​Booking & Setting Up a Show

A lot goes into booking a show for an artist or band from start to finish. From rehearsing and coordinating to online and grassroots promotion, and from negotiating and communicating about availability to confirming other acts for the bill (whether you or your band puts the bill together or booker does - someone does the work).

The terminology regarding shows can sometimes be confusing for someone just starting out (words like: hold, load in, line check, draw, room cap, cover etc.). Bookers will often ask questions like “what’s your market history?” and “what’s your draw?” or “how many people can you bring out to the show?”

Here’s a brief overview of some terms:

Hold - Sometimes artists or agents will put a “hold” on a date when their working on routing / booking a tour and waiting for other dates to confirm so in that case venues will put you on “hold” if they have other acts who have reached out before you for the specific date you reached out for. Sometimes the booker will tell you have a second or third hold, and if the other bands who have that date reserved end up cancelling it, the night will go to you or your band.

Load-in: The booker will give you a load-in time for the show, this will vary from venue to venue, but will generally be about an hour before doors open. This is the time you bring your gear in and set it near the stage or onstage before the show.

Line-check: This is another word for “soundcheck” but it’s more of a quicker one right before the band plays. Rather than doing a full 20 minute or hour long soundcheck before the crowd gets there, often for headliners, the opening bands will just do a line-check and check their levels minutes before their set.

Draw: A draw is how many people you can bring to a show. A booker or venue will ask this so they can figure how many people will likely be there buying drinks, cheering you on, and paying the cover to get in. This could also determine a guarantee you’ll be paid, bar % or door deal you’ll get. Bars and venues rely on this draw sometimes to cover their expenses for the night (security, sound people, door people, bar tenders). They want to know that hosting you is going to benefit them.

Room cap: “Room Capacity” This is how many people the room/venue holds according to fire safety laws.

Cover: Door price /  Ticket price / How much it costs to get in.

A lot of people are involved in a live show. In addition to your band and the audience, there is usually a few other people involved: The promoter &/or booker, a sound person, a door person, other acts (that a promoter, band or you will have added to the bill) and the people who work at the venue.

First, the booker is who you’ll have to reach out to for a potential gig. This e-mail is usually listed on a venue’s website contact form.

Helpful Tips:

- If there are two different booker contact e-mails: local & national - email the most appropriate one

- Address the booker by their name if you see there’s a particular person

- Introduce yourself, your act or bands name (if you are one)with a brief paragraph & include a short description of your band / comparisons and that you’re looking to book a show

- Pick a few dates to send as options for booker (prior if you’re in a band make sure all members could do these days as possible options, some people may need to get off work or change their schedules)

- Include a link to any CURRENT single or album & some live video if you have available.

- Include you or your bands career highlights (like if you have been featured on any blogs, news papers, magazines or on any radio, tv) & where you have played in the area (list a few venues & locals acts you have played with)

- Include your contact info & social media links

The booker will ideally get back to you (usually within a few days but sometimes a couple weeks, if not, try e-mailing again/follow up. Try following up a week-10 days later) and let you know if the date is available or sometimes they will recommend other venues that may be a better fit or other possible dates if the one requested is already taken. If the date is open and your band is given the gig, the booker may ask you to find other locals acts to support the night. Local bands will help bring in a bigger crowd especially if you’re not from the area. If you’re booking a show outside of your hometown, it’s integral to get local supporting bands. You can find other bands on sites such as http://reverberation.com, facebook music groups, local music blogs to the specific city, venue website’s show calendars, and fliers other artists have hung up at venues or coffeeshops nearby. Also google searches can be helpful by looking up city names, band & genres tags. Sometimes bookers will also have a recommendation band list, so always ask incase they do!

Reaching out to other bands is similar to reaching out to the booker: be specific, be respectful, and include all the info in a clear and concise way!

Sometimes and ideally, a promoter or venue of a show or venue will help push this newly booked show out to online outlets and upcoming show listings. There won’t always be a promoter, but even when there is, it’s important to do your own promotion. There are many simple ways of getting your friends, family, and soon-to-be fans to your gigs. Sometimes venues, bars, coffeeshops, or houses that host events will have a built-in crowd but you can’t rely on this. That’s where online promotion and grassroots promotion come in! Once your show is booked and you’ve found other fitting acts to join the bill, make a flier and an event page on facebook and push it out to everyone you can! Give yourself a good month to promote and remind people, in person, and on social media.

