Lesson #4 Getting a gig (part two)

I’ve heard that 95% of the bands that form never play a gig. I’m not sure if I believe it but I have seen no evidence to overturn this statistic.  I’m not sure if I believe it because every band I ever played in played gigs, usually lots of them. I was always the one to book these gigs. Along the way I learned lots of tricks. On top of this I opened and ran a nightclub for two years.

If you are every feeling lonely just decide that you are now a promoter. I don’t even think that you have to tell anybody all you gotta do is decide to do it and your phone will start ringing. You’ll pick it up and a kid will say “Hey my band’s great can I send you our promo package and  can you book us on a Saturday night?!”.  You’ll say something like “How did you know I was thinking about booking shows at the Knights of Columbus Hall and who gave you my cell number?” The kid will clam up. He got the number from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from a fanzine, that wrote about it ’cause some kid reporter heard about it… Here’s the lesson in that. Trying to call a promoter is actually impossible. They will screen you out, duck your calls and generally be a pain to get in touch with until they have a reason to book you.

When I ran the nightclub I had a secret rule. If everyone asked me if I was booking a certain band, after about the third request for the same band, I’d say ‘ I’m thinking about it. Ya think I should?” When everyone in the club was talking about the same band I would book them figuring that all the kids would show up to see it. This rule worked. So here’s the key. You got to be talked about. You’ve got to be popular with the club’s regulars.

I guess a good place to start talking about getting your band a gig is to talk about your first local show. Later I can move on to getting out of town gigs and playing giant stadium shows where you arrive by Jet copter.

Here’s a little story that cleverly conceals a lesson to trick you into learning something.  There was this Chapel Hill NC band, for this story we’ll call them small 23.  The funny thing is there was actually a great band from Chapel Hill called Small 23 and they were buddies of mine. This story didn’t happen to them I just feel like misusing their name. SO this band gets together a smokin’ set and wants to play their first gig. They call and call and call the only promoter that books local bands onto bigger bands shows when they come through town. Of course they get nowhere. They try to talk to him at the nightclub and he takes their tape (yeah this was long before the last ice age) and gives em the brush off.  They talk about renting a hall and booking a show (sometimes this is a great idea) and decide they are too lazy and since they have no money and their drummer usually gets drunk and breaks things that this isn’t a good idea.  So then they hit on a good, stupid idea. They plaster the town with posters for an upcoming show featuring a band that’s out on tour but not stopping in Chapel Hill. They make up an all ages club and, of course, list themselves as the opener.  Two days before the show they go around and stamp “sold out” on all the posters.  When their friends call them they give out vague bullshit stories. The night of the show kids wander around Chapel Hill looking for the Gerbil’s Lunch nightclub. By Monday they’ve spread rumors that the show rocked. By Tuesday the rumor sweeps the clubs that it was a hoax.  By Wednesday the paper writes a “local band creates stir with hoax concert” story.  By Thursday the promoter ads them to the bill for a show the next month. (ever notice that whenever newspapers write about rock bands they always call it a concert.  It can be eleven under age thrash bands at the skate park and it’s still a ‘concert’) Why’d they get the gig? Everyone knew who they were and were talking about them.

This is just one trick and it worked one time. The point here is to understand that band’s need to be talked about in order to get popular.  Let’s move on I’ll come back to that later I’m sure.

So you put together a press pack. That’s the fancy word for a cd, picture of the band and press clippings.  You don’t have any of these things, then fuckin’ make them. Have one of the girlfriends take photos, ( for god’s sake dress like a rock band), make a recording of the band running through a short, well-thought-out set. You record this in your practice space.  For the press pack write a biography to start. If no one in the band can read or write then, once again, the girlfriend earns her keep.  I’ll talk about getting press in another lesson. There is a great deal to learn there but for the moment it doesn’t matter that you have no press.

Look around your town, or next large grouping of humans commonly called a city.  Are there clubs? Do these clubs book bands? No clubs, no shows then you must do it yourself.  The art of setting up gigs from scratch has lots of little details. I will deal with that in another blog.  I’ll assume that there is some hole that has shows booked in it.  Ask around or just call the club and find out who books the shows.  This person is your target. YOU DO NOT APPROACH THE TARGET DIRECTLY AT FIRST.  Should I repeat that? Nah, I’m too lazy. Go back and read it again.  Look back to the beginning of this blog. Imagine you are a promoter. Every idiot on the planet will be trying to call you. There is no way that you’ll ever get through to this person by just calling the number six thousand times a day. You want this person to have heard your band’s name from other sources before you ever call him (her) (I am not going to spend much time trying to be gender neutral. The whole world of rock is ambisexual. Let’s leave it at that)

Where can this mythical fantasy creature called the promoter hear of your band. Here’s a few ideas and there are lots and lots more if you actually apply yourself to thinking about it.

