Open a Local Live Music Venue

Interested in turning your passion for music into a career? You might not know the difference between major and minor scales, but a strong background in the music business can pave the way to a variety of exciting careers in the music industry. Opening a live music venue is one such career. But it takes much more than booking bands and selling merchandise to run a profitable business. From permitting and staffing to financial management and marketing, music venue owners need to possess a wide range of knowledge and skills.

Programs such as the Frost School of Music’s online Master of Music in Music Business and Entertainment Industries (MBEI) can help students gain real-world understanding of the complexities involved in being a music venue owner. Through courses like Marketing and Promotion in the Entertainment Industry, Performing Arts Center and Facility Management, and Legal Aspects of the Live Entertainment Industry, program graduates can gain the tools they need to launch a successful music venue.

Music Business Startup Basics

Startups can be both exciting and stressful — finances often being the most stressful part of the equation. The good news is that there is a wealth of resources for turning the vision of a live music venue into a reality. One of the first steps in the process involves looking at assets and startup expenses.

Assets might include cash on hand, inventory, equipment, land, buildings or a trademark. Be aware that expenses start adding up before the doors open. These often include costs related to the location, whether in a building that is leased, purchased or newly built. Other examples of startup expenses include the following:

  • Fixtures and equipment.
  • Permits and licenses.
  • Sound, lighting and security systems.
  • Professional fees (legal, accounting and so on).
  • Logo design and other branding.
  • Marketing and advertising costs.
  • Debt service on loans.
  • Salaries and wages.

Not surprisingly, expenses may exceed assets, and that is where raising startup capital comes in. In addition to leveraging personal assets, like a savings account, startups often rely on the “friends and family” approach to fundraising. But there are other solutions, easily researched online, such as small business loans, crowdfunding and angel investors. Organizing a music venue business as a nonprofit may create further opportunities to apply for grants and other funding sources.

Understanding Your Target Market

Rather than take a guess as to which bands are going to bring people in the door, it helps to understand your target market. Market analysis is an important part of a business plan, as well as an essential ingredient of an ongoing strategic plan for success. Consider the following questions:

  • If there are other venues in the area, which ones are most popular? Which have empty seats? Which bands are packing the house?
  • Will the music you like bring enough people in the door? What does the audience want from the venue?
  • Which existing venues are selling tickets at a price that makes the numbers work?
  • How are people in the area finding out about shows? Print, online, radio or word-of-mouth? How does the out-of-town crowd factor into the target audience?

Marketing and Building a Network

With an understanding of the venue’s target market, it is time to think about getting the word out about shows. It helps generate buzz when a band already has a fan base. Reaching people who are not following the band may require additional networking and event marketing efforts.

What is the best way to build buzz and sell tickets? A course in Marketing and Promoting in the Entertainment Industry may pay for itself when it comes to implementing effective marketing techniques for a music venue. Again, understanding the target audience can help to pinpoint the best options:

  • Promoting the venue on current social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
  • Announcing shows in a community calendar and reaching out to local press outlets.
  • Running advertisements in local media outlets such as radio stations and newspapers.
  • Placing flyers and posters around town.

It is also useful to understand how a band engages with its fans. And, of course, maintaining an up-to-date website with an embedded music player can be a great way to bring in a crowd.

Setting Up for Success

Whether it is booking a band or dealing with a plumbing problem, there are several moving parts to being the owner of a live music venue. Staffing and security needs will vary based on the size of the establishment. Others aspects of the business may depend on particular state and local laws. In any case, chances are there will be staff to hire and train, orders to place, inventory to manage, and accounts to keep up to date, as well as all the other day-to-day details that go into running a successful business.

The good news is that combining a passion for music with a solid education in the music and entertainment industry will go a long way toward building the foundation for a successful live music venue. And while you are keeping the business going, be sure to enjoy the music along the way!

Learn more about Frost’s online Master of Music in MBEI program.


Houston Chronicle: How to Own & Operate a Venue Business

Consequence of Sound: How to Start Your Own Music Venue

Performer: How to Run a Live Music Venue: Age Restrictions, Alcohol, Liability & the Law

Career Research: Music Venue Owner and Manager Career

Forbes: 4 Realistic Ways to Fund Your Small Business

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