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by Jeri Goldstein

You called the venue and they were already booked… How many times have you had that happen? Wouldn’t it be great to know the best times to call to at least have a fighting chance of getting booked? Well today I’m going to show you how to book club gigs and specifically focus in on timing your calls to club bookers. Do this, and you stand a much better chance of getting the gig.

When to Book Club Gigs

Clubs are likely to be filling their calendars 4, 6, or 8 weeks prior to the play date. This can be great for filling in last-minute gigs. But it can also be incredibly frustrating if you are planning your tours farther ahead.

When is the best time to call a club? As soon as you know you are planning a tour in the area. Give them a call and let them know about the tour plans. Try to get them to place a hold on your preferred date. After that, it’s your job to get back to them, check on that date, and find out if they are ready to firm it up.

Check with each club to see when they finalize their monthly calendar, prepare any strip ads, or start monthly promotions. This will give a clue as to how far out the booker plans and at what time in the month they actually start firming up dates. Once you know the deadline for the booker to have their marketing ready, then you can make plans to call prior to that deadline.

What to know the best time to book your gigs?

Check Back with the Bookers

As bookers start filling their dates, they look for hot tours that may have just announced their schedules. If they can book a hot act when they are coming through, it will take priority over any holds on the calendar. In other words, it’s important for you to keep checking back with the booker to make sure they are still holding your desired date.

If a larger act is vying for your date, that’s okay too. By keeping in touch with the booker, you might be able to score an opening slot!

Once you are in contact with the club, ask them for other referrals to clubs in the area. Look for clubs that would be far enough away to not interfere with their date but close enough to help build your regional following. These extra gigs could help solidify your tour in case the desired venue isn’t able to confirm their date.

As you can see, club dates are more of an ongoing process. Your tour schedule, your tour routing, and the club’s monthly calendar will be the determining factors, suggesting the proper time frames to begin your calls.

Getting into the Mind of Club Bookers

A few years ago, I wrote a column for Gig Magazine that was a series of interviews with club bookers across the country. My goal was to get into their thought process around how they select their acts and what kind of marketing materials helped them make their choices. As a result of that research along with my own booking experience, I have some helpful insights on how to book club gigs I’d like to share with you.

Be Aware of the High Money Nights

Since many clubs have multiple shows each week, they need to make sure their “money-nights” (Thursday-Saturday) are winners. They use these nights to help pay their bills. These are NOT nights they are willing to take a chance on an untested act.

Now you don’t necessarily have to be a national touring act to get a Thursday through Saturday gig. Regional or local favorites are fine, as long as you can sell tickets, food and bring in healthy bar revue.

Keep in mind, that for many clubs, they make their money from the bar and possibly the food. So they are interested in getting a crowd but are not wedded to the specific group. This sets up a dynamic where the competition for gigs is at a fever pitch, driving band fees down.

How to Book Club Gigs: Not too Early, Not too Late

Filling the calendar in a timely manner to meet deadlines is a driving force for the booker’s schedule.

That said, you may find they are more willing to “see who’s coming through town” toward the beginning of the month. And then, they set their dates rapidly as the calendar deadline approaches. You may find them more non-committal during the early part of the month because of this. But if you wait until the later part of the month, you may just find them booked!

It’s a balancing act. But again, here’s where placing a hold on specific dates may prove to be a very valuable tool.

Start with Weeknight Gigs

Many clubs look to the weeknights as a place to test new acts, so if you want to book club gigs, that’s a good place to start. If you have a growing following, you are more likely to get a more favorable night. And you may be able to work your way into one of the “money nights.”

Developing local talent tends to be something that many club owners and bookers love to do, especially when they can see the potential of future success for the act. If you fall into this category, you could discuss a regular night, multiple times a month with a club to foster this audience-building process.

Be Ready to Promote Your Gigs

Clubs want to know you have marketing tools and plans in place to help with any shows you do in the area. Most clubs do minimal marketing for individual acts. If you have a good mailing list, put it to use! That will be a plus for consideration and help you stand out from the competition!

How to Make Your Act More Attractive to the Club Booker?

Participate in Development Programs

Pay attention to any programs offered by the club for developing acts. Some have open-mic nights, others have a hierarchical method of growing the talent by strategically placing new acts early in the evening and as their audience grows, moving them up to more prime-time night slots. Participate in these programs if you are new to the club.

Keep Track of Numbers

Club bookers appreciate a growing fanbase! So take the time to develop your fanbase in each new market and use your numbers to leverage your value and book club gigs. Use your social networks and email lists to nurture your fan base. Make sure you share how many people on your list live in the area around the club. These numbers may mean more food and drinks sold along with tickets.

You can also track and share your numbers from past performances in the area. Remember how much merchandise you sold last time you came through town at this club or any others you’ve played.

