Booking Tip: Start With the Bands and Forget the Venues!

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Build the bill yourself.

When booking tours, so many bands begin the process backwards.  They start by writing to the talent buyers at all the coolest clubs (or the only clubs) in the towns they’ll be traveling through. If you’ve never played in a particular town before, your press quotes and your contacts might help you get a slot on a bill you have no control over, but it probably won’t be a great night. Here’s why:

1) Most bands with a decent draw in their hometown take more than just a passing interest in who else is on the bill. So if you’re being added to a bill by the booker without ever talking to the other bands, chances are those other bands are being thrown on the bill the same way you are. 

2) Meaning,… that all the bands that evening have small draws. Plus, you might be mismatched in terms of genre, style, appeal, etc.

3) Since you went through the booker/talent-buyer directly, you’ve probably not built up any kind of relationship with the other bands. They’ll have little interest or investment in encouraging their fans and friends to stay for your set.

So, what is the moral of the story?

Approach BANDS first! Then propose that bill to a club booker.

So, for example, pretend you live in Portland and you want to play a gig in Seattle that is worth the 3 hour drive and gas money. First, you want to find who the local Seattle bands are that you want to play with. Check out the websites for the Seattle weekly papers. Use Google searches, Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even MySpace, to discover similar Seattle bands. Then contact them.

At this point, you’ll have to use your own common sense when approaching bands. There is strategy and politics involved in booking. If you don’t have a huge draw in Portland, then you probably shouldn’t be writing the most popular bands in Seattle with gig-swapping offers. Opening for a big band in Seattle is a huge opportunity, and that band will want something in return. If you can’t provide it, they’ll ignore your email. Conversely, if you DO have a decent draw in your own hometown but are completely unknown in Seattle, some bigger Seattle acts may be willing to take a chance on you.

If you’re still building your local audience and approach Seattle acts who are doing the same, there is still value in constructing a bill this way. First, you’re ensuring that you’ll be sharing the evening with similar (or at least sympathetic) musical acts. Second, since you’ve formed relationships with the Seattle bands directly, there will be more of that good old social pressure on them to support you, stick around for your set, get their fans out early, etc.

So, next time you’re booking an out-of-town show, consider writing to a few bands first before you email Tina Talent-Buyer at the Cool Club.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

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