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Alice Terry performing at The Vanguard (Photo Credit: The Vanguard).


Great reasons to program live music at your venue

You'll Discover:

  • How live music can contribute to your venue’s income and reputation.
  • How catering for diverse music genres can build your business.
  • Genres to suit your venue size, style and patronage.
  • Pairing live music with your venue’s other offerings.
  • It's value to the economy and community.

Poet Henry Longfellow once said “music is the universal language of mankind”. Live music performance has been an integral part of society and local venues for centuries.

Today, programming live music can come with a unique set of challenges, but in no way does that mean it should be disregarded. The benefits of live music in your venue can far outweigh the negatives.

Programming live music can give your venue the best of both worlds: an honest buck for your business, while making a positive contribution to your community.


Profit from food, drink and patronage

Increased food and drink sales

Numerous studies and sources including APRA AMCOS show that most venues that put on live music increase sales in other areas of their business. The main area being food and drink, with patrons often grabbing a meal before or during a performance.

According to their study, “of the $1.21 billion, based on total revenues generated from patron spend at venue-based live music performances, 83.3% was generated from food and beverage turnover.”

Image from former Circular Quay venue The Basement. Shows seated patrons eating meals prior to a performance.
Image courtesy of The Basement, Sydney.

The report on the Economic contribution of the venue-based live music industry in Australia, 2011, explored the reasons for why venue's program live music. Top reasons included that it "generated patronage" and “invigorated other parts of the business i.e. food and beverage sales”.

Graph outlining the reasons why venues put on live music. 65.8% cater to a particular generation of patrons, 50.8% believe it invigorates other parts of their business like food and beverage sales. 43.2% believe it increases turnover and porfit. 39.9% believe it improves ambience of venue. 32.8% do it to make their venue be recognised as a live music venue. 16.9% indicated they themselves like or play music and that's their motivation. 12.8% indicated other reasons.
Reasons for venue staging live music courtesy of APRA AMCOS.

Patrons and spending power

A 2014 study by Eventbrite shows some interesting data on the way different audiences consume live music. ‘The Nightlife Industry: How Music Do People Spend on A Night Out’ report is a detailed analysis of 100,000 events which happened in six American cities in 2014. While an Australian survey of the same type may result in different numbers there is still some compelling data which is worth considering for your venue.

Venues can attract a more upmarket crowd by:

  • Offering classy cocktails, food and drink options.
  • Catering to the music interests of higher income night-lifers (according to the research that’s jazz, blues, classical, opera and rock).
  • Offering reserved seating. For example, offering a dinner and a show package or table bookings for some ticket holders (if your venue has a suitable layout).

Venues can attract a more casual, fun-loving, youthful crowd by:

  • Extending happy hour. You might want to also program other specials or music to run right after or during happy hour.
  • Rewarding loyal venue patrons (for example, with ticket giveaways for the fans with most social shares or venue check-ins).
  • Creating an environment which calls for dancing. Thriftier crowds love to get on the dance floor so if your venue has a dance floor space you could maximise it with this kind of crowd.
  • Catering to their musical interests (according to this US survey specifically, the group favoured Hip Hop and EDM). The scope is much wider for Australian audiences as you’ll see from the statistics below.

Drink sales

Not a great deal of study has been done on the consumption of alcohol during live music events in NSW. City of Sydney have published an interesting report into Alcohol Consumption Into Live Music Venues which aggregates pre-existing data from (conflicting) surveys a (small) sample of Sydney live music patrons vs venues.

Findings of interest from City of Sydney’s survey and report include:

  • During a live music event, the rate of alcohol consumption is lowest while the band/artist is playing and highest before the event as people are arriving (also supported by other literature reviews and field work).
  • 73% of respondents who intended to drink while attending a live music event, thought they would consume between 2-5 drinks during the evening.

So it's important to give patrons a reason to head in early to the venue (e.g. by promoting dinner or drinks specials to them pre-gig) or to stay at the venue after the music has finished (e.g. with something else starting like a dj set). By doing this, over time you can train your audience and boost your expected income for each event over time.

Of course you also could test out some of the data above by counting your attendance and forecasting drink sales. Eg an average customer spend might be $15 (for 2 beers).

Drink specials at the bar during live music can increase the number of sales per person (this is especially true of male audiences according to Eventbrite, who spend more on drinks and nights out generally). If you keep track of this over a month you can forecast for future events.

Ticket sales

LPA - Live Performance Australia’s most recent annual ‘Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report’ (2017) shows that contemporary music is Australia’s largest generator of ticketed income, eclipsing all other art forms, generating 43.8% of industry revenue and 36.8% of industry attendance.

Image shows a pie chart outlining the total attendance to music events (36.8%) compared to other types of events including music theatre, sport, comedy, ballet, festivals and more.

