In the middle of Georgia there’s a strip mall. It houses a Firehouse Subs sandwich shop, a barber shop, a gold buyer, and a T-Mobile store. It also houses about three empty shops from failed businesses. One of these businesses was a karate dojo and it’s just a big empty room with a short stage – presumably for demonstration purposes.
This strip mall is not unique in any way. There were a number of them in middle Georgia and there are untold numbers of them scattered across the US and, I’m willing to bet, the world in general.
But it’s the karate dojo with the short stage that got me thinking about live music venues.
Live music is an honorable quest but there’s a lot of crap that comes with it. You need a liquor license. You need security. You need to be fairly secluded so neighbors don’t complain (too much). You need to decorate it so it doesn’t look like a dive. You need to constantly market your establishment to guarantee a maximum turnout. You need people to come to your establishment so you can pay your rent and you want to be successful and actually make a profit. So generally you look to cut your costs. A growing number of clubs hire a DJ instead of a band because there’s less money to spend and a higher likelihood of music that’s popular with the crowd because you want the crowd to come back and bring their money with them.
But these clubs are lawsuits waiting to happen. People get too drunk and start fights, or suffer from alcohol poisoning, or get DUIs leaving your establishment, which would increase the number of cops camping out waiting for them, which would DECREASE the number of patrons because why on earth would anyone who drinks and drives want to give the Fuzz a leg up and go to where they are to drink and then drive and inevitably get caught? Your customer number will dwindle, as will your money.
There’s got to be a better way.
Here’s a better way that addresses almost all of these issues:
1) Rent out the old karate dojo or equally spacious place. You don't have to have a large space - a small space means it would be easier to sell it out and the rent would be lower.
2) The liquor license: don’t serve liquor. Instead, sell bottled water and bottled water ONLY. No outside food or drink allowed. Because there’s no booze, there’s going to be significantly less fights, DUIs, injuries, death, and, as a result, less cops. Also, your need for security will be less without these shenanigans. While you’re at it, no smoking inside. Pitch the club as a club for ages 18 and up who like music.
Initially people will say that without booze you can’t have success, but you’re basing success off the money that comes from the booze and the music is just the lure to get them to buy their hooch. There are people who go out to drink and happen to listen to music, but there are also people who go out to listen to music and perhaps drink. Which crowd do you want in your establishment?
3) The need for seclusion: make the club acoustic. Billy Gibbons was talking about how you needed to turn up when you played a club to get over the clatter of beer bottles and people having a good time in order to remain the center of their attention. Perhaps this was the first volume war. Perhaps this is why clubs and bars are so freaking loud today. See, the logic is “I’ll just be louder than them and they’ll have to pay attention,” but if they’re coming to see the music be performed, why should the musician have to cater to the crowd and their volume to be louder than them?
A volume war like this is the reason neighbors complain (that, and drunks but those are already taken care of) and why you need to get away from the main population in an area where they can’t hear too much.
Instill a rule for the security you do have to verbally warn someone when they’re being too loud for other people to enjoy the show, perhaps one additional warning, and then ejection from the club. Cut it off at the root, as they say. Without the booze you’ll know that people came to enjoy the music, not to get rowdy with a musical background. People gave you money to watch the show, so why would you allow their investment to be tarnished by some loud people?
And just like that, volume is not an issue. You can put your club in the middle of the population, where people can walk to it and enjoy the show on a whim.
4) Décor: Décor is tricky. I would want to do two things: reduce the cost as much as possible, and make it as ambiguous as possible so anyone can feel like they can go to it or that they could perform in it. A short stage, a nice neutral color on the wall, some canned lights to accent the stage and the all-important bright fluorescents that let people know the club is closing should be good for the walls and ceilings. Perhaps pictures of the bands or artists who have performed there on one wall. For tables, use high-end fold-outs so they can be easily moved/arranged and then stored. Get battery-operated lamps or candles (battery-operated candles) for the tables to reduce the number of wires you need to run through the place and a ton of fire hazards (which will help with insurance). Don’t try to save too much on the seats though, as people will be sitting a lot while watching an acoustic show.
With these unbiased settings, anyone can feel comfortable performing and anyone can feel comfortable attending.
