I’ve read countless articles about band etiquette and how to be in as an artist. Most of which are done by bar owners, venues, promoters and some are even artists. I myself am a promoter and i’ll try to give my advice (although I”ll call it an opinion) on bands and how to properly go about getting a show and of course how to properly sell yourself at the show. This will be through a promoters eyes which will explain any difference in opinions that you could have, however this promoter has been in the game 10+ years so I’ve seen these things push bands to higher levels and I’ve seen the wrong thing to do crush bands. '
The first thing I need you to understand is the difference between being in a band as a hobby and actually trying to make it work, be a rock star or “make it”. Lets be clear to begin with, this is for Original bands. If you are in a tribute band or cover band your in a business model that i’m not familiar with as I’ve booked very few of them so I’m not speaking to that. I personally have no issues with Cover / Tribute bands however I simply don’t have the knowledge at this time to speak on it. I’d imagine some of these pointers would relate to them however I’m not in what i’d call a position to give ideas there.
So lets get down to it here. When you form a band obviously whether your doing it because you love it or your just trying to make money, either way your gonna want to play shows. Your gonna find right away that merchandise is gonna be how you make money when your starting out. If you’ve already been in an established band or in a very small % of situations you can come straight out of the gate looking for big gaurentee’s and playing rock star but for the other 95% of the time you probably want to get your feet wet and play out. I can’t speak to how often you need to practice nor can i speak to how long it’ll take you to be “show ready” but i’d say once you can rip through a 30 minute set in your garage (or wherever you practice) and feel comfortable with it I’d say your ready. Your singer needs to be comfortable speaking to the crowd though because there is not much worse then “dead space” in between songs. Engaging the crowd is super important. You want their eyes on you, not the TV’s, not the bar, not their drink and not even the girl (or guy) to their left or right. The worst is hearing a crowd members last night story while your on stage and your guitar player is tuning or changing guitars.
01. TAKING THE GIG.
Now you got a set and your singer is ready to engage the 1 or 1,000 people who attend. By the way that is extremely important. Play at 100% no matter if your playing for 1,000 people or the door guy and bartender. Trust me on this, you’ll get a great reputation that way. Your ready to play out. There is many many ways this can go. Here’s the first tip and its an important one. If your offered a show that requires ticket sales (and not all do) and you don’t like the deal then simply don’t take it. I’ve heard horror stories of venues having bands sell tickets for $10 and giving the band $1 or $2 per ticket then making them pay the difference. I don’t care who the show is with, never take that deal. There is a difference between pay to play and ticket sales. Lets examine that. Pay to play are shows in which You Pay to perform and have no chance of making money on the show, in fact you lose money on that end. You could pay $100 to play and make $200 on merchandise which will have you make money but your not making any on the show. Ticket sales (when done right) are when your band is asked to sell tickets and you earn a % of what you sell. Selling 50 tickets and getting $1 a ticket is not right. Your talking giving a band $50 and the venue or promoter nets $450. In my opinion you are taking advantage of the bands in that scenario. In that case it is still considered tickets and not pay to play because nothing is coming out of your pockets. Pay to play Basically protects the promoter and venue from losing money on the show when they are dishing out a huge amount on a national band. I can understand it and if your band is that interested in playing w/ a national I’m not saying your wrong in doing it but I personally don’t like it. It can be good exposure. I like the idea of having you sell tickets so you have the opportunity to make money. Now, here’s the flip side. I’ve personally begun 20 ticket minimum for you to earn money on the show. If you are offered a show and the promoter gives you a minimum tickets to sell there are bands who can do it and bands who can’t. If you are not at least 80% confident you can move 20 or whatever the promoter / venue is asking simply don’t take the show. I can tell you from experience there is nothing worse than that meeting between promoter and band when the band sold 5 tickets or 3 tickets or no tickets. Its uncomfortable for everyone. It makes people not want to book you again. It sounds shitty but its the truth. Its just a bad representation of your band. In my personal case you can make up for it by kicking ass on stage because I’ll always give a good band more chances but i can also say not many are like me in that sense. You can show up w/ 3 tickets sold and put on the best performance that venue has ever seen and there is venues and promoters that’ll never book you again. Here’s another tidbit, if you do find yourself in that situation don’t use excuses, just thank them for the opportunity and tell them you promise to do better. Never ever say “well, it was tough but we have lots of people coming” because no you don’t. I’ve never heard that line and seen an abundance of people coming through the door. Its a cop out and looks poor on you. Myself as a promoter if i don’t do my job for a venue i apologize and promise better things. I don’t know how many promoters work but I sell tickets myself and i do a lot of promotion for all bands so me personally I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing. It truly does blow my mind when a band takes a gig with ticket sales knowing all bands are counting on each other to bring people and sell zero tickets. You have 3-5 people in your band on average and your telling me not one of you has one friend who wants to come see you? Its pure laziness. When you are on a ticketed show the ideal situation is this. Lets say there is 4 bands selling tickets, so all of you do 20 tickets, that’s a total of 80 people and 60 potential new fans for each band. When you show up with no people and someone else sold 40 tickets ask yourself how that looks. Sure your playing in front of 40 new people but your reputation takes a major hit.
