How to avoid getting screwed over by a venue

The following post is the latest in our ongoing content collaboration series with the fine folks at Sonicbids

There are some types of hateful screwing over that are pretty unavoidable. There are terrible people who’ll screw others over regardless of what securities are in place to prevent that. When it comes to poor treatment by a venue, though, the truly rotten aren’t the cause of most horror stories. Usually, it’s a misunderstanding that’s to blame.

Those situations are still totally infuriating, of course. These five aspects of every show are easily the most susceptible to going terribly awry due to poor communication. Make sure you’ve got them all covered in advance to better your chances of a problem-free gig.

1. Talk about money

If you’re expecting to get paid at the end of the show, then you better have discussed it beforehand. If not, you shouldn’t be expecting any payment whatsoever. The amount you make – if any at all – depends on the venue policy.

Maybe they only book bands for free on weeknights, and it so happens that you’re playing on a Wednesday. It’s possible you were added to an existing bill with a budget that’s already mostly exhausted, so they’re not planning to pay you more than $50. It could be that you get a percentage of the door. There are several different ways to work out payment, so you can’t assume anything until you’ve confirmed the logistics with whoever booked you.

It’s not gauche or taboo by any stretch to discuss how money will work when you’re a booking at a venue (or through a talent buyer), by the way. Do not be shy about it for any reason. You’ve got to hammer out the specifics of the deal before committing to anything. They won’t be surprised you asked – but they will likely be perturbed if you never ask, and then raise hell about it after the show.

2. Will they help with promo?

Bands sometimes complain that venues don’t support them in promoting the event, that they didn’t push it hard enough on social media, or didn’t have a visible poster hanging weeks in advance. Thing is, not every venue’s the same in that department. Sometimes they’ve got a public relations or social media person on that job, and sometimes they’re doing it all (like, everything) themselves.

Discuss the promo effort ahead of time. Who’s putting up the Facebook event, the band or the venue? If it’s them, can you pay them to sponsor a post? Can you do anything to help? Like, say, remind them to share your event if it hasn’t been pushed enough? How else do they normally advertise shows? Do they print posters for shows or should you provide your own? What about flyers? Not only does planning out promo with a venue or talent buyer help ensure they’re supporting you to the degree you expect, but also helps you map out your own strategy more thoroughly.

3. Is it okay to sell merch?

Most venues will say yes, no strings attached, but some charge a fee. It’s not that often that they do, but why not just ask? Avoid any potential problems by simply mentioning you’ll be bringing merch, and asking if there’s anything you should know. Here’s when they’ll alert you of whatever fee or percentage, if any.

Plus, some venues have a designated area for merch, while others set up a table – now’s a good time to ask about that. Maybe they even have a spare you can use so don’t have to lug your own.

4. Confirm all things sound-related

Don’t miss your soundcheck by waiting until the day of a show to ask when it is. (Folks are busy, you know, and they might not see your email until it’s too late.) Ask where to load in, when and how long you’ll get for soundcheck, and with whom. If your sound isn’t what you hoped for, make sure it’s not because you didn’t make good use of that chance to work out any kinks and fine-tune.

Additionally, don’t assume they’ve got a full backline. Not every venue does. Don’t show up with only cymbals and snare because you thought they had a kit, only to find out they don’t.

5. If you’re in a new city, ask around

For those touring through a city for the first time with no local contacts: do some research. Obviously, you don’t want to book at a venue that’s notorious for its poor treatment of musicians. Don’t just book the first venue you like – find one that’s appropriate for your show, first of all, then look into it a bit.

If you don’t know anybody in that particular town, try asking for insight in a subreddit or a public Facebook group. Local music coverage, whether via blogs or the culture section of a news outlet, can be good indicators of the venue landscape, too.

If a venue’s truly bad news, you won’t have to poke around much to hear about it. And if all else fails, check Yelp, where the angriest of people go to scream under the guise of warning others.


Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.