Ok, so you’ve started your band. You have a set list together and now the question becomes….how the hell do we book a show? Today we’re going to discuss how to get your first shows together and the advantages of doing it yourself vs. waiting for a promoter to book you.
So, last week we discussed starting your first band and I talked a little bit about how to get involved in your local music scene. If you missed that video and wanna check it out I will leave a link to that below. Today I would like to discuss booking your first shows and how I honestly believe doing it your self is the best option when you’re first starting out. And if you stick around to the end of the video, I’ll go into what you should expect when booking your own shows and how you can leverage what you’v done to help land you even bigger opportunities.
So, let’s start from the top. What is DIY music? As a lot of you already know, DIY stands for Do It Yourself and in the music world, especially with punk rock and other underground genres, we often refer to the community as the DIY music community. And one of the best parts about this community is that anyone can get involved. It’s all about just getting started on your own journey and trying to build something from the ground up.
I personally started booking my own shows all the way back in 2006 when I was just in middle school. I was really inspired by some of the dudes a few years older than me that were running the Yonkers Underground, which was a collective of musicians in my area at the time. So, I thought, hey I can book a show too right? Since then, I have booked literally hundreds of shows in my area wherever I could; my school, community centers, boys and girls rec league clubs, backyards, bars, basements and a bunch of other places. I even opened up my own DIY music venue in 2016 in an old warehouse space that I rented out for a year. So, yeah, I’ve been doing this for a long time, not something I’m just preaching to y’all.
So, let’s talk about a few things you want to consider before you start booking your first shows, including where it’s going to be held, who’s gonna play with you, and details to keep in mind to make sure everything runs smoothly day of. So, let’s start with the venue. Honestly, if you own a PA system or can find someone that does to run some vocal mics through, the venue isn’t all that important. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times I’ve played in a dusty basement next to someones washing machine or in the back corner of a bar where a full band should absolutely not fit. What I will say is to try to keep costs down because renting a place can be pricy. You don’t want to front $500 to rent out a VFW hall and then only have 20 people show up and you can’t afford to pay for the space. You’d be better off getting a small space people have to cram into where you can maybe even make a few bucks to share between bands and reinvest into the next show. But. With all this being said, some places to consider booking your show are local VFW or party halls, schools and colleges, your own house or a friends house, or if you have a local venue or bar check in there and see if you can make it happen. If there’s a PA system already readily available, even better!
SO, now let’s discuss who is gonna play. Well obviously your band will play, but I would try to get a few more acts to help not only fill out the night with music, but also fill out the attendance. A few more bands will help draw a few more people, which can work out well for you. SO, start with your friend group, maybe there’s another band in your school that you know of? Or even someone who writes songs and plays acoustic shows? After you’ve exhausted your friend group, start to reach out to other musicians in nearby areas. Do a little research online and just shoot out some emails or DMs to bands. Recognize that a lot of them may not be able to do it, but realistically all you need is about 3-4 acts in total to round out the show. Any more than that just becomes a hassle. And ya know what the best part about doing this yourself is? Even though it’s harder, you are the one now building relationships with the people that you send messages to, whether they can or can’t play the show…they now know who you and your band are which can help you down the line.
Alright, so it took a little work but you were able to find two or three other bands to play your show. Now let’s discuss a few things that you wanna keep in mind before the show as well as day of to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Before the show, you have to do one very important thing…PROMOTE IT. If no one knows it’s happening, they won’t come. So, make sure you make some kind of flyer for your show. Use Photoshop or Canva or even a phone, get a flyer going that has all the bands names, the time the show starts, how much it will be at the door, and if there is any other information you think is important. Get that flyer out to as many people as possible; post in on social media, have your friends share, hang it in your school or near the venue, text it to friends, whatever it takes. And make sure to announce the show a few weeks before it’s actually happening so that people can plan. Usually I like to announce about a month before to give some good lead up time. And remember that posting about it consistently over that time will help you get it to more people. Don’t just post about your show one time and be like…ok yep people will come….because they won’t. Also, encourage ALL of the bands on the show to do the same thing. The more eyeballs the better.
Other than promoting, let’s talk about backline. For those who may not know, backline is what equipment will be provided day of the show. DO you have the PA system and mics for the bands to use? Are you willing to share your guitar amps or drums? Typically speaking drummers share their shells, but not snare or cymbals and guitar players will often share guitar cabinets and have every band bring their own amp heads. But, the more gear you can share, the less time in between bands will be about setting up and the show will run much smoother.
Finally, a few things to keep in mind day of the show. You will need someone to run the PA system, make sure the mics are on and loud enough for the bands, as well as maybe playing some music in between sets with and iPod. You will also need someone to run the door, even if that means band mates just take turns. But, you’re going to want someone there to help collect money. And let’s talk about the money quickly. How do you split it up? Most local bands will not ask for a specific amount of money, it’s up to the person running the show to figure out what’s fair. A few ways to do it are to keep a tally at the door of how many people came for each band or just an even split, or splitting however you think is fair. I’ll probably make a longer video about this at some point, but the most important thing to do is just be transparent with everyone on the show. If you have costs to cover, make sure you let them know. Lying to anyone about money is just never worth it and kills relationships, just don’t it.
So, if you take all these tips and steps, yes it will be a lot of work but you will have booked a show and I’m sure learned a bunch in the process. But what can this do for you in the future? Well, first off like I said before, you just became the person that made some connections with local bands. This can help you book more shows, as a lot of them will likely return the favor. It will also make it easier for you to book another show, because we all know the first one will be the hardest. It can also help you leverage yourself to get more gigs by using the data from the show to help your case. For example, if 50 people show up to see you play, you can now tell the local promoter or venue that you have the ability to bring out 50 people. Just don’t lie about what you can do, because that’ll just make you look bad if you can’t live up to what you say. But, especially with some pictures of the show or video, you can show that you are worth booking to the people that maybe weren’t answering your emails previously.
The goal here is to get more gigs. I hope these tips helped you out. I truly recommend not waiting for anyone and just book your own shows in the beginning. It will be the reason you get a lot more opportunities, trust me I speak from experience. I’ve been doing this for years and it has been the sole reason I land the gig as a guitar player on tour or opening the bigger show I wanted to get on. Because I made the connections with people by booking them first.
Hope this was helpful, would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.. Have you done this before, anything I missed? Any questions for me? Subscribe on YouTube for weekly videos. Cheers.