There are a lot of factors that go into getting prepared to book shows for your band. I learned early on that there are many important factors that go into getting a band performance worthy. Many times I have went to see a band perform and have been disappointed at the final result. These bands are never around for long, and are not bands that I would wish to join.
The first thing that is required are members. The most crucial part is often finding members who have the same level of interest in the proposed project. Many bands are composed of friends or of other local musicians found in the close knit community of musicians in your area. Potential members can be found through many free websites offering musician placement on the internet, or at a local music store that often provides a bulletin board for musicians looking for bands.
Another key issue is the number of members that will be needed for the project. I have worked with three piece bands and have made a nice payday, and I have worked with six piece bands and have barely broken even. I have always found it safe for most cover band settings to go with at least four members, consisting of Lead guitarist/vocalist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, and drummer. The best thing to do is listen to the songs you plan to do and decide what you will need musically to perform them, and then base the number of musicians you will need on that.
Remember this important factor in song selection that is often overlooked: It is not what you want to hear and like to play that will make your band popular, but it is what the crowds will pay to come and hear that will make you popular.
Song selection can be tough at times. I have always found it best, in a cover band, to go with the old popular songs that the crowd loves, and the newer popular songs on the radio. If I had a dollar for every time I have performed Paranoid or Roadhouse Blues I would be rich. These songs are usually on the set lists for most rock cover bands.
It helps to go out to your local clubs that offer live bands and watch to see what songs the bands are playing that really get a good response from the crowd. Listening to local radio stations to hear what is hot and being played is a good tool for song selection as well.
Depending on the type of venues you are going to play you are going to need 10 to 12 songs per set, based on one hour sets. You will need a good set list based on 40 to 50 songs for a four hour show. The venues in your area may want ‘two’ hour and a half long sets, or just require you to play from 10pm until 2am. However the venue is set up you will want enough songs to play the whole show.
Here is the key to being a productive and popular band. The more time you put into practicing individually and collectively, the tighter the band will be and the better it will sound. Practice does indeed make perfect. It does take time and effort to get the songs down and get them tight.
I suggest at least two to three hour long focused band practices per week initially. Don’t overdo it and burn yourself or the band out with 8 hour marathon practices. This ends up being counter-productive and usually after a few hours into the practice everyone goes on auto pilot and just tries to get to the end.
Practice on making the songs interesting by starting and ending some of your songs differently than anyone else is doing. Make sure the song is recognizable, but don’t be afraid to add your own artistic flair to the song in order to make it something that people will remember you by.
If the band is having problems with a song and no one is able to click with it, replace it with another song. I have often found that beating the problematic song into the ground takes up too much time…plus, it usually gets cut after a few shows anyway. If you are not feeling it, the crowd will not be feeling it either.
Once you have your song list down and you are comfortable with it, practice on the show itself. Do not focus on merely reproducing the songs on stage, but also practice to perform the songs. Putting on a stage show helps people to remember you. Standing like a statue on stage is not entertaining, and you will soon be forgotten. At the same time do not let your musical quality suffer for showmanship. Practice your show and when you are comfortable with it, practice it some more.
Select your venues wisely. I cannot stress this enough. Do not agree to book a show without knowing about the venue first. I have showed up to gigs with my gear and found out the stage will not support our show, and had to downsize my kit at the last minute.
Usually one of the members of the band will handle bookings. There are a lot of important factors that go into this stage of the game.
- Start Local. If you want to extend your range, I would suggest doing so after you have played successfully at the local level for a while.
- Have a press kit together to give the club owner. Press kits should consist of set list, band biography, contact information, and a CD with at least four songs of your band performing the songs on it.
- Visit the venue in person to discuss booking with the owner. Get a feel for the venue, and look at how the stage is set up, so you can plan in advance of how much gear to bring. Check to make sure how easy your load in and load out will be in advance.
- Negotiate your price. Don’t agree to play for free at one venue for exposure…the other venues may learn that you performed for free and ask you to do the same at their club. You want to make sure that there are no hidden catches, such as agreeing to play for the door and getting to the show and learning that there isn’t a cover charge that night; or agreeing to play for a percentage of the profits the bar makes for the night, only to learn that the percentage is based on a few hours at a section of bar with little traffic.
- Check to see if the venue has hose pa and lights. If so, contact the person who runs sound and lights and let them know in advance what you plan to do, and see what kind of equipment they have.
Remember that often you will play for a certain fee the first time in order for the venue to see how well you do. You will get raises if you bring in a good crowd and are popular. Naturally you want to continue to rebook a venue only if it is worth your while.
When you book a date, make fliers for your show and drop them off at the bar so they can place the fliers throughout their bar to promote your show. This not only helps you, but it helps the venue owner. Post fliers on public bulletin boards that allow for such so you can promote your show. Many local newspapers will spotlight up coming venues for free, or little charge, if you contact them in advance.
Now that you have a date booked, get your band together and practice the whole show through a few times to plan on how you want to execute your performance. If the theme is Halloween, you may want to adjust your show to fit with the theme, such as, playing in costumes or omitting a few songs for a costume contest the venue is having at midnight.
If the venue does not have house sound and lights, and you do not have pa and lights, you will need to contact someone who provides this service. This service can be found in the phone book. Many musicians know of popular sound providers from their prior experience in other bands. Pull your resources together and find a good sound provider. Keep in mind of what you will be getting paid for the show. Do not contract a sound provider if you are going to have to pay more than you make at the show. Shop around and find the best quality for the best price.
Make sure that everyone in the band knows how to get to the venue and what time load in will be, so no one is late. Decide in advance how you are going to transport all of the gear to the show, and make sure to keep in contact with anyone you have contracted for the show, so that they know when to be there and where it is.
Here is what we all live for. Now go out there and put on a memorable and entertaining performance. This is what you have worked hard for and this is what the patrons are paying to see. Make the patrons happy and the venue owner will be happy and that is always good news.
In order to maintain your popularity and continue to be booked, don’t give up on practicing. There is always room for improvement and there will always be alterations in the set list that need made. You will want to stay on top of your game because there are other bands out there and other bands working to get out there who would gladly take your spot.
Alter your set list as needed adding new songs that become popular or songs that people keep asking about. Listen to the crowd and make them happy. If a song isn’t getting good response, then drop it, and select a different one that will.
Continue to book shows. Ideally you want to play at least four weekends a month. At least one night per week that you do perform, but it is even better if you can play two nights a week. Be careful not to over saturate one area. You don’t want to play four clubs that are within a two block radius four weeks in a row. People will generally not come and see your show every weekend if it’s in the same area, but will go see other bands they like or have heard of.
ONE LAST POINT
Always remember to be flexible in the scheduling for the band. Many members of cover bands do it part time and hold full time jobs. There will be trying times in the practice schedule, or conflicts in booking certain dates due to band members’ availability when work or family issues arise. The most important thing to remember is to work hard, but have fun while you are doing it. Give your crowds 110% and entertain them. They will come back to see you again.