Live Music Event Success – It’s Up To You 

By Gregory Burrus

My observation as a patron of music and the arts, I always attend events in places in North Jersey that have some absolutely great musicians playing music to a crowd of one or two people in the audience.  Hence most nights it will be a top notch world class Jazz musician, who just left playing in a sold out event in New York at the price-conscious, somewhat crowded, small-in-size NY Village location and now s(he)'s just 30 minutes away in Essex County with one patron, me.  It’s happened more times than you know, and I’d like to think there is a real reason why no one shows up.

You Just Want To Play Music

It seems there is a conundrum that musicians or bands can have a great product, find a place to play in this North Jersey area, and yet no one shows up.  After lots of investigation by attending some great venues, talking to many venue, bar and restaurant owners in what amounts to a private concert for me, there are some conflicts that become obvious.

I should note, if you already have a huge following for your band, then this article is not for you.  This is for those groups getting started, or a group looking to expand beyond their normal area and wishing / working hard to get or start a following in a new area.  Note that folks in big cities always attend events they live close to, they want a drink, get advertised to everywhere, every day, which is not the situation in smaller towns and locations outside of, say, a Manhattan, New York. 

Expectations – Finger Pointing

So, on one side, is the bands / musicians having the same expectations that if they play music, they assume the audience will come via the venue manager.  This is a false expectation.  It will not take you long to know that a great audience one day at one event, does not guarantee an audience all the time.  So you blame the venue. 

The other side is, if the venue manager books the band, they, the venue manger, assumes the band has a following and hence folks will show up for the event.  Venue managers have many times been proven wrong and when they have an empty venue, they get perturbed, blame the musician(s), and want to cancel the show. 

Well, we all know what happens when we point fingers and assume.  It’s an old saying but’s true, we end up with a lose - lose situation and nobody wins. 




One of my favorite live event groups is The Piano Guys.  They understand that if you need an audience, then you have to be just a little bit different and come up with engaging environments and tell everybody, so they know about you.  They went from local to large using unique solutions and awesome settings. 

To make it work for the venue manager and the musician, everybody should pitch in to develop a situation and a solution that works for you.  Nice idea, however, unless the venue owner sees your entertainment event as a large part of their business model, participation will be low.  The reason being is that most bars and restaurants survive on liquor and food.  They see the entertainment, your entertainment, as a byproduct or something extra.  Tough message for the musician who spent years honing and loving their craft, but unless the world magically changes overnight, the musician will be broke and disappointed.  So unless you have the second job income solution and don’t care about having an audience, which is a discussion for another article, a musician needs to take control of the situation that drives their career. 

Take Control

How does one take control?  From my observations, the best way to take control is to do your own thing. 

1.    First and foremost, make sure the musical genre fits the environment of the area or at least is in line with the venue owner's goals.   

2.    You want a bar space that is co-located with the music to start.  Everybody wants a private venue, but that can be the death knell when you have too many empty nights.  Remember, on a busy night, patrons who drink and eat keep venue owners happy. 

3.    Co-location helps on those slow nights, rainy nights and, yes, there will be a slow night.  The few non-music paying patrons in the venue still keep the venue owner happy.  This is great in that you still have a venue to use next week, to grow your audience.  

4.    Jams work from what I see.  Consider running a Jam Style Event which pulls many musicians in to play in your venue.  More people in the venue is always a good thing in most cases. 

5.    Jam musicians have an added benefit over the same band every night in that jam musicians bring fiends who play.  That means a lot of times they bring friends who listen and enjoy the venue.  This means more money spent at the venue that is above and beyond the house band.  

6.    Research the area and do your best to avoid competition as much as possible with other nearby venues that play music the same night. 

7.    As the house band, but also as the Jam leader, become efficient and personable because how you manage and get the other Jam players on the stage and off, is key.  Make them feel fulfilled and happy when they play music so they come back again and again.   

8.    Promote – Tell the venue to promote you.  Give them materials to promote you, check and make sure it’s being done.  Easier said than done, but you have to try. 

9.    Promote – Promote yourself and your music.  At least tell those you know that you are playing music, when, where and to at least come out once a month, etc. to see you. 

10.    Promote - Build a list, promote to the few and the many.  If they show up, take care of them and talk to them on your email list, Facebook or Twitter, etc.  Let them know you care about them taking the time to come see you. They are your best fans. 

Make Things Happen

In the smaller North Jersey venues, are you being offered a separate room to play music in?  Consider who’s going to be there on a slow night.  Try negotiating for a co-located area closer to the bar.  You want to just have your band play music?  Skip to hardcore promotions because filling a venue for a long time is a must if you go it alone.  Oh, you don’t like to promote?  Well you are not alone.  You need to get someone to do it.  Treat those who come out to see you play music, special, and have them become your evangelists as you grow your audience.  Somebody has to do the above promotions.  Don’t leave the above promotions components out of your endeavor to be a self-employed independent individual musician or band.  

OK Let’s Play Music

As a musician, it has got to be great to play music, great to see others play music, fantastic to see folks like and love your music, and wonderfully rewarding to make some good moolah while playing music.  Remember, following the steps and making it profitable for all is a win-win situation that works.  In follow up articles, I will tell you more about certain musicians, which play music, are great at promotions, but also know how to make live music profitable in the real world of North Jersey. 

Thoughts / comments on what works for you will be appreciated. 

About the Writer

Gregory Burrus out enjoying Live Music

Gregory Burrus out enjoying Live Music

Gregory Burrus is a supporter of local businesses, community events, jazz, blues musicians and local art exhibitions.  On a regular basis he promotes art, music, business, government and local community events through social media marketing, writing articles, blogging and photo journalism.  Gregory Burrus resides in the beautiful, historic town of South Orange, New Jersey, the home of beautiful gas lamps, many historic buildings, some wonderful old trees, the South Orange Performing Arts Center, Seton Hall University, South Mountain Reservation and many gorgeous, vibrant, growing communities in the surrounding North Jersey towns and cities of Essex County.  Having fun living life while helping others. Visit Greg at

Keywords:  promote, promotions, music, jersey, musicians, live music, music, arts, events, venue manager, band, entertainment, jam, north jersey