Yes, it is so important to play as often as possible. It is also just as important to make sure you play rooms that help move your career forward. Once again this topic requires you to review your long-term goals and keep them in mind as you tackle every new aspect of your career. In this case, selecting appropriate venues can be challenging but rewarding. The challenge lies in that there are a finite number of venues where one may play and an infinite number of other acts competing for those venues. The reward is realized when you begin to qualify the venues you choose to play, in order to fulfill your commitment to reach your career goals. This is a different way of approaching booking.
Keeping your career goals in mind, consider the following factors each time you approach booking a gig:
Know your audience.
I think this is the overwhelmingly most important thing a band can do, understand and know their audience. When you know your audience, you are able to immediately determine whether one specific venue is right over another. For example: Is your audience more likely to be downloading songs from iTunes or listening to NPR?
If you think you should be playing at the one and only club downtown that starts most shows at 11 pm, and you’ve noticed your audience is generally between the ages of 25-50, your audience may not follow you into that venue. If on the other hand, the age demographic of your audience is 17-25, then attempting to book yourself in the club downtown may be appropriate.
Consider the following factors:
Age- A majority of people in the 25-50 age group have considerations that influence their decisions for late night entertainment such as, family and children, early work days, availability of discretionary funds, desire for creature comforts like soft-seat theaters. Those in the 17-25 age group may not have the constraints as above. Late night start times may not impact their day schedule as much. They also may not be as concerned with seating or a non-smoking environment.
Time- When are you at your best? If late night starts to impact you and your ability to perform at your best, certain venues may be wrong for you. If your audience is more of the 8 pm crowd, they just won’t be there for the second show starting at midnight. If there is such demand, do a second night rather than two shows on the same night. Perhaps schedule a matinee or early evening show and then an 8 pm show later the same day.
Types of rooms – Are your fans accustomed to standing for a show or sitting? If your fans are used to sitting for shows and people know that a particular venue never provides seats, your audience won’t appreciate seeing your show there and ticket sales will slump. If, in your attempt to play a bigger, hip venue, but your audience is not used to seeing you in that type of venue, you may also lose sales.
In an attempt to raise the profile of one of my acts, we decided to work with a promoter who chose to put the act in a room unlike any the act had ever played before. All of the above factors came into play. The room was wrong for the artist, and the ticket sales were poor. The promoter did not understand the act’s audience and their method of promotion and choice of venue proved that fact.
When you are just beginning to tour and book gigs, consider your music and the type of fan the music will attract. Who do you think your audience will appreciate your act-narrow it down? It is not helpful to simply say, “I think everyone would like my music.” Do yourself a big favor and be specific. If your music is similar to another act, check out their audience, see which venues they are playing. Who consistently buys tickets to their shows?
Knowing your audience can influence the type of venue in which you chose to perform. Even when you have identified your fans to be the ones who will buy tickets for a standing show starting at 11 pm, some venues may be chosen simply as stepping stones and others may be recognized as showcase clubs. You might want to use the stepping stone venue for a while to create that “buzz” and get a following. When it comes to career movement, though, it is important to identify the important clubs in major markets. A showcase club is one where people in the industry are likely to be scouting for new acts and where media, print, and radio, are likely to attend to write reviews and promote a new artist. Wetlands in New York City is such a club.
If your audience is of the soft-seat theater variety, you must use a similar tactic of selecting the right theaters as you build your audience on your way to playing the select theaters. You might be playing university performing arts centers and community centers at first with the goal of playing much larger concert halls and eventually outdoor sheds.
Where do you want to play?
Are you comfortable in bars or theaters, intimate house concerts or concert halls? Once you’ve determined who your audience is, determine the best space to present the music you perform according to your goals and comfort level. This pre-determination helps eliminate a lot of unnecessary phone calls. Now you can concentrate on the appropriate venues according to your goals, your audience, and your preferences.
Begin to call each appropriate venue to establish a relationship with the booking person at the venue and decide whether this particular venue is right for your act
Details to consider:
Capacity- are you ready for the room? Is the room too large or too small? Have you ever sold out a room that size? Prior to calling a venue, research the venues by using some of the available directories such as Pollstar’s Concert Directory or Club Directory; Musician’s Atlas; Billboard’s Musician’s Guide to Touring and Promotion or many of the online gig directories. Each of these directories will list the venue, address, phone, email, contact, capacity, type of music presented and submission policies. By evaluating each venue before calling, you may determine which ones will suit your act and which ones are just not right. Make a note of the ones that may be perfect in a year or two so you include them as ones to get back to later.
