How to book your first show (part 1)

How to book your first gig[This article was written by Alex Andrews of Ten Kettles Inc. Their new tempo-tracking app, BeatMirror, is coming soon to help musicians and bands play on beat—and stay on beat. Sign up here to get early access to the app.]

If you’ve been playing in a band for more than a few weeks, you should probably be thinking about booking your first show. Seriously. “Shows” are as old as music itself, and with the exception of a few pretty fantastic recording artists, most serious musicians perform regularly. It’s one of the best ways to hone your skills, it gets your music out there, and it builds your fanbase. Plus, the healthy pressure of an impending gig does wonders for getting your band down to business.

Your first show doesn’t need to be a big one—it could be for friends at your jam space, at a party, or at a local open stage. It also doesn’t need to be very long—three songs is plenty for many open stages. But as you play a few more, you’ll be ready for the real deal: a dedicated venue (usually a bar if you’re of age), multiple bands, and a cover charge at the door.

This leads to an important question: As a new band, should you use a concert booker or do it yourself?

Concert booker vs. the D.I.Y. approach

So, how do you book your first show anyways?

One option is to go with a concert booker (or talent buyer). A booker will book a venue, organize a few bands to play, setup the social media event, collect money at the door (or hire someone else to)… and often take a significant cut of the night’s income in return (50% is common in Toronto for new bands).

Here are some cases when you may want to consider going through a talent buyer:

* New opportunities. To hit audiences you wouldn’t otherwise (e.g., touring to other cities, festivals) and meet some really cool people.

* Bigger bands. If there’s a unique opportunity to play shows with other, bigger, bands you respect.

* Hands-off. If organizing stuff isn’t your thing and you’d rather pay someone else to do it (which is definitely fair). Or, you’re already drawing big crowds (in which case, why are you reading an article about booking your first show?) and could use the help coordinating — plus you’ll likely be able to negotiate a better deal.

But, if it’s a local gig and you expect a smaller audience (say, less than 100 people), there are some significant benefits to booking it yourself:

* Money. For an audience of 100 and a $6 cover, that’s $600. In exchange for a little more time organizing, that could be an extra $300 in the bands’ pockets. Not bad.

* Network. Building a good relationship with venue managers and other bands is a huge asset as a musician. You can build this whether you go with a booker or not, but if you’re one of the bands who puts on shows in your city, expect a lot more interest coming your way. As a new band, your concerts are often in your hometown so these connections are very valuable.

* Skills. A big part of music business is navigating relationships within your band, with other bands, and with the “music business” in general—venues, studios, merch providers, and so on. By starting to book your own shows, you’re taking charge of your own path. And that’s a good thing.

Whether you go with a booker or not, the most important responsibility—getting an audience to show up—is still usually up to the bands. We’ll be talking about this more later on.

Who should organize their own shows?

As you can see, there are big advantages to both approaches. The best booking strategy for many new bands will likely involve some combination of each. If you (or someone in your band) is reasonably organized, comfortable talking with lots of people, and loves the idea of hosting a party (that’s what a good show can be, after all), then you may want to consider booking and organizing a show. It’s a little more work to D.I.Y. your concerts, but the pay-off—money, relationships, skill—is real.

What’s next

There are four steps to putting on a show: booking a venue, choosing the bands, pulling an audience, and then keeping organized on the big day. We’ll jump head-first into each of these steps in our upcoming articles, including an interview with a popular venue owner here in Toronto.

We’d love to hear about your experience booking shows vs. using concert bookers. After you’ve played that first (hopefully magical) show, share your stories in the comments below.

Author bio: Alex Andrews is an engineer, musician, and runs Ten Kettles Inc. in Toronto, Canada. Ten Kettles is an indie app company that builds apps for music education, including Waay for applied music theory, hearEQ for ear training, and the upcoming BeatMirror for tempo-tracking.

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