The Venue/Musician Relationship Defined

Over the past several years I’ve performed many free–or nearly free–shows. And, although this blog post is dedicated primarily to those musical venues with a low or zero musical-budget, I think that the info contained here applies across the board…paid or not.

image3Lately, I’ve noticed a fairly common trend beginning to form with the small music venue. It could be described as a lack of support for the musician. And, after stewing about it for a time (and taking much of it personally), I realized that it may be a simple lack of education–a simple “not knowing” on the venue’s part, in regards to the venue-artist relationship, roles and responsibilities which can lead to the musician feeling taken for granted, or worse, taken advantage of. So, I thought it might be a good idea to clear the air a bit, and clearly define:  who-does-what.

First, the role of the MUSICIAN:

  1. Write originals/learn cover songs
    • This is a never-ending process. Writing one’s own material is one thing; but performing it in front of strangers is quite another. Performing covers can be tenuous as the musician always wants to honor the original while putting their own unique spin on it.
  2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
    • This is just work…plain and simple. The more time you put in, the better the show…period. There is no off-season.
  3. Record and mix the albums
    • Three albums in, I’m not sure I could ever accurately place into words what a labor of love it is to record an album on your own. Hundreds of hours. Blood, sweat and tears. Maddening, joyful, ecstatic, bipolar bliss. I would wish this for no one…and everyone.
  4. Pay to have the albums mastered
    •  Self-explanatory. It takes money to make money, period. Mastering an album prepares it in a way that makes the songs bright and clear on the CD, radio, whatever.
  5. Pay to have the albums manufactured
    • Once again, it takes money to make money. Manufacturing the albums in bulk is the most cost-effective way for musicians to have albums on-hand to sell at shows…but it costs money.
  6. Create and manage music sales and marketing channels
    • My albums are available online in places like iTunes, Amazon, my website and more. Making them available takes time and money. I’ve spent countless hours on this alone.
  7. Create and manage website, fan/subscriber Email lists, and social media
    • I’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours on building my website and web presence. Currently, I’m managing accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, ReverbNation,  Myspace, and SoundCloud (and others for my author/book projects). To help manage most of these, I have a paid subscription with HootSuite, a social media management platform.
  8. Purchase and maintain recording software and equipment, and road/performance gear
    • I’ve spent thousands of dollars on gear; yet this pales in comparison to the never-ending learning curve required to be able to use it all.
  9. Find & book shows, find & books shows, find & book shows
    • A hunt that never ends…ever.
  10. Pack/set-up/take-down gear for shows
    • Self-explanatory, and just plain work.
  11. Travel to/from venues
    • Three words:  Price of gas.
  12. Perform, perform, perform
    • The show…it’s the reason for all of the madness. But make no mistake, it takes it all out of you. After a 3 hours show, I’m spent. And it’s all well worth it, especially when I see someone out in the crowd bobbing their head, tapping along with the rhythm, feeling the vibe.

imageNow, the role of the VENUE…

  1. Fill the seats
    • The venue brings the crowd, the musician brings the noise. The venue is on their terrain–their neck of the woods. A musician will generally do what he or she can to announce to fans when/where shows are held. BUT, in this fast-paced, online, time-crunched, ultra-competitive culture, it is absolutely the venue’s job to fill the seats within their respective/local environment…period. And, let’s be honest, given the long list of responsibilities offered above…the job of filling the seats can’t possibly fall to the musician.
  2. Pay
    • I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “We don’t have a music budget.” Yet, the solution is simple:  create one. Just decide, and create one. Even if it’s only fifty bucks. Find a way to pay the craftsman for the craft. I guarantee you, if you do, you will have higher quality musicians performing on a more regular basis.
  3. If the venue can’t find a way to pay…
    • If you’re asking a craftsman to provide their craft for FREE…then you must contribute in other ways to balance the exchange…or, it’s likely that you’ll never see that craftsman ever again! Here’s what you do:
      • Put out multiple musical tip jars/hats in strategic areas (i.e. by the registers, on tables, by the door, etc.).
      • Speak to the crowd, encourage them to tip, proactively pass the tip hat around.
      • Tip! Lead by example!
  4. Clap!
    • Encourage the crowd to clap as well…again, lead by example. The musician wants love in some form or another. If it isn’t going to be in the form of money, an appreciative crowd can be a suitable replacement.
  5. Invest in a PA System
    • Consider purchasing a modest PA system for the house to have on hand for those musicians who don’t own/travel with a full sound system. This can make the entire process sooooooo easy for everyone.
  6. Communicate with the musician
    • Greet your musicians when they get there! Don’t let them guess about anything! (i.e. where to set up, when to start, etc.)
    • Acknowledge your musicians AFTER the show! Discuss any possible future gig dates.

In my humble opinion, communication–forthright, upfront and honest–is the key to any successful relationship, with no exception to the one that exists between venue and musician. Being clear with each other right from the start is the best way to avoid assumptions, animosity and disappointment and thus create a fun, inspiring night of music.  

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About the Author…
Noah James Hittner is an independent Author and Musician from rural Wisconsin who has appeared on both radio and network television. His books and music inspire the mind and warm the heart. To contact Noah, or explore more of his work, visit:

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