Getting the Gigs Part 1 - By Tom Leu
Playing live is one of the most important aspects of any music career. You write your songs, put your band together, and go in and record your music; now it’s time to get out there and play live. Research shows that 75% of independent music sales are done “from the stage.” That is, before and after live performances at clubs, festivals, benefits, special appearances, etc. Booking your band then, becomes a critical area to focus on. Let’s now discuss getting the gigs on your own by booking yourself. Next installment we’ll look at using booking agents.
There was a time when a band or artist with a record or CD out was something that was unique and special. With the affordability and availability of home recording equipment and computers, nowadays almost every artist or band out there has a release of their music available; either online, in stores, or at the gigs, etc. The competition is thick.
Club owners who are considering booking you want to know how well you and your recording(s) aredoing. Where else have you played? How many copies have you sold? What do you draw? You have to ask yourself, “Why should a club book my band?” “What is unique about us?” “What separates us from our competition?” You will have much more success if you keep these questions in mind, and be able to answer them throughout this process when contacting these people and venues.
Because club personnel normally keep late hours, the best time to call is late morning/early afternoon, don’t call at 8AM, no one will be there in most cases. Frequently, the first call will result in the club requesting that you send them your CD and promo kit. Confirm the correct mailing address and move on. When you finally do talk to the person in charge of the bookings (preferably after they have received your materials), keep the initial call brief. Give them the important information and a credential or two (radio airplay, other clubs you’ve played in the area, etc.) Know your available dates and be ready to confirm a date on the phone, at that moment. Some of the better venues are hard to get into at first, so it may be wise to accept anything your first time out. Playing an occasional Wednesday night to set yourself up for eventual weekend dates is probable and necessary sometimes.
Organization is very important when booking yourself. Keep a phone log of every call you make. Note the date, approximate time of day called, who you talked to (if any), and the outcome. Did you leave a message with someone? Voice mail? Did you speak to the decision-maker or the part-time bartender on vacation from the university on his way to Spring Break? Take thorough notes. These details become very important when you begin to make follow-up calls a week or so later. This is sales. And as such, whoever is doing the calling needs to be a master salesperson. Remembering people’s names, titles, best times to call, and other pertinent details will separate your band out from the tens of others calling that same week.
Money. How much do you ask for? How much do you really get? Every situation is different, and will result in a different outcome. It takes delicate maneuvering and positioning to arrive at a good deal. Try to price your band affordably the first times out to cover your expenses and get your foot in the door. Ask what kinds of guarantees (if any) the club offers. A good line to use is “what kind of budget do you have for this event? It gets the point across well without appearing or sounding abrupt. Often times, especially in the early stages of your career, you will play for the door (a percentage of the cover charge). Once you have established yourself as a favorite act that draws well, you can adjust your rates.
The Bottom Line: Remember that courtesy goes a long way. Do not pester people. Being persistent without being a pain is an art form. Be flexible and professional at all times. Smile and dial!