Band Eye View: Booking Your First Gig

BY ASHTON MAY
You’re psyched about your newest musical endeavor—finally, your band has a bang-up setlist and you’ve never sounded so fit. The only problem is that the only people who’ve heard you play are your roommate and your girlfriend. It’s time to tackle the next hurdle—actually playing somewhere other than your garage. But how? There are so many venues in Athens—where to look first? And will anyone actually be willing to book your not-so-well-known newbie band? The task seems daunting. However take it from your more experienced local musicians, such as Marie Uhler, drummer for Eureka California, “It’s not as hard as you’d think.”
In looking to play at a venue, there are two different routes you can take: Booking the show yourself, or jumping on the bill with a band that has already booked the show.
When booking the show yourself, it’s best to start off contacting smaller venues. For instance, for your first show, it is 99.7% unlikely that you will get a spot at the 40 Watt. Alternatively, Go Bar is very likely to give you a spot. Asking for open spots on weeknights will also make it more likely for you to get booked. Catherine Backus of the Skipperdees used this approach: “As newcomers to the Athens scene, we just tried to research venues that we thought would mesh with our sound and then asked for weeknight dates (humble beginnings).”
Some bands, like to have a structured email package they send out to venues when trying to get booked, as Backus does for the Skipperdees, “The Skipperdees’ booking process generally involves a “templated” email that we send to various venues letting them know our availability and the other acts we can play with. We always provide a link to our music so the management knows what to expect.”
Other bands prefer to write more personal emails to venues. Adam Underwood of BombsBombsBombs uses this method: “When contacting venues, I try to be as genuine as possible and make sure that they know that we aren’t sending them just another form letter email.” Underwood also thinks it’s important to extend the personalized booking process by face-to-face interaction: “Try and meet the people in charge of booking in person so that you both can put a face to a name. Just going up and saying ‘Hey, I’m so-and-so. We’ve talked over email a bit and I thought I’d run in and say hey.’ The more you can embrace the idea of ‘what can I do for you’ as opposed to ‘what can they do for me,’ the more gigs you’ll book and the better people will respond and seek you out.”
I can haz gig?
Other musicians also prefer meeting the booking agents in person as opposed to online interaction. John Wallis Youngblood, former vocalist/guitarist of Blueswater Bridge prefers this approach, and always makes sure to bring a demo along: “It’s always been best in my experience to call the venue with a demo in hand, walk in, buy the booking agent a beer and hand them the demo. I let the music speak for itself and if they want to book me I give them my business card.”
Let’s not forget about the other way to get a spot at a venue. Making friends and contacts with other musicians is so important if you are involved in the Athens music scene. Erin Lovett of Four Eyes can attest to this: “We’ve been playing shows for almost a year now and have actually never booked our own show! Every show we’ve ever played has been by invitation either from another band that enjoys our music, or it has been a friend (or friend of a friend, etc.) who was the booker. So, make friends with the people in bands you like! Make friends with bar owners and club owners! Aside from the incidental benefit of not having to book your own shows, the sense of community you’ll feel with Athens will be the most tremendous and encouraging thing about being a musician here.”
Indeed, whether you are jumping on an already booked bill, or booking your own bill, it’s always a great idea to play with bands that are well established in the local music scene. When a venue gives you a spot, make sure you contact some bands who are getting good buzz in the town and ask them to play with you. You will benefit from their stature, and of course, from the chance to reel in some of their fans to listen to you.
Sharing is Caring!
As you start to gain experience playing in Athens, booking will be an easier and faster process. Make sure that for those first few shows your band plays, you publicize extravagantly and get as many people out as you can. This will show the venue staff that you can bring people out so they feel like they aren’t losing money by booking you and not a different band. After this, they will be more willing to book you during the week and on weekends.
Jake Ward of Eureka California has a few tips on advertising for your shows: “I still really like flyers and will go to a show or at least check out the band online if they’ve got a really cool flyer for the show. Today it seems like most bands just rely on Facebook events with hardly decipherable tags for each band. If you want to increase your chances of getting a good turn out it never hurts to get the word out on all fronts.”
That being said, it is very important to remember that the internet is your friend! Having an informative facebook page or website and a band email is extremely helpful. Having a presence in social media will help you get booked and increase your fanbase. If none of your band members are proficient in facebook, twitter, web design, etc., I would suggest hiring someone or getting an acquaintance to do it for you. You are more likely to be contacted by venues and bands and will gain more potential fans by being organized and presentable, with samples of your music and pertinent information readily available. Bands from out of town are constantly looking for local bands to play with them. Often when this happens, the out of town band has already booked a slot at an Athens venue and is looking for local bands to headline. The main way touring bands find local bands is via internet.
Speaking of touring bands, it is always a good idea to play with bands from out of town, especially if you are a more experienced band. Patrick Goral, of Chapstuck and the fabulous house venue Plush Palace, believes in “a ‘pay it forward’ ethos” when it comes to playing shows: “Sure, it’s fun to play for your friends, but eventually it gets old and they stop coming. I usually play and book shows to help out a touring band. People are more likely to come see your local band than a random touring band they’ve never heard of. This builds nationwide connections that help when your band goes on tour.”
All in all, putting yourself out there will pay off. Be confident in your band and be personable to owners, managers and other musicians. Stay up to date in the musical happenings around town. Make friends with other musicians. Be organized and earnest with social media, or other traditional (non-internet) forms of promotion. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Eventually, venues and other musicians will be contacting YOU to play. 
– Ashton 
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