How To Plan and Put on a Good Gig
Putting on a show of original material for the first time can be an altogether daunting, confronting and exhilarating experience. My first performance as an original artist (beyond a forgettable jazz trio in the background of some corporate event) was a cacophony of forgotten lyrics and drunken ramblings. I’m certain a cat or a dog would’ve done a better job.
A few more years on, I’ve done a lot more shows, drank less wine, and been lucky enough to share the stage with some pretty top-notch ‘know-what-they’re-on-about’ artists like Abby Dobson & Monsieur Camembert. I also started my venue, The Newsagency, so I like to think I now know what makes a good show from start (booking the venue) to finish (“encore!”)
Make a plan, write a budget
There’s a lot involved in booking a show – particularly if you’re independent and don’t have a professional booking agent and promoter dealing with everything for you.
I’m a mega nerd when it comes to admin stuff, so I get a kick out of writing a “mind-map”/list of things to accomplish before the night of the show. I estimate how long each task will take and allocate space for it in my diary. If the task will take less than two minutes, I do it immediately. If it takes longer –dates with the venue, for example – I might allow two weeks. It’s a super handy trick to take the stress out of the preparation.
Personally, I allow at least six weeks to prep for a show but eight to twelve weeks will give you ample time to get everything done without rushing.
As part of my admin stuff, I always write a budget. It might seem like it’s taking the fun out of everything but at the end of the event you will feel so much better because you’ve known how much you can and can’t spend. I’d much rather have all my expenses written out in one spreadsheet than blindly spending and being really disappointed that costs like social media ads, graphic design, poster distribution and venue hire meant you walked away with less than you hoped for. Having a budget also helps in deciding a ticket price (but that’s totally for another blog post).
Have a reason for doing a show
It’s all very well to want to put on a gig, but just playing an original set isn’t enough to entice people to come along. Having an angle makes a show easier to promote. For example, it could be an EP/album launch, debut gig, charity gig or to showcase a new band line-up.
Find the right venue
A booking agent friend once said to me, “It’s better to play in a smaller room that looks packed than to play to the same amount of people in a bigger, more “prestigious” venue. Your audience will walk away with a much better feeling when it’s packed than if it’s an empty looking room.”
Additionally, if you’re just starting out – a small, intimate room can be your best friend. People love intimate experiences and they’re a great way to grow and connect with your fan base (these things take time!) without the huge pressures of putting 100+ bums on seats just to make sure the venue covers their costs.
It’s also about finding a space that suits your musical style. If you’re a solo artist, a space that’s a listening environment is better for you than a pub’s band room. There’s nothing worse than playing to a noisy room when you’re pouring your heart out over a melancholic ballad.
Be clear and confident
When first approaching a venue, make it very easy for them by outlining:
- Who you are and what you do (links to Soundcloud or Bandcamp are good)
- Why and when you want to do a gig
- How you will promote it
Find someone to share the night with
I like to think of support acts as special guests. As an audience member, I am always keen to listen to the artist before the “main” act because it gives more insight into what kind of music they like and who they want to support.
A support act should be matched to the main artist so the entire evening gels into one grand experience. Contrast is okay, but if it conflicts with the overall vibe, it can change the entire atmosphere. Sharing the evening also makes ticket sales something you do together rather than putting the pressure on someone else to pull their fan base along.
It is not the venue’s responsibility to set up a night for you.
I get a lot of emails from young bands wanting to “support” at The Newsagency. It’s a completely vibe-less situation if two bands are performing when they haven’t ever communicated/met before the gig.
Listen to and contact artists you like on Triple J Unearthed or even better – start going to live shows of bands you think would be a good match for your show. Networking with other musicians/bands will get you much further than contacting a venue. Some of my best muso mates I’ve played with are as a result of being out at live gigs. You gotta be in the scene to be seen!
Set a goal of how many people you want to come to the show. I’ve worked enough telemarketing jobs in my time to know that positive energy and having a goal is the absolute KEY to success. Most venues have a minimum amount of people they need to show up for them to cover their costs so this is always a good goal to start with.
If the venue doesn’t already handle it – set up a pre-sale site. This is a great tool because it gives you something to link to on social media AND people will commit to coming.
- Write a press release: If you don’t know how, just Google it – Or if you’re lucky enough to have a friend who is press-savvy get them to do it!
- Have a good press shot (no, an Instagram selfie does not count).
- Get a poster printed to put up around local cafes and, in particular, at the venue.
- Send your press release to blogs/newspapers/radio stations. Look or ask where other artists of your style of music and fan base have sent their press release as an idea of where to send it.
- Create a Facebook event and invite all your friends, but never assume the people who say “yes” to the event will actually come. It is a great way to update everyone and generate awareness of your show but not an accurate gauge of attendance.
- Create a mailing list.
- Make sure at least your mum, dad, brother, sister, uncle or cousin twice-removed knows about the show so at least SOMEONE will be attending.
Make good art
Once you’ve got everything confirmed and you’re busy promoting the show it’s time to get back to WHY you booked this gig in the first place: THE LOVE OF MAKING MUSIC.
Have a few rehearsals with your band (or even with yourself if it’s a solo gig) so your set sounds SCHMICK for your audience.
I like to work out my set-list well in advance – sometimes even roughly working out what I’ll say between songs. (If I don’t plan, I tend to ramble off into something I probably should be sharing with a Lifeline counsellor, not a room full of people who’ve come to listen to me sing).
It’s completely natural to be inspired/influenced by the artists you love, but it’s TOTALLY boring for the audience to sit through a regurgitation of something they’ve heard before.
Get to know your voice &/or instrument. Identify your strengths/weaknesses and use them to your advantage.
The more you know your instrument, the less likely you’ll have to rely on external influences to perform well. The shows I’ve enjoyed the most at The Newsagency are by artists who are completely comfortable with who they are on stage. Their voice isn’t affected by trying to be Bob Dylan, Bon Iver or Amy Winehouse.
True artists don’t try to achieve false notions of “what people want to hear” or “how they’ll be discovered”. There’s an emotional honesty at work that can only be mastered through self-awareness, love and passion for their art. It’s past an idea of who an artist wants to be and is simply who they are.
I’m interested in sharing and being in a live moment that no-one outside the room will ever be a part of. Once the show is over, it will never happen again. That should be precious, whether you’re an artist, venue owner or fan.
Above all, ENJOY EVERY MOMENT: the mundane tasks leading up, (potential) hiccups that happen along the way, rehearsals, and of course being up on stage doing what you love while sharing it with people who love what you do.
Oh… and always be on time for sound check – you don’t want to piss off the person who’ll make sure you sound better live than you do in your bedroom.
Published in collaboration and with the permission of The Newsagency