by: Bruce Prokopets
Divide and Conquer: The secret to booking gigs
Most everything you are told about booking gigs is wrong. An average band hears so much advice from so-called experts they can write a book about it. Most misconceptions are harmless. The ones that cause the most damage are the ones that are the most popular. Popular opinion should almost ALWAYS be avoided when dealing with the music business. This report is meant to deprogram you and tell you what no one will share about really booking better gigs.
It is important to attack the root of misconception fast. Therefore I will take a stab at it now. If you are a good band playing horrible gigs it is most likely because you have a skewed perspective of "time line". This article will be littered with the term "maintaining time line". This is not some trendy "industry term". This is simply the best way to describe your main priority in the quest to tour on your own 4 wheels.
What is "time line"?
Time line is a concept. It doesn't really exist. You have to think of it as rule that governs your music business habits. If your time line is too short, your success at gigs will be sporadic. If your time line is too long you will remain stagnant. You have to handle your gigging schedule with precision and thought. You must tweak your time line in order to correct what ails your band.
LESS IS MORE
This may be a cliché you hear tossed around a lot in the music business, but it is seldom followed. Playing too often in any market will kill your draw. That is the bottom line. Don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. I will spare you all the metrics and sterile accounting speak that proves this point. You must break free of the shackles of saturation if you are going to maintain time line and reach booking zen.
You want to think of booking your band like a war. There are territories you must win. From here on out we will refer to these as markets.
You have to find a way into each market and begin your campaign. For the remainder of the report these will be referred to as gigs.
You must find allies that align with your intentions and best interests. In other words, bands.
You must find a marketplace that has something to gain from your war. This report will refer to them as promoters.
WHO WILL HELP YOU THE MOST
The one thing that will probably surprise you the most is where to start getting better gigs. Many of you started out "cold calling" clubs out of the phone book or local rag and ask for a gig. Although this smash and grab attempt can create some lucky opportunities here and there, it will destroy your time line. The truth is, bands that are already successful in that venue will be your greatest ally. If already have some "cherry popping" gigs under your belt, or a demo, this will be crucial in forging a relationship with bands.
Many good drawing bands will have very strong connections with local promoters. Promoters are drawn to them because these bands are a vital commodity in their industry. Club owners and promoters plan to have these bands a certain many times in the year and account for so much business. Usually, in this type of relationship the band can book virtually at will and many times can create bills, or cards. Your best bet is to align with such a band. If you can do this it will launch your time line correctly.
WHEN TO DO IT YOURSELF
Assuming your first gig at a venue was under the circumstance outlined above you should make sure you meet the promoter and/or club owner that night. You want to make an impact. When a promoter feels like giving you a bone he doesn't want to throw it. Your initial gig at a venue via another band is the best time to see if the promoter was even paying attention. If they were they might need you for another bill, but you have to come to them.
Your draw in your home market will determine your leverage against other markets. In other words, a following in your market will create opportunities in others. This does NOT mean "create buzz here and then everyone will beg for us elsewhere". This means you can now find other bands in other markets that are successful and trade shows, or "swap gigs". Other bands that want to break into your market will want to align themselves with you. Repeating this across multiple markets, and applying a solid time line, will create success. You will also always have a good show supporting locals who draw at least as much as you do on other markets. Creating this leverage, by raising your draw, will be the key to routing better gigs across markets. How does one do this? Simple. Maintaining time line.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GIG IN ONE MARKET
When you are fist starting out, it is important to play whatever gigs you can to get the hang of how it works. Think of those early gigs as practice. Think of the gigs you do supporting better drawing bands as where you really iron out your craft. Eventually you are going to want to test the waters and see what you are really worth. A band will, at some point, have to go out on its own and try to "headline", or put their own bill together as the "biggest" band. The first couple of times you do this it should be no more than once every 6 weeks. When your time line is ready to be set at optimum performance you should not headline any one market more than 4 or 5 times a year, or once per season. That's right, your time line gets longer, not shorter. When everything is working properly you will play less gigs, but with significantly more draw at each.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT VENUE
You want to fight battle you know you can win (we will talk more about battles in a moment). You want to play where you are confident you can draw. If you know a certain venue is famous for having death metal bands, and your name is DECAYING FLESH, you should probably put that club high in the running to become your home venue.The venue you draw the most at should be the one you concentrate on in the market.