Participate in the Promotion of the Gig

Marketing for club dates is often left to the act. If you rely on the club for your marketing, you may be disappointed with the shared strip add listing multiple acts for the month. So share your marketing plan with the booker to demonstrate your commitment to your audience development.

Offer to be on hand early enough to do radio or phone interviews prior to coming to town.

Be creative and willing to share marketing ideas that might create an interesting, unusual performance night. Whatever clever marketing pitch you can add to increase media attention or audience awareness will work in your favor to build your value to the venue and the area.

Be Easy to Work With

Make sure your set up doesn’t require any unnecessary expense or actions on behalf of the club or their technical staff. If you have unusual backline needs, make sure you carry those with you and are pro-active in creating an easy load-in, set up and sound check.

Also remember that club bookers are juggling a lot of dates. Sometimes as many as 6 different acts each night! So there’s a good chance the club booker will seem stressed. If you meet with a harried voice on the other end of the phone, it’s not about you. It’s the relentless pressure from the job. So your best approach is to be prepared and easy to work with. Prepare your pitch, send appropriate materials that are easy to read through and be prepared to make multiple calls to develop your relationship.  Be accommodating, plan your call-back time and be vigilant but not obnoxious. If you don’t land your optimum date the first time around, keep at it and plan for the next tour through the area. Remember, it’s all about building the relationship.

Conclusion: How to Book Club Gigs

By now you should have a better idea of how club bookers approach their timetable. Try keeping everything we talked about today in mind next time you’re booking club gigs and you’ll be much more successful.

If you want more tips on when to contact different venues and performance opportuntities, we have a free ebook for you where I break down the best times to contact bookers for festivals, college gigs, performance arts centers, and elementary schools. Click here to download the ebook for free.

By Jeri Goldstein. Copyright © 2019 Performingbiz, LLC. 

Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, key-note speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.

Making a good impression at gigs

Guest post by Jonathan Sexton | CEO Bandposters

Before I ran a company, I played hundreds if not thousands of gigs all over the US. I’ve played to 10,000 people (2 or 3 times) and I’ve played to 10 people (more than 2 or 3 times). As important as learning how to book gigs, I’ve learned 8 things NOT to do when showing up for gigs, especially to a new venue in a new town.

Everyone of these tips come from cringe worthy personal experience. Here are some great ways to make a good impression on your next show or tour.

1. Don’t Be Late for Your Gigs

Everybody is late, be different. This is the baseline of professionalism, if you show up on time, are professional and easy to work with and don’t have a huge crowd your first time out, it is more than likely you’ll get a few more shots at it. Venues and sound teams have a million better things to do than come and find you. If something happens that you can’t help (van breaks down etc.), then call as soon as you can. Then be on time next show.

2. Don’t Hangout in the Green Room All Night­

Your show and your career completely hinges on how many fans you can earn. Fans love your music and they want to know you. If you are new to the market, you need to get to know the sound guy, the bartenders, the regulars; you’re playing gigs to earn fans and build a business.
Don’t hide, get out and talk to everyone, be friendly. Relationships are the key to the music industry and this where those relationships are made. Don’t hide. Get out there with the people

3. Master Stage Volume­

If you play a show, and the crowd can’t hear the vocals, you’ve lost (this includes punk and metal). There are a million scientific reasons that the human vocal cords cannot compete with drums and amps. Some big clubs have the power to get the vocals up over anything, but most small clubs do not. In my opinion, it starts with the drums, you can play great without playing as hard as you can. Then guitars have to get over the drums, and the vocalist is generally screwed, let the PA do the work, so you don’t have too.

4. Talk to the Crowd

­You may have played your songs 1000 times, but that new person in the crowd or in a new city has no idea who you are, what your songs are called, and what your twitter handle is. Tell them, thank them for being there, introduce the band, say something funny. You have to engage the audience. It’s a show and you are earning their interest. The best bands plan when they are going to say something in the set, and what they are going to say. Not scripted, but at least a general idea.

5. But Don’t Talk too Much­

Don’t ramble on before every single song, also, my pet peeve is when people say “this is a new one” it’s like a reverse apology. 9 times outta 10­­ they are all new ones, even the old ones, because most people haven’t heard you before. I prefer to play 3 songs, then say a little something, then play 3 more. It seems to be the right mix. Find what works for you and your audience. In the end it’s a music show, engage your audience, but don’t monologue.

6. Don’t Get Wasted­

This screams amateur hour. It’s not even about acting like a fool, you also lose awareness of how you are performing. No one in the industry wants to babysit you. Have fun, but don’t fall off the stage.

