Music venue owners and managers are responsible for the overall success of a music venue. They book music acts, oversee employees, and play a role in the hiring and firing of staff. While owners have the final say in the club’s business decisions, managers handle the daily operations of the venue, such as hiring, training, and scheduling staff members, planning music programming, checking music and bar equipment, and ensuring the safety and cleanliness of the club.
Music Venue Owner and Manager Career History
Formal music venues have been around in many different forms for centuries. Cathedrals and other religious buildings can be considered early music “halls.” But the music venue of today is more recent; the emergence of “rock and roll” in the mid-1950s had much to do with the evolution of the music club as an entertainment destination.
During the first half of the 20th century, popular music was dominated by big-band jazz. People gathered to hear these large music ensembles in ballrooms, hotels, and other large facilities. Soon, however, solo performers with roots in gospel, blues, folk, and country broke new ground in music, and the result was the birth of rock. This music required a venue different than those used by the big bands. Music venues of all sizes sprang up across the country, from blues clubs in Chicago, to bluegrass clubs in the Appalachian region, to rock clubs in New York City. Today, hundreds of music venues of all sizes can be found in major cities, and small towns typically host a few music halls as well. The popularity of music as live entertainment has driven this growth and will continue to expand the number and scope of music venues across the country.
Music Venue Owner and Manager Job Description
In general terms, music venue managers, like other facility managers, coordinate the events that occur in the club with the services and people who make those events possible. This involves booking bands, hiring and firing workers when needed, and overseeing electrical workers, sound technicians, bar staff, security guards, and other employees that keep the club running. Depending on the size of the music venue, managers may have different job titles and specialized duties, such as sound manager or restaurant and bar manager.
Larger music venues may contract work to outside vendors. This may include security, food and drink services, or electrical work. It is the responsibility of the music venue manager to hire such contractors and to monitor the quality of their work.
Finally, it is the manager’s duty to make certain that the music venue, its workers, and the services offered are in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations.
Music venue owners are concerned with much more than the internal workings of the club. They must be sure they have the proper finances to open a club and keep it running. This may require months, if not years, of research and long-term financial planning. Another crucial issue owners must consider is how their club compares to others in the area. Are ticket prices reasonable? Does the venue offer enough seating or space for patrons to dance? Is the club safe for concert-goers? To determine these answers, owners may visit other music venues to investigate their design, organization, and music schedule.
In general, music venue owners and managers spend most of their time in their office or within the club itself, supervising the day-to-day management of the facility. Club owners determine the organizational structure of the facility and set personnel staffing requirements. As staffing needs arise, the manager addresses them with the owner, who then sets the education, experience, and performance standards for each position. Depending on the size of the venue, hiring may be conducted by a separate personnel director. However, in most small music clubs, the manager is usually the one to sift through stacks of resumes whenever a position opens up. Usually, all policies and procedures having to do with the morale, safety, service, appearance, and performance of venue employees are determined by the manager.
Music Venue Owner and Manager Career Requirements
To prepare for this line of work, recommended high school courses include music business, mathematics, and computer science. Speech and writing classes will help you hone your communication skills. Managing a school club (such as a traveling band or chorus) or other organization will give you an introduction to overseeing budgets and the work of others.
These days, a bachelor’s degree is pretty much required to enter the field of music facility management. Although in the past it wasn’t necessary, the complexity of running the venue and the competition for jobs has made a college degree nearly mandatory. In fact, in many instances, a master’s degree in facility management or business is preferred. Some schools offer degrees in music industry or facility management. However, any degree that emphasizes strong business and finance skills will be useful. Visit the Web site of The College Music Society (http://www.music.org/) for information on educational paths.
Regardless of your educational background, the strongest selling point you can have in the music business is experience. Previous work at a successful club will help you more than an advanced degree.
Certification or Licensing
At the moment, certification in facility management is not mandatory, but it is becoming a distinguishing credential among the managers of the largest, most profitable venues. Put simply, a music venue can bring its owners a lot of revenue, and these owners aren’t willing to trust the management to individuals who are not qualified to run them. Certification is one way a club owner can ensure that certain industry standards in facility management are met. The International Facility Management Association (IFMA), probably the industry leader in certification, offers the designation, certified facility manager. The International Association of Assembly Managers (IAAM) also offers the certification designation, certified facilities executive. For contact information for these associations, see the end of this article.
Most music venue owners require that higher-level managers have a minimum of five years of experience in the music or management industry. This may include experience in other manager positions or in related music careers. Many managers end up in their management positions after first working as one of the venue’s staff members, such as one of the club’s regular musicians or sound managers.
In addition to experience, both owners and managers need to be strong communicators to work well with staff and relate well to the club’s patrons. They need to be able to clearly and concisely state their ideas, information about facility operations, and goals about running the venue and always help to promote business.
