- 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
6. And if all else fails... become a promoter yourself!
After all this palaver: if you can't get any gigs, put one on yourself! You'll be surprised how many bands will jump at the chance to play a show if you specifically ask them to play at a venue on a certain date and mention how much you like them. Once you've got a band and venue sorted, stick yourself on the bill. A bit of nepotism once in a while shouldn't hurt you. Plus, it minimises your running costs because you don't have to pay one of the bands. Though it does mean you'll be running around like a bastard all night (plus the days before the show promoting the shit out of it).
Being a full-on promoter that does regular shows takes a lot of dedication, work and not a little in the way of organisational skills. However, doing the odd one here and there isn't too tough if you've got the desire to do it. I could write an entire separate guide for someone actually looking to do their own gig promotions, so I'll spare you too much detail here. Instead, the best advice I can offer you is to talk to people who already put on shows themselves, and ask them how they do it. You'll be surprised at how simple it is to book a band or two and book a venue... but then you might be surprised at just how many things can go wrong in a huge variety of ways. Going one step further than asking and actually physically helping people out with organising shows will give you a massive insight into doing it yourself, and if you do this they may well be prepared to help you out with your own show -- again, community spirit could well be your watchword towards success.
If you really are going to do your own gig, I'll proffer but two specific warnings that I've seen people contravene and subsequently fuck something up (okay, I've done these myself more than once):
Don't book too many bands to play.
Tight schedules rarely work, at any level. Having only three bands play in one night is good. Four is probably fine.* More will do your heart no good at all with all the stress of trying to make sure everyone gets to play for a decent amount of time.
Don't get drunk at your own show.
If you're doing the show yourself, you'll be in a position of responsibility and will be dealing with money, people and possibly a professionally-run venue. If you're drunk, odds are that you'll fuck something up regarding one of these. If you want to drink, get someone else to stay sober and make sure things go well.
These warnings aside; promoting your own gigs can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Introducing a band you love to people and ensuring that artists and audience have a good show can give a lovely warm feeling in your heart if things go well. You're helping people out by indulging yourself in music you really enjoy. So if you're going to do it, why not do it well?
Okay, this is the basic getting a gig guide over. Now here are some pointers for if you do actually get put in touch with anyone, or even get any shows sorted....
*This is assuming that you're not putting on a night of grind/thrash bands that play for a maximum of ten minutes, or a night of interstellar prog mumblings where bands play for hours on end each. But that was obvious, right?
7. An over-simplified guide to promoters:
There are generally two pools of types of small gigs open to new bands looking to get themselves their first few gigs:
- Gigs put on by people who are enthusiastic about hearing new music and are willing to give new bands the opportunity to share a stage with someone more established than them.
- Gigs put on by people who are aware of quite how easy it is to make money out bands that are either naïve about the arrangement of roles between a band and promoter, or just willing to suck the cock of Satan because they are that desperate to "make it" or "succeed".
The former of these gigs are (usually) characterised by:
- The promoter identifying themselves as not-for-profit (i.e. will pay bands all the money left after initial costs).
- Smaller bills of fewer bands to enable the acts that play get enough time to prepare and play well.
- Cheaper door prices (unless it's a big foreign touring band with lots of associated costs headlining).
- An ironic or nonsense name for their promotions - e.g. "Milky Bath of Cleopatra", "Cops and Robbers", "Scott from Beijing, China", "Knom", etc.
- Homemade, personalised posters & flyers.
- Mildly shambolic gigs populated by people who are friends or fans of any of the bands, the promoters, or very enthusiastic about new music. Very few scuffles, disagreements or people taking the piss (hopefully). No 'industry types' in sight.
- Bands of (normally fairly) reasonable temperaments, willing to share gear and help each other out.
