On Empathy and Ego: An Interview with Beachland Ballroom’s Cindy Barber

Women in Music Business independent concert venue interview with Beachland Ballroom's Cindy Barber
Cindy Barber, President of Beachland Ballroom

There are only a handful of women in the US who own and operate independent club concert venues.

I believe talking about women in the Music Business is important. Especially where there are so few women stakeholders.  I’m hard-pressed to find statistical evidence that they even exist. Today, women in Music still make up less than 30% of our Industry. In venue ownership, it’s closer to 5%.

In 2019, this should be shocking, but not certainly not surprising.

Cindy Barber is the co-owner and President of Cleveland, Ohio’s renowned Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. Since opening about 19 years ago, her dedication to cultivating a local music community has put Beachland on the map as one of the top independent venues in Cleveland (and for reasons I’ll later explain), IMHO, one of the top independent venues in the Country.   Beachland has broken numerous bands including the Black Keys and the White Stripes and continues to develop and be the home base for many nationally touring artists across all genres.

In my years of working in venue ticketing, Cindy and I had a business relationship and then later developed a friendship.  We were both working in areas of Music where women were the extreme minority, and I found common ground and respite in our conversations.

Cindy has always been generous with her time and once took a few hours out of her day to give me the grand tour of all things Beachland and Cleveland including the attached Beachland record store and fantastic vintage shop (read: drooling over records and vintage clothing is a favorite pass-time of mine). All this and of course, shows in the incredible Beachland. I felt tremendous pride from Cindy for what she and her team had built and a deep sense of responsibility to the contribution of Cleveland’s music community.

Cindy has a profound passion for community and the independent venue network. This is rare because in most US markets, independently owned venue operators tend to play pretty close to the vest and are competitively so by nature. In primary and many secondary markets, it is rare to see such collaborative networks like the one in Cleveland that don’t result in pushing partners out. Cindy sees things differently. She thinks of her staff and fellow local independent venue operators like family.  She treats people as equals- rights-holders with agency, regardless of their title, gender and pay grade. She has always struck me as someone who checks her ego at the door and I have witnessed this first hand.

I asked Cindy to do this interview with me in hopes of showing deep gratitude and appreciation for her tireless hard work, contribution and collaborative workplace philosophy.  AND to also share some ideas for a different (perhaps better?) way to work with people our crazy, wonderful and challenging Business. Soooooo this is a Women in Music Business interview with Beachland’s Cindy Barber.  I hope you find this interview as valuable!

Beachland Ballroom
Beachland Ballroom and Tavern – Cleveland, Ohio

LJ Malberg: What makes a venue a great venue to work for?
Cindy Barber: Keeping the music as the core endeavor and mission is important and attracts employees who care. We’ve been around for 18 1/2 years and I have people that have been here almost the whole time. The average is 5-8 years. We can’t pay very much, but they hang in there because of the love of the music.

LJ: What management styles work best in venue management?
Cindy: We give people a lot of freedom to get the job done. We’re not passing out corporate “structures” every week- although sometimes I wish we were. Having 2 rooms and being a mom and pop, we’re living hand-to-mouth and not a lot of time to get organized. We do have weekly booking meetings with ideas to boost ticket sales and then we have weekly management meetings. There’s a 24/7 Manager that becomes the center of communication/point person.

Communication in the venue space is totally a challenge because there’s bands everyday and there’s so much going on and changing and everybody has to be flexible and be ready for anything. It can’t be perfect all the time given what we’re dealing with.  Proper staffing could be the most difficult for venues because given what you’re dealing with you have to have a lot more staff than a restaurant (load-ins, hospitality, production, settlements, etc.) but you can’t really (afford to) cut staff.

LJ: Which personalities make a great fit for working for a Venue?
Cindy: Flexible and ready for anything personalities, not anal-detail-oriented personalities that don’t seem to play with others and look down at others. You need somebody who can party and wants to talk to the bands but doesn’t take that to the farthest extreme either. They also need to stay on the ball and get ready for the next shift.

LJ: What are some of the biggest challenges Venue owners face with their employees?
Cindy: Alcohol is a big problem. Part of the reason people work at a music venue is to hang out when it’s not their shift. They can hang out afterwards and sometimes certain personalities don’t mix well with alcohol. And you’re responsible for the employees that work for you. And they have more access to the alcohol than the patrons do. High accountability takes a lot of time and energy. And having to cover people financially (like making sure they’re ok and they can get to work).

LJ: What’s the biggest challenge employees face working for a Venue?
Cindy: It’s a hectic, fast-paced, loose atmosphere. You have to try to help as much as you can and find your slot and just do a good job so the venue can grow and thrive. With our venue, it’s a smaller group of people so everybody is sort of grabbing the mail if it’s in the mailbox and grabbing some posters and taking them to their coffee shop. It changes everyday so you have to be flexible and open, AND know music. Bring your perspective to the table. Everyone wants to hear what you music like and your ideas for making this a better environment. Sharing that and trying to help the booking people know new bands is great- that can keep a good venue going.

LJ: What do venue owners need help most often with?
Cindy: It’s a systemic kind of thing; owning a venue. You need a good band that can draw an audience, and the communication to get people in the room- the marketing end of things- right now seems to be the most difficult. There’s so many different threads to find out where good music is, it’s just too difficult. Marketing and booking. There’s 4 of us that contribute to booking the rooms and trying to come up with new, creative ways. At our level, when you’re trying to break bands and expose bands to new audiences, it has to create a very magical moment when your friends tell their friends, “you gotta see this band”.

Cindy on ego: The biggest problem we have is when a band walks through the door and their ego is too big for the door. Disrespect for my staff from bands is the worst part. The ego is often times from the bands’ themselves. Kings of Leon were JUST HORRIBLE. People who’ve been on the road for a really long time can be appreciative, but when there’s ego it becomes adversarial.

Cindy on empathy: I’m a highly empathetic creature so I’m not as tough when there’s slacking going on (at work). I think that in our society in general we need more empathy, and since our Country has chosen a leader that doesn’t have any empathy, the traditional rock venue is almost going the way that classical music is, and has to be subsidized as non-profit. If you lose the empathy and lose the “Kumbaya moment” and you want people to have that moment, you can only really do that with a good experience. It can’t be about ego and it can’t be about who’s screwing who, and the people on and off the stage have to forget about that.

Compassion rocks!

LJ xo

1 comment

  1. Interesting interview. Sounds like a hard business to run……so many parts to oversee. A hard working woman.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *