This is a topic I’ve visited before, and I stand by my earlier position that there are some benefits that the pay-to-play (“noruma“) system has brought to the scene, primarily in allowing bands to experiment free of commercial considerations. It’s also something no one really likes to say, but the truth is that for a lot of venues, the shitty no-mark bands paying noruma are subsidising the actually good bands who while they don’t bring big crowds, the venues still want to support. A good band, even if they aren’t that popular, can usually play without noruma easily enough.
However, the point in this latest column isn’t about noruma so much as simply ways venues can encourage audiences and help make shows a better experience for them. It poses the question in terms of what venues should do “if they want to attract customers” and of course that presupposes that they actually do want to attract customers, which for a lot of venues really does seem to be an afterthought. But assuming a lot of them do, there are a few thoughts I have on the issue.
Personally I don’t like the idea of a smoking ban — smoke can be annoying, but it’s not as annoying as all my smoking friends buggering off outside every 20 minutes for a fag — and the food aspect is going to depend massively on whether the venue is big enough to accommodate a seated section in addition to the dance floor. Financially, a lot of these ideas seem to be a little idealistic given the extra staff and extra space needed. In addition, the idea of halving ticket prices to increase audience is one that while I like it, I have my doubts about its effectiveness. As a general rule, cutting door prices from ¥2000 to ¥1000 will increase your audience by about 50% when it needs to increase it 100% to maintain balance, especially if you go ahead with eliminating compulsory drink charges. The idea that eliminating the compulsory one drink order and cutting drink costs will encourage people to spend more at the bar is also questionable. Young people in particular don’t drink very much — one venue manager friend of mine had a show with a hundred people in attendence, and when they counted up the money at the end of the night, they had only sold two drinks in addition to the compulsory orders. Without the compulsory orders, they would have hardly sold any. Several venues have experimented with cheaper drinks, and most of them have been forced to jack the prices back up — ¥500 seems to be the market level unfortunately. Combined with some other ideas, it might work as part of a more comprehensive re-focusing of the venue though, and it’s certainly an ideal state of affairs.
One suggestion someone made that I liked was the idea of giving over one slow night to a band to perform a residency, where they would play every Monday or Tuesday for a month, booking their own support acts. This would help the venue build an identity, build its relationship with bands, and by doing some of the booking manager’s work for them they might be able to pay the band a bit. It needn’t even be a band doing the residency: it could be a label, a DJ, an event organiser or even a shop, fashion brand or restaurant. It would certainly be a difficult idea to pull off in smaller cities with fewer bands, but certainly in Tokyo it could work. I’m tempted to discuss this idea with some venues to see if they think it would be plausible.