2. The latter of these gigs will usually fall into one of the following categories:
- The band being asked to pay a 'registration fee' or similar before they will be added to any bills, apparently to cover administration costs, OR;
- The promoter asking bands to sell tickets to their own fans, and promising to pay them back any profit over and above "the first 20 sales" each band makes (effectively getting you to promote the gig and charging you for your efforts), OR;
- So-called "flyer deals", where bands are given flyers to distribute to their potential audiences, which are to be handed in when each person arrives to pay their way in. When paying in, they will be asked which band they have come to see, and flyers will be put in separate piles for each band. How much each band gets paid is determined by how many people said their name on the way in. Basically it's exactly the same as selling your own tickets, except you're not asked to get money off people straight away. The corollary of this is a strong possibility that if someone turns up to the gig and says they're not here to see any particular band, the promoter will keep the income instead. Nice.
Regardless of which of these you encounter, you can predict that any of these gigs will be characterised by:
- Chaotic "varied" or "eclectic" bills cobbled together from any gullible bands the promoter has spammed or randomly persuaded to play on one particular night. Thrash metal going up against indie power ballads can actually happen.
- Normally fairly expensive door prices, to cover the promoter's "costs" - especially if they are trying to 'promote' for a living.
- A bland, meaningless name for the promotions company, normally with a nice shiny (and presumably expensive; here are your "costs") corporate ID - e.g. "Silver Fox".
- Posters and flyers which are much glossier than DIY handmade ones, but are all exactly the same - only the dates and bandnames change with each different promotion.
- Grimly efficient gigs where bands get the plug pulled on them and are wrenched off the stage or sometimes even blacklisted from future gigs for over-running their allotted set time, expressing a point of view that is not concurrent with the promoter's, etc.
- Usually attended by close friends of each band, who only roll in to see that band and then roll out the door, unless they particularly enjoy dishing out abuse to other bands. Also, the occasional clueless/drunk A&R man 'representing' a backalley record label, and other associated scam artists.
- Bands that haven't a clue about any kind of etiquette and regard all other bands as enemies preventing them from making it to the top. Normally comes complete with emotionally histrionic (i.e. sulky) frontmen or guitarists, and drummers who refuse to let anyone else use any of their kit, OR;
- The precise opposite: bands who turn up to the venue without any of their own gear and insist that the promoter said it was okay for them to borrow all of yours. Your stuff then inevitably then gets broken and said band refuses all responsibility for ensuring that it is fixed. Sometimes this band will call themselves "punk rock". Everyone else calls them cunts, and you should educate them as to what a punk attitude really is. After smacking them about a bit.
These descriptions are somewhat polarised and politicised, and I'm sure you can tell my personal viewpoint on the matter. The reality is that things are rarely as clean cut as this - people are always shades of grey between the two poles, and you should never forget that arseholes will always be out there if there is a quick buck to be made. Similarly, good people are abound, and their practices may well fall more into the latter category of promoter than in the former. This is especially true if they are well established at regularly dealing with touring bands that attract more than a handful of people. It's that fine line between professionalism and exploitation that you've got to look out for.
A good example of this kind of thing, are the number of venues located in central London (especially Camden) which have their own in-house promoters who put on gigs 5-7 nights a week, and they will accept demos and calls from bands willing to wait until a bill of at least vaguely-musically-related bands can be put together on a particular date. Though they share a lot of traits with them, I am assured that these are a lot better than most of the scumbag 'promoters' I've scandalously generalised about above. In fact, a lot of London-based bands in search of "making it" are quite content to tread the pattern of playing each of these venues in turn for their entire existence. But please note: these venues are known to everyone in the trade as "the toilet circuit". No joke. They aren't pretty, but can be a source of fairly regular gigs if you can be bothered with the bullshit that comes with them. I know a number of people who have quit their jobs and have tried to survive on the dole whilst they play at being potential rockstars -- presumably hoping to woo A&R reps from major record labels on those mornings they're not queuing up at the Job Centre.
8. Ground rules to establish yourself about gigs:
Regardless of who the promoter is, before you even ask for a show you should work out some basics:
- Are there any days/times that any member of the band is not free to do a gig?
There is nothing worse than a band (or being in a band) that confirms a show and then pulls out a week later because the drummer forgot that it was his girlfriend's birthday and he'd already made a commitment to do something with her. Or maybe he can't make an early soundcheck because he has to work late. Make sure everyone knows their priorities and gets them straight. Promoters will always appreciate this.
- How much is it going to cost you all to get to the venue ?
