Lesson #5 More Gig advice and comments about why drummers are dangerous……

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 agent 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 (BIG BLACK) 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 note 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 band’s 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).

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.


13 thoughts on “Lesson #5 More Gig advice and comments about why drummers are dangerous……

    • Hmmm. I don’t know. I have serious doubts about the success of people that use the acronym LOL. One of my pet peeves. Are you really laughing out loud. Is it a belly laugh? A Guffaw? A Chortle? A Chuckle?
      I’ll give a serious answer and say that great music defines what cool is. I was part of the movement that turned sneakers, jeans and t shirts into rock costume. It redefined cool. If you can make great music then you may find yourself the epitome of cool………………

    • Ezpowell,
      Yes there are some very successful companies that get artists deals. They have a very high percentage of artists that get signed and they are world famous. Two examples would be Gold Mountain Management and Creative Artists Agency. They are large music management firms. They are not like Taxi.com. I toyed with the exact same idea that Taxi is promoting. The problem with a company like taxi is that the vast majority of bands that will sign up will be mediocre since that is what most bands are. They aren’t terrible, they aren’t brilliant, they’re just OK. Record labels have no interest in OK.
      How do you get a company like Gold Mountain to sign your band to a management deal? Well read my posting about getting managers interested. You want a short formula? Great writing, great live show. That’s it. The shysters that promise something that is too good to be true are just that, shysters.

      I am not calling Taxi.com a scam. I know little about the company. They may be trying earnestly to get their artists a deal. I am certain that they have extensive contacts. Ask yourself this question…Will they get everyone that signs up a record deal? No. Will they get half of the bands a deal? No. will they get someone a deal, sure…will it be you?no. The route that makes sense is to put together a great band that knows how to put on a show, a band that exists to support a great writer (s). When you have that follow my tips and techniques.

      I signed almost everyone I ever worked with. You know how I did it? I picked amazing bands with great writing. I made sure they had the common sense to realize that live performance is a show. Often they were rough and needed a great deal of work but they had the raw talents. One of the musicians I represented did an interview with a big rock magazine about five years ago. He commented that the period when his career was booming involved me and that I was ” a tricky kinda guy”. This cracked me up. I never tricked anyone into anything. (well maybe a little around the edges) I dealt with everyone as straight as I could. When I stopped managing this band their career maxed out and then crashed. The guy that took over managing the band’s affairs was the same guy that called me “tricky”. The main problem I had when I managed that band was this guy. He would always try to get over on everyone he dealt with. He would sell out a club and still end up pissing off the promoter so badly that he would be banned from that club. What was his problem? It was simple really.

      He suffered from a disease that many musicians catch. He believed that everyone that wanted to make a buck working with him was a parasite. It never occurred to him that these parasites were actually the people that were generating his fame. I managed this guy for ten years. Every year when my contract was up I would demand a piece of the guy’s publishing. He would refuse or more commonly promise it to me and never sign the deal, or say he signed it and never send it or etc…….. Shortly after refusing me a piece of the action he would start demanding that I get him a publishing deal. Year after year he was baffled when I would sign publishing deals for other people but never him. I would tell him point blank that I would never get him a deal unless I got my cut. He would then ask me again why I hadn’t gotten him a publishing deal. He felt that his career would always do better if he just had more control over everything and he was more careful about giving anyone, including his band mates, any cut of anything. This is a disease that is usually fatal for a musician’s career. It was for his.

