Tips on Music for Venues and Cafes

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Live music in a café or restaurant makes a huge impact on the success the business; fact.
This does not mean to say that ANY live music being performed at your café will result in a successful business, but music that is appropriate for your establishment and your customers.
So why consider having live music at your café? Why not just have an ipod playing in the corner? When a customer walks into your café and a musician is performing, there is an added buzz to the place; it makes the customer feel special; it makes the venue feel special.
It also makes the café appear more exclusive and that in itself means you can charge more.
Customers dining in your café make several decisions when choosing your venue.
The quality and type of food is one; the quality of the service; the venue itself and the ambience of the venue are other considerations.
Having live music adds to the atmosphere of the café and provided it doesn't disturb the guests, it could be one of the main considerations when choosing where to eat.
At one of the cafés we provide live music for, the manager decided to cancel the live music, for cost saving measures.
Immediately, the covers went down from an average of 95 to 35 each Saturday evening.
Within six weeks we were back providing music and the covers increased again.
Feedback from clients was that they were prepared to pay more for good food/service and atmosphere, but if the music was missing, they'd rather pay less by going to a high street establishment.
The manager learnt very quickly that the expectation of customers was the music as part of the whole dining experience.
So how could live music be used within a café? First of all you need to consider the style and theme of your café and the type of customers you attract, and then match the music accordingly.
We know of cafes where they have asked their regulars' advice on the type of music they like.
The average age of customers could be a clue; and the time of day and day of the week you have the live music.
A Sunday lunch might attract families: in which case a musician who plays a variety of music including 'Disney' songs would work, or young adults with no children - where an edgy band or jazz would be perfect; afternoons - for afternoon tea might attract older customers who are looking for a classic ambience and experience, in which case a classical pianist or harpist would be perfect.
Alternatively a Saturday evening could be a romantic evening out for couples: perhaps a guitarist or singer subtly serenading would be good.
One of our clients created a Venetian Festival each year, where over 3 weekends, held a series of themed evenings, including a 'masked ball'; opera evening; jazz Sunday brunch and tasters' menu.
The café offered set menus with musical entertainment included, which included a guitarist, jazz trio, pianist, opera singers and a pianist.
The café was booked up months in advance with the business making a great profit.
The clients anticipated a great evening of good food and entertainment and it was a successful way of showcasing the venue for other evenings.
Costs were kept down by serving a very basic themed set menu, but they were able to charge more because of the extras.
The café estimated they created repeat business throughout the year through local press coverage of the Festival and customers attending the festival and enjoying it.
You could have an event or create your own themed festival.
One way of creating your own event - is to invent one, and then list it on 'Count me in' where you can access a whole year's events and even post up your own.
The Harbour Café in Margate has established itself as an important Jazz venue outside London.
During the day, it offers excellent café food, and is known for excellent daytime food and service.
Yet during the Margate Jazz Festival, it is now used as one of the venues.
The café transforms itself into a bar for the evening performances.
It has increased its profile by modifying the usage of the venue; plenty of people that have visited the Jazz Festival have 'found' an excellent place to eat.
The café are also opening up for other Jazz evenings and increasing their revenue.
The Oakes Grill, at Hanbury Manor: the Five Star Country Club and Hotel in Hertfordshire has live music that we supply on Sunday lunch times.
The music performed is a jazz style with a rota of trios adding variety for regular customers.
The manager, Giuseppe Rollo told me "Our customers really enjoy the music.
Clients decide to spend a little extra to celebrate something - like an anniversary or birthday because the food, service and atmosphere are so good.
We offer something extra special for our guests.
" Giuseppe has the rota of musicians well in advance, and when guests comment on their favourite musicians, he ensures they know when they are next playing at the Oakes Grill.
Some of the musicians have a big following and will book when they know their favourite musician is playing.
We have also been able to generate a lot of media interest, with our musicians being interviewed on local radios and for the local press.
The Oakes Grill is always mentioned as a venue they perform at, which only increases publicity for the venue.
So if you are considering live music for either a one off event or regular event, what should you do? Here are my tips:
  • Consider the type of music - and atmosphere you wish to create.
