Gig Like a Pro Part One: Get a Decent Gig

Start off on a strong footing.

Ultimate Guitar
Gig Like a Pro Part One: Get a Decent Gig

Welcome to gig like a pro, the series that teaches you how to maximize your band’s gigging potential, to get shows that will improve your reputation and to avoid the mistakes that many young acts make.

In this first edition, we’re starting with one of the fundamentals: getting a decent gig. Young bands often make the mistake of booking any gig that comes their way, and then regretting it when they’re part of a terrible, mismatched bill or playing to a nearly empty venue. Even worse, they might be severely out of pocket as a result of booking the show.

But, your first gig doesn’t have to be a disaster. Follow these three simple rules and you’ll be on track to early gigging success.

Line-Ups Matter

Too often, hungry young bands simply take the first gig that is offered to them without considering who else is on the line-up. Getting your foot in the door is one thing, but a metalcore act on a bill with a polka duo and Christian gospel singer isn’t doing itself any favors.

Being on a good line-up with like-minded acts is vital for a young band. Like-minded acts bring like-minded fans; people that are far more likely to become your followers than polka or gospel aficionados.

Assuming the promoter of your gig knows what they’re doing, they’ll consider all of this, and it’s something you won’t have to worry about. Still, when booking a gig, always have a cursory glance at the line-up to make sure you’re on a bill with appropriate acts.

Know Where You’re At

A decent gig doesn’t necessarily mean a big gig. Young bands sometimes make the mistake of booking their first show at a larger venue, only to find they can’t fill it. Whether through inexperience or over-optimism, they predict that they can bring 50-80 people, when that number is actually closer to 20 or 30.

When you’re starting out, playing to packed pub or bars is preferable to nearly empty halls. You don’t let down promoters; the atmosphere is superior (even though there are fewer people, 70 people in a 100 capacity venue always feels busier than 100 people in a room for 500) and you get the satisfaction of playing to a full house. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, so don’t be afraid to start small.

Avoid Pay to Play

Booking pay to play gigs is a trap that many inexperienced bands fall into, and it’s one to be avoided at all costs.

What is pay to play? It’s a system whereby promoters will ask your band to buy a book of tickets upfront before they’ll put you on the bill. The promoter receives a straight up front payment from your band, and the onus becomes entirely on you to promote the gig and sell the tickets.

The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, and most obviously, if you don’t sell all the tickets, it’s your band that makes a financial loss. Secondly, you can pretty much guarantee that a pay to play promoter, having taken your money upfront, is going to do sod all promotion. Assuming you do sell all your tickets, you’ll be playing to friends and family exclusively and that means no exposure to new fans.

No matter how enticing it might seem, if a promoter wants you to buy tickets up front, tell them where to go. It’s not worth your time or money.

Now that you’ve got a good first show booked, you need to bring an audience. Fortunately for you, next week’s edition is all about effective promotion, so watch this space!

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The author has missed the critical point of HOW to get a gig. It's a moot point about being choosy if you don't even know how to get your foot in the door.
    Message people in bands on Facebook, send emails to promoters with a one sheet and a sample of your music. It's really that easy
    Promoters/venues aren't lining up to book bands that don't have an established following. You've got to do that from the ground up; which usually means playing small venues on off-nights to start; promoting the hell out of it and filling the place out. It is and always has been about how many people you bring in. Sadly, it's almost never about the music. This is all cart-before-the-horse nonsense.
    Stop playing for nobody, and start writing music. Once you get established on record, use that as leverage to promote and bring in crowds of fans to your show. Repeat.
    If you're starting out play every gig offered. Who cares. Thats what Rancid did. They played almost every gig they were offered when they started.
    That can work but you need to reach different audiences every show.
    That would be different audiences. Once again using Rancid as an example opening for No Doubt one night and then opening for Madball the next night.....
    Have recorded music! That should be the number one thing since how the hell can a promoter know you fit a bill without some music.
    Ok as far as I am aware this is the best way to do it: Overarching rules 1) Be nice to EVERYONE, talk to every other band you play with, no matter how pretentious and annoying they be, make everyone like you 2) Have something at least semi-professionally recorded, you are competing with other bands for slots and almost all of them will have an EP or something to show. Getting the gigs: 1) Know EVERY venue in your town/city and the 2 or 3 nearest towns/cities that bands of your genre play in, not just the mega touring bands, the little local gigs. 2) Go on the websites of said venues/ facebook pages of said venues and look at all of the events, the promoters will either be the host of the facebook event or their name will be on the poster for the event. 3) Email ALL of these promoters, most will not respond but you only need one or two to bite, send them your nice semi-pro music and an electronic press kit or at least a brief description of who you are. Know something about what/who they promote, tell them you like a band they put on. Be personal, don't make it a generic email. 4) Respond to emails promptly 5) If you are in a dry spell find 2 or 3 bands from your local area in a similar genre, book a small venue (you can book 80-100 people venues for like £80-100 with a sound-guy included) and put on your own show. If you charge £4-5 a ticket you'll make more then any promoter will pay you, make an event out of it. 6) When that touring band comes through that you think might be the perfect fit, and I am not talking about Metallica, I'm talking about the ones that play a few hundred cap venues and that are known in a scene but MIGHT have a local support under the touring support. Email the booking agent. Go on the band's facebook to the about section and look up who the booking agent is for your area, be very polite. Know your numbers, know how many tickets you sell to your gigs and be honest about your draw, send a quick email detailing these things and if you are appealing enough they MIGHT email back.
    Its important to understand that there is no right answer. There is no one way to success, there are as many different paths as there are bands. The days of getting a big record deal are gone, so it is up to you and your band to define your own success. Some bands play every gig offered, some are more choosy. Its not a matter of right and wrong, its a individual decision. I personally love playing live, so I am in a band that will play anywhere, anytime regardless of the bill or expected crowd. I am in another band that is very particular and will only play the "right" venue to the "right" crowd. Neither approach is wrong and both bands have played some amazing gigs to some great crowds. Its your band, don't let somebody else tell you how to move forward with it. There is no road map to success, and anybody who tells you they have one is trying to sell you something.
    What happened to people just trying to play and be successful instead of following a tutorial. oh and and you suck
    can happily say my band has never done a pay to play! from my experience getting your foot in the door is the hardest part, but if you gently hassle local promotors long enough theyll either cave and put you on a bill OR your name will be at the front of their mind when theyre in a tight spot for an opening band or if someone pulls out last minute! persistance is key! once you have a couple of gigs under your belt and a little group of people you can rely on to show up at your gigs THEN you can start being selective about line ups and whatnot
    Wow! My band was (still is) actually near point number 3. Even though I have the stated things in my mind, we probably should drop it directly without hesitation..
    Well I was talking to my friend, he has a deathcore band. I asked him how was the gig industry in the city, and I was shoked when he told me that his band always have to pay to play.
    Play covers. 80s or 90s music. You'll have paying gigs. It is best to do 80s and 90s because that is "member berries" age for most drunk people at the bar.
    My bands are stuck in point 3... it seems to be there is no way out of this sucking-souls-hole.
    Im not sure about the author saying get onto bands with similar line ups, you never know who is watching. Im in a metal band and we opened up for a real prog sounding band and acoustic artist and the owner of the venue loved us, offered us a headling show there in a month and now hes given our name to a touring band coming to our town. That single gig has lead us to opening up for the biggest metal band in our country in front of 2,000 people so you cant be too uptight. beggars cant be choosers