So, you’ve decided that you want live music at your bar, and you are psyched to see the crowds pour into your bar, order drinks and food, and jam out while increasing your profits. It’s going to be great…after you get over one tiny problem: How to hire the band. If the thought of going out to find a band, then negotiating with them sounds terrifying or like too much work, this guide is for you.
1. Determine your “theme”
The first, most important step of the whole band-hiring process is determining what kind of a band you’re looking for. Just as there is every type of music in the world, there is also every type of band. A lot of bar owners get caught up in the idea that bands have to be “cool” to draw in crowds, and they forget to consider their customers. Remember that this band is meant to attract your customers, so you’ll want to find a band that works for them and their dining experience.
If you’re an upscale bar that caters to an older clientele, you do not want to invite a young Indie band to play at your bar, no matter how much airtime they get on the local stations. If you have a small neighborhood bar that serves Irish food and drinks, you’ll want to think twice before inviting a mariachi band to serenade your guests.
You may think that this is an obvious step, but tons of bar owners get this wrong—they hire some popular band, or a band that someone recommended, instead of a band that fits their customers and their establishment.
2. Find a band
In your research stage, you have to get out and listen to bands regularly. This may be a bit of an issue for you though, because you are a busy bar owner. If you don’t have the time to go out and listen to a band play, you can ask a friend or family member to vet bands for you, or you can usually find band videos on YouTube.
As you look at the different bands, there are a number of factors that you’ll want to consider. You’ll want to hire a band that has:
A sound system: Bar and restaurant PAs are terrible, with tinny sound and vibrating bass. They usually are badly cared for (if they’re cared for at all), and cables that are stored in the back room can get damaged when heavy objects are carelessly thrown on top of them at 4:00 am, after a really long night.
Serious musicians are perfectionists about their music, and they know that if they want their music to sound good, they have to bring their own equipment. If you see the band carting in heavy speakers and equalizers from their cars, you know that they care about their craft.
Slightly-turned speakers: A rookie mistake for bands is setting up the speakers facing forward, either directly at the crowd, or towards the back of the room. The problem with this is that a lot of the musical subtleties will be lost on your guests because the sound will be “unfocused”…but that sound will blare loudly at their tables and in their ears so that they have to yell to be heard.
When musicians place their speakers properly, they angle the right-side speaker toward the left of the room, and they angle the left-side speaker to the right of the room. This setup allows the music to cross the room and develop a focal point for the sound, which means the music will sound better, and can be played at quieter volumes.
A good visual display: Maybe you have lights and a stage in your bar, maybe you don’t. Maybe the musicians have their own lights, maybe they don’t. While you know that a band who owns its own light system is very serious, don’t discount bands that don’t have the best lighting on the planet. However, do cross bands off of your list if their look doesn’t match their sound.
Committed musicians don’t just play for money, they play because they get to be stars. When a band “dresses the part” with clothing that complements their genre, you know they’re really into what they do. For example, if you want to hire a mariachi band, you don’t want them wearing ripped-up jeans and flannels. If you want to hire a jazz band, you don’t want them dressing like they’re heading out to a square dance.
Other details: Serious musicians will be able to offer you a demo CD / online clips of their music, a website, some potential songlists, and some photos. If your band is lacking any of these items when you approach them, you might want to reconsider your selection.
3. Hire that band—and only that band
Okay, you’ve found a band, you know they’re high-quality, and you’ve even talked with them about rates (a band can cost you anywhere from $500-$5000, but most will be in the $1500 range for a four-hour set—but this varies a lot).
Now that you’ve found that band, you need to find another so that you can play different music on Tuesday nights, than you do on Thursday nights. Right?
Do not play different kinds of music on different nights to “draw in more people.” All you will do is alienate the guests you do have, and you’ll spend a lot of money to lose those customers. For your music, pick a genre and stick with it. After all, you don’t have different décor at every table in your bar, right? You don’t only serve French wines one night, vintage cocktails the next, and Miller Lite pitchers the third night, right? Yeah, don’t do that with your music either.
4. Market the heck out of that band
Now that you’ve hired the band, market them like mad. Don’t trust that a little sign on your door, a “Live Band” notice on the marquee, or word of mouth will bring hordes of listeners, take matters into your own hands. You’re paying good money for this band, so marketing them ensures the best ROI you can get.
Of course, do advertise your band using the paper on the door, the sign on the marquee (use their name), and word of mouth—but go beyond that. Create table tents, and plaster your band all over your social media and your website calendar. Create a header on your site, too, and consider taking out a display ad in the newspaper to get the word out. Definitely call up your local entertainment newspaper and make sure they list that your band will be playing at your bar on whatever night.
While you’re marketing, make sure that you build the band’s value to your customers. If potential customers don’t understand why these musicians are the best bet for their evening’s entertainment, they’re likely to go to another bar—probably the one they usually go to anyway on that night of the week. You need to tempt them away from their comfortable routine.
One you’ve decided your theme, found the band, booked the band, and marketed the band, your fantasy of a packed bar, with big spenders dancing to the music will become your reality. At that point, I wish I could say you can sit back and relax, but who would I be kidding? After all, you’re a busy bar owner.
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