So, you've got yourself a nice little band together, huh?
Finally, you've assembled the right group of guys (or gals) and you're ready to make your mark on the local music scene. No more being forced to endure these overrated local acts at every event. Now you are going to show these people some fresh shit and everyone in the first three rows will be covered with the gooey matter of each other's blown minds.
Well, I've been booking all kinds of bands in all kinds of venues as well as playing in all kinds of bands and venues for quite a while. It's how I make a living here in the Magic City. But it's the holiday season now and I'm feeling charitable. So here's some free advice.
It can be intimidating starting a band, but it's best to take things step-by-step. Here are a few tips that will probably help save yourselves from yourselves and not only get you up on stage, but keep you there.
1. Make a non-shitty press kit.
It may seem obvious, but your media package needs to be tight. Don't just roll out a Soundcloud link and a crappy picture of you guys playing at a local sports bar. You might even want to think about pooling some of your weed money into a quality recording of at least one song and a high-def band pic. Video is hugely important too. It's a good idea to record yourself playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd — not just standing around, rocking out in your parent's garage with a set of golf clubs leaning against the drum kit. If you have 20 friends between all of your bandmates, buy some beer and make them at least pretend to be into it. Even if one of you has a nice smartphone, that's enough. If none of you have a nice smartphone, you should most likely put the band thing on hold and get a fucking job.
Also, keep your bio clean and brief. No one is going to scroll down to read your narcissistic short story about all your influences and how you idiots got together. A simple page with links to your band's Facebook page, Twitter, Reverbnation, Bandcamp or any other awesome free band media vehicles out there is perfect.
Shitty band logos are sad too, by the way.
2. Finding venues and booking agents.
It's pretty easy nowadays to find just about anyone you want online. Some booking agents that work for the venues (proper term is actually “Talent Buyers”) want to be found more than others. Some are accessible and some can be pretty elusive. If the booking contact isn't listed on the venue's website or Facebook, then feel free to call the club or go in and ask the bartender or manager. Once you acquire the booker's email, keep it simple. Just a couple sentences stating that you are interested in playing, your genre, other shows booked, and then provide your links.
If they don't get right back to you, don't take it personally or get offended.
If you happen to get their phone number, then do not — we repeat — do not blow them up 24/7. Just text them and ask for their email where you can send over your links. The last thing these people want to hear is, “I've got this great band I'd like to discuss with you,” without any further information. Don't tease your goddamn band. I've heard that a million times and it's annoying as hell. There is nothing to discuss until they check out your links, so it's a complete waste of time and red flag of amateurism in the eyes of the booker.
Going into the venue and actually meeting the booker during a show is a good idea too. But if you do, simply say hello, bullshit a little, and hand them something with your links on it. Then walk away. Follow up in about a week. If they check you out and you blow their minds, then believe me, you will hear from them before that. Hanging out in the venue, spending some money, and getting to know the bar staff isn't the worst idea either. Tipping the bartender well and mentioning you are trying to play there is even better. They work together and they talk, you know.
3. Getting offered a gig.
If you are a new band, you will probably be offered little or no money. That's OK. It's not a reflection of how good you are or aren't. You need to establish your value before you can get the big boy checks. Your value, in this order, is the combination of:
A.) How many people you bring.
B.) How well you promote (They are watching).
C.) How well you play.
D.) How much of a pain in the ass you are/aren't.
Believe it or not, there is a large percentage of bands that believe it's the club's job to promote. Well, it is and it isn't. Sometimes they will design an e-flyer for you and sometimes they won't. They like it a lot if you can provide a cool, clean flyer to post. If you do, ask the booker to email you the venue's official logo so you can put it on the flyer. It's kind of important to many venues.
Indeed the club should promote your show. But they have lots of nights to promote and your new-ass usually isn't a priority. It's your big night, so take some responsibility and push the hell out of it. Also, make sure you find out what you will need to bring. Not many, but some clubs provide backline, i.e. drum kit (you'll still need your own kick, snare, and cymbals), bass amp, and sometimes even guitar amp. Find out what kind they are. If your guitar player is into his sound it's no big deal if they bring their own amp. If your bass player wants to bring his or her own amp too, it's kind of annoying but whatever. However, if they provide drums, especially if there are several bands on the bill — and this important, so listen up — you play their kit. I guarantee you the sound man doesn't want to be breaking down the house kit before your set and setting it back up after you play on a night where five other bands are playing. You are still new so be thankful you don't have to shlep your kit.
If you have to bring your own PA or equipment just do it and get there early enough to set it up properly. Also, don't ask for more guests on the list or more drink tickets than they normally provide. If you start packing the house, both will become much more lenient.
4. Don't overbook yourself.
Don't book another show on the same weekend in the same city. If you are offered a Friday gig the day before your Saturday one, ask the person who booked you if it's OK. The money grab may be tempting, but it's not like they won't find out. That's bad form.
To be fair, there is a flip side to this multi-venue situation that should be addressed because some bands get taken advantage of.
Some clubs will try to tell you where you can or can't play in town. They might like you and view you as an investment that they are growing. Don't give them that power. The common normal spacing between competing venues is two weeks. If you play one place on the 1st, you should be able to play the other on the 14th. There will be some venues that will try to tell you if you play in a competing venue you will no longer be able to play in theirs. Not only is that wrong, but it is extremely short sighted — bad for the scene as well. The best way to combat this practice is to kick ass, put on a great show, and develop your fan base. If you have a nice and growing draw, that whole “My way or the highway” shit goes right out the fucking window. So stick to your guns.
5. Be nice to your sound man.
There is no one more important at your show than your sound man. Not your girlfriend, not your stupid co-worker — no one. Your sound man can make or break you. Ask them their name and do what they tell you to do. Some of them may be disgruntled musicians who have an attitude for whatever reason and some just might not be great at their job. Either way, go the extra mile. A good sound man can make you sound great. A bad one can make you sound really bad.
Don't noodle around on stage on your guitar when setting up, or fuck with your sound for too long either. You either dialed in at home or not.
Lastly, if they tell you to turn down then turn the fuck down. They are not telling you this for fun. Have some self awareness and don't get all rock star. If they tell you this you are annoying people. It's for your benefit 100 out of 100 times.
6. Meet the crowd.
The crowd makes you. They are your money and they will provide you with future opportunity. I'm not saying all of you have to work the room and slap backs and kiss babies. But at least one of you should have some people skills and connect. There might, (and will) be nights that no one comes up or cares. All it takes is one or two people or groups that may have been touched enough to tell you they enjoyed what you did. That's an honor. Ask their name and try to get their Facebook info or email address. Some bands go as far as emailing fans the next day to thank them. I've even heard of bands sending fans a song or personalized video. I know it seems a bit much, but more and more are doing it and the ones that do are doing way better than you right now, guaranteed.
These people have friends. Their friends have friends. This is a business that develops like a virus so make them feel special and make them sick with your music.
7. Hang out for the other bands.
If there are multiple bands on the bill you should try to catch as many as you can. If you play early, stay late. If you play late, come early. Even if you are an asshole and think your band is way better than the others you should be there to find out for yourself. You might see another band that you like that has a similar style. Approach them and tell them so and get their info. That can easily result in you playing on the same bill with them at another venue that you haven't been able to get into yet.
More importantly, this is music. Live, original music. We are all in this together and a healthy scene is a scene of musicians that communicate and support each other. So get over yourself. Work hard at your craft. It's one of the few things in this world that is worth doing and it's a privilege to get paid for it. It's not always going to go well. There will be nights that are horrifying and will shake your ego to it's core.
But when it's great, there is nothing better.