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So, you’re thinking of starting a music venue?

16/07/2010

The inimitable Tim Honsby

I’m very proud to announce my first ever guest blog up here. It’s courtesy of the fantastic, acerbic wit and honesty of a long time hero of mine. Tim Hornsby has run and owned most every venue of note (no pun) in Yorkshire, run and promoted shows including the biggest of big names from Nirvana to Oasis, Snow Patrol to Aereogramme… and the odd Hope and Social show to boot. Enjoy!

So, you’re thinking of starting a music venue?

Don’t!

No, I mean it.  Stop RIGHT there and stay with the day job.

Eighteen years, twelve thousand bands, a million pints, a stroke and penury later … and I’m still doing it.  But I was lucky enough to have three daughters who could live without seeing their Daddy most nights and a partner without whose love, support, bloody hard work, cooking and cunning I would have been floating face down long ago.  Read on …

WHY do you want to do this?

Behind the bejewelled curtain lies a forest of predators quite willing and able to relieve you of your savings, overdraft and money you will beg and borrow along the way.  As the old gambling proverb says, only bet if you can afford to lose it.  But you still want to do it, yeah?

Gallows - pic courtesy of Tim Hornsby

Think you’re going to spend your days feet on the desk sipping the rock’n’roll bourbon of choice (don’t know what it is?  Oh dear) and sifting through demos?  Passing idle comments from your lofty position as gig-giver like, “Nah, a bit too Pixies” and “Very Beatles meets The Fall, I get it”?

… Nope, as a greenhorn you’ll be pounced upon as a greenhorn by agents, inflating fees and riders with glowing testimonials about their new band’s spot play on XFM or a paragraph in the NME.  A veritable Niagara of out-of-town acts will fill your In-Box with sincere pleas for a gig, promising coach parties, a fantastic night for your customers (who won’t come) and a request for £50.

Local bands will, by and large, play the same game but mindful of your place in the community will, I’m happy to say, press gang their friends and family in to paying £3 to hear their we’re-the-next-Oasis/Beatles/Nirvana pleas until they overplay the town and, nowadays, eschew the hard work of flesh-pressing promotion for a simple worthless message, “Check our Myspace for details.”

But more of that later.

The Fire Officer will (quite rightly) measure your exits in microns and the Environmental Health will canvass every bugger in the neighbourhood for their musical tastes related to volume/nuisance whether or not they are already sited amongst fun pubs with the windows open, a taxi rank, burger vans with noisy queues and, of course, the emergency vehicle (nee nah nee nah!) route.

Under-age drinkers will magically appear in the your dark corners, girlfriendless bores will complain about your musical taste and ticket prices, band stickers will appear on your framed signed Arctic Monkeys first headline tour poster before it is eventually stolen, your money/hair/conscience/libido (delete as appropriate) will slink down the post punk plughole, and EVERYBODY wants to be on the guest list.

So why start a venue?

Yann Tiersen - Pic Via Tim Hornsby

For the perfect moments that make it all worthwhile. For me, John Martyn at Fibbers when the place was packed and as I stood stageside I swear the audience levitated slightly when he played Over The Rainbow. A Spine Tingling Moment.  Those times yes, obvioulsy, but also when folks say to me, “I’ve just had the best night ever – thank you thank you thank you” they’re the moments that make all the above melt away… for a time. When you feel like you’ve had a part in making things happen, that’s the point.  That and stepping outside my glass house every day and chucking bricks at anybody passing by.  Give me a parapet and I’ll stick my head above it.

There’s more bad stuff. Plenty more, but I sense as you pick your groovy colour scheme, mull over Kerrang and get ready to be the next John Peel … you’re not listening.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. 16/07/2010 12:55 pm

    This is awesome! I really enjoyed reading this, people don’t seem to realise (including myself) how hard it actually is! Thank you for that! Nigel

  2. 16/07/2010 1:40 pm

    That picture of Frank Carter is amazing…what a front man! If non of you have seen Gallows live then I urge you to Youtube them. Even if you don’t like the music they attempt to make every show 110% on the energy front! If only more bands played live like this.

    • 16/07/2010 1:54 pm

      Can’t claim responsibility for that, Tom, it was lifted from their site. However, I can happily report that as well as being one of the most powerful frontmen I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few) he is also a gentleman and a scholar!

  3. 16/07/2010 1:41 pm

    Thanks, Nigel, I’m also available for weddings and barmitzvahs … more in-depth stories of horror, mayhem and, yes, smiles to come.

  4. 16/07/2010 2:07 pm

    Mr Hornsby i both salute and love thee.

  5. 16/07/2010 2:22 pm

    I ran a small venue outside of Chicago here in the States, and I can attest that everything here is true!

    The few times we guaranteed a national touring act money we ALWAYS lost. Nobody showed up but their girlfriends, who of course refused to pay. So, we packed our calender with local and regional acts that we knew would bring the goods.

