From a 17 year vet:
(Not Bluesboy Jag)
How to not get your band booked!
I've had many many jobs in my life. From removing asbestos to strip club DJ to pizza delivery to unloading aircraft. But the one thing I've done and never stopped doing was booking concerts. When I say "job", that would infer that I get paid to do that "job". Booking concerts very infrequently pays but I'm addicted to music and have been ever since my big brother gave me my first record, Destroyer by Kiss. I learned a long time ago that if I don't book the bands I like...they ain't coming. Over one thousand concerts and 17 years later of bringing bands to Memphis, I'd say I know EXACTLY how to get a band booked into any venue in the world. I didn't say I could get people to show up...I just said I could get it booked.
I've been on all sides of the live concert equation. I've been the promoter. I've been in the local band. I've been in the touring band. I've been the patron. I've been the sound guy. I've been the bartender. I've been the door guy. I've been the janitor. I've even been the groupie. So there isn't an angle I haven't seen.
You've got a band. You've got 30-60 minutes of music to play live and you want to hit the stage. Any stage. Hell, a floor. As long as it's a public place and you can get away with charging people to hear live music. Getting a show in your hometown isn't all that difficult. Most venues know that as long as you're local and especially if it's your first show, all your band members girlfriends, friends, and family will probably show up for your first show. I've booked plenty of kids bands on their first show and they usually draw well with decent bar sales. If you're worth a shit, they'll continue to come out. If not, those friends and family will drop like flies to future performances.
Now about playing shows out of town....
Allow me to put things in the venue's point of view. When you're trying to book your band out of town, ask yourself this very very very very very very(x100) important question:
HOW MUCH MONEY WILL THE VENUE MAKE IF WE PLAY THERE??????
Musicians hate that money actually comes into the equation. I've tried to explain this to some. In major markets, there are venues that make unproven bands buy 'x' amount of tickets to get a show. The band in turn then sells the tickets to their friends, family, whoever. The Milwaukee Metal Fest survived for years doing this. The response is: "Pay to play fuckin sucks dude..it's fuckin bullshit." What no one seems to realize that live music is always a pay to play proposition. It's just that the venue that has to pay. A mid size music only venue in Memphis usually has a nut of about $3K to $5K to cover monthly. I will not list the expenses here but the fact that it's a long list should prove my point. Almost all of the venues in Memphis that I know of don't take anything out of the door for the venue itself except to pay the door guy and sound guy and maybe security if necessary. So that leaves the bar to cover that monthly nut. Risky business eh?
Truth be told...if your band isn't on a record label, the best way you're going to get a gig out of town is to trade shows with some band in whatever city you're looking to play. MySpace is perfect for this. However, make sure that the out of town band you're trying to contact sets up said show for you. Odds are that band already knows people at the venue and have already played there a few times.
Here's some perspective. The following bands have drawn right at or less than 100 people in Memphis:
Queens Of The Stone Age ( This was after their 2nd major label release with massive radio airplay complete with commercial spots we bought. The station gave away 20 tickets....3 of the 20 showed up.)
Southern Culture On The Skids
There a ton more but you get the idea. Why do you think, if these bands can't even break 100 people, you can make it worth the venues time to book you?
Let's look at a standard email (complete with grammatical errors) that venues get and I'll explain what's wrong with this email below:
Dear Hi Tone Cafe
I have some new talent that is looking to break into your area. They have experience,image and a great alternative rock sound and are going places(otherwise I wouldn't have pick them up). They sell sold out shows in their own area of South Carolina and are working on a getting a Major record deal within these next year. Hope to hear from you soon.
Enclosed is a little bio with tour dates and distribution info of there new CD coming out July 25th, 2006 plus afull bio and little info on their new album.