Venue owners, in particular, need to possess excellent strategic, budgetary, and operational planning skills to keep the club in business and to ensure profits. The owner’s decisions affect all operations within the music venue, so the owner needs to be capable of making the right choices and have the ability to juggle many different tasks.
One often overlooked quality that both owners and managers should have is an appreciation for all kinds of music. They should also have the ability to listen to the public and be mindful of current music trends. By paying attention to the venue’s demographics and constantly looking for new and emerging bands that fit their usual “crowd,” owners and managers can expect to book talent that will sell out shows.
Exploring Music Venue Owner and Manager Career
If you aren’t actively involved in band or chorus, get involved while in school. To manage or own a club, you should be familiar with music and what makes music “good.” To gain experience in business administration and management, volunteer to help coordinate school plays, band or choral performances, or any other production. Any and all experience helps, beginning with organizing and managing band equipment, for example, to working as a stage manager for school plays.
Part-time or summer jobs as stagehands, ushers, or other positions are available at theaters, outdoor music festivals, and other venues. Many music shows are held in bars and other facilities catering to the over-21 crowd, so be prepared to look elsewhere for opportunities.
College students interested in music facility management can often locate valuable internships through contacts they have developed from part-time jobs, but their college placement centers can also help to line up internships.
Professional organizations within the field also sponsor opportunities to learn on-the-job. The IAAM offers internships to qualified students. Typically, participating facilities that serve as sites for IAAM internships are responsible for the selection of their interns. While some of these facilities aren’t specifically geared toward music shows, much of the management skills and responsibilities are shared and will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to learn firsthand.
There are thousands of music venues, from small clubs to stadium arenas, located all over the country. Large metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago have the most opportunities to break into the music management business, but these jobs can also be the hardest to get. Management positions in small towns may be fewer, but the competition for positions will not be as fierce.
Graduates of programs in music facility management usually find jobs through internships, from personal contacts they developed in the field, or from job listings in their college placement departments.
Keep in mind that the jobs of general manager (and especially club owner) are not entry-level jobs. Managers might start out in other positions within the music venue and work their way up to a management position. Other managers and owners move into the music business after first working in other industries. For example, a business manager with a background and passion for music might decide to give up the corporate world to operate or purchase a music club.
Experience and certification are the best ways for someone to advance within the ranks of music venue management. Years of successful, on-the-job experience count for a great deal in this industry. Club owners look for managers who have demonstrated the ability to run a venue smoothly and profitably. Certification is another way in which success can be gauged. Since certification goes hand-in-hand with experience, it is assumed that those individuals who are certified are the best in the field.
Beyond experience and certification, a willingness and eagerness to adapt to music trends and branch into new areas is another important factor affecting advancement. The most successful managers and owners are willing to embrace new sounds as well as changing technology that will improve the operation of their clubs.
Club managers advance by moving to larger clubs with bigger budgets and more popular bands. Owners advance their careers by running successful, profitable businesses.
Earnings for music venue owners and managers depend on their experience and education, as well as the size and success of their club. General and operations managers (the category under which the U.S. Department of Labor classifies small business managers and owners) earned median annual salaries of $79,300 in 2004. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $38,660, and the highest paid 10 percent earned $145,600 or more per year. Club managers and owners who are certified earn higher salaries than those who are not certified. The IFMA reports that members who held the certified facility manager designation earn an average of 13 percent more than their non-certified counterparts.
One of the perks of these professions is the glamorous atmosphere of the music industry; venue owners and managers get to meet musicians, sometimes listen to music before its released, and decide which bands will fit with their venue. Although their work most often is behind-the-scenes, they may have indirect or direct contact with the high-profile personalities who perform in clubs. In other words, music venue owners and managers work in interesting and entertaining surroundings. However, their jobs can be stressful and often require the ability to juggle many tasks at once. Managers and owners must constantly deal with the challenge of balancing the needs of staff members with the needs of the club’s patrons—needs that may, at times, be at odds with each other.
Depending on the size of the music venue, the workload of owners and managers often requires that they work more than 40 hours a week. For managers, overtime is generally compensated by additional pay or time off. For owners, extra hours go unpaid; overtime simply comes with the territory of running a business. Because of the nature of entertainment venues, work hours are concentrated on nights and weekends, so time off is usually during the day and early week.
Music Venue Owner and Manager Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts faster-than-aver-age growth for the arts, entertainment, and recreation industries in general through 2014. Employment in music venues depends largely on the state of the economy. During slow periods of economic growth, people are less likely to spend money on concerts and other entertainment options, and clubs hire fewer workers to reduce costs. However, this might affect the large venues (with higher ticket and concession prices) more than the small clubs. Even with a sluggish economy, most people will still have an appreciation for music and enough money to see a local artist or group play at a nearby venue.