Whether you’re in a band, a duo or are a solo act, you’ve been practicing and working for one reason: to rock the stage. Now the hard part begins. There’s a lot involved in getting booked for the first time. It’s not as simple as saying "OK, we’re a band, let’s go play." Getting booked takes marketing skills, organization, people skills and drive.
In my guide "How to Book My Band" I outline the steps you can take to get your first gig, the types of gigs to consider and who to work with. Here are some of the most important things to think about:
What Kind of Gigs do You Want to Play?
Even before you’re ready to play out, you should have decided what kind of music you will play, what kind of band you will be and what venues you’ll be targeting. It’s not as simple as being a metal band and expecting to get a gig at your local coffee house.
Each venue has a specific type of crowd they cater to and will only hire acts that will please their crowd. If it’s a country bar, they hire country bands. If it’s a dance club they hire dance bands. I know this sounds painfully obvious, but you’d be surprised how many bands I’ve had approach me and ask "Why won’t (insert dance club) hire us?" when they’re a screamo band.
Know what your band is and find the venues that fit that kind of music. Keep a list and start spending time there as you’re tightening up the act.
While you’re working toward your first gig, start spending time at the venues you want to play (this doesn’t include corporate gigs, more on that in a minute). Hate to sound cliche’, but it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Knowing the right people will get you gigs much easier, no matter how good of a band you are.
Becoming a "regular" at the places you want to play will help you get to know the staff that works there, but don’t try to pitch your band right away. Spend a few weeks going to these places and as you get to know the staff you’ll eventually know who the person is that hires bands. Get to know that person as well. You could gain some insight as to how they like to book, what they pay, etc. And once they are comfortable with you it will be easier to approach them about your band.
With corporate gigs you won’t be able to just go hang out and get to know people. I mean you could, but expect a visit from the police. Most companies will have one person or even a committee that plans their special events. This can either be a team of employees or person with a regular job at the company or it can be someone that is hired specifically to handle events.
Find out who this person is through someone you already know at the company or through the company website and contact them either with a phone call or email and find out how they hire bands. Be polite and professional as you talk to them.
Be Ready with Your Demo and Know Your Schedule
So, you’ve gotten to know everyone at the bars and clubs you want to play, your band is all ready and you just need some gigs. You’re going tonight to talk to the bar manager and get booked. He knows and likes you and of course he’s interested in hiring you. He’d like to hear what you sound like and wants to hear a demo. You say "Uh, we don’t have one yet."
Some places will hire you just because you’re a nice girl/guy but most will expect to hear you. Record the best demo possible. An iPhone setup in your practice room most likely will not be high enough quality. If you have the equipment, record at home. If not, plan to spend some time in the studio.
Now that you have your demo done, he is ready to book you and asks if you’re available three weeks from tonight. You say "Uh, I think so, I need to talk to everyone and make sure they can do it."
While you’re checking with your band mates the bar manager gets calls from 10 other bands and fills up his schedule for the next 3 months. You just lost out. Before you contact anyone about booking, get availability from everyone in the band so you know exactly when you can book. The two bands I’m in share a Google calendar and mark everyone’s availability. Then I can look at that schedule on my smartphone while I’m setting up dates with the venue.
The points I’ve outlined above are the preliminary steps to booking your band. There are so many working parts to a band that most people don’t even think about. You still have to consider marketing (posters, website, social media), equipment (the better the gear, the better you sound), sound and lighting (are you going to buy or rent, how much do you need), contracts, set lists, sharing the bill and more.
It takes a lot of work, but once you get rolling it becomes easier. Plus, you still get to be a rockstar!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rus Anderson
Rus Anderson started playing in clubs over 25 years ago learning how bands work, and more importantly, how bands get hired. He’s played small clubs, big clubs, weddings, corporate gigs, private gigs, 2,000 seat venues, college campuses, arenas and together with his band(s) has opened for national acts, played for free and booked gigs paying thousands. You can read more tips in his guide, How to Book My Band.