What To Know About Booking A Show

Ever get to a gig and realize you haven't asked enough or maybe even the right questions? Maybe you're about to get started booking shows and are wondering what to prepare for. When asking these questions and gaining this general knowledge, it will bring your group to a whole new professional level. Here is our two cents on booking some shows:

1) Is the venue all ages, 18+ or 21+?

2) Are there other bands on the bill? (Can we, after approving it through the venue/promoter, add other bands to our bill? An opener if we headline, etc.)

3) How does the band get paid? (Does the venue pay the band? Does the venue sell the band tickets to sell people? Does the venue take a cut of the door? Does the venue give the band a single payment and take all door charges?) Have it defined.

4) Does the venue provide a contract?

5) Does the venue do any promotion?

6) Are there any booking agents/promoters that the venue usually works through?

7) What is the (fan) capacity of the venue?

8) What genre of music does the venue tend to host regularly?

9) What equipment does the venue provide? (PA? Subs? Mics? House instruments and amps? If so, what kind and do we have to use them or can we use our own?)

10) Does the venue provide free meals to the band?

11) How many people can we comp in?

12) When do you expect the band to be in house?

13) Is there a sound check?

14) When is downbeat? (hard start-time)

15) Is there anything else we should know about playing that venue?

16) Who is our contact at the venue and that person’s contact information?

** Protect yourself from getting screwed on a gig. How promoters/venues may screw you over (more often promoters):

1) They may take an inappropriate cut. If your promoter is pushing past 30%, it’s not so great. If your promoter goes beyond 50%, seriously think about if the gig is worth it or not. (Will they be giving you new fans, ticket sales, merch sales, etc.)

2) They don’t promote your event. Check out the reputation of your venue/promoter. Some are infamous for simply taking your money, and not even showing up to your show, let alone do anything to promote it. This is terrible, especially if you’re relying on the door charge. I’ve had this happen multiple times.

3) They pay you something other than the agreed amount. This is if all you have is a verbal agreement; things have the potential to change. Make sure you have it in writing.

4) They don’t charge at the door when they said they would. We’ve had a venue pay our band $13 and then tell us, “You didn’t have anybody working the door. We did you a favor and worked the door the last 15 minutes.” This was where they almost always have staff working the door, and never mentioned that we’d need our own door person. Make sure to get this confirmed.

5) **Important** They add bands to the bill that either suck or clash with your genre/crowd (with an exception to cross-genre festivals/showcases). You’ve probably seen it; how do you explain including a sucky, 90’s cover band, or un-talented high school/college group to the bill, sharing the stage with your original professional, talent? Even if they do bring fans, it’ll make all the professional musicians involved look foolish and it will make your following put your artistic judgment into question. If you do not trust the venue/promoter to make good choices, you should try to secure creative control over whom you share the bill with. Play only with similar/professional-minded bands.

**Be careful about telephone-only agreements, as you have no recourse if the venue decides to pay you $5 instead of $500 after the gig. Make sure you get it in writing.

As far as I understand it, these are the different ways to get paid:

1) Guaranty – this language indicates that the venue/promoter is obligated to pay you a set amount determined before the date, no matter what the crowd. Promoters/Venues may require you to pay a small fee/deposit before the date.

2) Door charge (your own guy or their own staff) – and the promoter/venue gets a percentage (or takes $1 you take $3 on every head), you get the rest.

3) Door charge (on multiple band bills) – Promoter/venue takes count of who came to see who and splits pay amongst band according to draw. You have serious potential to get screwed by the promoter/venue’s eyeball. So make sure it’s properly tallied.

4) Space rental – you pay to play in a space, which may include staff. You determine cover and take 100%. Any venue that takes a % after you’ve paid rent is trying to screw you. So negotiate this beforehand.
5) Free – you can play for free for great exposure opportunities like large festivals or fundraisers. Still make sure that the logistics of the gigs are described specifically, since “free” is weird in the music industry. Only play free if it’s for a REALLY good reason.

6) Tips – there are venues that do not pay and expect you to play for tips only. Although very rare, some venues/promoters will tip bands for an excellent job playing or drawing a crowd.

7) Contracted amount (similar to guaranty) - Obviously, things get more complicated when you start to talk about major gigs with major contracts. This is when you start getting regular income through ticket sales, merch, and album sales while touring. This isn’t necessarily the venue/promoters screwing you, but the government surprising you. Don’t forget about taxes if your band is incorporated and you’re making more than you spend, taxes will kill you at the end of the year if you’re not prepared.

Amenities you should expect from a venue, especially those that are bar/restaurant gigs:
– 1 meal per member
– Free fountain drinks
– Sometimes Bottled Water

As far as alcoholic drinks go, I wouldn’t ask for them – you want to save seeming presumptuous to your venue/promoter. We’ve played gigs where they did not provide free alcohol and one where they did. Don’t expect it. But if they offer it, it’ll be a nice surprise.

The more well known you get, this list should become a rider. But, absolutely DO NOT submit a rider unless they ask for one. You’ll know when you hit that level. 

Have anything to add? Please comment on this post!