Souls Harbor is 5 piece Rock / Metal / Alternative that hails from BEAUFORT, South Carolina ,Late last year the band put out their own EP entitled "Burning Souls", produced by Eric Bass. The EP quickly sparked the attention from several southeastern radio stations including 98X (Charleston, SC) and Rock 106.1 (Savannah, GA) . The EP spawned off two singles and the group moved more than 2,500 units within 90 days.
Signed to Crash Music in January of this year, the band reunited with producer Eric Bass for the recording of their first full length album entitled "Writings On The Wall" hits stores world wide July 25. Look out for a full US tour,music video as well as more commercial airplay this summer.we already have 1000
pre-orders fye,tower record,best buy,monster,etc world wide.
Played with or Supported:
SLAYER, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, CHEVELLE, CROSSFADE, NON-POINT, FILTER, SEVENDUST, COLD, STRATA, AUIOVENT, EARSHOT, MASTODON, MUSHROOMHEAD, FIVE SPEED, FLAW, FIVE BOLT MAIN, ALSTON, ALLELE, TRIGGER POINT, DRYCELL, REVELATION THEORY.. AND MANY MORE REGIONAL AND NATIONAL ACTS.
Here's a list of things that a venue doesn't give a shit about:
--Who you've opened or played on a bill with. Unless you played in the town you're trying to get a gig with whoever's name your dropping, it means ZILCH! And even if you did, it means little. My band opened for Faith No More, Corrosion Of Conformity, GG Allin and a slew of others. Would anyone go see us because of it? No.
--Who is doing your press or publicity. No commercial radio station is going to give away free airtime and there is no college radio here. There are only 2 papers of note here. The Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Flyer.
--Who produced your record. That's like saying "Emeril Lagasse fixed my dinner." They didn't do it for free. The biggest producers in the world will produce your record if you pay them.
--How well you do in your hometown. Although this is completely meaningless in whatever town your trying to play, it does matter. For if you ask a band in whatever town you're trying to play that you're huge at home and you'll be glad to trade shows with them, they'll be a lot more interested in helping you get a gig in said town.
--Press clippings. You wouldn't send out negative reviews would you? Of course not. No talent buyer looks at press clippings because they all know what they're going to say. "Oh this band is wonderful. Coldplay watch out!" or whatever. I'll say this though. If a band ever did send me multiple press clippings that stated things like.."This is the worst band to walk the planet" and "I'd rather have a barium enema than listen to this band" I would at least listen to their stuff and consider them. Just because that'd be an approach I've never experienced.
--How good you are. Of course you think you're good. Your music is probably your life. Guess what. It's just another fucking band setting up and making racket to the club staff. Hard to believe isn't it?
To a lesser extent..
--What you sound like. The only reason the venue cares what you sound like is because they don't want to mismatch music genres or book the wrong type of music altogether. Other than that, they don't give a fuck.
Nothing listed above answers the most important questions a talent buyer has:
HOW MUCH MONEY WILL THE VENUE MAKE IF YOU PLAY HERE? See. Here it is again. This is the number one priority when it comes to booking shows. Always always ask yourself that question when approaching a talent buyer regarding a show. If this pisses you off, then that means you proabably can't draw.
WHAT DO I GET OUT OF THIS IF I DO BOOK YOUR BAND? While money is far and away the number one priority, it is not the only way to skin a cat. If booking your band will get the talent buyer laid, free drugs, or a FAVOR in some shape form or fashion, you stand a much better chance.
That's pretty much it. Ask yourself those 2 questions before contacting a talent buyer.
Recently I took a chance on a band that I didn't know from Adam. All I knew was that they were from 3 hours away and they had a schtick. I knew they had no draw but they were asking for an opening slot on a bill that would've guaranteed that they play in front of over 100 people. This band could play here every month for a year and not be able to draw 100 people if ever in their lives.
I liked their schtick and told them I'd put them on the bill but there was no money available to pay them but they'd have the chance to sell merch to a crowded house. I could've left the bill alone and not put them on and still would've had the same crowd. They agreed to play for free. Once they got there, they were aloof and complained about having to play for free. Even though I'd told them the deal way in advance, it didn't matter. I will never book them again nor will I book a band sight unseen unless someone who's opinion I respect recommends them.
