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20 Non-Traditional Concert Venues That Can Boost Your Fanbase

10 June 2010 No Comment

Jon Ostrow is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a music social networking platform. This post originally appeared on the MicControl blog on May 18th, 2010.  Jon can be found on twitter and facebook.

Every musician is looking for that perfect gig- the gig at a dream venue with a huge payoff both in terms of money and exposure. Unfortunately these are typically unattainable without already having a fan base to work with. Bars and clubs can be great, but it is becoming more and more of a reality that venues in major cities expect the artist to bring in a crowd, not to find one there. If you expect to book a gig in New York City, you better bring the crowd with you. For the most part, clubs like CBGB, which had a its own established crowd, are all but gone. It is now up to you to find other ways to build up your fan base and create the kind of demand that will grab the attention of those who do the booking at the most desirable venues.

What seems to be so commonly overlooked, is that venues likes bars and clubs are not the only way to get the word out about your music. In fact, it is the non-traditional venue that are most likely to have return customers that may not have heard of you yet. But in order for these venues be effective in building your fan base and helping spread awareness of your music, there are a few considerations that must be made:

> The venue must reflect your audience – If you are a solo jazz guitarist, do yourself a favor and stay away from sports-bars.

> Make the emotional connection – Unlike traditional venues, not everyone who patronize non-traditional venues may be on the lookout for a new music discovery. If you plan to make these venues work for you, you have to make it work for the audience. Plan your setlists accordingly, in order to properly make the type of emotional connection with the crowd that will leave a lasting impression.

> Rarely pay well – This is the hardest part for many ‘starving artist’ types to get past. Unfortunately it takes money to make money and this may mean sacrificing your payout during these gigs in order to grow your fan base.

1. Restaurants: With help from sites like Yelp and City Search, you can find hundreds or even thousands of restaurants that offer live music. These venues are ideal as your ‘audience’ will likely stick around for at least an hour. More than enough time to allow you to establish that emotional connection.

2. Festivals/ Fairs: Lots of foot traffic and can involved a very specific type of crowd based on the topic of the festival. Check out Festival Finder to find upcoming festivals in your area.

3. Open Mic: Good networking events. Has the potential for a lot of like-minded musicians, and the potential for a large crowd of people specifically looking for new music.

4. Living Room Concert: This is a fairly new concept, but by putting on a concert in the comfort of your own home or the home of a close friend, it establishes a close, intimate setting for you to establish the perfect emotional connection with your audience. Check out a previous article we wrote about in-home concerts here. There are quite a few companies out there now who can help you organize this type of a event, such as Concerts In Your Home.

5. Cafe: If you can find a cafe where your music fits the overall style of the location, the typically dedicated and repeating customers are a perfect audience to establish a connection with. Again, you can use sites like Yelp to search for cafes in your area.

6. Charity Event: Emotional connection. Check. Not saying that you should be exploiting the emotional state of people involved certain charities, but if you feel strongly about something, a charity event is a great way to present your music as a way to help uplift spirits. Of course, if you do have a following, there are ways to get involved with larger charity events where the proceeds go to benefit those in need.

7. Live Stream: A recent phenomenon that has allowed fans of artists who allow audience taping to stream shows for other fans who can’t make it to the event for one reason or another. With social media becoming the most important way for you to expand your reach and to establish a legitimate following, what better way to satisfy those long-distance fans than by broadcasting a live stream of a concert or even a band jam session using services like UStream or Live Stream.

8. Rent-A-Venue: The host of a plethora of different venues including everything from your local VFW, town hall, or historical society to college auditoriums, drama theater houses and even traditional venues like clubs. Renting a venue can not only allow you to create your own customized atmosphere for the event, but can even be used to play a venue that otherwise may have overlooked you. A great success story of bands renting their own venue is the rock/ jam band Phish, who were turned down by The Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA in 1989. Instead of cowering, they decided to simply rent the venue and invite all of their fans. The show had such an overwhelming turn-out that The Paradise gladly welcomed them back in years to come and the event became a major turning-point in the bands career.

