8 Tips to Help You Book Your First Gig

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Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers

By Julijana Capone

You’ve got a set’s worth of jams, a demo, a bit of a web presence, and a bunch of supportive pals that are really into your music. The time has come: you’re ready to book your first gig.

Trying to book a show can be an intimidating thing to navigate, especially for a newer artist. To make this process a little less daunting, we sought the advice of Lindsey Collins, bassist for gypsy-folk act Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers; Sam Smith, the Windsor Hotel’s booker/promoter; and Cory Thomas, drummer in grindcore outfit Putrescence and new wave act Still Lights, as well as the promoter/brainchild behind Metalfest.

1. Know that networking is a real thing – and it works.

Networking doesn’t have to be disingenuous. It’s what you make of it. But the idea behind it is simple: the more people you know, the broader your network becomes, and the more opportunities to play out arise.

“The term networking always feels a little bit shady – like you’re trying to get something out of someone, but what you’re really trying to do is be familiar with someone, and when you’re familiar with them, then they’re likely to be more comfortable with you,” Collins says. “People want to help their friends. That’s sort of the rule of thumb that is prevalent in pretty much all human endeavours. You build relationships and have friends where you’re willing to help them and they’re willing to help you.”

2. Support the local scene and get to know the people in it.

Embrace the community mentality and know that resources are everywhere. From the bartender at the venue to the sound person to the record shop clerk, it’s not just the promoter/booker that can help you secure a gig. People talk and if they like you and your music they’ll tell people about it.

The easiest way to meet people and build relationships in the local music scene is to go out and support the local music scene. The more that people see your face, the more likely they’ll want to work with you.

“You don’t have to be a car salesman about it,” Collins says. “But if you just get your face out there people recognize you and are like ‘Oh yeah that’s the guy from this band, he came to see us play again.’ A couple of days later you send an email saying ‘We’d love to open for you,’ and the chances of getting an opening slot just went up exponentially.”

3. Do some research.

Before you decide on what venue to play, Collins suggests seeing shows at various venues and trying to see yourself on the stage to figure out if it’s the right fit. “If you’re a punk band or a metal band, then maybe The Zoo is the best fit,” Collins says. “You’re not gonna want to play a show at the Times Change(d). You gotta sort of know what the right venue is for your style of music.”

For Smith, who delves in pretty broad stock, defining genre is not as important. “I think the most meaningful thing is that a band knows the pedigree of what they’re approaching,” Smith says. “I think that the baseline would be that you’d want to be a patron of the place… or at least see the lay of the land and how people are responding to the music, especially if it’s just outside of what you’re doing musically.”

4. Email is best, just make sure all of the info is there.

While there’s something to be said for face-to-face interaction and putting a face to a name, when you’re dealing with a promoter/booker keep in mind that if you see them out they’re probably working, and they may not have time to talk.

“I tend to get thrown out of whack when somebody approaches me out of the clear blue and just says ‘I want to play you’re room,’” Smith says. “It isn’t a terrible thing to introduce yourself, but I think it’s awkward to ambush somebody with a package… I prefer email. It’s very easy to keep things clean and factual. There’s a paper trail and the booker or promoter can look at it and absorb it.”

If you’re sending an email, keep it concise and include links to the pertinent information and no attachments. Thomas adds, “don’t let the promoter do any searching. If I have to do any work, then I just delete it.”

And, as Collins points out, “if you have a YouTube page that’s great, too. Having a visual is also a really big bonus for people who want to know what you’re going to look like on their stage.”

5. Be realistic and accommodating.

There are a limited number of live music venues to play in the province, so be realistic in your expectations.

“I would caution against having any great expectations,” Smith says. “I think every band starts out on the same foot when they’re new. Some bands will have a certain swagger or confidence in them where they believe that their destiny is this show in this room and I don’t think that any one room in this city is set up for that; it’s not set up that every single band that asks to play can be put on their stage.”

Having a good attitude also goes along way. “You shouldn’t come off as pompous or too demanding,” Thomas stresses. “If you want to get in a promoter’s good books, try to be accommodating. The promoter is doing you a favour… I remember one band calling me up and telling me to put them on Metalfest, and they were telling me how I need to do this and I was lucky to even be talking to them – of course I never booked them after that, or ever.”

Giving a booker/promoter a lot of options in terms of what date you can play the venue is also helpful, so be accommodating to their schedule.

6. Assure the booker/promoter that you can bring people to the venue – and actually try to come through.

Nobody can predict everything, but if you’re reasonably confident that people are going to come to your show then that’s something that you’ll want to convey to the booker/promoter. “I like to hear that kind of confidence and that’s usually the kind of band that I’m gonna go with and book with if I have an open date,” Smith says.

7. Try to jump on a bill.

Every band has been in your position at some point in their career, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a more established act. “If there’s a band you really like and you can see yourself opening for them, just send them an email,” Collins says. “Until you’re selling out a stadium, every band at every level is benefitting from the exposure of a bigger artist – even bands that we think are well established are still opening for larger acts.”

As Smith notes, having the social base of two or three bands to draw from is always helpful, especially if one band has a little bit more traction. “But even if you’re two new bands, it can be kind of fun to travel down that path together and learn the lessons together and see what works, and maybe it doesn’t work at all. The collaborative thing is invaluable and in a musical hotbed like Winnipeg you’d be foolish to ignore that because you can probably make some really great, long-lasting friends.”

8.  Find a way to stand out.

Things are different than they were 20 years ago and a band can get gain a lot of momentum just by having a solid web presence and visual identity. When it comes to generating buzz early on, the notion of identity particularly appeals to Smith. Whether it’s a cool logo or an interesting artwork component to a demo, poster or website, a band with a solid identity is something that he notices.

“Music has a tradition of sharing artistic space outside of music; people generating artwork and logos and that sort of stuff,” Smith says. “It shows that they’ve got this greater vision of what they’re doing. They don’t have to do that, but I think that’s a neat element that an artist can sort of lend to selling themselves.”

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