It’s tough to get people to listen to your demo. Establishing your band, finding your footing, and attracting your early audience can be challenging, and a large portion of that hinges on your early gigs. But if you have no show history, how can you get anyone to notice you, and even if you have tons of gigs under your belt, how can you get the right people to notice you?
Make yourself part of the conversation
Getting your first gig doesn’t require magic; it’s often the outcome of weaving yourself into a community. It may be as easy as making the effort to connect with new people and doing things with them—activities like setting up shows, flyering, and loading gear. Participating in a DIY scene, where everyone helps everyone else and the goal is the improvement of the community as a whole, can be the best and most fun way of elevating your band—not to mention the most organic way of landing that first gig as well as the ones that follow. “It’s all about having a community,” says R5 Productionsand Ceremony member Andy Nelson. “The way you do that is by going to shows and talking to people and doing work on behalf of others. I set up shows for friends in touring bands and they set them up for me. It’s that collective work that eventually led to my band’s visibility.”
Even on the non-DIY level, being part of a scene and supporting those around you can have majorly positive repercussions. Live Nation senior talent buyer Christian McKnight says that it’s ingrained in the culture to gather ideas from the team and people junior to his own experience. “It’s important to know the world in which you live, but there is no way to understand every angle,” he says. “That’s why we usually discuss local ideas from some of the junior team members who are also out in the field a lot.” Nelson agrees, adding that research will only get you so far and that learning from others helps build perspective. “Show me someone who thinks that they know something about every band and show, and I’ll show you a bad promoter,” he says.
As with movies, restaurants, and so many other subjective things in life, people are apt to trust the opinion of a like-minded, respected, or friendly person. This is why having a strong support system of friends and allies is highly valuable currency. Your friend group (scene or otherwise) and their extended connections will be some of the strongest advocates for the awesomeness of your live show—and recorded material, for that matter. Being an active member of your community will grow your name recognition.
The mutual admiration element
At the end of the day, a band should have respect and affection for their tourmates—both as people and as performers. Bayonet Records and Beach Fossils founder Dustin Payseur says that when picking a tourmate, an artist should ask themselves, “Is this a band that I want to watch every night? It’s [got to be] exciting to me to venture out of the green room because I feel the need to see them over and over.”
Don’t hesitate to push to the edges of your world when doing outreach, either. Payseur asserts that thematically mixed bills are extremely desirable for a working band: “Most people will argue against a varied bill, but for me that’s not what it’s about. We choose our openers because we like to think that our fans are coming to see us because they are open-minded.”
Agent Nick Storch points out that there’s more than one way to think about the opening slot. “A lot of people use the opening slot really differently. Sometimes it’s more of a business move, where the band or management or the label or all of the above come to an agreement on what makes sense. Sometimes it’s stylistically chosen—‘This band is super-buzzy and crosses with what we’re doing.’ Or it could just be a ‘We want to see them every night’ sort of thing. It really depends on the circumstances and the players involved.”
Forging personal relationships is smart (and generally fun), but you do still need to have something concrete to summarize who you are and what you’re about. Enter the online press kit. It should be stuffed with digital images, music, details on touring history—anything and everything to help the uninitiated get excited about you and your music. When creating your press kit, make sure to link to a page where everything is downloadable—never attach files.
Once you’ve created your press kit, come up with a strategic list of people (from those connections you’ve made) to hand it to. Agents, managers, like-minded musicians, and label heads are all great ideas, but only share your kit if you are positive that you’re ready for that next step. In many cases, you’ll only get one shot at their attention. Repeated emails or emails sent too early could get you the dreaded “spam” tag.
Making sure that your kit falls into the right hands is probably the most crucial part of submission. And “the right hands” is definitely not the general-submission email inbox for a venue. While that is where many bands are directed to send their demos, in the end the address is typically a little like a black hole. “The general-submission email is ... like walking into a record store where everything is out of order,” says Tyler Kane, the booker for Brooklyn Bazaar. “I’ve found gems in there, but rarely.” Unless the press kit is going to the attention of a specific recipient, emailing or even mailing a general inbox is, in terms of overall effectiveness, a step above buying a lottery ticket.
Sometimes, it’s just no
All of this said, there are instances where a venue just doesn’t make a habit of booking local bands; there may be no budget or time for them. And at larger venues, factors such as union hours and a specific curfew can be limiting. “Majority of times, we are not in the position to put a local on a show, whether it’s one band, a pair, or a package,” says McKnight. “We are told by the agent if we have the ability to add local support. Within specific genres, like metal and hardcore, they are typically more friendly to letting a local hop on the bill.”
Getting over the hump of landing your first gig isn’t that far removed from many hurdles in life: Create a strong support structure, help your fellow humans out, and make yourself a positive part of the scene.