If you’ve never booked a gig before, you’ll soon realize there are a lot of considerations to be had. If you have booked a gig before, then hold tight and read this guide – you may learn some things that you’ve never thought of before.
Choosing the Venue
First things first – you need to choose a venue. You don’t want to just choose the first venue you can think of though. You’ll want to make sure it’s the right venue for your music. You have to remember that every venue is looking for a different form of musical entertainment. Some only book certain genres, some only book cover bands, and some only book famous acts.
If you are an original act, there’s a good chance that you only have enough songs to fill a set shorter than an hour. When you select the venue, you’ll want to make sure they aren’t expecting you to fill up an entire night all by yourself. Any good booking agentThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. will make sure to tell you what is expected on your part in terms of set times. The problem is that there are a lot of bad bookers out there. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. It’s not easy to fill up a 3 hour set if you don’t have enough material.
In general you’ll find set times run in some form of 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Each venue is different, and a lot of it depends on how many acts they plan to have on in a single night. Whatever the case, you will want to find out if your set time includes set-up and tear down or not.
I know it might seem like a weird concept, but not every venue has a proper sound system. Again, the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. SHOULD know and inform you if you need to do or bring anything. Nevertheless, I’ll stress it again – don’t depend on them telling you. You need to be proactive and make sure you know everything. It would be a bad night if you showed up and they didn’t have any speakers for the audience to hear the vocals.
If you have an act that uses tracks or any specialty equipment, you’ll need to make sure that their sound system handles that as well. There are a lot of venues out there that don’t have much more than a pair of speakers and a mic.
Lots of times venues are actually a business, such as a bar, that just happens to have music at night. That means you will find quite a wide range of stage set ups. You may find huge risers that an orchestra could fit on. You might also find out they have no real stage, just a corner that they move the tables out of. Unless you have very specific requirements, you should be able to figure out how to set up on most any stage – as long as you are flexible. If you have a lot of members, or a drummer with a giant kit, then you just need to make sure that you aren’t playing on a stage that’s only 5’ x 5’. Or you can just clear it with the venue to make sure it’s okay that you take up more room than their designated stage.
Contacting the Venue
Once you have the right venue chosen, you’ll need to contact them. Most venues have a preferred way to contact them whether it’s by email, snail mail, phone, Facebook, or MySpace (yes some venues still use this as their main way to book). I’d recommend using whatever method they specify. There’s a reason they want you to contact them that way. Not listening will give you less of a chance of getting the gig.
If they don’t have a method specified, go with whatever method you feel the most comfortable with.
Email is probably one of the most common ways for venues to book bands now. It’s a convenient way for the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. to keep everything organized and handle everything in a timely manner. If you do choose to contact them by Email, you’ll need some form of E-Press KitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. If you don’t have one already, here is a quick list of basics that you should have:
- Contact Info
- Recordings (If you don’t have anything recorded yet, you should make sure your bio covers what you sound like. Sadly, it’s commonplace now days for venues to require some form of recording before booking a band. But before you rush off and do that, I’d recommend reading our article “Is It Time To Record An Album?”)
My recommendation is to host your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc. on your website somewhere like http://presskit.yourbandname.com. Or at the very least put it in a PDF on your server. (If you don’t have a website set up yet, I’m going to reference you to another article – “10 Steps To Creating Your Band’s Online Presence.”
Once you have your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc. set up, you can actually craft the email. There are many trains of thoughts on what is the best way to write an email, but really there isn’t a single best way. There are, however, some definite DOs and DON’Ts.
- Make the email personal. Make sure you address the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. by name if you have it. Or at the very least use the venue name.
- Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Tell them who you are.
- Mention which dates you are interested in.
- Use any attachments. That includes any mp3s of your songs, photos, or a PDF of your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. Unless they specifically say in their booking rules that they want you to attach it, ALWAYS use a link instead.
- Write your entire press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc. in the email. Only say what is needed to convince them to check out your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. Let the press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc. do the talking.
Contacting venues by post is pretty much dead now days. But every so often you will run into a venue that prefers the old school methods. Most likely they will tell you what you need to include. Whatever the case, you’ll need to include your Press KitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. It’s the same idea as your E-Press KitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc., just in a tangible form. If you don’t have one you can just use the same guide as above.