Also ask the booker if they have a press list. Often they do! This can be helpful as they may have good contacts at local radio stations, blogs, and news outlets who you can email/reach out to help promote your show. Invite them to your show or ask if they can feature you, do an interview or live in-studio performance (radio) before the show to help get people out :)

Once you’re at your show, it’s important to know the door person’s and the sound person’s role.

The door person will sometimes tally how many people come into the venue and take the cover from anyone entering the show. The sound person will do the soundcheck/line check for bands, and ask you what your set up is. *Sometimes when booking (depending on venue, a booker will request you send an input list & stage plot for production so they know what to expect as far as your setup ahead of time).  They will want to know what you need on stage as far as instruments, microphones, and necessary cables, etc. to get the best sound. You can tell this person how high you want the levels in your monitors, and if you’re singing - whether you want reverb added to your voice or not. Don’t expect them to read your mind! They’re there to make it sound the best it possibly can.

At whatever level you are at, it doesn’t matter, you have to start somewhere! If you are just starting out just know even bigger artists who have been playing for years also have their own booking or show / touring struggles. So regardless of the level, hopefully this post and some of these suggested steps and tips might help making booking easier!

Additional Tips:

- http://www.indieonthemove.com is a great database for bands and musicians starting out looking to book their next gig. There are listings on this site of music venues all over the country, and they will even tell you how many people fit in the room, what genres they host, and who to contact to book a show. We would highly recommend checking this site out and becoming a member! It will help you locally as well as country-wide once you’re ready to take your act on the road! The benefits of this site are great examples of what you need in order to book shows.

 Photo: Samuel Bendix  

Photo: Samuel Bendix  

Tales From the Road Part 2 (with tips)

The First Night of my First Tour

The first night of my first ever tour was in Burlington, VT. My band set out for our first show of a small week-long run around New England with all our gear in our Ford Escape. It was a great show in Burlington, we played late, made some friends, sold some merch, and the college town downtown was hopping. We loaded our gear back into the car and went back into the venue to watch the headlining performer. We locked the doors - from what we recall - and loaded everything safely into the vehicle around 12:30am. We finish watching the show and about an hour later we headed back to the car to find the door wide open and the inside lights on! Unfortunately, while unattended and while we were inside enjoying the show, someone found a way in the car. The intruder rummaged through our belongings and took my bass and my bass amp from our vehicle. I couldn’t believe it. The first night of my first tour, someone stole my bass. We notified police and the venue owner and we drove around town until the sun came up hoping to find it laying in someone’s yard or on the street. No luck, and we were beginning to feel delirious from being up for so long. We headed to the hotel and were trying to figure out how the rest of the tour was going to work without a bass. After a very long restless night I accepted that my bass was gone forever and we headed to Western MA for our next show. Thankfully a kind member of the first band let me borrow his gear and we were able to play our set. That night we were staying in Western MA (next day’s show was NYC) we were still trying to sort out what to do about the missing bass scenario. Unexpectedly after the show we got a call from the venue owner back in Burlington about a call they received from a mother reporting her son, who had stolen a bass and an amp from a band at the venue. The bartender answered this call and unfortunately did not get any info, so the call went untraceable. We knew it was our equipment the mother was reporting so we began to feel hopeful that we’d get it back! Early the next morning instead of heading to NYC we drove back to VT to see what we could do about the bass. No one called or knew how to retrace that mother’s phone call. We went and waited at the venue for a few hours but had to eventually leave to get to our show which was now about a five hour drive away. We left, again accepting we wouldn’t get the bass back, and headed for our show in NYC. We decided to do a stripped down version of the songs that night and had a great acoustic show on St. Mark’s St. There were only a handful of shows left - but we managed to do them all without a bass or by borrowing gracious bassists’ equipment at the shows. The kindness of strangers can sometimes come out of nowhere and mean so much!

