A lot has changed over the last 20 odd years from when I first started promoting all ages shows on Sunday afternoons at Safari Nite Club. The biggest change has been the way bands contact talent buyers and promoters for shows. Just like everything else in the world the process has been greatly effected by the internet. Now instead of waiting days or weeks to hear that all important demo or album, with just a link to Bandcamp, Reverbnation or YouTube, the buyer can get a quick listen to the band. The problem is that most DIY bands and even those with representation seemed to not understand at all what the buyer is in fact looking for.
There was a time when ever day I arrived at The Axiom, there would be a pile of large yellow and white envelopes containing not only CDs but photos, press releases, and maybe even a few news paper clippings. The contents of one package would give you a basic overview of the band, their music, and enough information to judge whether or not the band would fit the venue or the other bands on the bill. Some bands would even go as far as including other promotional piece of swag and other forms of swag to make them stand out like candy, t-shirts, match books, etc..
The reason that this information was so important is that a good promoter or talent buyer, knows the product they are selling. This is especially import with touring bands that are hoping to open a new market. You need to educate the person that is not only the gate keep to you getting a show but the guy that is responsible for promoting and plugging your band. They can't do their job effectively unless they really know your band and can properly promote it to your audience or future audience.
I don't know how many hours I've spent over the years, spreading my knowledge to other music fans about the bands I was bring to town. Anyone who has talked to me when I have my promoter hat on, will tell you that I could not only remember the date and ticket price of the show but could outline a little bit about the bands that were playing. Granted not always with every show but differently the bigger shows or bands that I thought had something special.
I'm not saying go back to blowing thousands of dollars on mailing out press kits. What I'm saying is take the time to in fact fill out the information on your websites, social network pages and any links that you send out to talent buyers and promoters. Just writing an e-mail that says you looking for a date and adding a link to a 5 year old YouTube video is not enough.
You might be asking yourself, "Then what should I include?" Great question and here is my suggestion:
- A current press ready photo. This doesn't have to be a professional group shot. It can be a live shot of the band but it should visually represent what the band is about.
- A press release. Writing a press release is a hard one and I will try to write another blog on the subject in the future. Mainly consider it a sales pitch and three paragraphs, the basics, like:
- Style of music
- Brief history of the band
- Achievements like support slots or touring slots with major acts that you feel fit your style.
- Releases and tours. If you have released an album or other recorded material, list it. Toured the US thirty time, list it. Venues you've played, list it.
- Future goals. Are you looking for a routing circuit to continue to build an audience in the market or are you a regional band that is seeking weekend dates.
- A link that has more than one song. When I'm looking at a band and I'm on the fence as to whether to take a chance or not or I'm considering a number of local bands for support, I will always go with the band that I can hear more of. I'm always leery of bands that only submit a song. I'm not hiring you to play one song but a set of songs that fill at least 30 to 45 minutes. A lot of promoters and talent buyers in the past would listen to the first, third and then a random track. Also remember that if you get the gig, they need music to promote the show. This is especially true if it is your first time in the market.
- Fill out all the information in your internet pages. Most social media pages and music related pages have a form that asks you to list out most of the information you would include in a press release. I don't know how many times I've gotten a link to a Facebook page and either the "About" section was completely not filled out or it was a bunch of stupid jokes.
- Social Media - Facebook is one of the easiest ways for a promoter or talent buyer to find your band. All it takes is a quick google search. When I'm going there I'm not looking at how many fans you have but how often you post, whether the posts have comments and interaction with fans and what you are posting and how often. An empty timeline says a lot about how much work a band is willing to put into promoting their band. The same goes for twitter. The amount of comments says a lot about your fan base. If you are not getting responses and likes than either you are not reaching a fan base, don't have one or possibly the "Fans" are not real. It doesn't take much work to build a interaction with your fans and it's FREE.
- Website - Consider creating your own website. Not only is it fairly inexpensive but it allows you to control your content and display it as you wish. If you do have a website, get off your ass and add new content. Things like tour blogs and keeping show dates up to date builds fans and makes them feel more invested in your band. Also you can group your music, press release, press clippings, photos, videos, etc... in one centralized place in a much more effective way than you can with social networks and other music related sites. Plus it makes you look professional.
- Be honest. Most promoters and talent buyers get hundreds of e-mails a day. Larger ones in most cases would rather be only dealing with large Booking Agencies. Why because they are straight forward and many times they have a relationship with the agent. Don't try to bull shit your way into a gig. We all talk to each other and with experience have learned how to sniff out bullshit. Being straight to the point and honest will often build you a relationship with them that will pay off in the future.
