Landing a gig for your band isn't quite as easy as just showing up at a random club, like The Blues Brothers did, and talking your way in. In Part 1 of How to Get a Gig, we learned that knowledge of your market is the first priority, and we learned the somewhat less than glamorous process of gathering the information you need. Being an entrepreneur at heart, you have invested your time into creating a tactical 'map' of your market. In this article, you will see how you can use the intelligence you've gathered to build a product (band) that will sell in your market.
"You Gotta Hunt Where the Ducks Are"
Dick Wheeler was the owner of a very old music store in St. Paul, MN. He used to say this every day. Admittedly, it's a bit corny. But it paints a very vivid picture of the business of sales. I apologize if I failed to explain from the beginning, that this is all about sales. The truth is we all know music is a business, but it is easy to talk ourselves out of running the band like one. You must establish this essential truth right at the root of your project, or the rest will fail. Therefore, your first priority when starting out is:
Create a Product That Will Sell!
Grab your market research notes and determine the most prolific formats for live music in your target venues. A few styles will probably dominate most of the job opportunities you've identified. Discuss the options with the band (considering the skills, equipment and talent you have to work with), and choose a practical format that everyone can buy into.
Once you pick a style, you can work out the material that you will need to cover the available gigs. If you're a tribute-style band, that might mean one or two hours of material. Most other cover bands will need enough to cover four hours.
Now, take your research notes and gather the most popular songs you have seen other bands playing in your market. Usually this means the songs that consistently pack the dance floor. You should be able to come up with several songs per set that everyone is playing in your target venues. These songs should automatically go into the first rendition of your master list. When you get your first bookings, the audience will embrace the band much faster if you know their favorites.
Now fill in the rest of your master list with similar songs in the style, being certain to include danceable songs with both straight and swing feel, and a handful of very popular slow dances. Unless you're a tribute band avoid showpiece songs that don't appeal to the average club patron. People usually go out to meet others and have fun, and dancing is an important part of that. I know you have worked very hard to establish your individual style and personality, but this is one time when "selling out" is super smart. Go with the cheesy, popular stuff. Of course, be sure to add the biggest current hits that fit your style as well. When you have about fifteen songs per set, you can move on to building individual set lists.
Begin to select your material by creating a blank set list. For this purpose, you may assume you will be playing between two and four sets of 45 minutes. Most commercial music averages remarkably close to five minutes per song in a live performance, so if you're a cover band you can figure you'll need nine songs for each set. Sort your songs by function into the following groups: blockbuster hits that make everybody dance, middle-rock songs that are current, danceable, and very familiar lesser hits, groovy or funky dance tunes, slow dances, and showpieces. For each set, begin with a couple blockbusters, and then a pair of middle-rock selections, one funky or groovy tune, and a slow dance. The idea is to pack the dance floor with the first two songs, then keep them up with the middle rock. The groovy song gives people a natural segue into the slow dance.
By carefully choosing the right songs for your audience, you can keep most of your patrons on the dance floor through the slow song. This creates a natural boost in sales for the club when everyone returns to their seats to order beverages after the fifth or sixth number. If you absolutely must include a showpiece in your set (like the guitarist's favorite epic metal tune), put it in the seventh slot of the set so it doesn't disrupt the dance flow of the set. Round out the set with a couple more blockbusters. Always leave the audience wanting more at the end of your set. You'll end up with around one more set worth of material left over. You can use these songs for requests, to cover shows with longer set requirements, for change-ups to keep your show fresh, for those nights when the singer can't hit the high notes on something else because of a cold, etc.
Now you have a master set list and several different show sets. Organize some rehearsals with the band and learn all the material. Meanwhile, you can finalize your image, branding and marketing plan. In the next article of this series we'll learn how to package your band into a commodity that will sell. For now, take a break from management to enjoy your music. You've earned it.
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In our recently concluded series, "How to Get a Gig," we learned a systematic approach to building and marketing a band. We saw how to win gigs by relationship building even if you aren't a born salesman. But what happens when you get the gig? We have all heard how competitive the music business is, but what can we do to stay on the winning side of that competition? What are the secrets that the longest-lived working bands know about staying relevant? This week, we will look at Eleven Secrets to Keeping Your Gig.