So you have practiced for months and finally have your act down. It’s time to start booking gigs and searching for your band’s new home away from the rehearsal studio. I have spent the better part of my life in service of “The Muse” that is music. From engineering bands to recording them, helping produce and manage them, even booking and managing the venues they played. By far what seems to perplex musicians more than anything else is the eternal question of
“How do we get a gig…and once we have it how do we keep it?!”
The answer to this is really a matter of but a few things that in truth are so simple that you will probably be amazed and more than likely disappointed that they had never dawned on you. As with everything in life, the Devil is in the details. If you let the details slip through your fingers, I’m not saying you won’t get a gig. But being detail-oriented can get you that sustained recurring gig that brings in money regularly and that coveted house spot is what every band the World over is fighting for…ALWAYS remember that!
As with all good gigs, we will begin with a list and move on from there:
• Customer Relations
• Packing list
• Input list and Stage plot
• Stage Time
• Load In / Load Out
I know, I know “Customer Relations? What the heck? I’m a musician!” Believe it or not it’s true, a good relationship with your customer is the number one key to any good business, and I mean ANY! (If you think for one minute that music is not a business then please stop reading here and go back to the pizza shop…there’s a pie that is late on its twenty minute guarantee, you should probably go deliver it before it’s free.)
When you are in the music business, the manager, staff and regulars of your venue are your customers and they are expecting you to be a professional musician. This starts in the rehearsal space and translates directly to the venue. Start by using rehearsal as a dedicated time to practice. You need to focus first and play afterward. This means no drinking until after your work is done – both in rehearsal and on show nights. Believe me, as a former booker, bartender and assistant bar manager, I can tell you from experience, nobody wants to give money to the drunken fool on stage…they just want to shuffle him out before he breaks something. Don’t be that guy. Be the hero. When you take yourself seriously as musicians the venue will have to as well. And you’ll probably get more gigs in the future because your name will pop up for the professionalism.
Here are a few other factors of the utmost importance when relating to your customers at the venue: Show up early; the motto of my production company was “If you’re on time, you’re already behind.” Early is always better. At the very least, make sure one or two members show up thirty minutes before load in time. This installs immediate trust from your bar staff, and the sound engineer and bar manager will be happier and more comfortable than you could ever believe. Unfortunately musicians have come to be synonymous with one word…flakey. It’s not true, of course, but when everybody shows up just before go time, disorganized, arguing and drunk, what else are you supposed to think? And what if technical issues arise? Will your show start on time then? Just like at any job, if you want your boss to be impressed, you must dress the part and show up early.
Another good rule of thumb is to always call in advance and check if there have been any changes to show times or load in times. This sets you up as demanding and exacting and will always blow their mind. When doing this, take the opportunity to find out who will be on bar that night. Also find out if there are any specials or promotions that you can announce from stage. This is HUGE in their eyes. Giving a “shoutout” to your Bartender and calling them by name rallies people to the bar, brings them cash and makes them love you. You have hit them in the heart with your kindness by remembering their name, but you’ve also hit them where it counts- in the wallet
Finally don’t blow their heads off. There is a big difference between quantity and quality of sound. Louder is NOT better…clear is. If the mix is too loud let that be on your sound guy and let the bar and clientele be mad with him. But the last thing you want is complaints about abusive sound levels or bartenders that cannot hear their drink orders. When they can’t hear a drink order, the bar loses money. When the bar loses money, they don’t have as much to pay you. See the chain reaction? Remember the bar staff is your best friend and worst enemy. They will love you or hate you. Which way that pendulum swings can precisely decide how long you will reign on that venue’s stage whether you bring a crowd or not.
