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Getting More Gigs - It's All In the Planning
By Gareth Bird
The idea of "promoting" or "selling" your band instead of using an agent can strike fear into the hearts of many musicians. Somehow we feel it's not right to have to get out there and push ourselves - but self promotion can work.
Gareth Bird is an active semi-pro musician who gigs regularly at venues like the Hard Rock Café. He has his own Sales & Marketing business advising a number of leading UK companies and is the author of Gig-Getter: How to get more gigs than you can play. Gareth writes for Bass Guitar Magazine about getting gigs and has been featured in a number of other magazines for musicians.
When people ask about the best way to tackle gig-getting I always stress the importance of planning and organizing. Get these wrong, or don't do them and you're wasting your time. Whether you're a seasoned performer who wants more work or someone who's never performed in public, you need to do this groundwork before you can really make things happen.
Any successful salesperson, before they talk to one potential customer, will work out
and understand exactly what's different about their "product" versus the competition.
This is exactly what you should do before you try to promote your band.
1. Work out what's different about your band
* Search Google for "Manchester thrash metal bands" or whatever is relevant to you. Explore the band websites you find. They'll tell you what the other band consider unique about themselves. Many list song titles and mp3 clips which can be useful in understanding their musical direction and the band's ability versus your own.
* Make sure your band keep their eyes and ears open for bar and club notice boards while out and about. Check the entertainment section of the local papers and the music press for ads and reviews and study the notice boards at the musical instrument stores you visit.
* Try to go and watch the other bands you find. Check the venues you want to play and the quality level you'll need to reach. Watching your competition live will give you ideas on the way to sell your band.
* Don't be put off if your competition seems "too good". They will have weaknesses if you keep looking. Perhaps they weren't good at relaxing the audience with some chat in between numbers? Or maybe, despite their technical ability, their material was all too similar?
* Compare the various parts of your band with what you've learned of others.
List down the basic features of your band:
- Numbers of people in the band
- Instruments played
- Band and individual members musical history
- Where you're based
- Where (if anywhere) you've played before
- Type of material.
Be honest, if you're balding and have a beer gut list that down.
* Ask yourselves: "What are the best and worst features of our band/act?" If you've played live you should have some useful audience comments to draw on here. If not, let friends watch you rehearse and ask them for honest feedback on what you do and how you could be improve.
* Use this information to answer the question: What sets us apart from other bands of the same type? Ideally you should be able to condense your response into a one liner. For example:
"A wide range of pop and rock covers with great audience interaction"
* If you don't find anything distinctive enough, look at each of your weaknesses and decide
how you could overcome them. Could your introverted singer be helped by a more sociable band
mate contributing some one-liners with the audience between songs? Should the narrow appeal
of your original metal material be widened by including a couple of rock covers?
2. Draw up a long list of potential venues
The more people who see you play the more chance you have of getting booked somewhere else. Like many things in selling it's a numbers game Aim for at least 50 venues to target.
* Start by using the "Gigs" sections of the other band's websites you looked at and those other venues you found while checking out the competition.
* If you have a local hotel which is part of a well-known chain it can add credibility to your band's "CV". Hotels can be quiet at weekends when the usual business people aren't around. Could a live band help them bring additional drinkers into their otherwise empty bar? You can also get yourselves on the "wedding entertainment list" for couples who have their bashes at the venue.
* Festivals and fairs can help generate initial exposure and if you have kids at school (or you know someone who does) get the local PTA on your list.
* Private functions & parties will naturally come your way as a direct result of playing other gigs (pubs, clubs etc)
3. Agree your gig-getting goals
* Agree how many gigs a month you all want. If you don't, and have to cancel bookings due to other commitments it's embarrassing for you and it will make you seem unreliable.
* Set goals for the numbers of venues you'll approach each week and stick to this. You'll get plenty of "Thanks but no thanks" for every time someone hires you, but the euphoria of each "Yes" will drive you on.
* Create a year-to-view calendar with a copy for each band member. Circulate via Email as soon as it's updated with another booking. Keep it with you at all times and in front of you as part of your tool-kit when you're on the phone to venues. Once you become active getting your name around, venues will call you to see whether you're available on certain nights. Some will have you on a reserve list and be calling when another act let's them down for a particular date. At this point the venue manager goes down his list calling each of those bands on his "reserve" until he finds one who's available. Its first come first served in those circumstances.
* You shouldn't have to go out for next to nothing but in the beginning you will need to build a track record and gain exposure. You could offer a reduced "Trial price" to reluctant venues on the understanding that this will be reviewed (upwards) for further gigs. Until you're built up some valuable gigging experience, a reputation and a following, think of early gigs as a means to an end. Something to get you in front of as many people as possible.
* Keep accurate and detailed record of your gig-getting efforts. Every conversation you have with potential venues and follow-up actions needed. Let your professional attitude feel like a breath of fresh air to the busy manager used to having to deal with disorganised amateurs or faceless agents.
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