      Gee that was quite a ramble. I guess I made my point………………

  1. I am 41 have played my own small gigs and with many medium size venues over the years. I have no desire to take on the life of the main-show, however, I write the heck out of songs. Currently, I have around 70 copyrighted and probably another 50 I need to get cpyrt’d. My objective is to figure out the overwhelming puzzel as to how I can get my music in the hands of the up-an-coming, and make money off my songs. My playing style and music is Rock and Blues with some Country/Rock that leans to a Blues beat. I am phenominal on the blues-harp. Please guide me in the right direction if you will. I want to market my songs without traveling the roads with a band.

    thank you,

    • Hi Donnie,
      I’m happy to hear that you don’t want to be a newly minted rock star at 41. It’s sadly common for people to conitnue pursuing that particular flavor of ambition well into their forties. If you reach the big 40 and you haven’t built a career as a live performer then the chances of still doing it are slim. It’s not that there aren’t still options like playing gigs as a hired gun, or doing studio work but the fame of being in a band that is rocketing to the top is a game for young people. I firmly belive that this fact is quite fair and that each generation wants to see their own people up on that stage. That’s the way it should be.

      Now about your situation. You’ve got all the time in the world and age means very little when it comes to writing. There are some well tested and well proven systems to advance your writing career. I will do my best to give you an overview. Here goes:
      1. The classic solution to your problem is a publishing deal with a large publishing house like Warner Chappell. For the past hundred years or so these companies have signed deals with writers and plugged their songs to other artists and to film, TV, commercials, etc. .. To pursue this avenue you should look at the CD releases of any WRITER that is in any way related to what you do. On the back of the CD there will be a listing of the writers publishing company. Many of the artists will even go one step further and list the publishing companies rep in the thank you section. This is a lead. Find out the name, the company, then go to the web, find the address, then send this person a three song demo that showcases your brilliant writing. Most people don’t realize that there own music collection is a complete reference guide to who’s who in the music business. Gee even my name is scattered across tons of CDs for various reasons…lend the band a 56 LEs PAul, get a thank you…. manage the band ….get an album credit….get them a publishing deal…. get a huge thank you….. Album credits are one of the way that people are paid off for helping the band. The bigger the credit the more power the person has……. do your research.

      2. you should be able to demo your own material. That is an absolute. The days of writing out music long hand and that being a product you can sell are over. You must be able to create a demo that shows off the writing. No more than that. You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t have to be young but you do have to be able to sell the song as a piece of great writing. In fact as a demo for possible song placement the more the song is stripped down and all strong “style” is removed the better. That is to say if you cut a track as an ALT GUITAR mega track it may be hard for a potential client to hear it as the acoustic blues masterpiece that it could become. When it comes to writing the songs that do best can slide effortlessly between major genres of music. Keep this is mind and keep the demos flowing.

      3. If you have read any of my blog then you know that I preach relentlessly that it really is all about who you know. In your case this is still true. The good news is that many of the people that you need to know are relatively easier to get to. You don’t need to corner the President of Warners music nor the head of A & T for EMI. Instead you need to find A & R people for publishing companies. Theese people actually listen to demos. (imagne that) They don’t listen very hard or for very long but they do listen. Mail the CD it is far from futile when chasing publishing. Also a decent Music Industry LAwyer will get you access to almost any publishing company. Solicit a long list of lawyers and maybe one of them will bite. They are big help since you will need them when you do a publishing deal anyway.

      The next class of people you must know is musicians. Lots, and lots and tons and tons of musicians. They should all have your music in their library. All it takes is one member of a band to fall in love with one of your tunes and they may very well record it. They will certainly put it in their set. Even a few small bands doing your songs will impress anyone in the publishing business with any sense. It’s just as hard to convince a local musician to cover your stuff as a star. The star can take risks. The little guy is still betting hard on his career.

      In this category is included people like Willy Nelson. How do you get him to do one of your songs? Well if you’ve got balls you walk backstage WITH A GUITAR CASE and suggest he play a few numbers with you. You can also send his management team your music. He may end up hearing it on someone elses CD…there are a million ways to reach a stars ears and they all involve friends. For example my best friend is friends with the AUstin band “The Gourds”. So I heard their stuff. I was bowled over by the ballad “Promenade”. So I suggested it to a newly signed female alt country star. She’s playing it live and it may very well make one of her upcoming albums…..

