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what is on offer, drawing on industrial, sociological, and architectural perspectives; the post includes previously unpublished work by Simon Frith.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.