closed for business

Lessons I Learned from Running a Business That Failed

Yesterday will have been 8 years since the Garage Venue first opened its doors. I must say, I really miss running the joint.

But since we closed our doors, I’ve had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on my life and my business and wrap my head around everything that’s happened. There are many reasons why businesses fail. Though it was hard for me to examine ours from the inside out and admit my failures, doing so has grown me in a big way. So I just wanted to take some time to share some of the lessons I’ve learned since running an entertainment venue that wasn’t successful.

Lesson #1: Location is more important than you realize.

While I don’t blame our failure on our location, I definitely believe it played a part. There are certain cities in the U.S. that are known for their arts and entertainment scene, and unfortunately, my city just ain’t one of ’em.

Do some serious market research if you’re planning to open up a business in a certain city. Make sure the market is headed toward whatever trend you’re feeding. In some cases, competition can be a good thing. It indicates that the market is healthy. If you open up shop in a location that has no competition, just because it has no competition, you may wind up twiddling your thumbs every day while you wonder why you have no customers.

Lesson #2: Beware of overhead, and budget accordingly.

This is especially true if you’re running an entertainment venue like we were! If you’re going to pay your artists (and you should), then you need to be compensated to cover that cost. Whether that means charging a cover at the door, serving food or alcohol and marking up costs to cover entertainment, or paying your artists according to how many guests they bring in, it’s important to budget effectively.

I’ve had a few good friends who have struggled in that area. We all want to support good artists. But if you don’t have the budget worked in to do so, then you’ll have to get creative, or put the burden on the artists themselves, as hard as that may be.

Lesson #3: Diversify your investments.

A lot of businesses fail. That’s just the nature of the game, especially in a world where everyone thinks they have a good idea and wants to be an entrepreneur. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket like I did. If I had started this blog before the venue failed, and found a way to monetize it before we had to close our doors, then I would have been in a much better place when it happened. If you’re already investing in yourself, you’re doing great. Just make sure your diversify your portfolio.

sound board

Mr. Soundman … Bring Me a Dream!

I saw a meme on Facebook a few days ago that said, “it’s beginning to look a lot like f*** this!” And that’s exactly how I feel about the holidays, so of course I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.

Walking through crowded shopping malls cringing every time I hear another dreadful Christmas song. Makes me want to scream. And seeing all those ridiculous Elves on their Shelves literally makes me want to  jump off a cliff … or a shelf … or throw one off the shelf into a pit of fire until it burns so bad it’s beyond recognition.

Seriously, the Christmas (or what I like to call the X-Mess) holiday breeds nothing but greed, envy, and selfishness. Especially in our increasingly entitled children. As if their new iPhones are not enough to keep them occupied. Now they’re demanding Louis Vuitton handbags for $4,000 a pop, and if you don’t get them one, they’ll call you the worst mom ever.

Thankfully, I don’t speak from personal experience, but I do speak from what I’ve seen and heard from my friends who have brat teenagers to raise in this messed up world.

I started thinking about all of this the other night when I was at a show, doing what I do best while running sound from the booth in the back: people watching.

Teenagers love to go to concerts. I guess it’s their way of getting away from mom and dad, and if their mom and dad could only see what I see on a nightly basis. This particular concert was a festive one. A jam band playing Christmas cover tunes, along with a few originals sprinkled in here and there. (That’s really the only way to get your original music heard in this joke of a city, since most people here don’t appreciate real art. They just want to drink and dance the night away to horrible renditions of classic rock songs that everyone’s been sick of hearing for two decades … but that’s another post for another day.)

As a sound engineer I have the pleasure of witnessing our depraved youth grow up once concert at a time. And on this particular night when I was people watching at a local music venue, the sound happened to go haywire. The reaction was not what I had expected, although, knowing the youth of today, I probably should have expected it. As soon as one of the speakers blew, a young boy turned around and started cursing at me like it was my fault. My manager came over to try and diffuse the situation, and he ended up being cursed at too. The kid was yelling at both of us, demanding a refund. All the while, the band kept playing like nothing had happened. Show must go on, right? I told the kid he should take a lesson from the people he came to see play, and he said “I didn’t even come here to watch this shitty band. I came here to get away with my friends and enjoy some time out, and you can’t even get the damn sound right!”