7. Thank the Crowd (even if it’s just the sound guy)

The first 15 minutes after your gigs are your best opportunity to collect new emails, thank fans and sell merch, especially if you are the opening band. Once the next band starts, it’s harder to talk because it’s loud and people’s attention is elsewhere. In my band, we had a deal that we’d divide and conquer. 3 bandmates would get the gear taken care of and 2 of us would immediately hit the crowd or get to the merch booth. That way we could maximize the small window of opportunity and have contact info for the people that we would reach out to when we return.

8. Thank the Venue­

Taking 5 minutes to find the manager or head bartender after your gigs, look them in the eye, and thank them for having you can do wonders for your career. You are building relationships and it’s something that most people do not do. It’s a great way to stand out from the hundreds of other bands that play at the venue around the year. Same with being on time and professional, venues will remember it the next time that you want to play at their spot.

Bandposters lets you design, print, and ship customized posters everywhere in seconds. We make it easy, in just three simple steps. First, use our powerful design tools to create a custom poster. Next, choose your tour dates or other destinations, and we’ll print that data directly on the poster (no more magic markers!). Then we take care of the rest – we print every poster with care and ship directly to the venues or wherever else you’d like. 

Take 20% off your first Bandposters order with code “NAMPOSTERLOVE”

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Pomplamoose just finished a four week tour, hitting 23 cities around the US. They sold just under $100,000 in tickets – pretty good for a duo with no label support. They may not be the biggest name in the music industry, but Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn know what it takes to be independent musicians in today’s industry – a lot of dedication and constant hard work. They just don’t seem to know how to make money at it.

Jack Conte published their tour’s expenses and profits dollar-for-dollar to shine some light on exactly what goes into planning tours as an independent artist. You can check out the whole article here, but below is a quick run down of the expenses and income. I have to say that they did not optimize for profit, they seem to have optimized to have fun and make as big an impact as they could on their audience. This tour seems to be more of a long term audience and reputation builder as opposed to a tour that makes a profit. Check out an alternate view on touring as an independent band here from Nick Woods if you are interested in making some money on the road.

This is from Jack’s post:

Being in an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business. In order to plan and execute our Fall tour, we had to prepare for months, slowly gathering risk and debt before selling a single ticket. We had to rent lights. And book hotel rooms. And rent a van. And assemble a crew. And buy road cases for our instruments. And rent a trailer. And all of that required an upfront investment from Nataly and me. We don’t have a label lending us “tour support.” We put those expenses right on our credit cards. $17,000 on one credit card and $7,000 on the other, to be more specific. And then we planned (or hoped) to make that back in ticket sales.

Where did all those expenses come from? I’m glad you asked:

Expenses

$26,450 – Production expenses: equipment rental, lights, lighting board, van rental, trailer rental, road cases, backline.

$17,589 – Hotels, and food. Two people per room, 4 rooms per night. Best Western level hotels, nothing fancy. 28 nights for the tour, plus a week of rehearsals.

$11,816 – Gas, airfare, parking tolls. 

$5445 – Insurance.

$48,094 – Salaries and per diems.

$21,945 – Manufacturing merchandise, publicity (a radio ad in SF, Facebook ads, venue specific advertising), supplies, shipping.

$16,463 – Commissions. Our awesome booking agency, High Road Touring, takes a commission for booking the tour. They deserve every penny and more: booking a four week tour is a huge job. Our business management takes a commission as well to do payroll, keep our finances in order, and produce the awesome report that lead to this analysis. Our lawyer, Kia Kamran, declined his commission because he knew how much the tour was costing us.

Income

$97,519 – Our cut of ticket sales. Dear fans, you are awesome. 72% of our tour income.

$29,714 – Merch sales. Hats, t-shirts, CDs, posters. 22% of our tour income.

$8750 – Sponsorship from Lenovo. Thank goodness for Lenovo! They gave us three laptops (to run our light show) and a nice chunk of cash. We thanked them on stage for saving our asses and supporting indie music. Some people think of brand deals as “selling out.” My guess is that most of those people are hobby musicians, not making a living from their music, or they’re rich and famous musicians who don’t need the income. If you’re making a living as an indie band, a tour sponsor is a shining beacon of financial light at the end of a dark tunnel of certain bankruptcy.

Add it up, and that’s $135,983 in total income for our tour. And we had $147,802 in expenses. We lost $11,819.

The point of publishing all the scary stats is not to dissuade people from being professional musicians. It’s simply an attempt to shine light on a new paradigm for professional artistry.

We’re entering a new era in history: the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is beginning to collapse. YouTube has signed up over a million partners (people who agree to run ads over their videos to make money from their content). The “creative class” is no longer emerging: it’s here, now.

We, the creative class, are finding ways to make a living making music, drawing webcomics, writing articles, coding games, recording podcasts. Most people don’t know our names or faces. We are not on magazine covers at the grocery store. We are not rich, and we are not famous.

