Booking Shows Locally: Tips From Venues and Talent Buyers

by Sam Logan on June 24, 2014

In my last post, I discussed the value of being a part of your own local music community. As a follow-up, I talked to a few venue owners and talent buyers to get their insights into how artists can get the most out of their local scene.

Be Good

Yes, this may be an obvious piece of advice. But you’d be surprised at how often artists spend more time worrying about things other than their music. Richard Sloven, talent buyer for the Knitting Factory – Brooklyn NYC  says:

Richard Sloven, Talent Buyer for The Knitting Factory

Richard Sloven, Talent Buyer for The Knitting Factory

“You can spend endless energy trying to come up with marketing gimmicks or spending money on PR, videos, recording, etc., but it doesn’t really mean anything if you aren’t good.”

Essentially, you need to be sure that your live product is as finely tuned as it can possibly be. None of the hard work spent promoting or packaging your music is worth a thing if you can’t capture someone’s attention in a live setting.
Mark Connor, talent buyer/owner for Slim’s and The Cave (Raleigh/Chapel Hill, NC) says:

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Mark Connor, Talent Buyer for Slim’s and The Cave (Photo © Ian Dunn)

“People see and hear music in many places in their lives, and if you aren’t special, then there won’t be much you can do to overcome that,”  

Go See Other Bands

Venue owners seem to be in agreement that a scene that does not support itself is no scene at all.

“Bands that are a part of our scene go see bands that are a part of our scene. They support the scene by buying albums and merchandise, by spending money at establishments that host music,” says Connor. If the musicians who make up your local community don’t even support each other, why would anyone else?

Glenn Boothe, former owner and talent buyer for Local 506 (who now manages The Cat’s Cradle) in Chapel Hill, NC, had a unique system in place for helping him to sort through possible bands to book:

Copyright Justin Cook | July 13, 2013Glenn Boothe at Local 506

Glenn Boothe, former Owner and Talent Buyer for Local 506 (Photo © Abby Nardo)

“If the first time I hear your band name is when you contact me to book a show, then you are probably not ready to play my venue. That means no one I know has mentioned your band, nor have I seen your band’s name out and about.”

Promote Your Shows

Bands can also falter by playing too many shows that they don’t promote well enough. If you’re playing two to three shows per month in your hometown, how could you effectively make sure that each show is promoted to the best of your ability? Aren’t you really just inviting the same people out to each show?

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The Knitting Factory – Brooklyn, NY

Knitting Factory’s Richard Sloven offers this recommendation:

“Space your shows out at least a month or two apart, if not more.”

Not only does this give you enough time to promote each show effectively, but it also makes each show that much more special. A fan is far more likely to come see you play if they know this is their only chance for three months (as opposed to a week or two).

From his experience with Slim’s and The Cave, Connor recommends keeping an active presence online to promote effectively:

“Some bands underestimate the value of a smart web/social presence — it doesn’t have to be flashy, but it should be effective.”

Odds & Ends

Another important thing to consider is making sure your hometown presence is solid before you start branching out on tours. Local 506′s Boothe notes

“If you can’t get your friends and acquaintances to come see your band, then you are probably going to have less luck getting complete strangers to come. If you do start touring, one of the best things you can offer a band from another city is a show trade, but if you are not big enough to headline your own local show, even at a small venue, you can’t really offer that.”

Remember your reputation and the importance of maintaining a good rapport with the venue and the people who run it. Connor stresses:

“Be polite and easy to work with; tip bartenders; be on time for load-in. Anytime a staff member says, ‘[insert band name] were jerks,’ it makes me extremely unlikely to book that band again.” 

People who work at most local venues probably also play in bands, or know people who do, so being a hassle to work with can affect your reputation on many levels.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips or advice that you’ve picked up from your time as an artist or venue owner!

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