In my guide How To Book My Band I give you tips on everything you need to know to get started playing out live. Here I’ll talk about planning your booking schedule.
Getting your first gig is a big hurdle — and it’s a big victory once that gig is booked. You’ve got all the songs planned out and your guest list printed up and you’re ready to rock the stage and make panties drop (or boxers, whatever you’re into).
During the show, you prove to the venue manager that you can perform on a pro level. Afterwards, she is happy with how the night went and when you’re getting paid she says “let’s get you back in here soon; when are you available?”
It’s so important to be ready to book right then. Before you ever book your first gig you need to have already discussed with the members of your band all the details of how you want to schedule gigs.
So here are some things to be ready with:
How much do you want to play?
You’ve got five members in your band. Each member is going to have different ideas about how much they want, and are available, to play. Some of them may have jobs and families that they have to book around.
Maybe no one in the band wants to be a full time musician, or maybe everyone does. Maybe everyone only wants to play two gigs a month. Figure this out early in the life of your band.
What nights can/do you want to play?
Bars have different booking schedules. Some will have live music every night of the week while others may only have music on the weekends or just one weekend night.
Just like the above example, bandmates may be limited to certain nights of the week they are available to play.
They may also have certain dates they can’t play because of other obligations. Maybe the bass player has to go out of town for work or has to attend his sister’s college graduation.
Before you start booking, establish each member’s “blackout dates.” Those are the dates that each member cannot play. Find out as far in advance as possible and mark it on your calendar. Even if it’s 6 months away, find out and mark it down.
Book out as far in advance as you can
I always try to book as far in advance as possible (I just booked one of our favorite venues for all of 2015 while writing this). This ensures the dates my bands are available are booked and we’re not scrambling trying to find gigs at the last minute. It also locks in dates at the venues you want to play before they’re all gone. Nothing sucks more than to call your favorite bar and find that they’re all booked up.
Speaking of bars (and clubs/halls, etc.), some clubs will book an entire year in advance and some will only book a little at a time, like three months out. This will depend on their booking policy and how established you are. Some clubs that book out only three months at a time may book you for an entire year if you bring in lots of business for them.
Cancelling a gig (try not to)
Bands can have a reputation for being unreliable. I think that’s because everyone thinks bands are all about “sex, drugs & rock-n-roll”. Ok, this can be true to some extent, but mostly it’s about musicians doing something they love.
Cancelling gigs can add to that unreliable image.
When a club puts you on their schedule, they are closing off that date for any other bands that they may want to book. They know those bands will book elsewhere, so, if you have to cancel a date, they could be left with no band for that night.
They don’t like that. It can mean lost revenue and no one likes to lose money.
So, if you cancel, all of a sudden you are seen as unreliable and you may lose a favored position on the booking schedule.
There will be times that you absolutely have to cancel — everyone understands. Make sure it’s a solid reason. Being sick usually isn’t one of those unless it’s got you bedridden. My bandmates and I have played many gigs where we were jacked up on cold medicine and throat lozenges just to get through.
If you do have to cancel, do it as soon as possible. The further in advance that you can tell the venue owner that you are unable to play the sooner they can find a replacement.
And while you’re cancelling, apologize your ass off!
Best times to book your band
There are times of the year when the crowds will be best. Where you are located can have a big effect on this.
Holidays – This can be tricky. Some holidays see lots of people leaving town to visit family, but it can also see a lot of people coming back to town to visit. Thanksgiving weekend is usually a great weekend in the midwest where I’m at.
On the flip side of that, 4th of July is almost always a bust because people are out on the lake partying and aren’t going to the clubs.
The two best holidays to book are Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Those two nights are when people are out in force to party hard. Most of the time you can even charge a premium to play those nights because the bars want great bands to get people buying as much food and drink as possible.
Seasonal – Here in the midwest the season can make a huge difference on when the clubs will be busy. During the summer people want to be outside so they will either go to “patio bars,” where they have a nice outdoor area to sit and drink, or, they will be out camping and doing other outdoor activities. So summers can be very slow for bands.
Colder seasons can be great because those people are now doing more indoor activities.
When you are booking, try to hit your most desired places first and book them out as far in advance as possible. If you want to play a special holiday or specific dates, ask for those first. And always be ready to book by keeping an up-to-date schedule with you.
Author bio: Rus Anderson started playing in clubs over 25 years ago learning how bands work, and more importantly, how bands get hired. He’s played small clubs, big clubs, weddings, corporate gigs, private gigs, 2,000 seat venues, college campuses, arenas and together with his band(s) has opened for national acts, played for free and booked gigs paying thousands. You can read more tips in his guide, How to Book My Band. You can find the website here!
[Calendar image from Shutterstock.]