If the gig is out of town, you'll need to at least approximate how much your petrol/transport costs are in advance. If you've plan
ned things well, this should be your only cost that you need to cover when playing a gig. It's not unreasonable to let the promoter know how (preferably in advance) much it is costing you to get to and from the gig, and it's certainly not unreasonable to ask if they can at least try and contribute towards paying these costs by letting them know what this is - ideally it's how much you would like to be paid as a minimum. NB: Depending on the size of the gig/promoter, this may be simply impossible for the promoter without losing money themselves. DO NOT be offended if they genuinely cannot afford to pay you. Be grateful that they have tried to help you out as it is. This is especially true if you are a new band and no one knows who you are. But DO be offended if you know that they are trying to rip you off, and don't be afraid to let others in the community know about it.
- What are you going to do with any money you make ?
Occasionally you may find yourself in the pleasant situation of being paid more than it cost you to play a gig. You need to make sure that the entire band knows what will happen to the money if such a situation arises. You might want to split it evenly between you. You might want to store it away against future losses, or start some savings towards paying for a studio recording. You might need it to fund your kitty for the merch you're selling. Just make sure everyone knows and is happy with the situation, before selfish greed takes over in any lone member of your party.
- Is the promoter offering any kind of food/drinks or catering ?
One unexpected cost that can hit each bandmember's individual wallet is the cost of a gig where you have to find your own dinner and beers. If you get the opportunity (especially if you are travelling to the gig), always ask the promoter if they can supply you with a hot meal or possibly even a few beers and take it out of any money they had planned on paying you - it is far cheaper for them to cook up a meal for a few people and buy a crate of beer than for each of you to visit Subway and the bar a few times individually. Any touring band will ask for this as a matter of course, and if you're supporting them it's not too much hassle for a promoter to expand on what they're already providing. It's also very much worth your while letting the promoter know if anyone has any special dietary requirements (for example, a lot of bands related to the hardcore scene are vegan or veggies).
- What's happening after the show ?
If you're out of town, will you need a place to sleep overnight? If so, where are you going to securely store your gear? Always let a promoter know if you need help in finding a place to crash, and if you are staying over don't be afraid to ask if you can leave your gear at the venue until the morning - it will always be safer there than in a car or van that's waiting to be broken into on the street. If you are going home after a gig, make sure that you have transportation arranged and a plan for how you're getting back safely.
- Can you share any gear with other bands playing the show ?
Gear sharing can get sticky, but always try and work out sharing speaker cabinets and drum shells (i.e. not the cymbals or snare) if possible. If you ever turn up to play a gig with your full drumkit and then can't put your stuff backstage because it's already been filled with two other complete drumkits and a bunch of unused amps you'll know exactly why. It also helps a lot if you're in the common situation of not having a van to cart yourselves+all your stuff around in. The other thing gear sharing does is to massively speed up changeovers between bands at gigs, which can be invaluable if you're playing one of those bill crammed with loads of bands.
Some pointers about gear sharing:
- DO be prepared to give as much as you take: arrange to bring stuff that some bands can borrow, and to use something of theirs in return.
- DO offer to repair or replace anything you break which isn't yours.
- DO ask anyone that breaks your stuff to repair or replace it.
- DO call them an arsehole in all possible public places if they refuse.
- DO expect guitarists to get uppity about lending people their amps or guitars, so don't bother asking unless you're desperate.
And one more thing I encountered the other week: if you're lending someone your gear, make sure you get all your other shit they're not using out of their fucking way. Take care of your own gear if you don't want it broken! Recently my band played this gig where I had arranged to borrow a guitar cab from the guitarist in the headlining (New! Upcoming!) band we were playing with. He seemed a nice and unassuming guy who had no qualms about me using his gear, and was perfectly friendly and polite. However, once his band had finished soundchecking, he literally walked straight off the stage to prop up the bar, leaving his shiny new (label-bought) Marshall head atop the cab with everything still plugged in and the footswitch snaking across the stage like tripwire. In the absence of any roadies, apparently he expected me to make sure his gear was properly taken apart and put somewhere safe whilst we played, and then restored to its previous position before they stepped up to play. What a dick.
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