Stage size- Often this may not matter. In some instances, knowing this information when you begin discussions with the booking person may help you decide if you can fit your entire six-piece group with a drum kit, keyboards, and all the other players comfortably on stage or not. If you can’t fit and the stage configuration is not flexible, then this venue may be wrong for your act. Always keep in mind that you want a situation to showcase your act at its best. Move on to another venue when you run into an insurmountable obstacle. Try not to compromise the integrity of the performance.
Technical requirements- If you bring your own sound, lights, and engineer and the venue will accommodate you, then you are set in most rooms. If, however, you require sound and lights to be provided for you, checking the specifications offered by the venue can also be an important qualifying factor. If the venue does not have most or all of your required equipment, will they rent what’s necessary at their expense?
Budget and fee – Most clubs will determine the fee or the percentage they are willing to pay an act based upon the act’s prospective ticket selling capacity. An act in public demand commands better guarantees and percentages. I will discuss negotiating fees in another article. For now, I believe you understand the fact that known acts get better fees, and unknown acts have to build a track record of ticket sales in order to have more leverage to command, higher guarantees, and more advantageous percentages. It is not unreasonable, however, to ask the booking person for an approximate budget they might spend on a similar act. Most clubs will not offer this information, but you can determine such information by asking what other acts have they booked recently. When you have some knowledge of the other acts performing in your market, you can quickly get a sense of the kind of money the venue is spending on their talent. For instance, if the booking person names only major acts who are known to the general public and does not include any local or regional talent with whom you are familiar, you may see that you are out of your league. Unless you can persuade the booking person to include you as an opening act, it is unlikely that they will be booking your act. If, on the other hand, all the acts named are similar to yourself, local and regional, and you know what some of these bands are getting paid, you have a sense of the venue’s budget and may be confident of being booked for a similar fee.
Box office and ticket outlets- Is there a box office where one may purchase tickets in advance. Does the venue use outside ticket vendors? If the venue uses local businesses to sell their tickets, are these familiar and easily accessible to your audience. Are phone reservations possible? Knowing this will give you some advance indication of how the show is selling. This can give you some sense of how the advance promotion is going and you can work with the venue to increase the promotion when advance ticket sales are slow.
Door sales- When there are no box office sales, then tickets are usually sold at the door. Who collects the money? Does the venue provide a door person to collect the money or can you provide your own person? In many situations, having someone working for you at the door that you trust can mean a great difference in the amount of money you make. You get to determine who is a guest and who is not. If you are unable to insist on your own door person, make sure you can have your own person at the door checking the count.
Advertising and Promotion- What kinds of advertising does the venue do? What is the advertising budget for each act or for each week? Many rooms only place strip ads in the local papers in the entertainment section that comes out once a week. Will your act get enough attention by this means of advertising? Is the venue willing to do more? What other forms of promotion can you expect? When you are an opening act, make sure you are included in all promotion and advertising. Ask about the proposed advertising budget to determine how it will impact upon your final fee.
Hospitality- Will the venue provide meals, refreshments or housing? Some of these things may help make doing this gig possible. If you are not getting a large guarantee or are playing for a percentage of the door, having a hotel room or rooms provided by the venue may help your budget. Similarly, knowing that a meal will be provided rather than again having to spend your own money on means is another budget-saver. Ask the booking person these questions when entering into a negotiation.
These few items will assist your decision-making process when determining which venues are right for your act and which are not. Some rooms you will grow into over time, others are simply to be crossed off the list. When you approach your bookings with this method of evaluating each venue, you are once again making your determination by using facts rather than feelings, research rather than impetuousness. Just as each venue booking person will attempt to qualify you and determine whether you are right to perform in their room, you now have some tools to equalize the process and be pro-active rather than reactive. Sometimes playing the wrong room can do more to stall or thwart your efforts to reach your career goals. Qualifying each venue will save you time, effort and money and boost your career to the next desired level.
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 https://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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