Before you read this article, which is something of a generalised possible way to go about getting known on your local scene, you should know about the assumptions I'm making. I'm assuming your band have been together long enough to have a good, solid set list and work with your own material. I need to make these because if I don't I'm going be here for years writing this thing trying to cover all eventualities. Regardless, on with the show.
Before you start on actual gigging, I recommend you get some playing live experience. Now, if you practice at a local rehearsals studio, you might want to enquire about shows they put on to showcase new talent - particularly if you're under 18, as these are a great way to get started. Often these studios invite people from small time promotion labels along, so it's a great way to get noticed. It's also a chance to play live, which no musician should ever consider passing up. Now, with regards to actually getting gigs
Nominate A Representative
Your band should nominate a representative, preferably someone who isn't phone shy and is willing to be a bit cheeky and try to push for things. Remember, this person doesn't necessarily have to be the front man or the songwriter or the 'leader,' because all too often the guy organising rehearsals and writing songs has got too much to do as it is. Now this representative should be the only member of your band to communicate with any venues initially. This is because there is nothing more confusing than four or five people all getting jumbled up over start times, equipment needed, venue itself - whatever. This one person should speak with whoever is organising a show and will then relay instructions onto everyone else. He or she should note down addresses and times and be willing to give the information required to his other band mates. Of all the things listed here, it is my opinion that this is a necessity.
Getting Your First Gig
The nominated representative mentioned above must be willing to do a bit of research, and this is where it's handy to have access to other bands involved in the local scene, an internet connection and a phone. From people in other bands, try and find out the rock hotspots of your local area that are known for live music and entertainment. If you're under 18, find out which ones don't have an age policy or at least ones which don't seem too bothered. Then, get their phone number and try and organise something.
I would advise not to aim for a Friday or Saturday night initially. Not only are these nights usually booked - meaning that a rookie band may not stand a chance of getting a gig - but on the big colossal disaster that you actually might, Friday and Saturday nights are the big nights for pubs and clubs. Large audiences, all probably aged between 18-35, out for a good time and most likely expecting some top notch entertainment. If you're new to this gigging thing, you'll be nervous enough with any sized audience, so try for a weeknight, where audiences are smaller. Also, when booking, do not expect to make one for the week after. Try booking a gig a month in advance, increasing your chances of the slot you want and giving you as much practice time as you need in that month.
Of course, you could try a support show. Hook up with an already more established band that you may know - tell them that you'd like to start gigging, but need help getting started. If they're nice guys, they'll probably organise a gig for the both bands with you guys as support.
Remember to be polite and courteous on the phone - they're the ones doing you a favour. Don't demand pay - in fact, you're almost dead certain to be down for a gig if you say you're willing to work for free. Beggars can't be choosers, free gigs are still a chance to play. Besides, there's plenty of opportunity for money if you ever hit the big league. Offer all the information they need - how many people are in your band. Ask for details, too, like:
- Are you required to bring your own amplifiers?
- Do you need to bring a drum kit?
- What time does the show start?
- What time does the show finish? How long is your set?
- What time would they like the band there by?
- Is there an age policy?
See? How easy is that? Maybe a little bit embarrassing if they say no, but how many bars and clubs are there in the wide old world?
So let's say you've got your gig. You've been given an allocated time and amount of time to play, so get a set list prepared. A lot of bands like to wait until the day to organise set lists, and will often change them around. Being your first gig, get a wide range of songs in there. I'd suggest some original material and some covers, never all one or the other (unless you are a covers or tribute band). A fifty-fifty split might be ideal provided the order is randomised, but if you haven't got that many original songs, just slip one or two in there.
Remember, as gig virgins you want everything to go as smoothly as possible - prepare your set list well in advance, and make sure everyone knows it perfectly. A handy, if obvious, tip is to write out copies of the set list in large marker on A4 sheets of paper - one for each member of the band. Guitarists and bassists can tape this to the back of their instruments, drummers can tape it to the top of the bass drum and singers - if having no instruments - can keep it under the microphone stand (that's why it needs to be large writing). No slip ups then.
Get to the venue early. I can't possibly stress this enough for you. Last minute problems, string breaks, anything can be solved a lot easier when you have more time. Also, it makes a good impression with the hosts - a punctual band is a humble and eager band. It also gives you a chance to get used to the venue, get ideas in your head - particularly if you're a band who give a performance in motion - like guns n' roses, where Axl Rose always did an obscene amount of sprinting. Maybe you don't have the kind of room he did at his arena shows, but there's always a chance to get a bit of strutting or swaying in.
Invite your friends. Some might not be able to get in on the door, but if they do at least you've got some support for yourselves. You know that those guys aren't going to boo or throw things at you, unless they're meatheads. Also, if you do this on the sly the management might think you've got something of a fan base and invite you back for another show to get the punters in. A slim chance, perhaps, but it is a possibility.
After your set is over, go get some feedback from the crowd. Your friends, strangers, people behind the bar and especially the person who gave you the gig are all important people to hear from. If the management were impressed and say so, push your luck a bit, ask if there's a chance of another gig.
Do everything here a few times at different venues and slowly but surely you begin to build up a nucleus of gig venues that are happy to have you. Eventually you may start to get regular slots, but don't become too reliant on the same old bars and clubs. Expand outwards. The more venues you have under your belt, the more desirable you become to other places. Drop names down the phone - oh yes, we've got a gig at the [Random club Name] next Friday, our set starts at about 7pm, why don't you come down and check us out, see if you want to give us a slot at your place? Snooty, but who cares? If it gets the gigs it gets the gigs. Next, it is time to move onto publicity.
