Anyone have good luck with open mics and/or live music? If live music, do you pay the musicians?
South Bend is pretty small and there's not much action down here on evenings and weekends, as they're still working on 'revitalizing' it and we do not have many unique places down here for people to visit. I tried live music and open mic for a year, but wound up losing money by the end of the night.
Anything that works for any of you in smaller downtowns?

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Good!!! Let me know how it goes!!! And tell your employees and or yourself to ask every customer that comes in if they know any musicians that would be interested in playing. It will make your customers feel involved and increase conversations and create even more loyalty with people that are already coming in. Good luck!!!
I guess we got lucky with that. From pretty much the first day we opened we had people coming in and asking us if they could play here, and that just kind of snowballed and we have never actually had to look for someone to perform. There's actually more people who want to perform here than we can comfortable book. But, I have pursued a couple of people whose work I liked and that has worked out well too. Just told them up front the same thing I mentioned above about not being able to pay very much, but we've also found that, as should probably be expected, artists want to get their work out there in front of people and are often willing to do it for far less than their usual fee if you're up-front, honest and they know that you're doing everything you can to make it work. It's a two-way street for sure. Plus, if you genuinely like their work that's a big thing...who doesn't appreciate being appreciated? So, we've had people here who normally charge a few hundred dollars for a gig, taking way, way less than that. But the space is very cool, we treat them like friends (and they are), and make sure that everything is clear ahead of time so there are no misunderstandings.

Someone earlier said that MySpace is a good resource for finding talent, and I would concur with that. I actually got a call yesterday from a musician in Milwaukee (about 80-90 miles south of where we are in Two Rivers) who wants to come up and perform here. Two women who performed here this past Friday were from Milwaukee (and were awesome) and they know this musician, who also heard about us from another guy (a blues guitarist) who played here a few months ago (and is booked to play here again next month). It's a funky spiderweb of people connected to one another. These folks want you to do well too, because they want to continue to play at your place (it may not pay much, but it's fun as heck, and they are building a following, just like you're in this thing together, and musicians know about growing their business too, and that it takes time).

There are also very talented people around here locally, people with serious, "if-only-the-right-person-hears-this-we-could-move-up-to-the-next-level" kind of talent...who write their own songs and have been in the game for a good while. Surely there are people like that everywhere, including in your area too. They should be finding you if they haven't already. But other coffee shops in surrounding communities that do live music are good resources too. We support other shops by going to them when we're not working here, and we check out who they have on their schedules, check out the artist's MySpace sites and listen to their music...and then contact them via MySpace.

We had a couple of very talented guys from Iowa touring the Midwest last fall and they just emailed us out of the blue and asked if they could stop and play one night on their way through the area. Unfortunately the only night they could play was a Wednesday night, our slowest day of the week. Fortunately they contacted us a few weeks before they were going to be here. So we told them they might not make anything other than enough gas money to get to their next gig, but that yeah, we'd love to have them (after listening to their stuff on MySpace and loving it). So we promoted the heck out of it, pestered the newspaper about it, wrote a nice press release with pictures, fliers put out, told everyone who came into the shop about it. We ended up having a very nice crowd that night, they sold a bunch of CDs and got some decent tips, we took them out for lunch earlier in the day and had a great time. Then the next evening I took the night off and drove down to their next gig to enjoy being in the audience. Since then we've become friends and plan to have them back sometime this year. But as a result of that serendipitous meeting we've gotten a lot of other musicians contact us because those cats spoke well about us to their friends in other parts of the midwest. I guess the point I'm trying to make is don't let lack of money (which is our biggest hurdle) get in the way of making the magic happen. Get out there and listen and see musicians playing at other places, be ready for stuff to drop into your lap, have a game plan for spur-of-the-moment opportunities and for those that you have more time to promote as well.

