Going it alone: A 12-part guide for bands on getting yourself gigs and making it stick
Dave Stockwell draws on his years of (relentless, filthy) experience playing in bands up and down the country to bring you his 12-step plan to keeping it real, avoiding the player-haters and hanging on to the last shreds of your self-confidence and self-belief as a band.
- Introduction: what the hell do you think you're doing?
- Recording a demo and getting people to hear it
- Finding people to contact and asking for advice, favours and contacts
- How amazing is the internet? How much better is it actually physically interacting with people?
- Personal qualities required when chasing those elusive first shows
- And if all else fails... become a promoter yourself!
- An over-simplified guide to promoters and their practises
- Making life easier: ground rules to establish yourself about gigs
- Not just a gig or two, but a whole load of shows... What the hell? You want to tour?!
- Putting your music out on pre-recorded matter - a brief bit of advice
- This, and further advice regarding merchandise
- Useful links
1. Introduction: what the hell do you think you're doing?
Okay, so you've got a band going, but you can't seem to get any gigs. The obvious question you've got to ask yourself is: "Why?"
Now if you don't have that high an opinion of your own music, the best and most honest thing I can say to you is: don't even bother trying to get gigs. If you don't believe in yourself, and moreover if you don't absolutely enjoy playing your own music, then why should you ask anyone else to?
Okay, okay, that bleedin' obvious paragraph out of the way. You do like your own music, and moreover, you want practice your songs and play them so often that you grow to despise them (herein lies the impetus to write new material). You really want to get some gigs, so what do you do?
2. Recording a demo and getting people to hear it
First things first: record a demo. Don't worry about glossy production or expensive studios; record your own practices with a four-track, a minidisc player/recorder (dirt cheap from eBay) or even a dictaphone. Whatever you can get your hands on with as little hassle/money as possible. Maybe you know someone who knows a little about recording and will be willing to lend you gear or even record a couple of songs for free. As long as you can hear what's going on, it's good enough to play to other people.
Okay, so let's say you've recorded something and you want to turn this into some kind of thing to distribute to people. Whatever you do, don't make it too long: if it's just a demo of a new band, no one wants to hear every song you've written to date. Three or four songs is plenty as an introduction to your band. It's also worth putting your best track on first - don't save it for some big climactic ending to your demo: half the free CDs sent to DIY promoters I know get chucked in the bin before the first song is even finished. They might skip to other tracks to see if they're any better, but there's no guarantee of this because they rarely are. It sounds harsh, but if you don't like something there's no point in exposing yourself to it excessively. So don't save anything for later - you're trying to impress someone in as short a time as possible.
Burn a few CDs of your three or four tracks. Don't bother with tapes, DVDRs, minidiscs, bizarrely shaped "business card" CDRs that won't play in some stereos or anything like that. Everyone's got a CD player at home, so stick with something everyone can play easily. If you want, write a small "press release" or equivalent giving some pertinent information on the band: your name, contact details, any history you might have that sounds impressive. Avoid trying to be funny, spurious hype, useless information, glossy press shots, transcribed lyrics or anything. Just useful information that will help whoever's listening to learn a little more about who you are and where you're coming from. A name and email address is often enough. If you want to decorate the whole thing to make it look a little more interesting go ahead, but bear in mind that you're probably going to make loads of these fuckers and the most important thing is their function, not how natty they look.
Another place you can put your demo is on www.myspace.com . Though it's a bizarre personal site kind of place, it'
s also an amazing resource for bands that want to get their music heard. You can create your own profile and upload up to four songs that people can stream or download at their leisure. You can also collect friends, acquaintances and other bands as named "friends", which can then be hassled for gigs, advice and information in the future. It's also worth thinking about making yourself a website with your own domain name if you're serious about the band as a long-term prospect. Make sure you put links to your Myspace/internet pages on any CDs, packaging or contact information you give out: if given a reason to, curious people will always check random URLs out the internet in their spare time.