Ugh. Entitlement. It’s a curse this generation will never be able to shake.

As I was driving home in my car that night, the “Mr. Sandman” song came on. It was a nice break from shitty holiday music, and I started to sing along.

“Mr. Soundman … bring me a dream … ”

Seriously, please bring me a dream. I need a good night’s sleep after that mess. December 26 can’t come fast enough. Thanks for letting me rant.

Macklemore

Hey Pop Stars: Quit Selling Out!

This post is a bit of a rant. (I’ve been on a lot of those lately.)

I was on a long road trip a few weeks ago and decided to give listening to the radio another try. I typically don’t listen to the radio, especially on long road trips, for a few reasons:

  1. Most radio music sucks.
  2. When you’re driving through multiple cities, you frequently have to change stations to get a good signal which is a pain.
  3. My iPhone has a pretty good stock of better music, which I would much rather listen to.
  4. I actually totaled my first car because I was changing the radio station after a horrible boy-band song came on…

Occasionally, though, I like to flip through radio stations just to see what’s out there lately. What’s gaining in popularity and if it indicates a positive trend toward better music in the near future. I’m a 90s kid, so I love 90s music and tend to believe that just about everything created after 1999 is total garbage. (I know, I’m biased.) But seriously, when was the last time you turned on a pop radio station and actually heard good song?

[crickets]

Yep. That’s what I thought.

I was hoping for some indication of positive news when I flipped the radio on, but unfortunately, nothing of the sort happened. Just as I figured, it’s still garbage, and it seems to be getting worse. I didn’t think that was possible, but that’s what I’m hearing, so… yeah.

I remember when Jewel sold out. As I was listening to the popular junk that’s out there today, it totally brought me back to 2003 when I first heard her hit song, “Intuition”. I remember thinking, “why, Jewel? whyyyyyyyy would you stoop this low?” From the neon-colored clothes on her album cover to the totally overproduced sound of the album, it was a far cry from “Pieces of You”, which I loved. What a complete and total disappointment.

Since then, some of my favorite artists have followed suit:

John Mayer with his country album. Dave Matthews Band with their electric rock record. And O.A.R. Similar to DMB, they also came out with a boring pop record full of electric instruments that took them so far away from their original acoustic jam-band sound, I could cry…

These artists have one thing in common. For at least one LP, they ceased to be what made them so likeable… They ceased to be themselves. All of the characteristics that made them unique were sucked up by the greedy music industry capitalists in an effort to make a profit.

Was it worth it? Hell no.

Please, please, please, for the sake of our future, our kids’ futures, and their kids’ futures, STOP SELLING OUT! It doesn’t matter if you’re an independent artist or you’re at the top of the Billboard charts—be YOU. Don’t ever stop being YOU. No matter what anyone tells you. No matter how many dollar bills they wave in your face. I’ve got mad respect for artists like Macklemore. He hustled his way to the top, but he hasn’t stopped being what makes him unique—he hasn’t stopped being himself. As crazy as his latest video is, it’s that craziness that drew so many people to him when he produced Thrift Shop, and we see the same craziness today. I hope it never stops.

Not all radio is bad. In fact, it was Macklemore’s latest single that kept me listening when I was on my road trip a few weeks ago.

All I’m saying is, if you’re going to be an artist, then be an artist. Not everyone is going to love you, and that’s okay. As long as you stay true to yourself, you’ll be successful.

If you’ve yet to hear Macklemore’s newest, check out the video below. Rant: over.

What’s Up With All the Musician Deaths Lately?

I was so sad when I heard David Bowie died a few weeks ago. I’ve had plenty of grieving time, and I’m still not over it. I think it’s safe to say the man was a musical legend. Hubs has been listening to his album in the car lately.

