With such a healthy live music scene in Australia at the moment, it’s important for any band who is at least semi-serious about making music to be able to play live.
Once you’re practiced and ready to bring your sounds to the masses, there’s just one last thing you have to do before you’re on that stage: and that’s book your first ever show.
Many bands find contacting venues just a daunting as playing live itself, but don’t fear- we’ve chatted to some of the best bookers from across Australia who were kind enough to impart some wisdom and help guide you through your first ever booking experience.
Josef Muller is the Entertainment Manager at The Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney and General Manager of Nathan Farrell Entertainment (NFE). Outside of The Lansdowne Hotel, NFE also programs The Newtown Festival as well as Sydney venues The Basement and Marble Bar, they also manage several artists including Thundamentals and JONES Jnr.
Harry Moore is a booking agent at 123 Agency, who focus on getting shows (both small and large) for their roster of Australian talent. Some of the acts Harry works with personally are Jakubi, Luca Brasi and Timberwolf.
Sam Arthur is the head booker of new Melbourne based venue The Catfish. Previously she has been the assistant booker at The Espy and The Tote, and also currently books a number of independent acts as well as weekly shows at The Old Bar.
Mitch Exton the head booker for The Fans Group, a Brisbane based company who book venues Alhambra Lounge, The Brightside, The Rev, festivals The Blurst Of Times, and Stranded Island as well as numerous other events.
Research Is Always The First Step
Before you start playing you’ve gotta do your homework.
Josef: “Do your research and figure out the most appropriate venue(s) for your band to play based on your particular situation. Ask yourself:
– ‘Are you ready to play a show?’
-‘Where do your friend’s bands play?’
-‘Can you get a support slot with one of them?’
– ‘Are you able to pull a crowd already?’
– ‘Can your band sell tickets, or is it better to play a free show somewhere?'”
Sam: “Before you contact anyone go out and meet bands, socialise and go to different venues, see what music they put on, see if your band will ‘fit’ the bill.”
Have Show Ideas Ready To Go
Preparation is vital when getting through to a booker.
Harry: “When pitching your band to a booker give them reasons why they cannot say no to you, however don’t shoot yourself in the foot at same time. Fill them in with support options, what numbers you can confidentially pull, what promo are you doing and how you will action it.”
Be Honest And Realistic
Nothing more depressing than an empty room and nothing worse than a delusional band
Harry: “Decide which venue is right for you, and when deciding you need to be 100% honest and realistic. Do you believe you can fill the room? There is nothing wrong booking small/intimate venue and start climbing the ladder. Generally I find bands have better time playing more intimate shows as its a better vibe and its always a great feeling to slap ‘SOLD OUT’ on the venue/poster.”
Mitch: “There’s no point aiming to do a headline slot on a Saturday night at a 400 person venue, if you can only bring 50 of your mates. It’s bad for the venue and it’s not a good look for your band either. Play the right shows and don’t play too often, and keep yourself desirable. Nobody’s going to want you for shows if you’re playing every week or two; it dilutes your ability to bring a crowd and doesn’t give your act the credibility you want. If you play every single show you can, people care a lot less”
Email Etiquette Is Incredibly Important
First impressions count, even if they’re digital.
Sam: “In emails be short and sweet – long emails are a pain, but always make sure they read well. Also make sure you address the actual booker. If you have a number of members in your band get a band email address and assign a person in the band to undertake the responsibility to book and organise shows, don’t spread it round, things get messy.”
Josef: “You want to sell yourself without bullshitting. The majority of venue bookers will be able to see through that anyway. The more info you can include the better – but remember that amongst the blizzard of emails that most venue bookers receive, less is usually more.”
Mitch: “Don’t harass people for shows. It’s good to be keen for a gig, but bands should give people the information, and let them decide for themselves. Your product might not suit certain venues, and you need to be understanding of that. You should also be flexible. If someone’s asked you to play a show, try to work with them on it. You don’t want to get a reputation for being hard to work with.”
Know Your Dates
Double booking or cancelling is a really good way to piss off a venue booker.
Sam: “Propose at least 3-4 different dates well inside the proposed time of the show, give yourself at least a month to be organised (venues are often booked out over a month in advance, so give yourself time to properly publicise the show). Only email one booker at a time for a show. You don’t want to double book yourself and waste your time and theirs. Every band in the world has played their first show, so don’t be scared to email the right venue for your band”
Don’t Be Afraid To Get On The Phone
Sometimes having a simple old chat can be better than email.
Harry: “Once you have decided to what venue you to play at get on the phone and make it happen. Sending a blanket of emails is time consuming and not personal enough. If you don’t have a number for a booker, find someone who does and contact them. Chatting on the phone is more personal, you are building a relationship with the venue and things get done a lot quicker.”
Make Sure Bookers Can Find You Online
It’s hard to get booked if you’re invisible
Sam: “Make sure you have a clear and easy to access social media profile: a detailed Facebook page with live videos, pics and streaming links either via Soundcloud or Bandcamp is ideal. Demos are fine, bookers just need to be able to see you, hear you and view how well you publicise yourself.”
Promo Is Mandatory
No promo, no show-mo.
Josef: “Be really clear about what the venue needs from you promo wise, what they will handle and what you need to look after yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are unsure of stuff. More often than not the burden of responsibility is on the artist/agent/promoter to do the work and bring people to the show. So be creative and hustle to get as many people to come as you can.”
Harry: “Promo is the most important thing when putting on a show! Have your artwork ready and have everything in place and hit the big red button. Old school promo you cannot go wrong with it- do a poster run, send posters to the venue, get your friends down etc. Also make sure you have a strong online presence. Facebook spend is always a great option, event pages etc. Use all social media platforms to spread the love. What you put in is what you get.”
Sam: “Tell bookers how you’re going to publicise the show with your plan or checklist of what you will do, and make sure you actually do these things! We understand you don’t have advertising budget $1000, we just want to see that you’re committed to the show.”
Use Your Imagination/ Do It Yourself
If you want something done, you can always do it yourself.
Josef: “Play shows at house parties, in parks, warehouses, community halls, bowls clubs, on the street etc. And invite all of our mates and have them invite all of their mates.
Most importantly, make an effort to go and see other bands play as often as you can. Not just the International bands that tour, but the bands from your own city. Introduce yourself to the bands. Bring your mates. Talk about the stuff you like, the stuff you’ve seen and the stuff that’s coming up. And hope that when it comes your turn to play a show, somebody else will do the same.”
Once The Show Is Over…
With limited venues getting call backs is always important.
Mitch: “Realise that you’re an investment. Pretty much every venue you play at wants you there for one reason – to make money off you. Whether it’s ticket sales or drink sales, you’re an attraction to bring in the coins.
If you’re pitching for a show, make sure that you let the venue know what you’re capable of giving to them, and once you’re playing it, make sure you follow through and show them you’re a worthy investment; they’re much more likely to have you back.”
Harry: “After the show look back and what went well and what didn’t. The things that didn’t go well, look to improve on. Always strive to do better. Lastly go out and support the local scene/bands as you are a part of it!”