I got an email today via last.fm from a lovely chap who saw me play at the Spitz a few weeks ago, and is wanting to bring over a band from Germany, and was looking for some tips on putting on gig. I got on a bit of a roll with the advice, and so thought I’d copy it over here as the ideas are pretty much applicable across the board. And, in reading them, you can see why house concerts are the way to go – minimal overheads, built in marketing network, bespoke venue, and great place to form cool relationships with your audience (assuming that, like me, you find meeting the lovely people who connect with what you do as interesting as playing it to them).
Anyway, here’s the letter…
Putting on gigs is tough, as it’s affected by so many variables. obviously your first thing to add up is how much it’s going to cost in absolute terms – so that includes all travel, accomodation, fees, equipment rental, additional staff needed and venue costs. Obviously, the smaller the band, the more chance you’ve got of keeping those costs down. Anything with a drummer becomes exponentially more complicated, due to the need for a much more complex sound system, and larger stage area in the venue. Travel from mainland Europe to here can be very expensive too, especially if the musicians are bringing instruments – consider the hand baggage and checked baggage limits on the airlines being considered when you’re looking at costs.
Once you’ve looked into that, you need to find a suitable venue. There are some venues that can be had for free – often they are the back room in a pub – but they rarely come with their own PA, and very rarely ever have any kind of built in audience or promotion channel/ticketing mechanism.
As an example, the Recycle Collective is run as cheaply as possible – over time i’ve built up a relationship with the owner of the venue, Darbucka, who now lets me book pretty much whatever I want – at least partly because I have a polite sit-down wine-drinkin’ food-eatin’ audience, who spend way more per head than club-night patrons do. I own a PA that works for what I book (there is one in the venue, I just don’t like it), and I book musicians who are either a) local or b) already on tour. I promise them no guarantee in advance, but split all money equally amongst the performers, minus tangible expenses like congestion charge… For this reason, almost all the musicians I ever book live in London, have their own gear and transport (if someone is getting a taxi each way to the gig, that’s probably going to eat up half of what we’ll make on the gig!)
The alternative is to find a night that already exists and will book them – like the Arctic Circle night that booked Hauschka and Max Richta – while I hadn’t heard of either of them, they clearly have a substantial following that Ben was able to tap into and put on an amazing night, but again, his events have a history and a certain level of ‘regular clientele’ – it’s really tough to put a gig on that makes money without that.
As a bench mark for some of the potential costs involved, 5000 A6 double-sided colour flyers costs about £80-£90 – you might be able to split the cost of that with the band’s record label if you put an ad for their latest album on the other side – you then need to get those distributed, either in bars/clubs/restaurants that have flyers available, or by standing outside targeted gigs, giving them out to people who will hopefully be interested.
Contacting the press is also tricky if you have no pedigree – I’ve finally started getting good write-ups in Time Out after years of them being largely indifferent to what I did, but I think it’s because someone who was already a fan of mine is now handling the jazz listings there.
So who to talk to? Ben Eshmade, for sure. Might also be worth approaching The Vortex in Dalston – they might be interested in helping out. And any other venues where you’ve seen similar gigs – Notting Hill Arts Centre, the Arts Depot, Cargo, The Bill Chill House, possibly the Regal Rooms in Hammersmith…
Bottom line, you can never do too much research, but make sure that you’re not promising something you can’t deliver on – in my head I cut in half the projected audience that anyone says they can bring in if they are putting on a show featuring me – people who like my music always overestimate how interested the general public will be in what I do… They do tend to love it when they get to hear it, but trying to get people out to gigs by people they’ve not heard of before is REALLY difficult.by