Once upon a dark and stormy night, a kick-ass local rock band arrived late for their gig at a local rock venue, ready to melt faces on an awesome crowd with their original rock songs. When they opened the load-in door, to their surprise, the venue was desolate and dreary, deserted… no one had come to see the band because the venue didn’t promote the show… and the band left with only $30.
“What a rip-off! That greedy venue owner took all our cash!”
Has this ever happened to your band? It’s probably an all-too-often occurrence in the world of rock music, but it is definitely preventable. What may surprise you is that the burden of promo was more on YOU than on the VENUE. Why? Here are five reasons to love and work together with your local venue instead of assuming that they’re trying to screw you out of money.
1.) Rock/Metal Venue Owners Love Live, Local Music.
I have yet to talk to a venue owner who bought/started theirs for any other reason than that they wanted a place for the live, heavy music they loved to have a good place to be heard and performed. If they just wanted to make tons of money, they wouldn’t have sunk tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of dollars buying and outfitting a random warehouse/bar/restaurant with a kick-ass stage, live music sound system, lighting, etc.; they would’ve just hired DJs or karaoke hosts who bring as big a crowd as bands do AND they bring their own PA system, lights, mics, and equipment that the venue doesn’t have to invest in (and they clean it all up at the end of the night, too).
2.) Venue Bills > Band Bills.
Band gear and transportation is definitely expensive, but few bands on the local or unsigned touring circuits can play Battle of the Bills with a venue and win. Plus, it’s some people’s full-time jobs to work at a venue, and when your local band’s show bombs, those people don’t get paid fairly, either (think: 0 attendees = 0 tips for the bartender). There’s a basic monthly operating cost of a venue that’s much higher than any band, and those bills need to get paid, or there’s no lights, no booze, and no building to play in.
3.) Venue Calendars > Band Calendars
In most cases for unsigned bands, we play roughly as many shows in a month as a venue hosts in a week, but most small-to-midsized venues don’t have any more people working for them than a band does (3-5 members, a couple flaky roadies, and a handful of rabid fans). If you think it’s tough to promote a few shows per month with that team, imagine how much work it takes to promote four or five shows PER WEEK, full of bands you may or may not have much information about to create ads, promo vids, or other content. If your show is on the venue’s website calendar, sent out in their email blast, and displaying the flyers you brought them (or sent them), their job is done. The rest is your job. Before you protest that’s not the band’s job, read on.
4.) Your Friends Are More Likely To Care Then Their Friends Are
The venue can only post so much content on social media about their upcoming schedule of events before people just start ignoring them or social media bumps them off the News Feed. Your band’s friends and fans are more likely to listen to your musical ramblings on Facebook than a venue’s posts about your band alongside a slew of bands they’ve never heard of in genres they don’t even like (wouldn’t YOU?). YOU have a targeted audience of people who like your band (or will at least come to support you personally), the venue has to cast a wider net with promotion. That means your posts are automatically more effective in promotion of your band’s show than the venue’s is. If the venue posts and shares social media content about your band other than show announcements and calendar posts, consider that gravy. Keep posting, telling your friends, and putting up flyers in places your fans go.
5. Venue > Your Basement/Garage
Ultimately if venues in great locations (i.e. where rent is expensive) with reliable awesome staff (i.e. who deserve a living wage) make it a bigger priority to pay bands after money-losing shows instead of making sure their employees and rent (and other bills) are paid, those venues won’t be around for very long, and you’ll be back to just practicing in your basement until someone else gives you a chance.
What it all boils down to is this: there are only so many dollars that people are willing to spend on entertainment every week. Any time you play a show, you and the venue compete with a lot of cheaper/free forms of entertainment as well as conglomerate venues with deeper pockets (and more clout for trade deals) for advertisement, not to mention the low-dough laziness that a lot of people are feeling these days that prevents them from going out at all.
For best results in overcoming that inertia or competitive entertainment, WORK TOGETHER with your venue owners and their staff to promote the show. Read their “booking” pages for promotional tips, ASK how you can promote your show at their venue better (they’ll almost always help you in any way they can), and work with the other bands on your bill to get the word out in every way you can.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter “whose job it was” to do the promotion; it matters whether it got done and the show was fun and made everyone’s ends meet — or not. Sometimes venues will take chances on unknown bands, but they can’t do it every night and still keep the doors open — so don’t make them! Go forth, and PROMOTE YOUR SHOWS!