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Live Music 101 #4: Venue Typologies: An Overview – Emma Webster


Our research into live music has thrown up a number of venue typologies.  The next blog post in our Live Music 101 series aims to critically evaluate what is on offer, drawing on industrial, sociological, and architectural perspectives; the post includes previously unpublished work by Simon Frith.

Industrial perspective

To begin with a model from the live music industries, international concert tour manager and audio engineer Andy Reynolds (2008) classifies music venues into ten types, ranging from small-scale pubs to large-scale arenas, and by a number of factors including audience capacity, ratio of in-house to outside promotion, frequency of events, and show types:-

Click here to see Reynolds’ venue typology.

While Reynolds’ typology is a useful way of understanding the industrial – mostly commercial rock/pop – perspective on venue types, as with any typology, there are obvious omissions and grey areas.  For example, where would a venue such as the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall fit?  This is a venue of approx. 2,000 capacity, which stages classical and rock/pop type events, has fixed seating (some of which can be removed), is operated by Glasgow Life[1] – ostensibly part of Glasgow City Council – and therefore funded and operated differently to a ‘private’ venture such as the O2 Academy chain.  Similarly, would the SECC in Glasgow be classed as a shed, large hall, or arena?  The SECC was originally built as a large conference venue, with the later addition of the Clyde Auditorium as a designated concert space, but the large hall in the complex will continue to host live music events until the opening of The Hydro arena in 2013; in principle, it fulfils all three of Reynolds’ types, thereby again demonstrating the difficulties in typologising live music performance spaces.

Rather than examining venues in terms of size and scale, then, the next venue typology groups them ideologically.

Sociological perspective

Simon Frith (2008) has conceptualised that venues can be typologised ideologically, as follows:-

1) Music determined (music is the purpose of the build/rebuild)

Concert halls, music halls, dance halls, music venues (e.g. Academy/O2), clubs[2]

2) Music related, leisure determined, commercial

Pubs, bars, hotels, coffee bars, coffee houses, restaurants, brothels, strip clubs, casinos, cinemas, theatres, radio and TV studios, holiday camps, caravan sites, boats (cruises), trains, clubs of various sorts[3]

3) Music related, leisure determined, non-commercial

Civic halls, assembly rooms, spa centres, church halls, churches, village halls, community centres, youth clubs, schools, universities, colleges, arts schools, art centres, art galleries, museums, libraries, bandstands, parks, exhibition centres, convention centres

4) Useable spaces not designed or usually used for music

Fields (for festivals), barns, military bases, prisons, hospitals, retirement homes, homes, the streets, shops and shopping malls, sports grounds, stadia

Frith’s typology is obviously broader than Reynolds’ but less specific as to size and operation.  Again, the problems with typologies of this kind can be seen: would Reynolds’ ‘music bar or pub’ come under Frith’s ‘music determined’ or ‘music related’ categories, for instance?  From my own experience, the music venue part of a music pub is often separate from the main pub area (as with the now defunct Grapes in Sheffield, or even King Tut’s Wah Wah Bar in Glasgow, to an extent), and so one could almost say that within one building – and under one name – there exist two different types of venues (particularly if one takes into account that live music also takes place in King Tut’s’ bar area), although they may well be separated by an entrance fee.

Another important consideration, and one which both Frith and Reynolds neglect, is the architectural features of the venue, and how these impact on how the building is designed, used, and regulated.

Architectural perspective

Focusing on contemporary popular music performance venues, Robert Kronenburg (2011) offers a typology based on the architectural features of the venue in question, which I have further divided into permanent and mobile spaces for music performance.  I also believe that it is possible to widen the genre parameters that Kronenburg has set by applying the typology across all genres.

Permanent Structures

1) Adopted Spaces:

‘Bars and restaurants are the most common, though by no means the only, building type to be converted into a place where music performance is the primary function. Larger stages can be found in former churches, theatres, or cinemas’ (p. 140), although this category also includes busking.  This category dovetails with Frith’s ‘music related, leisure determined’ categories, but without the ideological division between non-commercial and commercial functions.

