How To Book a Musical Artist for Your Restaurant
Music shapes our lives in tacit and often subtle ways. When you watch a movie or television program, music is often used to highlight the mood of a scene and has the potential to transform. Imagine Star Wars without the opening fanfare or the introduction of Jaws without the accompanying melody. In commercial sonic branding is used to identify a particular business through sound alone aurally. Each of these instances underscores the value of music to elevate and influence your mood. You can help steer that influence by subtle background music or take it to the next level by learning how to book a musical artist for your restaurant.
Set the Mood
Studies indicate that 84% of U.S. shoppers believe that music enhances their experience. In your restaurant, music can affect your total sales by up to 9.1% in total. Beyond the overall increase in sales, your choice of music can influence how your customers will react in public. If you’re a quick-service restaurant, uptempo music is optimal in getting customers in and out the door. Slow that tempo down and sales have gone up by 23%. Whatever you do, make sure that you’ve found the right fit for your space.
Learn Who Draws
Setting the mood is integral in determining how to book a musical artist for your restaurant. You’ll need to know who can optimally satisfy your environment, and direct the traffic internally as you want it. Do you want something upbeat and meant to turn people in and out? Something a bit more fast-paced will do the trick. Looking to increase bar sales? Play something slow and inviting to keep a captive audience.
Finding the resources for bands in your area is usually no more complicated than a few online search queries. Your best bet is to search for your local musician’s union or the musicians union in the city nearest to yours. These unions will have resources to put you in touch with the right fit for your restaurant. You can try out services that help connect your restaurant to musicians. You can also put up advertisements to let performers know that you’re interested; musicians are always interested in playing in new venues.
Also, try looking for “bands in my area” or “music blogs in my area.” These blogs will give you a list of artist names and a general idea of what they do and how visible they are. Many larger cities will have one or more large alt-weekly publications which traditionally feature local music-related coverage. These papers often have a listing of who’s playing well. You can use this to help determine what works elsewhere based on what you know of like-minded restaurant businesses in your town.
How Many Bands Should Play
Once you’ve made your choice on what band or artist should perform, you’ll need to sort out the logistics. How many acts do you wish to play and for how long? The more performers you have on the bill, the more you will need to consider the following:
- How much each performer will earn
- The average set length of each performer
- Any logistics involved in moving equipment on and off a stage
These may all seem like trivial or small details, but if you have several musical acts performing, you’ll have to ensure that it doesn’t present more problems than they potentially solve for. For example, you wouldn’t want to bring in a band to help with your audience draw, only to overwhelm them with too many performers. Likewise, you don’t want your dinner service upset by band members loading heavy drums and guitar amps around. And you certainly don’t wish for any musician to overstay their welcome, which can potentially turn off guests.
Vet the Musicians
Knowing a little more about your musicians can go a long way to saving you a lot of grief later down the line. Your best tool here is to find the music, whether it’s online or provided to you via a demo, and give it a spin. Listening will provide the most pertinent information you need to know, namely the genre and vibe of the music, which is a solid starting point. You can generally find that information on sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or Spotify, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask; musicians love to share their work.
After you’ve had a chance to listen, ask for the lyrics (if there are any) to make sure there’s nothing that you, or your crowd, might find troubling. Many musicians perform cover songs, so find out what’s in their repertoire, and move on from there. Do a quick Google scan on the band or musician otherwise to ensure they aren’t guilty of any unsavory PR moves otherwise, and if you can’t find anything with a cursory look, you’re likely all clear. If you have any misgivings, follow up with the musician’s union, mentioned above.
Know Your Rights
One looming obstacle to booking, or even playing music in your restaurant, is knowing what organizations like Broadcast Music Inc., or the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) require. The objective of ASCAP and BMI is to ensure that each artist is paid accordingly for their intellectual property. To do this, they have a variety of rules to which public businesses are legally expected to adhere.
That means that every time you play a song, you must consider the royalties of that song for the artist. ASCAP provides you with a platform to pay these artists. General licensing fees cover those expenses and grant you the right to play the music that is not in the public domain or protected by the copyright.
You will need to take into consideration both the background music that you play and any cover songs that may be protected by ASCAP licensing. For example, if a live performer or group is performing a set of Beatles songs, you will need to ensure that you are protected legally to do so. Keep in mind that ASCAP will take legal action against you, so remember to act accordingly.
Another legal issue to consider is that of local noise ordinances. Mileage varies on this depending on your location, so consult your city government to find out what you can do to remain compliant. You might consider some necessary soundproofing, which can get expensive, depending on how involved you want to let it get. A simpler and more natural solution is to either book acoustic acts that naturally are a little less loud, or to determine the accepted decibel level and test it using an app.
Setting the Stage
From having the right equipment to paying the band, knowing what you need here is critical to ensuring a smooth operation. Anything can happen the night of, but there are a few basic steps you can take to stay one step ahead in booking the right musical artist for your restaurant.
