Many times, artists will approach several venues with show ideas or special events and are quickly rejected. They might find one place that will host the event and later they are told they won’t bring the event back. Sometimes it’s all about who your friends are and who you know. If you understand some of the expenses a business or venue has, you may have better luck discussing your ideas and convincing someone to give you more than one shot. Some of these things may seem obvious but there’s a few you may not have thought about.
Every business is required to have a certain amount of liability insurance. If someone is injured on their property and wants to sue for damages, the insurance will handle the issue. What does this mean to the would-be performer? Insurance costs money and is part of a business’s overhead. If an event isn’t bringing in enough money to cover their daily overhead, they won’t be open to the idea. Sometimes if a performance involves stunts or dangerous activities, a performer might have to get their own liability insurance specific to their needs. If you provide your own liability insurance, this might give you leverage when negotiating with a venue.
Most businesses do not have the privilege of owning the space they operate, and everyone has utility bills. In Tucson, I have heard of businesses paying as much as $9,000 per month for rent and more than $3,000 per month just for electricity. This all depends on the size of the space and time of year and type of business, but this gives you an idea of how much businesses have to spend each month on just their basic expenses. If you can’t pay to rent their space, make sure you offer a fair percentage of any money made. If you’re offering a free event, don’t be shocked or angry if they can’t pay you for your time.
3. Do They Provide Tech or Do You
Is there a sound system or stage lighting? Is there a stage? Know what your show or event needs before meeting with venues. If they have nothing, who rents the needed equipment; you or the venue? If they have the equipment, will they let one of your people run it or do you need to pay one of their people to run the equipment? If you have to rent equipment, you can use that in the negotiation and have the business cover a percentage of the rental fee. It’s not a bad investment to have your own equipment so you know you can perform anywhere.
4. Marketing, Advertising, Promotion
Many venues and businesses expect you to do all the marketing and promotion. Have a plan for your own marketing and promotion, but make sure you ask what they business will do. If they offer nothing, you can negotiate for more money to cover those marketing costs. If nothing else, ask them to promote on their social media or email newsletter. Make sure they at least utilize all their free promotion options. It should be a joint effort between the showrunners and the business for promoting the show.
5. Security/Crowd Control
Most bars will have people checking IDs and watching the crowd, but restaurants and other businesses rely on their managers to handle any issues. This is yet another cost for the business. Even if it’s just asking your friends to help out, consider bringing your own people to help with crowd control and issues. If the venue has security, you can have your people take care of performers and equipment or tickets, so the business staff have less to worry about. There should always be a person at the event who is free to handle problems and issues.
6. Will There Be Food or Alcohol
If you want food or alcohol at your event, ideally you should find a place that already serves these things because they already have a liquor license and the Health Department’s approval. If you’re renting an empty space for your event, you’ll need a special events liquor license and a special license for food. These are additional costs businesses have and add to their overhead expenses.
How many people will the building safely hold? If it’s a smaller venue, you’ll need to charge more for tickets to cover all your expenses. If it’s a free show, the venue may not pay you as much or not at all because they won’t make enough money to cover that cost. Also, the more people there are, the more insurance will cost and it’s more likely you will have crowd control issues. All these factors must be considered before making an agreement with a venue or business.
8. Music Licensing and Copyright
Many venues and businesses already have music licenses, but there are different kinds. They may have a license to play recorded music but not to perform to it or vice versa. Some places may expect you to acquire these licenses. Always make sure you have permission to use a copyrighted work whether you purchase the license or have written permission to use it.
9. Do They Like What You Do
This might seem trivial but it’s just as important as everything else on this list. If the venue or business likes what you do, they’ll be more likely to give you a chance even if you can’t bring a large crowd. If they don’t like what you do, even if you can sell out the show, they may not host your event. Look for businesses that like what you do.
10. Are They Professional
Being professional is important with any industry or business. If someone is rude or disrespectful, if they never respond to phone calls or messages, if they don’t make an effort to work with you, you will have a hard time and an unpleasant experience. Even if they have the best venue in town, it’s not worth working with unprofessional people. And always remember to act professional even if someone makes you angry. Your own professionalism will take you a long way.
When dealing with businesses and venues, make sure you’ve done all your research. Don’t argue or haggle. Clearly express your needs and listen to their needs and develop an agreement that satisfies both parties. Once everything is written on paper, it’s harder to dispute something and easier to resolve issues.
It’s helpful to know what both sides of the table are thinking, so don’t forget to check the 10 Things to Consider When Paying Performers.
James Pack is the managing owner of VaudVil and a self-published author of poetry and fiction. Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com. He resides in Tucson, AZ.