So You’ve Decided to Ruin Your Life: Helpful Advice for Booking a Show

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Here comes the pain.

Congratulations on you decision to book a show! This endeavor you are about to embark upon can be exciting, fun, and incredibly fulfilling. If we’re being, honest, though, it’s going to be extremely stressful and difficult. From Day 1, this show will be on your mind, and it will probably stay with you long after it has finished. Things will go right and things will go wrong. Hopefully these small pieces of advice will prepare you for the inevitable pain.

 

Plan in advance – Want to have a show next month a Saturday night at the best venue in town? Tough chicken nuggets because that date was booked 3 months ago. You need to plan in advance because most venues book in advance. Know what you want to do and when you want to do it.

 

Know what type of show you want to book – What kind of show is this? Variety is great on a show, but deviate too much and you risk alienating people in attendance and even the other bands. It’s great that you’re friends with Wolfman Mike and The Monsters of Ska, but maybe you shouldn’t put them on a show with Skullfucker and Pensacola Pigslam. Diversity in a lineup is great. Too much can lead to an empty room.

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Communicate – Talk with the bands, the venue, and anyone else involved. Be clear on load-in and set times. A single Facebook message isn’t good enough. Get email addresses and phone numbers as a “just in case”. Not everyone has a smart phone and not everyone constantly checks Facebook.

 

Don’t book bands that have other shows in your area – Why would people go see The Crotchening at your show when they played last week and have another show 2 weeks from now? This is to benefit both you and the bands playing.

 

Know the venue – When does the venue open? When can bands load in? When is last call? Is there a curfew? How many bands do they usually have on a show? What’s the parking situation like? Are there any rules specific to the venue like “No fog machines” or “No one under 18 admitted”?

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Advertise – A Facebook event isn’t good enough. Make flyers and put them up around the area. Go to record stores, musician shops, anywhere there are people that might actually go to the show. Drop some off at the venue. Stand outside of a venue when a show is getting out and hand them to people. Ask the bands you’re booking to do the same. You are the booker/promoter. Promote!

 

Manage expectations – Not just to the bands and the venue, but to yourself as well. There probably won’t be as many people there as you think. The attending section on a Facebook page is not the best indicator. Some venues ask how many people you expect. Be honest. Don’t promise 100 when you know it will be a miracle if you get 30.

 

Know how to run sound (or have someone else there that does) – This is an important skill to learn. Maybe a sound guy won’t show up and maybe they’ll be too drunk to function. If you’re in a VFW hall or a house show, there won’t be a sound person anyway. Know what wires go where and which knobs to twist.

 

Know what type of equipment you have – If you’re providing sound, know what cables and wires you have. Do a little inventory check in advance so you have enough time to run down to Radio Shack or Guitar Center or whatever business that still exists that can provide you with what you need. If the house is providing sound, find out what they have.

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Learn to say ‘No’ – “We have a side band. Can we play two sets?” No. “Can we have 10 people on the guest list?” No. “This is our first show. Can we headline?” No. “Can we get paid in advance?” NO! Don’t be difficult. Just be in control.

 

Have cash on you in case of emergency – Believe it or not, some businesses may not accept your Bitcoin transfer. They may also not take credit cards or perhaps your card is maxed out. Maybe a check will work, but again, some places won’t take them. (Do young people even know what a check is?) Everyone takes cash, though. Better to have a couple of bucks on you to take care of any problems that may arise.

 

Eat something – People get cranky or “hangry” when they haven’t eaten. You’re going to be dealing with a lot of different people in many situations, some of them contentious. You will need to be calm. You don’t want to get into a fight or ruin future shows just because you have a rumbly tummy.

 

Drink Something – No, I don’t mean down a liter of vodka. I mean drink water. Much like being “hangry” being dehydrated can lead to headaches and bad decisions. Plus, you don’t want kidney stones. Believe me, you don’t want kidney stones.

 

You will probably lose money – Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Gas money, providing drinks, buying food, advertising, renting a venue (if need be), paying bands. The list goes on and on. This isn’t to say you will be thousands of dollars in debt, but it’s a reality. You’re not Ticketmaster or Livenation. There’s no 1000% processing fee on your ticket prices.

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If you have to sign a contract (touring bands only), read it – Yes, it’s common sense to read things before signing things, but when was the last time you read through an entire terms of service? There could be things in a band contract that can leave you in a bad way. A quick read could save you a lot of trouble. If a local band gives you a contract or asks for a guarantee, try not to laugh in their faces.

 

If they have a rider (touring bands only), talk to them about it before the show – Some bands are very particular about their set-up, instruments and food. If you can’t provide something specific, let them know in advance. Can’t get them a vintage Los Angeles Raiders helmet filled with rice pudding? Tell them. Unless they’re complete sociopaths, they should be fine. If they’re not, you shouldn’t work with them.

 

If they have a manager (touring bands only), be professional – Plenty of touring bands have managers or go through an agency. Work with them as best as possible. Some will be difficult. It’s their job to make every show perfect for the band they represent. If you’re professional and work with them, that will open the door to you for future shows.

