Being a gigging musician is an activity shrouded in mystic misconception. I surely wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but when my group took the stage for our first legitimate show back in 2007, I had no idea what I was doing. We hadn’t even recorded a song yet but I was certain we were destined for glory. My experience in the music business extended no further than plugging in my guitar and ripping through a sloppy progression of power chords and upstrokes.
For the first couple years, our promotional efforts went little further than hanging up a few flyers, texting friends the day of the show, and drinking excessive amounts of PBR in the van to ensure our on-stage antics were on-point. It took a few crash and burns to realize the game needed to be stepped up (most notoriously, being cut off by the sound engineer during our first cd release set for being too shitfaced on stage). Oh, the hardships of trying to be a punk rock band that is both functional and authentic.
With time, we gradually got better at things like promotion and came to embrace much of the overall professionalism of being a gigging musician. We learned to space out our local gigs, got out of town as much as our work and personal lives would allow, and stopped sneaking 30-racks backstage in the kick drum case.
It wasn’t until I landed a gig as a music editor, and then as a talent buyer at a local club, that I really understood what it takes to be a legit band. Maybe I’d been wearing blinders the whole time, but the benefit of seeing the industry from multiple angles really put everything into perspective.
I’d like to say I’ve learned a thing or two about the music business. The only thing that sucks is that now, in this line of work, I watch almost daily as musicians as young and naïve as I used to be attempt to put their dream of being the next NOFX (or, to be modern, perhaps the next TV On The Radio) into action while having no idea of how they are being perceived by the venues, bands, and media they encounter along the way.
So I wrote a book. It’s called So, You Have A Band, and the overarching theme is to give amateur musicians a look at what those on the other side of their emails and Facebook posts are thinking. What does a promoter want to hear and see from your group in order to get that slot opening for a national? How about the music writer at the local alt-weekly paper – how do you get her to take you seriously and review your EP?
In less than 200 pages, the book gives insight on many events and struggles a band will face in its early years, including:
How do we form a business, get a bank account, and copyright our material?
Something you’ll run into when gigging is venues that pre-cut a check to the name of the band. It can be a pain to cash that check without a business checking account for your group. We’ll talk about how to go about getting your music protected and yourselves right with the state.
How often should we play, where should we book, and what should we look out for?
Selective booking is key. There are a lot of scams and pay-to-play nonsense out there feeding on hungry young bands. It feels so good to give them the middle finger. Where does your favorite local band play? That’s where you should play.
Do we need a manager?
Simply put, the answer is NO. The last thing a promoter or talent buyer wants is a local band diverting their phone calls to the bass player’s dad or girlfriend. That is a surefire way to keep your band off good bills. If you can form a business, write songs, and show up on time for load-in, you can manage your band until a formal management opportunity presents itself. I’ll show you how to do that as well as how to go about things like. . .
Booking a DIY tour.
It’s honestly not that hard to do, but don’t go further than a few towns over until you have a local fan base that cares enough about your band to show up to the tour kickoff party. Focus instead on honing your craft.
What to do when someone quits, or there is a big problem within the group.
It can be a pickle, but if you write the band agreement well, a peaceful exit and replacement should be doable. I’ve got a sample agreement for you here.
Playing in a band is awesome, and will lead to some of the best times and best friends you’ll ever have. I wouldn’t trade the memories made on the road or the laughter and fun of weekly band practice for anything in the world. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you wouldn’t either. It’s not always easy, but growing a band is an incredibly rewarding experience. To keep the ball rolling, it’s important to plan ahead and go about your progression in a logical, well thought out pattern. Do it right and keep at it.
To learn more and grab a copy of So, You Have A Band, head here.
Words by Tim Wenger