2) Adapted Spaces:

Such spaces are often – but not only – the result of expediency – ‘it being quicker (and often cheaper to convert an existing building to a performance space function than to build a new one from scratch’ (p. 141).  Other factors play a part, however, such as location and historical/architectural value.

3) Dedicated Spaces:

As Kronenburg points out, ‘Although adapted popular music performance spaces are most common, changing old buildings to a different function will always result in compromise.  Only building new has the potential to solve the design brief perfectly’ (p. 141).  Both categories 2) and 3) match Frith’s ‘music determined’ type but without the added (and important) nuances of Kronenburg’s architectural model.

Mobile Structures

4) Mobile Spaces:

‘Because of its capacity for temporary, low-impact installation, it is possible for portable buildings to be located on otherwise unbuildable sites.  These radical forms can be erected in city centre spaces alongside listed buildings where similar scale permanent buildings would never be allowed, in public parks where permanent structures could never be built, or large-scale areas of open farmland in sensitive locations’ (p. 142).

Dividing mobile spaces into two separate categories – private and public – is also worthwhile.  Everyday public spaces such as parks can be transformed by the introduction of a mobile stage (and then closed to members of the public who have no ticket) and harks back to the age of pleasure gardens in London in the 18th and 19th centuries, while concerts held in usually private spaces to the (paying) public allow audiences into spaces that would usually be out-of-bounds, thus further enhancing the uniqueness of the live music experience.

Towards a combined venue typology

In order to further understand venue types, I have combined Frith and Kronenburg’s venue typologies to give eight types, which, when used in conjunction with Reynolds’ typology, gives a fairly comprehensive of the types of venue available to promoters in the UK (and perhaps beyond):-


Music-determined dedicated spaces – e.g. the newly built Leeds Arena and The Hydro in Glasgow (both expected to open in 2013), and the Sage Gateshead (albeit more focused on classical and folk)

Music-determined adapted spaces – e.g. O2 Academy, Brixton (formerly a cinema and theatre) and Leadmill, Sheffield (formerly a flour mill)

Music related, leisure determined, non-commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Get it Loud in Libraries

Music related, leisure determined, commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Pizza Express, Dean Street, London

Non-music related non-commercial adopted spaces – e.g. House Concerts York

Non-music related commercial adopted spaces – e.g. Wembley Stadium


Private mobile spaces – e.g. Garsington Opera’s 600 seat pavilion, erected at the private estate of the Getty family at Wormsley Park.

Public mobile spaces – e.g. the Edinburgh Castle bleachers and stage that appear each summer in the Castle Esplanade, and festival sites such as Kelvingrove Park’s annual West End Festival.

If you have a typology of venues that you think would add to our understanding of these vital live music performance spaces, please share it, either via email or in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.



Frith, S. (2008) Notes of project meeting April 29 2008. Email to project team, 7 May.

Kronenburg, R. (2011) Typological trends in contemporary popular music performance venues. Arts Marketing: An International Journal, Vol. 1 Issue 2, pp.136 – 144.

Reynolds, A. (2008) The tour book: how to get your music on the road. Boston, Mass., Thomson Course Technology.


[1] Glasgow Life is the operating name of Culture and Sport Glasgow, which as of April 2007, is the organisation responsible for delivering cultural, leisure and outdoor recreation services in Glasgow.

[2] Clubs may be worth treating as separate, as only some are in music determined buildings; clubs cover such a range of venue types — night clubs, jazz clubs, working men’s clubs, works clubs, social clubs — only some of which in music determined buildings, that clubs might be worth treating as a separate category.

[3] See above.

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


8 thoughts on “Live Music 101 #4: Venue Typologies: An Overview – Emma Webster

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  2. Another side to venues, especially those that aren’t purpose built, is the practice of people hosting gigs in their homes- either to audiences on site or via the web. These people have been hosting gigs in their home and have run into trouble with Edinburgh council. The exact root of the problem, and instruction to stop the gigs, isn’t clear yet but it does raise the issue of the blurry boundary around exactly what is and isn’t a venue in terms of regulation.

