By: Jessica Hopper
[Editor's Note: Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.]
Hello Ms. Landers,
My band needs a booking agent. We've been playing shows in Chicago for five years, we have a new record and a publicist and we are building some momentum; we'd like to play tours. I have tried for 10 years to get good at booking tours, but I'm terrible and I need help. We're willing to work but we aren't young enough to do a year of bad show misery to build a nationwide fan base. We've gotten a couple unsolicited offers from young fledgling booking agents; they never seemed to be on our wavelength, and I didn't believe that they knew how to get us where we want to be playing. Does it make sense in our position to be waiting around for a "cool booking agent/agency"? Should we work with one of these kids and trade up in six months?
D Dear D,
You are being too picky, man! Cut these newbies a break. Maybe they couldn't get you to where you wanted to be playing because it's unrealistic. So your vibes aren't matchy-matchy. Give them an assignment of a regional tour, one college show, no drives over six hours and see what they do. No one will work harder for you than some young upstart looking to prove. Maybe you are their experiment, but you are going to know pretty fast whether it's going to work out or not. You think someone at Billions or Windish Agency is going to be up at 1 a.m. on a weeknight trying to find the best place to send you after Des Moines? On some new kid's roster you might be one of their biggest bands and a high priority. You are not going to be an asset to anyone at a big agency, you are going to be a favor. The other thing about little agents: If they are good and learning quick, building a roster, they might get scooped up by one of these "cool" agencies you would like to be with. You never know, you may wind up being the hard touring cornerstone of someone's empire. Give them a chance to show you, build with someone.
Beyond that, you know, hustle. Think about all the shitty bands you know who get gigs and tours just because they are nice. What I know of you and your band, you are totally nice people, good hanger-outers. Every show you play, talk to the other bands on the bill -- "We are looking to do some long weekends/the East Coast in the spring -- we should totally do some shows together." Ask everyone. Someone will say yes. In the meantime, work on making your live show phenomenal. You are going to be playing to 7 or 22 people in some places, so you want them all to go evangelize. That is your homework for the winter.
Good luck and safe touring,
Joining bands that never actually play a show has become a habit of mine. We hang out, decide to start a new band, have earnest conversations about our influences, pick a name, text back and forth about whether to cover "New Radio" or "White Boy" by Bikini Kill, tell each other we have written parts of songs, and then... nothing. Should I just stick to singing into my hairbrush?
-Karina Dear Karina,
Naw, girl, you are right on time for we are broaching the perfect time for starting a band: Winter is coming! If you want to hunker down and get this thing in motion, this is the time of year because there is nothing fun to do and no decent shows to see and everyone is all frumpy in their big coats and looking pasty. Which is a good time to start a band and practice four nights a week with the intention of hitting the scene in May, and being a summer fun band and playing house parties.
I think the other issue is that you are putting a little too much preamble into this. Your wannabe bandmates get to feel like they are making it happen, enough at least that they can brag to their friends at the bar that they are starting a band and not feel like they're lying. Who cares what their (or your) influences are? Once you find people who seem game to play, before you commit to start a band even, whip out your iCal or whatnot and say "Can you jam after work on Thursday, like 8-ish?" It should be no more than 5 business days out. If they haw about how busy they are but don't immediately counter with "No, but I could do Tuesday night," then they are going to be flaking from here on out and you shouldn't invest any time in it. Be aggressive, B-E aggressive. Just keep jamming until you find the right folks. You will just know. Do you have a place to practice? Or a friend's space you could kind of just horn in on for $12.50 as you are sussing out band mates? That way your barriers to having a proper band practice are minimal.
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My other idea is rope a musical friend into just being a starter bandmate -- commit to writing some songs with you and you can work on wrangling more people in. A friend with a guitar and some spare time is all you need. Just get the wheels moving. Also, go to a lot of shows and ask the girls that are the best dancers if they want to start a band. That's usually a good bet. Or accost people at the merch booth and say you are looking for a saxophonist/bassist that plays like them for this new project you are starting. The world is filled with flakey bandmates, what you have going for you is that you are driven, and if you put out your go-getter vibe, the other go-getters will sense you, like those wolfboys in the Twilight movies.