Well I’ve noticed that someone is reading this blog. Good. Perhaps it will help. It would help a great deal more if you would ask stupid questions. Yes, there are stupid questions no matter what your Sunday School teacher said. There are also a huge number of inquisitive idiots. I count myself in that classification. Yes I was and in many ways am an idiot. I asked questions and learned a great deal. I also watched what worked and went with that. (also if you are reading the blog let other musician buddies in on the secret. More readers means more posts…I am, after all, doin’ this for free…Ok enough blather, back to gigging)
This blog is about gigging and some general comments about being a gigging band.
So at the end of the last blog I mentioned that as a promoter I gave gigs to the local bands that I knew personally and the band’s that drew a crowd. It was either or. If a band was BOTH my friend and they drew a crowd they would soon be headlining. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I made some really dumb errors along the way. Here’s one.
There was a band from somewhere in Ohio. They had a record out which was kinda rare in those days. They were on tour and they wanted a date in my club to fill in their tour. I suspected that there wasn’t much of a tour since their record sucked. I was right the tour was a spotty mess with rare dates and big holes of no dates. Notice I haven’t mentioned the band’s name to spare their feelings. Their name was THE URGE. (I think, it was a really long time ago) So they had a tour and they had a record and they had what they thought was a clever Schtick. Ya see each guy in the band had half a beard. That’s right, I believe it was on the left side of their face. Perhaps their plan was to switch to the right half of their face for the second record.
So they called and called and called. Once or twice they got me on the phone and I said no way, no gig. They had no following and they sucked. Well they pushed and pushed and pretty soon they had pissed me off. Now, even if their record had leaped onto the charts I wouldn’t have booked them.
They were after one particular date, it may have been opening for Black Flag or Kraut I can’t remember. The day of the show they just showed up at the club expecting to play. I guess they figured that they were on tour. They were free on that date and who was I to say no. Well the headliner’s crew damn near killed them. So in an effort to make some kinda peace I let them play an early set and even gave them $50. Geez I didn’t have $50. I think I borrowed it from the club owner. Well the night was such a nightmare for me, the promoter, that I gossiped about it to the promoter further up the coast. Within twenty four hours the balance of their tour had collapsed like a house of cards. Was I responsible? Perhaps. Were they? Hell yeah.
If they had turned up at sound check and NOT expected to play just hung out I probably would have fed them since the club usually fed most of the crew, friends, ladies etc. They may have very well ended up crashing at my apartment in the beautiful ghetto of Bridgeport CT. They were probably nice guys. If they had taken a different approach they would have ended up knowing me personally and that would have paid off in information, tips on shows and maybe, down the road, a gig. They blew it by being too aggressive. And now decades later I have exposed their closely guarded secret, the half a beard trick.
Ok here’s another story to illustrate a different approach, one based on creativity. From 1978- 1983 I was a DJ on a big college radio station. I was one of the only DJ’s playing underground records and, as a result, I started getting more discs than I could play. Each week I would pick through them and if one ended up on the air and got a good response that band might very well find itself with a sold out show in CT. See I had the radio/promoter thing working, clever huh? Yeah real clever a guy named Alan Freed thought it up and he helped invent Rock.
One day I’m going through the incoming releases and included in the pile is an invitation to an event from a guy named Steve Albini. Now you may know the name Steve Albini since he went on to produce that little known band Nirvana but when I received this invitation no one knew Steve Albini. This was way back in 1982. So this invitation said something like this “Throw Things at Steve Albini!!! You’re invited to a once in a lifetime event where anyone and everyone can throw things at Steve Alibini!” It went on to explain that he would erect a plexiglass screen offering little protection and then people would throw things at him. Brilliant. A great combo or comedy, performance art and quite cleverly a punk kinda attitude since it was saying ‘I aint a star, throw shit at me’. I dropped the needle on the EP that came with the invite and I was hooked. (His band, Big Black, was a great band by the way) Steve Albini is a natural showman. He knows how to get people to talk about him and he understands that that is what really counts. After he produced Nirvana he went to great lengths to do interviews in all the big magazines. In every interview I read he said basically the same thing. Once again I’m not quoting him just paraphrasing he said “Yeah I made tons of money on Nirvana so from now on I’m gonna produce bad bands and mediocre bands because those bands need good production too!” This of course was clever since the press went nuts writing about this philosophical reverse. And what counts? That they were writing about him.
If you want to be famous you have to have the guts to make a fool out of yourself if that can help your career. If you have talent then you will know what’s cool. You can stick to cool all the time. But sometimes just standing around acting cool doesn’t get you noticed.
In most bands there is at least one member that is desperate to get noticed. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Often this is the drummer. Drummer’s are just built for the spotlight. They’re often designed to get arrested as well. I’ve bailed more drummers out of scrapes with the law then all other musicians combined. If your drummer gets arrested don’t hush it up. Geez talk about it. Turn it into stage banter (see the earlier lesson about sets). On the whole drummers are nuts. Maybe it’s all of that percussive volume – it softens up the brain tissue. There is a reason that there are lots of drummer jokes. Their need for speed. Their sense of flash and the fact that they are the only one in the band that can always make that cute girl in the back of the hall wag her butt whenever they want to are all reasons why we love drummers, cherish them and try, in vain, to keep them away from drugs and liquer. Here’s drummer story you may have heard since it’s about a famous drummer but I’ll tell it anyway.
Keith Moon had been playing in The WHO for four or five years. He was a huge rock star. Being a huge rock star he, of course, is being paid huge sums of money. One day he meets with his manager and a guy called an accountant. Accountants are guys that count things. They’re good at. They count money, jelly beans anything. They even think up clever things to say about things that they have counted. So this guy tells Keith Moon that he is TOO RICH. Ya see he had been living with his Mom all this time and doing the exact same things he did before he became a star. This accountant guy tells him that this is no good. The government had just changed the rules and because he was so damn rich they were going to take most of his money. The accountant explains that the problem is related to him not spending money. He needs to spend some money before they take it. So Keith Moon goes out and buys two castles, 30 cars and a couple of yachts and three days later HE IS BROKE. He then sets about driving the cars into swimming pools while drunk. Of course, all of this got the band great press……I’ll tell many more drummer stories as I go along.
So to round things out. Take these few lessons toss ’em in a blender and come up with some ideas to get yourself noticed in the scene that your band is part of. Use this notoriety to make contact with the local promoter. Explain to him how popular you are. Better yet have other people explain how popular you are. Go to great lengths to be seen in and around the place you need to play regularly to get ahead. After you have done these things then you can ask him face to face for a gig. Ask for a good one. Be a little arrogant when you ask for it. NEVER ASK FOR A GIG LIKE YOU ARE A DOOR MOUSE! Example “Hi, you don’t know me and you’ve never heard of my band The Dipshits but we’d really love to play any gig you will give us. We’ll polish your car and play for free. We’ll play your worst night after everyone goes home just give us a gig.” Instead Ask for a gig like you’ve got the goods. Even if you don’t get it you’ll earn more respect. Try something like “Hey I heard you might have GOD playing here Feb 3rd. If you put us on the middle slot we’ll deliver half the room full of fans. I can’t guarantee that they’ll stay for GOD’s set but they’ll all pay at the door.”
That reminds me of another tip. Forget the guest list. There is a time and a place for guest lists and somewhere along the way I’ll talk about where that fits in but do not hand the promoter a guest list on your first gig. Make your mom pay. Make God pay. Make your girlfriend pay. Remember if you don’t make the promoter money he has no use for you. If you play your cards right six months from now you will never again pay to get in the club. Instead the promoter will be happy to have you at the show since it makes his club look cool.