I would now like to give EVEN more perspective. There's a club in St. Louis called The Creepy Crawl. I book a lot of the same bands they do. They have on their website a list of Top 39 Annoying Things That Bands Do. 23 of these things have happened to me on several occasions. I'm going to post this list A) because it's hilarious. B) so you can understand where the venue is coming from. Not all these things apply but most do. I'll address some in italics:
1. Bands that feel compelled to bang on their drums and guitars in an annoying display of lack of talent before the doors open. Usually this occurs when we are trying to talk to someone on the phone or give instructions to employees. There is a place for this type of behavior, its called your basement.
Right on brothers! No one wants to hear you noodle around... NO ONE! Once you get your gear set up, make sure all your shit works then STOP!
2. Out of town bands that show up and say "We decided to bring another band with us, don't worry, they just need gas money and pizza."
This only happened to me once that I can remember (I've probably blocked it out) but the one I do remember resulted in a large brawl between myself and staff and the worthless band that showed.
3. Out of town bands that watch you order their pizzas with "the works" and after they arrive tell you "Oh, we're all vegetarians, can we get buy-outs instead?"
I make it REAL clear that I don't do buyouts unless you're The Rolling Stones or something.
4. Local bands with managers.
This happens occasionally but I don't sweat it. I just don't book them again.
5. Local bands that have a girlfriend as their manager (Can you say annoying pain in the ass?). This usually marks the beginning of the end for most bands at the Creepy.
This happens too but even less frequently than above. Again I just don't book them.
6. Bands that bring their own "personal" sound-tech. After seeing him try to operate the soundboard for 5 minutes the house soundman concludes that this guy has absolutely no clue how to operate a PA. Accordingly, the band sounds like total shit.
Most sound guys don't mind letting a touring sound tech on the board. It's less work for them and they could care less how the band sounds. They just don't want him to break the house's shit.
7. Bands that have more roadies than band members.
8. Bands that spell their names with a strange spelling twist e.g., junkeez, katz etc. After meeting the band, however, we are left with the impression that they didn't intentionally try and spell their name with a twist but rather they probably just don't know how to spell.
I don't book those bands. Period.
9. The out of town band that was lucky to get the gig, brought absolutely nobody, bitched all night long about their time slot, when told they had 1 song left in their set play 4 more anyway who when being paid out $50 in gas money asks "Is this the best you can do?"
See my above comments regarding the band from 3 hours away.
10. Bands that arrive and state that they talked to someone at the club and were told they get to play 3rd at 10:30 and can play for an hour. When asked the name of the person they talked to they suddenly forget their name but are sure they talked to "someone".
11. Bands who all arrive at the same time but no one is willing to play first. Subsequently the show doesn't start until 11:30 and everyone has 10 minute sets.
This is so unbelievably common in Memphis. Because people don't start showing up here until say 11 pm, no one wants to play first. This is because no one wants to see the openers. This could be you!
12. Top 3 signs that the band will bring no one to the show - 1) 2 Weeks before the show they say "We're gonna pack your place!" - 2) 1 Week before the show they ask - "What's your capacity?" - 3) Upon arriving at the gig they ask "So how many people do YOU usually get on a Wednesday night?"
I've only gotten number 3. I inform them that the bands are the draw not the venue. The usual response is "oh...bummer."
13. Bands who draw is so bad that even their guests don't show up.
14. Bands who have no guests because they have no friends.
15. Bands who bring absolutely no one to their first gig and then call back relentlessly to ask for another show and can't understand why they haven't gotten asked back. That's fine, we don't have to eat this month and we really dig watching you guys rock out to our empty club. Bands who fit this category don't need to bother calling back because the booking guy will always be away when you call.
