Countless idealistic, fresh-faced musicians move to NYC every year, and far too many of them are preyed upon by shady bookers who cancel last-minute, take unreasonable cuts of the door, and bill them with other bands who share no genre or potential audience reach.
One of the first shows I booked in the city required me to promote and sell $10 tickets to friends, 20 of whom made it out. For my trouble, the promoter took the entire door fee and even asked me to pay him out of pocket. I ended up playing a rushed set that was cut short to about 20 minutes, sandwiched between a punk band and a hardcore hip-hop act, neither of which had anything in common with my music. Individual set audiences were shuffled in and out (the cover was separate for each band), while the booker, who made himself scarce once he’d collected the door take, was presumably somewhere counting his money.
My band has since begun to gravitate towards shows, venues, and bookers that put musicians first (often because they are artists themselves!), craft a unique experience, and create a logical through-line for an audience. So, I asked a few of my favorite NYC bookers for more insight into their process. If you live in Brooklyn or are planning a tour to NYC, they’re great people to know and be familiar with.
Opal Hoyt — Booker, Performer, Video Editor, Producer
Deeper Space: “A day (and night) party that highlights electro/soul/jazz/hip-hop influenced music”
I booked the first show in March  as an outlet to meet and play with people in a new genre, since I only really knew bands in the indie rock scene, and I had started this new soul project. It just seemed like a good way to put on shows [for artists] that I really liked but didn’t really know where to find.
There are a lot of artists I’ve liked for a while; I’ll seek them out directly via their online channels. I like to book on recommendation, so artists are actually excited about promoting each other as well as their own stuff. I’ve found a lot of good people via other artists I’ve booked. Instagram is basically the jam.
Personal Projects, Aesthetics and How They Inform Booking
I joined Piers last year through a friend that I knew from playing in the (now defunct) band I was in first. Zenizen was something my friend Phil and I started when he moved to NYC from Boston. My personal aesthetic is pretty much the entire drive behind everything I book… I’ve been able to connect with a ton of people who have the same tastes as myself.
Working Around NYC/Brooklyn Music Scene Challenges
I think the pocket-y aspect is an issue. We’re all out here doing similar stuff, but it can get kind of insular. I’ve been trying to reach out to other collectives to book together and collaborate: groups like Sehiii, Beat Haus, and Never Normal, rather than zeroing in on specific artists themselves. The other thing I’ve been fairly loud about is the social aspect of scenes. There’s been more and more out there about the sexism, violence, etc. which seems ever-present, [even in the music community], so having no tolerance for that is a [crucial] thing.
Favorite Impromptu Deeper Space Moments (and Fostering Connections)
One show, we had an artist drop off last minute and some extra time. The DJ for the day had all of these sick beats on her computer. So we had an impromptu cypher, which was cool. At a different show we had that was less well-attended, one of the performers came off stage; we had this semicircle around her and she killed it. The DJ we had that day is now working with her and she’s been really excited about it.
Advice for Future Bookers
I would just make sure that you’re super into it. Booking random shows is like having random non-friends in your life — it’s just too much work for not enough reward. And prepare for shenanigans — there’s always something, but if it’s worth it, it’s worth it.
What’s Next for Deeper Space
I’m trying to get all of the media and internet stuff together. I’ve been asking artists who play to make some visual art as well, so collecting those and figuring out how to best display them is a priority. We’re going to be doing nights now, too. (Deeper Space was originally an afternoon showcase.)
10/29 — Deeper Space at Elvis Guesthouse
Kelly Knapp — Blogger, Booker
Noise Love: “For the love of noise”
Genre and Raw Aesthetics
I find sounds that aren’t perfectly harmonious or super polished to be more true to life, and when artists translate those imperfect realities and feelings in an authentic way, it’s inspiring.
Finding Artists and Online Outreach
I find most of the artists I book through friends and going to shows — my Facebook feed is almost entirely comprised of events. When I see a band live that is creating this awesome ambience, I just talk to them after the set and set it in motion. Being active in the scene and meeting people in real life is the best way to connect.
Favorite Bands to Book
Sharkmuffin rocks so hard. Pill is great, so unafraid. LODRO explores some deep dark territory. Clapperclaw and Quitzow are both electronic artists who get me every time with their live set. Kid Audra crafts really sweet pop songs with so much heart, you can’t help but feel happy. I also just saw Prima live, and that was some amazing raw sh**!
