“Working out who’s who and who does what gives you resources to learn about things that can’t be found out in books or on the web. For DJing, it’s an important way to get booked. Sending out demos works to a certain extent, but if you do a great demo and don’t bother to meet up with the person who’s listening to it, they’re not going to remember who you are. And if someone’s doing bookings, they’re likely to know a lot of other people doing bookings. The thing to remember is that promoters get sent heaps of demos every week. And it’s not just a matter of who’s playing what, it’s a matter of who knows who.”
Khalil Hegarty, DJ / Editor of Zebra Mag
Performing live is an important way to promote yourself to the public and the music industry. Appearing live can create some excitement for your act and begin to build a fan base, guaranteeing a bigger crowd each time you perform. This in turn increases earnings, CDs for merchandise sales, publicity in the press and ultimately interest from other venues, booking agents, potential managers and recording companies.
Getting a gig is about organisation and persistence.
There are hundreds of other acts, just like you, trying to get in front of an audience. When you’re starting out you’ll find that most of the best times in the best venues are taken by known artists who get their gigs through a booking agent and/or manager. To compete with this, or to even be noticed, you need to present yourself in a very professional way. You will need a CD of your songs or performances (see Demos & Rehearsals, a photo and bio (see Promotion & Publicity) and any press cuttings or live reviews you may have already received. Once your package is together you’re ready to start approaching venues. Venues are unlikely to give a new band a decent gig so approaching gigging bands is just as important. Whether you’re an acoustic solo act, heavy metal band, DJ, live electronic act or whatever, you need to research which venues suit your style of performance. Some venues may also have certain nights for certain styles or nights for new artists.
You can check out the venues and nights listed in the street press like Beat or Inpress. Contact details for venues, including personal contact details for bookers, can be found in The Australasian Music Industry Directory. After identifying the venues you wish to try, you should first make contact with the booker or promoter. Arrange a suitable time to meet and present your package. It’s best to do this personally and not just drop it off at the front bar. Don’t pressure the booker to listen to your CD on the spot. It’s also no good telling the booker how great you think you are or why they would be mad not to book you. Instead, tell them your plan for getting a large audience to the venue to see you perform (see Promotion & Publicity,page 27).
Do your homework and show that you’re familiar with the type of acts that have recently performed there that draw an audience similar to the people you are pitching to. Arrange a suitable time to come back and see the booker or promoter after they have had a chance to listen to the CD and get their opinion and confirm a booking if possible. You will also want to collect the CD and publicity pack as these are relatively expensive and can be used for other venues or media.
But if you aren’t fussed by this, then leave your CD at the venue so they can keep it in their library. Apart from pubs and live music venues, there are many other venues you can try depending on your act. Universities, nightclubs, restaurants, schools and private function rooms are some other options. Often venues will hold open mic or open decks nights, usually early in the week, encouraging members of the public to perform (for no payment). These are listed in street press gig guides. At most open mic nights you’ll be able to simply turn up and perform, but to get a slot at most open decks nights you need to ring ahead and book.
Another avenue open to unsigned acts is Battle of the Bands competitions. Many organisations, like The Push and universities, run annual competitions looking for the best unsigned acts. You can hear about these through street press and community radio. One major advantage of entering band competitions is that most offer substantial prizes for winners, usually taking the form of studio recording time or equipment. Keep an eye out for Freeza gigs, Battle of the Bands are often a great way for Freeza committees to hear what you’re like. You can also approach the organisers of the larger music festivals and even local councils but competition for these shows is very high.
To be in with a chance it will help if you have some experience and public profile. Remember that the line-ups of these festivals are generally confirmed a long time before the actual event, in most cases a few months beforehand. The promoters/organisers of all the major festivals are listed in the Australasian Music Industry Directory; call or email them to ask if you can send them your press kit for consideration. Another good way to get a gig is to hook up with other bands and present your double bill as a package to the booker of a venue. It saves them work if they don’t have to organise other acts to play. It’s also worth encouraging all bands playing to use the same mixer as it helps save on costs for the night. Gigs get cancelled all the time, so never rely 100% on it going ahead. While it would seem ideal to have gigs confirmed in writing as soon as a venue gives you the go ahead, a verbal agreement is the norm.
