A gig. Hard come by sometimes.

A gig. Hard come by sometimes.

It’s tough getting a gig, isn’t it? First you have to get to know promoters, then you’ve got to convince them that you actually have an audience, and finally you have to listen to them say “no” anyway, because Billie Piper has decided to leave ‘acting’ behind to do a comeback tour of the UK and there’s no room now on the bill for any independent musicians like you. Ha!

Depressing stuff. However, all is not lost because in this post, I thought I’d make a few recommendations about some of the other ways you can get, or put on, a good gig.

1. Become your own promoter

Don’t just sit there waiting for Live Nation to call – run your own shows. Many venues, particularly in these times of double-dip recessions and whatnot, are more than happy for bands to pay a hundred quid, play a gig, invite their relatives along to drink themselves silly and let the band keep the takings from the door. The key bit here really is ‘keeping the takings from the door’. It’s hard to get people to come along to shows – either they’ve heard you before, have kids that need looking after or just generally aren't inclined to venture out into another miserable, wet British summer night. So, when booking your venue, be realistic about how many people you can definitely get to come along to your show – in other words, don’t book the Albert Hall when you are going to struggle to fill the function room in the local Slug and Lettuce.

However, if you do your sums right, you may find that you can actually turn a little profit from booking and performing at a small venue. If you spend £100 on a venue and convince 80 people to pay £8 to watch your band, you’re looking at taking £640 at the door, meaning a profit of £540. If you’re in a 4-piece band, that’s £135 each – not awful for an evening’s work (and certainly not awful for a band playing original material).

As with much else in the music industry these days, the key to success in getting people to come along to your self-booked and promoted show is, yes, our old friend, ‘data’. To have any chance of filling your venue, you ideally need to compile a database of absolutely everybody you know, along with ‘real fans’ on your mailing list, and let both groups know (in a polite, non-annoying way) about the event.

2. Do gigs in unusual places

Many acts forget this, but the function room in the Slug and Lettuce is not your only option for a cheap performance space. You may actually find that more people are interested in coming along to a gig in a toilet than a proper venue, because they view it as a more interesting experience than standing around in a humdrum room watching a mate’s shoegazing band play.

Additionally, such weird shows can attract media attention – I did a series of gigs on London public transport back in 2006/2007 to promote my Twisted City record (I played on a bus, a boat, a train and a taxi) and these, ahem, ‘concerts’ resulted in two TV appearances and a whole lot of other coverage that I would never have got out of my more conventional gigs. In hindsight, perhaps my efforts were a little on the gimmicky side, but, done in a clever way, odd gigs can really boost the profile of an artist.

3. Do unusual gigs

In addition to thinking about unusual venues for your gigs, think how you can make the content of the gigs themselves unusual. By this, I mean looking beyond musical content and thinking about how you could create a show that involved lots of different art forms. For example, you could involve photographers, painters, video-makers, dancers and other arty buddies in presenting an event that allows punters to enjoy a wider range of artistic content than just your music.

There are loads of advantages in doing this – firstly, you’ll make the event appeal to a wider audience, and secondly, the arty people you’re collaborating with are likely to bring their own fans to the event, thus increasing the size of the crowd that has the fortune / misfortune of hearing your band play.

4. Do gigs online

If you’ve been doing a lot of online promo you may find that you end up with a decent number of listeners – but, thanks to the global nature of the internet, they happen to live all over the planet. This means that although they’d absolutely love to, they’re simply not going to be able to make it down to the function room of your local Slug and Lettuce anytime soon.

Thankfully, there is another way to play to these people – via online gigs. I’ve done quite a few of them in the past via Ustream and they can be very enjoyable, engaging experiences for all involved. Not only can fans see you play live, they can interact with you via a chatroom and ask for requests, comment on tracks, clap virtual hands and share your live performance on social networks. For cash-strapped, gig-strapped musicians, online gigs are definitely worth looking at.

And finally…

However you approach getting a gig, there are few important things to remember when the events themselves come around:

  • Make sure you put on an incredible show.
  • Don’t forget to sell merchandise – it can significantly boost the revenue your show generates.
  • Always ask people at the gig to join your mailing list, either by the good old ‘list at the door’ approach or through some fancypants smartphone / texting arrangement.
  • See if you can convince local bands with decent followings to support you (and more importantly, bring their fans to the gig!).
  • Even if you are running your own gig, you should view it as a platform to engage industry professionals. So try to get some industry people down – publishers, promoters, A&Rs and teaboys. Despite the merits of the DIY approach, a bit of record industry cash can still go a long way – and mean that you might not have to do interesting gigs in toilets for the rest of your career.

'The Prescription' is written by independent musician and Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.  

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