How to Book the Right Band for Your Venue

Posted by Mike Cherlow on May 2, 2014 10:16 AM


Guest post by Mike Cherlow, music coordinator for Ruhlman Brewery and the Concert at the Creek.

There are plenty of bands out there that want to perform, but finding the right band for your venue and your particular audience is crucial. If you have an established location with a built-in crowd, congratulations – you are exceedingly lucky. But if you’re a young venue trying to grow a crowd, that can be a lot tougher.

When you’re putting together a show, there are several ways you can go about searching for talent – and some methods are more efficient than others. If you’ve got a strong music industry network, you can try sending emails or making phone calls to get personal recommendations. Searching for bands on Craigslist may help turn up some leads, but be prepared to listen to a lot of bad submissions from random people. If you have any great local music venues in your area and are willing to put in the time, you could go to several shows to try and find a band you like.

Personally, I’ve found that one of the best ways to book bands is by using Sonicbids. It helps curate submissions and allows me to contact bands directly when they’re actively looking for gigs. It’s kind of like going to all those shows without having to spend so much on your bar tab!

I used Sonicbids to help book a whole season of shows and an entire music festival, so I can tell you from personal experience that it makes things a whole lot easier for promoters and talent buyers. You can sort your submissions by genre, see which bands you’ve talked to and which you haven’t, and you can easily let a band know that they didn’t make the cut. My tried-and-true method of booking the best bands for my shows is to combine recommendations from people in my network with bands that I’ve discovered on Sonicbids.

However you choose to find your talent, a big part of securing the band depends on the compensation you offer. Some venues pay bands a flat fee and hope for the best, others pay based on whether the band generates a crowd, and some split the difference. There are advantages and disadvantages to all these.

Paying bands a flat fee

If you have the money, this is a better way to go in my humble opinion. Paying a flat fee usually means that you’re going to draw more established bands that are past the point of playing for tips. These bands tend to be better and more professional. They will likely have a manager, or at least a consistent point person that you’ll be dealing with. Be sure to treat these guys like the pros they are, and give them the respect they deserve. However, it doesn’t hurt to be a little cautious of their crowd turnout estimates. There’s a chance they might be padding their estimated draw to get the gig, so take whatever number they give you and divide it by two. If they turn out to be correct, all the better for everyone. Gauge your payment schedule accordingly.

Paying bands based on draw

We do this for some of the shows at my venue. It lowers the financial risk for the venue and motivates the bands to do a lot of advertising on their own behalf. Sometimes this works out really well, and the bands turn out a great crowd. But other times, this method can lead to a nearly empty house. So how can you help? Treat these bands like pros as well and assist them with advertising. By helping the band turn out a crowd, you help yourself too: even if you’re giving them 100 percent of the door, you’re still keeping what you make at the bar. So get people in and sell them beer!

Hybrid payments

There are several hybrid systems of paying bands. Some give them a small guarantee and a portion of the door, some give them the door and a portion of the bar, and some give them a flat fee and a portion of the bar. Any of these systems can allow you to book more established bands and also mitigate your financial risk as a venue.

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Topics: Music Business 101, Booking Gigs & Touring


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