Walking up and down the streets of Deep Ellum, one might pass by 10 to 15 music venues, which can be said for a lot of cities. So why is it so hard to book your own shows?
The truth is, it isn’t. Before a band hits the big time it might get screwed over by promoters or pay-to-play schemes until it finally gets the hang of it, but booking your own shows is far from impossible. There is a method to the madness.
For starters, it is essential to keep in mind that not every venue is going to be suitable for every musical act. There’s a reason post-hardcore bands aren’t playing shows in local coffee shops. Most up-and-coming bands don’t have the luxury of having managers, so it’s up to them to do some research into finding appropriate venues to play. When doing this research, bands should keep in mind their genre, size and potential draw and the demographics of their audience.
If a band’s fan base is a bunch of teenagers, it shouldn’t be booking shows with age restrictions, according to an article by Dave Kusek on newartistmodel.com, an online training program for the music business.
“In the same way, if you play upbeat country, contacting a venue that tends to book rock and roll gigs is a really good way to make a bad impression," he writes.
Most venues, like Club Dada, The Door, Curtain Club and Three Links, have email addresses listed on their websites for booking inquiries.
“Bands are better off booking directly with the club,” says Russell Hobbs, founder, owner and talent buyer at The Door.
However, it hasn’t always been like this.
“When we got back into it 12 years ago, I started booking everything on my own,” says Steve Jackson, singer-songwriter and open mic host at Opening Bell Coffee. “I had a couple venues tell me, you know, ‘Well, we don’t do that. You’re gonna have to go through this agency. They book for us.’”
Jackson's biggest piece of advice is to never go through a third-party agency like MyAfton, a booking company based in Portland, Oregon, that requires bands to sell tickets to the shows they play. A couple of years ago, Jackson was contacted by a MyAfton booking representative who tried to book him at the venue he has been working at since 2009.
“They said, ‘We see you’d like to play Opening Bell. We can get you in there.’ I was like ‘You can,’” Jackson says. “‘Do you know who I am? I host the open mic every Tuesday night. I think I can get booked there and all, too.’ The guy hung up on me.”
Jackson says it’s best for musicians to talk to people they respect in the local industry to hear how they get booked.
“You talk to the people you see at open mics, and you say, ‘Are you playing a lot? How are you getting booked? Who are you talking to at this particular venue,’” Jackson says. “That’s why those open mics are so critical to everybody. [It’s] because of the networking that takes place there.”
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According to newartistmodel.com, making these connections can be a great transition into becoming a regular at local venues. When dealing with clubs at the local level, bands have more liberty to organize their opening acts, so they can get your foot in the door.
“Get to know the decision makers," the article says. "Use these gigs as a chance to grow your fan base. And eventually you’ll be able to leverage all that to book yourself as the headliner."
Having a great EP or a really cool name can help venues recognize a band as a potentially great act to book. However, these are not the essentials. To get booked, bands have to be willing to make connections with the clubs suited for their music.
Once these connections are made, it is up to the performers to uphold a good reputation with venues to ensure that they’re asked to come back. This includes not destroying the club’s gear (unless you’re Kurt Cobain) and making an effort to promote shows. Wash, rinse, repeat.