Getting paid gigs for your unsigned band

Paid gigs. A dream? Maybe not.

OK this has to be one of the hardest things ever to achieve in an unsigned band, but there are things you can do to help yourself.

Firstly I believe acting professionally is worth the effort. It’s still rock and roll but there is no reason why your band cannot put on a businesslike face to the world whilst drinking like fish and trying to bed groupies.  So starting with that here are fourteen hot tips for helping your band get paid more money.

  1. Act professionally – Play well (doesn’t have to be note perfect but just bloody good) – Don’t get so drunk you can’t play, or pack away sensibly (I’ve seen a drunken guitarist pull the socket out of the wall at the end of a gig, nearly causing the band to be beaten up by bouncers as a result)
    Treat other performers, technicians, and customers with consideration (even if they are arseholes; and they sometimes are)
  2. Have an image – You’ve got a band name, and you have a style of music that you play, but make sure that your stage look fits that image, and that you have visually engaging promotional material e.g. posters etc.
    A good looking logo will make more desirable merchandise as well.
  3. Have a website – I know that many people look to the internet to verify a business’ credentials. If you call a venue looking for a gig they will probably open up a browser and find your website while they chat to you. If it is a Myspace profile they won’t be as impressed as if it is a proper website with a long list of gigs already booked and maybe some interaction in the guestbook.
  4. Get a promo pack sorted – A promo pack is for venues and promoters. It should include a large photograph, a sample poster, a CD with three or four full tracks as well recorded as you can achieve, a SINGLE A4 sheet with a band biography and booking requirements, and a stage plot.
  5. Get a media pack sorted – A media pack is for press and radio, it should contain a brief biography, punchy statements about the band (e.g. fan quotes, media quotes, your own outrageous claims, etc.) some high resolution images for publication (300 dpi) You will be amazed how often a journalist has some column inches to fill and will be only too grateful for your ready made copy.
  6. Build a fan base – Your income is entirely dependant on your fans. Hold on like grim death to every one. You don’t have to promise them free drinks at gigs or free entry either. Just pay attention to the first ones, and start to build a database of new ones as they come along. Welcome each and every new “like” on your Facebook page with a personal message. If it is a friend, then tag them in the post, and say something nice about them or link to their website or band page if they have one.
    Try to get their contact details at gigs, (one very successful promoter I know asks every person attending his gigs to fill in their name, mobile number, and email address, on a sheet of lined paper. He has two or three clipboards with these forms at the entrance and he tells people it is a fire safety requirement to fill them in.) and keep adding them to your mailing list. Use free giveaways to get new genuine e-mail addresses, ties to geographical location.  Years from now the database will be like a gold mine. (Even if you quit the band and start a new one!)
  7. Try to use booking contracts – It must seem daunting to even think about asking a venue owner or promoter to sign a contract with you when you practically begged for the gig but from personal experience, having everything written down exactly what has been agreed, and what is NOT on the rider, is really worthwhile.
    Too many gigs I’ve booked, where I have had to go to the band and apologise because I thought we had agreed a minimum of £500 when in fact it was only £300 and either I remembered wrong or the promoter is a cheating scumbag. But if we fight about it now we will never get a booking there again.
    Any legal contract MUST benefit BOTH parties and not be one sided with all the clauses in one party’s favour. So if there is a late cancellation clause demanding payment to the band if the venue cancels, then there is also an expectation that the band will pay the venue if your drummer breaks his wrist punching the venue owner the night before. So word your contract carefully to be fair to both sides.
  8. Have a rider – Make it clear that the rider is completely negotiable but still ask. I would start with, at the very least, free beers for the band during the gig.
    My band had a rider which included accommodation, sandwiches and tea and coffee making facilities before the gig, a hot meal after the gig, and cases of Guinness, export lager, and local bitter.
    We didn’t get most of that most of the time but occasionally we did and it felt good.
