How To Find the Right Venue for Your Live Show
By Jeri Goldstein
© 2006 The New Music Times, Inc.
Yes, it is so important to play as often as possible. It is also just as important to make
sure you play rooms that help move your career forward. Once again this topic requires you to review your
long-term goals and keep them in mind as you tackle every new aspect of your career. In this case, selecting
appropriate venues can be challenging but rewarding. The challenge lies in that there are a finite number of
venues where one may play and an infinite number of other acts competing for those venues. The reward is
realized when you begin to qualify the venues you choose to play, in order to fulfill your commitment to
reach your career goals. This is a different way of approaching booking.
Keeping your career goals in mind, consider the following factors each time you approach
booking a gig:
Know your audience.
I think this is the overwhelmingly most important thing a band can do, understand and know their audience.
When you know your audience, you are able to immediately determine whether one specific venue is right over
another. For example: Is your audience more likely to be downloading songs from iTunes or listening to NPR?
If you think you should be playing at the one and only club downtown that starts most shows at 11pm,
and you've noticed your audience is generally between the ages of 25-50, your audience may not follow you
into that venue. If on the other hand the age demographic of your audience is 17-25, then attempting to
book yourself in the club downtown may be appropriate.
Consider the following factors:
Age- A majority of people in the 25-50 age group have considerations that influence
their decisions for late night entertainment such as, family and children, early work days, availability
of discretionary funds, desire for creature comforts like soft-seat theaters. Those in the 17-25 age group
may not have the constraints as above. Late night start times may not impact their day schedule as much.
They also may not be as concerned with seating or a non-smoking environment.
Time- When are you at your best? If late night starts impact you and your ability to
perform at your best, certain venues may be wrong for you. If your audience is more of the 8pm crowd,
they just won't be there for the second show starting at midnight. If there is such demand, do a second
night rather than two shows on the same night. Perhaps schedule a matinee or early evening show and then
a 8pm show later the same day.
Types of room- Are your fans accustomed to standing for a show or sitting? If your fans
are used to sitting for shows and people know that a particular venue never provides seats, your audience
won't appreciate seeing your show there and ticket sales will slump. If, in your attempt to play a bigger,
hip venue, but your audience is not used to seeing you in that type of venue, you may also lose sales.
In an attempt to raise the profile of one of my acts, we decided to work with a promoter
who chose to put the act in a room unlike any the act had ever played before. All of the above factors
came into play. The room was wrong for the artist and the ticket sales were poor. The promoter did not
understand the act's audience and their method of promotion and choice of venue proved that fact.
When you are just beginning to tour and book gigs, consider your music and the type of
fan the music will attract. Who do you think your audience will appreciate your act-narrow it down? It
is not helpful to simply say, "I think everyone would like my music." Do yourself a big favor and be
specific. If your music is similar to another act, check out their audience, see which venues they are
playing. Who consistently buys tickets to their shows?
Knowing your audience can influence the type of venue in which you chose to perform.
Even when you have identified your fans to be the ones who will buy tickets for a standing show starting
at 11pm, some venues may be chosen simply as stepping stones and others may be recognized as showcase clubs.
You might want to use the stepping stone venue for a while to create that "buzz" and get a following. When
it comes to career movement, though, it is important to identify the important clubs in major markets. A
showcase club is one where people in the industry are likely to be scouting for new acts and where media,
print and radio, are likely to attend to write reviews and promote a new artist. Wetlands in New York City
is such a club.
If your audience is of the soft-seat theater variety, you must use a similar tactic of
selecting the right theaters as you build your audience on your way to playing the select theaters. You
might be playing university performing arts centers and community centers at first with the goal of playing
much larger concert halls and eventually outdoor sheds.
Where do you want to play?
Are you comfortable in bars or theaters, intimate house concerts or concert halls? Once you've determined
who your audience is, determine the best space to present the music you perform according to your goals and
comfort level. This pre-determination helps eliminate a lot of unnecessary phone calls. Now you can concentrate
on the appropriate venues according to your goals, your audience and your preferences.
Begin to call each appropriate venue to establish a relationship with the booking person at
the venue and decide whether this particular venue is right for your act
Details to consider:
Capacity- are you ready for the room? Is the room too large or too small? Have you ever sold out a
room that size? Prior to calling a venue, research the venues by using some of the available directories
such as Pollstar's Concert Directory or Club Directory; Musician's Atlas; Billboard's Musician's Guide to
Touring and Promotion or many of the online gig directories. Each of these directories will list the venue,
address, phone, email, contact, capacity, type of music presented and submission policies. By evaluating
each venue before calling, you may determine which ones will suite your act and which ones are just not right.
