Thirty seconds to go. Everything is falling into place. The band waits in a cold sweat behind the hot asbestos curtains. The tattered stage, full of scuffmarks and chips, glows anew like a phoenix rising underneath the lighting setup. Fifteen seconds to go. The crowd lets out a nervous roar as the lights dim and you prepare to take your place and get the party started. Ten seconds. As the moment looms closer, the audience makes a subtle push towards the stage and you smell the electricity oozing from every pore in the venue. "This is the night," you think. "I can do this." So you take a step forward, muscling your way, just in time to make it to the front row while someone else's band takes the stage.
For musicians with stars in their eyes, situations like this can cause angst. Consider Brad Vernier, a guitar-slinging student at Michigan State University. "A couple of different times, things just went nowhere with a group," he says. "We would have songs, have a good tight sound, but two practices a week in some kids basement wasn't enough. We were getting nowhere, so I had to leave."
With all the different styles of music and with venues that cater to them, shouldn't it be a breeze to get some stage time? Think again. That gust of wind can knock you over faster than Eddie Van Halen can shred. With this in mind, here are three key points to help get your band a gig:
1. Network. Believe it or not, there are other bands in the same position. Even if they're not, however, it doesn't hurt to make a new friend. In a business based on who you know, this is a large step toward taking the stage. Take Ian Thompson, for example. A drummer for 12 years, he's played in many groups. "A real easy way to get a gig," says Thompson, a disheveled character with a voice that has a melodic tone best described as unstable, "is to get four or five bands together, start going to venues and sell the whole show." Thompson and his previous bands used this technique for years in his hometown of Adrian, Michigan. "Just tell them how much music you have, three hours or whatever, and see if they'll take you. You don't even need a recording."
An important quality of the networking process arises here. If indeed you do get four bands together, that means four separate crowds, each for a different band, will converge on the venue, possibly creating a good-sized audience. Although there's no need to worry about profit at this point, having a whole night's worth of music and filled seats may inspire the venue to compensate for your efforts.
2. A good recording is also an important part of landing gigs, and it works on several levels. First, it can be great for band morale. For example, Drew Jenson, the lyricist of a small East Lansing unit called Possum Jenkins, acknowledges the power of a recording: "Our first tape only had three songs and was made with the worst recording setup, like, ever, but we worked through it and after I mastered it, it sounded great. We all rallied behind it, despite the fact that it was only a couple of numbers. It gave us all a little push."
A recording can also help sell your band to smaller venues. Mark Nixon, a Chicago-based guitar player/singer, used to drop off a recording of some sort at the spots he wanted to play. "That's how I did everything with my old band (Chokeslam, of Detroit), and it works relatively well. Sometimes they call you, sometimes they don't." The bottom line, he says, is that you have nothing to lose. On the same note, a recording can help you get larger venues, thanks to services like Texas-based The company, Book-A-Band.com,which specializes in Texas acts, reaches to all corners of the United States, helping bands get gigs. To feature your band on the site, a recording is required.
The little push a recording can give to the band, it can also give to the public. "Everyone who heard a Possum Jenkins tape, at least the people I know, said it was dope," Jenson says. Having a good, accessible recording can lend a hand to garnering fans. Having fans, in turn, will lend a hand to getting shows.
3. Start small. Don't be too proud to take advantage of situations that will get your act some stage time. Play in your buddy's basement if he'll let you. Even if 10 people turn out, a gig is a gig and you won't regret playing. Play community events, despite what they are. Joel Hill and his band "El Presidente" do exactly that. "I guess we're playing at this upcoming 'Spartan Idol' thing," Hill says, referring to a campus event. "But, we get two sets of at least a half hour apiece and I believe it's a paid gig."
If you make enough noise on this level, then the shows will find you. Jason Rolagewski, a concert promoter for MSU's Pop Entertainment, says that the organization seeks out acts to play its events. "If we think that a band can pull in enough of an audience, then we contact them and start the negotiation process." Also, a booking agent is more prone to take your band if you already have a significant reputation in the music community.
Meeting people, having a quality recording and taking advantage of local stage time are three easy steps in the process. Following this advice can help your band pull itself up on stage. What you do on the stage, however, is a different story.
Author Bio: Jonathan Steinberg is a freelance writer from East Lansing, MI.