When you begin playing music out – especially in a new place – it can be intimidating. There’s often gateholders to breaking into a music scene, and they often have their own standards by which they allow people to play the shows they involve themselves with. I come from a big town where I was involved in the music scene for almost a decade, and then moved to a giant city with hardly any idea of what to do next. This one is personal to me.
What I truly believe is that no matter how old you are or what kind of music you play, there are ways to find people to play with and an audience for you. You just have to get out there and find them. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to play shows or have never done it before, let this serve as a guide to booking your first show.
BEFORE ANYTHING – Record Your Music
Before you reach out to anyone about playing a show, it’s wise to predict that they will ask to hear your music first. In that case, having something recorded is important. Whether this is a demo, or a more professionally recorded single or EP, just make sure you have something so they can hear what you sound like. Luckily, recording your music today is easier than ever.
This piece of recording doesn’t have to be perfect, especially for your first show. Many laptops, computers, and smartphones come with the ability to record. Home recording has also come a long way in the last decade, and Craigslist is full of people who can cut a quick demo for you for a decent price. Get it out of the way early, and upload it online for people to hear it. I recommend making it free to download somewhere as well as stream, since it’s your first recording and nobody knows who you are yet. Additionally, social media doesn’t hurt either, and depending on the promoter, they will expect at least one social link with your music.
Reach Out To Venues and Promoters
After you have something to showcase your band, you can start reaching out to promoters, venues, and other artists who throw shows regularly in your area. This is something else that the digital age has made to be really easy, because you can do so from your personal computer or smartphone. Most social media sites, promotion companies websites, and venues will have an e-mail address listed.
You can pitch a generic request or ask to get on a show that’s already been booked. It will probably be easier to get on a local show than it will be opening for a giant band, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Whatever it is, make sure you’re respectful of the promoter, venue, and the things they work and stand for. It’s not necessary but it will probably help to tell them how you plan on promoting the show or how many people you might be able to bring. They probably won’t expect you to bring a lot of people if you’re a new artist, though, so don’t worry about including that if you don’t have much to show for it yet.
Another important thing to do when trying to get your name out is to simply make yourself familiar to those scene gateholders. Scene gateholders are the bands you want to play with and promoters who book shows around your area. They’re the inner circle, if you will. You want them to know you because otherwise your music will continue to be just another message in their inbox.
This goes beyond just reaching out about a show. Actually, it’s more about building a relationship. Understand that these people get contacted a lot from artists looking for places to play. So go to their shows and introduce yourself. Stick around for all of the artists, make small talk when the opportunities arise naturally, and most of all be present in the situation. Give them a face to the name that reached out to them. They’ll get to know you this way, thus making you more than just another show request message they get from someone they don’t know.
Become An Active Participant
If you want to become respected in your music scene (which, by the way, will also lead to more shows), then you have to be an active participant in the music culture around you. Of course this means going to shows that you aren’t playing. However, it also means helping out.
Bring friends to the shows. Offer to help load in and out gear for artists. If the show is at a DIY venue, help clean up afterwards. Tip the bartenders kindly. Buy merch from the local artists. Grab some flyers for upcoming shows. And don’t just do it once and never show up again. Stay an active participant in the music scene, and it will thank you.
When In Doubt, Do It Yourself
If all else fails, you can always throw your own show. Shows don’t have to have corporate backing or be at established venues. Shows don’t have to be in bars or include alcohol. Many of the biggest artists we have today started playing in backyards. You can do the same.
This is what people mean when they talk about “DIY” and I think it can be translated to just about any form of music. If you want to play a show and can’t find a place that will let you play, then it’s up to you to make that space for yourself. It could be in a living room, a backyard, church basement, or local business space you may be able to rent. Every scene is exclusionary in some way – there’s some kind of market demand it’s not meeting. If your demand isn’t being met, then find like-minded people and create the market for it. It’s not as hard as you think, especially in this digital age. Using meetup apps and social media groups to connect with people can bring this sort of thing together, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a revolving door of people and artists with similar musical tastes and values wanting to work with you. Don’t wait for the rest of the world – do it yourself.
What troubles did you have booking your first show?
Robert Lanterman is a musician, writer, and record label owner originally from Boise, ID. In 2015, he started Hidden Home Records, an independent record label focused on putting out records for bands in the punk rock scene who didn’t know how to do it themselves.