Since the licensing laws for live music were relaxed in 2012 many new pubs, clubs and bars have started putting on live music. The new law states that as long as your capacity is 200 or less, you don’t need a licence at all – a big improvement from the previous barrage of red tape.
So, many new places are having the bright idea of putting bands on. Many discount the idea of covers bands (as they cost money) and instead plump for the originals band route. It’s an age-old argument in band circles – should we play for free etc, but assuming that we do (as relatively new bands with no great following), there’s a definite business proposition in place.
The venue gets punters and we get ‘exposure’.
In essence, this means we get to play in a public place where potential fans will get to see us, and try to build our following. The bar, in return, can sell drinks and make a profit.
For this to work, the band needs to turn up on time and do what they do in a professional and co-operative manner, and the venue needs to supply the correct infrastructure for the bands to play and the punters to come in, spend money behind the bar, and watch.
That’s the deal.
So, if you’re a new venue looking to put on original bands, what do YOU need to know? In the past, many articles like this have focussed on the bands and how they should act, but I think there are so many venues that are new to this it bears at least one article that gives a good explanation of their responsibilities. Here we go.
Space to Play
If you want to put on a show you need the space to do it. Bands don’t necessarily take up a ton of room, or need a dedicated stage, but you need an area that’s suitable. Don’t put the band where they are blocking access – it’s no fun playing when you need to keep moving to allow people to get to the toilet. If possible, the band should be playing towards the crowd (who have space to stand and watch) and the bar area should be easily accessible.
Original bands tend to play a set in the 30-40 minute region. For a good night of entertainment, it’s strongly recommended that you have at least three bands on. Don’t expect an original band to do 2x 45 min sets like a covers band would. Depending on the complexity of the PA system, you’ll need approx. 15 minutes minimum for changeover between bands too. Make sure you’ve got some appropriate music to play in between sets so it doesn’t go all quiet and kill the atmosphere.
Most bands need electricity to power the equipment. You’ll need sockets around the stage area, or at least a RELIABLE extension lead (13amp with a trip switch) into the stage area. Not every band can be expected to carry a 50m reel extension to reach the plugs in the back office, nor should they have to go looking for it. My first question on arrival is “where’s the electricity?”, and if I walk in to see a multiway extension already on the stage, I’m happy. Two is even better. If there’s no supply, and nobody on hand to ask, I’m already starting to wonder what else is going to be missing or wrong.
Live Sound & Lights
It’s generally accepted in the original music scene that the venue owns and operates the PA system and lighting rig, and supplies an engineer to look after the sound on the night. If you haven’t got a PA or a sound engineer this could be a sticking point for you. At the very least you’ll need a vocal PA if your venue isn’t too big. If you want it to sound right, speak to a professional. Good sound can make ALL the difference to the success of the event. Sure you can cheap out and get a crap PA and save money, but it will sound terrible and your evenings will be ruined by poor levels, distortion and feedback. GET A GOOD PA.
The bands provide the music and you promote the event.
If you’re expecting each band to bring 50 people you’ll be sorely disappointed. Any bands who can pull a crowd like that won’t be playing for free as a rule. Assume that the bands will bring NO friends at all. Set up a Facebook event and invite all your regulars. Get the band to invite all their friends too. Get a designer friend to do artwork for the event posting. Advertise locally if you can. Print some posters and advertise to your regular customers. Write a blog on your website. Tweet it. G+ it. Do everything you can. If you fail to promote it, don’t be surprised when nobody shows up. You can do a lot from your computer in an hour.
If you’ve got 4 bands playing, they’re all going to turn up at 7pm with a load of equipment. There will usually be one full drum kit (bands are good at arranging who will bring the kit to share) at least 4 guitar amps, bass amps, guitar cases, stands, bags, boxes and Christ knows what else. The bands need somewhere to store all of this until it’s time to set it up, or their turn to take to the stage.
If the playing area is big, there might be room along the back wall for most of the stuff. If it’s not, and there isn’t anywhere else suitable in the bar area then you’ll need to make a store room available. Musicians need to know that their $2000 guitar is going to be safe.
If your bar regularly gets full of drunken idiots who like starting fights and throwing beer about, that’s your lookout, but the bands should be protected from having to deal with any of this. Someone needs to be on hand to sort any sticky situations. If my guitar gets covered in lager by one of YOUR regulars, I’m looking at you to repair it. Keep the dickheads away from the stage area where there is electricity, wires, heavy things on stands and expensive musical equipment, and if anything kicks off or someone starts getting lairy, make sure there’s a manager or senior member of bar staff who will step in and have a word. Don’t just stand and fucking watch the carnage unfold. It’s not easy to defend yourself whilst holding a guitar and singing.
Bar & Toilet Facilities
Only the other week I turned up at a gig to find that there was no lager – it had all run out. They’d quite obviously not paid their beer bill. In the spirit of the arrangement, we play for free so that we can attempt to gain fans from the crowd that come to your venue. If your venue has run out of drinks then you’re not fulfilling your side of the bargain, and I would like paying with money please. It’s not our fault if you, like many, don’t really know how to run a business.
Same goes for toilet facilities. If there’s one cubicle with a broken seat and an inch of piss on the floor, it’s not on.
Good bands > sound and facilities > drinks and restrooms > space to play and space to watch = good night of music.