02. PROMOTING YOUR GIG.
First things first, Don’t take 25 ticketed gigs. I’d personally suggest one every three months. You are spreading yourself way to thin if you do much more. You can’t text your friends and expect them to buy tickets every weekend for the same set week after week. Some bands can pull this off for whatever reason but most cannot. You’ll end up with 4 people each week and pissing everyone off with your lack of effort put into the show. Whats worse is you may have actually put the effort in but you got people coming the following week or the one after that and just can’t have a good crowd one weekend. So now that you have your one big gig you want to sell it out. That should be everyone’s goal to sell a show out. First thing is you should get to know your social media. Facebook is a great help. When the promoter or venue sends you a request to co host the event accept it. I know that sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many bands don’t do it. Its kind of maddening. Secondly, share said event straight away and then have each band member invite as many friends as Facebook will let you. It is not hard and can be done in less than 20 minutes. Everyone will love you for it. Feel free to post in the event that you have tickets. That is honestly the bare minimum of promoting your show. Its simple, effective and takes less than an hour. Now you want to hit the streets, go wherever lets you and put up flyers. Take a day and drive around to all the Sheetz, Hot Topics, Tattoo Stores, Music stores and put up a flyer. This is a bit time consuming but its also effective and promoters, venues and other bands will love you for it. Make sure to check with the venue to see if they have flyers posted also. A Good promoter will have flyers there already, however some are lazy or just have to much on their plate and can miss shows here and there so its always good to check. Selling the tickets can certainly be tricky. I’m never going to say its an easy task. Put a link for tickets on your website (did i mention to have a website?). Text or call your friends and let em know about the show you have coming up. If your letting friends know about a gig every three months and they get annoyed they aren’t a real friend. I”m sorry but its the truth. Now if you text every week and they get annoyed that i understand, Me personally i have shows nearly every single weekend so I’ll text for the bigger ones or I have a different selection of friends who i know enjoy certain types of music so i’ll text or call when a show is coming up that i think they may enjoy. That way i’m not that irritating friend that they dread getting texts from. If you can go to local shows and hand out flyers (just little postcard sizes). This one is becoming more difficult as many acts have members in their 30’s or older and have families and obligations so I understand this being tricky however if you have time I”d check out a show at the venue your playing prior to your show. Mingle with the acts, patrons and staff. You may be able to move a few tickets or possibly even get a few walk ups as there could be someone you talk to who really finds you to be a good supporter of local music and is willing to bring a few friends to your show. Here’s the worst thing you can do. Take a gig, get tickets and then sit around expecting everyone else to do the work. Being in a band is a job, even if its just a hobby its still work. There are shows you can get on that require nothing but playing however those are few and far between and generally put on by venues with more money then they know what to do with and spend thousands advertising. There is nothing wrong with that of course but its rare. That is another thing you can do though, take out ad on Facebook. I’d suggest a little $15-20 one so it only takes you a few ticket sales to make up for it, or one shirt sale. If you have the backing put up a $100 ad but for the smaller bands I hate to see you lose money like that if you don’t have it. If you want you can take out an ad in local zines like Pa Musician, for them a postcard size ad is only $25. Its not a bad investment and you get a good reputation with the magazine. If your playing a big show with someone like Sevendust or something take out a half page ad, what the hell. Be honest with the promoter or venue, if they ask for a ticket count, text your band and get it. Don’t tell them your around 40 sold and show up with only 25. If your close to 20 i’d say tell em your at 15. Its ALWAYS better to show up with more ticket sales than less. As a promoter I love when a band says “we’re at about 22” and then show up and say “we did 45”. The opposite of that is saying “we are