WAR IS MADE UP OF BATTLES
As General, it is important to have a keen sense of delegation. You must be aware that the entire campaign is on your shoulders, but you have resources and a team of people to help you. Your band may not seem like an awesome war machine now, but you have to think logically. You have to delegate.
The easiest way to start creating a draw is to first hit your friends via your band mates. Delegate a realistic amount of responsibility to the other players in your band with a real value. You should start with "heads", or people they bring. Every member of your band should feel they are responsible to bring 20 heads that pay to get in. Instead of looking at your promotional campaign as a daunting war you will gain more ground with your band fighting smaller battles at once.
Some of the members of your band will have 20 cousins who will love to come. Some of your band members will have to resort to begging ex-girlfriends they dumped. Most of you will go the traditional route and hand out fliers at shows. No matter how, you each must meet your goal of 20 heads.
The PR and marketing front is a whole other battle. The Internet has made it possible to have your music heard, gigs found, and pictures seen across the world in hyper-speed. Properly presenting your image will be very important on this front. If you feel you need help in presenting your image you should refer to my previous article "The Truth Behind Press Kits, Bios, and Controlling Your Image". Remember, there are bands in other markets looking for bands to swap with, so make sure you are easy to find on the Internet.
OPTIMIMIZING YOUR TIME LINE
At first, you might be surprised that you do not meet our goal of 20 heads per member. Do not be discouraged. But when you finally create that watermark you are ready to begin stretching your time line and playing less gigs. You should reserve your headlining events for once a season and only break that rule for an opening slot for a national act or a great promotional opportunity like a benefit.
At this point you should be concentrating only on creating new fans. Think of the first wave of friends as your new soldiers. Delegate some task to them with a real value. A good starting point is having all your friends get at least 2 people to the next show or to at least sign up for the mailing list on your website. You have a website with a mailing list don't you?
You should not neglect historical methods of creating interest. Giving away free tickets to people who sign up to your list always gets some response. Promoting the fact you are giving away something for free at the next gig works too.
The actual venue that you play is often overlooked as a great place to promote. Not just by handing out fliers to patrons, but perhaps posters and banners. Most clubs will not have a problem with you putting up promotional materials around the venue. Always get a professional artist or art student to create your posters and fliers. This is the first thing many people will see promoting your band, make sure it counts.
If you can afford merchandise, or "merch", like apparel and stickers, it can be a great revenue stream for your band. But again, you have to apply time line to your stocking habits. You want to be able to create and sell a new item at every couple of shows. Even if all you can afford are some new stickers or a new style button, do it. So if you really want to get those expensive glow-in-the-dark sweaters that say your band's name when you press a button make sure you have enough to get some more new merch soon.
New merch is a great way to train your fanbase. You have to train your fanbase to bring money to your gigs. When your fans are expecting new merch they are more likely to come prepared, or "armed with dough". Go to Scenejumper.com for more info
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Use your newfound leverage to repeat success across multiple markets. Trade shows wisely and always do your research. Always make sure a gig swap is really worth it. Choose your markets carefully. It should be practical and affordable to gig other markets. You want to move out from your home base logically. Eventually you will be able to easily route yourself across your surrounding markets. Applying the proper time line and work ethic you can do mini-tours every season.
About the author:
Bruce Prokopets is co-founder and editor of music news bloghttp://www.scenejumper.comBruce had his first live gig at 15 and has had various jobs in the industry since. He spent years as a guitar tech, tour manager, endorsement liaison, bassist in a national act, and promoter in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
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