Edutainment: How to Rock When Running a Music Club
Owning and operating a live music club is a very sexy fantasy to have. However, actually doing it requires a hell of a lot of work if you want your venue to be a living, breathing, relevant entity in any thriving musical community.
William “Brodie” Schwendiman knows this all too well. Since 2005, he’s owned and operated The Casbah, a popular room located at 306 King St. W., in Hamilton, ON’s downtown core. Throughout the years, he’s opened up his stage to a mixture of indie, local, and mainstream talent, all the while holding down the plethora of stressful responsibilities that go into keeping any business not just afloat, but successful.
After we spoke with Schwendiman about The Casbah’s recent renovations, we asked him to provide Riffyou.com readers like you some insight in regards to what it takes to run a music club.
RY: For someone considering booking and/or operating a music venue like yours, what kind of advice would you offer them?
Brodie: “The initial piece of advice would be to really do some research and find out how many hours of your day would be consumed by it; then make a decision on whether you need other people to contribute to the operation. Booking a club is only one part of the operation of a club. If you’re being hired by somebody to book their club, that’s one thing. But if you’re going to manage and operate the entire thing because it’s yours, that’s a completely different thing – you need to be prepared for that. Are you committed to doing it all and making it your whole life? Because that’s really what it requires. It’s not just a booking job: it’s a restaurant and bar management job; it’s an accounting position; a marketing job; public relations; you’re hiring, firing, and ordering…it’s everything. It’s not a job for one person, unless you’re ready to do 80-100 hours a week on your own.”
RY: When it comes to running a venue, how important are the relationships that you establish with the people you employ and the people who attend the club and help make it what it is?
Brodie: “Relationships are very important. I’ve been really good at keeping good relations, but other times I haven’t – it’s a challenge sometimes. You’re dealing with all kinds of personalities. You’re dealing with people who are artistically-driven; you’re dealing with people who are business-driven; and people who are a bit of both. You have to be good at assessing that as you get into conversations with people and know how you need to speak. It’s a big part of the job.”
RY: How do you determine which bands you’d like to have play in front of your patrons?
Brodie: “The rules about how you program your room changes all of the time. You have to think about how your room looks and pick music that makes sense with that. You have [to determine] which age groups you want to cater to; think about the city you’re in and the music scene going on at the time. If there are a couple of rooms [in the area] programming the way you do, that’s one thing. But, if there are nine rooms booking similarly, then you have to look at it a different way. Quality and local content is important, but it’s nice to have some obscure, underground artists to keep the feeling that the room is not so mainstream in its thinking. There are a lot of rules that factor in at different times, depending on what’s around you.”
RY: How much of a role does luck play in the success of a music venue?
Brodie: “Luck plays a factor on occasion, but it doesn’t have a big role. It still comes down to your relationship with somebody and what kind of money you’re able to back behind your word. But, once in a while you’ll get a phone call for something, and you can’t believe you’re getting that call in the first place. [We had] The Pixies play our 150-person club in 2009. The person who was calling [on behalf of the band], I had a relationship with, so I got that first phone call. My foot was in the door because of our relationship. And, the relationship was good because the person who was calling had confidence in how I do business and run a show.”
RY: Why do you choose to continue owning and operating a music venue?
Brodie: “I’m stubborn – that’s why I’m still doing it, because I don’t think my initial goal has been achieved. I keep working towards it. The goal is to create an environment where people don’t necessarily need to know the band or understand the band in order to attend the show. I want people to want to come to the room because they have faith in the way the shows are presented, and they’ll enjoy them because of that. Finding people that are open-minded to all genres and appreciate [the club] for what it is, instead of narrowing their scope of taste, is something that I try to instill. In the digital age, it’s difficult to get people to broaden their tastes, but that’s what I want to do. I think The Casbah is getting closer to that. Plus, this [job] is fun. The challenge is fun; the environment is fun; and the ‘thank yous’ are fun. When I first got into this, I didn’t realize how much of a service I was providing by doing this – that gratification was a pleasant surprise.”