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20 Non-Traditional Venues That Can Boost Your Fanbase

Every musician is looking for that perfect gig- the gig at a dream venue with a huge payoff both in terms of money and exposure. Unfortunately these are typically unattainable without already having a fan base to work with. Bars and clubs can be great, but it is becoming more and more of a reality that venues in major cities expect the artist to bring in a crowd, not to find one there. If you expect to book a gig in New York City, you better bring the crowd with you. For the most part, clubs like CBGB, which had a its own established crowd, are all but gone. It is now up to you to find other ways to build up your fan base and create the kind of demand that will grab the attention of those who do the booking at the most desirable venues.

What seems to be so commonly overlooked, is that venues likes bars and clubs are not the only way to get the word out about your music. In fact, it is the non-traditional venue that are most likely to have return customers that may not have heard of you yet. But in order for these venues be effective in building your fan base and helping spread awareness of your music, there are a few considerations that must be made:

> The venue must reflect your audience - If you are a solo jazz guitarist, do yourself a favor and stay away from sports-bars.

> Make the emotional connection - Unlike traditional venues, not everyone who patronize non-traditional venues may be on the lookout for a new music discovery. If you plan to make these venues work for you, you have to make it work for the audience. Plan your setlists accordingly, in order to properly make the type of emotional connection with the crowd that will leave a lasting impression.

> Rarely pay well - This is the hardest part for many ‘starving artist’ types to get past. Unfortunately it takes money to make money and this may mean sacrificing your payout during these gigs in order to grow your fan base.


1. Restaurants: With help from sites like Yelp and City Search, you can find hundreds or even thousands of restaurants that offer live music. These venues are ideal as your ‘audience’ will likely stick around for at least an hour. More than enough time to allow you to establish that emotional connection.

2. Festivals/ Fairs: Lots of foot traffic and can involved a very specific type of crowd based on the topic of the festival. Check out Festival Finder to find upcoming festivals in your area.

3. Open Mic: Good networking events. Has the potential for a lot of like-minded musicians, and the potential for a large crowd of people specifically looking for new music.

4. Living Room Concert: This is a fairly new concept, but by putting on a concert in the comfort of your own home or the home of a close friend, it establishes a close, intimate setting for you to establish the perfect emotional connection with your audience. Check out a previous article we wrote about in-home concerts here. There are quite a few companies out there now who can help you organize this type of a event, such as Concerts In Your Home.

5. Cafe: If you can find a cafe where your music fits the overall style of the location, the typically dedicated and repeating customers are a perfect audience to establish a connection with. Again, you can use sites like Yelp to search for cafes in your area.

6. Charity Event: Emotional connection. Check. Not saying that you should be exploiting the emotional state of people involved certain charities, but if you feel strongly about something, a charity event is a great way to present your music as a way to help uplift spirits. Of course, if you do have a following, there are ways to get involved with larger charity events where the proceeds go to benefit those in need.

7. Live Stream: A recent phenomenon that has allowed fans of artists who allow audience taping to stream shows for other fans who can’t make it to the event for one reason or another. With social media becoming the most important way for you to expand your reach and to establish a legitimate following, what better way to satisfy those long-distance fans than by broadcasting a live stream of a concert or even a band jam session using services like UStream or Live Stream.

8. Rent-A-Venue: The host of a plethora of different venues including everything from your local VFW, town hall, or historical society to college auditoriums, drama theater houses and even traditional venues like clubs. Renting a venue can not only allow you to create your own customized atmosphere for the event, but can even be used to play a venue that otherwise may have overlooked you. A great success story of bands renting their own venue is the rock/ jam band Phish, who were turned down by The Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA in 1989. Instead of cowering, they decided to simply rent the venue and invite all of their fans. The show had such an overwhelming turn-out that The Paradise gladly welcomed them back in years to come and the event became a major turning-point in the bands career.

9. Guerrilla Concert: While artists involved with any form of Guerrilla show run the risk of being fined or even arrested, guerrilla concerts can be a great way to surprise an audience. The Beatles played a well known guerrilla show on the roof of the Apple Recording Studio building (they were forced to stop by the police due to a noise complaint). Similarly Jefferson Airplane ’ surprise attacked’ New York City with their free, roof-top show:

A suggestion for an easy guerrilla concert that has both a lower risk of being fined or arrested and can directly reflect your audience, is to set up and perform in the parking lot during the hours before someone else’s concert at a major venue. By sharing fans with the performing band you will have an easier time establishing a connection with the fans, meanwhile there is a very slim chance that you could be sited for a noise complaint in the middle of a parking lot. NOTE: PERFORM AT YOUR OWN RISK.

