Musical Life

Venues: What they do and how to work with them as a performer

Some thoughts and tips from the Events team at Leeds College of Music.
Working with venues

  • Be prepared

  • Be punctual

  • Be patient

Nobody loves diva behaviour. It may make you feel powerful but it is more likely to make you look unprofessional and a bit silly. It is often noted that the most difficult musicians to work with are those early in their career, with a false sense of their own importance. It is not always the case, but it is worth bearing in mind when you are speaking to people.
You will come across all sorts of people who work in venues with a wide range of job titles. Some will be amazing at what they do while others may be less competent. Regardless of the financial deal you have made, or what you think of the people you are working with, remember you are a guest in their place of work. Ask if you need something but always be polite and, within reason, be patient and allow them time to do what you have asked them to do for you.
Sometimes, your request will not be possible, or will fall outside the terms and conditions of a contract. Try to respect that. You will usually get more for being pleasant. That does not mean that you should be a walk over, but it is advisable to check yourself before you get into an argument. After all, your role is to put on a great show and get invited back.
Some issues can be resolved with good communication. Often, a simple dialogue about timings and responsibilities with your venue representative when you arrive can go a long way to building a smooth relationship.
You are likely to find yourself working in all kinds of venues during your career and you will come across really good ones, and ones which leave more to be desired.
When a venue agrees to host your gig or books you to perform, you have a right to be presented to the highest quality. After all, this is your creative output. You can go a long way to helping the venue show you at your best:

  • Have a good, clear technical rider - a technical rider is a document showing what you require from the venue and its staff to ensure you can perform properly.

  • Have a simple catering rider (where appropriate) - this is a document requesting any refreshments for you the performer e.g. water, sandwiches, alcohol. Catering riders are normally agreed up front with whoever booked you, but try to be reasonable with what you ask for as they can often impact on your fee.

  • Make sure your own equipment is working - very often problems are with faulty amplifiers, flat batteries or guitars needing a service.

What people do in venues and what their titles really mean.
There are lots of commonly used job titles in venues but what the people actually do can vary a great deal from one to the next. It’s safest not to assume what responsibilities someone has on their job title alone. Here are some examples of job titles and a flavour of what they do.
Events manager
In many pub and club venues there is an ‘Events Manager’. They tend to be a booker, or liaise with acts coming in to the venue.
Venue rep
You will often find people who meet you and look after you at a venue are referred to as the venue rep (short for ‘venue representative’). They do not always work for the venue – more often than not they will belong to the production company or promoter that has booked you, but this can vary a great deal from venue to venue. While some venues book acts directly, more often than not they are hired by a third party to put an event on. It all depends on their business model. It is worth checking out the relationship between the promoter and the venue before you turn up to the gig, so that you know who you should be providing the answers to your questions. Request this information when you are submitting your advancing documentation (documentation that collates all information you may require for the performance).
Artist Liaison
Like a venue rep, they are officially the person who is there to look after you, but very often they will not do very much aside from checking your rider is in place and getting you on and off stage. If you need something and you stay quiet, you may find that they assume everything is ok and leave you alone.
This is often a person from a third party to the venue who is putting on the show and handling the money, but who does not have final say over how the venue itself works; sometimes they will be demonstrative and manage the relationship between you and the venue. On other occasions, the promoter will be a person at the venue, like the events manager, who is responsible for delivering a programme of live performances.
Merchandise manager
This role is about making sure that your merchandise is on sale to the audience on the night. You need to be clear with them about what you have brought in to sell and what your price list is. Bring a float with you as they will often not have one. Make sure it is neatly accounted and that you have a stock take before you sign over the goods to them.
Some venues will have official paperwork for you to sign your material in and out. Others will simply take it off you risking a game of roulette with their accuracy. If there is to be a signing for audience members, the merchandise manager (or venue rep if they are also filling this role) will show you where to go.
Often, they will expect you to bring your own pens. Most importantly, they will be angling to take 10–20% of any income you make on sale of merchandise. This should be made clear to you in advance (this may be included in your technical or general artist rider), and it is always worth checking their mathematics before you agree to sign and settle at the end of the night.
Bar manager
In absence of other management, the bar manager may have most control in a venue. They may also be the person to make decisions on how quickly you are pushed out of the venue at last orders. Keep them on your side. They have power and influence in most venues, and it’s amazing what you can end up needing from them at a gig.
Technical manager
In most venues, the technical manager is the most senior person on the tech crew. They usually have more experience, but also have a remit to make sure everything is working, complies with regulations and is operating safely. In most cases, they will be booking the sound and light technicians who will work with you on the day. A good rider can make all the difference in making sure they bring the right person in to do work for you.

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