Side Door’s “Back To Live” Program is Helping Revamp Small Venues

There are few things like an intimate concert—house shows, backyard gigs, bookstore performances—they create bonds and memories like no other for both fans and artists. Side Door’s philosophy is that “any space is a venue” and this mantra is guiding them through a new program that helps venue owners jump back into hosting.

Videos by American Songwriter

Founded in 2017, Side Door is dedicated to connecting artists with smaller, more intimate alternative performance spaces with lower overhead costs. They call themselves an “artist first” company and strive to remove barriers between performers and live venues.

“We believe artists deserve more control and fewer gatekeepers, and that an empowered arts community will produce the most interesting, diverse, and daring ecosystem of expression,” says the Side Door website. “So we at Side Door seek to help artists make a living in a nurturing environment. We are passionate about bringing people together through live performances. We hope you will join us in fostering art in your communities.”

Back To Live is Side Door’s latest project. It’s a subsidy program for venues opening back up after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to give people a soft landing and help reduce the financial risk of booking shows right now. Many of our hosts (living rooms, bookstores, etc) are either new to hosting live performances or are just now returning to it,” co-founder Dan Mangan tells American Songwriter. “Given the intensity of the stop-start-stop-whiplash artists have been mitigating, we felt that offering simple and direct show subsidies was a good way to inject some stimulus into the artistic ecosystem.”

By helping and encouraging alternative venues to start hosting again, the more than 5,000 artists on Side Door will once again have opportunities to enter communities and perform. For hosts, the process to access subsidies is easy.

“Hosts submit a simple application, and assuming they meet the requirements, they’ll be approved for up to $500 in expenses, and those expenses can include renting sound/lighting equipment for the show, hiring someone to run sound, or just paying it forward to the artist,” says Mangan.

However, this program is not limited to host use. Side Door knows that not all artists are comfortable enough to return to in-person performances, so Back To Live has an option to help artists market virtual shows.

“If artists aren’t ready yet to do an in-person performance, they can also just run an online-only show on their own, and we’ll cough up $100 toward a digital marketing campaign to help them sell some tickets,” Mangan said.

Especially with this new program up and running, Mangan is looking to expand the number and types of spaces available to act as venues. No matter what the goal, Side Door believes that any space is worthy of hosting live music.

“We find that all types of alternative venue spaces have their own reasons to come to Side Door. For instance, residential hosts do it mostly for the love of bringing art to their communities and tend to not take any revenue from the shows (but they can, of course). Public spaces like cafes, churches, or bookstores tend to host shows to stir up traffic in their space and build meaningful ties with their local community, or to bring in extra revenue at times when the space would normally be closed,” said Mangan. “But we don’t discriminate. We’ve got skate parks, yoga studios, national parks – we’re really trying to democratize live entertainment for anyone who wants to be involved. Anyone can apply for the subsidy!”

Side Door’s unique platform and purpose aim to open doors for small artists and venues everywhere by fostering connections and community.

“Side Door’s whole philosophy is about getting out of the way and providing access. Artists have to face so many gatekeepers in the industry. 97% of touring acts do not have a booking agent to help them get to promoters and traditional venues. They can’t get through the funnel,” said Mangan. “On Side Door, the funnel is shaped more like a sieve, and artists can create one-to-one relationships with hidden gems and unknown bespoke performance spaces everywhere.”

Cover photo of Laura Simpson and Dan Mangan by Lindsay Duncan

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