Standards for live music venues

Hotels get a star rating between 1 and 5, so why not a star rating for live music venues?

The star rating for hotels is given to indicate the quality of the facilities they offer, based on a set of standards and criteria. If we were to offer  a  stars for music venues would would the criteria be? From the point of view of the fans, this might include

* good sound, set at reasonable levels and operated by suitably experienced sound engineers who are present at the controls throughout of the show.

* reasonable and affordable entry prices, relative to the acts that are appearing

* reasonable prices for refreshments and a good selection of them

* some food and snacks being available

* a sheltered smoking area

* toilets that are kept clean throughout the night

* a quiet area for non-smokers to relax in

* comfortable seating for those who want it

* friendly and courteous staff, including those controlling the entry

* the venue is kept clean and in good decorative order

From the point of view of the bands

* good sound with stage monitors, suitable microphones and a decent house drum kit

* the sound system is operated by experienced engineers throughout the show

* Pre-show sound checks

* a secure area for the storage of instruments and equipment

* at least one dressing room

* an easily accessible system for enquiring about bookings

* an efficient and well organised system for publicising shows

* acts are paid promptly in accordance with terms and conditions agreed at the time of the booking

* reasonable refreshments available to band members

* polite and courteous staff available to help band members while they are present at the venue

* suitable stage lighting

* achieved standards of health and safety in all areas including the stage

* a web site that offers bands a good standard of information about how to play at the venue including contact with regular promoters

As with hotel ratings, the number of stars would be awarded by an independent inspector who would visit the venue to check that criteria are met and would do this at least once a year.

It might also be a good idea to ask fans and band members to vote on what rating they think a venue should be given. There is nothing wrong in involving users in this process; it is they who have first hand experience of using the venue.  The technical inspection is also required because issues like health and safety and the payment of bands would not usually be experienced by fans and voting alone is not reliable enough. A voting system shares power between venue users and inspectors.

Pubs sometimes achieve awards, such as “pub of the year”, as an acknowledge of excellence. If enough publicity is attached to such awards, this might be good for business.

If such a rating system were to be introduced, what benefits would it confer on the industry?

I think that the advantages would include fans be better able to make judgments about value for money. True, fans don’t usually decide whether they will go to a venue, based on the facilities available at the venue; they go to see the band of their choice, if they are playing there. It might be of  more value to the bands when deciding which venue to include in their tour. It’s very difficult for bands to know what standard of venue they are booking into when playing out of town. Their only recourse at present is the find other bands that have already played there and ask them.

Once a rating has been set, its then a benchmark. The venue might see an increase in its rating as being good for business.  There might be a degree of competition between venues in the same town, to achieve better ratings than the others. Industry analysts might be able to see if there are trends in ratings over a period of time.

Are there any disadvantages in this idea?  All standards have costs. Venue must meet health and safety (including fire) standards in order to stay in business. If inspectors find them to be at fault they are given the opportunity to correct faults in order to stay open.  They have to find the money to do this.  Voluntary standards would also require venues to find the money to upgrade some of their facilities in order to achieve an additional star. At the moment there is not a lot of incentive to improve standards. Increased standards have to be funded and this is not easy in the current economic climate.

Rating systems are by no means universal in the leisure industry. They have become established for hotels and restaurants but certainly not for pubs, cinemas or leisure centres. Rating systems work best where there is a choice for the consumer or user. If a live music venue is the only one in town, there is no competition for increased ratings.

At present the only bodies to set standards for such venues are the local authorities that license them for public entertainment and that is largely restricted to the safety of the public.

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