The above 3 are basically the same.
16. Bands who after drawing no one at the end of the night apologize by saying, "geez, after you booked us we booked ourselves to play at the Hi-Pointe last night and we told all our friends to go to that show, that's probably why no one came tonight. BTW, when do you think we can play here again?" (Note: see above for our response).
17. Bands who pester you to book their bands "side-project". Side-project is another name for self-indulgent crap so embarringsly bad they can't dignify it with a name and gives them a cover why none of their friends will come see them "perform". (Would you go see your friend masturbate if they asked you to come watch?). Note to bands: think of your side-project as a project never to get booked again.
18. Bands who show up wearing "All Access" laminates around their neck. (Note to these bands: We honor these laminates for the bathroom and parking lot areas only.) I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up but you don't see me walking around wearing a spacesuit at the club. We're convinced these people are recovering air guitar addicts from the 80's.
19. Bands who right before their set ask to play without a PA so it won't be deducted from their pay. (This has actually happened before). Sure, we'll just ask the sound guy to go home for a 1/2 hour.
20. Bands that want to play in front or the side of the stage.
Usually 19 and 20 coincide.
21. Bands that suck and then ask if you'll swap them out a shirt. You know, our shirts actually cost us money and I really doubt anyone at the club wants to wear your shirt. How about if we swap stickers and call it even?
22. Band members that ask in a nasally voice for a soda or water before the doors are open. Usually this occurs when your in the middle of doing something important like counting down the drawer or talking to a booking agent on the phone about a future show. You can fucking wait!!!
23. Parents of bands... this could be a whole top 39 list on its own... Parents who either a) insist on standing next to the owner all night and talking his ear off about how great their kids 14 year old band is (who BTW sound like they had never picked up an instrument in their lives before they started "playing" that night) b) insist on standing next to the the soundperson all night and making stupid suggestions on how to improve the sound of their kids band to the soundperson all throughout their set c) going to the bar while they wait for their kids band to play, consuming way too much, and then going to stand next to the owner and talk his ear off about how he used to jam in a band but now their kids band is going is going to hit mega-stardom any day now and... oh right, this is only supposed to be a paragraph.
24. Bands that leave gear behind. This happens at least several times each week and then we get the deluge of frantic phone calls in the following days about have you seen this or that piece of equipment and on the phone act liike we should know where their stuff is. Its amazing how something that is so important to them the next day gets so carelessly left behind the night of the show. We're the Creepy Crawl, not Bob's Nightclub and Repository of Leftover Band Shit. Keep track of your shit and take it with you when you leave!
25. Out of town bands that show up at 1:30 in the afternoon while you're doing work at the club. They then want to hang out with you all day and ask endlessly annoying questions while you work.
Questions like: Do we get free beer? Do we get dinner? Do we get a discount on either? How many guests do we get? See why the club might get irritated?
26. Bands who when you tell them they have 1 more song left because they're running late into their set decide to play a 45 minute opus full of self-absorbed guitar solos which in the course of playing covers in its entirety side 2 of Pink Floyds' Dark Side of The Moon.
27. Bands that pester you constantly to open for a particular touring band because they swear they worship their musical footprints and are the heaven endorsed guiding light of their musical lives. On the day of the show and after you told them sorry but the show was already filled up they don't even bother to come to the show. However, someone at the show reports hearing they decided to catch the Story of The Year show at the Pageant instead.
This happens constantly. A great way not to get booked.
28. Bands that cancel playing on the day of the show because even though you've had them booked for 2 months it wasn't until yesterday that someone in the band decided maybe then was a good time to try and ask off work.
29. Bands that can't play longer than a 15 minute set.
Actually I'm all for 15 minute sets.