10. Colleges: The college circuit holds much more than arenas and stadiums. With large music scenes at many of the bigger schools around the world, there are many different ways to perform in colleges that may be a bit non-traditional. Lecture halls and/or dorm common rooms may be rented out, there are frequently battle of the bands that are held around campuses and student organizations are always looking for bands to play sporting events and pep rallies that they won’t have to pay a whole lot.

11. Local Performing Arts Centers: There are plenty of performing arts centers of all shapes and sizes in every area. Seeking out some of the smaller performing arts centers may be an easily attainable gig, and can be a great way to create an intimate setting for a small gig with some close and dedicated fans.

(I happened to be at this show - there were about 50 of us in total in the crowd, which was a packed house. It was incredible night of rock n’ roll in an incredibly intimate setting)

12. Art Gallery/ Art Shows: Art galleries are usually close quarters which means playing up-close and personal with the attending crowd. This is typically better for an acoustic set of some sort, but is a great way to showcase your music as the people there are already in the open-minded spirit.

13. Schools: Both high-schools and elementary schools can work fine, though these venues more than any other, really depend on the subject matter of your music. There are always different events that schools are looking for music including dances, sporting events, pep rallies, charity drives, extra-curricular events, etc. My school (back when I was a wee child) even called an entire school assembly to watch an a cappella group perform called 5 O’clock Shadow.

14. Library: Libraries require quite a bit of planning but are particularly effective if your music caters to younger children.

15. Private party: Be prepared to play covers. If you are willing to sacrifice part of your set of original music to perform music that the attending crowd wants to hear than you are all set. Private parties, BBQs, house parties, graduation parties, the list goes on and on but can be a great way to win people over. This is a great place to establish the emotional connection - the crowd is having a great time with friend, your music is sounding good, BOOM, connection is made. Throwing in those covers may just be the icing on the cake to ensure that your music is remembered long after the party ends.

16. Religious Gathering Facility: Places like churches, temples, synagogs, etc. are a great place to perform music. The crowd is respectful and the acoustics are typically stellar. Also note that you don’t necessarily need to be religious to perform at one of these places. Many religions have different types of congregations, some with more laid back followings that are willing to host things like live music without the necessary religious affiliation.

17. Bookstore: With bookstores becoming synonymous with cafes, a similar crowd will ensure. This is a good, close quarters venue to put on a quite (or maybe not!) and intimate show. Many bookstores will look for live music for books signings, concert series or even just a weekly live act.

18. Corporate event: Similar to the private party, be prepared to play covers. Corporate events such as grand openings and launch parties are great venues to showcase your band, though original music may not be of much interest here. On a side note however, these venues will pay much better than most, if not all of the other venues included in this list.

19. Parks: May require a permit, as without one could be considered its own form of guerrilla concert. But some larger parks like Central Park in NYC have more than enough space for bands to set up and start performing with the necessary volume of foot traffic to make the performance worth while. There are also quite a few parks that actually do put on a summer concert series. In fact, the City Parks Foundation in NYC has an organization called Summer Stage that helps organize music all over the 5 Boroughs of NYC at over 750 different locations! It is definitely worth checking out to see if there is anything similar to this in your area.

20. Public television: This one may require pulling some strings, but public television is always looking for local programming. Not only does this put you directly in the home of your following, it is easily recordable for you to either stream live or post up on YouTube for those who may have missed it.

Where have YOU played? What non-traditional venues have you found to be the most effective?

Jon is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a music social networking platform. This post originally appeared on the MicControl blog on May 18, 2010. Jon can be found on twitter and facebook.

References (1)

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Reader Comments (27)

Most cities seem to have art crawls & this is a good time to get a show at an art gallery. But keep in mind your accessory, not the draw in most cases.

@Brian, you're right, with most art galleries you will be the accessory and not the draw. Though if you can pick your setlist wisely enough, I think you should be able to become a part of the gallery show. You may not be the art they came for, but you can certainly be the art they discover and walk away remembering.

Nice article, Jonathan. I've been on a gig hiatus for the past couple years but am looking to get back into it and your list is an inspiration. The two I haven't done are the ones I want to do most: the "living room" concert and the live streaming event. The streaming concert might make a nice article on it's own.

BTW, the ustream link doesn't seem to be working.

Living room concerts are a fairly new concept? Try again. House shows have been a staple in the punk, hardcore, indie, metal, alternative and hip-hop communities for decades. I've been playing basements and living rooms since the mid-1980's, more than half my life, and I'm sure my bands weren't the first.

May 21 | Unregistered Commentermattack

@Nate Im glad you found the article so inspiring. I will definitely think about using the live streaming concept as an article on its own. There is definitely a lot to discuss! Im not sure why the link isnt working properly. I will see what I can do about fixing that.

@mattack, you are right. What I meant was that the commercialization of it and the popularity is a new thing. While it has been a staple in the scenes you mentioned for quite some time, there are companies like Concert In The Home, as mentioned in the article, that will help bring the professionalism of the show to a new level. These shows no longer need to be just a band or an artist in a room with a PA system and a stool. :-)

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

@ mattack
Do you have to be so hard core when you leave a comment? Everyone that posts here is trying to be helpful. WTF

great article and some really good resources!! Thanks!

