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Written by Sam Friedman
As Sam Friedman explains in his post on Sonicbids, "All independent musicians at some point are going to go through the process of booking their own shows. This means identifying, contacting, and performing at venues across your hometown and beyond. But all venues are not created equally. Sometimes it's because the management is shady; other times it's because the sound system will give you tinnitus. Either way, you shouldn't play a show just for the sake of playing a show, and you shouldn't book a venue just because they'll have you.
While some nightmare experiences at venues are completely unpredictable and out of your control, many of them are totally avoidable – if you know what to watch out for. Here are the top seven red flags that a venue will be more trouble than it's worth."
Most venues expect the artists to promote each show — that’s built in with every gig. You're being booked because of your fanbase. Unless the venue is also a bar that has a built-in crowd, it depends on the music to fill the room. However, no venue should 100 percent depend on a band to promote the show.
If a venue's social media pages are inactive, the managers don’t hang posters, and they have a reputation of never promoting, that isn’t a good sign, and you'll want to think twice before booking a show there. A good venue will post flyers on its Instagram, create Facebook events, share YouTube videos of the performers as a show approaches, put up posters in the windows, etc.
Venues need to make money, too, but if a venue isn’t willing to lift a finger to promote, you might want to really ask yourself if it’s worth it to perform there.
We all know the pay-to-play model better than we care to admit. It can be a crucial investment in your music, but it can also be a scam. Venues that make you pay to play without anything to offer in return are not worth your time. If you have to pay to just perform with other local bands that will likely draw a crowd no bigger than yours, then you’re better off finding a venue that will give you a percentage of door and bar revenue.
Paying to open for a famous band or to perform at a big festival can be a smart investment in your music, but paying to play at a small venue that really promises nothing in return is going to be more stressful than it’s worth.
Unfortunately, every musician is going to play more than a handful of rooms that just sound bad. Either the acoustics of the room are completely unforgiving, or the sound system is so cheap, old, or broken that you can hardly even make out what you’re hearing.
If the venue that you’re thinking of booking a show at has a notoriously horrid sound system, is it really going to be a good representation of your band? Check out a show at the venue in advance – if a muffled, distorted sound comes out of the singer's mic rather than a clear (or at least semi-clear) vocal, that’s a sign that the venue probably isn’t worth your time. Your fans might forgive you, but if new people are hearing your music for the first time on an awful sound system, they might not be generous enough to give you a second shot.
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