Music in pubs: playing to win

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Coming up: the next MA500 meeting will be in Liverpool on 18 May
Coming up: the next MA500 meeting will be in Liverpool on 18 May

Related tags Live music Nightclub

Music maestro Ethan Allen will be giving delegates the benefits of his expertise in helping pubs tap into live music at the next MA500 meeting on 18 May in Liverpool. He shares some of his top tips ahead of the event. Nikkie Sutton reports. 

Music makes the people come together, says Madonna and, with a little help from your friends, according to The Beatles, where better to make it happen than the original social networking site, the pub.

Noise level, however, is something that operators need to take into consideration when contemplating hosting a live music event – particularly in the light of a poll by Action on Hearing Loss, which revealed 80% of customers have left a food business because of noise.

Are you in the club?

The MA500 club is open to multi-site pub operators and runs three nationwide events a year that include business-focused presentations from top experts and owner-operators.

Each event is followed by an evening networking study tour of new and exciting venues in the area.

To register your interest in attending the next MA500 meeting in Liverpool on 18 May, email

This, along with a staggering 91% saying they would not return to an overly loud venue, means operators have to find real balance.

Musical guru Ethan Allen works as a middleman for bands and venues in Liverpool’s world-famous Mathew Street.

He says: “I find the right bands, and I rehearse with them to sort out the set list so it is the right theme for each specific venue.”

He outlines how the licensed trade and the music industry has changed throughout his two decades of experience.

“You used to go to social clubs to see bands and a pub was just a pub – but through the 1990s, things started to change.

“When the Licensing Act changed and bars could open later, there was a lot more live music being played.

“You would walk around the likes of Liverpool and Manchester and not be able to tell the difference between a bar and a club because they were all open at later hours.”

But Allen explains this was a problem for the trade because of the lack of differentiation.

He adds: “A lot of the venues had DJs and were dance-orientated, which meant the market got saturated.

“But now, customers want something different.”

With consumer demand constantly evolving, the expert advises operators on how best to get involved in the live music scene and how to ensure it is done well.

Quality and knowing what the site needs are two key factors in ensuring a successful music venue and identifying your audience is just one way to unlock the secret.

Allen says: “With a community pub, it is a good idea to have a little bit of music and a little bit of sport, but don’t blow your brains out by trying to do everything in one go.

“That is the difficulty that a lot of people get into.”

Allen also highlights the mistakes pubs make when they haven’t got their music offer quite on the mark.

“The worst mistakes pubs make are tribute nights,” he maintains.

“Unless you have a venue that is selling tickets specifically for it, avoid it like the plague because you don’t want to hear someone massacring songs all night long.”

So you have got your performer booked, you have perfected the art of knowing your audience and you are sure the act isn’t a tribute, what happens next?

“Ensure you are advertising in the right places and to the right people,” advises Allen.

“You need to have a mix of everything when it comes to advertising.

“I do poster runs in all the local chippies and takeaways, flyers in the salons and shout about it on social media.”

He also suggests contacting local businesses to drum up support through offering incentives to staff.

“We do staff discounts if you work in a hairdresser’s down the road. They spread the word too because they are talking to customers all-day long.”

And on the subject of getting on the right side of other residents, pleasing the pub’s musicians and keeping that line of communication open can only be a good thing.

Allen adds: “It is all about building relationships. A conversation at the start of the night is much better than an argument at the end of the night.”

Identifying the market, getting the right musicians in, knowing where and how to advertise and not upsetting performers or neighbours is the way to ensure you have a great live music venue – and don’t forget Madonna’s famous words.

Related topics MA Leaders Club

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