I am lucky to live in a small town that has a weirdly large number of places to play, but you do need to get creative. House concerts are becoming a big draw here and I play at venues from farmers markets (for food, which is SO cool) to school fundraisers to afternoon gigs in the park. And then there are the usual pubs and restaurant gigs.

I think you can go to a jam just about every night of the week here in the Comox Valley, BC... which is great place to try new stuff (or learn how to use a looper!).

@Helen, glad you enjoyed the article. That is just the mindset needed to make non-traditional venues work for you. While many think that big cities are the only place to get heard, it is so important to understand the value of a small-town, intimate setting.

Good ideas here, thanks for stimulating the mind grapes.

(I especially dig all the examples you provided.)

Excellent suggestions here, Jonathan. I'll share a short experience of mine while playing at a very non-traditional venue: the beach.

A while back my band & I crashed at a friend's place down the Jersey shore for a week, with all of our music equipment. We got really bored one Saturday, and decided to take out our acoustic guitars and a snare drum to the beach, and walked around for a few hours playing acoustic versions of our songs for whoever was nearby.

Within 40 minutes of playing, we got asked by a group of ~75 people to play a song for their friend because it was her birthday. Of course we were like HELL YEAH, played for them, and were the talk of the beach for the day. People wanted our autographs, thinking we were some famous band, when in fact we were just a bunch of assclown teenagers trying to cure our boredom. Mission accomplished!

Unconventional venues like beaches really are the best places to get up close and personal, and create long lasting fan relationships. Great post, Jonathan.

Thanks Chris for sharing that experience. Its nice to hear from someone who has found success with this. Did you see any long term benefits from that? Did you play any gigs while down in the Jersey Shore?

Thanks again, glad you enjoyed the article!

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

We did, actually. Back then we were big into MySpace....and about 25 of the beach-goers added us as friends shortly after the weekend. We kept constant communication with them for months, and actually got most of them out to a future show at the Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ). Semi-long-term benefit, I guess. lol.

Anyone else have experience playing at non-traditional venues? Speak up!

As number 21 I would add House Concerts, as opposed to house parties (2 different animals entirely!).

There are potentially limitless opportunities with these - and they pay well when done right.


Very interesting, and I thought you might like to hear a little more first-hand anecdotal evidence for the value of this approach:

I've been touring with my band (we're called Enter The Haggis) for about 9 years. In all that time, I haven't had an outside job. We don't make a ton of money, but it's enough for all of us to eat and pay rent, and while we're far from a household name we've seen a steady increase both in the number of heads at shows and in the guarantees we can command from venues.

Basically ALL of the success we've had has come through non-traditional avenues. Our first big "break" was an hour long concert special we filmed for WMHT in Albany (PBS) which they aired during their pledge drive, offering copies of the DVD and our new album in exchange for pledges. The show was such a success that other stations jumped on board. Eventually, the special was aired on 80+ stations across the US, and elevated our profile enough to help us secure our first label contract, as well as appearances on bigger shows like Live With Regis And Kelly and A&E's Breakfast With The Arts.

Rather than slug it out for years in dingy rock clubs, we realized the best way to capitalize on our sudden exposure was to get in front of as many people as we could. City-sponsored outdoor music events were a great way to maximize exposure on weeknights, and there are dozens of festivals looking to hire entertainment - we've played everything from Highland Games to PoultryFest; from Grape and Wine Festivals to bigger shows like Philadelphia Folk Festival. Festivals pay better, you generally don't have to fill a whole night and load out at 2 AM and best of all, there's a built-in crowd just waiting for you to win them over! Note: don't assume you have to get into Bonnaroo or Coachella - a main-stage set at a smaller festival is often way better than a 10 am side-stage set at a huge festival, and you're less likely to be lost in the noise.

PAC's (Performing Arts Centers) are great for the reasons you mentioned too - they usually have a built-in crowd and they're more often run by music and arts lovers who are more interested in the quality of act than how much beer they'll sell. Once winter sets in, the festivals dry up and unless you have the means to go tour in Argentina, PAC's can help fill in the gaps in your tour.

We played our share of cafes and bookstores, too - and eventually we managed to get ourselves out there enough for an album to hit #2 on the ITunes US World Music store, #8 on Billboard's World charts - with essentially ZERO radio play, and no music videos. I'm not trying to brag, I'm just trying to show the possibilities for success.