Building a following for your live music nights takes time and there will be plenty of nights where it's maybe just the guitar player performing for the staff alone (which for us would be two people!). And that's okay, tell them to call it a practice session, have fun and make sure to at least buy the beer. Certain musicians that perform here regularly now are almost like they're part of the Stumpjack staff, they know and are willing to tighten their belts through the lean weeks too, because they're part of the whole project with us...building their following along with you building yours.
Anni is onto something...there are many times when the open mic thing has been less than profitable at our store, but the take home is that those folks were in your door. For me, I want every person in my area to think of me first when they think of coffee, art, music, etc. It goes like this, "what are you doing after work? I dunno. You wanna get some coffee? Sure, where? That one place where they have the music" Blah blah blah, that's the idea.
At any rate, here’s a great idea I had but have yet to use, although I'm sure it would work. Find not 1 band but 3 bands to play on an open mic night. Give all 3 bands tickets, 1 band red, 1 blue, and 1 yellow. The bands hand out the tickets to their friends & families & you collect them at the door on the big night. The band that has the most tix collected at the end of the night wins...$100 or whatever you decide before hand. For me, I am working a deal with the local music store to buy $50 gift certs to hand out & cross market with the music store.
We always schedule music for Saturday & have open mic on Friday. Many Friday's have been spent with only the baristas there, but it's a learning process. Sometimes a dead chipmunk could fill our house & other times Sinatra & Elvis couldn’t bring a crowd if they were doing their greatest hits.
Another thought is to find 1 performer, maybe a keyboard or something & offer "live" karaoke. For me, this typically will require payment for the musician, but again, I want to shove my name down people’s throats.
In 3 weeks we are having a "meet the artist" night for folks to come meet the lady whose artwork currently covers our walls. Our music starts @ 7:30, so I am scheduling the meet & greet to run from 6:30-7:30, & will offer something 'free,' hors de vours or something.
Good luck.
I'm in Green Bay, which is pretty similar to South Bend (though we don't have a major university here, which is probably a disadvantage). We've pretty much given up making money on music. We generally pay musicians about $120 - $200 and we're happy to break even. We do it first because we like music and with a toddler, it's just about the only time we get to see live music, second because it helps our space feel like an 'active' place and even if the music is poorly attended we believe we benefit by having it, and third because we do have a hard core of people who really love what we do. In the end, I think that you have to do it for yourself and hope you do okay.
After last night, I have a new thought... We had two guitarists play, one jazz and one classical. Each is a teacher. I should have thought of this before: having teachers play is smart because they bring students and often their students' families. We had one of the best turnouts we've had recently and it was a really great night of very high quality instrumental guitar music.
That's true...I would agree, as we have had similar experiences at our shop with performers who are also music teachers (whether in a school setting or privately). The school teachers do generally draw a number of their students along with parents of the students. Lots of smoothie sales on those nights in addition to the usual coffee, beer and wine sales.
Heather, at my last coffee shop the owner did have open mic/live musicians. They played for tips and there was no cover charge. As the artists become regulars they will draw people to your shop. with many of them having myspace or other sites it worked well. The shop I am at now the owner doesn't want to do music yet.

In my last coffeeshop venture, my store was located in a business district so I had to drum up business for the night and weekend crowds. I booked live music almost every weekend. Don't do the open mic; you're opening yourself up for a bunch of crazy people. You shouldn't have to pay musicians as you're giving them a great venue. If they're asking for money then they need to go elsewhere. Instead, put out a tip jar and allow them to sell their CDs. We broke even on most music nights, but it did expose our store to new customers. I have a better idea. Try doing art showings; you can book them on the nights that you're slow. Starving artists are looking for ways to show off their art and invite their friends and family to come see their work. You can charge a commission on every piece sold. I would suggest you have a new artist every week; it requires a lot of work on your part, but it might create enough of a buzz that you'll have artists coming to you trying to book your place. Just an idea.
John is right, artists always draw a great crowd here. I have them hang for 4 weeks, then do a "meet the artist" night. I will disagree about paying the musicians though, some musicians need to get paid. I am a musician as well as the owner of a coffee shop,& I would not travel to your shop & play for nothing, gas is almost $4.00 a gallon & my time & energy are worth way more than that. You get what you pay for. Would you go work a 4 hour bar shift in someone's coffeehouse so they could clap for you & tell you you're great?
Here is my experience with open mic: 2 years of relatively good entertainment, only 1 crazy. Every person that has come to perform on open mic has brought at LEAST one other person with them, including the crazy.
Great comments Ken. I didn't mean to discourage her from paying musicians. In fact, I paid many musicians. However, it sounds like she might be looking to save money. Yea, the open mic could work; it's worth a try!
We have really good luck with open mics. We have a set night for it; ours is the last Saturday of the month. Does it make us money? Yes. If we don't pay a band to go on stage prior to the open mic. And it doesn't really affect who shows up if we don't have a paid band. We are really fortunate to have a group of musicians who travel from coffee house to coffee house to partake of our coffees and ambience. The only people who seem to mind no alcohol are the paid musicians. From now on, its open mics all the way. We have found they are especially popular in the winter months when there are fewer gigs and fewer places for audiences to go. The musicians love the chance to play and the audience is quite happy to attend. Mind you, we have only had two open mics of our own (open two months), but we frequented the circuit prior to opening. I think that builds interest for the musicians to attend yours, too. Now, the paid band thing is a very good thing if you are trying to get people accustomed to coming to your open mics. It gets the word out. Advertise! Whether it is flyers or radio, advertise. Once people find you and get the idea of musicians coming around... paid or otherwise....they will want more... so set the expectations a little lower and stick with open mics unless you are willing to invest in a paid band. FYI we are in the midwest in a tiny town of 750 and we had 196 customers for the last open mic day. It seems to generate interest all day long...right up to the main event. Yes.... we will keep doing the open mic and do paid bands when we can, but not often. The open mics seem to draw a bigger group who actually purchase coffees, too.


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