The same rules apply here as with Email. Just keep in mind that they will probably check you out on whatever social network page you are using before they go anywhere else. So you need to make sure that it sells your music well too.
Phones are actually a great way to contact venues – as long as you are good on a phone. It’s a very personal connection and therefore the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. actually gets a feel for you who are. Just keep in mind that if you are bad on a phone, you’ll need to do some practicing. You don’t want to sound too pushy, scared, or like you have a giant ego. Think of it just like a job interview. You want to sell yourself as much as you can without them realizing that’s what you are doing.
It’s rare that you will find a venue that wants you to contact them in person initially. But if you do, the same rules as the phone apply. The only difference is that you need to make sure you look presentable. They will judge you the same way now as they would if you were up on stage. Most likely you’ll want to dress in a similar fashion. Unless you are GWAR… then you might want to rethink coming in your stage outfit.
Sometimes you may not hear a response from the venue for a while. Keep in mind that you aren’t the only band they are booking. Chances are they are getting hundreds of musicians contacting them every day for a gig. So before you send an angry letter to them asking why they haven’t responded, give them some time. The general rule of thumb is 2 weeks, but sometimes they’ll specifically say to wait longer.
Once the designated time has passed, feel free to contact them again politely asking if they had a chance to consider you. Make sure you include any information necessary for them to check you out if somehow the email got lost in the mix. That means at the bare minimum your contact info and a link to your press kitA package that gives a quick and comprehensive overview. Common items include photos, CDs, biographies, press coverage, etc.. Whatever you do, do NOT write an angry email. That’s a sure fire way to develop a bad reputation and ruin a lot of career opportunities.
Playing the Gig
Once you have your gig booked, it’s time to start considering what is needed in order to make the most of it.
You should always make sure to do everything in your power to have as little of a set-up and teardown time as possible. The audience is the most likely to leave in between sets. So if you can reduce the amount of time between one band to the next you’ll have a larger audience. That means that you’ll make more fans, make more money, and keep the venue happy.
The easiest way to reduce your time is to do as much off of the stage as possible. For most instruments that doesn’t entail much. Usually the largest amount of time is consumed by the drums. So make sure your drummer sets ups as much of their kit as possible before your set even starts. That way you can just walk the already assembled pieces up to the stage.
The same idea applies after your set. No one wants to wait 20 minutes while the drummer breaks their kit down on stage. Take as much as you can off of the stage and finish tearing down there. That way the next band can hop on and get their set started. Not all of the blame can be placed on the drummer though. I’ve seen far too many bands start talking and hanging out with their friends and fans once their set is done. Although I highly encourage doing that as quickly as possible, you need to realize that unless you are the last band for the night, there is someone waiting on you to get off the stage as quick as possible. Make sure that you get your gear off of the stage first, and then you can start schmoozing. If you are really worried about talking to them the second after your last note, then get some roadies to lug your gear around for you. Don’t put the burden on the band after you.
Whether or not the venue is paying you is something you need to make clear BEFORE the night of the gig. Some venues pay their musicians a flat fee, some give a percent of the door, some give a percent of a bar, some give nothing, and some even charge the musicians in order to play (often referred to as Pay-to-PlayWhen a venue requires a guarantee from you in order to play. For example, the venue may make you responsible for the sale of 50 tickets. If you don't sell all of the tickets, you are required to pay for the tickets anyways.). Usually pay is determined by size of audience.
If it’s your first gig ever, you should be focused on bringing as many people as you can and not on how much you’re going to make that night. Without some form of gig history, most venues aren’t going to be too keen on giving you any money. But if you bring 100 people to see you, then they’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure you come back and bring all those people again.
If it’s not your first gig, and you have a decent gigging reputation, then you might be able to demand a better deal since the venue knows what to expect. Just keep in mind that it’s rare to find a venue that cares about much more than how much money they are going to make in a night. And money to them is ticket, bar, and food sales. If having you play makes them no money then they probably aren’t interested in promising you any guarantee.
You’ll soon find out that there is an ongoing struggle between the venues and the musicians as to who is actually responsible for bringing the audience. There’s a very simple answer though – you’re BOTH responsible for it. It doesn’t really make any sense for either side to think that the other party is responsible for ALL of the people walking in through the door.