Make a note of the ones that may be perfect in a year or two so you include them as ones to get back to later.
Stage size- Often this may not matter. In some instances, knowing this information when you begin
discussions with the booking person may help you decide if you can fit your entire six piece group with
drum kit, keyboards and all the other players comfortably on stage or not. If you can't fit and the stage
configuration is not flexible, then this venue may be wrong for your act. Always keep in mind that you
want a situation to showcase your act at its best. Move on to another venue when you run into an insurmountable
obstacle. Try not to compromise the integrity of the performance.
Technical requirements- If you bring your own sound, lights and engineer and the venue will
accommodate you, then you are set in most rooms. If, however, you require sound and lights to be
provided for you, checking the specifications offered by the venue can also be an important
qualifying factor. If the venue does not have most or all of your required equipment, will they
rent what's necessary at their expense?
Budget and fee- Most clubs will determine the fee or the percentage they are willing to pay an
act based upon the act's prospective ticket selling capacity. An act in public demand commands better
guarantees and percentages. I will discuss negotiating fees in another article. For now, I believe you
understand the fact that known acts get better fees and unknown acts have to build a track record of
ticket sales in order to have more leverage to command higher guarantees and more advantageous percentages.
It is not unreasonable however, to ask the booking person for an approximate budget they might spend on a
similar act. Most clubs will not offer this information, but you can determine such information by asking
what other acts have they booked recently. When you have some knowledge of the other acts performing in
your market, you can quickly get a sense of the kind of money the venue is spending on their talent. For
instance, if the booking person names only major acts who are known to the general public and does not
include any local or regional talent with whom you are familiar, you may see that you are out of your
league. Unless you can persuade the booking person to include you as an opening act, it is unlikely that
they will be booking your act. If, on the other hand, all the acts named are similar to yourself, local
and regional, and you know what some of these bands are getting paid, you have a sense of the venue's
budget and may be confident of being booked for a similar fee.
Box office and ticket outlets- Is there a box office where one may purchase tickets in advance.
Does the venue use outside ticket venders? If the venue uses local business to sell their tickets, are
these familiar and easily accessible to your audience. Are phone reservations possible? Knowing this
will give you some advance indication of how the show is selling. This can give you some sense of how
the advance promotion is going and you can work with the venue to increase the promotion when advance
ticket sales are slow.
Door sales- When there are no box office sales, then tickets are usually sold at the door. Who
collects the money? Does the venue provide a door person to collect the money or can you provide your
own person? In many situations, having someone working for you at the door that you trust can mean a
great difference in the amount of money you make. You get to determine who is a guest and who is not.
If you are unable to insist on your own door person, make sure you can have your own person at the door
checking the count.
Advertising and Promotion- What kinds of advertising does the venue do? What is the advertising
budget for each act or for each week? Many rooms only place strip ads in the local papers in the
entertainment section that comes out once a week. Will your act get enough attention by this means of
advertising? Is the venue willing to do more? What other forms of promotion can you expect? When you are
an opening act, make sure you are included in all promotion and advertising. Ask about the proposed
advertising budget to determine how it will impact upon your final fee.
Hospitality- Will the venue provide meals, refreshments or housing? Some of these things may
help make doing this gig possible. If you are not getting a large guarantee or are playing for a
percentage of the door, having a hotel room or rooms provided by the venue may help your budget.
Similarly, knowing that a meal will be provided rather than again having to spend your own money on
means is another budget-saver. Ask the booking person these questions when entering into a negotiation.
These few items will assist your decision making process when determining which venues
are right for your act and which are not. Some rooms you will grow into over time, others are simply to
be crossed off the list. When you approach your bookings with this method of evaluating each venue, you
are once again making your determination by using facts rather than feelings, research rather than
impetuousness. Just as each venue booking person will attempt to qualify you and determine whether
you are right to perform in their room, you now have some tools to equalize the process and be pro-active
rather than reactive. Sometimes playing the wrong room can do more to stall or thwart your efforts to
reach your career goals. Qualifying each venue will save you time, effort and money and boost your career
to the next desired level.
And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to
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Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician's
& Performing Artist's Guide To Successful Touring 3rd Edition.
* If you would like to reprint any of these articles,
Jeri Goldstein for permission.