There's an old saying as far as advertisements are concerned - there is no such thing as bad publicity. That may be true, but you want to make sure whatever you put out isn't mediocre publicity - it has to be snappy, catchy and roping people in.
This is the age of the internet, people. Lets see it used! You can create your own website within an hour on such sites as geocities or moonfruit, but you can always get a professional to do it if you've got money to burn. Another alternative is to learn HTML - a couple of great places to start are:
Get all that healthy nerd knowledge down your mouth and you'll be online in minutes.
Flyers with information about upcoming gigs are also handy. You can put 'em in venues after you finish playing, in your rehearsal studio to let everyone there know what you're up to, and they're nice and cheap. Give 'em a list of upcoming gigs with prices and venue and a link to your website (if you went for that). Well that's about it for publicity.
Promotion companies often work in large cities on a small time unsigned band basis. They work at getting gigs in various hotspots and are often there to help. Chances are that if things in point 2 worked for you, you might've already been contacted by one, but if not, don't let that stop you from contacting them. Get in touch, show 'em your website or whatever, invite them to a gig. If they like you, they'll sign you, but all too often they forget about you. Don't let them. Keep in touch but don't become a nuisance. Make sure they fulfil their end of the bargain and they get those gigs. Promotion companies are a great way of getting infrequent gigs at different venues.
Demos / EPs
Demos are often the first recording a band ever does together, and is both a natural progression from the gigging scene and a large step up from that too. A 'demo' is actually a CD you get to send off to any cliental interested with your band, as well as sell off as an EP whenever you can, if that's what you choose to do. Remember, though, that with demos, it is the band that decides when the recording takes place. Don't assume your promotions company are going to tell you when, because frankly if you aren't their flagship band they're not particularly going to care. Also, bear in mind that typically it's going to cost you a lot to record a demo.
A good gauge of when you should be looking at recording a demo is when people start asking for it. Venues may ask for an EP to hear what you're like before they commit to anything, but when any fan base around you are saying they want a demo it is time to begin looking into places. I'd suggest a minimum of 18 months between first rehearsal and first demo.
Firstly you have to decide where to record. In theory, it's easy to record at home, but all too often this certainly isn't the case. It is time consuming and more expensive than a studio and for a final outcome that isn't likely to be as good as getting a third party to do all your post production, leaving a number of other possibilities.
Your school, if they have a high budget music department and a cool, sympathetic teacher towards your music and generation, may be willing to help out on a weekend, but it's best not to rely on this, as you probably won't get the best post production still.
Local youth centres may be geared up to help you out, and it's certainly worth getting your representative to check the ones in the local area out. If they can help you out, chances are they'll do an average job of mixing either very cheaply or not at all. Again this might be considered something of a long shot.
I'd recommend, once again, enquiring with your rehearsals studio. They might also double up as a recording studio and offer competitive rates - a local studio I use charges 20 an hour in theirs, using some state of the art equipment which has a set of old hands behind them. Even if they can't offer you somewhere to record, they should be able to point you in the direction of someone who can, but failing that, get in touch with your promotions guy and ask him.
A demo really is the easiest way to get publicity and fast, but only if you get it to the right places. Send about ten copies - just burned copies of the original - to your promotions guy. He'll send them to various places that could take an interest that you might not otherwise have heard of - maybe even outside your normal scope of gigging, perhaps in a nearby town.
If you're going to send demos to labels and other such talent scouts, though, it is important to label everything you do with them. Name and contact details on every bit of it - the CD itself, the CD case, the back of the envelope you sent it on, the letter, everything. It causes problems if they can't get in touch with you easily, and they might just not even bother, even if your stuff is really great.
A lot of people say its better not to throw loads of demos at loads of different people; perhaps target a few individuals initially and wait for rejections, or at least until it looks like there's no sign of acceptance. Generally I agree with this, personalised contact is so much better. And besides, what if you're so good that everyone accepts you? How embarrassing would it be to have to reject, like, loads of people?
Below are the addresses for some useful contacts. I don't recommend you going to write to Geffen with a demo and stuff. I'd get in touch with these guys, who can help you climbing to the next level.
01. Useful Contacts in the West Midlands, England
Robannas Studios is a friendly, warm rehearsal / recording studios in Birmingham City Centre which is bloody cheap. All information is at robannas-studios.co.uk.
Another recording / rehearsal studio is Madhouse, again in Birmingham City Centre. More expensive but better equipped than robannas, these guys even have working toilets and complimentary mints. Can't be beating that. Visit madhouserehearsals.com for those guys. It's the studio me and my band use, good lads.
Wagdog are a local promotions company mainly concentrated in Birmingham and the surrounding area. wagdog.co.uk. Loop Promotions are similar to Wagdog and can be found at loop-promotions.co.uk.
02. Big Boys League
The BBC run BBC OneMusic, which is a great resource for people trying to make it. It's also got some useful addresses to mail those demos to (told you they were important, did I not?).
So there, that's my far from exhaustive guide on cracking the local music scene. Now, I can't say that this is the definitive version of what always happens in the early days - it isn't that formulaic. One thing I also haven't covered here in great detail is the obstacles you're going to face, brick walls you're going to hit. One thing is inevitable through this - you will hit a brick wall, or if you're really unfortunate several of them. All sorts can happen - you might be rejected several times, band members may come and go, your promotions guy could be arrested for dealing, your studios might ban you for breaking equipment even though it wasn't your fault. S**t happens, unfortunately. The important thing is that you guys stay together, keep working as a team. Keep practicing and progress. Get Good, and you'll be dandy. Best of luck, maybe I'll see you on MTV2 one day.