Booking Gigs: Top 5 Elements to Booking a Killer Show

Okay, so maybe you don’t really understand what goes into booking gigs for yourself. This one is a bit long-winded, so strap in.

Lets take a look at the elements that are important to really setting up a show, and getting the maximum amount of people in the crowd. I’ll try not to focus to heavily on subjective or situational things and focus more on no-brainer must-have’s for a show to not only run smoothly, but start to work for you instead of the other way around:

5. Similar bands: out-of-towners, crowd bringers, and first-timers

When trying to find bands to perform, keep things safe, find similar genre bands and use better judgement to build a better bill. It is important to include everybody in your surrounding area. For example playing too often with the same people, though fun and great for making friends, can become stale for audiences, who will expect the same show every time. Save those kinds of gigs for touring. A good recipe for building a worthwhile bill for your band is as follows:

Gig A = Gig B + Larger Fan Base + XP for New artists

If you set up Gig A, you need to bring a band from out of town who can trade you for Gig B, this will maximize efficiency of the work you put in, and gives you one more contact in the industry. It can be difficult to find people who will do the work to bring you to their town on a bill, so make sure you are talking to the right self-starters who can make things happen. You can check if they have the grit by seeing what kinds of shows the outfit has done in the past, where they have played, who they have played with, and whether or not they have hosted other bands before. General Note: if they are “headlining” a show bill, create their own fliers (you can tell), or have a notice-able working relationship with a venue then the requirements for a consistent and fruitful relationship are usually fulfilled.

The second band you bring in should be from your immediate area. Give them the grace of being second to last, or even last to perform, depending on your strategy for the night, to get the most out of the audience they will bring. Obviously, pick a similar music, with a actual fan base, and numbers should be better instantly. An actual fan base is one that is natural and comes consistently to support the music. Facebook likes, while important for recognition of size and scope of the artists, do not necessarily mean that the group will bring 5000+ to the next show. Or even 5+ to the next show. So be sure to scout the group before you decide to share the stage.

The third group you bring if you can manage to find any, should be a new or upcoming artist, from the area or from out of town. From the area supports local music, but out of town gives the aliens a chance to gain some “tour” experience.

4. Guarantees’: don’t play for free, take control of the door

It can be the most stressful thing to make money in the underground, and chances are you won’t be able to cover your gas most of the time. When you don’t get paid it can become more and more difficult to muster up the courage to continue to do what you love; overhead costs can be a band killer if you let it reach that point. The fair payment of musicians is a difficult thing to negotiate, but that is exactly what you have to do. Any honest venue will be able to pay you for the show, its pure supply and demand. They make more money off of bar-snacks and drinks during a show than they would during the slow time, so make that point abundantly clear. Trading for a free-meal and one comp’d drink can only go so far. The relationship between you and the venue is entirely professional, you are bringing business so they should share the cut.

Some venues require you pre-sell tickets, while this is a good way to insure that people will come, it does not always work in favor of the band. Never buy the tickets yourself to play. This pay-to-play method is predatory on bands, especially younger ones trying to get started. The venue can cover its overhead and you will get a percent of the sale, but if you don’t legitimately sell the tickets, then there is no reason to be at the show, because there is no one in the audience.

When the venue doesn’t budge, either move on to another venue, or my favorite (and true to the DIY spirit) take control of the door. Invest in wrist bands/stamps, and bring a security team, to make sure everyone pays their fair share. The cost of the show should be based on location, who is coming out, how far they have to go, and what the expected outcome of the show is. Simple enough to calculate. Total Gas (all bands) + length of set+setup (all bands) + cost of venue/ # expected guests = Cover charge. The practical application of which is also simple, using the model above for the killer show bill here is what the numbers might look like:

Out-of-towners Crowd-bringers First-timers You





Set (20-45 minutes)










Calculating cost of the set: minimum wage • number of band members • fraction of hour(including setup 15 min., performance, tear-down 15 min.)     [$10 • 4 members • 1.0 hour = $40]

$110+$55+$45+60= $270 = Cost of gas, length of setup and show

$20/hour @ 4.35 hours = $87 = Venue over head cost

Total overhead/guest turnout (50 people)

$270 Bands + $87 Venue / 50 people = $7.14 per person

Rounded to $7.00 per ticket pre-sale and $7.50 at the door.

