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Pre-Show: How To Engage With The Audience At Your Venue

We’ve all been there. We’re so excited to see the artist playing that we arrive to the venue early. Like pre-opening act, merch table just got set up early.  Depending on the size of the act in town, this could also involve waiting in line outside – in the cold or rain, until the doors open. And as we file into the venue, we are greeted by silence. We stand around, sometimes waiting alone for our friends who are always running late. As the sound of clinking glass soundtracks the space, we decide to get a beer at the bar. More and more people enter the space, and together, we wait. In silence… at a concert.

Pre-show engagement is one of the most underwhelming experiences of every concertgoer. Here is a great opportunity to curate a special moment with the audience, but often the time before the opener and in between acts, is nothing but dead air. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 5 ways to engage with the audience before the first act hits the stage. A more engaged audience means more money spent in the venue, and more repeat customers. They might even show up next time, without even knowing who is on the lineup.

Pre-Show Music

This is probably one of the most overlooked ways to activate the space before the opening act. We live in an era of sonic branding – not only is music everywhere, but we also expect it to be everywhere.  So many times the audience enters a venue and is greeted by silence. This lack of energy translates to a lack of excitement. Lack of enthusiasm often then results in people leaning into their cellphones, instead of exploring the space – or even spending money at the bar.  A simple playlist run over the house speakers, while a simple touch, helps to create a sense of community and turn the venue from a waiting space into a social space. A social space allows people to feel comfortable. This small tweak will also get more people to the bar, and into discovery mode, which means exploring your venue, instead of scrolling their feed.


There are a few startups working on how to fill the pre-show space with interactive experiences. One that is ahead of the curve is Stagecast, a company based in Sweden. Their goal is to integrate smartphones into live events. Users download the app and then can interact in a series of “moments,” which are designed to enhance the “here and now” experience. This includes being able to take photos that are then projected onto the stage as a collage, create real time quizzes and audience polls, and even engage the audience in competitive games. As of late 2019 there are 16 different moments available, which include the ability to send information to users online before, after, and during your event. This could include announcements about the next show, a discount/drink special at the bar, or link to purchase venue merchandise.

Social Media

Your venue should have a social media manager or at least someone on staff whose responsibility is to handle social engagement during performances.  Instagram rapidly went from a showcase of spontaneity, to a heavily curated platform (for feed posts, at least). However, this is not how Instagram Stories and most social media works. Real time engagement is key. Your venue should already be discoverable for location tagging on Instagram and Facebook. But your social handle and venue hashtags can also be displayed in physical places where people can find them (ex: by the restrooms and coat check). Then they can also tag the venue. Why is this important? Because if people tag the venue before or during the show, you can search for that content and repost it to your own social media accounts. This not only gives you user generated content in real time – it shows that you care about your audience. Often times, people will then repost your story, getting the name of your venue in front of their individual audience, while also showcasing your venue and brand in its element. Welcome to engaging content you don’t have to make yourself.

Show Photos/Memorabilia

In a social media driven era, everyone is looking for organic engagement. Yes people will be geo-tagging their location on Instagram, checking in on Facebook, and taking selfies. But what if you gave them something else to post other than an empty stage? We as humans love a visual experience, and chances are if the concertgoer is in your venue, they also love music. Find a space where you can display photographs or even video or previous acts that have played in the space. Not only will people have something to do while they wait around, they might even tag you.

Venue-Branded Content

Movie theaters have trailers and previews, and music venues can also incorporate these into their pre-show entertainment offering (granted there is a projection screen or surface). However this isn’t the time to just sell ad space (though you could) – this is an opportunity to connect with the audience and share your brand. What makes your venue special? What kind of non music things are visitors to your space interested in? Nighthawk Cinema in New York does an excellent job of creating in house previews that nod at the venues identity and aesthetic – mixed with previews of upcoming movies. Their content has created an almost cult following, with people showing up early just to watch.

There are many other ways to engage with the audience at your venue before the opening act hits the stage. Whatever you decide to try out, just make sure to think about creating a social space instead of solely another advertising opportunity.

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