Unexpectedly on the second to last day of tour we got another call from the venue in VT saying the bass and amp arrived safe and sound and would be driven to my house in MA by the end of the week. I really couldn’t believe it. I felt so grateful that somehow someone connected to the person who took the bass decided to do the right thing! Not only that but a performer who was playing that night while on tour was passing through my town the next day, and dropped it off for me to pick up the day I returned from tour. I went my whole first tour without my bass, or amp, but through the kindness of strangers, a little luck, and a miracle, it was all okay. Now at shows I am sure not to leave gear unattended, or in a car that I may or may not have locked! Lessons learned!

Tips:

- Keep an eye on your equipment at all times.

- Double check that you locked the car, hotel room door or anywhere else where equipment is left.

- Consider not loading all of your expensive gear into your car until you’re leaving the venue.

- Try to always be aware of your surroundings and if you’re in a place you don’t know.

- Travel as lightly as you can - the less you carry the less you have to misplace or worry about.

- There are great people in every town who are there to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

- If there’s ever a scenario to help another band out with sharing backline do it! The kindness can go so far!

- If you can, always stay to see the headliner, even if it’s past your bedtime to support the whole show and other bands

- Support your bandmates on tour - you are a unit and should be there for one another through the thick and thin.

- Unexpected things can happen on the road, like anywhere, and sometimes you’re not prepared. Try to go with the flow if you can. Remember there is a solution for everything! There is always some type of work around!

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Preparing for a live show

You’ve got your goals, you’ve found your band (or are flying solo), you have some songs, maybe you have some songs recorded (or in the works and ready to test the new material with a audience) and now wondering what is the next step. Live shows! Once you have your first show booked this is something you’ll really need to prepare for and some of these steps you’ll continue to use to prep for in the future as you continue to play more live shows.

So how does one go about bringing their material onto the stage and into these venues? How does one begin in a market, promote and start to make a name for themselves?

Let’s focus on the music and Preparing around that!First you have to make sure that what you’re bringing to the stage is a good representation of how you want to sound and how you want to be received by your audience.


Music: You’re going to want to rehearse with your band, going through all your songs one by one and making sure they sound good. Are all the instruments lining up? Is everyone singing in pitch? Are you getting the right tones out of your amps?

Tips:

- When rehearsing try breaking down the songs instrumentally or just vocals & harmonies or just bass & guitar. Any wrong notes or off parts will stand out! Also this will help tighten everything.

- Practice running the set, time it & make sure it works for the time slot allotted.

- Practice optional transitions into songs if you’re planning not to talk.

- Practice moving and try video taping you or your band rehearsing so you can see how you look.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Until it sounds good. If it doesn’t sound the way you want it to, then you’re probably not ready for the live show yet. You will know when this moment is!

Stage clothes: (*Refer to what we mentioned in our ‘Intro to Imaging’ entry). The biggest question should be image-wise, does my image / look and represent my music? Does it represent me? Or us? Wear something that sets you apart from the audience. Show that you’re IN the band. Be a unit! Or stand out as an artist. Be and look more than a person who plays on stage with jeans and a t-shirt. What inspires you? Have fun! You could even go to thrift / vintage stores with your bandmates and find some cool, cheap outfits together! Or maybe you have some friends who are clothing designers? Whatever it is - think about it and plan it out.

Tips: Look at magazines, old records, YouTube videos of your favorite artists, look at art! Anything to inspire image.

Banter on stage: Whether you’re a talkative artist or not, and even it if it’s not part of your image to say much, that is fine; but do at least acknowledge and say hello to the crowd and thank them for coming/being there. Your audience, the venue staff, bands, bookers etc., just like you, all took their time to come out and be there. If it’s a new market or new venue, know that your representing yourself and these people are taking their time to listen to you.

Tips:

Without being too rehearsed - so it doesn’t feel unnatural, think of some things to say to the crowd that you can fit between songs. Funny things that happened that day, brief stories behind the songs, ask the crowd how they’re doing, thank them for coming, tell them about the merch you have for sale, tell them about your next show, what you have in the works, thanking the other bands and the promoter who booked you, thanking the venue, be creative! (*Also you don’t have to talk after every song either - this will get tiresome for both you and the crowd. Find a natural flow and read the room!)

Product: You’re going to want to prepare to give your audience something to remember you by. They will want to take home something if they liked your performance. Before you play your show get some stickers made, buttons, wristbands, lighters, or even something small along these lines that are cheap to produce and cheap to sell with your name on it.

