Finding Gigs and Learning to Be Selective
Lets talk for a minute about finding gigs. Say you’re a new band, not established. You have been playing in your drummer’s garage for 3 months straight and now you’re ready to go show off your music. That’s exciting.
The first thing you should come to terms with is that your band must operate in some ways like a small business. You guys are in a partnership whether you see it or not. The fact of the matter is that you must learn how to generate some sort of revenue for your band to keep things going and to make it thrive. Finding gigs that create a win/win situation for your band is a way to do that. Using music resources like this article will help you do it better. So keep that in the back of your head, it will come into play more the second year out.
Your first year, don’t be picky about where you play. You’re trying to establish yourselves on the local music scene so finding gigs is more a matter of "who will let us play, who can we play with?" You’re trying to build a network of contacts that include:
•Other bands to play with
•Recording studio engineers
•Venue owners (or whoever is in charge of booking)
•Artists (helpful for album covers, sticker, button and t-shirt design and more)
•Fans (this is your most important asset, ultimately they will make or break you)
•Music store employees (for discounts on supplies)
•Print Shop employees (for discounts on flyer and gig poster production)
Don’t burn bridges. Finding gigs that are good for your band is a process. You need to befriend all of the above to build your network. The first year, if you play at a place that seems kind of crappy or low-end, don’t worry about it. If there was only one person there, try to befriend him/her. Sometimes you can earn a new fan just by being nice to a person, even if they weren’t too hot on your music before. You are going to play some flops, your first year especially. It doesn’t matter. Keep it all in perspective.
If you can swing it, definitely play some parties. Parties are great because they are low pressure, you probably won’t get paid, but you’ll make a ton of friends and fans. Get some email addresses and phone numbers. These are people you can call up or email and let them know when you’re going to play another show.
One *IMPORTANT* thing you should do that first year though is keep track of a few things. You should keep some stats on all these places your band is playing. What I mean by this is when you play a place, mark down:
•Venue Name and Date played
•How was crowd on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 best)
•Merchandise Sales (did you sell anything)
•Paid for show (did the venue pay you? How much?)
•How well did the crowd like you on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 best)
This information is important because once you get done with the first year of not being picky about shows. Your second year you need to start being a little more selective about finding gigs. This information is going to help you figure out where your band should be trying to play a little more and where you should stop playing.
Lets talk about these stats real quick…
• Venue and Date
o This can give you an idea about what time of year a place might be better to play. For example, the night before Thanksgiving is universally the busiest bar night of the year and is traditionally a very good night to play a show. If you played somewhere on November 23rd and there was only 5 people there…don’t play there next year on November 23rd , you need another spot. Finding gigs is an artform sometimes, at least finding the right ones.
• How was crowd on a scale of 1 to 5
o This is an intangible factor. What I mean is that it affects a lot of things that you cannot see or measure easily. A larger crowd means greater networking opportunities, happy venue owners, an increased chance of selling merchandise, your music reaches more people, and your have a greater chance of making new fans.
• Merchandise Sales (did you sell anything?)
o Sometimes you play at a venue that doesn’t pay you much to play, but every time you play there you might do really well selling t-shirts or CD’s. Festivals can be like that sometimes. A lot of times it has to do with how many bands are playing or how big a crowd will be there, but not always.
• Paid for show (did the venue pay you? How much?)
o This is the most tangible way to judge a venues worth. For example my old band used to play this one place at least a couple times a year. It was one of those multi-level bars with dance music and a DJ on the bottom floor and rock music and a live band on the second floor. It always seemed dead on the second floor, always like just a few people. But in that bar it was all about the dance stuff. It didn’t matter because the Bar paid the band out of the total earnings for the night, so we always did well. That was a good situation that couldn’t be judged on how many people showed up to watch.
• How well did the crowd like you on a scale of 1 to 5
o This can be hard to judge, but be honest with yourself. If 50 people rush to the foot of the stage when you go on then that’s a pretty good crowd response. If half the bar clears out by your 3rd song, that’s not a very good overall crowd response. You can’t take it personal. Use it. This is all part of trying to figure out who your core audience is and what bars and venues they hang out at. A punk band probably won’t be well received at a country bar.
So that first year when you’re finding gigs and playing shows, keep track of the above data. Put someone in your band in charge of it or rotate the person responsible for doing it every show. However you want to do it is fine but make sure you guys are doing it. At the end of the year look it over and make a chart. Add up some of those totals and see which venues were really good for your band and which were not so great. This is all part of trying to move your band forward and making it a successful project.
Don’t get frustrated if it feels like your playing at a bunch of places that aren’t helping your band. Keep it in perspective. It is a growing process and you’re trying to establish yourself as a band. You’re probably growing more than you realize but your so close to it you don’t see some of the intangibles like name awareness. Numbers and stats don’t lie but they aren’t everything either. You have to use them to steer your band in the right direction but don’t let them rule you either. Don’t burn bridges. Look for win/win situations with these venues.
Did you ever wonder why so many local bands break up and only a handful stick it out and stay around year after year? You hear a lot about bands not getting along or people just moving on with there lives or moving on to other bands. Most of the time those things are only the end symptoms of the real problem. The band has stagnated and is not moving forward. You have to accept that the only constant in this business is change. You have to keep moving forward. Whether it's finding gigs that are a good fit or distributing your record the right way, if your band is not generating any money and you guys keep playing the same circuit of bars and venues, eventually your all going to feel it, and by “it” I mean that feeling that things aren’t working out or your wasting your time. So in that respect it’s important to put an emphasis on how you’re finding gigs because the gigs you choose in one way or another are going to go a long way towards building your success as a band.
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