Our latest resource comes from events expert Lucy Woolley of Jazz North, and is full of suggestions to guide you in running a successful musical event at your museum, gallery or heritage site.
If you are considering putting live music on in your venue for the first time, don’t be scared: it can create a fun and entertaining evening, and help your venue appeal to a new audience. If you’re in a museum, a gallery, or a heritage building, you already have a fantastic venue – so what’s stopping you?
You don’t need to worry about licensing, as long the event is for fewer than 200 people; the music finishes before 11pm; and your venue is a workplace or licensed premises. If the music is acoustic, you also don’t need a license.
You may need a PRS (Performing Rights Society) license for performing live music, but this costs from only £9 and is very easy to obtain! You can get all the details from the PRS website.
Making the most of your space
The first thing to do is think about how you could use your space, and whereabouts in your venue you want to hold the gig. Think about how many people the space will hold, and whether it would be more appropriate to have your visitors seated or standing. Have a look for the nearest plug sockets, entrance and exits.
Where will your ‘stage’ be, and is it well lit? If your space has a lot of shiny surfaces, you may want to programme a quieter music style as the surfaces will reflect the sound.
As with any event, you’ll need to carry out a risk assessment, which may vary depending on the context of your building. If there are certain spaces where fragile textiles or historic floors may be damaged e.g. by spilled drinks, it may be easier to rope these off.
Choosing a band
Next think about your artists. Take into account musical genres that will work, and consider the number of artists you feel you can manage and who will work in your space. If you only have a small foyer space to work with, then a 10 piece big band might not be your thing!
Do you want to provide a PA system? If not, you’ll need to take that into account when you pick your performers – but you still have lots of options to choose from!
If you have your heart set on a band and you need a PA, try talking to local colleges. A lot of them run music technology courses these days and would love the opportunity to give their students some practical experience – but keep in mind it may take them a little longer to set up and pack down the equipment.
When booking your artists try and give them as much detail as you can about your venue and plans for the event up front: this way they know what their responsibilities are. Think about your offer before you contact them: can you pay a set fee, and can you offer expenses or are they included? What facilities can you offer – car parking, a side room where they can store their equipment, or food and drink?
Make sure you feel comfortable with the artist you are booking. If they put you under too much pressure, they may not be right for you.
The Musicians Union have lots of great information on bookings artists, including booking agreement and contracts templates if you need them, but you may feel they are not necessary. For further information take a look at the Musicians Union website.
Marketing your event
When you have all the details confirmed, it’s time to start marketing your event – and this is where the band should be able to help. Most performers have good promotional photos of themselves, and are used to informing their fans about upcoming shows via their mailing lists and social media.
If your goal with this event is to pull in new audiences, aim for coverage in your local press or radio about a ‘unique one-off event’ at your venue. Check whether the band are happy to be interviewed by local media: even if they’re from a different area, most will be happy to speak to reporters over the phone.
Reach out to your existing audiences and fans as well: they already appreciate what you do, and may welcome the chance to experience the very different atmosphere of a gig at your venue.
A few days before the gig, contact all the important stakeholders in your event: the artists, the technicians if you’re using them, and your staff or volunteers for the night.
Make sure they have all the details, including relevant contact phone numbers, know how to find the venue, where to park and what time to arrive (usually 15 -20 minutes before you need them as they are bound to be late!) I like to create an ‘event sheet’ and put all these details in one place.
On the day
On the day, think about the total experience. I always do a walk through the venue, first putting myself in the shoes of an audience member and then as an artist, before I open the doors. This way I can anticipate any problems and predict the need for extra capacity or better signage, and know I have done my best to anticipate everybody’s needs.
My best advice is prepare for the unexpected. It sounds scary, but if you think ahead and prepare for emergencies, you’ll deal with them better. Have paper, duct tape and marker pens to hand: at some point you’re going to need them!
Make sure everyone working on site knows who you are and how to get hold of you – you can’t be everywhere at once. On the night you’ll be busy, so it’s important to delegate. However, it’s also important to gather your team together for a briefing beforehand, especially if you’re anticipating any potential challenges, bottlenecks or surprises.
Lastly, have fun – try and step back and watch some of the performance. Seeing your venue full of happy faces is a wonderful reward for putting in all that hard work!
If you have any questions about putting on a gig – no question is a stupid question – feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will always try and help!
Lucy Woolley has worked for over 10 years booking and managing live events in a freelance capacity. She recently worked as Festival Manager for Manchester Jazz Festival – a 10 day city wide festival featuring 7 different venues and over 500 national and international artists.