In case you haven’t been following the news, he died of cancer at the ripe young age of 69 after an 18-month battle, during which, no one knew he was even dying because he wanted “minimal fuss,” according to his longtime friend. I can understand that, but I must say, it totally hit me like a ton of bricks when I found out. After listening to his music for decades, I feel like he and I could have been the best of friends if I had known him.

Well, a week later, I find out Glenn Frey (guitarist for The Eagles) died too. He was only 67 (so young, right?) And he died of a health condition as well. Apparently he had intestinal issues.

This leads me to the question (and title of this post): what’s up with all the celebrity musician deaths lately? Two incredible men kick the bucket only a week apart, and they’re both around the same age. If I didn’t know any better, I’d start scouring the Internet for conspiracy theories. (An Illuminati sacrifice, perhaps?)

Relax, I’m kidding. Maybe… 😉

Anyway, I’m writing this post in an effort to help me grieve my losses. I’ve always been told that writing is a form of therapy, and the more I do it, the more I find out how true that is.

If you’re a musician, consider this fair warning: do everything you can to stay healthy. We don’t need anymore of you amazing artists dying from cancer or other health conditions. As a matter of fact, getting and staying healthy is one of my goals in 2016. Click here to read the rest of ’em.

‘Til next time…

3 Things to Look For in an Entertainment Venue

Hey y’all! (In good, Southern North Cackalacky fashion, I just had to say that.)

I know I haven’t posted in a quite some time, but life gets pretty busy when your blog is a hobby. It has to take a backseat to making a living, and ever since we had to close the doors of The Garage Venue, I’ve had to find other ways to make some cash.

But, I’m back now, and I have a goal to post more regularly (at least once a month) in 2016. Hey, quality over quantity, right? I may even post twice this month as a special treat to all those who have been waiting so patiently to get the scoop.

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine the other night. She was telling me how she went to a concert at the Fillmore at NC Music Factory when she was 8 months pregnant and how she’ll never go back. As much as I’d like to hit her upside the head and say, “well of course you had a bad experience; you were 8 months pregnant,” I kind of can’t help but agree with her. I’m not a big fan of that venue either. I think it’s overhyped because of its name and subsequent association with the legendary Fillmore in California. (Now, that place is a different story.)

Our version of the Fillmore is not only overhyped. It’s overpriced, unaccommodating, and pitiful compared to its predecessor.

So what makes an entertainment venue a good spot to hear live music or watch a performance? Several criteria immediately come to my mind, and I’d like to think we did a good job with every single item on this list.

#1: A versatile layout. As I mentioned before, the Fillmore was highly unaccommodating to my friend, especially considering her body’s condition during her visit. When you’re 8 months pregnant, standing-room only just ain’t gonna cut it. And forcing her to pay $25 extra for a “VIP” seat that’s far left of the stage and doesn’t even provide a “VIP” viewing experience? Pffft. Not cool guys. Not cool.

When it comes to your layout, you want to be accommodating to many different types of people, as well as different types of entertainment scenarios. Having a large standing-room area that can double as a sitting-room for more upscale events where you want to serve food and drinks alongside the entertainment will open a lot more doors for you in the long-run.

#2: Reasonable pricing. I really wish venues in this city (and every other big city for that matter) would quit charging outrageous prices for cheap beer. I’m sorry, but I’ll pass on the $8 pint of piss-colored water (a.k.a. Bud Light). No thank you. And $75 for a ticket to a concert where the opening act is a crappy DJ and the headliner hits the stage an hour late? (Not naming any names here… I’ll leave it to you to guess who she went to see). Um… Big FAT NO again. If you want people to enjoy an experience at your venue and come back for more, be reasonable. That’s one of the things we prided ourselves on at The Garage Venue. We charged a normal amount for local craft beer on tap and provided food to our guests on some occasions. We also housed a variety of different artists, both independent and big-label. Which brings me to #3…

#3: Support local artists! For crying out loud, why is it that most GOOD musicians in Charlotte feel the need to move to Austin or New York to get a break? There is more competition in both of those cities, yet our most solid performers are flocking there because they can’t even get a gig at The Evening Muse. If you are a local venue, consider supporting more local art. I know it can be harder for independent musicians to bring people in the door, but if you’re a good venue, you should be able to carry some of that weight. Don’t put it all on these poor starving artists who are struggling just to make a living off of their art because the music industry sucks these days.