On Rent Hikes and the Spirit of DIY Booking
It’s always a bummer when venues that are home to really creative live music shut down. The DIY scene has the fluidity of a lot of really cool creators making things happen. DIY will always exist somewhere in someone’s basement, backyard, or rooftop. We need music because it’s the best way to get through life, so we have to keep it alive.
I threw an all-day free show at The Rookery that was kind of epic. I booked it with my frequent collaborator and friend Travis, who also performs as The Wendigo. The guys from Hellbirds really hooked it up with sound and lights, and provided most of the backline. It was great because I worked with so many awesome people who let me call in favors and were down to help make it happen. That was real community and collaboration.
Last year I had a CMJ show booked, and the day before the show I got an email from the venue with the subject “Urgent — Bad News”, right as they were shutting down. They were really cool about helping me move the show to another venue and lending their backline, but things definitely fell apart a little. The last minute scramble took a toll on the turnout with the location going off the festival grid. That was a dark night, but I learned that you can’t control everything. Sometimes that stuff happens out of your hands, and giving it your best shot anyway is all you can do.
Advice For New Bookers
It always strikes me as odd when it seems like a booker just threw a show together without even knowing what any of the bands sound like. The lineup should make sense, with the bands all having at least a similar ethos. Don’t be afraid to reach out — sometimes awesome things happen from the least expected connections.
Recent Noise Love Show
Jonathan Ben-Menachem — Blogger, Editor, Booker, Performer
No Smoking Media: “A regularly updated and hand-curated feed of music releases, free from hierarchical judgment and included regardless of press coverage”
About No Smoking
No Smoking Media is a blog devoted to music, arts, and culture. [Co-founder] Caroline Bedard and I started the blog because we realized we could spend upwards of 6 hours nonstop talking about music, aesthetics, and theory. NSM is our attempt to make these conversations more substantive/professional/helpful to the subjects of our conversations. I started booking shows via NSM in February of 2015.
I was full-time booking Whitewash shows [ed. note: Jon plays bass for Whitewash], and realized that I’d become pretty adept with the logistics of booking shows that people actually come out to and stay out at. Eventually, I just got sick of booking strictly rock/guitar music events, so I used my blog’s brand name to branch out.
On Finding and Booking Artists
Lots of it is word-of-mouth. Lots of it is also filching from past Facebook events. Be nice, be respectful, don’t be entitled. Be willing to work on shows with artists, and be willing to incorporate their desires at a higher priority than yours.
Big City Booking Challenges
Oversaturation. I’ll book a show for a date 10 weeks in advance, then realize 6 weeks later that I’ve booked the same date as a mainstream artist with a similar fanbase. Another huge problem is the scene’s homogeneous nature: if you pick a show on a Friday night in Brooklyn, chances are you will only see white dudes playing guitars. NSM is trying to book more events that you don’t see quite as often — LGBTQ + friendly, diverse. I’m conflicted re: buzz bands — bigger bands mean bigger events, but it also means you’re just scrambling to get a hold on the biggest bands by way of offering them the best guarantee. I have more fun booking the little guys.
Favorite Show Moments
That one time when I got to book The Breathing Effect with Amani Fela? Pretty dope. It’s great to be able to point to all these talented artists and then remember that I actually hang out with these people, that they’re human beings who haven’t yet begun to be consumed by the world-tour corporate machine (not that being successful is bad).
Advice for New Bookers
Book good artists. Go out to see the people you’re going to book before you book them. Leave your house. Meet them in the flesh. Do they bring friends to events? Do they leave immediately after their set? Make a list of dream bills, then start sending emails. The most frustrating part about booking is pure logistics — you’ve set up this awesome opening lineup for an amazing headliner, but then the headliner has a scheduling conflict. Adaptability is what separates the strong from the weak in booking.
Next Up for No Smoking
10/25 — Vundabar, Whitewash, Wakes, Bulbs at Palisades
11/5 — Sam Kogon, Shana Falana, Melt, Railings at Alphaville
11/15 — Dreamcrusher, Copley Medal, Politically Involved Girls, Pretengineer, and Macula Dog at Aviv
12/3 — The Breathing Effect, altopalo, zetetics (incl. Amani Fela), the Pluto Moons at Palisades