  3. I’m glad you bring up this issue because it is important to the study of live music. One level is terminology. The move to typology is a tricky one. It might be understood parallel to the genre debates in music studies. The same music can be identified with different labels in different social and historical contexts. This leads me to suggest that venues are best conceived within historical and social processes. That’s part of what I tried to do in my genre book

  4. I’m refurbishing a small theatre near Paisley as a multi-purpose performance space. It has an 130 seating/250 standing capacity with a 6.5×2.5M stage. We are installing lighting and PA facilities as part of the work. There are backstage rooms with a small kitchen.

    I’m really struggling to get a grasp of what the reality of venue facilities are as the opinions being offered vary so much as to be almost self cancelling. I’ve visited most of the well known venues in Glasgow, but they understandably reluctant to detail where they could have done better and of course that does not give me the opinion from a musician’s point of view.

    What are the essentials that bands/promoters require when using a venue such as this? I’m also interested in the nice to haves as well as we’d like to make it a first choice location.

  5. hi.
    sounds like an exciting opportunity you have on your hands. all the best with it

    off the top of my head and in no particular order..

    a sound console and dedicated space
    space at the entrance for tickets/entry fee
    toilet facility
    safe stage (the nucleus of your venue)

    nice to have:
    in-house music equipment (drumkit and mics,amps,vocal mics,keyboards. something is better than nothing but some bands are choosy, this is a tricky and costly one)
    loyal in-house sound engineer (gets to know venue, gaining a reputation for ‘good sound’ is possible)
    foldable/moveable stage (fluidity of the space, expansion of the floor, repositioning options)
    a fridge backstage (complimentary chilled drinks for bands is appreciated)
    a cloakroom
    good surface to dance on (for performance or the audience)
    a bar
    up-to-date noticeboard (social space encourages engagement and makes the venue a reference point for keeping people connected and well-informed)
    dedicated flyers/zines desk (to encourage a connection with venues and promoters in the pre-existing scene)
    decorated with art by local artists/creatives (more of the community angle)
    projector and screen (opens the floor for audio visuals and daytime screenings?)
    facility for recording video or audio, or at least a way to make it convenient. (could be a chargeable facility, extra for service)

  6. Hello Sandy,

    This sounds really interesting. I’m originally from Paisley and would love to have a quality live music venue in my home town. I work as a touring musician and also as a promoter’s rep working in most venues all over Scotland. In addition to Pete’s comments, I would add some other things that make the day a wee bit easier-

    -An easy load in with wide doors with as little need to lift heavy equipment up stairs as is possible.
    -Wireless Internet.
    -A production office for use of visiting promoter and tour manager.
    -At least 1 dressing room. Preferably 2.
    -Parking for a couple of vans.
    -Are you likely to get tourbus sized bands? If so landline power for sleepers would be really appreciated by the touring parties.
    -Showers/toilet facilities.
    -A supply of small stage towels, and larger bath towels.
    -Tea and Coffee making equipment.

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  8. Don’t have a bar or a cloakroom, there is a small vestibule and then you are into the hall which is approx 10Mx10M.

    There is a balcony over the sides and the back which has been cleared to provide a dedicated area for the lighting and sound desks. (You could seat spectators at the sides from some functions) There is an 8 ways of XLR hard-wired between the stage and control point along with 4 off speakons.

    We have 24 channels of dimming and 40+ PARs, profiles, and spots. DMX outlets on each lighting bar, both perches, and on the stage – we hire in DMX fixtures from a third party – capital budget could not accomodate.

    We have a 250″ screen and an HD projector ,so can do the audio visual thing.

    Toilets are OK, but I’ll look into adding a shower when we do the changing room. There is a kitchen backstage.

    Parking is not a problem.

    I can’t afford, and nor do I have the space to store, instruments or backline equipment, but do intend to furnish mikes (SM58) and stands as part of the PA. In a small venue how much is foldback an essential we’ve been thinking of a few wedges for the vocalist(s)?

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