Tips:

- If you’re first starting out try a small run of t-shirts to see how they do! You can always print more. You can also try painting them yourself with a print screener or fabric paint.

- If you don’t have a recording finished yet, make sure all your social media sites are up so people can find you in the meantime and you’ll be able to tell them the url at the show.

- You could make a small home demo tape or even just one acoustic song single on a CD that you could give out or make into a free download to give to your new fans. You could also put a couple acoustic videos of songs up online and give out music business cards with your social media links and a link to the videos as well.

Website Tips & Social Media site suggestions:

- Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Squarespace (custom websites), Wix, GoDaddy & Register.com

- Merch & Duplicating Sites: Halfpriced Buttons, Sticker Guy, Hollywood Disc, CD Baby

Prep before show tips: Do all the guitars and pedals have charged batteries? Find out what the backline is at venue (do they already have a house drum kit or amps). Make sure to pack your tuner, extra strings, your capo, extra cables that you know work, and that your stage clothes are clean in time for the gig!

Before you step on stage for the first time Ask yourself these questions:

⁃ Are the songs sounding good and is our gear sounding good?

⁃ Have we rehearsed recently? Is the band all on the same page?

⁃ Do we have a setlist that is cohesive and flows nicely?

⁃ Are our instruments in working order and comfortable to play?

⁃Do we look like a band?

⁃ Do we have stage banter/things to say to the audience?

⁃ Do we have a thing or two that is cheap to sell or give away at our march table?

There’s nothing more magical than playing music live and sharing that with people - so put your heart into the process - you probably did when you wrote your first song! Also recall the first time you saw your favorite band or artist live. It was probably a night you’ll never forget - give YOUR crowd that same feeling!

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  Photo: Concretegrey  

Photo: Concretegrey  

Show Etiquette

Playing a show involves a lot of extra things besides being on stage and playing your songs. From the time you arrive at the venue to the time you leave, a lot goes on and it’s important to be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself. Keep in mind what your goals are. Most likely it involves performing the songs you wrote and sharing them with the world. There will likely be other acts on the bill as well and they have a similar goal in mind, playing their songs in front of a crowd. At the start it can be difficult to find that crowd to perform in front of but that’s why it’s important to stay the length of a show and watch the other acts. In a way you have to be the audience before you can expect to have one of your own! It all comes down to being respectful, and putting care into what you do. Let the other bands know you care about them and will give their work a listen, and they’ll likely stay to give yours a listen too.

A few tips & suggestions with shows when you first arrive to a show:

Find the booker, sound or production person and introduce yourself. Biggest suggestion - regardless of what other people do, if a booker or venue asks you to show up at a particular time for load in / sound check, don’t roll in right before you play! ...And don’t be late. However if you are running late, contact (however you communicated to book the show) the venue or booker to let them know. It’s respectful. You have to treat music like a job, and you wouldn’t show up to your job late!

For up coming or long time bookers and promoters: if you’re located in the same town where you book, be the point person and show up to the venue for the show. Too often there is a gap in communication between the venue and promoter where there’s no point person and people don’t respect the artists who could be traveling many miles. Some artists base their whole day around taking off from work early or cancelling plans / getting rides and/or equipment for a gig. To show up and find no one there and no one in communication makes things very difficult! Please respect what you do & act like you care.

If you’re serious about music here are some other tips:

- treat people how you want to be treated!

- respect requested time slots. (load in, set length)

- artists: be kind to the sound person, their job is not easy & vice versa: engineers try to be friendly to the artists so they’re comfortable

- be friendly & have a great attitude! Your like a business-card but in person. People will remember.

- if you’re open to it, always share your equipment! At some point you might really need an amp or cable! Most of the time people are exactly like you & might need an extra hand if their equipment broke last minute.

- have merch so you start thinking like a business and have products available, something for people to take home as a momento. Also: don’t force your merch on people! Do let them know it’s available though.

In addition to show etiquette you can also carry your support further by almost living a daily musician etiquette- supporting local artists & bands by even going to shows that you aren’t playing, buying merch from touring acts & always remember - you are the face of your brand so do everything you do with care/heart.

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