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Hollow Hearts performing at Hideaway Bar, Enmore (Image courtesy of The Hideaway Bar)


Making live events look great when you don’t have a stage

You'll Discover:

  • Do’s and don’ts for putting on live events with a temporary stage or performance area.
  • How to create atmosphere in cramped / small spaces.
  • How to create atmosphere in large spaces (they’re different).

This guide is for venues who don’t have a dedicated stage area, or have to convert a space in the venue each time they host live performance. Understandably, not all venues have a dedicated stage with installed audio-visual equipment. Even so, it’s still possible to create a great, professional STAGE AREA for live acts to perform in and patrons to enjoy.

The approach is different for cramped areas compared to large spaces (e.g. dining zones that become band and dance floors). So read on if you want to introduce or streamline your processes for making a stage area in a stage-less space.


Basic do’s for all venues

Take time to consider the best spot to create your temporary stage area

It sounds obvious but steering away from high traffic areas (side of bar, near the bathrooms, near the ATM) is the safest way to handle live performance on busy nights. Consider flow of traffic in and out of the performance area and the safety of your patrons. Read more here.

Find a space which is big enough for the types of acts who will be playing on it and can fit your sound system around it. As a bare minimum, one performer will need a 1 x 2 metre space (depth and width).

Demarcate your stage area for patrons

Either with tape around the perimeter on the floor, or gaffa tape leads around the front perimeter of the stage. It’s a good way to tidy those stage monitor, mic or sound system leads up while making them useful!

Sound system leads taped around front of stage.
Demarcate your stage area by taping down sound system leads (green above)

Get a rug

Placing that on the stage area floor further demarcates the performance space, and adds a touch of class. Red Persian rugs are synonymous with live music and often placed on large and small stages to ‘tie the space together’. Oh, and patrons instinctively know not to step on a rug when it’s the only thing that has instruments on it.

The Grateful Dead. Still alive, and always performing on rugs!
The Grateful Dead. Still alive, and always performing on rugs!

Get some basic stage lights

Portable pop up sets are as little as $200, help create atmosphere, and draw attention to the performers. Set and forget your stage lights (nothing flashing!). Subtle, warm colours work best for a temporary performance area.

Find more info on basic lighting kits and creating a great visual vibe in our lighting basics guide here.

Turn off TVs and house lights

Above or around the stage area. Or at least turn the volume down on TVs, and turn off lights immediately above the stage or area where the audience will view the act. That helps the audience become immersed in the performance.

You might even consider setting up a camera behind the audience and running a live feed of what's happening onstage to your TV's (volume down). Doing so will create further focus on your live music event and ensure that patrons know that they can head to the performance area to watch the gig.

Plug a smartphone or other portable music device into your P.A. so that you or the performer can avoid awkward silences.

If you normally have in-house music, switch it off and put music through the PA so the attention starts to move towards the stage. Also, giving artists control over the music will generally give them more control over the situation and put them at ease. They can fade music in and out between sets, and it’s especially useful if they need to pause to fix instruments or equipment.

Seating and tables

Should be rearranged to make the audience feel comfortable, and ideally not overcrowd the stage area. You might need to shift tables and chairs to face the artist or create space for a standing audience. If possible, move stools and tall tables further back so those patrons aren’t directly overshadowing the performers.

Support the artist

It’s challenging to entertain in a temporary stage area, especially if they are used to playing on a dedicated stage. Keep an eye out for things they may need to help them deliver a great performance. If they’re uncomfortable, the patrons will feel it.

Also, make sure you let artists know if there are things you would like them to say to the audience (e.g. support the venue by buying drinks and/or food).

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Basic don'ts for all venues

Low visibility location

Without a dedicated stage people may assume nothing is on. So avoid having your stage area in a spot where you can’t attract or accommodate walk-up traffic. If it has to be in a hidden area or back room, do some street/front window signage. Avoid awkward or hard to see corners of your venue, where only a handful of patrons get line of sight to the performer.

