Every band has to start somewhere. Nirvana started off with house parties, The Others famously gigged on the tube(subway trains) in London to get publicity, and the Beatles spent three months living in one room and gigging nearly every night in Hamburg before getting a fiver for playing the Cavern Club one lunchtime.
So you’ve been playing together a few months, written your first few songs and are eager to unleash what is obviously the next Led Zeppelin to the world. Where to start? It’s important to realise that your first few gigs are more like practice at being a band and to realise where your strengths and weaknesses are. Not to mention having fun.
Get Out There
The best way to figure out where to play first and what to expect is to go out around your local venues and check out a few other local bands to see what the competition is like and where you might fit in. There’s no use playing to a room full of punk fans if you play ambient kraut-jazz. Have a chat with some of the bands you like out and see how they got on the bill and see if you can have a word with the promoter. Networking is key so ask at the bar to see who does the promotions, let friends and other bands know you are looking for a gig and get chatting with anyone who might be able to help. If you have a demo give them out to promoter’s or get a set of free business cards printed on line with your band name, genre and contact details.
If you hear of a house party ask if it’s cool to play a short set. House parties are always a fun way of playing live without the pressure of a full venue of paying punters. Just make sure you look after your gear – no beer near the equipment and make sure everything’s packed up or sent home before it get’s nicked. Check local bands listings, music forums for your area and post on craigslist and gumtree to let people know you are ready and willing to open up for other bands for free – you shouldn’t expect any more
than a couple of beers at this point, and that’s if you’re lucky.
Your First Booking Agent
It is often a good idea to have one band member responsible for the bookings. They will be in charge of letting everyone else know the when, where and how as well as keeping a notebook of the venues, numbers and crowds for future reference. The most outgoing member is usually the best for this as they’ll naturally be more chatty, half of this job is being likeable enough for someone to give you a chance and remember a name. If you don’t want this responsibility then it’s up to you to make sure you aren’t late, don’t forget anything and give them some appreciation for the extra effort – this is normally a manager’s work and goes unrewarded.
Don’t Get In Over Your Head
A mistake that very young bands will often make it to make a promise that they can’t keep. Don’t play weddings, bar mitzah’s, children’s parties or funerals unless that is specifically what you are going for. If you are being asked to pull 50 people for your band alone, say no. You want to start small and focus on learning the material you have and how you work together as a band. Until you have a good 10-20 gigs under your bet you don’t want to think about touring or investing your time too heavily into something that may just put unwanted stress on the band. Keep It Simple Stupid.
Never Pay To Play
Pay To Play is an annoyingly common scam that has been around since the early days of shady promoters and still won’t go away. Because of the huge amount of bands that don’t know how to book their own gig’s there is a lot of money that can be made purely from friends and family paying to get in.
It goes like this.
- Shady promoter hires venue for 100 bucks amount of cash
- Shady promoter gets five fairly new bands on board and makes them buy a certain amount of tickets at half the price and makes them sell them all
- Shady promoter does no publicity, probably doesn’t even turn up at gig and lets the bands do all the work while walking away with all of the profit
There are many similar tricks for lazy promoters, so unless you meet someone that has a good reputation in the local scene or obviously loves what they do – it’s best to stay away.
Do It Yourself
Way too many bands go through their entire career without ever organising their own gig’s. This is a massive learning experience they are missing. In many cases if you find the manager or promoter at the bar, they will hire the place out at a fairly low cost. This is generally best if you have been playing for a while and want to headline your first gig. By now you should know a few local bands that will fit on your bill (similar genre and energy) and you should be able to pull in enough people to cover the cost of the hire with a little extra left for the rider for all of the bands. This may be getting ahead of ourselves for now, so we’ll post more on this option in the future.
What To Expect, or, Where’s My Money
When a promoter offers you a slot at a gig you should always know what other bands are playing, the set times, when to load in before the gig and if you should expect a sound check (hint: always expect a sound check) as well as if you should expect any cash/bar tab/rider and how many guest list (free entry for partners/grandmothers) spots you get as a band. It is important that all this is made clear before the gig, and if they need to get back to you with some details chase them up before you turn up at the wrong place.
As an opening act you’ll probably be getting 20-30 minutes or 6-10 songs to play at a push. You should turn up early to get your sound check over and make some new friends by helping to lug gear around. You won’t get a dime and it’s most likely half the crowd won’t have turned up to the venue by the time you’re on, but that’s your lot for now. Before you go on, run round the bar telling people the band is on (or even better get an attractive friend to do it for you) and when you’re on stage make it quite clear that something is happening and people should look.
And finally – Good luck, you’re on your own from here.