Author: Campbell, Bruce

What Makes a Good Music Venue?

Enjoying live music is one of life’s simplest pleasures – or it should be. Obviously shelling $100 for a ticket and driving 40+ miles to see a show erases a lot of the simplicity from that adventure.

But going out and enjoying music in a local venue – or playing music at one – is a great entertainment value. What factors contribute to whether or not the place you go is, great, less-than-great or something much worse?

Here are a few, in no particular order:


For listeners and players alike, acoustics matter, but most small venues (coffee shops, restaurants and the like) don’t plan their décor around acoustics, so you’re sort of stuck with the luck of the draw. A venue with particularly bad acoustics may find some acts won’t play there more than once, because they can’t deliver the sound in a consistently pleasing way.

Creature Comforts

Generally, if the place is a good place to eat or drink, it’s an OK place to watch musical acts. The seats are comfortable, you can see where you’re going and what you’reeating and drinking, and you don’t have to be Indiana Jones to brave the restrooms.

Quality of acts

This is all over the map, because musicians come in all configurations, musical stylings and talent levels. Really tiny places may be a mixed bag, because the better performers will end up working at bigger venues, but if the overall local talent level is real high, or the place is a joy to play, you can catch some very good acts in a very intimate setting.

Quality of presentation

A venue can be a little TOO intimate if the fiddle player’s bow is knocking the hats off the patrons in the front rows. And music can permeate a room better of the speakers (assuming there ARE speakers) are up off the floor. If the performer(s) have a real stage, or at least a stage area, with lighting specific to presenting the music in the best light (no pun here!), that can make a difference too.

What about the musicians then? What do they look for in a non-concert setting venue?

Quality of artist hospitality matters a lot. Think about it – many very small venues expect musicians to pay for little or no cash payout. If you’re a restaurateur, and you think your establishment will benefit from live music, than make an investment to provide amenities to attract decent acts. If you absolutely can’t afford much money, you can offer drinks and a meal for the band members. If the thought of a wide-open bar for 5 wild-eyed pickers gives you the willies, then why not allow a drink per set, or something like that. It does not present your business in a good light if your featured entertainment is reaching for their wallets at the bar during breaktime.

It’s tough for coffee shops or restaurants to charge a cover fee, so it is difficult to pull an extra C-note or two out of the till unless the act is packing the place night after night. But your profit margin on drinks and food is good enough to show some kindness.

Sometimes, a place that appears to break all these rules (I mean guidelines) ends up being a fantastic place for music anyway. Either the neighborhood’s full of great players, or the ambience transcends common sense, or it’s something else that no one can put their finger on. When that happens, well, it’s magic and we’ve all seen little “holes-in-the-wall” places become storied places for high quality music and great times.

Posted:  9/26/2012

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