So You’ve Decided to Ruin Your Life: Helpful Advice for Booking a Show
Here comes the pain.
Congratulations on you decision to book a show! This endeavor you are about to embark upon can be exciting, fun, and incredibly fulfilling. If we’re being, honest, though, it’s going to be extremely stressful and difficult. From Day 1, this show will be on your mind, and it will probably stay with you long after it has finished. Things will go right and things will go wrong. Hopefully these small pieces of advice will prepare you for the inevitable pain.
Plan in advance – Want to have a show next month a Saturday night at the best venue in town? Tough chicken nuggets because that date was booked 3 months ago. You need to plan in advance because most venues book in advance. Know what you want to do and when you want to do it.
Know what type of show you want to book – What kind of show is this? Variety is great on a show, but deviate too much and you risk alienating people in attendance and even the other bands. It’s great that you’re friends with Wolfman Mike and The Monsters of Ska, but maybe you shouldn’t put them on a show with Skullfucker and Pensacola Pigslam. Diversity in a lineup is great. Too much can lead to an empty room.
Communicate – Talk with the bands, the venue, and anyone else involved. Be clear on load-in and set times. A single Facebook message isn’t good enough. Get email addresses and phone numbers as a “just in case”. Not everyone has a smart phone and not everyone constantly checks Facebook.
Don’t book bands that have other shows in your area – Why would people go see The Crotchening at your show when they played last week and have another show 2 weeks from now? This is to benefit both you and the bands playing.
Know the venue – When does the venue open? When can bands load in? When is last call? Is there a curfew? How many bands do they usually have on a show? What’s the parking situation like? Are there any rules specific to the venue like “No fog machines” or “No one under 18 admitted”?
Advertise – A Facebook event isn’t good enough. Make flyers and put them up around the area. Go to record stores, musician shops, anywhere there are people that might actually go to the show. Drop some off at the venue. Stand outside of a venue when a show is getting out and hand them to people. Ask the bands you’re booking to do the same. You are the booker/promoter. Promote!
Manage expectations – Not just to the bands and the venue, but to yourself as well. There probably won’t be as many people there as you think. The attending section on a Facebook page is not the best indicator. Some venues ask how many people you expect. Be honest. Don’t promise 100 when you know it will be a miracle if you get 30.
Know how to run sound (or have someone else there that does) – This is an important skill to learn. Maybe a sound guy won’t show up and maybe they’ll be too drunk to function. If you’re in a VFW hall or a house show, there won’t be a sound person anyway. Know what wires go where and which knobs to twist.
Know what type of equipment you have – If you’re providing sound, know what cables and wires you have. Do a little inventory check in advance so you have enough time to run down to Radio Shack or Guitar Center or whatever business that still exists that can provide you with what you need. If the house is providing sound, find out what they have.
Learn to say ‘No’ – “We have a side band. Can we play two sets?” No. “Can we have 10 people on the guest list?” No. “This is our first show. Can we headline?” No. “Can we get paid in advance?” NO! Don’t be difficult. Just be in control.
Have cash on you in case of emergency – Believe it or not, some businesses may not accept your Bitcoin transfer. They may also not take credit cards or perhaps your card is maxed out. Maybe a check will work, but again, some places won’t take them. (Do young people even know what a check is?) Everyone takes cash, though. Better to have a couple of bucks on you to take care of any problems that may arise.
Eat something – People get cranky or “hangry” when they haven’t eaten. You’re going to be dealing with a lot of different people in many situations, some of them contentious. You will need to be calm. You don’t want to get into a fight or ruin future shows just because you have a rumbly tummy.
Drink Something – No, I don’t mean down a liter of vodka. I mean drink water. Much like being “hangry” being dehydrated can lead to headaches and bad decisions. Plus, you don’t want kidney stones. Believe me, you don’t want kidney stones.
You will probably lose money – Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Gas money, providing drinks, buying food, advertising, renting a venue (if need be), paying bands. The list goes on and on. This isn’t to say you will be thousands of dollars in debt, but it’s a reality. You’re not Ticketmaster or Livenation. There’s no 1000% processing fee on your ticket prices.
If you have to sign a contract (touring bands only), read it – Yes, it’s common sense to read things before signing things, but when was the last time you read through an entire terms of service? There could be things in a band contract that can leave you in a bad way. A quick read could save you a lot of trouble. If a local band gives you a contract or asks for a guarantee, try not to laugh in their faces.
If they have a rider (touring bands only), talk to them about it before the show – Some bands are very particular about their set-up, instruments and food. If you can’t provide something specific, let them know in advance. Can’t get them a vintage Los Angeles Raiders helmet filled with rice pudding? Tell them. Unless they’re complete sociopaths, they should be fine. If they’re not, you shouldn’t work with them.
If they have a manager (touring bands only), be professional – Plenty of touring bands have managers or go through an agency. Work with them as best as possible. Some will be difficult. It’s their job to make every show perfect for the band they represent. If you’re professional and work with them, that will open the door to you for future shows.
Don’t plan on paying a guarantee with the money you make at the door – It will end badly for you.
Learn from your mistakes – You will make mistakes and that’s okay. Everyone does. Not a lot of people showed up? Why? All the bands showed up at the wrong time? Why? Sound wasn’t good? Why? It’s important that you learn from your mistakes the next time you book a show.
Remember why you booked the show – You booked this show (one would hope) because you love music and the bands. You were able to bring these great bands that you love to some new people. Remember that feeling you get when you discover a new band? You were able to do that for people in a live setting.
Thank people when it’s all over – Thank the bands for playing, thank the venue for allowing you to do the show, and thank anyone else that helped you. This is a great way to show your appreciation and to stay in contact. People will remember your kindness and professionalism.
Have fun – Well, try anyway.
Not all of these tips will apply and you will probably run into situations not addressed. Got some good tips for young bookers and promoters? Post them in the comments section.