In New South Wales alone (2017), Contemporary music generates 43.9% of all performance ticketed revenue and 40.0% of NSW’s audience share. It’s clear that compared to other genres, contemporary music has the best chance of bringing in the patrons!

Image shows a pie chart that outlines the gross revenue of contemporary music events (43.8%) when compared to other events such as ballet, opera, theatre, circus, music theatre, comedy, festivals and more.

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Generate patronage in quiet times

According to Economic, social and cultural contribution of live music in Victoria (2011), “41% of venues regard live music as an essential component of managing demand and viability – both throughout an evening (for example to capture an earlier crowd for a venue that is typically ‘late night’) and throughout the week (for example to draw an alternative crowd during periods of low patronage)”.

Many Sydney venues have reported to us at Onto It Media that programming particular genres of live music at specific times across the week injects a healthy variety of patrons, some who were under catered at other venues.

Genres that are sometimes overlooked by traditional venues - including punk, hip hop, metal, experimental, soundscape and electronica - can often attract a loyal regular audience who struggle to find that music in local live venues. People in that music scene start talking, and before you know it you’ve got a full house during a traditionally slow period, of loyal, returning patrons.

A grateful audience is also a respectful one, so in spite of false prejudices some people may have for particular genres (e.g. assuming that ‘metal fans are rowdy’), consider that by catering for and supporting a specific scene, you are attracting and audience that will be grateful to you.

Key points to consider when programming in quiet time:

  • Consistency is key. Host similar events on the same day each week, fortnight or month.
  • Clearly state and promote the different genres according to the days you host them, attract and appeal to a specific crowd. Work with the musicians in that genre to get their advice on how to brand, position and promote the style of music.
  • Be patient! When starting out you need to give at least three months for awareness to grow around this new event. Even better, promote and get bands to promote this event!
  • Regular events should start and ideally finish at the same time each time they happen so that you can educate patrons and roster on staff as needed. Also so that you can better manage overlap between other venue specials (including food) and events.
  • When starting music events in new times it is possible that you might get some negative feedback from the occasional regular. In the face of change, criticism is normal, remember why you are hosting live music and what value it can bring to your venue in the longer term.
  • Build on the venue’s strengths and create additional atmosphere. For example, by utilising an under-utilised dining area for family-friendly acoustic acts and the entertainment of the Saturday lunch crowd.

Consider how you can provide live music opportunities for local performers and genres that also fill quiet gaps in your weekly schedule. Consider the power of using live music to invite different types of patrons and demographics to your venue.

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Contribute to atmosphere

Licensing societies PPL and PRS surveyed 41 bars in the UK, and of those venues 93% agreed that playing music creates a better atmosphere for their customers. 80% of the venues believe that music relieves tension and awkward silences.

The sentiments are echoed within Australian studies, too. The City of Sydney outline that in a survey of city visitors, venue goers and residents/businesses investigating community attitudes toward live music and performance: “of all respondents, 82 per cent agreed that venues that provide live music or performance offer a safer and more welcoming environment.”

Consider how live music can shape your venue’s atmosphere. Different genres also create different atmospheres. Consider how you can focus on different music genres on specific days of the week to increase patronage, and positively shift your atmosphere. A common successful approach is to program higher energy music (rock or dance) on weekend nights and chilled music (jazz, reggae, folk) on weekend days or weeknights. But also consider the power of giving more experimental music a shot on quiet weeknight.

Consider how diversifying your patronage and atmosphere can help sustain your business throughout the week.

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Identify and hone your venue's strengths

As you'd know, all venues have limitations based on their layouts, size and capacity. Just as you do with other areas of your business, learning how to turn these limitations into strengths is a key ingredient to make live music a success in your venue.

Key considerations:

  • If your venue is small and one room, how can you balance the live music with other factors that bring patrons to the venue (e.g. a quiet meal, a cosy spot to have a conversation)? You might, for example, choose to offer live music by the act in three short sets with longish breaks in-between.
  • If you have a dedicated stage or performance area at your venue already, how big is it? If it’s tiny then an 8-piece funk/soul act isn’t going to work. Instead, think of alternatives that will suit a small stage like booking solo acts or, getting a well-respected larger act to scale down and try out an acoustic set. This sort of strategy offers a point of difference to their fans and a unique live performance to your venue!
  • Standing audiences take up way less space than seated audiences. Moving furniture out of the way or providing seating at the back during live music events can keep your audiences more comfortable.
  • How complex is your technical setup? If you can only offer the very basics to bands (sound and lighting), then you should be only booking simple acts like acoustic soloists.
  • How easy is it for patrons to access live music at your venue? If your main bar is in the same room as your venue and where your regular patrons drink it won’t be possible to restrict entry to gig payers or ticket holders. In this instance you could offer live music for free or move it to a seperate room.
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Maximise other venue offerings

Whether you’re a pub offering sport on the big screen, comedy, trivia, pool comps or private functions, it's possible to use live music to compliment and boost those other venue activities and events.

