How to Get a Gig: Getting Started, Part 2

How to Get a Gig: Getting Started, Part 2

May 14, 2018 5 Comments

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.



5 Responses

Rich Gowman
Rich Gowman

July 02, 2018

This article obviously deals with the music business in the USA, and even there int he cities with decent sized populations. In Canada, unless you are in a major city with a ton of music venues, it is very much harder for bands to get gigs. I have found it has much more to do with opportunity than it does with music or talent. There are many cover bands that have been going for 20+ years, playing much the same material as they always have, and they tend to be the bands playing at the venues. I am in the amp repair business here in Ontario, Canada, and I know many of the musicians in my area. Also, many bands are of meager quality, just being able to play the song so you can recognize it, but not very well. Weekend warriors, so they are called. My band consists of a great drummer and bass player, and I consider myself a good guitarist and vocalist. WE play popular music and songs that WE like, and I believe we do it well. Our audiences always love our performances. BUT we find it hard to break in to the established scene. It is coming to the point where we may have to put on our own shows, as opportunity does not come often with established venues.

Gerry Henderson
Gerry Henderson

June 01, 2018

Music is first and foremost an art form. It’s been businessized and that’s what’s wrong with your article. New bands would rather play concert type venues.Bands don’t have to play just dance music and sell alcohol and cover tunes. I’ve been in bands like that and ultimately it’s a fruitless endeavor and artisticly unsatisfying. We need to break this system, Play festivals it’s not that hard to get in!

Willie Taylor
Willie Taylor

June 01, 2018

Im a bass player looking for a good band to unite with. I’ve been playing bass for over35 years. I play all styles of music. I love to practice with my fellow musicians. I would love to play for a big contract band but I will settle for some local work even cash paying gigs or freelance jobs.

Kirk Smith
Kirk Smith

June 01, 2018

Hunnerds o’ years ago it was Born To Wild by Steppenwolf. We (a bunch of high-schoolers really too young to be doing what we were doing) would get gigs at frat parties where we would often be consigned to a basement “rec room,” kind of out of the way of the main party. Too often, we were playing the “after party,” so to speak, after a bigger affair with a real band like Homecoming or something and we were basically background music for the drinking-barfing-passing-out phase of the perfect frat boy evening. Anyway, the song that could get the bleary-eyed revelers and their dates stumbling down the stairs to the dance floor was Born To Be Wild. We would intentionally stretch the opening strains to give them time to get there—-talk about knowing your audience! They loved it.

At least in those days, if you played cheap (which we did because we were under age—-our bass player was 15), you could get a fair amount of word-of-mouth business through the frat-vine. I don’t honestly know if that’s a thing anymore, but you could check it out.

John Cleghorn
John Cleghorn

June 01, 2018

There are two schools of thought. One, go where the people want to go with cover music. Or, two, take the people where you want to go with your own music.

ONE

Play cover music or create a tribute band. No songwriting required. Pay royalties… or ignore the laws. Grab meager one gig pay days.

TWO

Write and perform your own songs. Get paid by your fans and events. Sell your CDs, Download Cards, and Tee Shirts. Sell on I-Tunes and other on-line resources. Have cover bands cover you! Be yourself.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Guitar / Bass Amplifier Info & Education

What's in a Guitar Pick?
What's in a Guitar Pick?

November 16, 2018 4 Comments

If I were ever arrested for being a guitar player and they searched my house for evidence, they'd probably come up with a few hundred guitar picks. Years worth of them in gig bags, junk drawers, pocket change and sofa cushions. Chances are most guitar players could say the same. Usually there is at least some variety in most "private collections," but eventually most of us find something we're comfortable with and settle down, seldom making another change unless the style demands it. Yet many players have never really studied picks and the nuances of each type. A new pick can inspire a different way of picking or help the player to get a better feel for a challenging technique, such as alternate or sweep picking. Every once in a while, exploring a handful of new picks can lead to new avenues of playing, for only a few cents... okay, dollars. Forgive me; I've been at this a long time.

Read More

Three Reasons to Try Some Pedals Before Getting a New Amp
Three Reasons to Try Some Pedals Before Getting a New Amp

November 09, 2018 1 Comment

If you’re unhappy with your tone or simply want to try something different, your first instinct may be to reach for a different guitar or go amp shopping. If that’s the case, it’s totally understandable - those are the two most obvious components of your rig. However, next time you find yourself looking to make a change, consider adding some new pedals to your arsenal, or if you’ve already amassed a good number of pedals, try some new ones. There are a few reasons for this:

Read More

Tone vs. Portability: Is there a Middle Ground?
Tone vs. Portability: Is there a Middle Ground?

October 16, 2018 2 Comments

In the quest for perfect tone, many musicians have found all-tube amplifiers to be an ideal fit. After all, nothing compares to the heft, warmth, and richness of a good tube amp. However, there is one glaring drawback - weight. All those tubes and heavy transformers really add up to take a toll on your back. Spend a few months or even a few weeks moving a heavy tube amp up stairs or squeezing it into the back of a packed van and you’ll likely start to wonder if the tone is worth it, or if a similar tone is available in a more portable package.

Read More