Your band needs a show. That’s all there is to it. You need to play a show. Or what about this: your favorite band is coming to town. They are having trouble finding a contact for your area. Maybe their show fell through and they’re looking for a new one. Perhaps they want to play some kind of after-show even. Here’s one more: A band books your band when you’re on tour. A few months later, they ask you to return the favor.
These are all common scenarios in the world of underground, independent music. The responsibility of booking shows often falls on the shoulders of the bands or fans of the bands as opposed to people who do that sort of thing for, you know, money. That’s right – it’s unlikely you’ll make money doing a DIY show. That said, it’s a great way to meet people, help excellent bands, enrich your local music scene, and build a network of support with bands across the world.
“But wait,” your inner monologue exclaims, “how can I achieve such a feat? Do I have what it takes to surmount this intimidating task?” I respond with a resounding maybe! But, with the following advice, you will be much more likely to not ruin it like you do everything else. Let’s get down to it.
The Place: You need one of those. Never fear. You don’t necessarily have to go through the yellow pages (read: Google) and call all of the local rock clubs. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. If you’re booking a small show, clubs and bars often take a cut of the door money. They have operating costs they need to cover, employees to pay, and they still need to turn a profit. It’s better for the bands’ pockets and gas tanks if you can find something with very low overhead. Houses work great for this. Basements, living rooms, kitchens, any spot that can fit a decent handful of people and a band will work. You can also look for vacant spaces available to rent, like VFW halls, back rooms at bowling alleys, anything really. The cheaper, the better.
The Bands: You’ll need some of these. Try and think of local acts that fit in terms of both musical style and general ideology. It’s always a good idea to book out of town bands a show with solid local support. Ideally, these local acts will also have an audience, however small, that they will draw to the show. If you can get a sense of what crowds each local will draw, try to mix them together to bring as many different people as possible to the gig.
As a side note: You may be under the impression that the touring band is the one people are there to see and should therefore play last. Don’t do that to them. Have the touring band play second to last or generally middle-to-late on the line-up. There’s nothing worse than travelling hundreds of miles only to play after a local band who then leaves with all of their friends before you’re done setting up.
The Promotion: In a perfect world, people would just know about your stellar, once in a lifetime event automatically, causing a mile long line down the block on the day of the show. Sadly, this is not the case. In reality, you’ll need to push your event hard to make it successful. Make a flier. Post it online. Tell your friends in person. Print copies of the flier and place them in key spots – coffee shops, record stores, other venues, book stores – and bring them to other shows to hand out to like-minded music enthusiasts. I can’t stress enough that just making a Facebook event does not constitute proper promotion for a show. Put your back into it.
The Gear: The main thing you need to be sure of when booking a DIY show is that there is a PA. Let me rephrase that. There needs to be a PA that works. I’ve seen many shows plagued by bad PA’s to varying degrees of chagrin from the audience. Try to get your hands on something that’s loud. If neither the venue nor you have access to one, talk to local bands, other venues, and music stores to see if renting something would be an option. If that’s the case, they should be able to show you how to hook it up as well.
The Day of the Show: First and foremost, try to cook for touring bands. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Some pasta, sauce, and chopped veggies are cheap and go a long way. If you’re not sure about band dietary restrictions, it wouldn’t hurt to make something vegan. People that aren’t vegan can eat vegan food, but not vice versa. It’s tough to eat well on the road and money is often tight, so a meal is usually welcome. Try to get in touch with the band first to see if they’re planning on getting there in time for food and would like to eat.
Speaking of getting places at times, be on time. Whoever runs the space you’re using will be grateful and you won’t have bands sitting around not knowing what to do. Be sure to bring a bunch of small bills to make change, a sharpie to mark paying entrant’s hands, and fliers for other shows you have undoubtedly started booking and responsibly promoting. After the gig has reached completion, it’s customary to find any bands on the road a place to sleep for the night. Try your best to help them out if they need it. One last thing – make sure any bands on tour get the bulk of the money, but it’s not a bad idea to pay local bands as well if there’s enough to go around. Everyone’s got expenses and the gesture is usually appreciated, even if it’s a small one.
And that’s that. Booking shows can be stressful and difficult, but rewarding, worthwhile, and fun. Do your best to make it a decent time no matter what and build up that good karma. Bring bands to your scene and make your town cool again. Best of luck.