Alternate title: “I Get By With A Little Yelp From My Friends”
Last night, I played a show at a small restaurant about an hour south of Nashville called Puckett’s of Lieper’s Fork. It’s far enough out that I had nearly no name recognition, yet we started the show with a full house! Not only did we have a kind, attentive audience, but we also received TIPS! Glorious tips! This brought to mind something that has popped up a lot over the past few years—a great way to support independent musicians is to support local venues.
Playing music and booking shows in Nashville (and trying to earn a fair wage doing it) is a lot like playing whack-a-mole. You always have to be prepared for your steady, paying gig to get cancelled with little to no notice. You have to be prepared for your favorite venue to shut down unexpectedly. The bittersweet part of this is watching new establishments spring up—there’s always a chance that the next iteration of your favorite spot could be even better for your scene. And then if it’s not, hey… start the timer. Within 2 years, it’ll probably be under new management.
If that sounds sad, it’s because IT IS. A restaurant pops up with great plans for hosting live music. They pay musicians well. Then a few months later, the pay structure changes because opening a restaurant in Nashville is HARD. Within a year or two, there’s a good chance this restaurant will be sold or change management. A hotel starts hosting live music in their lobby and offering fair pay. 6 months later, they’ve cancelled this programming because it’s not as cost efficient as playing the radio and offering cute drink specials to bachelorette parties.
So let’s talk about Rudy’s. Rudy’s Jazz Room opened almost 2 years ago just south of downtown Nashville on a street with lots of visibility and potential foot traffic. It’s certainly not Nashville’s first jazz club, but to my knowledge it’s currently the only place in town with live jazz seven nights a week. During their construction, Rudy’s managed to raise almost FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS of community support to buy a Steinway piano. I share that to say: there was massive excitement and hope around this venue before it even existed. You can imagine how important it is to a jazz musician to know there’s a place that’s booking local jazz bands EVERY DAY in a spot with great visibility to locals and tourists alike!
Here’s the heart of what I want to say: as an independent musician, I love and need your direct support. I need people to buy my albums, attend my shows, and follow my social media channels. But when you support me, it only benefits (you guessed it!) me. When you support a local venue, you support its entire musical community. It’s one thing for people to go to a show because they recognize my name and know they’re going to enjoy it. That would be a beautiful thing. But what’s arguably even better is playing in a town where no one knows my name but the community has learned to trust the venue and knows they’ll receive quality entertainment and service any night of the week. In other words, I want good venues to get more popular because it benefits all the musicians who play there.
So what do you want me to do about that? I’m so glad you asked.
For us musicians, it’s important to share about which venues we love playing. During nearly every performance, I ask the audience to go online and leave a positive review for the venue. This helps new people find the place. We need to promote venues as much as we need to promote ourselves.
For listeners, it’s incredibly helpful for you to leave glowing reviews of establishments that have live music and pay their musicians. How do you know if the venue pays fairly? You honestly can’t know unless someone tells you. So either err on the side of caution and leave a good review (mentioning how much you love that they have live music) OR if you know a local musician well enough, ask for their opinions on local venues!
What if I don’t actually love the place? Amazing question. To this I would say: leave the glowing review on a public forum like Yelp, Google, or Facebook. Then e-mail the place directly and say, “Hi! I went to a show at your establishment and loved the music so much. I left a positive review on Yelp to help new people find the spot. I have some feedback on my experience, but wanted to communicate it privately rather than on a review site, as I really want others to have a great experience and continue to enjoy excellent live music!”
While we’re talking about direct feedback: it would also be fabulous for you to e-mail “non-venues” that host live music. Many coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants have occasional live music but it’s not a central aspect of their business and they are usually not ticketed events. These places are less likely to pay musicians (meaning the musicians rely on tips) OR if they do pay, the programming is likely to be cancelled within a few months. Let these places know that you enjoyed the live music! Or be honest with your feedback (‘the music was a little loud for my taste but I was delighted that there was live music’) so that they can adapt and avoid complaints. A large hotel chain has no way to measure the value of live music in their lobby or restaurant unless you tell them! Or if they receive lots of positive feedback on music, that might be leverage for the musician to ask for fair payment.
So which venues do you love and want us to support, Abi? You are on fire with the great questions today!! The top 3 places I recommend writing reviews for, based only on my personal experience, are the Nashville Jazz Workshop, Rudy’s Jazz Room, and Plaza Mariachi. I would now add Puckett’s of Lieper’s Fork to that list, but I know that fewer folks reading this have probably been out there. Again, I CRAVE direct support from listeners and I’m so grateful for those who support me. But when you support places like NJW, Rudy’s, and Plaza, you help provide job security for hundreds of musicians who are being treated fairly in a town where it’s very easy to take advantage of musicians. I strongly suggest attending shows, sending direct feedback, and leaving positive reviews for establishments in your own town if you don’t live in Nashville! Reach out to a local musician and ask where they’re treated well. And please reach out in the comments and let me know of other venues that deserve support and recognition!