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A Guide to Gigging for Bands and Solo Artists

WARNING: This document is brutally honest. In the words of John Lydon ‘I don’t have time for lies and fantasy’s and neither should you.’ If you want to deceive...

WARNING: This document is brutally honest. In the words of John Lydon ‘I don’t have time for lies and fantasy’s and neither should you.’ If you want to deceive yourself and pretend that you know better than me, FUCK OFF NOW. I can assure you that I’ve put on more gigs than you’ve played and I know this business pretty well by now. I have been fucked around by more bands than you could imagine and the reason I’m writing this is because I’m sick of it. I’ve listened to excuses and bullshit for so long that I’ve decided to strike back.

On the other hand, this document is a guide to help you, the musician, help yourself succeed in your musical career. As cutting as this document is, it will give you some insight into what a promoter expects of you and you’re music. This document will help you read between the lines and be a bit more prepared.

Right. Onwards…..

1 – What can YOU do for me?

Contrary to whatever you may believe, it’s not what I can do for you, it’s what you can do for me. So what can you do for me?

How many people can you bring? What equipment can you bring? How can you promote yourself? Can you get to the Sound check on time? Can you stay sober enough to put on a good performance? And lastly can you make me money?

You see when I book you to play a gig, and I do book you, this is a business arrangement, whether you’re adult enough to admit it or not. This is how I make a living. I’d love to be able to say I do it all for the love of music, that’s how it started for me, way back when. But now it’s become a full time job, and trust me, promoting full time is a grueling, stress ridden way of life. So yeah I do want to make some cash out of this, as much as possible really. I want the night to be a success for all involved, how can you get your music out there and listened to, when you’re playing to an empty venue?

I’m sorry if so far I’ve come off sounding like a complete capitalist, I do love music. It’s pretty much my life. Back when I used to promote at the New Cross Inn on a Thursday night I came under heavy criticism for putting on new bands, who didn’t have much experience playing live. The management wanted me to only book big name bands that have a massive following, but I stuck to my guns, right up until I lost the night, even now I don’t look back. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say thanks Steve for giving us our first ever gig, we really appreciate it. When that does happens, it assures me that all my work has not been for nothing!

So what can you do for me?

2 – How to Establish a Fan-base and why it’s important to you’re Career

Pay attention now, this is the most important part. I don’t care if you sleep through the rest of this document as long as you’re wide awake during this segment.

Establishing a fan-base isn’t as hard as you think it may be. This is the most essential tool needed to get anywhere within the music business and it’s also what you need to get a second gig from a promoter. So many bands these days think that just turning up with their equipment is enough, that the promoter is going to have a ready made audience for them. YOU CANNOT PROMOTE A BAND THAT NO ONE’S EVER HEARD OF. It’s impossible and its not going to happen. If this is what you believe, get out now. At least you can one day tell you’re grandchildren how you were in a band and impress them, because you’re not going to impress anyone else.

For instance, once I booked a fourteen piece Reggae band to play a Project Mayhem night at the Montague. I know the lead singer pretty well and think he’s a good guy, so I’m not going to name the band. Now you’d think that a fourteen piece band is going to have a huge fan-base wouldn’t you? Not one single person actually turned up to watch them play. Why is this?

It’s not like they’re playing for free, because they’re not. The deal I offered at the Montague, and which I offer in any venue, is based upon a tally system. When someone pays the entrance fee, which was £3, we’d ask which band they were here to see and keep a record of it. At the end of the night we’d tally up the figures and pay the bands £1 per head for under a hundred people and £2 per head for over one hundred people.

At the Macbeth, when the entrance fee was £8, I actually offered a much better deal. I offered £4 for every person the bands brought in. Which is fair, maybe a little too fair, considering that I also had to pay rent on the Venue (hire fee), pay for ten thousand flyers as well as three Burlesque dancers, a door girl, DJ, stage manager and someone to be out flyering at the beginning of the night.

The Macbeth gig was the SKA Burlesque, which also ran at the new Amersham Arms and other venues around London. I’d often spend six weeks promoting. Promoting the SKA Burlesque was grueling. I’d be out every day flyering across London, often in the cold, the rain, even snow, only to be let down on the actual gig because, one or all of the bands, couldn’t get they’re shit together. Often I’d either make a pittance or worse, come out on a loss. And trust me, the SKA Burlesque was massive. We had articles about us in some of the biggest music magazines, papers etc. We made the cover of the Valentines 2006 edition of Time-Out, ‘SKA Burlesque hits town + London Fashion Week’, which I still boast about, even now. So if any event like this can be fucked up because of bands, so can any gig.

So as you see, I am actually more than fair with the bands that play for me. Potentially there could be some good money to be made if you do it right. It’s actually very rare to give a band over £20 at the end of the night. This is a ridiculous state of affairs! On a small gig, if I’m not making at least £40 out of each band then it’s not worth my time and effort to put them on. At the Montague again, for instance, for me to make £40 out of each one then I would have needed them to bring 20 people each, at least, which amounts to £60, that’s £40 for me and £20 to the band. Three bands bringing 20 people each amounts to £120 in my pocket which isn’t a lot for the amount of work I’d put into a gig but I could live with it. When I put three bands on and only 30 people come in all night I wasn’t at all happy.