Of course, once you've attracted and impressed new people, you need to keep them engaged. That's where bands today have a huge advantage over our predecessors: there are TONS of ways to engage your fanbase online, and it takes surprisingly little effort to see a big payoff. Direct communication with fans makes them feel connected to an artist, and makes everyone feel closer to the artists they admire. For the last couple of years, we've streamed just about every show we've played; on average we get a couple hundred viewers per show but in a couple of unusual cases we saw our numbers spike. One night we had almost 8000 viewers online, and only about 50 in the venue! Even if you aren't inclined to stream your performances for free, UStream, Justin.TV and LiveStream are great for live chats with your fans and impromptu hotel room performances.

One final thing we've done that a lot of bands in our genre are starting to do: we've partnered with a tour company called Hammond Tours (out of NYC) who put together a great tour package for an overseas trip, which we can then sell to our fans! We've financed two trips to Ireland and a trip to Scotland this way, and I actually leave tomorrow morning for a third trip to Ireland. Who doesn't want to travel to new places with their band? It's prohibitively expensive to get your band overseas though; this model allows us to get there, interact with hardcore fans in a much more personal way, and book great venues in far-away places (even if a venue hasn't heard of you, telling them you're bringing a full house WITH you for the show goes a long way towards swaying them, haha.) Two days from now I'll be getting on a plane with 80 fans and getting ready for a great week-long trip!

Sorry for the novella; I just thought you and your readers might be inspired by a few examples of how a band can succeed without going the old route. I meet musicians all the time who ask my advice on "getting signed by a major" and all I can do is laugh. You don't have to be on MTV to make a living as a musician playing original music; you can see more success, play better shows and make more money with 50,000 fans as an indie than you ever would on a major with a million fans. All it takes is a little creativity, a little hard work and a lot of persistance!

Great article; I'm off to post a link on my Facebook page.

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

@Brian you guys have made being an independent musician an art! I was MCing Vancouver Island Muscfest last year and watched you make so many new fans in one weekend! I watch and learn from you...

Oh, hi Helen! Fancy running into you here... haha.

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Ugggh please take Open Mics off your list - nothing "open" about venues that charge the artist to perform to a bunch of other artists sitting around waiting their turn to perform on a Tuesday night. Not to mention a bunch of artists that could care less about you and your music because they all see every other artist as competition. Bring your own PA, pay $10, and maybe you'll get 5 minutes to perform. Not worth listing here.

May 21 | Unregistered CommenterGilette

It is really helpful article about this topic. I am so much excited because it is very funny and effective article. It is not only simple information and its more then this. If you want to get rich quick, stop reading here. Feel free to hand over your money to the scamster or casino of your choice. Investing means buying assets that produce income.

May 22 | Unregistered CommenterTom Rudder


Great comment, man, thank you.

@ Andy, would you care to differentiate house concert from living room concert? It could be beneficial for all of us to understand why they are different and how it can help. Thanks!

@Brian thanks for sharing your experiences - your band seems to be the perfect example of why I wrote the article in the first place. There are many others like you who HAVE found such great success from non-traditional venues, though it seems like you have experimented with many of the different kinds on this list. Great to know! Thanks.

@Gilette, Im not sure where you have been going to Open Mics, but as a musician myself, I have never attended one that forced me to pay. Have you tried going to an open mic at a popular cafe or somewhere that typically has an established crowd? Places like that usually have a great turn out! :-)

Id also like to add one last comment that I missed while writing this article. It is very important to establish a mailing list when using any of these (or any other) venues. You may find many new listeners and potential fans from these venues, but without a mailing list, it could be very difficult to keep them engaged.

Thank you everyone for your feedback and info! Keep on commenting!

May 22 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

GREAT post, Jonathan - lots to consider.

And I had been thinking of charity events as possibility - thanks, Brian, for the specific idea and a trult inspirring comment!

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

uh, in English that would be "truly inspiring"

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

@Jon - My mistake, I missed that one on the list I was referring to the difference between a living room/house concert and private party.

The house concert, set up properly, ensures an attentive audience and can pay very well. The private party will often be a case of the music, no matter how good, as a background feature.

I think it's much more satisfying to have an attentive audience.


I think there's a few key ideas to take away from this article.

1) Anywhere that people gather is a possible gig opportunity. Whether it be festivals, bars, houses, bookstores, colleges, offices, schools, cruise ships...whatever.

And that leads to number two...

2) Make your set adaptable

Gain the ability of being able to play to suit the space (whether it be a stadium or a living room), and you will find it much easier to impress people while doing all kinds of different gigs.

May 31 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

@ Jon & Commenters

Great article and great comments!

June 8 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Some interesting food for thought here in this list and great to see video examples of some of the ideas too. Really neat.

February 4 | Unregistered CommenterGarethB

I invite you to check out the brand new musical social network I've just launched:
aimed at solo artists looking for house concerts opportunities & at potential hosts looking for quality artists.

Our ambition is to scale this network on a global level.

It would be great if you joined the movement.

November 26 | Unregistered Commenterfrederick

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