30. Bands that bitch and beg to play a longer 45-50 minute set. They do this knowing everyone else only gets a 1/2 hour slot. We finally relent and rework the whole show to accommodate them and they still wind up playing the same rush-through-it-because-we're-dipfucks 23 minute set they play every other night they play. Apparently they live in a different time dimension than everyone else on the planet. They thank you profusely at the end of the set for letting them "headline" for their fans but we make sure they buy us and everyone around us shots at full price.
31. Bands that give big lectures on stage about how important it is to support "the scene" but at the end of their set want to get paid ASAP and don't want to wait until the other bands get done.
This is a constant around Memphis. I will not pay before the show is over.
32. Bands that keep asking to let us let them "set up" a show. These requests usually come from bands that can't even show up on time for their own gig and no matter how many times you told them what time they go on their is always one member of the band who doesn't get the message and totally fucks up the band schedule for the whole night. However, they have somehow convinced themselves that if we let them book a whole night this will somehow be the secret to their success. 99.9999f the time when we actually allow a band to actually do this it turns into a giant clusterfuck where half the bands they claim will be playing don't show up and the other half show up bitching about how they are supposed to be headlining.
33. Bands that are booked for a show but email every 12 hours to tell you they have changed their name and to please update your advertising. Call yourself Bobby & the Blowjobs for all we care, pick a name and STICK WITH IT!
34. Pathetic reasons why bands cancel. Bands that cancel 10 DAYS ahead of time because they have to go to a funeral! We feel so sad for these bands. Geez, I didn't know your grandpa was being stored on ice for 10 FUCKING DAYS! Who is he, Walt Disney??? If your going to friggin lie, try and come up with something half-way believable please.
35. Shows where the 4 local bands collectively can't outdraw the one out of town band you threw on the bill for gas money but through their own initiative and hustle actually manage to outdraw the 4 local bands (this BS actually happens!) We feel sorry and embarrassed for the out of town band who usually when getting paid out their gas money ask us quietly "whats up with the locals, who don't they have anybody come see them?" and we tell them as loudly as we can "BECAUSE THEY ARE PATHETIC & RETARDED LOSERS". Invariably (and we do mean invariably) their has to be the one local band who shoves the out of town band on the way to the door guy, lives 20 minutes away and brought a negative number of people, (they sucked so bad they ran off our happy hour crowd early) ask how much did they make and we tell them zero "BECAUSE THE BAND FROM 1/2 A CONTINENT AWAY OUTDREW YOUR PATHETIC AND RETARDED ASS". Actually we don't say that because we're so pathetically nice, we usually say " you guys rocked, let us know when you want to play again!".
36 - 38: Bands that don't correctly understand the definition of these terms -
CORRECT UNDERSTANDING: If a band has a load-in time of say 6:30 from that time they may attempt to enter the premises and inquire about loading in of their gear. If they by chance happen to arrive early they can occupy themselves with other activities to fill in the time, such as: visit the library, worship at a local church or synagogue or beating up the homeless guy living in the dumpster.
INCORRECT UNDERSTANDING: If a band has a load-in time of say 6:30 they arrive at 1:45 in the afternoon and knock incessantly on the back door. Usually they knock while the owner is in the basement knee-deep in standing shit working with a plumber to fix a leaking drain pipe. After trudging all the way upstairs to find 5 snot nosed kids asking if they can load-in now (and hang out all day!) they are politely told to fuck off and come back at 6:30.
CORRECT UNDERSTANDING: This is a person who actively works to promote a show. They promote by distributing flyers, plugging the show wherever they can and try to get as many people as possible to come to the show. If they have an out of town band booked on the show they take financial responsibility to ensure they get paid and are taken care of in whatever way they need. They also take charge in organizing the show and making sure all the bands know when they are scheduled to play and how the money works for getting paid.
INCORRECT UNDERSTANDING: This is a person who after asking repeatedly to put on a show does the following 1) fails to promote show in any way 2) fails to communicate any show details like lineup or order of the bands to the club (or the bands themselves) 3) makes themselves very scarce at the show , assuming they show up (they sometimes make a pathetic phone call just before doors to say they've just contracted a rare disease called pussyitis and to please take care of the out of town band). If they do show up and when questioned about things like band order, who's taking care of the bands etc. only respond with a blank stare.