1. The cleverly planted hot girls that attend his shows and then he tries to pick up after the show. Of course they are girlfriends of the band, though they never mention that fact as they babble about how they love your band.

2.The fake posters that announce your CD release that you plaster around town.

4. T shirts, that you hand make and are worn by kids that attend his show.

5. The local college radio station where you went to the trouble of getting to know one of the DJ’s and he plays your live practice CD or talks about your fictional shows.

6. Your highly visible arrest that’s on the front page of the paper ’cause you’re the first band to steal a US Navy destroyer.

You get the point. Make noise. Get your name around.  After a few weeks of planting your band’s name it is time to move in. Now you go to the club. Have your press kit in your bag but don’t worry if you don’t hand it to the guy. You want to meet him and more importantly you want him to meet you and remember you.  A great time to go to the club is when a band that is playing there are loading in during the day. You just walk up to the guys humping gear and offer to help.  The promoter may be there early counting the last night’s door.  You want to start to live at this club without ever showing up for a show and standing on line. Go there early, go there late. Better yet get a job humping beer kegs a couple of nights a week. Become part of the scene.  Always remember that getting ahead in the music business depends on who you know and who knows you.

Your too lazy to do all this work? Here’s a trick to get on the phone with a promoter. Call the number and when you get his machine leave this message “I need to rent a PA for a private gig and all the local companies are sold out. Someone told me you know the name of some local sound rig guys..”  It might work because you are not asking for a gig and your asking for something that costs him nothing other than time.  (Oh yeah, here’s  a BIG point whenever you talk on the phone to anyone in the business. Make it short and then hang up. NEVER CALL SOMEONE UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMETHING INTERESTING TO THAT PERSON TO TALK ABOUT EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT UP) or try this one “I’m booking a show and I’m looking for local opener. If you have any ideas give me a call.” This will often get a response since he thinks he can get a local band off his back by finding them a gig elsewhere. It’s also  a good way to find another local band that’s gotten itself close to getting a gig. You call them up and pick their brain for ideas. The first time you speak to him don’t ask for a gig. When you ask for a gig he clams up. If he knows that you’re in a local band and you don’t ask for a gig after a while it will start to bug him ’cause everyone always asks him.

Of so now we’ll assume that you have met Mr. Gig, the promoter.  He’s heard your band name around and he sees the name in various places. Now is the time to start to ask for a gig.  There is one rule in asking for a gig. You don’t talk about how great you are, he’s heard that bullshit before and won’t even hear the words that come out of your mouth instead you talk about how POPULAR you are. It’s that simple. He will want to book you when you convince him that your band will draw fans to the show. That’s all he cares about. Try showing up with forty women as your support and ask for a gig. Then turn around a say “Everyone raise their hand if they will come to see my band play” forty hands go up and he offers you a slot.  (By the way when you play you gotta draw and tell your friends and fans to clear out the second you finish. Nothing moves a band up the ladder quicker than and half full club that empties for the second band)

This process may take months for the first gig but keep at it. Keep pushing to get the band’s name around and keep in contact with the promoter. DON’T CALL. Go at it a different way. Drop him a postcard. Leave a note under his windshield wiper. Be cheerful and friendly, never aggressive and annoying. Keep talking about one thing, how popular you are. He will try to brush you off. The way he does this is by saying “Call me”. When I booked a club I gave the local gigs to the bands that could draw a crowd and that I KNEW PERSONALLY.

 In case you don’t believe me I will let you in on a big secret. When Frank Riley of Monterey Peninsula Booking calls to book a stadium show for Phish, or Neil Young or the Foo Fighters he only talks about one thing to the promoter- how popular the band is, this is called the pitch and once the promoter bites then the talk turns to money, schedule and promotions. There’s more to come on booking gigs. Please ask questions ’cause this will spur me to write more and tell more stories that help you understand the way it all works.

[I posted a video on Youtube explaining why I am writing this blog. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LupFupWFdX4 ]

copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billken Media


14 thoughts on “Lesson #4 Getting a gig (part two)

  1. Dude. Your stuff is legit. You really know what your talking about and i cant thank you enough for what youve taken the time to do. I play in a band (probably figured that since im reading this) and we learned the first 5 lessons on our own. I never got why when we would headline a show a couple hours away and the opening band would leave with half the crowd after they play. It pisses me off but its a very clever thing to do to make you look bigger ha!

