I think it’s important to realize that there are two things everyone from a bar owner to an international promoter care about: Ticket sales and concession sales. If you want to have the opportunity to headline shows on the weekends, open for national artists, or go on tour you need to keep those two things in mind. Take a look around at your shows & try to figure out how much money is exchanging hands… That will tell you what your chances are of moving to the next level. Trust me, the promoters are keeping score. This is where most bands begin to see the business of music. Love it or hate it, it’s how you get to the next stage of your career.
I should pause and emphasize the fact that promoters do in fact love music. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing this as their job in the first place. The problem is that at a certain point it does need to become a job & they need to find ways to make it work financially. Some of my favorite bands can’t sell more than 50 tickets to save their lives. Sometimes I have to pass on those shows. It’s a heartbreaker, but it’s business.
OK, so where do you start? If you have yet to play a show you need to make friends with some local bands. Calling a venue or promoter out of the blue will likely yield no results. You need to book one show opening for another local band and promote it well. There is a misconception out there that venues have a “built in crowd”. That simply does not exist. Therefore, you are the only reason people are coming to the venue.
Once you have booked your show you need to ask what is expected of you. Make sure you have a contact name/phone number for the venue. Your load-in time and set-time, or at least order, should be determined. If you are getting paid you should understand the terms. Typically the venue will take $100-$300 off the top to pay the sound engineer & there will be a split after that. Just be aware what the deal is up-front & try to have it confirmed via e-mail. No need for contracts, just keep a paper trail.
Now it’s time to start promoting. You need to take it on as your responsibility to bring people to your show. A good goal is 100 people. If you bring 100 people to your show then it is time to reach out to the venue owner yourself. If you fall short then I would suggest trying again.
Unfortunately, It’s rare that a local band can draw over 100 people on their own. I’m telling you as a promoter that if you can do that consistently then you really have something great & you should be proud.
A lot of bands would naturally think that the next thing to do would be to book as many shows as you can. STOP! That is the most common mistake I see bands make. A good barometer is your girlfriend or boyfriend. If they begin to not come to your shows then you are playing to often. You need to treat your show as a rare event that people ask off work for. That is, unless your goal is to play in your local bar… which is a whole different subject.
Once you have reached this point it is time to start contacting venue owners and promoters directly about being added as support for national bands & booking your own headlining shows. Be aware that you won’t be paid much to open for national bands, but it’s a great opportunity to get in front of a new set of people & network with some bands that are out there doing what you aspire to do. This is no excuse to not promote your show. This is when you should be pushing the hardest. The touring bands agents and managers are watching the ticket sales just as much as the promoters & if there is a significant spike in a market they are going to want to know why. Wouldn’t you love it if the promoter could say it was because of your band?