And We're Live! How to Host Events in a Restaurant or Bar

By: Nick Rubright

5 Minute Read

Aug 28, 2017

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Restaurant event management

Hosting live music events in your restaurant can be an effective way to attract new customers and turn loyal customers into advocates for your business. By inviting local musicians to play at your restaurant, café, or bar, you’re becoming involved in the community and setting yourself up to attract their fans.

So how exactly do you host a live event? Is it true that you need licenses and permits? Where do you find musicians to perform? What kind of sound equipment is required? Hopefully the information below will tell you everything you need to know about putting on a great show.

Make Sure It’s Legal

Forgetting to acquire the proper legal clearances for your live performances is a costly mistake. Just as you need a music license for background music, you also need one for live music performances. Failure to pay for background music and live performance licenses can result in massive fines that can lead to the closure of your restaurant or bar.

While you can get the rights to play background music from various outlets, such as the performance rights organizations (PROs) BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC, or a restaurant music service, live music licenses can only be acquired through the PROs. If you’re using a background music service already, and only need the license for live music usage, be sure to make this clear when talking to the PROs.

In some cities, you may also need a permit to host the concert. Los Angeles, for example, requires restaurants to get a permit from the LAPD in order to host any events accommodating live music. Failure to obtain this permit can lead to fines and even jail time. Check with your cities website or police department to see what permits you need to host live music.

Acquire the Right Audio Equipment

Sound quality can make or break your event. In order to produce a memorable experience for your customers, it’s important that you have high quality equipment. Here’s an overview of some audio equipment you’ll need.


  • PA System – This includes a soundboard to mix the different instruments, as well as speakers to project the sound toward the audience.
  • Monitors – These are the speakers that face toward the musicians that allow them to monitor their own performance so they can make necessary adjustments to their instruments, like making sure their guitar is in tune.
  • Microphones – You’re going to need a microphone for the vocalist, but depending on the type of music you want to host, you may also need microphones for instruments like guitars and drums. Some acoustic guitars can plug directly into your PA system, but most don’t.

It’s also important to hire a sound technician who’s experienced in live audio mixing. You may think this is something you can handle yourself, but sound technicians have experience that allows for greater attention to detail. You don’t want to have the guitar so high that you can’t hear the vocals, but you want it high enough so everything blends together nicely.


People get injured at live events from time to time. Musicians can fall off the stage or trip over cables, and physical impact and/or knockouts among audiences members is very probable if a mosh pit is involved. The amount of energy at the event is determined by the type of music you play and your establishment, but you want to make sure you’re covered in case anything goes wrong. Be sure to purchase insurance that covers you for any injuries that could happen to the musicians or fans.

Finding and Working With Musicians

Finding musicians to play at your event can be hard if you don’t have an established reputation. Here are some tips for interacting with musicians.

  1. Message Them on Facebook. In my time reaching out to musicians on Dozmia, I’ve had much more success getting in touch with them via Facebook as opposed to email. I got almost no responses when trying to email artists. Sometimes they’ll ask you to send them an email in a Facebook message. Even then, I’d send the email, but follow up about it on Facebook.
  1. Make Sure They Fit Your Style. If you’re operating a coffee shop, heavy metal clearly won’t be a good fit for your restaurant. Acoustic acts might make more sense here. However, if you’re operating a bar, hard rock and metal could work. Pick musicians that fit the motif of your restaurant.
  1. Have a Written Agreement. You don’t need to have a lawyer draft up a contract, but have something in writing to ensure everything is understood. Be sure to include the event start time, the time the musicians should show up for setup and sound check, any pay between the parties, any limits on free food and drinks for them, and any other terms that are important to you or the musician. Writing things up can last a few minutes - the repercussions of not putting things into writing can last a lot longer than that.
  1. Let Them Sell Merchandise. Musicians make most of their money from merchandise sales. Often times, this is what gets them to their next gig. If the musicians know that you’re letting both yourself and the band generate revenue from this gig, they’ll want to come and play for you again, and they may even encourage other bands to play at your bar or restaurant.

Hosting live music events in your restaurant or bar can be a huge benefit for your name. Your dollars will go not only towards funding a rising local talent, but will also buy new faces for your establishment and a new asset to your business; you'll see sales in your bar POS system reports rise. So what are you waiting for? Once you get a grasp on the process, start taking the next steps toward bringing a musical guest to entertain your restaurant's guests.


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