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So you wanna be in a rock band?: How to book your first paying gig

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | December 4th, 2006



So you’ve got your act together, you’ve established your name and image, you know your material like the back of your hand, and you’re raring to play your first gig, but no one will book you? Don’t think this is an uncommon problem. Just as the media are bombarded with bands fighting for exposure, club owners and promoters deal with hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of emails and phone calls a day from bands who want to rock their venues. Once again it comes down to this: what makes your band so special?

Look at it from the promoter or club owner’s point-of-view; if they book a new unknown act, they are putting themselves at risk. There is no guarantee that your act will be able to deliver on its promises, and they can almost be certain that your act will have relatively no draw outside of close friends who may or may not actually dig your music.

Just like record labels, club owners and promoters want to make money first and foremost. Additionally, they need to uphold the reputation of their establishments as being a “hot spots”. Therefore, booking new acts for them is understandably risky business.

New acts can deal with this dilemma in one of two ways:

a) Ask a popular established local artist if you can be their opening act for their next show or
b) Have a strong sales-pitch that will get your foot in the door.

If you chose to undertake the latter option, know this: if you don’t deliver on your promises, you could quite possibly become “blacklisted” from that club and its affiliates. Club owners and promoters pay bands that are reliable and hard-working. If you prove yourself “worthy” in the eyes of a booker, you’ll be amazed with the opportunities they will offer you in the future.

When it comes to requesting opening slots, rule number one is this: be respectful and sincere. Don’t harass every band in the city that has a decent following, especially if their style doesn’t resemble yours in the slightest. It won’t benefit you to play to a pop crowd if you’re a heavy metal act.

Moreover, don’t approach bands that you genuinely dislike. The purpose of opening slots is to gain the support of the larger act’s fan-base. Fans are very loyal to their favourite local acts, and they won’t appreciate it if it’s obvious that you are simply milking the bigger act for what they are worth. Furthermore, partaking in this action is disrespectful to the artists who have made the local scene what it is.

If you plan on building up a reputation for your act in a city such as London, you need to understand that the music scene is very close-knit. Practically everyone in bands knows each other or at least knows of each other meaning that if you piss one person off, you are really pissing off all of their friends who happen to be in bands as well.

Secondly, don’t set your expectations too high. You will most likely not get paid and there is no way your first gig will be as a supporting artist on Metallica’s tour, even if they are from your hometown. I’m sorry if this bursts your bubble, but the openers for nationally touring acts are usually lesser known bands that are managed by the same label. It’s very controlled, and breaking into that territory takes time as an act needs to rack up its bragging rights before a label will consider adding them to their roster.

Instead, aim at “getting in good” with the popular local acts that have “street cred”. This goal is much more feasible, and it is possible so long as you approach them in a professional manner.

A commonly used strategy for this purpose is to attend several of the popular local act’s shows ensuring you are seen as a paying supporter. After one of their sets, initiate casual conversation with the lead singer (almost always the one in charge of booking shows) as a fellow musician, NOT as a fan. Tell him/her how much you enjoy their music and performances (a little ego stroking never hurts, but don’t go overboard), and then further go on to explain about your new act, and how you would be honoured to share the stage with them. Make sure you swap contact information so that you can later remind them of your meeting. Also have a demo on hand to offer them free of charge, or at the least a website link through which they can check out your act. Above all, remember to follow-up. Popular local acts are approached by several bands requesting this very favour, therefore if you really want the slot, show them. They certainly will not come hunt you down.

If you chose to attempt the second suggested method of approaching a booker directly, make sure you have polished your skills of persuasion. Trust me on this one, it’s all in the pitch.

ANTI-HERO will be performing live at The Salt Lounge on December 6th with Jakalope. 7 pm.

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