OK you did the work, now you at least you know what to put in that first contact e-mail but there is more you can do to get a gig and here are a few suggestion:
- Build a relationship with the promoter or talent buyer. This is extremely important to local bands and even regional acts. Get to know the guy that is getting you the gig. If it's a talent buyer and you are a local band, see shows at the venue or venues they work at. Introduce yourself and then follow it up with a e-mail or phone call. I for one am more likely to give a support slot to a band that members in fact go to my shows and support other local bands. I don't know how many times I've had someone say that they weren't getting a enough support slot but I never saw at any show that they weren't playing. You are either part of the music scene or your an island. Being part of the scene means promoting your band is much easier and networking with other local bands is going to get you more exposure.
- Network - I don't know how to express this enough. Network with other bands. Talk to other touring bands. Not only will this improve your ability at getting shows in the right venue for you but will increase your likelihood of gaining better support slots and new fans. Most venues on off nights will allow local bands to set up headlining gigs where they work as a promoter for the night. Meaning that they choice and pay the support bands. So, if you want to break into another city in the region, find a band from that city and suggest trading shows.
- Keep up with what is happening at the Venue. I'm always looking for support and this goes back local bands in fact going to shows, but keep informed on shows that are happening at the club. Even if you have never played there before, knowing that a band you think your band would fit with is important. Not only does it point to the fact that the talent buyer or promoter is open to your style of music but give you the opportunity to make they life a little easier. The less time they spend on seeking out support act the more time they can focus on what they really need to which is finding headliners. Contact them and simply say that you feel you would fit well on the bill. Even if you have sent them all your information before, include it because chances are they may need a reminder of who you are.
- Support slots are important. I don't know how many times bands have been excited about getting the support gig for their favorite national act for all the wrong reasons. First off, the chances are that the headliner depending on who they are will not see your band play. They are also not going to offer you a contract with their record label or suddenly offer to take you on tour with them. Those things have happened in the past but I can tell you they are few and far between. The real opportunity with supporting slots is showing the promoter or talent buyer how valuable you are as a supporting band. Work the hell out of it. Rally your fan base. Not only offer to flyer the show, DO IT. You want the "Good Shows", then do the work. When choosing support I consider a few things. First do they fit with the headliner and add to the event. However, if it comes down to a couple of different bands that fit the bill, I'm going to always go with the band that promotes their shows and delivers the extra 100 or so people.
- Don't over play the market. It really depends on the size of the city but if you notice that your audiences drops every single time you play, maybe you are just playing out too much. In the past, I've made a number of local and even regional bands angry but refusing to put them on shows because they played out too much. The reality each time you play in a market you decrease the demand to see your band. The key is to find a healthy balance between shows to keep up demand. That is vastly different from band to band and styles of music. For example some forms of music like Blues, Jam, and Folk, fans will often come out every week to see a band. However, most others, your fan base will usually wait till you play their favorite venue or where there is the cheapest ticket price. I will consider this every time I book a support act or even a headlining act. The truth is no matter how crazed your fans maybe, if you are playing a support slot at my venue with a $20 ticket price, and then playing across town the week after for $5, your fans are going to show up at the $5 show. Thus your band's value is decreased.
- Learn to negotiate. The key to making to breaking even or at least making enough to continue, is making money. However, be realistic about what your band is worth as a promotional tool to the promoter or venue and what you need to get paid. Come up with a realistic amount you need to get paid to preform and see that as your base salary. Take this form someone that has been at this a long time, your real income is the merchandise you sell at the show. As I'm sure you know the old business model of the music industry as be set on it's ear by the devaluing of record music. The thing is if you talk to any successful touring act, they will tell you a majority of their income has not come from record sales and guaranteed performance fees but from the t-shirts and other items they sell at shows. Getting a gig is a lot of things but more than anything it's like setting up a store in a prime locations for the night. With the right merch and a willingness to whore yourself, you would be surprised the amount you can make compared to what the venue or promoter is paying you.
- Work the crowd. That's right, get out of your van, get off the bar stool, stop trying to hook up with the girl that you think you have a chance at a one night stand and work the crowd. Fans are going to be more likely to attend future shows, buy merch and music if they feel they have a personal connection to the band. I've watched even the least talented and true awful band gain a flowing and break sales records, simply because they hung out with the people in the club and worked the room.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is do it for you. No one is as passionate about your music than you are. So, be the best you can be at selling your band.