So you’ve picked up an instrument or you sing, and you’ve decided try and get good at something truly worthwhile. You’ve spent countless hours practicing, writing, and yes, probably even posing or holding fake interviews with Rolling Stone in your basement. Your family and friends have attended a band practice or a house party and told you that you were the next big thing. It feels good, doesn’t it? And it should – it’s what you’ve always wanted, what you’ve always dreamed of.
But have you asked yourself what exactly your ultimate goal is? Have you decided what your personal definition of success is, and do you have a plan for getting there? And no matter which level you’re at, how do you know when you’re truly ready to perform?
Being a “successful” musician means something different for everyone, and there are many different levels at which it can manifest. For a lot of musicians, that might include:
- Playing mostly covers at private events (schools, weddings, churches, etc.)
- Playing at smaller, more intimate places such as coffeehouses
- Playing original music a couple of times a month at local venues, but not venturing too far from your home base
- Building up enough local notoriety to allow you to tour regionally and/or nationally
- Skipping everything above because you’re bigger and better than all that, and you know you deserve to headline a 1,000-capacity room
YEAH for the first four, OUCH for the last one!
After being a venue manager and talent buyer/booking agent for over 15 years in a major market, I can honestly tell you that bands fall in all five of those categories – and sometimes in the wrong ones.
So before you deem yourself worthy of getting out of your basement and gleefully embark on your first public gig, you must make sure that you know where you belong and if you can deliver. The checklist below only consists of the essentials, but in future articles we’ll dive deeper into the specifics on how to prepare for different kinds of gigs at different levels.
The Essential Gig Checklist
- Do you have a contract? Where is it? Have you read it? Have you signed it and sent it back to the purchaser (legalese for “the person who’s paying you”)? A handshake over a beer or a cup of coffee can sometimes be as real as a unicorn. Get it in writing.
- Are your covers airtight? Do you have enough and then some to completely fulfill your time agreement or requested music? It’s always a good idea to have more covers than you think you’ll need in your arsenal, because you just might end up needing them.
- Are you and your band members dressed appropriately for the gig? For instance, if you’re playing a church, ripped jeans and crop tops are not going to be the dress of choice.
- Do you have ALL the equipment you might need? When something breaks or the venue “thought they had one of those” but doesn’t, you’re going to be really glad you came prepared with backups. This is called “advancing” your show, and it’s a term that you must come to know and love. It’s essential that you know the expectation on the other end – but we’ll revisit this topic in a future article.
- How’s that traffic report? Did you find out if there’s parking near the location? What about public transportation? Planning these things in advance is key if you want to ensure that things go smoothly. Showing up an hour late because you couldn’t find parking is not how you want to start off your show. Not only will you be rushed and stressed, but it’s also going to make a pretty bad first impression on the venue manager.
- Do you have your business cards and merch? Whether you’re taking cash, credit cards, or both, make sure you bring some sort of merch bank to keep track of any sales you make. Also, bring a small suitcase to store all of this stuff. (Intimate venues won’t give you a whole lot of space for your merch and personal items.) Small vintage-looking suitcases are sold at many Goodwill and secondhand thrift stores – buy one for cheap and put stickers on it! It’s efficient and effective for your CDs and other cool, smaller merch. Plus, if you’re not provided with a merch table, you can sell your items out of it directly.
Jackie Just Indrisano is the venue manager and talent buyer at The Red Room @ Café 939. She has been working in the Boston music community for 15+ years. She has her M.Ed from Northeastern University and is also a nationally recognized speaker on the music conference circuit. The views expressed on this blog are solely hers because, well, she’s got a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to use it!