We are the mom and pop corner store version of “the dream.” If Lady Gaga is McDonald’s, we’re Betty’s Diner. And we’re open 24/7.

We have not “made it.” We’re making it.

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Article by  of CyberPR. Check out the full article here

Newsletter

Before the internet, newsletters were used as a way to connect a world-wide community of fans. However, even now with the existence of social networks, newsletters are a personal and direct interaction that can connect not just you to your fans, but your fans to each other.

One excellent examples of community newsletters are the Grateful Dead’s ‘Almanac.’ What made this newsletter work so well is that it covered more than the music; it covered the scene as a whole.

The ‘Almanac’, typically spanning 5 or 6 pages in length, spent much of the first few pages showcasing original (and exclusive!!) artwork, discussing side projects and music as a whole that the community would be interested in, as well as updating the community about the charitable foundations started by band members (more on sharing passions below). The second half would be band news, announcements of upcoming tours or album releases and finally, mail order music/ merch and tickets.

Video Tour Diary

A concert is more than just music. It is an event. An experience.

A well-delivered concert experience is THE best way to connect with your fans on an emotional level. Because of this, video tour diaries are an extremely effective way to increase that emotional connected established through the concert experience, by giving the attendee’s a deeper look into the behind the scenes happenings before, during and after the concert. Ultimately this gives attendees the chance to grab on to, and re-live the event any time they want to.

The idea of a video tour diary has become quite popular in the emerging hip-hop world, as many of these upcoming artists give their music away for free through mixtapes and focus on making money from the live show; a business model similar to that made famous by the Grateful Dead and Phish.

These videos not only act as a way to offer additional value to those who attended the event, increasing the emotional connection within, but can function as an emotional marketing tool as well. Giving your fan base the opportunity to take a sneak peek of your recent live shows is a fantastic way to drive further ticket sales…

Always remember that a concert is more than just the music. It is an event. If you can convey that your shows are a must-see experience, then you’ve already begun to establish an emotional connection with fans before they’ve even bought the ticket.

Name Your Fans

This is THE first step to creating a tribe, which is the most ultimate form of emotionally connected fan base you could have. This gives your fans away of identifying themselves as apart of a group, and ultimately this creates insiders and outsiders which helps to strengthen the loyalty of those within.

Like her or not, Lady Gaga has done an incredible job labeling her fans as her ‘Little Monsters’.

Even emerging hip-hop artists are starting to understand the power of naming the fan base, such as CT-based Chris Webby, whose ‘Ninjas’ (Webby is an avid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan) have lead to the over 13 Million youtube views. His latest mixtape  garnered over 23,000 downloads in under 24 hours.

How have you built an emotional connection with your super fans? 

If you’re ready to take your music career to the next level, check out the New Artist Model online music business classes. You can also sign up for access to free lessons.

As a musician in the 21st century, you need to learn how to define your expectations. Otherwise, how will you know when you have achieved your goal, or even what to aim for? For a project, for a tour, for your career, and for your life – what are you trying to accomplish?

Most people in the music business want to “make it,” but what does that really mean? What is making it for you? What does the finish line look like? How would you recognize making it? Do you want a record deal? What does that record deal look like? Do you want to sell a million CDs? Do you want a publishing deal? What does that publishing deal look like? Do you want your music played on Grey’s Anatomy or your songbook published by Hal Leonard?

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1bNKUE5

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1bNKUE5

Once you know what your expectations are, then you can plan accordingly and know what to shoot for. Is success for you playing huge stadiums? That would mean you have to make a plan and probably dedicate yourself to work full-time for many years to get there.

Or, is success for you to have a steady gig on weekends? This is more achievable and something you can do on a local level and perhaps as a part-time endeavor. Is recording a CD and selling 10,000 copies your definition of success? If so, you can create a plan to achieve that perhaps on a regional level.

Or, is success for you writing songs that other people play? That would require you to network with other musicians and focus on writing, publishing, and placing your songs. Or, is success for you recording an EP and playing it for your family?

What do you want to be? What does success look like for you? Be as specific as possible when setting your expectations. Don’t be vague because it won’t lead you anywhere and just breeds sloppy thinking. First, define exactly what you want to do, and then you can break it down and make a plan to do it.

The music industry is being reinvented before our very eyes. Learn how it is developing from today’s entrepreneurs including Ian Rogers from TopSpin, Steve Schnur from EA, and Derek Sivers and how you can capitalize on the changing opportunities.

MPN is my latest project and an online service for music business people and music and artist managers creating the future of the industry. MPN provides online music business lessons, exclusive video interviews and advice, career and business planning tools and thousands of specially selected resources designed to help you achieve success in this ever changing industry. MPN gives you the tools, expertise and guidance to help you get organized and take your music career to the next level. Learn from industry experts, set your goals and realize your vision.