Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series about starting a band.
Booking will come more naturally than you may think. Through going to shows and immersing yourself in your local scene you’ll surely spend time talking about your band to new friends who are also bookers, bartenders or in bands themselves.
Opportunities to play live will arise almost immediately but keep in mind how important it is to make an impactful impression on the audience.
You’ll probably be offered an opening slot by another local band looking to fill a bill before you get to the point where you’re booking yourself. Before jumping at the first opportunity thrown your way, consider the following:
— Will we have time to promote the fuck out of this show?
— Will we have time to make sure our set is tight?
— Is this a band that we really want to play with?
— Do we have time to get merch for this show?
Don’t hop on a show that’s a week away. Give yourself two months. This not only will give you plenty of time to dick around with your songs and tighten up your set, but it will also give you some time to do the extracurriculars such as postering the city, contacting local newspapers and music writers and dealing with the inevitable cancellations by any number of people.
If you’re the particularly ambitious type, give yourself four months and record/duplicate your first EP. This is an immensely less popular method/timeline for a new group, but one I’m quite fond of … but more on that in later installments.
Selectivity is important (to an extent). If a venue offers you a show and you know the average patrons aren’t the kind of people who you will appeal to, keep looking. Don’t play a gig for the sake of gigging.
You also don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re holding out for a slot on a weeknight bill from the biggest venue in town. Your reputation is going grow a lot faster if you focus on packing smaller, hip bars and clubs. Don’t equate the sheer size of the venue you’re playing to the progress you’re making. Big venues are obviously harder to fill and odds are, if they’re putting you (an unproven local act) on the bill in the first place, they’re probably just grabbing at straws to get people out to the show. Pass.
Since you’ve been going to shows so often since starting your band, you probably have a good idea of where you’ll fit in. Before pestering their booker, look into getting a bill together.
When dealing with smaller clubs, things will run a lot more smoothly if you have a bill in the works. Before running from venue to venue asking about dates and availability, contact a couple bands about the date(s) that you’re looking for and make sure that you have a couple bands saying “yes” or “probably” to fill out a lineup. The club will appreciate not having to hit up bands, and you won’t have to worry about playing on a hastily thrown together bill.
Even though this is your first or one of your first shows, there’s no reason not to be pragmatic when looking toward the future. Avoid playing shows that are only feature local acts, that won’t do you any good when you’re trying to book a Thursday night in Tempe or whatever hideous city your band is touring through next year. Ask the more established bands in the area if they know any touring groups that have been trying to play in the area and put forth the extra effort to contact them. By the time you’ve sent to the necessary texts and emails, you should have a bill that looks something like this:
- HEADLINER: A good local band that has a rapport with the club you’ve booked and a fan base that you think will like you.
- SUPPORT: A good touring band that has told you they’re interested in swapping gigs and will help you when you’re group starts touring.
- OPENER: “Wait, I’m doing all of this work to set up the show and we’re opening?” Yeah, make sure to tell your friends to get there early because even though you put the show together, you’re going to have to suck it up and play first. The main reason for this is to supply the touring act with the best crowd possible. Doing this doesn’t just make you look good but helps the reputation of your entire scene. Take the less-than-ideal spot with a smile and hope that you get treated that way on the road.
Transparency is key. After hammering out the details with the person booking your band, set up a group text, email, or Facebook message with your contacts from the other band and the booker and lay everything out on the table to avoid any confusion closer to the date. Your initial email can be as simple as-
Here are the details for Saturday, December 12 at Local Hipster Pub
headlining- Cool Local Band (11-12)
support- Cool Touring Band (10-10:45)
opener- My Shitty Band (9-9:45)
Load in: 7 p.m.
*We’ll do line checks before each band plays
Pay: split cover 3 ways
“Oversaturation” as it pertains to booking is a fancy word for being a dumbass. Excitable young band folk often want to play as much as possible to “get their name out there.” Understand that playing countless poorly promoted and executed shows won’t do that.
However, mindful planning can transform your little local gig into a party; an event. The reputation as the band that has packed, fun shows once every couple months will spread infinitely faster than the band that’s “really grinding it out” on the local circuit. Make your performances a destination in your local arts community.
Lastly, playing your own town too often (more than once a month) makes you look like an ass to the people booking you and the bands playing with you.
As the ink of your newly scheduled gig dries on the calendar, we’ll get into promotion and preparation for your show. Stay tuned, kiddos.
Quick Tip: “If you can play guitar and sing, you can probably get a gig down the road playing at a restaurant, but don’t throw your life away chasing something that is so elusive it will only lead you to regret and may turn you bitter.”- Cliff Richard
RELATED STORIES: Check out the first three installments of the series by Spencer Kilpatrick. LINK