In our Getting Started series, we have talked about how to prepare yourself for a job as a working musician, as well as highlighting what you must know to succeed as a musician when you get there. However, at some point you may have to be the one to go out and get bookings. Perhaps your band will decide to venture into a new market, or maybe you will decide to start a group of your own. I must warn you to be patient, because even when you have done your homework, getting a gig is a challenge for the most seasoned agents and bandleaders. The task requires a lot of research, making phone calls, and visiting establishments in your market. And no small amount of negotiating skill! The good news is this isn't rocket science once you know what you're doing. Let's look at a common-sense method that guarantees you the best possible odds of beating the competition and getting work for your band.
Knowledge is Power
While you probably are eager to get together and start working out all your favorite songs with the band, the last thing you need is to learn the wrong material for your target market. What's your target market? That is what you need to figure out first.
Begin by identifying as many live music venues in your area as possible and visiting them, preferably beginning with the times they are busiest. The internet is an excellent tool for finding out when these peak hours are (they aren't the same for every establishment), both by checking what the club website is promoting, and also using the analytical tools your web browser features. For example, if you search out a venue on Google, it will return a summary in the right column that gives you a lot of general information about the club. Commonly this includes a section titled, "popular times" that gives you the volume of business during the establishment's open hours. You can also check this for each day of the week by selecting from a drop-down menu.
Knowing the club's good days and bad days, and being familiar with their peak hours, will clue you into when to schedule your reconnaissance mission. This intel can also be valuable to know later on when you're negotiating for a slot with the manager. Make a list of the venues with name, address and telephone number. Make a quick note if the club is busy during unusual hours that might reveal an off-peak slot for live music. Leave a blank line between each entry on your list. Anything fancier is a waste of effort at this point.
Time to Hit the Bricks
Now plan a scouting mission to visit as many of the venues as you can in one outing, as efficiently as possible, during their peak hours. Dress discretely to avoid attracting attention. You are there to learn, not to sell your act. As quickly as you are able, find out what you need to know about each club and move on to the next. Don't try to order drinks at each establishment, or you'll never finish your list! You can celebrate later when you get the job! Write the following in the open line beneath each club: Is there live music? How many players are in the band? Are they busy? How big is the dance floor and is it full? Does the club have a good stage, lights and PA? Is the crowd engaged? What style and material is the band playing? What is the band's name (if they're good)? Is there evidence the club promotes its entertainers (photos, flyers, posters, marquis sign)?
By this point you probably know if you're interested in playing there. If there is no band, ask the server if they ever have live bands. Make a minus sign in the margin by the club name if it merits further effort. Draw a single line through the entry if you're fairly certain you aren't interested. If possible, scout out every venue you can find in your target area. When you are done, you will have a list of the best live music venues around, what styles are popular in your market, and you will know a few of the best bands in town. Odds are, by the time you finish your list you'll know most of the top bands because they're the ones in the top slots around town on any given weekend.
Armed with this information, enter each of your top prospects into a database (or on a 3x5" index card if you're old school), making sure to leave plenty of room for follow-up notes later on. Spend several weeks visiting clubs, eliminating the less attractive ones, and gathering more info on your favorite prospects. If you decide a venue is especially desirable, turn that little minus sign in the margin to a 'plus.' Remember, what you don't know can't help you. Knowledge is power.
Crunch the Data
Sit down and sort your prospects into separate categories and look for trends. When you are finished, you'll have several stacks of similar venues. Each of these represents a separate market. Divide each stack into groups of three by their desirability, and mark them "A", "B", or "C". Armed with this information you can now evaluate which market you feel is best suited for your goals. Pick the ones you think represent the best opportunities and decide what kind of band you will need to get the gig. Make sure to consider the style of music, how elaborate the show needs to be, what size band you will need, and how fierce the competition is. Now you know the conditions in your target market. In our next article, we'll learn how to create the ideal product (band format) to sell in each market. Remember, be patient. The wait is only once, but the bad impression you'll make showing up unprepared might be your last.
The Getting Started Series was created to help you learn the basics of getting a job working in the live music business. Be sure to check out the rest of the articles in this series so you will be equipped to succeed as a working musician. You can find Part 2 of this series here.
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