Despite what fans may think, being in a band isn’t always glamorous or fun. A significant amount of a band’s time goes towards work, whether it’s practicing or promoting or trying to get booked. Of those chores, booking is often one of the hardest and most gruelling for bands, particularly groups just starting out. As a continuation of our Amplified series, which offers tips on behind the scenes elements of music, we’ve decided to put together a guide to DIY booking (and what to do once you’ve been booked). Some of it may seem like common sense, but as someone who has booked a fair number of shows at a multitude of venues, even good bands tend to make a lot of mistakes. – Morgan Davis
1.) Be aware of what venues actually fit for you
Before you even send anything to a booker, your first step should be to narrow down what venues actually fit your band. If you’re a singer songwriter, don’t bother emailing venues that historically do metal shows. If you’re a 12 piece post rock collective, there is no point in contacting venues best known for quiet folk shows. Don’t waste both your time and the booker’s by asking to play a venue your music won’t go over well in, stick to places you know and that host shows by artists similar to you rather than sending off form letters to every single place with a PA.
2). First impressions matter
One of the most important things to keep in mind when contacting venues about getting booked is that on any given day, you are probably one of dozens if not hundreds of groups asking for the same thing. Venues have to balance local and touring shows as well as private events and nonmusical programming. An average booking manager at an Austin venue is likely drowning in submissions. Which is why your first message to them needs to be clear, informative and intelligent.
Your subject line should give the booker the name of your band and what specific date you’re looking to be booked or what specific range of dates, it also isn’t a bad idea to put your genre of music in parentheses next to your band name. Try to keep in mind that the easier you make things for a booker, the more likely you are to get booked. The body of your email should introduce you and your band, with a hyperlink to whatever site or page you update most frequently and provides the most information about your band. It is always a good idea to link to the strongest track you have available online that also best represents your band’s sound. Do not expect every booker to listen to every single one of your songs, or to go looking for your music if you have linked them to a site that doesn’t include samples. It is also recommended that you not attach songs to the email; if you don’t have songs online, but have songs recorded, simply let them know that you are happy to send those songs along. If you’ve played shows before, give the booker a reasonable and honest tally of how many people you brought out. If you haven’t played a show before, be honest about that and give the booker a reasonable estimate of how many people you can draw. Also, let them know what bands you play with around town, or what local bands you think you would fit with locally. Speaking of which…
3.) Get to know your peers
Know what local bands click with you. Go to their shows. Introduce yourself. One of the easiest ways to get booked is to be friendly with local artists. If they see you at their shows and know you support them, they’re a lot more likely to recommend you to venues and other bands. Bands drop off bills all the time and if a group is in a pinch and they need to fill a new void on a bill, they’re going to reach out to bands they know and trust. Bookers also appreciate bands that come to them with readymade bills, because it makes their lives a lot easier.
Likewise, get to know the bookers and venue staff themselves. When you get booked, be pleasant to everyone and do what you can to make their lives easier. And if you want to really win over venue staff, tip your bartenders when you use those free drink tickets.
4.) Pay attention to venue calendars
If you’ve been going to shows for a while, you’ve probably noticed a lot of venue calendars have shows that feature a headliner and then simply say TBA or Guests where other bands would normally be listed. Chances are, if you see that it means that those support slots haven’t been filled yet. It never hurts to reach out to a venue and ask if that slot is filled, worst case scenario they say yes and you move on, best case scenario you offer to fill it and wind up opening for a bigger band that can win you some new fans.This is particularly true with touring bands who are often in need of local support and don’t have contacts to draw from. It equally doesn’t hurt to reach out to groups that are on tour and let them know your band would love to play with them. Obviously the bigger the band, the harder it will be to get booked with them, so use your judgment.
5.) Go above and beyond to promote
Venues and bookers pay attention to bands that promote well and draw. Austin is a city saturated with music, to the point where no music fan is ever stuck with just a handful of options on any given night. No one expects you to pull in hundreds of people to your debut show on a Tuesday night at a rundown venue. But let’s say you’re a four piece band. If each member of your group can bring out ten people, that’s 40 people that your band alone has brought to a bill. If four bands are on a bill and each of them do this, that’s a great night for most Austin venues. If you’ve gone to many weeknight shows in Austin, though, you’re already aware that that isn’t the average attendance for a show. Which means most bands aren’t even working to get that minimal number of people out.
The key is to be active in your promotion. Facebook posts and messages aren’t effective enough on their own, particularly now that Facebook has made it harder than ever for people to see posts unless you pay to boost them. Posters are a better promotional tool, but even they only go so far. So get creative. Try approaches like what Big Bill recently did with a funny (and cheap!) video they made to promote a Hotel Vegas show. Try talking to people and giving out handbills. It may seem somewhat counterintuitive to spend extra money promoting a show you’ll probably get pocket change for playing, but think of it as spending money in order to get yourself on bigger, better bills.
6.) Reach out for local coverage
One method of promotion that is often overlooked is local media coverage. This can be particularly effective if you’ve recently released a record, or debuted a video, or are about to tour. While it may be difficult to get the Chronicle to write up a show you’re on with other locals, there are plenty of blogs and college radio stations in Austin that can be contacted. Stations like KVRX are also great about featuring on air performances by local bands, which is an especially good way to get some new people out at your show. If you’re playing with a touring act, be sure to use that as a selling point; you’d be surprised by how many touring acts don’t bother to contact local media. Even if the press only reports on the headliner, at least more people will be at the show.
7.) Don’t give up
Honestly, the bulk of booking is rejection. You’re going to be ignored. A lot. You’re going to be told no. A lot. You’re going to play bad shows. A lot. Don’t take it to heart and don’t give up. Some venues that ignored you early on will suddenly be a lot more interested in you when you’ve played more shows. Bands that didn’t care about you will suddenly want to do shows with you once you’ve proven yourself. Work hard, promote and keep improving and you’ll go further.