The next step is to work out your budget. What is the gig going to cost you? Apart from hoping to earn some money for yourself, you may have to pay someone to do your front of house sound and your lighting. Few venues are willing to cover these costs. Of course, once you’ve found a mixer you’re happy with, stick with them if what they’re doing for your sound is right. You’ll have to spend some money on promoting the show and may have to hire some stage gear for the night. At the end of this chapter is an example of a budget sheet for a live performance.
Once you’ve worked out how much the gig will cost you, you’ll know how much you are going to need to be paid. This is the amount you will negotiate with the booker before signing the contract. The Musicians’ Union offers suggestions for artists’ minimum wages. for their contact details. The venue may offer a number of different deals such as a flat fee (for example $200), a door deal (a percentage of the money taken on the door) or a combination of both (you may receive a $100 flat fee plus $2 per paying person after the first 50 payers). You need to work out if the fee will cover your costs and, if it’s a door deal, how many payers you will need to attract to cover your costs. If you’re a DJ and finding it hard to land a gig, you have another option: putting on your own night. While it’s undeniably a lot of work, it’s a great way to get started. If you find a venue with a spare night and approach them about doing your own night, some will be likely to agree if they think you can bring enough punters in.
You need to print up flyers and do your own publicity (see Promotion & Publicity) and bring as many friends as possible. If you want to cover your costs and get paid you will have to charge people a small fee at the door. Some venues may do some promotion but expect a cut from the door takings. The most important thing to remember when staging your own night is to have everything organised well in advance. If you leave your promotion until a week or two out the night is less likely to be a success.
Once you have a deal in place it’s up to you to make the gig work. Promote the show through the press, radio, posters, flyers and word of mouth. The more people you get to your show, the easier it’ll be to secure more gigs. If it’s one of your first gigs, get as many friends to come and support you as you can. Ask them to pay as venues are more impressed by paying customers than long door lists. Getting support from friends is especially important if you’re a DJ and have been given an early slot on an established night at a club. Chances are there won’t be a lot of people there for the beginning of your set, so friends can help fill the room and create some vibe. If there aren’t many people there,don’t take it personally – while a good DJ will get people through the door, it’s predominantly the promoter’s job to attract people to the club. Whatever spot you’ve been given, it’s a good idea to check out what people have been doing at that time in the weeks leading up to your gig. Also, remember to be mindful of the time you’ve been given – while the favourite set you play in your bedroom may be loud and bangin’, it might not be great for a near empty club at 10pm. You must also make sure to follow all the venue’s rules. Be on time for soundcheck, observe noise restrictions and cooperate with venue staff. Be sure to start and finish on time for your performance. Set up and clear stage gear quickly.
If you’re the support act, you should contact the headline act in advance to confirm soundcheck and playing times. Be on time and cooperate with the other bands. Don’t play over your allotted time. Other artists can help you get more shows if they enjoy working with you. Soundcheck is always important. It should allow you and your sound and light people to check that all your gear, and the venue’s gear, is working. It lets you know before the gig if you need extra gear, leads, DI’s, effects units, etc. The sound-check allows you to set your equipment levels and get the right level and mix for your fold-back and front-of-house. It might allow you to meet the other artists on the bill and the venue management. This is the time to confirm all the details for the night’s performance including load-outs, change-overs, times, payments, guest lists, etc. Some venues may not allow ‘performance’ soundchecks due to noise restrictions but you should turn up to set up gear, do a line check and all the other things mentioned above. This should ensure a more professional sounding, smoother running performance. Playing original music live also earns you an income through performance royalties, so you need to be registered with APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association), for more information.
Playing live regularly is a great way to increase your profile and eventually can make you a reasonable income. Gigs are also a great place to sell your CDs, T-shirts and merchandise, but make sure you have cleared these sales with the venue first. When you play shows out of your home town, the process is the same but the expenses increase. Whether it’s to a country town or interstate, you need to factor in transport, petrol, accommodation, living expenses, etc. There is also a sample tour budget sheet at the end of this chapter.
PLAYING LIVE – A Summary
- Finding venues suitable for your act to play
- Arranging to meet the venue’s booker/promoter
- Delivering the booker/promoter a copy of your demo
- Examining alternate ways of getting gigs
- Live performance royalties
- Budgeting/promoting your gig