If you’re the kind of band that doesn’t care about promoting your shows, and you bring absolutely no one, then there is no benefit for the venue to book you. But if you’re a venue that has absolutely no built in crowd, there’s no benefit to the band booking a gig with you. I could sit here and rant on and on about who is actually at fault for starting and continuing the ongoing battle, but it really doesn’t matter. Both sides need to wake up and realize that the only way for live music to succeed is for everyone to work together. That means that bands and venues need to both promote and try to bring foot traffic. It also means that bands have to work with each other.
Work With The Other Bands
I’m always a bit disheartened when a band only promotes their own set time and name. All that does is encourage fans to only show up for your set and to leave once you’re done. Doesn’t it seem rather obvious that if every band had their fan base show up for the ENTIRE night, then the floor would be packed all night? That means more fans for everyone! Besides, don’t you think your fans would be more willing to spend money to see you if they knew that they were also going to see other acts as well?
There’s another good reason to befriend bands and help one another. Other gigging musicians understand how difficult it can be to pull a crowd, so they’re a lot more willing to go out and support other local artists. You may find out very quickly that your first real fans are the other bands. And think about it, if every band you play with is on the floor supporting you, that’s already a small crowd! Just make sure to return the favor.
If you have any merchandise to sell, then you’re going to need some form of merch table. Once again, I would talk to the bookerThe person who schedules shows for a venue. They can be an employee of the venue, or someone who works independent of the venue. about what their rules are. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask:
- Do they take a percent of your sales?
- Is there anywhere to set up inside of the venue?
- Do they prohibit any type of merchandise? (Some venues don’t allow stickers because of city laws about posting stickers in public places.)
- Do they provide a merch person? (This usually only happens in large venues or if they take a percent.)
Once you know the venue’s rules, you should have a good idea of what you need to do. But just to be sure, here are some essentials you’ll need for a proper merch table:
- A table
- A chair
- Cash box (Make sure you have change too. Venues don’t always have change to give you.)
- Someone to run the booth (Make sure you trust them!)
- A way to display the merchandise
- A banner (This is optional, but it helps people know that it’s your merch booth).
One of the most effective ways to grow a fan base is to have an email list. No matter what kind of music you play, emailing someone will always be more effective than depending on any social network. It’s a direct and personal connection with your fan base. Just bring a sign up form and pen. Try to get anyone and everyone at the show to sign up. You’d be surprised how many people will sign up just because you ask them to.
You’ll need an easy way to manage your email list. I’ve mentioned it before in previous articles, but my recommendation is to use MailChimp. One of the biggest advantages to using them as a musician is that they will allow you to enter emails by hand. That means that when they write their email on your paper sign up form, you can actually add it to your online list. Some of their competitors don’t. So if you do decide to use someone else, just make sure that you can import emails. Otherwise physical sign up lists are useless.
Prepare Extra Material
It’s always a good idea to have more material ready than you will actually play in a night. It’s surprising how many times you’ll be asked to play more. Sometimes another band didn’t show up, so they need you to help fill in the gap. Sometimes you play everything way too fast live and your 60 minute set was actually only 45 minutes. And sometimes you’ll even be asked to play an encore!
Last but not least, make sure you have backup gear for everyone in the band. Drummers, you’ll want to make sure to have spare heads and sticks. Guitarists and bassists, you’ll need extra strings, cables, and picks. Vocalists, you’ll want a spare set of vocal cords…… seriously though, you may want to bring your own mic and cable. Sometimes the house mic sounds awful, or the singer before you tried to devour it since they apparently forgot to eat before the gig.
This should give you a solid groundwork to start your gigging career on. However, I can’t stress enough that you need to be flexible in the whole process. Booking, preparing for, and playing gigs can be a very dynamic experience. You’ll always run into unforeseeable circumstances. The best thing you can do is try and turn lemons into lemonade. Venues, sound guys, and the other bands will appreciate it if you drop any ego you have and work with them. Nobody wants to deal with a prima donna.
Oh, and one more piece of sage advice. Make friends with, and thank the sound guy and bartenders. These guys can be your best friends as a musician.