• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Video; Lighting; Live Events; Audio;
  • Date: November 2015

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

LPR BoothIn this second decade of the music industry’s financial challenges, one bit of wisdom that has emerged is that even as recorded music, in the form of CDs and downloads, continues to struggle, live music has become an economic engine. Last year was a benchmark for touring dollars, hitting a massive $20 billion in ticket sales globally, according to Billboard.

That’s great if your name includes Gaga, Taylor, Justin, Katy or Beyoncé, but artists one level down (or more) still need places to perform. Although the muddy fields of Bonaroo and Electric Daisy remain crowded — reflecting Millennials’ current infatuation with music festivals — midsized-and-smaller venues aren’t faring as well. According to a recent article in the London Telegraph, almost 50 percent of nightclubs in Britain have shuttered since 2005. In the U.S., a survey by ULI/Lachman Associates found that barely 60 percent of Millennials spend time at nightclubs. As a result, local music clubs in U.S. cities large and small are closing with alarming frequency.

What’s a small venue operator to do? Some see opportunity beckoning in the form of live-event production. In many cases, small and midsized music clubs offer just the right space for a large variety of events (not everyone needs Madison Square Garden) and they often come with a certain cachet. Such spaces range from rock-and roll-establishments, such as the Hard Rock Café, to a growing cohort of vinyl record shops. The fact is that music, even in its absence, offers a kind of allure that makes even a non-music event stand out.

“Music clubs are spending more money on higher-end sound, video and lights, and a big part of the reason is that they’re going after more private-event business,” says Ziv Gross, an account manager at the Los Angeles office of AV systems retailer GC Pro, which also does installations.

Gross says event-production customers have become savvier, and they know that name-brand technology can help draw event attendees. “They know what a line array is now, they know the difference between analog and digital, they recognize certain brand names,” he says. “They also want to know that the venue has everything it needs in terms of sound, video and lights. They don’t want to have rent certain items. They want the whole package ready to go.”

The Bowery Boys

Michael Swier, John Moore and Jim Glancy, founders of The Bowery Presents, pooled their resources and now run five iconic clubs in New York that range in size from the 300-person-capacity Rough Trade record shop/punk-rock venue in Brooklyn, to Terminal 5 (T5) on Manhattan’s West Side, which can hold 1,800 sweaty dancers or 1,200 seated attendees, when hosting private events.

T5 Production Manager Chris Burrows says each of the company’s venues has its own AV and lighting systems, tailored to each space’s characteristics. T5 itself has a large, new L-Acoustics system, with two sets of 12 K2 enclosures on either side of the stage, four K1-SB LF extension cabinets flown behind each K2 array, and eight SB28 floor-stacked subwoofers. Over at the Bowery Ballroom, which holds 575 people, the room is filled with sound from three EAW 650 and 695 boxes in an L-C-R configuration, flown above the stage and mixed through a vintage analog Midas Heritage 3000 console, in keeping with the venue’s legacy. The Mercury Lounge uses d&b speakers, while the remaining venue, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, can hold 650 standing (300 seated) and entertain (of inform) audiences through an older, but stolid, L’Acoustics dV-DOSC sound system.

Burrows says that because each venue’s AVL system is tailored to the space, the systems across all five venues are not interchangeable. This has implications for maintenance and operations (the A1 sound engineer at one venue might not be up-to-speed on any console but the one he or she runs each night) and the ROI on technology is specific to each venue, so there’s little available in the way of economies of scale.

“We can’t really trade speaker enclosures back and forth if someone needs extra speakers,” Burrows says. “When we can, we’ll help out a ‘family’ member, but each venue is its own little world and that can be a little frustrating at times.”

But, he emphasizes, the sound, lights and video for each venue are perfectly suited to their respective spaces. And the FOH mixers at most of the venues are veterans of music touring, which, in terms of experience and resourcefulness, makes them considerably more accomplished than the typical hotel-event mixer.

“The really great thing is that event clients can choose from a portfolio of room types,” Burrows says. “Pick the size and vibe that’s right for you, the sound and lights and video will be perfect in each one.”

Le Poisson Rouge

Le Poisson Rouge, a cabaret club in Greenwich Village, opened in 2008 with a high-end arsenal of AVL, including a Meyer Sound surround-sound PA, designed by noted recording-studio architect John Storyk and installed by Masque Sound. It’s zoned to cover the venue’s main room and its smaller “gallery” space, either independently or as one big area that can hold 1,100 people. That kind of investment in technology and flexibility has helped make LPR — as its fans call it — a successful event-production venue, with outside planners booking space there throughout the year.

But, says Jonathan Talley, LPR’s Director of Production, it also requires careful technology choices on a regular basis. When the club opened, LED lighting was still exotic and expensive; since then, its entire lighting grid has transitioned to LED, a process Talley says required extensive consultations with systems designers, technical staff and the various touring engineers who pass through.

Plus, the club and its AVL systems have to adapt to changing music trends, which affect event-production clients’ decisions.

“EDM is very big now, so we have to make sure the PA and the lighting systems can reproduce what those clients have come to expect,” he explains. “There’s a big advantage in having sound and lights as part of the package we can offer event planners — one price includes everything instead of having to add layers of rentals. But we have to keep the systems as current as possible.”

All around them, music venue operators see growth in live-event production. Meetings, conferences, product rollouts, fashion shows—you name it. They’re taking place in museums, warehouses, vacant lots, corporate lobbies and elsewhere. Why not hold a corporate summit in a music club? With ongoing contraction in their core business, such venues can parlay their expertise in audio, video and lighting into new and engaging live-event experiences. And they’re on the lookout for new and better AVL products and services.