Musicians and bars go together like Forrest and Jenny. There’s something about dim lights, booze, and live music that will entice people to hang out for an entire evening, where having only 1 of the above simply won’t accomplish the same result. However, as a bartender, manager, owner/operator, there are several ways to make the music work for your business. The success of your music act is integral to your business success on the night of the performance (and hopefully even on nights there are no performances). Here are several ideas to take into account and put into practice to increase your income:
- Advertise! Put the band/performer’s name on your marquee, hang flyers in your establishment, create an online calendar, put it on your social media pages, etc. Do this at least a week ahead of time. Any print or digital communication with your (potential) customers should include every special enticement you are offering: live music/DJ, drink specials, menu specials, etc. Make it all work for you! If people don’t know about it, they won’t buy it! Consider a theme night (ex. couples night with a solo musician playing romantic music and offer meal/wine combos, pre-game party with an energetic band and beer buckets before the big game, etc.).
- Choosing the right act! Some venues are better suited for live bands, some are better off with a solo/duo performance. If you have a stage, a large open area, and can handle high volumes, then get a band. If you lack a stage, have very little available floor space, prefer a more comfortable volume, then hire a solo/duo. Every performer operates a little differently when it comes to set-up times, breaks, setlists, requests, audience interaction, etc. so do your research to find out what will work best for your venue.
- Don’t rely on the music act to fill your venue! If your bar is failing, empty on a weekend night, looks like a great place to get murdered, etc. then a music act isn’t your answer. A band isn’t going to bring their audience to a crappy venue because that hurts their image! Ideally, a music act should be a marketed to your existing loyal customer base. Then, they will tell their friends. The band may/may not show up with a ton of people. You never really know how it’s going to work out with building an audience, so it might take a few performances to get great results. As a business owner you should have a feel for whether or not the at works well for your venue within 1-3 performances.
- Make it easy for the performer! Have convenient parking, easy performance area access, and plenty of easily accessible electrical outlets for your performer. Give the performer plenty of space…6 feet of wall space in the corner by the emergency exit is a no go. If it’s a pain to setup and then the performer has to spend 20 minutes finding a far off parking spot, they are going to start off the night with a negative attitude.
- Do I serve the act Alcohol? Totally your call. Some venues give the act free beer all night or may also offer a meal. Free food is always a great option. Free alcohol can work sometimes to your benefit…certain audience members may be more likely to drink (more) if they see the band drinking. However, alcohol decreases everyone’s ability to do their best job. Some venues say they will serve 2 alcoholic beverage to the band during performance and free non-alcoholic beverages after that (that can be a smart option, as long as the band knows that going in). Other places won’t offer alcohol until after the band is done. Again, it’s totally up to you. The last thing you want is a drunk employee.
- Provide something that will appeal to women! Not to be sexist, but a straight bar with only male customers is typically not a successful business. Bring in the women and the men will follow…in droves! Whether it’s something shallow like a “hot” bartender, “girly” drinks, clean bathrooms…whatever might work. And in general, have decent decor and housekeeping.
- Good ideas in general…If the seating area looks like shit, then your customers are going to assume the kitchen/bar are also unkept. Clean up tables right after the party leaves. Clean the floor (especially in northern winter climates where guests track in salt/sand constantly. Paint the walls, hang some pictures, ditch the 1987 neon sign, don’t duct tape ripped seating (repair it!), etc. And a word on paint color…pick a color that looks great in dim lighting and full brightness. That means you need dimmable lighting. Don’t turn on effect lighting (moving colors, etc.) for a solo act unless the performer agrees…it can be really strange.
- Turn down the lights! Live music with all of your lights on like a regular dinner service just doesn’t work. Bright lights in a bar means one thing: go home. Leave it bright enough that your customers can see (dark bars are a safety disaster), but turn it down enough to indicate there is a special performance and to create a “mood”.
- Get the volume right! Ideally, you want people to enjoy the music but still be able to hold a conversation. Blowing out everyone’s ears is a sure way to drive people to the fringes of your venue. Really quiet acts are just as useless. Sometimes, as a performer, it can be difficult to tell how well the sound is carrying throughout the venue. Tell the performer to turn it up/down! Make it right at the beginning of the night..don’t wait until the end to say “next time be louder/turn it down”.
- House Speakers…or not! Allow the performer to use their own sound system (unless you have a really high quality system like a QSC, Bose, etc.). Plugging into a cheap system (behringer, fender, gemini, etc.) is going to lower the quality of the music. Ideally, if you can’t afford a great quality system, then don’t waste your money on a cheap one.
- Communicate! Introduce yourself to the performer(s). Greet them. Tell them the easiest entrance to bring gear in, parking tips, etc. It takes 10 seconds to make a great impression and make someone feel welcome. Let them know if you prefer when they take a break, ask them to mention a drink/menu special, let them know of any special event going on in your venue that might benefit from special recognition. Bartenders are busy people, but a simple 60-second conversation can really boost sales.
Have other ideas? Let me know, I’ll add them. Mutual monetary benefit is the root of every great business relationship!