the people are grinding near zero, a booking agent is a person, with a heartbeat, who is trying to put together a living for their costs of living and perhaps their children at home, its just a job, mostly a low paid one, of hard work, which relies on clients, so seriously now, stop being so arrogantly self important and get with the program already, else bugger off and go play croquet or polo or something….

        lest we forget, a booking agent is in business to book shows for people, and yes of course their reputation is on the line everytime they book a show, however, in this market and this day and age and this industry as it is now, give me a freaking break Willis, it is clearly you who needs to get real and yall yanks need to pull your heads out of your asses and realize the world is slightly bigger then a few pay to play venues in los angelas…

        unreal… i mean you are clearly someone who has some idea of the business, so perhaps maybe post as such then eh….

      • GGG

        There are plenty of agents, good ones too, that are on-call and can book small acts for like $40 a gig. They can be very helpful for getting small bands into new territory but sticking them on bills with hometown bands and/or just generally getting venues to answer the phone.

  1. Anonymous

    If you’re a YouTuber with a target demographic of 12-19 you don’t want to play 21+ rooms.

    Hmm, this says it all then don’t it boys and girls? Innit interesting if given time what you can find out from doing nothing…

    • GGG

      What? What does this say? It’s pretty simply an issue of getting into the show. Your fans won’t be allowed in the venue…

      • Anonymous

        What? What does this say? It’s pretty simply an issue of getting into the show. Your fans won’t be allowed in the venue…

        Hi GGG, top o the morning to ya!

        I wasnt talking about what you are saying here, so you read the wrong thing into my reply, please, try again… thanks for taking the time to reply so kindly to my post, i truly appreciate it, as time is all we have, and i am honored and flattered you would do as such… kindest and warmest regards to you…


  2. Anonymous

    Asking venues what promo they do will most likely piss them off, so just do some research.

    Then perhaps they shouldn’t be in business as not only is that bad for them, its bad for you and its bad for both of yalls customers… thats just bad business… i mean it’s one thing if you get caught sleeping with the bar owners wife in between sets, but a simple question to better ensure everyone knows the details to further ensure the best job can be done, well, that should be a red flag that that bar is perhaps one not to play, unless the bar owners wife is really hot, then it might be worth it…

  3. Mojo Bone

    Yeah, it might be a good idea to think of some tactful ways to bring up the subject of promotion, particularly after you’ve done due diligence/research. If a given club is good at promotion, you’ll no doubt be aware of the fact, without the ask. If not, you’ll maybe want to reach out to acts you know that have had success there despite that, so as to learn their strategy.(most will be happy to brag about what worked for them)

  4. Pro Sound & Booking

    There are some good points here as usual, and perhaps a couple I can take issue with.

    #1 – I’ve been pitching this idea for years, and very few get it. Too many baby breakers want to play the “big” room because they believe it gives them cred. It doesn’t. Exactly the opposite actually, once the truth of the draw comes out.

    #3 & #4 – IOTM “sucks” … want to know the best places to play? Ask the local musicians.

    #6 – Don’t confuse promotion with advertising. I’ve spent over a million dollars in advertising shows. In over 90% of the cases it hasn’t mattered – because people reading the ads don’t know the names of the bands and what they do to begin with – unless the band already has a major media impact in their genre.

    #8 – Sound …. most guys I know are pretty damned conscientious and do their best to make things sound right. Know the room before you play there. If you’re playing 110db from stage in a room that holds 150, you’re too loud. PERIOD. Nothing a sound guy can do about that.