CORRECT UNDERSTANDING: Gas Money is a term used to designate an amount of money to get a touring band to their next show. It sometimes includes a little more than that so they buy themselves some fast-food on their way or if they are lucky enough to cover a room at a Motel 6. Generally gas money would be considered anything from $30 to $75 and depends on how well the show goes.
INCORRECT UNDERSTANDING: $200 is not gas money. $200 is we're partying all night on the East Side and getting privates at Roxy's for everyone in the band.
CORRECT UNDERSTANDING: This is a band that is engaged on a "tour". They come to the Creepy Crawl while on their tour and often come from far away places such as the far corners of the country, Canada, Europe or Asia. They are on the road for extended periods of time, sometimes for several months at a time, in a van or bus and experience many new places along their journey. These bands are always entitled to at least gas money or more.
INCORRECT UNDERSTANDING: Driving up from Festus does not make you a touring band.
CORRECT UNDERSTANDING: A "following" is a collection of fans that attend the performances of a particular band. This is what bands try to develop to get ahead in the business and grow over time and is a measure of their general popularity. The larger a bands following generally means they will be booked more often and on better nights at the Creepy Crawl
INCORRECT UNDERSTANDING: A "following" does not mean all the people that attended The Queens of The Stone Age show you opened for to cover the last minute cancellation of a contractual local opener counts as your bands following (perhaps the rush to the bar by the entire club and club staff when you started playing was an indicator). And, yes, this means the Jager girls at the club that night probably didn't come to see you and probably won't be following you to your next show.
Now you get the idea of how cynical and jaded booking concerts can make you.
I used to be in a band called The Diarrhea Of Anne Frank. We were total noise. If you put 2 gorillas in a room with some instruments with heavy effects on them and gave them a really good drummer, that would be us. We didn't rehearse, we had no songs, we had no structure. We did have a television that showed unpleasant things like German shit eating films, Charlie Brown cartoons, graphic scenes of violence, and parts of the show 'Friends'. The tv usually was smashed before the end of the set. We didn't have a record out or t-shirts or anything. It was just a release for us. We had no aspirations.
Yet we managed to play Chicago, Detroit, and the Knitting Factory in New York City.
If I would've worked harder, we could've played even more shows, but it was really a glorified vacation. If my crappy band can play the Knitting Factory, you can too.
Here's how to do it:
--Develop a draw in your hometown. That means you should play once every month to 6 weeks. Beg your friends to show up. MySpace the shit out of your show. If the venue can count on you bringing 20-40 people a show, you'd be amazed at how often people will ask you to play. Remember, once every month to 6 weeks. Don't just play because someone asks you. The best drawing bands in town maybe play at home 2 or 3 times a year.
--If you haven't left your hometown and you don't have a record, your only hope is to trade shows. Why develop a draw at home? So you can trade shows with bands out of town. That's another thing. Make sure the band you're trading shows with has a draw in their hometown. Check that city's music message boards. Use the shit out of the internet. It's your only hope.
--Sling that promoter oil! Actually save up your own money and book big acts (or as big as you can afford) in the clubs you wanna play. Then stick yourself on the bill. It's a perfect way to find out if you're worth your salt. That's how my teenage band got to open for all those bands we played in front of. I saved my money, booked who I liked into a club and threw my band on as support. The club loved me for not bugging the shit outta them for a gig but instead asking for a date and ACTUALLY BRINGING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE!!! You'd be surprised at how some musicians think that they shouldn't be accountable. That all they should have to do is show up and play and expect money, food and beer although they may or may not have promoted in any way or brought anyone to the show.
I'm sure there'll be some who read this and get their feelings hurt. 17 years can make you callous.