Ready to Go: the Art of Advancing a Gig (Part 1 of 4)

Put yourself in this scenario: you’ve got a band you love playing with and a bunch of original music. You’ve rehearsed and developed group chemistry, and maybe you even have a recording out already. Now you’re looking to start booking your group around town or maybe even going on tour. The question becomes: What are the next steps? The process of organizing and putting on your own concerts seems lengthy and intimidating at first, since there are simply so many variables to consider. Plus, you’ll want to prepare for unexpected situations before they happen, and have strategies in place for handling mistakes from the very beginning.

I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot recently since the Affinity Quintet (one of my primary groups from Eastman) is going on tour in a little over a week. Fortunately, our saxophonist Orlando put the entire schedule together and raised almost a thousand dollars from an online “indiegogo” campaign. We created a group website, made a demo recording of our compositions, took group pictures, and wrote about our past performances, essentially creating a digital press kit. Over the course of the spring, Orlando called about fifty different venues around the Southwest, making all the connections he could. He talked to friends, family, and even met with the mayor of the town to see about possible sponsorship. By the beginning of July, we had 9 gigs booked, including our own show at a major theater in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

After all of that hard work, the rest of us have to simply show up ready to play, right?

After some lengthy conversations with my father, I can’t believe I was ever naive enough to think everything was taken care of. Orlando did a masterful job with booking and marketing, but the “advancing” phase has yet to come. By “advancing,” I mean taking care of all the other logistics involved with any gig. As a sound engineer who has worked literally thousands of gigs, my father has “seen it all.” He’s familiar with just how many steps have to happen before a band takes the stage. I’ve pasted his thorough pre-gig checklist below, along with some of my own thoughts. Hopefully this will save some of you the agony of trying to think of all these details yourself, and prevent you from making some common mistakes. In his words, “you never want a bad story to start with ‘we got to the gig and then…'” Most of those situations are avoidable if you simply plan ahead more thoroughly.

1) Booking Tips

Orlando took care of practically all the booking for us, so I don’t know quite as much about this side of tour management. Still, here are a few things to consider: do you have a contract for your group? It might be useful to have a document drawn up to clearly communicate your policies to the venue. Do you take a deposit? If you do, you’ll have some leverage in case the club suddenly cancels or changes your hours.

If you’re booking a tour, it’s also worth pointing out a few things Orlando did right. First, he contacted far more venues than he planned to book. In the end, he got rejected about four times as much as he reached an agreement. We still ended up with 9 gigs, which is a healthy number for a few weeks.

Stay tuned for part 2 (having everything you need), part 3 (advancing the gig), and part 4 (wrapping things up)!

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