That’s all I have, folks… what about you? are your thoughts on the local Charlotte music scene? If we were to build another entertainment venue, what would you like to see? Or if you’re not local to the area, we’d love to hear your opinions on the music scene where you live!

Why We Closed Our Doors

As you may have read on our Welcome page, we had to close our doors at the end of last year. We never gave our patrons an explanation, and we feel we owe you at least that, so we’re using this post to sum up why we went out of business.

Truth be told, there was really no way to stay open if we were going to hold fast to our values, at least not in the city of Charlotte. In this area, it’s really hard to open and sustain a thriving entertainment venue, due to a number of factors, which we’ll cover shortly. We had a dream to beat the odds and stay open, regardless of this city’s reputation, but—alas—we could sustain ourselves no longer.

Even though we’re not up and running anymore, we still have a passion for good music, and we define “good” as that which holds fast to its own standards of originality, regardless of what everyone else says. In other words, if you stand for something and make that clear through your lyrics, melodies, chord changes and instrumentation, and you don’t allow your peers, your producer or your record company to convince you that “selling out” is the answer, then we’d say you’re a “good” artist.

We were a “good” music venue by our own standards. We held on to our beliefs and values, even when it made life harder. Unfortunately, that’s what ultimately led to our downfall, but I, for one, don’t regret a single second.

What exactly are those beliefs and values, you ask? I’ll tell you.

We believe in creating a haven for local, independent artists to thrive. We wanted to build a venue that didn’t turn away local talent. There’s so much of it here, and other venues in the area reject it, except on open mic night or nights during the week when the foot traffic is low. If you’re a local artist trying to get a decent gig in Charlotte, you can forget about it. Not gonna happen unless you have a huge following. That’s just the way the city thrives. If you don’t have enough followers, you won’t bring enough traffic to the venue, which means fewer people paying to get in and fewer people buying drinks. In turn, the venue loses money. And it’s all about the money here. We’re one of the biggest banking capitals in the nation, after all…

We believe in the appreciation of original craft. Basically, this meant that we didn’t allow the over-consumption of alcohol on our premises. We didn’t serve liquor; we only served craft beer, which is designed to be appreciated and not consumed quickly or in large quantities. And when we noticed our patrons getting a bit tipsy, we cut them off and called them a cab. Some nights, this resulted in curses that flew in every direction and ultimately landed right in our faces. But we didn’t care. Our loyal patrons were not there to get drunk and dance to cover songs. They were there to appreciate original art while enjoying a few finely crafted beverages. Which brings us to #3…

We believe in loyalty. Loyalty often requires exclusivity. We didn’t make it easy for a lot of people to get into our venue. Though it was a relatively large establishment, we kept the number of seats available to a minimum and didn’t allow for shows that were standing-room only. This is vastly different from the way most entertainment venues are run, and as you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re saying “no wonder they closed down.” Our ticket prices were higher than most establishments, though, and we marketed the hell out of every show. It was part of our strategy to help local, independent artists with small followings thrive. We weren’t sure if it would work, and to our surprise, it did seem to for a while. But long-term, it just wasn’t sustainable.

These are the primary reasons why we ended up closing our doors. Add that to the amount of space renovations that were necessary for us to even get up and running. We had to hire some Charlotte roofers to install a new roof. We also needed new flooring, new ceilings and walls to allow for better sound acoustics – and we are up to our eyeballs in debt.

But we’re still very much alive in spirit, and our passion lives on through every post we publish on this site. So we hope you’ll come back and keep reading as we continue to tell the story of music in Charlotte, North Carolina.

‘Til next time…

Ginger (a.k.a. the red-headed stepchild)