Success in Local and Live Music Venues


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By Austin Weimer

A garage fills with sound. It’s the second practice of the week—two hours of refining the same thirty minutes of music. It’s time to turn the practice into performance. Playing at open mic nights and local bars is the next step in evolving a band. A combination of factors contribute to having a successful show in terms of performance, audience engagement, and finances.

Investing time in studying venues is the first step. Check to see if there is a theme between the genre of music and the venue’s bookings. Transportation costs and logistics are next to consider. Bands with a similar sound to each other do well at venues because of their consistent audience draw. For example, the Middle East and Paradise Rock club host a wide variety of local rock and metal. Listen to the bands that play at each venue of interest. Additionally, show times and relative location to other businesses can make or break a show.

Optimal audience size depends on the accessibility of the venue. The distance to the venue shares importance with the cost of admission. If the venue allows, sell tickets at a discounted price at the door. Venues with a pay-to-play system in which the band pays the difference if not all tickets are sold should be the last resort. Venues with at least a few weeks of time between shows are more likely to not be pay-to-play. Promoters at these venues realize advertising for one packed show every few weeks is much better than hosting a bunch of random shows throughout the week. In either case, self-promotion is crucial. A Facebook event is not enough. Musicians should take advantage of this and let as many people as possible know, regardless of using the internet. Many places in cities have opportunities for flyers and posters in well-visited areas.

But jumping straight into bars and performance spaces is not the only option. Local performance spaces, birthday parties, and open mic nights are equally as opportune. Restaurants often have restrictions to space and may not allow full drum sets. Volume is often a factor. The idea is to be loud enough for the space given, not to make people deaf within five minutes. Professional and enjoyable experience creates interest. After playing a few shows, artists can start selling CDs for a few dollars and build funds for future merchandise.

Fine-tuning all of these factors results in the best possible response from an audience, and subsequently, the venue owner or booking agent. Playing live brings practice and effort full-circle. Practice the performance and smooth out the logistics. Adaptive playing can make the music enjoyable for everyone, and interest is the first step to repeatedly playing live.

Contact a variety of venues, weigh the options, and promote. Planning shows requires as much energy as getting to the venue and performing. Keep in touch with the booking agent afterwards and form connections with every person at the venue. Each show is an opportunity to grow musically and network with fellow musicians.

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