Booking Gigs for Your Band: Checklists Of Things To Know and Do
I’ve learned quite a bit about gigs with bands in the past few year. I draw my experience from managing multiple bands, the most successful of which (Behind Bad Luck!) has played high profile gigs, such as the Knitting Factory in NYC and with revered groups like The Pietasters, Reegal Beagal, and King Django. Here is what I have learned:
Who to Contact To Book A Gig
Gigs can be done either directly through the venue or via a show promoter. Promoters are people who have nights locked at bars and venues, making it so you have to work through them to get gigs. They’re supposed to help organize and promote your show, making it easier for the band and the venue. For these services they will usually take either a flat fee or a % of the pay your band receives. Sometimes they take 10% (which is real nice deal for band), and sometimes they’re not nice people and take something like 40%. There have been occasions in the past where my band has given a % or flat fee to a promoter for a show, and they’ve done absolutely nothing to promote or organize the show.
It is possible, albeit a little more difficult to penetrate the scene, for your band to contact venues directly and book yourself.
Agreeing On the Terms of the Gig
For the gig agreement, the most ideal situation is to have a paper contract, outlining the aspects of the gig. This option is more time consuming, so most people don’t do it. The next best thing is to have an e-mail on which you have both agreed and noted that “This e-mail represents a contract between Slim’s 80′s Music and El Bar De Fredtown.”
On this e-mail contract you want to have answers to the following questions (think about the gig, there may be some that don’t apply):
a) How the band gets paid? Does the venue pay the band? Does the venue sell the band tickets to sell people? Does the venue take a cut of the door? Does the venue give the band a single payment and take all door charges?
b) Does the venue provide a contract?
c) Is the venue all ages, 18+ or 21+?
d) Are there other bands on the bill? Can we, after approving it through the venue/promoter, add other bands to our bill?
e) Does the venue do any promotion?
f) Are there any booking agents/promoters that the venue usually works through?
g) What is the capacity (body count) of the venue?
h) What genre of music does the venue tend to host regularly?
i) What equipment does the venue provide? PA? House instruments/amps?
j) Does the venue provide free drinks/meals to the band?
k) How many people can we comp in?
l) When do you expect the band to be in house?
m) Is there a sound check?
n) When is downbeat?
o) Is there anything else we should know about playing that venue?
p) Who can we use as a contact at the venue, and what is that person’s contact information?
! Be careful about telephone only agreements as you have no recourse if the venue decides to pay you $5 instead of $500 after the gig. !
$$ Getting paid for a gig is an interesting experience. In my experience my band, Behind Bad Luck!, has pretty much run the gamut on different ways to getting compensated.
As far as I understand it, these are the different ways to get paid:
- Guaranty – this language indicates that the venue/promoter is obligated to pay you a set amount determined before the date, no matter what the crowd. Promoters/Venues may require you to pay a small fee/deposit before the date. Typical promoter/venue fees/deposits will run from aprox $25 – $50 (I’d be weary of any deposit requirements beyond $50).
- Door charge (your own guy or their guy takes it) – and the promoter/venue gets a percentage (or takes $1 you take $3 on every head), you get the rest.
- Door charge (on multiple band bills) – promoter/venue takes count of who came to see who and splits pay amongst band according to draw. You have serious potential to get screwed by the promoter/venue’s eyeball. However, the last time my band played such a gig we scored $200.
- Space rental – you pay to play in a space, which may include staff. You determine cover and take 100%. Any venue that takes a % after you’ve payed rent is trying to screw you.
- Free – you can play for free for great exposure opportunities like large festivals or fund raisers. However, bands like a 70′s and 80′s cover band probably doesn’t really care very much about exposure. Still make sure that the logistics of the gig are described specifically.
- Tips – there are venues that do not pay and expect you to play for tips only. Although very rare, some venues/promoters will tip bands for an excellent job playing or drawing a crowd.
- Contracted amount – obviously, things get more complicated when you start to talk about major gigs with major contracts, that run thing legit while paying mind to government regulations and such.
Amenities you should expect from a venue, especially those that are bar/restaurant gigs:
- 1 meal per member
- Free fountain drinks
- Bottled Water
As far as alcoholic drinks go, I wouldn’t ask for them – you want to save seeming presumptuous to your venue/promoter. I have played bar gigs where they did not provide free alcohol and one where they did.
Don’t Get Screwed!
Protect yourself from getting screwed on a gig. How promoters/venues may screw you over (more often promoters):
1) …take an inappropriate cut. If your promoter is pushing past 30%, it’s not so great. If your promoter goes beyond 50%, seriously think about if the gig is worth it or not.
2) …not promote your event. Check out the reputation of your venue/promoter. Some are infamous for simply taking your money, and not even showing up to your show, let alone do anything to promote it. This is terrible, especially if you’re relying on the door charge. I’ve had this happen multiple times.
3) …pay you something other than the agreed amount. Especially if all you have is a verbal agreement, things have the potential to change.
4) …they don’t charge at the door when they said they would. I’ve had a venue pay my band $13 and then tell us “You didn’t have anybody working the door. We did you a favor and worked the door the last 15 minutes.” This was where they almost always have staff working the door, and never mentioned that we’d need our own door person.
5) …add bands to the bill that either suck or clash with your genre/crowd (with an exception to cross-genre festivals/showcases). How do you explain your 80′s cover band sharing the bandstand with an indie emo band? It’ll make all the musicians involved look foolish and it will make your following think your artistic judgment is really whack. !If you do not trust the venue/promoter to make good choices, you should try to secure creative control over who you share the bill with!
Well, I hope all this anecdotal information helps. Good luck out there! Drop me a line sometime soon and let me know how it’s going.
A&R Executive – Madstop Records
Bassist/Manager – Behind Bad Luck!
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