around 30 right now” and then showing up and saying “so we sold about 14”. There is a reason you get asked for a ticket count. You aren’t being asked for shits and giggles. The promoter is looking to budget, or he’s adding up ticket sales and online sales to see how close it is to selling out. Imagine this: you have a venue that can hold 200 people. The promoter gets a ticket count from everyone and its at 200 people. So he says “The show is Sold Out”. Then you get to the venue and you actually sold 20 less tickets than you said, guess what? That is 20 wasted tickets that could have been sold online, or by other bands. Its awful business, so be honest. If you show up with more and the venue is over capacity its something that isn’t always the worst problem to have. Little tip is that if a venue says they can hold 200 its probably more like 230. When asking bands for a ticket count the promoter is asking you how many you have physically given to people and exchanged money with. He’s not asking how many people have texted back saying “Yeah that’d be fun”. If 40 people tell you they’ll buy tickets you’ll probably actually sell 15.
03. DURING & AFTER YOUR GIG.
So the big day has arrived. Hopefully the promoter or venue has advanced with you the set times and whether or not there will be an equipment share. Also youll need to know where to load in and what time to load in. If all that information was given then simply follow instructions. I know it sounds easy but you’d be surprised how often its made more difficult than it needs to be. Get to know your bar tenders and if the owner of the venue is there introduce yourself. Grab a good spot for merch. Some shows give you a spot others tell you to set up wherever. I generally go with the set up wherever method. Cool merch stands are always fun. I know its costly so its hard to start out with a cool merch stand but if you start making some money or have sponsors its an eye catcher to have lights and fun merch. I’d for sure mingle with the other bands on the bill and if there’s a national act that’s not in a green room talk to them as much as possible and get advice. If you annoy them then that’s on them, be a sponge and soak up the knowledge. As for the local guys, you could easily come out of the show with new friends and possibly even a gig or two. If your playing in Harrisburg and there’s bands from other states offer gig swaps, say “hey we want to your area, we’d love to put you on a show in our hometown if we can play down with you guys”. Here is an important one too. If you did do ticket sales, try to have the money and tickets ready when you arrive. If you have people coming then explain that. Many venues and promoters will expect you to hand them the money before you put any equipment on stage. I generally like to settle up before you go on stage. By then you should have everything taken care of. I’ll sometimes do it after your set but as a promoter I (and i’m sure others) get nervous because we have all had bands skip out on them before. That’s a good bit of advice, never skip out on the promoter. Unless your on the phone that night calling and apologizing and offering to bring the money and extra tickets to them don’t do it. You will be blackballed. If you sold no tickets make sure to give em the remaining tickets back. Some venues pay taxes on that kind of thing so they need to account for all tickets printed. There’s more that goes into these things behind the scenes that many people and bands don’t always understand. Which is fine because they don’t have to deal with it but just know that if your asked for all tickets back or some other request there is a reason for it.
Now that your confused lets go over a few do’s and don’t’s from this Section:
DON’TS: 01. If you cannot move 20 tickets you might need some more time. If you have 5 people in your band that is a mere 4 tickets a member. 02. Don’t tell the venue and promoter you “Have people coming” because you probably don’t. 03. Don’t take shows if you don’t like the ticket deal, they aren’t all great. 04. Don’t do pay to play. (this is subjective but I’m putting it under don’ts) 05. Don’t tell your fans to “Just go online” and buy tickets. 06. Don’t lie about your ticket counts, Never show up with less than you said.
DO’S: 01. Use Social media to your advantage. Mini Paid ads, Have every band member invite 500 people to the event (it takes 10 minutes) 02. Get on the street and promote your band, go to shows and support other artists 03. If you have a big show coming up go to the venue for a show prior to yours and mingle. 04. Flyer, put them everywhere, At the venue, sheetz, the mall, hot topics, tattoo shops and anywhere that will allow it.