by Josh Gross
Ashley Knotts, Nick Bodor, James Moody, Chris White and Michael Slaboch are no slouches. They book and mange for some of the most-important rock clubs in the country, like The Cake Shop, The 40-Watt and The Hideout, in happening places like Austin, Chicago, Brooklyn and Athens, Ga.
The five of them gathered for a panel at this year's SXSW conference to discuss their philosophy and techniques on how to take a club beyond being just a venue and to turn it into "a scene."
Though they agreed social media have changed promotional strategies, the core principles remain the same.
Some of them are:
Treat talent well, so they will want to come back and tell others. That gets you a higher quality of talent and sometimes for a lower price. Even things as small as a smile and a handshake when the band arrives can make all the difference. If your staff mistreats talent, fire them.
Don't turn on the lights and hustle everyone out the door. Create a space that performers want to hang out at even when they're not performing. That helps build the social swirl of ideas and makes people aspire to be on that stage.
Curation is good, but don't get too narrow a focus. Music alone, and especially one kind of music, isn't enough to compete from 10-2. Try out new things and keep it interesting. Club owners referenced the growing connections between outsider comedy and indie rock, as well as a long-running beard contest at an Austin venue as examples.
Position yourself well and try to stay abreast of routing when booking. Also make sure to do calendar checking to ensure a great act will have an audience. These were both reasons they all advocated an in-house booker.
Cultivate good relationships with neighborhoods and the city in order to build up an ecosystem around a club. Bodor even went so far as to say that soundproofing can be more valuable than bathrooms.
Don't be afraid to lose a few bucks on a show that will create a memorable experience people asssociate with the venue, a club set by a band who could play much larger rooms, for example. It builds the club's brand as a place not just to see music, but to have an amazing expereince.
And finally, they said, realize that there is no formula. The anarchic nature of art dictates that sometimes you just have to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But the willingnes to do that, rather than just stressing about the bottom line, is what in the end creates a scene.