While it may be hard to realize now given the current COVID-19 situation, it is true that small music venues were indeed making a comeback before everything went on lockdown. This begs the question, why?
When people think of the live music industry they usually think of something akin to a “sinking ship”, and while this is true in some cases, it isn’t true as a whole for the industry. It can’t be denied that large festivals and concerts are making less and less profit, but it isn’t as if people have just stopped liking live music. It is more the case that there has bee a “shift” in the industry as people attend individual small concerts rather than festivals. Music promoters have responded to this by increasing their focus on such venues and less so on larger ones. There are a few reasons for this shift, but it mainly comes down to economics.
The Economics of Live Music
When discussing the popularity of music venues in regards to how they stay afloat, we have to talk about how different venues make money.
When it comes to festivals and large concerts, most of the money is made from ticket purchases. For instance, a big band like The Rolling Stones will attract enough people that the promoter will make a profit off of the concert alone. This is the idea, anyway.
For small venues, however, most off the profits come from drinks purchases as opposed to ticket sales. What this means is that even if it is a relatively unknown band that is playing, the venue can still keep a steady profit from drinks. This is in opposition to festivals in which if a good line-up can’t be obtained, they will simply not make the profit needed to continue.
Changes to Gig Culture
Changes to gig culture are also massively important to why small venues are fairing better than large ones. This is because nowadays people tend to enjoy knowing who they are about to see more than they used to. Even when discovering new bands, people tend to find the artist in the comfort of their home and then see how they are live, rather than gambling on festival tickets when you may not enjoy a lot of the bands. It’s like ordering an expensive piece of furniture at random from Theo-Theo and just hoping that you like how it looks in your room. This has become especially true given how expensive festivals are nowadays, which simply encourages people to be more stringent with their money.
If you ask people why they prefer festivals, it’s usually to do with things like atmosphere and the sense of community, rather than things like price or line-ups. There are many people arguing that festival line-ups have taken a bit of a nose-dive in the last decade, and this also contributes to small venues making a comeback.