 

Don’t plan on paying a guarantee with the money you make at the door – It will end badly for you.

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Learn from your mistakes – You will make mistakes and that’s okay. Everyone does. Not a lot of people showed up? Why? All the bands showed up at the wrong time? Why? Sound wasn’t good? Why? It’s important that you learn from your mistakes the next time you book a show.

 

Remember why you booked the show – You booked this show (one would hope) because you love music and the bands. You were able to bring these great bands that you love to some new people. Remember that feeling you get when you discover a new band? You were able to do that for people in a live setting.

 

Thank people when it’s all over – Thank the bands for playing, thank the venue for allowing you to do the show, and thank anyone else that helped you. This is a great way to show your appreciation and to stay in contact. People will remember your kindness and professionalism.

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Have fun – Well, try anyway.

 

Not all of these tips will apply and you will probably run into situations not addressed. Got some good tips for young bookers and promoters? Post them in the comments section.

(Images via, via, via, via, via)

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  • EsusMoose

    Reasons why I will never get into booking.

    • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

      I didn’t go that far when I was doing music management and promotions. I let the labels take care of that, with mixed results.

  • Void Dweller

    That all sounds like a shit ton of work.

    • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander
      • Void Dweller

        So very, very true.

        • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander
          • Howard Dean

            Nothing in life makes me sadder than Chris Holmes c. 2010-present.

          • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander

            Tis sad.

          • Chris Holmes circa 1987 wasn’t exactly an uplifting dude if The Decline of Western Civilization II taught me anything.

          • Howard Dean

            Indeed. He’s always been a mess. And he’s steadily gone downhill ever since. It’s like rock bottom doesn’t exist for him. He’s the Marianas Trench of decrepitude.

          • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

            Not me. Fuck that racist asshole, and let him blame his flagging sales/not being allowed to suck Blackie’s withered balls on black people again.

          • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

            Steve Asheim?

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Local gang of hobos arrested for breaking into car repair garage.

      • His slur/lisp is too much to handle.

        GL

      • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

        So that’s what happened to the drunk guy from Bumfights!

        http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/276/files/2014/11/bumfights.jpg

        • more beer

          I think some lawyer sought him out. Found him and got him to sue the guys who made bum fights. I remember reading that some time ago.

          • Le Tapir The Based

            Was the lawyer JJD’s uncle?

          • more beer

            Does it matter? They are all the same. Fucking Shysters!

          • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

            Yeah, that suit got thrown out though since the guy did it willingly. Drunk but willingly. Now he’s got a geetar and broke into someone’s garage to make a museec videe-er! ^^^^^^^

          • more beer

            One judge with common sense.

  • Thanks for putting all these advices, I know that at least one nerd will make it good use and not throw everyone in a basement and lock the doors.

    99 % of the shows I’ve attended were very crappy because a lot of reasons. I wonder if some of this tips could be applied in Maracaibo.

    I think the keyword here is ‘profesionalism’, like you said. Sadly, promoters here think that their job is just contacting the bands, telling them the order of playing and go asleep in the middle of the gig because stupid drunkness.

  • RustyShackleford

    Never booked a show in my life but from my experience with crappy low-rent hipster shit in the NYC area these are damn good tips. For some reason people think it’s cool to only have Facebook events or just go by word of mouth at some buttfuck venue that doesn’t have a sign or fucking bathrooms because it’ll be “cool” and “authentic”

    No. It will be stupid and awful and I won’t go lol.

  • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander
  • I have an idiot friend that thinks of himself as some kind of big shot promoter (he puts on a show maybe every two months and it’s always a disaster). Now he’s trying to hire an unpaid intern because creating a facebook event and inviting people is just sooooo much work.

    • RustyShackleford

      Yeah, if you can’t make facebook events, maybe being in a field that requires promotion is a bad idea.

      • His big idea was to hire “a hot young chick with lots of tattoos”. He figured she’d have better connections and work harder at organizing shows. I asked him why the hell she’d need him. He couldn’t quite figure that part out. smh.

        • Dagon

          If he needs reference, I follow 400 Instagram accounts. 280 of them would probably qualify for the job.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Professional Show Putting-On Dude (also a Guy Fieri impersonator!)
      818-555-ROCK

      • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

        I think you just summed up Eddie Trunk in a nutshell!

        • Kevin Nash & Friends

          Doodoo plz! Eddie Trunk has similar taste to me!

    • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

      He would’ve been a shoe in for a position with Milwaukee Metal Fest.

      • more beer

        He wouldn’t have been able to handle Don Decker!

        • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

          Lol, almost forgot about Anal Blast!

          • more beer

            That was his show.

          • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

            Milwaukee Metal Fest? I’ve heard soooooooooooo many bad things about that fest while it was still around, mostly being about the guy who ran it being a crook.

          • more beer

            The one year I went. I went with friends who were playing. We were treated well. I’ve heard there were more issues with telling bands they had a prime time to play. But ended up playing early Sunday morning. That kind of shit.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    I laughed OL. Nice job, 365.