Bringing at least 20 people shouldn’t be hard, but for most bands it’s like the krypton factor. Let’s break it down to its most basic level. I expect each member of a band to be able to come up with at least five people who’ve come to see them play. We all have friends, relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends etc. It’s not like you’re some nerd, who spends their life hanging out with the two tosser’s, they met at the last Star Trek convention. You are musicians, you’re cool and trendy and doing something inspiring. So why cant you get at least five people to come and watch you play? Have you ever thought of telling people that your playing? Wow isn’t that a far out concept?

A lot of bands want a guaranteed fee. I’ve been in this business a long time and to be honest I’ve been burnt too many times to offer guaranteed amounts of money. My philosophy is, if a band is that good, then they’ll have no trouble bringing the amount of people to make them the fee that they want. They’ll make sure they do and put the effort into informing their fanbase. Whereas if I book a band and guarantee them a flat fee, they wont make any effort and just come in and play, leaving me out of pocket.

I DJ down my local pub every week and always have at least ten friends who’ve come to hear me play, I don’t even tell them, they just turn up. If I can do that when I’m just DJ’ing, why can’t you do that? You’re just not trying. If you’re not going to try in the music industry, give up now and accept that it’s not for you. Don’t waste everybody’s time, by beating a dead horse. It’s never going to happen mate, accept it or put the work in, the choice is yours!

That fourteen piece reggae band I mentioned earlier didn’t try, they put no effort into that night what-so-ever. Not one member of the band even told one person. It’s a shame because they really are great live, the first time I saw them, they blew me away. Unfortunately I won’t put them on again. They had their chance, but unfortunately, our destiny’s lie down different paths.

Did you know that U2 played their first ever gig to two people and a dog? It’s true. They like many bands nowadays, expected to play to a ready made audience. They soon learnt though. And where are U2 now?

See this is the thing, the main point that you need to be aware of if you really do want to get anywhere in the Music business, UNLESS YOU HAVE SOME KIND OF FANBASE YOU WILL NEVER, EVER GET SIGNED, LET ALONE BECOME BIG. Get the picture? You need to get a buzz around you locally for the industry to even shoot a quick glance in you’re direction.

The long and short of it is, take as much time promoting yourselves as you do rehearsing. You could be the next Clash, but unless you get a fanbase no ones ever going to know that, not even yourselves!

Josh Sarubin agrees on the Star Polish website (

“Local/national buzz is another definite factor in getting a band signed. When a band is happening, you can feel it. I remember when I first went to see the Presidents of the United States of America inSeattle. They played to a packed room of three hundred kids, jumping up and down, and singing every word to every song. Even walking around town the next day, I heard their music in the local record store. I saw their flyers in the coffee shops and bars. People were talking about them. You could feel the excitement brewing around them. It was undeniable. Buzzes don’t happen by accident. You can create them. Flyer your town with show dates. Send your music to the local radio station and college station. Send it to the local newspaper, college papers, and fanzines for review. Start a band Web site and link it to local Web sites. Start a mailing list and make sure to get names after every show. Visit local record stores and see if they’ll carry your CD. These are just some small things that can help get the ball rolling.”.

3 – Have the right Equipment

Yeah, yeah, we all know how difficult it is to get a drum-kit to a gig, especially when you haven’t got a van, but at least take it upon yourself to arrange kitshare with the other bands. Don’t just turn up on the night expecting to borrow someone else’s gear, because a lot of bands, rightly so, don’t want to lend equipment out to people they don’t know and to be honest, they shouldn’t have to.

But if you haven’t got, or cant bring all the equipment with you, then you’re best bet is to contact the promoter and ask for the others bands contact details, don’t just presume anything. Make your arrangements in advance, it saves headaches for you and more importantly it saves headaches for the Promoter. They really don’t need that bullshit, he (or she) has enough on his plate as it is.

The same Reggae band I mentioned earlier in the document also caused me nothing but headaches with equipment. They had agreed to supply a drum-kit that night. Three hours before the gig I was informed that they had no transport to get the drum-kit down to the venue and not only did I have to pick it up and ferry it there in my car, but I also had to store it somewhere for the next three days as once it left its place of storage, it wasn’t welcome back there.

I was in the middle of moving home at the time and having to store a drum-kit in a house that was already cluttered with endless cardboard boxes and belongings that I hadn’t yet found a home for would be a real nightmare. But I had no choice. No drum-kit, no gig. So I did it. One crap gig that ended up costing me money later, and three days of trying to maneuver moving home around a cursed drum-kit and I was sufficiently inspired to write this document. My nightmare with that band didn’t end there, more about them later.

There’s actually nothing so irritating to me as having to arrange equipment share for bands when they could do it themselves. It’s a piss take,

3 – Sound checks

Again this isn’t rocket science, just common sense. Try to be there on time, if you can’t, then please let the promoter know so that at least he can plan around that. Don’t say you’ll be at a venue for seven if you know you’re not going to be there till eight. And if you’ve arranged kit-share with other bands then please BE THERE WHEN YOU’VE AGREED TO BE. If you’re supplying the drumkit then no one else can sound check until you arrive thus throwing the whole night behind schedule and more often than not ruining it totally.

