The music scene is a tricky place to navigate. It often feels like you can’t get anywhere without knowing the right people and that your fate is entirely in someone else’s hands. But many of the “gatekeepers” are actually there to help you, and knowing who to talk to at the right moment can mean the difference between booking a sold-out show, playing to an empty room, and not playing at all. Whether you’re booking your very first gig, or gearing up to head out on tour, here are five people who can make all the difference:
Promoters organize and market shows independently of venues. They don’t typically work for the venue, but rather work in partnership with one or several different spaces. The promoter is almost always taking the biggest risk when booking shows since they pay to rent the space and offer guarantees to the artists. But that risk means they work extra hard to pack the house, so getting onto a gig presented by one such promoter can be spectacular for your band!
A good way to get in with a local promoter and develop a personal connection is to reach out in advance and suggest artists that your band could support. Starting out as an opening act gives them a chance to see who you are, what your strengths are, and where you fit musically, so that one day they can put you in a headlining spot. It isn’t always your responsibility to help promote, but as Dustin Nelson (former Marketing Director for le Poisson Rouge) recommends, anything bands can do to help the night succeed is highly appreciated. The more you do to help a promoter out, the more they will want to book your band again and again.
Typically, talent buyers work for venues in-house. They will book the entire calendar for the venue, and oversee shows booked by outside promoters as well. When not booking through an outside promoter, you will have to liaise directly with the talent buyer in order to put together gigs at that venue. It’s a difficult game to get their attention since they get 150 emails per day, and responses might take weeks. Try to be patient, and if you suspect they may have forgotten about you, send a humble follow-up note. Never send heavy attachments, as those messages will be deleted immediately.
One thing people tend to forget is that we’re all on the same team! Venues need artists and artists need venues, but the booker is the curator. That said, it helps to approach some venues with a full night booked, support included, since it saves them time (so long as this message is for 3-5 months in advance, and not “hey can we play on Tuesday?”).
The Sound Guy/Gal
(who might also be the Lighting Guy/Gal)
The sound technician is the person who will be controlling the mixing board at the venue, monitoring the speakers and making sure the room sounds as good as it can. Sound techs will conduct your soundcheck, and possibly even work the lights if the venue is low-key, so out of anyone on this list, they’re the ones you’ll have the most interaction with.
Sound guys and gals, at any venue of any size, all have two things in common. They love live music, and they love the way it sounds when it’s mixed perfectly. But it takes two to dance that tango. A lot of that responsibility is on you and your band. Show up for soundcheck on time and try to load in quickly so the technician has time to mic the stage properly and set out backline and cables accordingly. If you have a stage plot (some venues require it), send that in advance.
During a set, it’s okay to look to the booth and request slight changes like, “more vocals in the monitor” or “can we bring the bass down a bit?”, but stay away from making your own changes, like turning your amp up louder, since that will just ruin the mix and tick off the person trying to make you sound good.
A booking agent is responsible for booking shows on behalf of you, the artist. Once your shows are booked, the agent will communicate with the promoter to effectively spread the word, but their basic job is to get you the gigs. They aren’t necessarily responsible for getting people to show up.
Why is a booking agent necessary if you’re already booking your own gigs? Well, the big luxury is that booking takes time, and having an agent saves you all the trouble of negotiating with venues. Secondly, if not more importantly, they have a huge network of contacts around the country and internationally. Their database of festivals, venues, promoters, and marketers is priceless, especially if you want to tour.
But it’s not easy to get rostered with a booking agent. Here’s a post on the Bandzoogle Blog that offers advice on how to get agents’ attention so they come crawling to you. The main point that this author makes is that the best thing a band can do is put in the hard work. That means playing live as much as possible, building your fanbase organically, getting your name out there, and honing your setlist.
Okay, so I should be saying journalist here. But I purposefully want to introduce you to my friend the music blogger, a specific breed of journalist, instead. Journalists get paid to write articles, and most of the time, they aren’t the ones picking the shows they see. Bloggers are different. They write reviews because they love music more than anything, and many of them just want to help bands in any way that they can. They take photos, review albums, see live shows, and write about new tracks. Get to know a writer or two personally, and that connection might last a very, very long time.
Reaching out to bloggers is usually pretty easy, send them a private streaming link or album download to let them know what you’re about. Always try to make your emails personal. Give them the same amount of attention, if not more, than you would want them to give you. Read their blog. Get to know what they write and rant about. Here’s a list of 847 music blogs to help you get started.
My advice is that when your band gets really big one day, don’t forget about the folks who took a chance on you early in your career. Keep sending them albums in the mail, check in with them over email, and invite them to shows. If music isn’t about bringing people together, then what is it for?
Bonus Person: Dave
This is Dave, he’ll be at all your shows. Toss him a drink ticket and a +1 every now and then. He’ll love it.