My dear friend (and former intern from many moons ago), Brian Johannesen, is an experienced talent buyer. He posted the following on his Facebook this week to help educate up and coming bands on how to get the attention of buyers and clubs when self booking. I thought the advice was extremely helpful, so with his permission I'm reposting it here!
"Booking your band 101:
First, let me say that it is okay if your band gets passed on. Don't take it personally. There are so many factors that go into whether or not your band is right for the venue and a lot of them have nothing to do with how good you are or aren't. Many places stick to certain genres, or original music, or just cover bands, or maybe just a certain vibe. Many venues have small budgets, and either can't afford to pay you what you want or simply can't afford to have another show. In some cases, yes, they don't feel that your music is polished enough or maybe they just don't like you. That's okay, too. Music is subjective and there is no band that everyone likes. You'll find the right pockets for you and you will enjoy the shows so much more if you're working with people who are on the same page. Everything is fine. If a venue passes, I think it is totally okay to ask for recommendations of other places to play. I want you to succeed and enjoy playing live music, and if I can point you in the right direction, that's awesome, even if it's not going to work at my venue.
Another note - don't think about this as you are trying to trick a venue into giving you a show. Lying about stuff doesn't ever go well, just be honest and remember you are talking to a person who has many factors to consider.
Choosing a venue:
Whether you are on the road or looking for hometown gigs, choosing the right venue is so crucial. There are a lot of things to consider and a little research will go a long way. Here are some things to look for:
- What nights do they do music? If you are looking at a venue and they don't have any shows on Tuesdays, they likely don't do shows on Tuesdays, so maybe don't reach out about doing the show on the Tuesday. If you do, make sure to include in your email the question: Do you host shows on Tuesdays? Also check to see if they have a regular event like an open mic or a comedy show or something on those nights. If they do, they are not going to book you instead. Even if they are willing to have a show after the regular event, it's probably not a great situation so I'd look elsewhere. Also, just because they don't have a show that night, it doesn't mean you are entitled to it. There may be something else going on.
- What is their capacity? This can be a little tougher to figure out, but you want the right sized venue. If you are a folk duo who's never been to town, it is not the right move to try to book a 500 cap rock club. You can get a better feel for the places by looking up photos on google or the website. indieonthemove.com is an excellent resource for any touring musician and you can usually find a capacity on those listings as well. Your draw should also be considered with this.
- What is their vibe? Like I said before, a folk duo in a rock club is usually not the right move. If your in a punk band, DIY spaces and dive bars will likely work best for you. Don't ask about the 7PM music series at the coffee shop. If the venue has free shows and looks to have a good crowd of people there every night, you should consider what your sound will feel like in a room like that. If you're solo/acoustic, you will likely get drowned out by the noise. Even if you're saying to yourself "I don't really care I just want to play, I don't need people paying attention" consider it from the venue's perspective: If someone is quietly playing in the corner while the bar is loud and rowdy, that's probably not the vibe they want to put out. If the venue does free shows and it looks like folks will be eating dinner or talking with their friends, consider that they likely don't want a band that is really loud and will disrupt their customers time. In venues like that, it's not necessarily about YOU, so turning up likely won't pan out. Actually, if you are playing a free show in general, especially if its at a restaurant or something, it is almost certainly not about YOU. You're probably just booking that gig as background music and for the money. (I want to be clear, that's not the mission at Big Grove, we aim to have shows and provide a good spot for your fans to come see you. Many breweries do not take this approach).
Writing your email:
Here's what your email should include every time. Just make a boilerplate email and change the details when you send.
- The name of your band and your name.
- The setup that you are going to be playing in that night. (Full band, duo, trio, etc)
- Your genre
- A range of dates that will work for you (Ideally more than one but definitely no more than 5. Also, don't say we'd like to come play sometime but offer no dates, you will slip through the cracks, saying that you can be flexible beyond the dates offered is fine, and if there is something that is a good fit, you will be asked).
- If you have played in town before, where you have played and your draw. Do NOT lie about this, ever. If you say you can draw 50 people and draw 10, you won't get booked again. I promise. If you haven't played in town before, that's fine just say so. Also, if you're booking in Iowa City, the fact that you drew 25 people in Cedar Rapids doesn't really help me out, I'm only interested in Iowa City.
- A BRIEF bio. I mean it, brief. A paragraph max. It should say where you are from, what you sound like, who (only a couple) of your influences are, and any other relevant achievements you may have. I don't need your life story, and more importantly, I won't read your life story.
- LINKS! Your email should ALWAYS include these links: your website, your facebook, a link to your record (if you haven't made a record you should have a link to some sort of recorded music. If you don't have that, stop now and go make one before asking for a show), if you have a music video, include that, and you should definitely have a link to a video of you playing live in the exact setup that you are touring in. If you don't have that, go make one. You can use your phone, it doesn't need to be great quality, but I need to hear what you will sound like live in my room. If you show me a video of your band and I think I'm booking your band and you show up solo or as a duo, I will be upset.
- The subject of your email should look like this:
BAND NAME at VENUE NAME DATE RANGE
Brian Johannesen at Brian's Venue 6/15-6/19
No more, no less.
Here's what your email should not include:
- Really informal language like dude or bro or sup or holler or anything like that. It's an instant delete. Buyers do this as their job, treat it professionally. It doesn't have to be super formal, just respectful and to the point.
- A misspelling of the buyer's name. Just double check, it takes two seconds.
- Your fee. You don't have a fee. Every venue, every city, every state is different and you are not worth the same in all of them. You may have a minimum number in your mind, but you don't state that in your email. In any event, this email is not the money negotiation, this is to determine if there is interest and if the dates are available. Negotiate the money later. The market will eventually determine how much you are worth, for now, just get your foot in the door.
- If you're going to name drop someone, make sure that that person actually knows who you are, and that I definitely know who that person is, and that it makes sense to be name dropping them in the first place. For example, if you say Joe Schmo recommended that I reach out and I don't know who Joe Schmo is, that hurts more than it helps. If I do know Joe Schmo, I will probably ask him about you guys, and if he says he doesn't know who you are, that's definitely bad. Make sure it makes sense.
- Don't ever say that you need to play there or that you know it'll go really well. Buyers know their rooms well, they know that kind of stuff. They can be wrong, and you may be right, but they care a lot about their rooms and they want to do what's right for their bosses, their patrons, their bottom line, and their artists. They will determine if you need to play there. They probably have a good idea of how it's going to go and you really don't need to do their job for them.
Finally, it's all going to be okay. It's not that scary and a lot of venues will say no. A lot will not respond. If a venue doesn't respond, politely follow up once a week later. If they still don't respond, it's likely not worth bugging them anymore and you should move on. Try again in a few months or a year. Don't worry about it. Get recommendations from your friends who seem like they have a really good handle on what's going on in their market. Go play with your friends bands in their towns and offer to play shows with them in yours. Keep good track of your draw and how it's developing. If you're new, don't shoot the moon, go play some open mics and get some shows under your belt. Focus on being good, and the rest will develop. It's slow, it always is, but at some point it'll get easier. Be kind, be polite, be understanding. Everything's chill, man. Music is fun. Repeat that, over and over. Your blood pressure will thank you."
You can learn more about Brian's venue here and his music here.