    Best night ever? When one of our favorite bands, Anathallo, stopped by for the evening and ended up crashing at the venue. We stayed up most of the night jamming on the Wurlitzer with their drummer, bassist and horn section, before finally allowing them to get some rest before they had to push off the next morning.

    • 16/07/2010 9:36 pm

      You’re going to nod in agreement when I get on to blaggers, recalcitrant support bands, American metal band tour managers, brewery companies from hell, never letting the singer dry his trousers in your oven (or he’ll shag the chef), flying breeze blocks and all manner of pesky plumbing problems. And my best story … the hugely famous rock singer, the blonde, the wheelchair and the skip.

      • Devon T. Bell permalink
        10/12/2015 3:14 pm

        Hello Tim, I hail from Tyler, Tx and have concieved this crazy idea to convert an old, dusty, hasnt seen life in over a decade – brick new york store building into a contemporary downtown venue. My Hope is to bring back some business to a side of town that otherwise is being abandoned for the up scale more ritzy south. If you are still connected to this post could you please relay a few things to consider when choosing the building that will become your venue, and maybe relay some basic remodeling expenses that will need to be done to make your spot be what it needs to be to thrive. Hopefully you are still linked to this post And if so if you have a moment to respond it would be GREATLY appreciated!

        Also I Thoroughly enjoyed your article above..(even though I had to look up a few words, such as inimitable, which is a great title!)

      • 23/12/2016 5:09 am

        Devon, are you still pursuing this? I have family in Tyler and hope to have my own live music space someday.

  6. Dean Stewart permalink
    16/07/2010 3:18 pm

    Great post. It’s good to get the perspective of someone on the other side from the bands if you know what I mean. I get your point about out of town bands but it can be hard getting gigs for bands wanting to play further afield than their home town. This becomes a necessity if you’re from an area that doesn’t really have a scene. We played the Cockpit in Leeds once and had to shell out for £300 worth of tickets up front and we put a coach on, only to find that when we got there the local bands hadn’t bothered to sell any tickets. We ended up playing to our own audience in a different town!

    • 16/07/2010 3:49 pm

      Yeah, I’d say never pay to play as a band. You can always go for a bar split, or a paywhatyouwant ticket price. There’s plenty of ways of making it work… but for both band and promoter, the key has to be just that… SMART promo.
      xR

    • 16/07/2010 4:21 pm

      Definitely, it has to work for both parties. That was a lesson learned the hard way. For every decent promoter out there, there are a ton of sharks, in the same way that for every decent band out there, there are a ton on bad ones.

      Have Pay What You Want tickets worked for you? I can see how it works for downloads, physical sales etc but at gigs….?

      • 16/07/2010 9:43 pm

        <>

        Just like venues and promoters, bands should look upon themselves as a business in which, to succeed, time and money must be invested – with varying degrees of return.

  7. 16/07/2010 10:32 pm

    In an old blog that I wrote, I made note of sites that had info on running music venues. Here are two resources that provide useful info:

    http://www.dnalounge.com/backstage/
    http://www.bostoncoffeehouses.org/Advice/HowToStartACoffeehouse.html

  8. 19/07/2010 7:22 pm

    Top class !

  9. Luly permalink
    23/07/2010 8:13 pm

    Awwwww my amazing papa H!!!

  10. 22/06/2012 9:00 am

    This is awesome! I’m going to school right now, getting degrees in music business and business and I’m wanting to start up a venue once I graduate, but I’ve done some promoting and booking and can relate a lot to the sales of tickets between nationals and locals good stuff!

  11. 02/08/2013 2:53 am

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did
    you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to
    do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thank you

  12. Karl permalink
    03/06/2014 2:57 pm

    This was a great read, I sense a great deal of emotion & I fully respect your point & where you’re coming from. However, could you not have at least given a few words of comfort or advice? I mean, if it weren’t for people such as yourself, with a vision & a passion, then there wouldn’t be great independent venues (The Fleece comes to mind) for people to enjoy music in an intimate environment.

    • 03/06/2014 3:24 pm

      I think there’s a lot that the good Mr H has to say that are more positive, but sometimes it’s good to have a rant. If you check out @mrhpresents on twitter… you’ll find a whole bunch of tweets…. some acerbic, some joyful. ;)

  13. 05/11/2015 9:17 pm

    You are quite right that starting a new music venue requires years of commitment and dedication. Often the best live music venues have been going for years. We are trying to help Venues by creating a site especially for bands and fans to review live music venues at http://gigsounds.com

  14. 10/12/2015 4:35 pm

    Hi Tyler, thanks for your message. Yes, for my terrible and plentiful sins in a previous life I am still doing this. Feel free to drop me a line on mrhpresents@gmail.com and I will respond as soon as I am able, sir!

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