The lights go down. There’s a crowd eagerly awaiting to hear your music. You and your bandmates are filled with a nervous energy, not debilitating, but electric. It’s your time. You take a deep breath and know that it’s time: Showtime. Every musician dreams about playing live, the thrill of exposing your music to new fans. The all encompassing warmth that comes with audience adoration. You’ve put in time at practice, going over and over material until it’s tightly constructed, played by a band that has become a well-oiled machine. You’re ready to play live, you’re looking for venues. I’ve been playing the drums for over 15 years and booking paying gigs for 10 years. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of lining up shows, and I’m here to share some insights for those of you who are looking to get out and play.
- Unity – Ensure that there is a common vision for what exactly your band wants to accomplish, then ensure that all members are fully on board with that vision. Nothing derails a band like a disengaged member or two. Remember, this is a big step for everyone.
- Material – How much material does your band have? How much time can you reasonably be expected to cover? This is very important to know when booking because a venue looking to fill 3 hours will not be a good fit if your band only has enough material for 45 minutes.
- Record a demo – Pretty much any venue owner/manager is going to want to know one thing: What do you sound like? Put together two or three songs that showcase exactly what your band brings to the table. Don’t feel the need to send an LPs worth of music, just enough to get their interest. Be sure to check the venue’s website to find out how they like submissions to be made.
- Get to know the logistics – Once you have an open line of communication with a venue, get all of the information that you can. How long do they expect you to play for? Will there be a cover charge? Is there is a minimum age for attendance? Do they have a PA? Do they have a dedicated sound guy? Get as much information as you can so that you can prepare as fully as possible. Also, remember to stay completely professional throughout your interaction with the venue.
- Get to know the venue – If the venue is relatively close, ask the owner/manager if there is an acceptable time for you and another bandmate to stop by for a look. See where you’ll be loading/unloading, if there is a staging area (provided you are playing with other bands), get to know the layout with the PA (if available) and the electrical outlets onstage. Get a feel for the stage and how much space is allowed. One more than one occasion, I had to pare down my drums to accommodate a smaller state. Also, this gives you a chance to meet your contact face to face and woo them with your professionalism.
- Money – Ah yes, here it is. While I do share the lovely artistic sentiment that the art is above money, don’t forget to discussion of pay. Some venues will offer a flat rate while others will offer a percentage of the door (which can be very iffy if the attendance at the venue has been spotty). Tip jars can go a long way too, especially when you knock the socks off of a crowd. On the flip-side, you also need to consider your costs: Gas, food, lodging(if needed). Always look at both sides of the financial picture.
- Transportation – Does your band have the resources to transport each member along with all of the required gear? If so, is the transportation reliable? Consider the mileage and the added wear and tear of hauling around a load of musicians, instruments and other accoutrements. Even in this age of every 9 year old owning an iPhone, no one wants to be stranded heading to or from a gig.
- Promotion – Once all of the logistics are set, you’re ready to move on to the most important part of preparation: Advertise! If your band has an online following, be sure to promote amongst them with fervor and regularity. You can go old-school and make up some flyers as well, those these should only supplement your campaign, not be the source of it. Work in conjunction with the venue to ensure the highest level of saturation for advertising your show. Remember, it is in the best interests of your band AND the venue to have the highest possible turnout.
Once you have covered everything comfortably, book a show, promote the ever-loving heck out of it…Once you have loaded in your gear, set-up and are ready to play, remember the one overriding factor that you MUST do to have a successful show: HAVE FUN!!! I wish you all the best. Your audience awaits!