    The Harbour café has created an edgy Jazz venue: but people don't sit down and eat a quiet meal there for obvious reasons!
  • At what time of day are you going to have the music? A rock band doesn't work so well during the day!
  • For what type of meal are you offering the background music? As I mentioned before, a family type brunch will require different music from a "Romantic Dinner for Two" atmosphere.
  • What is the style of your café? A Tapas bar would be perfect with a flamenco guitarist playing - but that would be unsuitable for a French Bistro, where a pianist would be better.
  • What is the size of your café and also the acoustic? If it is small, a Jazz trio will probably be too loud and take up too much room.
    A keyboard player or guitarist might be more suitable.
  • Are you going to offer a regular evening or lunchtime when live music is part of the deal? Are you going to offer set menus or a limited choice in food, or is it going to be the same menu?
Some facts to consider before you make any decisions on music;
  • One of the main criticisms of music being played in cafes -whether live or recorded, is the volume.
    Unless you are using the café for a jazz or rock venue (as the Harbour Café do for their jazz evenings), customers are expecting to be able to conduct a conversation with each other.
    If the music is too loud, the whole experience is spoilt for some diners.
  • Carefully consider where you locate the musicians in the café.
    We have spent a lot of time working with Giuseppe Rollo at the Oakes Grill to find the most suitable place for the musicians to perform.
    There were a couple of 'perfect' locations, but customers found the sound was too loud for them - yet when the volume was adjusted, people at the other end of the café couldn't hear the music.
    We found that a spot away from most of the larger tables was ideal; guests could see and hear the musicians - and there were a couple of tables close to them, if guests really wanted to listen to them.
  • Whether you play recorded or live music at the café, you will need to arrange a PRS certificate and display it (!) The PRS fine businesses that do not have this certificate very heavily, so you have been warned!
  • Musicians charge different prices for one off performances or 'residencies'.
    Residencies are where the musicians play regularly at a venue and as a result it is a running contract and costs the venue less.
    Our charges for residencies start at £110 per week for 2 hours playing including rest breaks, and £250 for a 3 hour with breaks one off performance by a musician.
  • All musicians should have PLI certificates available; it passes on the risk to them.
    All of their equipment should also be PAT tested.
    The certificates should be stuck onto the plugs of their equipment.
    If it has not been tested, you have every right to refuse to let them use the equipment for health and safety reasons.
  • The musicians should be fed and offered soft drinks.
    Performing is tiring and if they have been booked for 3 hours with breaks, they will have been at the venue setting up beforehand.
    They will be hungry and will perform better!
  • The musicians should be part of your team rather than 'Stars or Divas'.
    I would always advise you interview musicians and audition them to see if you get on with them.
    Don't put up with 'attitude'; it will only get worse! You are going to be busy serving clients and you don't need a demanding musician: he needs to do his job and you yours! If you are using an agency or music management company, ask them to find musicians that are most suitable for your venue.
    The advantage of an agency is that if a musician is ill, it is their job to find a replacement - even at short notice.
  • Always have a contract or something in writing to protect yourself against any problems.
    The ISM or MU could advise you on the wording, or if you use an agency, they will prepare one for you.
  • If the musician has their own CD or marketing material: use it to generate interest.
    You could have it playing in the background preceding a musician's appearance and you could sell it.
  • Use either a one off performance or residency as a marketing and publicity tool.
    Include it in your blog; have it listed in local event diaries; see if it could be mentioned in the local press or radio.
  • If you are trying out a new menu, or have recently employed a new chef, try to combine this with a live musical performance.
    It will generate a lot of interest and publicity and hopefully more custom.
  • Try to get feedback from your regular customers.
    What worked? Would they prefer another type of music? Do they have any advice for a future event?
Live music is a great way of generating new interest in your café; of creating a new image for your venue and an opportunity to try out new menus.
Although there is an initial outlay in musician's fees, the income you will generate from increased bookings and publicity will soon cover that cost.
Be brave and incorporate live music for your customers - and reap the rewards.
Good luck!
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