Back when I started making music over a decade ago, nothing made me more excited than booking and playing shows. No matter the venue, quality and size of the crowd and amount of money I made, I was elated to be able to play on stage. But it didn’t take long to realize that some shows were worth my time and some weren’t, and after years of touring and trying to make a career out of being a musician, I learned taking certain shows ended up actually noticeably hurting my career in music.
Every musician is different which means that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure when it comes to shows. But even still, there are some shows that are never worth playing. Here’s a helpful list of five shows every musician should run from:
1. Most “Battle of The Bands” show competitions
Sometime between the 1950’s and today, the majority of “Battle of The Bands” shows somehow turned into ways for shady concert promoters to exploit local bands in their cities. These days, most of these “shows” consist of a dozen or so bands of every genre and experience level you can think of playing a couple of songs on stage to a sparse crowd. Despite what the promoter promises you, these shows are usually never worth playing even if you’re new and looking for experience.
2. Pay-to-play shows
Here’s a helpful tip: Any performance opportunity that requires you or your band to pay to perform in advance is actually just a venue rental and not a real show. Some of the nastier players in music scenes set up these shows to profit off of the eagerness and enthusiasm of new bands and young musicians, and it’s disgusting. Sure, you might play to a packed crowd, but it’ll cost you. If you’re looking to gain some valuable show experience, you’ll be much better off hosting a show in your garage than falling for one of these schemes.
3. Shows where you’re only payed with “exposure”
Play music long enough and you’ll soon get asked to play for free in return for the chance to get on stage in front of a massive, packed crowd of new listeners. Making music isn’t about money, but it costs money to create, record, and perform it. So unless you’re performing at some sort of charity benefit, don’t fall for this trick. From my experience, the big crowd people promise almost never shows up, and if they do, why shouldn’t you get compensated for your hard work and talent?
4. Any non-festival evening show with five or more bands on the bill
A show with five or more bands on the bill is a red flag that the venue or promoter you’re working with has no idea what they’re doing. When venues cast a wide net and try to book as many bands as possible in the hopes of getting people through the door, it’s a bad sign. Remember, what you do is valuable and meaningful. If you have any suspicion that a venue isn’t taking you and your music seriously, the show isn’t worth your time.
5. Most shows featuring bands of clashing genres
Unless you’re showcasing new music at a reputable venue in a place like LA or New York City, it’s best to avoid playing shows with bands that don’t sound anything like you. Live shows are supposed to be curated events where, in theory, an opener could become your new favorite band because they sound somewhat like the main act you came to see. This doesn’t usually happen when venues book literally everyone they can to fill the bill.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.