Some ways that other venues interviewed for the Toolkit have complimented live music with other venue activities:

  • Scheduling music at the tail-end of happy hour to retain that crowd.
  • Scheduling music genres that compliment sport/tv events: eg rock and roll band at the end of the footy match. An upbeat summertime band on at the end of a cricket telecast. Pairing a fun pop band after a weekly screening of a trashy romance reality tv show.
  • Starting live music while the kitchen is still open, and ensuring artists know to promote to their fans to come in early and eat.
  • Scheduling music at peak times like late on a Friday or Saturday night when competition is fierce between other venues.
  • Fitting live music at the end of other activities like a comedy night or a trivia event, or at least promoting your music night to your trivia/comedy audience.
  • Offering pre-bookable ‘dinner and a show’ packages.
  • Offering an individual drink special or a themed cocktail at the same time as live music.

And a few basic things to avoid:

  • Programming live music during a major sporting event. Advertising that the act will start straight after the match is great, and might seperate you from the competition who is simply screening the match.
  • Putting on loud acts right after another quiet activity for example, after a local pub chess competition.
  • Bump-in and bump-out and sound check of bands resulting in a major disruption to other activities for example, happening during a ‘politics in the pub’ event.
  • Live music disrupting any regular events for locals (especially prize-winning events like raffles). Once again, straight after is great to keep the crowd.
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Data on value to venues and economy


A study done on the London borough of Camden found that the strength of that area as an entertainment precinct came not just from the variety of venue sizes in the area but also “from its history, as independent venues draw international footfall – and contribute to the tourist economy – due to the famous names that have played there in the past.”

The same could be said for venues around Sydney. While venues like the Sydney Opera House hold international reputation as structural and cultural landmarks, in recent years they have played host a wide range of national music acts including Paul Kelly and the Jezabels - who both developed their craft and audiences through local Sydney venues.

Areas across Sydney, including Newtown and surrounding Inner West suburbs, are gaining a reputation as live music hot spots. If patrons know they can catch quality music across many different venues, they could very well be seeing the next big acts at the beginning of their career. Consider how making your venue part of this movement can be rewarding for your venues reputation and viability.

Australian economy

Compelling studies have been carried out over the last 10 years that highlight the importance of live music to the Australian economy.

APRA AMCOS in conjunction with The Australia Council, Arts Victoria, Arts NSW and Live Performance Australia, found that “live music in Australia’s pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs entertains more than 41 million patrons a year and contributes $1.21 billion as well as almost 15,000 full-time jobs to Australia’s economy” (Economic contribution of the venue-based live music industry in Australia, 2011).

Almost 5,000 of those full-time jobs were in NSW alone.

As well as the economic benefits there are social benefits that affect a great number of people in the community. Studies have noted that audiences attend live music events for the following reasons:

  • Increase in emotional wellbeing
  • Increase in social connectedness within the community and to lessen feelings of isolation
  • Allowing new communities to emerge and connect based on genre, fandom, and mutual respect

From an artistic standpoint, a venue opening their doors for artists and performers is an opportunity for them to hone their craft. But it also provides a tourism aspect by allowing touring artists to play in Australia, which could be a vital part of their musical career path and a huge draw in patronage to your venue. Drawing patrons from different areas, and even inter-state, could also be a by-product of this.

Case study - building venue viability through community engagement, enthusiasm and funding.

Many venues boast a dedicated community or group of patrons that regularly attend events within their venue. One incredible story from the Sydney community is the journey of The Newsagency.

Image shows the front of Sydney venue The Newsagency at dusk.
Image courtesy of The Newsagency.

Starting in Marrickville in 2011, The Newsagency was a 50 capacity venue, aptly named after singer/songwriter Alison Avron converted an ex-newsagent into a live music venue.

The efforts of Alison and a team of volunteers slowly built up a reputation as an intimate BYO, artist-led live music venue featuring independent Australian talent from across the country. They opened their doors to a variety of genres and performance styles, allowing emerging artists to test the waters in an inclusive, less imposing setting and established artists to play to fans in a much more intimate venue.

A change happened in 2016. After receiving a grant from the AMP Foundation Tomorrow Fund for much needed venue upgrades, their landlord did not agree to implement them. This meant that they had to find a new property to house their venue.

They eventually managed to relocate to Camperdown thanks to the help of the Inner West Council and other parties. They doubled their capacity, and continued to host eclectic and inclusive events for all.

2018 saw the The Newsagency transition from a BYO space to a fully licensed small bar, sell over 3000 tickets across the year and gain a AMEX Music Backers Grant, which helped them to install air conditioning.

Grants aside, there are a number of community factors that go into making The Newsagency a viable and successful venue:

  • A successful Patreon campaign which as of 2019 has 35 regular financial contributors, who donate different amounts across the year.
  • Volunteer staff working on the door and within the venue at different times.
  • Chair and equipment donations from members of the community.
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