  • Dagon

    Move to Belém, Brazil. Bring 10-15 good bands here. Please.

    Sincerely,
    Renan

    • PLEASE COME TO VENEZUELA m/

    • The W.

      Bro, you doxxed yourself.

      • Dagon

        Doxxed big time, name and location. Good thing no one is going to come here and try to find me.

        It looks like World 3 in Diablo II.

        • KJM

          My “real” name is Kyle. My online handle is my initials. You can always find me on Twitter and learn my full name. No big whoop for me but I can see why others would want to remain anon.

      • Dagon

        Sneak edits FTW

  • CyberneticOrganism

    1) Be smart
    2) Don’t be unsmart

  • I booked a show once for Hope and Suicide (Bloodlet) and the Esoteric (Coalesce) ending up playing as well. I rented my buddy’s apartment which was a studio and had about 5 bands total including my own. I lost money and learned never to do it again. A good time was had regardless.

  • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander

    “Drink Something – No, I don’t mean down a liter of vodka. I mean drink water.”

    Never have I done that during a gig.

    • The W.

      Never just one liter?

    • I’m In Love With Tha DooDoo

      Do ice cubes count as water?

  • HessianHunter

    Carry small fliers, or “handbills”, with you to promote the show. They cost about 2 cents a piece to make, and if in natural conversation the topic of music comes up, hand them a flier to say why they might like this show. Even if they don’t go, they are now much more aware of the bands playing (maybe including yours?).

    In my experience (except for shows built around a highly anticipated touring act), variety is key for a well attended show. Have a common thread, but branch out from the core aesthetic to draw a more diverse crowd.

  • DCLXVI

    Having spent 10 years(10 years ago) as the promoter of a touring theatrical troupe(forewalled and sponsored shows) who played 150 shows a year in 1000-5000 seat theaters(mostly PAC and Fine arts) across the US, this is pretty much right on. Just a few missing bits…first ABSOLUTELY do presales when you set the date, announcing with your social media and free medias. Call the local radio station with an appropriate format and do a trade with the radio station for tickets if you have no money in exchange for on air mentions…..they can do give aways of them and that gets the word out….let them sell sponsorships to the show in exchange for airtime, ask for the person who does “NTR.” Make sure you or your production manager talks to the talent’s road crew at least a day before load in, so you can make sure you have enough stagehands to handle their load in and out in a timely manner. Also make sure to have safe parking available for the artist and crew’s vehicles.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Avoid using pods onstage — roadies may not rescue you before your air runs out

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vbi5Zegp55o

  • Lisbeth (Tyree) Salander
  • MoshOff

    Great read, although it would have been of more help to me last week. I booked my first “major” show (Maruta) last week and it went suprisingly well. I ended up not losing any money because I know guys who rule and brought a ton of people to the show. It doesn’t hurt that the band dudes were reeeeally chill/cool/rad/awesome/etc.

    • I had to do riders for 2 bands on a show about 10 years back. 1 band dropped the night before (medical emergency) so we just gave most the rider requirements to the band that played.

      Their manager came up to me later, thanked me for the show, and then specifically thanked me for getting them bottles of Odwalla, which weren’t on their rider. Turns out the other band had asked for the Odwalla. Nice when little things work out, right?

  • Max

    If you’re worried about attendance levels, simply do what many local promoters in my area seem to do:

    Book a ton of bands (like upwards of six), and make it that load-in is only during the first hour so bands can’t arrive and leave “in shifts” around their set time. That way, it makes the venue look relatively well-attended even though there are probably very few “regular punters” in attendance not attached to a band.

    An irate venue due to lack of regular ticket-payers in such a situation is dealt with thusly: Instead of providing a rider for the bands, the promoter hands out food or drink passes (usually a only choice of either if both are available) and has a limited number per band that doesn’t cover the band’s membership or drinking habits – plus, they’re made a bit of a chore to obtain; like having to sign for them or something. That way, most bands will give up and simply buy their beer or meals, meaning the bar still makes money even without a large crowd.

  • Stockhausen

    Excellent advice. If you want to be like the majority of promoters (that Dischordia works with) here’s an alternative list:
    1.) Tell the touring band (us) that you got it, and don’t need help finding locals
    2.) Don’t find locals
    3.) Tell the touring band that it’s good brah, you’ll make the flyer
    4.) Don’t make the flyer
    5.) Let a month or two go by, then casually make a remark to the touring band suggesting we should have been doing all those things this whole time
    6.) On the day of the show, leave before the first band starts. Be completely unavailable when there is a money dispute when the show is over.
    7.) Eat bleach and die, promoter scum

  • Cory John William Kamermans

    The one thing i learned from all the promoters i worked with/for is don’t book the bands you like or want to meet unless you know full well ahead of time they are good to work with or have worked with them before and if you have to work with a difficult band or management make the most of the connections you can get from said band or management if the band if traveling with other openers make contacts regardless.