The Packing List
The next part of our gigging guide begins in the rehearsal space as well, the Packing List. This is honestly less about customer service and more about the always meticulous and all too often “Don’t have time for your crap” sound guys. I’ll let you in on an industry secret: half of it is because we’re trying to make sure your fortitude is strong enough to survive a night on our stage…the other half is because we’re tired of the crap. Seriously, if I hadn’t been a sound guy for going on twenty years I wouldn’t say it. But I can tell you right now with all sincerity in my heart that, at almost every five band night I worked (and believe me there were a lot of them), I heard the same question: “Do you have a guitar cable?” I mean, come on man, how the hell are you going to forget your guitar cable?! It’s easy; you probably didn’t have a packing list. The packing list dates all the way back to the Pyramids. They have found Papyrus scrolls that say “Huge blocks…check, Chisels…check.” Okay so maybe I am exaggerating, but seriously, the packing list is your best friend. This list should live in three places: 1) next to your rehearsal space door, 2) in the lid of every case possible (at a minimum of one case per band member) and finally 3) in the trusted hands of your faithful tech (should you be one of the fortunate to have one. The list is fairly simple. It’s a list of everything you need for your gigs. Microphones, cables, string, sticks, instrumentation, amps, merch, gaff tape, anything you need on a regular basis at every show you go to. You can even get to the point that you have different lists depending on the size and type of gig. This is also your chance to throw in extra goodies like spare cables. By doing this you may actually save a fellow musician’s night by having what he needs without him ever hearing the sound guy grumble.
Input List & Stage Plot
In addition to the Packing list, a band should always have an input list and stage plot. “What in the heck is an input list and stage plot?” you ask. Well I can understand that. Unless you are working a large venue, festival or private event where an event coordinator may want it, most bands do not have or see the necessity of these. However, even in a regular bar venue context, an input list and stage plot is very helpful. Let’s start with the first reason. Remember that surly sound guy, yeah he’s reason number one. It’s always a huge nod of respect from the omniscient sound booth when a band brings these to the audio engineer. The sound guy needs to know what you need so he can get the stage set with everything in its proper place; he also needs to know what inputs on the stage snake he is using for the instruments in your band. The Input list you provide takes care of this all important last function by listing and numbering each input you desire your band to occupy on the sound board. Please remember, this should be your dream list of as many inputs as you would want given the time and means. The case is frequent that you have to shave some inputs to make the show happen. So don’t be heartbroken if you don’t get to utilize all of the inputs that are on the list you provided.
Your stage plot and input list should look something like this:
You can now see the advantage and why we audio engineers like a stage plot and input list. It allows us to continue to work with or without your physical presence . This maintains the flow of the show for the audience and it keeps the other bands happy with their amount of time on stage as well. It only makes sense guys, if you take less time to set up, you have more time to perform. It’s really just a matter of simple math.
Load In / Load Out
Finally, Load In and Load Out are probably some of the most important times of the evening and must be handled as fluidly as possible. Load In comes to a simple point of again being early. The earlier you load in the more rested you are. Nothing is worse for the performance or the reputation of your band than showing up late. You don’t want to be exhausted from moving gear and rushing a sound check. You also don’t want to be dragging a bunch of gear through a busy venue. Earlier is always better. It allows you set up with ease and take your time. You get a longer and better sound check, more relaxation and don’t forget the wow factor with the bar. But there is one more key reason why showing up early is best – the lowdown. When you show up early, you get the chance to chat with the staff about the evening, discuss what the prep has been like, and what the plan for the evening will be. Often, the set times for each band have not been decided early on in the night of a multiple band night. A good attitude and some well-placed glad-handing take you from playing to a decent crowd to a rowdy rabble of instant fans. It’s just as easy as being there when the call needs to be made. When it comes to load out it’s all about practice, yes again with the practice. You should know how to rapidly tear down your stage setup to allow for the maximum amount of stage time for the next band and most entertainment for the crowd. This shows the venue and other performers respect for their stage and time just as you demand for yours.
So there you have it, from your local brew tap to your large SXSW gig in Austin, these are the finer points of gigging that separate those who gig here and there and those that just gig…and that’s all they have to do. With these few simple rules, you can up your game from weekend warrior to semi-pro in no time and before you know it you may be standing center stage Friday night, and every Friday night for the next six months. Now, go learn another set of material just in case and remember kiddos, “If you’re on time you’re already behind.”