  9. Value yourselves – Believe in your band and your music. Remember all the money you spent on instruments and maintaining them. Remember all the hours you spent writing, crafting, honing your songs. Practising them, fighting in the studio. All the money you spent on studio time, recording, and getting the press pack, media pack, website etc up and running. Lastly remember how long it took you to get to the venue, unload the van, set up the gig, and afterwards dripping with sweat, to take it all down and load out, and drive home or to a cheap hotel, and ask yourself, is that WORTH SOME DAMN MONEY???
  10. Don’t miss out on MERCH – Make sure the venue can facilitate your merchandise stall. If you have a wife, or girlfriend, or MUM even, who can sell your tee shirts and CDs at gigs then make sure they can. Ask the venue, it is important and shows them you are serious.
  11. Think outside the box – I can’t tell you how to do this because each idea is by nature inspirational, personal, and possibly has never been thought of before. Use your wild ideas to add a twist and make a gig more successful.
  12. Do deals with other bands – If you like a band that is a bit like you but comes from another town, why not try to set up a gig exchange. Give them a support slot at your local venue where you know you always sell out, in exchange for a support at their equivalent. Treat them with respect even though your band blows them off the stage you don’t have to act like it to their faces.
  13. Don’t rely on Facebook – Some people came to Led Zep Too’s first gigs because of contacts made on Myspace, but not all. Then Myspace went sour and nobody paid any attention to anybody else. Facebook took over but that can also be an unreliable tool. People say they like your band and they are coming to your gig, but then they don’t and you are surprised!
    You MUST get out on the streets and put up posters (legally), talk to people in real life, get your gig in the local gig  listings guides, and local papers, and do everything you can to get your gig seen by people that don’t do Facebook.
    Ever wonder why coca-cola advertise in newspapers, magazines, TV, Radio, internet, bus stops, billboards, cinemas, sides of lorries, show displays, schools, workplaces, and well, anywhere you can put an advert? It is because some people don’t look in certain places.
    (But don’t fly post, you will most likely get yourself a big fat fine from the council, and in some places e.g. Cambridge, your gig may well be cancelled by the venue)
  14. Remember the venue needs you – It is a live music venue. They rely on live music to bring punters in. Of course if you don’t bring any punters in then you are no better than a quiet night with the juke-box, but if you DO…. then you have the cookie.
    Any venue selling alcohol at commercial prices should be able to pay you about £2 per punter assuming you bring in more than about fifty people for a pub with a hundred capacity.
    So if you pack out your local pub to bursting point then you are worth a good couple of hundred pounds to the landlord!!!
    If there is a door charge this should, by rights, be ALL YOURS on TOP OF THAT.
    Sure, if you push it too hard you may not get the gig at all but if you don’t push at all you will continue to line his pockets while you go away with nothing for your trouble.
  15. Bypass the promoter – Sometimes you need a promoter, they are not all greedy leeches. In fact most of them are as much into the music as you are and often lose money on gigs. The best, make money for themselves and the band, because they do their job well. But a few just seem to put on gigs with three or four bands a night, playing to their mates, and the deal is you only get paid a percentage of the money IF you bring along fifty friends.
    Well think about it… if four bands bring fifty friends each that is 200 punters. If they each pay £3 you should end up with £600 between approximately 20 people; £30 each. You should be able to get a function room in a pub on the basis of you pay the full fee if nobody turns up, but you pay nothing if the place is at least half full.

If you follow these steps AND you have great songs which you can play really well then you have a much better chance of getting paid gigs than a band that doesn’t.

One last piece of advice DO NOT AGREE TO PAY TO PLAY. EVER!
Any venue that needs you to pay them for the privilege of entertaining their customers is not worth playing in.

Most unsigned bands have to accept not getting paid for gigs because they theoretically make their money from music sales and they are always trying to build new audience.
If someone offers you a slot at a festival in front of a guaranteed ten thousand audience but there is no money then take it. But if it is some little pub and most of the audience will be your mates then make sure you get paid something. PLUS FREE BEERS.


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