The ins and outs of running a venue
Hello, I’m Ade Dovey and I have worked in the Venue and Live Music Industry for over 15 years. My professional background has focused on developing new venues to launch into the market. Mainly grassroots venues operated by independent companies and/or via third party teams such as promoters who managed venues alongside stakeholders, shareholders and private landlords.
In the build-up to the pandemic, I had moved from the multi-venue grassroots sector to coordinate events, content and live music in the Arena and Theatre venue realm overseeing various North West and North East locations such as Manchester Arena, Newcastle Utilita Arena, Leeds First Direct Arena, Aberdeen P&J Live Arena and Bonus Hull Arena (operated by ASM Global formerly SMG Europe). Within this role, I would be responsible to programme sustainable and financially viable events up to 21,000 Capacity. Ranging from Popular Artists, Sporting Events, Comedy, Live Cinema with Classical Soundtracks.
Before this, I coordinated many venues including Manchester’s Albert Hall, Gorilla and The Deaf Institute (for the company Mission Mars). These venues focused purely on contemporary bands and DJs in and around 750 events a year over 200,000 ticket-buying customers in and out as well as being responsible as ‘Head of Programming’ managing a team of 10 professionals who coordinated ticketing, social media, support artists, administration, production and club events.
Inside the logistics of venue management
The main goals and objectives with working in one or multiple venues (as the main principles apply for one up to several) is to achieve a healthy calendar/diary system and point of contact for all departments in the event booking universe. In order to visualise this, you tend to adopt the mindset that if your venue had arms, hands, a nucleus and the ability to communicate well, then that is you as the programming manager. On a daily basis, you will be networking constantly and consistently with external promoters both locally and nationally ranging from new promoters and local allies up to Live Nation, Kili Live, DHP Concerts, AEG and more. At the same time, you will be coordinating many valuable and intricate threads of details in ticketing, marketing, production (Sound and Lights), logistics, tour managers, event reps (show contact), drivers, local authorities, venue teams and staff as well as additional stakeholders (finance, business owners, IT, local press, interns, student union, human resources and more depending on the business model).
The role of programming manager
As a programming manager, the communication or systematic approach to having a healthy diary system is dependent on the quality of your resources. This includes contacts within the local music scene, national scene and band/talent knowledge and is essential you have motivation and a ‘mission statement’ followed by a plan knowing what audiences you want to attract based on your venues appeal and target demographic. It’s vital that your initial aim is to know what is to be expected of the quality of your booking approach so you can build and build on attracting the right promoters, booking agents and artists so that you create a vibrant cultural seasonal/annual listings which open the doors to more bookings.
The power of your voice
With technology forever expanding and goalposts moving it’s essential to focus on your tone and language online and in each establishment in order to speak to your audience and relate in order to not just book the right bands but to make sure it’s financially viable and within budget in order to obtain a sustainable and economically sound business model. Some venues are natural at developing this from the launch, however some older venues who want to adapt might struggle and require the right team and skilled staff to advance in the competitive market.
It’s also worth to note not all venues have adequate budget to employ resourceful staff and (as I have experienced personally) you might be doing a lot of the work yourself and once successful, usually after financial year 2, you can progress to outsource an assistant or reliable ticketing and social media staff. It’s very rare for one individual to be able to programme, production manage, ticket manage and be an expert on social media and often the dilemma is due to time management as the live bookings industry rarely slows down and you will need to be able to respond and communicate well with composure without taking a breath or even being able to put the kettle on.
Planning your year
Generally, you are at peak performance and business 9-10 months of the year and utilise the other two quieter touring periods to refresh your systems, analyse your approach and coordinate opportunities for the next busy year. The touring season tends to start from September and slow down just before Christmas, the NYE section is often quiet for bands but a great time to create business with DJ events. January is regarded as an admin month but a very busy period follows February into June. Festival season often counteracts the summer months programming but allows you to prepare for student return and making sure you’re booked up every prime day (Weds-Sat) and often battle out the calendar dates available with your reliable independent promoters.
Where do I start?
You might be thinking, how do I become a programmer? Where do you start? My advice would be to integrate with your local favourite venue and knock on their door or direct contact online about being interested in shadow experience at an event and/or offer your services for a period of time as an intern. There are many roles within a small or large venue organisation and often the case most venue programmers are found and recognised from having multiple experiences within the live sector but personality, trust and eye for detail are often your most recognisable attributes to an employer. But first and foremost is the drive, passion and love for music and making the venue a home for the day to all touring artists and touring personnel and making sure you have good relationship skills with all industry colleagues.