5) Constant marketing: Marketing is a pain in the bar scene because you can get alcohol anywhere. You can even take the popular stand and say you can drink at home where the booze is cheaper and you won’t risk DUI. You have that option and one bar isn’t going to be THAT much better than another bar (provided they have the same clientele).
And you can sit at home and drink water and watch a live show via DVD or something, but chances are it’s a show you've already seen, and it’s not a show by a new person or an up-and-comer. You have to venture out for that. And if you’re venturing out to see music and you know there’s a place where music is the only emphasis, wouldn’t you want to go there instead of hunting for a bar or club that doesn’t staff a DJ and it's hospitable enough that you could enjoy an actual show? You could be hunting all night for something like that! Word of mouth will spread because this kind of club IS unique and music focused. It makes sense to go there on a date as well.
Why are movies so popular for dates? Because you go someplace where you are not obligated to talk and you both absorb the same thing, providing you with a safe conversation topic after the movie over a late dinner or a drink or something. That bit of preparation makes for a successful date of light, fluffy, and in no way awkward conversation.
Going to a club like this would work the same way. After the show you can go out and talk about it.
Not only that, but the band(s) that perform will also help market the establishment because there’s a financial incentive there for them.
6) The schedule: So we have an acoustic club, nicely decorated, with a crowd that’s paying attention, but what are we going to play and when are we going to play it? Let’s say we have an average of four weekends a month. I would want the club to be open Friday and Saturday nights, so that gives me 8 nights a month to put on shows. Twice a month there would be an “open mic” event for anyone who wants to come and sign up to perform one song. These are good events because generally a bunch of people will feel OK about performing one song and will perhaps ask their friends to come along for support.
The other nights I would book bands or artists to play full sets for an hour or two, so perhaps two bands a night.
7) Money: Personally, I like flat costs. Stability is a good thing. Set your prices at a fair level and then keep it at that level so no one is shocked when they show up at the door for the first time because of a friend’s advice and the price is different. I say make and keep it at 10.00 for entry so an even 20 will get you and a date in (which makes ATM withdrawals easier) and let it be known that for every 10.00 ticket, five of those dollars go to the band(s). The karate dojo could probably seat about a hundred people comfortably so artists are looking at making more than most other clubs would pay them (if those other clubs even let real artists play).
It’s important to get it out there that half of the money at the door goes to the band. It encourages bands to want to perform there, and it encourages people to come there because music fans want to support musicians, not the establishment (they just don’t want the establishment to starve to death).
It’s also important to not get a huge space to fill. Don’t get greedy. Artists want to sell out a place, and you want the most assurance that your place will be sold out consistently. If the dojo seats a hundred and has a reputation, and the bands that are really pushing their performance date either because they’re going to get at most $500.00. 100 seats doesn’t seem too crazy. So the club gets $500 a night, two nights a week. That’s approximately $4,000.00 a month. The rent of this dojo was $600.00 a month. So on a good weekend, you just made just short of the rent for two months. Of course, you also have to deduct the money for a staff (which should be pretty sparse, considering the lack of amenities. A person selling water, a couple security people (one to work the door to make sure the fire code is adhered to and a few to work inside to give loud people the boot), and a manager which would probably be you, and you’re set. Also deduct your bills. Power, water, sewer, trash, etc.
You could still come out on top though.
Will this plan work? I think it depends on the area you’re living in, but generally I think yes, it would work. There’s a lot of people out there who would appreciate a show like this – a place like this. A place where they can go, sit down, watch someone perform, and have a nice, quiet time.
For everyone else, there’s a plethora of bars that can accommodate their desires.
My wife says this is the kind of club that only a few people would want to go to and these are the people that would be difficult to market to, which seems pretty fair. Young people want to go out and experience new shows by bands they don't know while most older people in her experience are pretty set in their ways and will only go to shows by artists that they're already familiar with. Established artists.
And young people love to drink and socialize, so the idea of putting them in a club where they can't talk or drink to watch unestablished bands is a recipe for disaster. To her.
She may be right, but there has to be an audience out there who is more interested in music and live performances than in hooping and hollering and carrying on.