One of the best ways to build up a fan base for your band is to get out there and play live, as often as your can. But often bands find themselves between a rock and hard place - to get a gig, you need an audience, but to get an audience, you need a gig. You can rise above that, however, and get your band in front of the crowd if you follow the right steps. This how-to guide will cover getting a single show, but many of these steps can be built upon to book your band an entire tour.
Think Locally - The best place to start looking for gigs is in your own backyard. Get to know the music scene in your area. What venues and promoters are willing to give up and coming bands a chance? What bands in your area play live often and might need a support act? What venues in your area put on touring bands, who might need a local opening act? To get a gig, all of these factors can come into play. Approaching the right venues will open doors to you, and there is strength in numbers, so working together will the other bands in the area will increase the opportunities for everyone. (Plus, you can share gear!)
Get your Promo Package Together - Have a standard package ready to introduce yourself to venues and promoters. Much like the package you use when you send a demo to a label , this promo package should be short and sweet. Include a short demo CD, a short bio or one sheet to introduce the band, and some press clippings, if you have any (especially ones that review live performances). If you're going to approach people by email instead, cut and paste the info into the body of an email and include a link to a site where your music can be heard. Don't send attachments - most people won't open them.
Approach the Venue - To get a gig directly with a venue, call and find out who is in charge of booking bands and send them your promo package. They may tell when to contact them again. If not, give them about a week, and follow up by phone or email. Keep trying until you get an answer. If you've haven't played live much, your best bet is try to get on an existing bill with a band that already has a bit of a following. Keep in mind that if you book with a venue, you may be in charge of promoting the show yourself and paying venue rental fees, unless you are invited on to an existing concert bill.
Approach the Promoter - If you'd rather not self promote and take on venue fees, you can approach a promoter to get a gig. Send your promo pack to the promoter and follow up in the same way you would with a venue. If a promoter agrees to get you a show, they will book the venue and promote the show for you, but you may need to send them posters you have made yourself to do so.
If the promoter doesn't want to put you on by yourself yet, ask them if they have any shows you could play as an opening act. If they say no, check in from time to time to remind them you are always available as a support act.
Understand the Deal - This is the trickiest part for most bands. First, understand that when you are just getting started, you often will not make money on your shows. In fact, you may even end up out of pocket. That doesn't mean it was all for nothing - building up your fan base will mean you do make money on future gigs.
If you do make money, you will either have a deal where you get paid a pre-agreed amount no matter how many people turn up, or you will have a door split deal . Either deal is fine and fair. Focus on building your audience and not the money right now.
Play the Gig - Sounds obvious, I know, but the way you handle the gig can have a lasting impact on your ability to get future shows. Show up on time for the soundcheck and if there are other bands playing, remember everyone needs time for their soundcheck. Be professional - there is likely to be free drinks around, but remember everyone is there to hear your music, not to see if you can handle your beer. Don't sell yourself short by getting on stage in anything but your top shape, ready to play a great show. Play a good show, be courteous and professional, and you'll soon be getting more show offers!
Don't Get Caught Up on the Deal - This is worth repeating. Your goal is build up your audience. Promoters and venues are taking a chance on you when you are just getting started - they will be more willing to give you a chance if you don't have a lot of financial demands.
But Don't Pay to Play - If you're putting on your own show, of course you may have to pay a venue hire fee and you may to pay some promotional costs. However, don't pay money simply to get on a bill, and don't trust anyone who asks you to.
Invite the Press - Keep the entertainment writers at your local papers informed about your activities and always invite them to the show. Also, keep your local radio stations up to date on what's happening with your band and when you're playing.
Respect the Guest List - Guests lists have a way of getting out of hand, fast. Don't push it with promoters with the guest list when you are trying to build up a name for yourself. If you're part of a larger bill, you may not even have any guest list spaces. If you do, use what you have and be done with it. Don't try to get 50 of your closest cheapskate friends into every show for free. You'll get a bad name for yourself.