3. Finding people to contact and asking for advice, favours and contacts
Okay, so you've got a bunch of CDRs and maybe some kind of internet presence. Now, actually getting gigs: Do you go to gigs often yourselves? What kind of shows are they? Do you ever go to regular nights of bands in a certain independent spirit (i.e. not big rock shows all the time), or put on by people in their spare time? Do you know any people who put on bands semi-regularly, or put up any bands on tour from other countries? Fuck it; do you know other people in bands who play gigs? And the internet: do you talk shit about bands and gigs on message boards or chat rooms? Know anyone who runs websites or messageboards that advertise/feature/promote gigs or bands?
What you need to do is ask these people how they do it. Ask promoters how they find bands to play their shows. Asks bands how their get their shows. Ask venues which allow independent promoters to put on shows what their criteria/prices are for having a gig there. Ask internet sites where/who they get their information from. Do not be ashamed of asking the advice of these people: as long as they are not wankers, they should be happy to pass on valuable information and tell you how they do things. Everyone likes to boast a little about their formula for any kind of success. And they should be happy to help you out just by talking to you or pointing you in the right direction at least. What you should also bear in mind: not only are these people in a position that you would like to be in, but they also have many other contacts. If you ask nicely, they might even be prepared to pass some of these along to you.
Give CDRs out to anyone you think might actually listen to it. It doesn't matter if they're in a band or a promoter themselves or not - if they like it enough they can copy it or give it to someone who is. What you are encouraging people to do is to network on your behalf, and unless you are prepared to have a good old go at doing it yourself by chasing new avenues for potential shows and regularly nicely asking people you know of for shows, you'll be lucky if anyone else is prepared to do it for you (Note: there is a fine line between persistence in asking someone for a gig and out-and-out pissing them off. Gentle nudges, friendly enquiries and whatnot are far more palatable than badgering and demands they do you a favour immediately).
4. How amazing is the internet? How much better is it actually physically interacting with people?
If you don't know many people near you who do shows, the internet can be an invaluable tool. Websites for bands, scenes and gigs will always carry links to sites that may be affiliated or serve a similar purpose for a different area. Places like our own diskant have hundreds of links to bands and promoters up and down the UK, and you should always check these out and email any appropriate parties about your band, providing a link to your own internet/Myspace page. ( www.souvaris.com/links.htm also has a much smaller number of links to promoters that have put on my own band in the past and have proven to be supreme human beings). One very important thing I'll mention now: DO NOT SPAM PEOPLE . It's rude, your email will end up filed in everyone's trash folder, and you'll probably be blacklisted for life. So when you do contact these people, do it on an individual basis (no mass emails!) and let them know how you found them - mention any names you can; anything to give the recipient a reference point or character witness for you contacting them out of the blue. If you are a regular at gigs a certain promoter puts on and they know about it, they know you will bring your friends to their gig if they put you on. If you contact someone and they don't already know you, tell them who pointed you in their direction. Knowing someone who knows someone else is what community - and networking - is all about. For better for worse, its how the world works.
Speaking of character witnesses: how about giving yourself one? With all this utilisation of other people's good intentions and support, why not stick your own in and get involved more fully than only being in just another band playing gigs? If you help out promoters with the boring hard work that goes into independently putting on a show, roadie for a friend's band, write CD or gig reviews for webzines, or do anything else that is part of bands playing shows for the love of music; I guarantee that you'll get even more out of it than you put in. Plus, people who put on gigs will see that you have an active involvement in the musical underground that runs through the entire country, and that you are willing to sacrifice your spare time in the name of doing so. Maybe they'll be more inclined to do you a favour if you are doing them -- or their friends -- favours.
The crux of all these last two paragraphs is: give someone a good reason to put you on. It's nice to think that all bands get on bills purely by merit, but there are always practicalities and motives to think about. If you can demonstrate to a promoter that you are going to pull a few people in, or are easy and friendly to deal with, or help out a community they are involved in, in a number of different ways, they are going to be more enthusiastic about putting you on. A lot of it is about building up relationships and friendships, and you should be enthusiastic about showing anyone who's considering doing you a favour about how you are going to repay them.
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