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How to Get Your First Professional Gig – And Establish Yourselves As a Sought After Band

soriamoria_3You’ve just come together as a band and you’re ready to gig. But when you approach clubs to play they want to know where you’ve played in their market before and what kind of draw you usually bring. (Draw means how many paying fans usually come to one of your shows.)

If you’re a new band then your answer would be “we haven’t played before so we don’t really know how many paying fans will come.” And you know what will happen with that answer. They’ll tell you to come back when you have a fan base.

You’re thinking, “Yeah, but we’re such a great band your customers will love us.” The reality is clubsdon’t have customers, bands have customers. People go to a certain club to see a certain band. They don’t go to the Club X instead of Club Y because of the club; they go there because of the band that will be playing.

When you ask a club to book you, you are asking them to INVEST THEIR MONEY in you. It costs them money to open their doors. They have rent to pay, electric bills, payroll and the cleanup crew at the end of the night. They buy advertising promoting the bands that will be there because they know it’s the bands that are the appeal; not their club. So a club needs to know you have a following in order to book you.

The hardest gig to get is your first gig. And, as a wise businessman once told me when I was envisioning how big my new company could become,”you have to make your first sale before you can consider how you’re going to spend the money from it.” What this means for you is that you can’t think about gig number 2 until you get gig number 1 under your belt.

So, here’s the secret to getting the first gig that will make it easier to get number 2 and number 3 and so on.

Throw a Private Party. Of course, you’re not going to call it that, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is.

Create a guest list with your band mates. Write down EVERYONE you know. What’s the total number? Let’s say you have a four piece band and you each come up with 100 names. That makes your guest list 400 people. Statistics will tell you that only 20%-30% will come. (Hey even though your new band is the most important thing in your life, it isn’t the most important thing in your friends’ lives.) 20% of 400 = 80 people.

Determine what you can afford and select a club that fits your budget. Create a list of 10 clubs you want to play in. It’s more important to pack a club that holds 80 people than it is to perform your first gig at a well known club that looks empty. Keep this in mind as you create the list of clubs you want to check out.

Call each club and ask what it costs to rent their venue. Check weekday rates and weekend rates. A weekend is preferable but perhaps a Thursday night at a high profile club is better than a Saturday night at a less popular club. When you call the clubs be sure to ask if they have backline(backline is the industry word for the gear and equipment that the club has on hand for musicians to use) available or if you have to bring your own equipment. Also ask if the soundman is included in the quote or if that’s additional.

Venue’s Website and Advertising. Because you are booking this with them as a private party, they will not think to list your gig on their website or in their ads. When you’re negotiating to rent the space, ask them to list it just as they would any other gig in the house.

Book your gig at least four-to-six weeks out. Every bone in your collective bodies will want to book your show for this weekend; next weekend at the latest. DON’T DO IT! You need to create some excitement and buzz around it. AND you’ll have more choice among clubs when you book further out

Become a show promoter! Once you decide which venue you want to rent, and you finalize the rental with the club, the real work begins. Now you go into show promotion mode. DO NOT expect all your friends to come just because they said they will. If you do not do these steps, you will not have a successful show and the impression you’ll create with the venue is “Mental Note: NEVER book that band. They can’t even get people to come watch them for free!”

Create a theme. Make posters and flyers, print tickets, post your gig on any and every social media site you know of. Write a press release and send it to your local media – radio stations, TV stations, newspapers. REMEMBER your local college media! Your goal is to PACK THE CLUB. Keep in mind, for every 1 person you expect to show up, you need to put tickets in the hands of 5 people. Not only for those who say they’ll come knowing full well they won’t but don’t want to hurt your feelings but also for people who plan to come but have last minute changes and aren’t able to make it.

Create a theme. Many bands will call this a “CD Release Party” or a “Tour Kick Off.” But your theme can be as simple as “Band Name: Live At The Venue Name” or “Band Name Rocks The Venue Name.” It’s this theme that you want to incorporate in EVERY MESSAGE. An advertising rule of thumb is that a message needs to be seen at least SEVEN times for someone to remember it. So you need to create AT LEAST seven points of contact for each of your 400 friends.

Print Band Stickers. Stickers are one of the least expensive promotional tools you can invest in. Give one to everyone you know. Make them big enough to be seen (no 1″ x 1″ stickers). Just your band name or logo if you have one. Your goal with stickers is simply to create awareness so after someone has seen a sticker the name will ring a bell when they see a ticket or a poster or a flyer or a posting online.

Print tickets. Since this is a private party in the eyes of the venue, they will most likely NOT have an employee in their ticket box. You’ll want to ask a friend to sit at the front door to collect tickets and stamp hands. Even though this is a private party for the venue, this is a gig for you. And when was the last time you went to a gig that didn’t have tickets – or at least stamp hands at the door? By printing tickets and putting them in people’s hands, they’ll be more likely to REMEMBER your gig. The tickets should have the THEME, date, time, venue, age (if the club is “21+” or “18+” or “all ages”) and price on them. Yes, you should put a price on the tickets – even though you are giving them out for free. That price should be what you expect to charge for future gigs. This is how you set the expectation for what people will be asked to pay to see you play in the future. You can buy blank ticket stock at Office Max and print them on your own printer at home. Do NOT print these tickets on anything other than ticket stock. You are a professional band. If you want to be taken seriously you have to look legit.