Avoid gaming areas

Or places where your local crowd usually do other activities.

Don’t set lights to disco or strobing effects

That might be alright for a DJ/ dance vibe, but it’s best to pause the colour rotation of lights and set them to a simple, still lighting state.

Don’t set and forget the sound

If you don’t have a mixer, or the performer doesn’t have access to the mixer, check it routinely from the front of the stage and other areas. Set correct volume levels to match the size of your venue and style of act.

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Tips for small venues and cramped spaces

Small venues have very specific needs (and limitations) when it comes to putting on live music but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put on excellent events that bring the patrons in!

Your staff play a big role in your live music nights

In a small venue, one staff member might be responsible for mixing the acts, setting up the performance area, booking the acts and promoting each event to your patrons. If this is the case for your venue, make sure they have enough support from other staff in order to run each event smoothly (e.g. another staff member serving behind the bar and dealing with all other non-event stuff that night).

Staff will be selling the live music night to your patrons too. Their enthusiasm for the live performance that night goes a long way towards warming up the audience.

Consider these tricks for making your small stage area stand out

You could set up a freestanding frame, hang a red velvet theatre style curtain on it, and place behind the performers. Hang string lights behind and above the stage area, decorate the stage area with lamps and fire-safe props. Really anything you can do to draw attention to your stage will really enhance the atmosphere. Oh, and don’t forget the Persian rug idea we mentioned earlier.

Plan for the comfort of your patrons

Larger venues can get away with rearranging table and chair configurations to draw attention to the stage area, but for smaller venues, this can be tricky. Instead, you could either leave tables and chairs in place and limit the amount of patrons in the venue during show time or remove the majority of chairs and tables so that people can stand close to the performers to watch them or sit near the back of the venue away from performers. You can also create more room by merging tables together.

Make the performers sound great

There’s no need to overpower your patrons with high volume speakers in a tiny venue. Instead, the focus should be on making the performers sound great in the space, even if this means using less powerful speakers. Go for clarity and warmth of sound rather than volume.

Stereo speakers don’t have to both point forward from the stage. Swing one around if you have people off the side of the stage, and adjust the volume to suit that direction.

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Tips for large venues with big spaces

Large venues have very specific needs (and challenges) when it comes to putting on live music but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put on excellent events that bring the patrons in!

Getting people into your performance space should be a priority

If you’re a big venue, chances are that your performance area is in another room or far away from the bar. You can drive patrons to your performance area by plugging your P.A. into your in-house venue speakers so that patrons in other parts of the venue hear the music and realise that something interesting is happening in the next room.

Consider placing a mic in front of the stage so that you pick up the ‘liveness’ of the performance and feed that into your in-house venue speakers. Even though it won’t sound like the perfect mix, it will raise patron’s interest levels. Clear signage and getting your bar staff to let patrons know about live music will also help.

Consider dividing the room in half to create a more intimate and comfortable performance space

Huge rooms can be awkward for audiences and performers when the audience size is small. Make the space more comfortable by dividing up the space. For example, you might set up the demarcated stage area in one corner of the room and leave the rest of the space dark or use room dividers.

Make sure that seating (or standing areas) are comfortable, reasonably close too, and facing the stage, and that the performance area is the same or a similar temperature to the rest of the venue.

Likewise, you should pull focus to your stage area any way you can. Make the rest of the room 'dead space', but the area in front of the stage inviting. Hang theatre curtains or lights on the wall behind the stage area. For more ideas, look at the Do’s section above!

You might need to work harder than small venues to get patrons into the performance area

Don’t be disheartened if your patrons take awhile to find the performance area. If you are setting up this new performance area for the first time in your venue, it might take awhile for regular patrons to learn that they can see live music in the other room or a particular spot in the venue. Keep pushing the events and using signage (e.g. on the bar).

Many of the venues we spoke to when researching this article were very consistent with their live music programming. Days, start times, set times and finish times remained the same week in, week out. Consistency is key when it comes to programming live music - to entice both regular patrons and new patrons.

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