What to Do When Your Live Act Outgrows A Venue


As emerging artists, it’s often hard to find promoters or venues that will take a chance on an untested artist. When a promoter finally catches on to your act and gives you a chance, it is important that you recognize that promoter’s efforts. If success finds you, make sure you return the favor to those who have invested their time, belief and money on you back when first started.

As a musician building a career, you need adventurous promoters willing to risk a night in their venue with possible low ticket and/or bar sales. You need to play that venue numerous times as you build an audience. When your audience grows, the venue begins to reap some of the rewards of their initial investment. The next thing you know, you’re too big for the venue and begin to seek larger venues and bigger promoters to keep pace with a growing audience. Now growth is good but growth with awareness as you move to the next level.

The sad truth is, most acts move too fast. They believe they have achieved a level of success that they simply have not. I am suggesting that you carefully assess each step of your success before charging ahead thinking you are ready to move on. One area where most artists make this mistake is to leave that adventurous promoter and the smaller venue much too early.

For example: An act works with a promoter at a 150-seat venue. They have played there often enough so that now they pack the place. The act begins to think the venue is too small and they need to move up to a 500-seat venue. The promoter they have worked with for a few years has helped the act nurture and build their fan base. The promoter knows how to reach the act’s audience with the right media and promotional outreach.

A different promoter books the 500-seat venue. It is uncertain that the act can sell 500 seats. I am suggesting that before attempting to move to the new venue and take your chance working with a new promoter who may be unfamiliar with how to reach your audience, examine some additional options.

Continue to work with the original promoter in the 150-seat venue. If you’ve been playing once a while, every month or every two months, try increasing the number of dates per month. If the crowds build then try doing two shows in one night or two shows on two consecutive nights to test the strength of your audience. If you think your audience is a late night audience, then two shows on the same night are preferred simply because the costs to the promoter are reduced and everyone can make more money. If your audience is more of the 8 pm show time crowd, then work out a good deal for two consecutive nights in the venue.

The benefits of doing this before moving on to a larger venue are numerous.

  1. The promoter is already committed to your act. They have shown their loyalty by taking their initial risk and have maintained their commitment as you developed.
  2. The promoter knows how to market your act to your audience. They have proven themselves over time as your audience has grown.
  3. Your audience is used to seeing you in this venue. This is not to say you will never outgrow the venue and that your loyal audience won’t follow you as you move up, but until the time is right for the move, your audience appreciates the familiarity of the known venue. Often when you change venues, it may take some time for the audience to make the switch. If it is the wrong venue for the act, the audience may never get used to it and may not follow you there.
  4. The costs for advertising and overhead are reduced for the two shows giving both the promoter and the act larger profits. The costs and risk factors at the larger venue would greatly reduce profits to both the new promoter and the act.
  5. By doing two shows in the 150-seat venue, there is a perception of a growing demand for the act. If two shows sell really well, this time, the act has a better chance of negotiating a better deal in the future when it really becomes necessary to move to a larger venue. If the act can truly document their established track record of sold-out double shows, the risk to a larger venue is much less.

First Right of Refusal

If we look at this whole concept as an ethical issue, we can see that it makes sense to afford the original promoter an opportunity to reap some benefit from your success. As with most investors, generally, they are the first to be repaid their initial investment before others can begin taking a piece of the profit. It holds true in this case as well, that the promoter who gave you your first break and stuck with you through the hard times, the small crowds and kept believing in you deserves their piece of the pie now that there is some to share. Approach the original promoter first with any ideas for expansion, whether it is a double show on a single night, two consecutive nights and even if you decide to go to a slightly larger venue. Ask the first promoter if they would like to do the show in a larger venue. Give them the “First Right of Refusal.”

The term means that the original promoter gets the first opportunity to either do the date or not. If once they refuse to do the date, you can pursue other promoters and venues with a clear conscience. You did not go behind their back or leave them out of a potentially lucrative opportunity. You offered them a chance to be part of your next move. This demonstrated your respect and appreciation for their previous commitment to the growth of your act.

I believe in leaving doors open as you move through career changes. If you burn your bridges as you go, you may be left with very little support when you need it. This business is built on relationships maintained over the years, connections made and nurtured. The first promoter you work within any city helps build your foundation for growth. I believe it is important to maintain strong ties with past promoters as you build toward your future.

And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to sign up for free weekly audio Biz Booster Hot Tip! Every Monday you’ll get another valuable strategy and technique that you can put to use immediately. You’ll find helpful books, career development seminars, online course and information on booking tours, the music business and performing arts. It’s all waiting for you at https://performingbiz.com. Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician’s & Performing Artist’s Guide To Successful Touring, 4th Edition.

* If you would like to reprint any of these articles, please contact Jeri Goldstein for permission.

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