For a musician, there are very few things in life that compare to the feeling of being on stage playing in front of a crowd. The lights, the energy, and the excitement all come into alignment, forming a portal into the minds of an audience, connecting them to your music. It’s exhilarating, to say the least.
However, getting to this point takes a lot of hard work and effort, but somewhere along the way, you must take that first step in transitioning your talents from the basement to the big stage.
Whether you are a first-time performer or a seasoned veteran with a new project, there are many things to factor in when you’re booking that initial gig.
Before you even reach the point of calling a promoter or driving to a club with the intent to book a show, there are some preliminary steps you must take that will make the path to your next gig so much easier.
If You Want To Get Booked – Be Prepared
There are a few details that you’re going to need to have in place before even approaching someone to book your first gig. This is a pretty standard list in the eyes of promoters, club owners, and booking agents.
Press Kit/ EPK
A press kit or EPK (Electronic Press Kit) is a small glimpse into the heart and soul of your band or project. It should include a well-written band biography, a promotional photo (usually 8×10 or similar size with your logo and contact info printed on it) and a demo CD or link to your music.
You want to keep it simple, yet professional and avoid adding too much or too little.
Keep the bio to one short page (a few paragraphs is best) and make sure it accurately describes your sound and your vision without going overboard.
The photo should accurately depict 90% of the current members included your band (avoid using an outdated photo where you are the only person still left from that lineup).
The music should be your very best tunes (1 or 2 is more than enough to send) and stay away from those 20-minute epic masterpieces.
Lastly, if you have a printed press kit you’re sending, be sure your name and contact information is on EVERY item and page that is in the press kit. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of submissions on the promoters desk. Could there be anything worse than having a promoter love your CD but find no contact info on it to get in touch with you?
In the long run, digitally sending your EPK is best. For more help creating your EPK, check out Indie Rock’s ‘How To’ article, where we teach you the ins and outs of creating your own press kit.
Facts and Figures
Almost every time myself or a bandmate went to book an initial gig, somewhere along the way we were asked the same standard questions. “What’s your following like, how many people can you bring, or how many tickets can you sell?”
It’s important when asked these questions, to be honest and realistic.
If you say definitely 300, then they are going to expect at least 100 people to walk in just to see you or your band (and often they will ask each person that walks through the door who they are there to see).
No one wants to work with a big fat liar, so it’s important to be up front and humble about this one. This is especially true if you can only be sure of a few co-workers and boy/girlfriends showing up.
Having some other numbers on hand to share with them, like Facebook followers and likes, YouTube Subscribers, previous show attendance, etc., can help give you some credibility even if you might not bring that whole fanbase to your local club gig. It shows them you are working to grow your name and expand your following.
As a side note, if you have a big social media presence you can always offer to promote their club or do a trailer (video commercial) for the show. You may not bring 300 bodies to your show, but if 1,000 subscribers learn about a hot new club in town from your promotional efforts, it certainly can’t hurt.
Know Your Audience and Where They Hang Out
You may have had your heart set on playing that awesome gig at The Whisky on Sunset Strip, but if your band is an avant-garde jazz trio you’d have better luck striking a chord with the audience across town at The Baked Potato. Knowing where your fan base hangs out can be a really big help in getting the right kind of gigs.
Knowing where your fan base hangs out will be a really big help in getting the right kind of gigs.
On a similar note, swapping gigs with other bands is an awesome way to get into a new venue and share in the wealth of a combined audience. When doing this, just be sure that your bands are similar enough in style to be a good match. You’d hate to see your fans running for the door because your buddy’s band played a 40-minute version of Ace of Spades at your acoustic EP release party (although Lemmy would surely have been proud).
Booking the Gig
Now that you’re prepared and ready to hit the pavement, it’s time to look at where to play and who to talk with about booking your first gig. Let’s take a look at some places you may want to consider booking your act.
Clubs, Bars, and Restaurants
For many venues, live music is a solid way to ensure that the people that walk through the door are entertained, spend money on food and drinks, and ultimately have a good time.
These are obvious places you want to look at booking your band, remembering some of the tips I mentioned earlier so you can be sure to focus on venues that will cater to your intended audience.
To book these type of places you can call or email them and ask who handles bookings for live entertainment and they will steer you in the right direction. Often times, a concert promoter will be in charge of booking national and regional acts at a handful of venues in the area, so establishing a relationship with them can help you eventually land one of these highly coveted gigs…just be prepared to sell tickets if your draw is still minimal.
Fairs, Festivals, and, Local Events
If you’re looking to get your feet wet before jumping into the deep end, then consider looking at your local events calendar. There are festivals for Earth Day, Halloween, Summer Solstice, etc, along with food fairs and specialized events like Veganfest, Octoberfest, Taste of Summer, and so many more.
Best of all, 95% of these gatherings will have a few stages on hand for live music. So if your band has a certain niche or is waving a flag for a similar cause, these gigs can prove to be a great starting point for your band. Find out who the festival organizers are and reach out to them several months in advance, as these slots tend to fill up rather quickly.
Local Hangouts, Parties, and Warm Up Gigs
An even more organic way to get out there is to play a gig someplace that you already hang out at. Rehearsal spots have long been popular breeding grounds for up and coming acts and (when allowed by the owners of the space) a great place for that first gig.
Bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine got their start by hanging out together in their studio loft and inviting 100 “friends” to come help them polish off a keg while imbibing themselves on their music. Note that Tool’s debut release Opiate was recorded live at one of these very gigs!
Even Dave Grohl will go to the local pizza parlor down the street and ask to play a “warm up” show with the Foo Fighters before heading out on a worldwide stadium tour. If the pizzeria is good enough for the Foo to jam at, it’s certainly a place worthy of your maiden voyage!
Random Opportunities and Unique Places
There are also those random opportunities like street performing, playing at a record store or music shop, or playing at your child’s (or niece/nephew’s) school event or church gathering. These might not seem all that glamorous, but may be a great way to break in that new guitarist before trying to tackle the Staples Center. Often times it’s these small, intimate performances, that allow audiences to give you great feedback!
No matter where you decide to tackle that first show at, make sure that you book it well enough in advance to get the word out and don’t be afraid to tell everyone about your gig and/or politely remind them when it gets closer to the date.
By taking the time to prepare and plan ahead you can definitely increase your chances of having that first gig be a huge success.
Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an enthusiastic yes from the first few doors that you knock on. Writing your songs, finding your bandmates, and making your record took time and patience to achieve. Booking yourself for a live performance is no different. Be open to getting out there any way you can but don’t feel that it is required to sacrifice your integrity just to get a booking either.
The steps I have just given you for booking your first gig are universal. A lot of bands, maybe even you, think a manager or booking agent is needed to get a good gig (or even to get a paid gig), but this is rarely the case when booking that first (or maybe even 100th) gig.
Certainly, if you are an established act, signed with a record label, just getting ready to tour, you’ll need a booking agent or at least some outside help to line up those dates for you. But keep in mind most of them are going to take 15-20% of what you earn for those gigs and they may even take a cut of your merchandise sales (which is your real bread and butter money on the road). So if you’re just getting your new band off the ground, the William Morris Agency can wait.
Follow the steps we at Indie Rock Inc. have laid out for you and you’ll be up on stage shredding in no time!
Have a gig coming up? Link to it in the comments and be sure to let me know how it went.