You’ve chosen your touring market and selected the right venue, and now it has been a week, maybe two and the club booker is keeping you dangling. You know you could do well in this venue, and you really think it will work. You are so ready to play at this club, yet the Booker won’t make a commitment. Time marches on, booking opportunities slip away, adequate promotion time dwindles, and still you wait. How long is too long to wait for a gig commitment?
This is a challenging question that must be tackled each time you book a tour. Becoming emotionally attached and overly invested in landing a gig at one specific venue could be detrimental to your overall touring strategy. Even though certain clubs are important to play when making a push to the next level or attempting to gain media attention, you need a back-up plan in case that club is unwilling to work with you on your schedule. Not all cities have a variety of clubs suitable for your act. In most cases you may be lucky to find one. As you consider tour routing, travel distances, and likely new markets to include in the tour plans, attachment to playing a specific club occurs often, and we all fall into the trap. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming overly invested in venue selection.
- Use Deadlines –
Timing is an important factor to consider as you launch your booking campaign. Assuming you allow ample time to book your dates, (booking time frames are directly related to the type of performance venue being booked, clubs book ahead 6-12 weeks), assign deadlines to each venue attempted. The further out you begin your booking campaign, the more flexibility you have waiting for a commitment. Prepare yourself to move on by setting a timeline for each venue and state that deadline up front to the venue booker. For example, “I need to complete my booking by October 1 for this leg of the tour, if you could get back to be by September 19, I would appreciate it.” Or you may want to be less forthcoming and simply say, “I need to hear back from you by September 19.” Once the deadline is stated, there is less emotional attachment to the situation. You can take action when the deadline arrives if you haven’t heard from the Booker by making one last call for confirmation and if they say, “no,” then move on to another prospect. Before hanging up, remember to leave an opening for future dates. If you know that you’ll be touring through the area later that year, mention the time frame and suggest they place a hold on a future date. Now the plan is laid out for you before you even get close to panic time and have to begin scrambling to find a replacement date should this one not come through.
As you attempt to get your gigs reviewed, invite the music critic especially when you open for someone better known. They are very likely to have an interest in seeing the main act, but your invitation just might get them there early enough to finally catch your show. Again, as you keep your media contacts informed about upcoming gigs, they may eventually accept one of your invitations.
- The Guest List –
Once you’ve offered the invitation, make sure to have their name on your guest list. If your contact actually comes to the gig and finds they have to pay to get in, they may very well turn around and leave. The club may only offer you a few guest slots so plan your invitations wisely to accommodate everyone important to you. Don’t offer more invites than are stated in your contract. That’s irresponsible, unprofessional and shows a lack of respect for the club and demonstrates that you don’t read your contracts. If you want to invite additional guests, and you’ve reached your comp limit, you can check with the club booker and ask if your guest list could be expanded to accommodate a few more. If that is not possible, you could offer to buy the tickets for your important guests if they show up. It won’t matter to the guest how they get their tickets as long as they don’t have to pay for them. Let your intended guests know that their name is either on a guest list at the door or that tickets are waiting for them at the box office under their name as your guest.
- Plan Alternatives –
While researching potential gigs, gather information on multiple venues in the area. Begin preliminary contact with other venues that may prove valuable at some point. If there are larger venues in the area that you are really not ready to play yet, it doesn’t hurt to begin contacting them simply to get your name in front of the Booker. Ask which acts are booked around the time you are planning your tour. Perhaps there is an opening slot that your act could fill. If they already have your information, and you’ve begun talks with the Booker, calling these other venues when your choice gig falls through, won’t seem like a desperate act, but simply a follow-up call with your new availability. Having back-up alternatives places you in a pro-active position rather than a reactive one. Activating a contingency plan becomes part of your routine instead of an act of urgency.
When touring to cities with only a few venues or even one suitable venue, find nearby towns that could also be included in the routing without adding extended distances to the tour. Similarly, explore alternative venue types such as colleges, organizations, city or corporate events to add to the possibility of choices, increase your income and avoid an off night draining your travel budget.
Another benefit of having multiple venue options is to prevent needing to accept a gig when the terms are unacceptable. For instance, the gig you’ve been waiting for actually comes through. The booker offers the date, but the terms are unfavorable. You have the option of turning down the date if you have alternatives. When you stake your hopes on a single venue, then you have placed yourself in the position of having to accept the date or have nothing. As time passes and you become more desperate to fill the date, accepting the unacceptable may be necessary. Be careful not to set precedence for future negotiations with this booker. If they were able to wear you down by letting the time run out, this time, they may use that tactic with you on future dates. The inadequate terms under which they booked your act, this time, may set the standard for future bookings and make it very difficult for you to raise those standards.
I’ve often heard stories of frustration from artists who plan their tours with one venue in mind. They focus all of their attention on landing the gig at that one venue. Time passes, and they are upset by the lack of response coming from the Booker. At some point after your third call, you must heed the message the Booker is sending by not returning any of your calls. You need to either move on to other venues or change your approach and try a new contact method. Perhaps you’re leaving messages on a line that doesn’t go directly to the Booker, cross check your numbers with other directories to be sure. Ask other acts that have played the club for their contact number. Plan your options in advance. When I was booking my acts, if I hadn’t heard back from someone within four days to a week, I’d contact them again by placing another call or by email or fax. I try to maximize the possibility of reaching them by expanding the methods of contact without it seeming like a barrage of incoming messages. Some bookers have their preferred method of being contacted, try to adhere to it.
However, you manage your booking campaign, be pro-active by planning your strategy in advance. Set deadlines and give yourself options. Your tours will come together with less frustration and greater efficiency. Good luck.
And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to sign up for free weekly audio Biz Booster Hot Tip! Every Monday you’ll get another valuable strategy and technique that you can put to use immediately. You’ll find helpful books, career development seminars, Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secrets online course and information on booking tours, the music business and performing arts. It’s all waiting for you at http://www.performingbiz.com. Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician’s & Performing Artist’s Guide To Successful Touring, 3rd Edition.
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