Running a music venue - the nightmarish parts of a dream job

Running a grassroots music venue is many people’s idea of a dream job.

But the hard reality is a world away from the appealing fantasy of non-stop music, packed crowds and cool bands.

The Music Venue Trust has published guides to establishing and running venues. Here are some of the sobering facts underpinning the business.

1 NO-ONE RECOMMENDS GETTING INTO THE BUSINESS BECAUSE IT’S A MONEY-SPINNER

This is a sector that’s got 50 years of history of people not making much money. The old joke about football clubs applies: “How do you make a million pounds as the owner of a music venue? You start with two million pounds.” If you’re looking for a job which is going to make you a ton of cash, investment banker wins over live music venue owner every day of the week.

2 LIVE MUSIC IS A PART OF THE BUSINESS THAT ALMOST CERTAINLY WON’T BE MAKING MONEY

Each aspect of the venue should be thought of as a department. Oneis the bar, one is the kitchen, one is the cloakroom, one is the tech crew, and so on. And one is the live music element, the ticket sales versus the cost of putting the band on. This might be a surprise to many aspiring venue owners and managers, but it makes sense in a venue operating at the scale of a grassroots venue. When the band is taking a set fee plus a percentage of the take, and you have fixed overhead costs on the night (staff, security, Performing Rights Society payments and so on), it’s no wonder when you account for the income and outgoings involved.

Alcohol sales have long propped up live music but consumption is now decreasing (photo: Shutterstock)

3 ATTENTION TO DETAIL IS ESSENTIAL – AS IS COMPLYING WITH REGULATIONS

For many people there might exist a historic romantic idea that a music venue is a ramshackle hole in the wall with dodgy wiring and sweaty walls, where the magic just happens because some old punk or hippy with a dream willed it into existence. But if you run a grassroots music venue like that, it will be closed before you know it. About as long as it takes for the landlord to pay a visit or HMRC to ask what you did with all those wads of fivers you stuffed in a sack.

4 THE BILLS STACK UP

There’s HMRC, your landlord, your staff, the artists who play and are promoted by you, or their agents - this includes supports acts - your suppliers, of everything from beer and food to equipment and posters, Performing Rights Society payments and all such professional costs of the businessyou’re in, and charitable donations you’ve said you’re going to make.

5 ALCOHOL ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

For a long time, the bulk sale of alcohol has essentially been propping up live music, but in 2019 alcohol consumption was found to on the way down, particularly amongst younger people, for whom it’s dropping off the edge of a cliff. The answer to this isn’t as simple as just hiking the prices of pints and spirits up and hoping for a bigger profit. People may even take offence at explicit attempts to ply them with drink.

* This article is part of The Show Must Go On, JPIMedia's campaign to support live arts venues