Venues Beyond Bars:
In-Store Musical Performances

Venues Beyond Bars:
In-Store Musical Performances
by Sue Basko

This is the first in a series of posts about playing music at venues other than bars or clubs. The other posts will come in time and will be grouped as a series in the Table of Contents in the sidebar.

Expand your horizons. Consider trying to get booked at venues beyond bars.

Playing at Stores. For a store to be able to have in-store events, they must have insurance that covers this as well as zoning laws and mall rules that do not prohibit it. If it is a chain store, it must be a chain-wide activity, and no local manager would be allowed to make such a decision on their own.

If a store is independent, you may be able to convince the owner/ manager to allow you to play there. The store needs enough space, not only for you to play, but for the audience to be able to stand without causing a fire or safety hazard or blocking shoppers.

PAYMENT: If you convince a store to let you play there, do not expect or ask to be paid. You should not expect to be paid because the store is not going to make any money from you being there. The store most likely has added expenses caused by your performance, such as having to pay a few employees to be there, printing flyers, running ads, additions to insurance, extra electricity and air conditioning or heating, added security, damages or shoplifting by the audience, etc.

SELLING CDs AND MERCH: You should, however, ask if you can sell CDs and merchandise. Ask if the store has a table you can use for this. If not, ask if you can bring your own. Ask how big it can be.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: If your act involves obscenities or objectionable behavior, do not ask a store to let you play there, because your act is not suited for public performance to a general audience. Stores and malls are looking for acts that are safe, friendly, pleasant, family-friendly, accomplished, reliable, responsible, cooperative, on-time, cheerful, nice-looking, good with the public, who can follow instructions and set up with a minimum of equipment or fuss. If that is not you, skip it.

If you could show up on a street corner and play music and gather a happy crowd, your act is probably well-suited to playing in a store.

ONE big RULE: You must play original songs and not "cover" songs at in-store appearances, unless the store has purchased performance rights licenses for cover songs from the appropriate PRO. It is highly unlikely the store has done so, so just assume that you will play originals only and no cover songs. Also, some stores can only allow performances by bands or artists that are unsigned or signed with an independent label. Some stores cannot have performances by artists from specific labels. This has to do with the label not allowing this.

PROMO/store: Once you have secured a date to play an in-store performance, ask if the store does any promo. Can you bring them a flyer or poster? Will they hang it? Will they print flyers and distribute to their customers? Do they run ads? Do they put up a sign in the store or mall on the day of the show?

PROMO/ by you: Then -- do your part. Run free ads on Craigslist, backpage, local and regional news websites. Include photos. Let people know at nearby churches and schools, pass out flyers, post about it on your Facebook, myspace, blogs, Twitter, etc. Mention it to your emailing list and in your emailed newsletter. Find out public transportation to the location and let people know. Find out where there are bike racks and publish this.

Store Venues to Consider:

Apple Stores have auditoria where they hold classes and music performances. Who will they consider? Music acts that are selling nicely on Itunes. Who they book: Singer songwriters with solid skills and simple acts with music that appeals to the type of people who shop at Apple Stores - educated, intelligent, civilized.

Hot Topic stores are located in many malls. Who they will book: Emo and rock acts that can play an acoustic-only performance, with no drums, no screaming or loud vocals. The act should be young and hip and appeal to teens and be able to draw a crowd. No cover songs allowed, must play 100% original songs. The musicians do a meet-and-greet with the audience after the show and sell their CDs and merch.

Independent stores: Bassment in Chicago's Wicker Park has hip-hop in-store performances. In Los Angeles, many bookstores, comic stores, or other places will at times have in-store performances. Ask around and go make friendly with the store owners.

Malls: Most malls book musical acts. Most book far in advance. Some charge the act to play, ranging from a low permit fee to a large promo fee. Some do the opposite and pay the acts to play. Some take only acts that are sponsored or brought in by one of the stores in the mall. The usual playing location is a central area, whether indoors or outdoors. Who they book? Family-friendly, polished, accomplished acts currently touring or selling well. You are going to need to show a CD and a promo package. Some malls may also have times for local teen acts to compete or perform.

Record Stores: Independent record stores and some chains have music performances. Usually, they will only consider you if you have a CD or record being sold in their store. They also want you to be able to draw a crowd to the store, since bringing in potential local customers is the point of having you there. Some record stores that have in-stores:

California: Fingerprints in Long Beach, California. Amoeba Records in Hollywood, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

Chicago: Permanent Records on Chicago Avenue has Saturday all-ages in-stores. Saki on Fullerton has in-stores.

Bookstores: The Barnes and Noble and Border's Bookstore chains host musical performances. Who they are likely to book: Musicians whose work is being sold in the stores. Also, solo musicians or singer songwriters with music that blends nicely with a bookstore - pleasant, accomplished, not loud or disturbing.

Feel free to email me and tell me where and when you are playing an in-store!

-- Sue