Posters and flyers. Take your lead from the most successful bands in your market. Visit their MySpace and Facebook. Go to Guitar Center and look at the posters hanging on their bulletin board. Are most of them dark? If so, maybe you want to make yours white so it stands out from the rest when you hang it up (yes, once you print your poster you’re going to find EVERY free bulletin board in town and hang it up.) Also, what size are most of the posters? Are the no-name bands hanging 8 1/2 x 11 and the big names in town printing 11 x 17? Is the paper regular printer paper or is it heavier stock. What league do you want people to think you’re in? My guess is 11 x 17 and heavier stock. On the other hand flyers are usually 8 1/2 x 11 printer paper cut in four. For these you might consider buying bright colored paper and printing with black ink.

Street Team. It’s time to call in best friends, girlfriends, brothers and sisters, moms and dads. You need an army. Ask each one of them to hang up 5 posters. Ask the venue you’ve rented to hang up your poster alongside all the other bands playing there. (Be sure to tell the venue that your party is open to the public.) You, the band members, have the honor of handing out the fliers. Go to college campuses and hand them out. Go to concerts of similar music when people are leaving and hand them out. Ask an independent music store if you can set up a table outside their door one Saturday and hand out fliers. This is usually easier if you are a customer at their store. (Big stores like Guitar Center and Sam Ash usually don’t allow this.) You mustput them in people’s hands. I know. Every band HATES this. But you must get over that. You’ll be doing this for a very long time.

Social Media. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Zvents, Craigslist and wherever else you know of. Be sure your gig is posted. On sites like Craigslist, MySpace and Facebook – be sure you’re reposting every week or, as you know, the event drops to the bottom and no one will scroll down far enough to see it. If you’re using Twitter, be sure you ask your followers to retweet about your gig. Research shows that people retweet more when they are asked to rather than simply doing it on their own.

Photography. Now is not the time to ask a friend to take pictures at your first gig. Hire a photographer. Be sure you hire a photographer who has experience shooting live bands. Ask to see samples of their work. The changing stage lights and movement of band members requires a special photography skill. You want band pictures AND you want crowd shots. Your goal, when the night is over, is to post photos that portray you as a professional band that packs a house.

Door count. Whomever you’ve asked to work the door needs to keep track of how many people show up. Those with tickets are easy to count. Rip the ticket stub and save them to count later. But the hand stamp requires a counting system. Perhaps one of those silver “clickers” or just good, old fashioned paper and pen.

All of this then gives you the information you need for gig number 2.

Booking Gig Number 2. You should be on the phone the Monday after your gig with every club that has a capacity the size of the crowd you brought in on your first gig to book gig number 2. When asked,”Where have you played in this market before and what kind of draw do you usually bring?” Your answer will be, “Well we played this past Saturday at Venue Name and we had 80 people” (or however many your door person tells you.) You should also know that clubs are used to bands lying about their draw, so they will automatically cut whatever you say in half. Therefore, you should add to your statement, “So I feel 100% comfortable guaranteeing you that we’ll draw at least 50 people to your club. And we are willing to guarantee that draw with money.”

This is how that works. Let’s say the going rate to see a band in your market is $5. If you guarantee 50 people, then you are guaranteeing the venue $250 in ticket sales. They also expect everyone coming in will buy two drinks at $5 each. So the venue expects a MINIMUM of $15 from each person who comes to see your band. Let’s say 40 people show up to Gig #2 and you’re guaranteeing 50 people. You owe the venue $150. (The 10 people you guaranteed x the $15 per person the venue expected.) This might scare you, but this is the way you build a solid reputation in your town. Venues like working with bands with this business acumen and approaching venues in this manner will get you more gigs than bands who don’t offer guarantees. This also puts a burden on you to get out and do all the promotional things for gig #2 that you did for gig #1. Only this time, people will be paying at the door rather than having free tickets to get in.

Your band is a start-up business. You must invest in your business. When I opened my first music school I had to invest in renting a building, buying equipment, paying staff and marketing. You are doing the same thing. Your guarantee to the venue is your rent and your staffing.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Yea but we need to make money too.” At Gig #2 your chances of being paid to play are pretty slim. However, you might be able to negotiate a percent of the door OVER your guarantee. Let’s say the split is 50/50 over the guarantee. Let’s say you guarantee 50 people and 80 people show up. You would get 50% of the revenue generated at the door for 30 people. (80 people – 50 people guarantee = 30 people.) The ticket is $5. Split that 50/50, you get $2.50 x 30 = $75.00. Even if the club says “no” they’ll see you as professionals and respect that. In your conversation ask them what your draw would need to be in order to split the door with you. Then you know what you’re working towards.

Check any business book and it will tell you most businesses don’t make money in the first year. Your band is a business. It might be a while before you make a profit…or even get paid to play. If you don’t believe in yourselves enough to invest in yourselves, why should the venue?

S. Marmolejo manages the L.A. rock band Black Velvet Deluxe. Black Velvet Deluxe has been nominated for a 2010 LA Music Award for Rock Single of the Year. Their music can be heard on 250 radio stations across the U.S. and Canada as well as on three compilation CDs being released by two different record labels this summer. Watch a video of the band’s live performance at the infamous Whisky-A-Go-Go on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip at



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