How to think like a club booker is very different from the thought processes of Performing Arts Presenters. The folks that book clubs, work on a much shorter booking time-frame, and have different concerns that drive their bookings.
Years ago I wrote a column for Gig Magazine that was a series of interviews with club bookers across the country. My goal was to get into their thought process around how they select their acts and what kind of marketing materials helped them make their choices. As a result of that research along with my own booking experience, I have some helpful insights I’d like to share with you.
- Clubs book on a short time frame, 4 weeks to 2 months out sometimes and often, if a hot act has an open date, the time frame may even be last minute. This makes it challenging for an act trying to do any long-term tour planning. Here is where a handy strategy of placing a hold on a date might be useful. It creates a relationship-building opportunity with the booker and forces you to keep in touch often.
- Since many clubs have multiple shows each week, they need to make sure their “money-nights,” Thursday-Saturday are winners. They use these nights to help pay their bills, so these are not nights they are willing to take a chance on an untested act. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a national touring act, regional or local favorites are fine as long as they sell tickets, food and bring in healthy bar revues. Keep in mind, that for many clubs, they make their money from the bar and possibly the food, so they are interested in getting a crowd that drinks and eats, but are not wedded to the specific group, just that they bring in the crowd. This sets up a dynamic, played out in so many clubs where the competition for gigs is at a fever pitch, driving band fees down.
- Filling the calendar in a timely manner to meet ad deadlines is a driving force for the booker’s schedule. You may find they are more willing to “see who’s coming through town” toward the beginning of the month and then they set their dates rapidly as the calendar deadline approaches. You may find them more non-committal during the early part of the month because of this, but if you wait until the later part of the month, you may just find them booked. Again, here’s where placing a hold on specific dates may prove to be a valuable tool.
- Many clubs look to the week nights as a place to test new acts. If you have a growing following, you are more likely to get a more favorable night and work your way into one of the “money nights.”Developing local talent tends to be something that many club owners and bookers love to do, especially when there is an inkling of a future for the act. Acts that fall into this category would be wise to discuss a regular night multiple times a month to foster this audience-building process. Clubs will be in the forefront of developing a new act when the potential exists for regional and then national growth.
- They want to know you have marketing tools and plans in place to help with any shows you do in the area. Most clubs do minimal marketing for individual acts. If you have a good mailing list and put it to use, that will be a plus for consideration. You have to leverage your pro-active marketing actions to help you stand out from the competition.
So what can you do to make your act more attractive now that you know how to think like a club booker?
- Pay attention to any programs offered by the club for developing acts. Some have open-mic nights, others have a hierarchical method of growing the talent by strategically placing new acts early in the evening and as their audience grows, moving them up to more prime-time night slots. The Bluebird Café in Nashville used to use this process to develop acts. Participate in these programs if you are new to the club.
- Develop your audience fan-base in each new market and use your numbers of fans to leverage your value in each market. Club bookers appreciate a growing fan-base. To do this, use your social networks and email lists to nurture your fan-base. Make sure you share how many people on your list live in the area around the club. These numbers may mean more food and drinks sold along with tickets.
If there is a specific club you want to play, begin playing house concerts around the area to build some loyal support from local fans. Once your fan list is larger, then approach the club. Numbers speak volumes.
- Track and share your numbers from past performances in the area. Remember how much merchandise you sold last time you came through town at this club or any others you’ve played.
- Offer to be on hand early enough to do radio interviews at appropriate stations or phone interviews prior to coming to town. Marketing for club dates is often left to the act. If you rely on the club for the majority of your marketing, you may be disappointed with the shared strip ad listing multiple acts for the month. Be creative and willing to share marketing ideas that might create an interesting, unusual performance night. Whatever clever marketing pitch you can add to increase media attention or audience awareness will work in your favor to build your value to the venue and the area.
- Make sure your set-up doesn’t require any unnecessary expense or actions on behalf of the club or their technical staff. If you have unusual back-line needs, carry those with you or rent it on your own and be pro-active in creating an easy load-in, set-up and sound check.
Club bookers are juggling many more dates than performing art centers. With a possibility for a different act six perhaps seven nights a week, the potential for reaching a club booker when they are busy is very likely. Prepare your pitch, send appropriate materials that are easy to read through and listen to and be prepared to make multiple calls to develop your relationship. Be aware up-front that when you meet with a harried voice on the other end of the phone, it’s not about you, but the relentless pressure from the job. Be accommodating, plan your call-back time and be vigilant but not obnoxious. If you don’t land your optimum date first time around, keep at it and plan for the next tour through the area. Remember, it’s all about building the relationship and demonstrating that you can bring in paying customers.
Once you know how to think like a club booker, your success booking clubs will be so much greater.
Have you considered the above factors when trying to book your club dates? What has your experience been booking clubs?
Leave me a comment below or on the Performingbiz Success Strategies Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/PerformingbizSuccessStrategies.
I can’t wait to hear about your success.
Thanks to Carol Ehrlich for this week’s Biz Booster graphic image, “How To Think Like A Club Booker.”
Now, Thanks to the Band Curfew from the UK for providing the Biz Booster theme Music, Future Dance. Check them out at www.curfew.co.uk
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