      4. For each of your demos you should pick a different indy producer. This person should have wide contacts in whatever style of music they work in. The more credits the better. Tell them flat out that the recording is a SONG DEMO not an album track. If they are any good they will know exactly what that means. For each session use a different person from a different mid sized city. This will give you contacts that are widely spread out. This is really important…..YOU ARE NOT GOING TO TOUR BUT YOUR MATERIAL MUST TOUR AND TOUR HEAVILY!!! The further you can spread our your contacts the further your songs will travel. They need to travel and be heard in all kinds of crazy places. This has to happen hand to hand ( or email to email) Take some risks with producers. It’s not gonna kill you if a demo session turns into a washout. But if you took a risk with an R & B guy or Rap producer, or pop country ro Gospel you never know when one of your songs will make that crossover and find a home with a successful recording artist. How many styles has the song “Yesterday” by Lennon and McCartney been recorded in? 20? 50? 1000? Who the hell knows. I do know that the publishing payments on it are massive and I bet that each version has something about it that works. That is the mark of great writing.

      Well that’s a quick overview of some things to try. Of course living in Nashville makes perfect sense but I’m sure you know that. Good luck with it. Thanks for reading the blog. Feel free to post follow up questions………

  2. I’ve Been in a Band for at least two years and had a few gigs here and there but i don’t really know how to get more attention from people. Promotion is easy in my town but people just shrug us off. Whats a better way for getting noticed then me getting arrested. (Comment made on Drummers)

    • Hi Chris,
      I am not sure I have a simple answer. Getting arrested only works when it somehow lands you in the news. Also that technique is one small idea in the vast sea of striving to be a rock star. I like to call it the Malcom McClaren school of rock ambition. He, of course, was the Sex Pistols manager. The Sex Pistols were based completely on the concept of pissing people off. It fit the band, the movement (punk) the time (1977) and the place (the UK).If you read through a number of my posts you should notice that I am trying to give general advice based on nuts and bolts examples. The key is to learn to think like a rock star. (or manager of rock stars if that’s your chosen role) You haven’t given me much info to go on. I take a blind shot in the darkness and say “Get the hell outta town”. If you would like a better answer than that, then post a more lengthy question……………….

  3. You seem to like things straight and to the point, so I’ll be just that. I live in Rockville, MD, which is right outside of DC. I’m in the band Somewhat Superhero, check us out at http://www.facebook.com/SomewhatSuperhero. We’ve played a few local shows for the city of Rockville, we’ve also played at Recher Theatre in Towson, and we played in a competition at the 9:30 Club in DC. We have a few recordings, but more importantly, we put on a good-ass live show. Problem is, we’re all pretty young (16-18). Do you know of any ways to get around the age barrier that stops club owners from taking young bands seriously? Also, do you have any experience in the DC/Metropolitan area and do you know of any good places we can try for gigs?

    • Hi Sam,
      It sounds like you have a handle on the basics. As for getting around the age barrier I would suggest not telling the promoters. Most Cafe laws have some kind of obscure subclause about underage performers being allowed to perform but restricting them from going to the bar and downing shots. Carry around a note from Mom and argue strongly when cornered. I know of people that played in bars long before they could drink in them. Failing that method then set up an all ages show. I wrote a series of blogs on that topic. They are a good primer for getting started. Set up parties and play them. These can easily get out of hand and attract police. That works in your favor. The more talk there is the more popular you become…………Good luck………..

  4. HOLA so my name is wes and im in a Christian Metalcore band in NC and i dont have any questions yet but i just wanted to say you have some awesome pointers and your blog is really well written. i will have questions soon im sure. my uncle has been in the biz forrrrrever now and hes got a few bands deals by recording and mixing and sending em off and we are working on ours now but i think live shows is the bigggg issue, we have been contacted by some indie labels on old demos but honestly we are just starting and right now its just me (lead vocals) and our drummer/co-writer/other lead vocalist.. like we are getting crazy feedback and oodles of attention but this may sound stupid but i dont know how to find musicians lol

    • Wes,
      Thanks for the comment. Can’t find other christian rock metalcore musicians? Try going to a similar church on the other side of the next county…..Good luck………..

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