9. Guerrilla Concert: While artists involved with any form of Guerrilla show run the risk of being fined or even arrested, guerrilla concerts can be a great way to surprise an audience. The Beatles played a well known guerrilla show on the roof of the Apple Recording Studio building (they were forced to stop by the police due to a noise complaint). Similarly Jefferson Airplane ‘ surprise attacked’ New York City with their free, roof-top show:

A suggestion for an easy guerrilla concert that has both a lower risk of being fined or arrested and can directly reflect your audience, is to set up and perform in the parking lot during the hours before someone else’s concert at a major venue. By sharing fans with the performing band you will have an easier time establishing a connection with the fans, meanwhile there is a very slim chance that you could be sited for a noise complaint in the middle of a parking lot. NOTE: PERFORM AT YOUR OWN RISK.

10. Colleges: The college circuit holds much more than arenas and stadiums. With large music scenes at many of the bigger schools around the world, there are many different ways to perform in colleges that may be a bit non-traditional. Lecture halls and/or dorm common rooms may be rented out, there are frequently battle of the bands that are held around campuses and student organizations are always looking for bands to play sporting events and pep rallies that they won’t have to pay a whole lot.

11. Local Performing Arts Centers: There are plenty of performing arts centers of all shapes and sizes in every area. Seeking out some of the smaller performing arts centers may be an easily attainable gig, and can be a great way to create an intimate setting for a small gig with some close and dedicated fans.

(I happened to be at this show – there were about 50 of us in total in the crowd, which was a packed house. It was incredible night of rock n’ roll in an incredibly intimate setting)

12. Art Gallery/ Art Shows: Art galleries are usually close quarters which means playing up-close and personal with the attending crowd. This is typically better for an acoustic set of some sort, but is a great way to showcase your music as the people there are already in the open-minded spirit.

13. Schools: Both high-schools and elementary schools can work fine, though these venues more than any other, really depend on the subject matter of your music. There are always different events that schools are looking for music including dances, sporting events, pep rallies, charity drives, extra-curricular events, etc. My school (back when I was a wee child) even called an entire school assembly to watch an a cappella group perform called 5 O’clock Shadow.

14. Library: Libraries require quite a bit of planning but are particularly effective if your music caters to younger children.

15. Private party: Be prepared to play covers. If you are willing to sacrifice part of your set of original music to perform music that the attending crowd wants to hear than you are all set. Private parties, BBQs, house parties, graduation parties, the list goes on and on but can be a great way to win people over. This is a great place to establish the emotional connection – the crowd is having a great time with friend, your music is sounding good, BOOM, connection is made. Throwing in those covers may just be the icing on the cake to ensure that your music is remembered long after the party ends.

16. Religious Gathering Facility: Places like churches, temples, synagogs, etc. are a great place to perform music. The crowd is respectful and the acoustics are typically stellar. Also note that you don’t necessarily need to be religious to perform at one of these places. Many religions have different types of congregations, some with more laid back followings that are willing to host things like live music without the necessary religious affiliation.

17. Bookstore: With bookstores becoming synonymous with cafes, a similar crowd will ensure. This is a good, close quarters venue to put on a quite (or maybe not!) and intimate show. Many bookstores will look for live music for books signings, concert series or even just a weekly live act.

18. Corporate event: Similar to the private party, be prepared to play covers. Corporate events such as grand openings and launch parties are great venues to showcase your band, though original music may not be of much interest here. On a side note however, these venues will pay much better than most, if not all of the other venues included in this list.

19. Parks: May require a permit, as without one could be considered its own form of guerrilla concert. But some larger parks like Central Park in NYC have more than enough space for bands to set up and start performing with the necessary volume of foot traffic to make the performance worth while. There are also quite a few parks that actually do put on a summer concert series. In fact, the City Parks Foundation in NYC has an organization called Summer Stage that helps organize music all over the 5 Boroughs of NYC at over 750 different locations! It is definitely worth checking out to see if there is anything similar to this in your area.

20. Public television: This one may require pulling some strings, but public television is always looking for local programming. Not only does this put you directly in the home of your following, it is easily recordable for you to either stream live or post up on YouTube for those who may have missed it.

Where have YOU played? What non-traditional venues have you found to be the most effective?

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