What can venues do to improve the attendance at their location? Take a page out of the book of Hilly Kristal for starters. CBGB's became an iconic venue because of the way they presented bands and brought life to the music scene in New York city. Hilly interviewed bands before they could perform at the venue and gave them direction on their stage performance.
The days of the perfect local music venue have all but faded away. Now we are only left with venues that are empty with over-priced booze. Many venues have given up on the music scene and now many post on their websites that bands are required to bring the crowd. What's the point of a band bringing all their fans to a venue that has absolutely no draw on its own? Bands don't want their fans to pay a cover charge and buy expensive booze when they could just hold a kegger in their garage. Many bands are providing a great asset to venues by performing original music and bringing energy and life to the music scene.
Many venues have managers and booking agents that are hands-off when it comes to the actual performance. Relying on a band to bring a crowd to a venue is insane! Bands can't bring a crowd if they consistently play for empty rooms. The fact that the room is empty is entirely the fault of the venue for not attracting people just for the fact that they have good live music. If the music is bad, it doesn't matter how many people the band attracts, because those people will most likely not come back to the venue to see other bands.
Venues need to establish themselves as a destination for good music. Ideally, it would be good to pick a genre of music and become the go-to place to see just that particular style of music. If music goers can rely on the fact that on any given night they will be able to hear a certain genre of music at a particular venue, the odds are high that they will just show up randomly to hear the live performance on any given night. This isn't rocket science, this is just the plain and simple facts that no one wants to go to a venue on the off chance that they have a slim chance of enjoying the live music for that night.
A big plus would be to keep the price of alcohol down to encourage music goers to come out to the venue and just enjoy the evening. If the prices are affordable, many people will go out just to be out and experience what is happening in the music scene. Paying $20 for 2 drinks is outrageous and needs to stop. If your venue doesn't have a valet parking everyone's car, then you are not allowed to charge outrageous prices for alcohol. Again, this is the plain and simple fact that funds are tight in this economy and no one wants to go out to a small local venue and spend their paycheck on over-priced drinks & have a slim chance on enjoying the music for the evening.
Here is a solution to venues that are trying to establish themselves as a reputable music venue. Don't charge a flat cover just to get in the door. Unless you have a reputation like the Filmore or The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, no one is going to come to your venue because they saw a flyer or an event posted on social media. If you need to charge an entrance fee to help cover overhead costs, make it a 1 or 2 drink minimum and hand out tickets at the door. This way people feel like they are getting something for their money and will most-likely have a few drinks more while they're at your venue. By getting people in the door, you are helping support the local music scene and you make your venue more attractive to people when they're making a decision on where to go for the evening.
The most important thing for any venue is to make sure the atmosphere is enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing. If the floor is sticky, no one will come to your venue. If the sound system is bad, no one will come to your venue. If the bathrooms are filthy, no one will come to your venue. If the lighting is bad, no one will come to your venue. People want to be entertained and are willing to spend good money if they know they're going to enjoy themselves. Venues need to read the comments people make on review websites. If everyone keeps complaining about the same things, then those are serious problems that need to be addressed immediately. Once a venue gets a bad rap, there is no hope for anyone just showing up to check out what is happening.
So our advice to all venues is spend a little time on making your space the best it can be. This will attract good bands and it will most definitely attract regular patrons that know they are going to enjoy themselves on any given night.