The Right Gear for the Job
There are a few pieces of gear that are essential to any public musical performance, namely a public address (PA) system, and microphones. If this is a one-off event, it’s likely best to rent the gear at a local establishment, or possibly to ask if the band can provide their own. Keep in mind that if the band agrees to help, you should compensate them in some agreed-upon way for their extra effort. Gear rental is relatively standard in many places, so consult a search engine or Yellowpages to see what might work best for you.
If you believe that you might make music a staple of your restaurant business, then you may consider owning your gear. Prices on microphones and PA systems can range depending on your quality, but there are a lot of resources out there to point you in the right direction.
Staffing for your Musical Experience
There are a few areas where you will need people to help out for musical performances. If this is a ticketed event or if there is a cover charge, you will need someone to cover the door. If the event is not all ages, you will need someone to check identification. Check with your local government to learn more about your requirements for live performances where alcohol is present to ensure that you comply with the law.
You’ll also need someone to monitor the sound of the band. While you can usually get a feel for that in advance, it’s best to have someone on hand to make sure that nothing gets too loud or unpleasant for your restaurant guests. Microphones can feedback if misused, and sometimes different elements aren’t sufficiently loud. You may not need someone there at all times, but make sure you have someone who can at least tend to any sound problems competently and as necessary.
How to Advertise
Getting people through your door is the name of the game. You aren’t there to supplement the musicians, but for the musicians to supplement your crowd. Advertising can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but you must make sure that you’re getting the word out. People spend an average of two and a half hours every day online. Of that audience, there are about 3.499 billion people on social media. That’s a lot of potential audience members online that you can capture every day! While you don’t need to cast such a wide net, it’s important to know how many people are out there. Make sure to post to your social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to help ensure that anyone interested is made aware.
Hanging up physical flyers is time-consuming and it’s difficult to assess the engagement with that media, so you have no idea how many people you might actually reach. It doesn’t hurt to put up fliers, but you may arrange with bands to help incentivize their participation. The more possible points that people can learn about your performance, the better.
Depending on the day of the week that you host your event, you may consider doubling down with drink or appetizer specials to help with the draw. You can use business analytics tools or some Kitchen Display Systems (KDS) to consult with historical data to get a feel for what your week may bring. If it’s a slow night, you may consider beefing it up to help get people in the restaurant; between the live music and the specials, you’re creating an inviting environment.
The Night Of: What to Expect
Let your entertainment know in advance precisely what you need by establishing concrete expectations. If there are drink or food vouchers, make sure that you have distributed them before the show. Take the time to meet a point person in the artists that you’re working with, so you have a clear line of communication, which is especially pertinent for larger bands.
Let them know about set up and break down times, and anything else that you might need to share. If there is more than one act performing, measure out the stage logistics. Perhaps you have two acts performing both of which have brought amplifiers. Find out if the second act can “backline” their gear, allowing the opener to set up in front. The more of that you can settle before your crowd arrives, the easier it will be to switch between bands.
You may not immediately think about an intermission when booking your performers, but keep that in mind especially given the set times. Whether you’re booking a singer songwriter to perform two to three hours of light cover songs or a jazz pianist to accompany the evening, make sure you give your audience’s ears a break. Restaurants are loud spaces already, so allowing for a little quiet time or at least some dynamic range between performers can go a long way.
Paying the Band
There is a lot of work that goes into being a musician, most of which remains invisible to audiences who only experience music in short hour to two hour long sets. There is a lot of discipline involved in music rehearsal, which often occurs several times a week or more, for hours at a time. And that’s just practice. It’s a lot of work for often costly gear, with the end goal of entertaining and drawing crowds. Make sure they get paid accordingly.
Discuss the pay ahead of time, and sort out details like food or drink, which you may comp entirely or only up to a certain point. You’re not likely to get into riders and contracts, but if you do, read the fine print. Most local musicians usually only earn approximately $50 per hour. That may seem like a lot, but that also breaks down to about $100 for a two-hour performance.
Now consider how much preparation time they’ve already given you that day in showing up in advance, not to mention the amount of rehearsal required to deliver a good set. With that in mind, pay what seems reasonable. Consider a percentage of the door, if you can, which is fair and equitable to everyone performing. Just make sure you discuss it beforehand to avoid any potential confusion post-show.
Knowing how to book a musical artist for your restaurant can help establish your atmosphere and mood. It can draw in people who may not have otherwise come in. So leave some room at the end of the set for clean up. It takes a lot of energy to put on a great show, and musicians are often exhausted and need a brief respite before moving out. If you can, offer to help them load out. Keep staff on hand to clean up after the crowd has left, in case there is anything extra to do.
Once everyone has been paid at the end of the night, look at your books to see your net earnings. If it was successful, consider doing it again, and making improvements as you see fit. Network with the bands, and you can build a community that helps support one another.
Want to learn more about how to manage sound in your restaurant? Read our blog Restaurant Sound Design: Crafting a Quieter Space.
About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.