Covers can be a deterrent to audiences (at first most of the people attending your shows are going to be between the ages of 13-25). But covers are necessary to the overall cost of the show. If you plan on performing in front of 50 people, a small crowded room, at a local show, then the most you can expect to make on a reasonable bill is somewhere around $60 to either pay the band mates or put into your band fund.

These numbers are solely based on the performance of groups and does not reflect the potential cost of a show, you still have to think about promotion, security and who is managing the show/stage, (they need to be paid too). A more in-depth look at the cost of a show can be found here.

3. Promotion: fliers, promoters, ground-work, social media, band members duty

The easiest way and most cost efficient way of promoting a show is sharing the hell out of it on social media. There is no reason why every band member shouldn’t be doing this on the regular to get the most attention, while I do not condone promotion by paying for more views through social media outlets, it can be helpful in a time crunch to get the attention.

If you can find a good one, use a local promotion company to get the attention needed, they can help make/put up fliers and sell tickets for a portion of the show cost. Also very helpful if you are going out of town and need to find someone the locals can trust to bring good music to the area.

The sturdiest and least used tactic, and also the most widely abused in the city especially is to paste fliers allllllllll over, put them in car windows at the mall, bastardize the light-posts at your local college, use music shops to bring like minded individuals to shows, stand in front of grocery stores, parking lots, heavy traffic areas where locals hang out, and give away all your fliers. Its hard to gauge how effective this method is. I regularly ignore fliers that are both eye-sores and do not provide sufficient details about what is going to be happening, so be sure to keep the details in mind.

If you can not figure out how to make a flier, have someone else help you that has some experience, or check out the link here to gain more insight as to how to make one.

2.Scheduling: show manager, security, loading/unloading, start and stop before the cops can get you.

If you can manage a band, you can manage a show. Its the same basic principle and can be quite thrilling, though stressful if things don’t pan out the way you imagined. A show manager is someone who will direct the bands, security, and interact with venue officials to keep the location under control. This person is responsible for the minutiae of the show: who gets paid what, where the money is stored, when the show needs to start, and end and what methods are used for those trying to milk the stage to get off. This person should be paid for their efforts generously, unless you have a significant enough relation ship with everyone around you that group-think can get things done. How a show manager looks at a show.

You need to be sure to have security to break up any fights, deal with drunkards and petty quarrels. They should be paid for the hours they work for the night and should be some of the last people to leave. Ideally the venue will take care of this, but if you do not know ahead of time, which is rare, then bring a few of your own and make sure they can handle a crowd. (Crowd surfing isn’t really a problem in the underground scene, but high-school drama tends to follow shows pretty well).

Don’t start the show late if you know you are going to be shut down. A few civic mandates provide that residential areas need to get quiet at 10pm, so dont start a show at 8 if you expect to have 4 or 5 bands play a bill. Alway calculate the time needed. At businesses, or in industrial areas, it is easier to get away with noise so long as the right permitting exists and it is expected of the venue.

1. (This is the most important one and I saved it for last) NOTICE.

Its going to be a literal shit-show if there is no audience and not enough time to promote and work out the numbers for each individual venture. Every show is different and should be treated as such. Which is why it is important to give adequate time to plan for them. Give your self as much time as possible to be able to account for audience showing up. If they know 2- 3 months in advance then it is a great deal easier for them to find time off work and school. These schedules are ideal and it will give your audience, your band, and the required people to be present for the ordeal. 2 months is the sweet spot for shows to stay in peoples’ memory, get tickets sold, find the security, find the show manager, figure the numbers for overhead, and make sure bands can still make the gig. The whole “2-weeks notice” does not really go over so well with band members who will regularly forget to request the time off of work, or have prior engagements to attend to. Do not play any under promoted show last minute unless you want to be disappointed. Again two-weeks is not enough, 1 month is rarely enough, and the time you waste will cause distress and make for an uncomfortable performance and bring down the band’s spirits.


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