  2. Hey, I definitely agree with the playing shows at college campuses. I was wondering though, how do you come about playing gigs there? Do you have to already have a large following? Thanks for your time!

    p.s. do you happen to know a place(or people interested) where i can sell a decent pearl drumset? I’ve tried craigslist for a very reasonable price, but no one has bitten.

  3. Question about the “clear your friends out after you play”… wouldnt this come off a little dickish? it sounds like a good idea, but i know how people can be. they like gossip. this can ultimately lead to others musicians not wanting to book other shows for you, befriend you, etc. (if you plan to steal half the crowd away from them)

    • So you’re gunning to be a rock star and you’re worried about your friends thinking that you are “a little dickish.” Hmm.. ok. I get your point. I am not suggesting that you announce it from the stqge that everyone should leave after your set. On the other hand and old school trick is to let it be known that the band will be drinking/partying in a bar within walking distance. Once this rumor sweeps the crowd there will be a half dozen single guys left to applaud for the next band. Please keep in mind that my advise is based on observation and experience. I am trying to pass on tips and techniques that work. Feel free to break new ground or to use any of the thousands of nice behaviors that will get your band tagged with the deadly phrase “that band is the nicest bunch of guys in Kansas City…” fill in the blank when it comes to the city. Every town has a few bands full of guys that are really nice guys that get along with everybody. I can’t recall any of these bands breaking out of their local scene. I’m sure that it’s just my fuzzy memory…….

  4. Dang Brad i cant thank you enough just for making this blog. You are talking about how you should always say how popular you are and you give all these good ways how. Unfortunately im still in high school and hard to basically do anything with my studies involved. I had an idea of me and my band playing at like just a school jamboree or something like that, would this be a good idea?
    Thank you for your time,

    • Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the question. Jamboree sounds great. Perhaps you should read my multiple blogs about putting on your own all ages show. Either way learn all you can and keep playing. Most of the topics I cover in my blog will be of use once you move on to bigger and better things……………………..

  5. Hi, Brad.
    Before I ask my question I would just like to thank you so much for writing this. After reading much of it I think you should try to publish it, or something. I mean, it’s so helpful!
    My question: “For the biography of the band, how many words roughly should it be? Or is it more about just getting the right information arcoss?”
    Thanks, and Take care of yourself,

    • Hi Richard,
      Thank you for your kind comments. My intent is to turn this blog into a book at some point. I believe I have another six months of post to complete before I can start thinking about the book version.
      The answer to your question is that the band bio should run about a one page. Since your band isn’t the Grateful Dead I am certain that the problem in your case will be creating enough interesting stuff to fill up the page. If you make it any longer than a page it will never be read. One page of clear concise bullshit should do it. Its main use will be to give some facts to writers that need to review the band’s recordings and shows………Good luck

  6. Hi Brad,
    Getting gigs on the sunset strip is semi-easy such as the roxy, whisky, and some of the other smaller venues. I’ve played all of them in my previous band. Hollywood is a pay to play kinda place, you sell ex amount of tickets and you get to play. and depending on how many you sell dictates the spot you get. I’m currently in a new band and was wondering if you have any suggestions on ways of getting rid of tickets and or tricks to get better slots? Or should we wait to build a following before tackling Hollywood ticket sales?

    • Hi Art,
      This question was addressed in the comments section of “How to get a gig” part 1. I short the pay to play thing is a disease. It is caused by promoters that can’t find their ass with their own hands, that have NO IDEA what is good and bad when it comes to music. They force the young bands to build up an audiance for the show and then pocket the proceeds. Your best technique is to go around these assholes and ignore their system. Try to set up gigs in unexpected places and provide a party to attract people. This is how raves began. This is how beach rock began. By the time the show gets busted you are on your way. When you do it you have to have brass balls and take some risks. A generator, a small PA, an empty parking lot in the industrial area and a keg of beer – set a time and spread the word. Make it kinda late and make it all appear quickly. The next time your try to pull it off, after the local constable has run you out of town, every bored kid within fifty miles will get the word. When you get busted complain to the paper and at town hall. Point the finger at the Big Greedy Clubs that force you to sell tickets….I did this in my home town in the early 70’s. The town council, fools that they were, gave us access to the town warehouse and we turned it into a clubhouse with bands every Fri and Sat………Remember everyone loves a rebel. Especially the ladies…………………..

  7. Hi
    I am in highsschool and we haven’t left the basement yet and I was wondering if we should try to get gigs that we don’t get paid for at first before trying to go somewhere where they have a large audience and we would recieve money


    • Miles,
      I think you are answering your own question. You should take any gig you can. At first, when you are young, getting a paying gig is a miracle. Read my blogs about getting a gig and how to stage an all ages show. The most important thing is to get out there and play.

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