The final example using, yes you guest it, our favourite reggae band, is actually a prime example of how arriving late can turn the whole night totally into chaos. Remember the drumkit, well they had agreed to let the other bands use it that night, which shouldn’t have been a problem as I’d picked the thing up, lugged it to the gig and would practically be married to it for the next three days, but there was one thing missing, the kick pedal…..

It would be fine though as the singer assured me that the band would bring the pedal with them. Sound check should have been at seven. Both the other bands were there on time. Except the reggae band!

I decided to give them half an hour’s grace. But when they wasn’t there at 7.30 I rang the lead singer, who is my contact for the band. He was in the bath at home when he answered, but don’t worry, the rest of the band would be there soon. Ok cool. Hurry up I said in disbelief that anyone would be taking a bath when they were supposed to be getting sound checked for a gig they had agreed to play. I started pacing around the venue.

By Eight O’clock there was still no sign of the reggae band. The other two bands were not happy as they were just sitting around and bored, the soundman was pissed off and dully worried about time, as by this stage one of the bands would have to go without a sound check. A fourteen piece band could not play without one, so it would have to be one of the band that had arrived on time, who’d have to miss out. Do you see how things are spiraling out of control, as a result of one bands incompetence?

So I ring the singer again. He’s out of the bath now and waiting for the bus. The band will be here any minute he assures me. I’m pissed off now. Everyone’s pissed off. I put the phone down and start ringing local bands I know, who might be able to lend us a kick pedal. I have no luck though, the only option is to sit and wait.

I keep making phone calls to the singer, but he’s ignoring my calls by then as he knows he’s fucked up big time. Finally at 9.15, two hours fifteen minute after the reggae band were meant to sound check, fifteen minute after the first band were supposed to play, who walks in? Our reggae band!

The night by now is totally ruined, neither of the two bands who had been there all night got a sound check of any kind, only the reggae band managed to get one and that’s because it’s a fourteen piece band and they wouldn’t be able to play otherwise.

So, the moral of the story is be there on time or let the promoter know if you’re going to be late well in advance, and don’t be late at all, if doing so means it’s going to have repercussions that will affect the gig in a negative way, make the time anyway you can, go home early from work, if have to, rearrange all other commitments that day but please, please, please DON’T FUCK UP MY GIG.

4 – Drink & Drugs

I don’t give a toss what you do to make you comfortable on stage, as long as you can keep it together long enough to pull off a good set. A set that will make people feel confident that they’ve got they’re money worth!

Back when I used to promote nights at the New Cross Inn,(I’m gonna name this band, fuck em!) I booked a band called the Contortionist’s for a battle of the Bands on a Sunday night!

The Contortionist’s (the name says it all), arrived two hours early for the sound check, which, at the time, I was impressed by. Unfortunately they stopped impressing me when it was time for them to take to the stage for their set!

They’d seemed ok in the Sound Check, maybe a little drunk, but then its rock n’ roll, we’re not in church for Christ sakes. And to be honest I can totally understand anyone needing Dutch courage or feeling they put in a better performance when they’re a bit drunk. As a DJ I feel much more relaxed when performing under the influence of alcohol.

I hadn’t really noticed how drunk they were before their set as I had a lot of other things on my mind at the time. When they took to the stage, I noticed that two of the band, including the vocalist, were completely rat-arsed. The guitarist was staggering round the stage, while the vocalist was hanging off the mic stand, attempting to sing. Often he would forget the lyrics completely; those he could remember were either slurred or screamed totally off-key. The venue had been packed before they took to the stage; in two songs they had cleared the pub. By the end of the third song the bass player walked off stage. The band hustled out the door soon after.

This is not the way to perform, at this stage in you’re musical career it’s seen as unprofessional. If you work hard and become a rock star, you can get away with this type of behavior, but right now, where you are, most promoters won’t give you a second chance, they’ll see you as a liability.

After a lot of persuading, and out of desperation really, as I’d had another band pull out last minute, I gave the Contortionists another chance. I did warn them though, not to do it again. However this time they had tweaked their performance up a notch, this time, not only was the lead vocalist, pissed as a cunt, but he also collapsed on stage. An ambulance even had to be called as he was vomiting and the bar staff believed he may have had alcohol poisoning. That was great fun….

Well that’s pretty much it for this guide, unless I get pissed off again and add to it, or write a new one. And remember it is a guide for most people. For those of you who’ve fucked me around in the past when I booked you to play for me, then see this not as a guide, so much, but as my manifesto and remember, I am in contact with a lot of other promoters, I can fuck you up when it comes to gigs with them. Next time you contact me, just make sure things are different than before.

Lets recap before we call it a day. What do I want from you?

I want minimum 20 supporters per band.

I want you to either bring your own equipment or make arrangements yourself.

I want you to be on time or make arrangement with me in advance.

I want you to not collapse or overdose while you perform.

I want you to make me money.

If you can’t manage each of these requirements then please don’t contact me and I won’t contact you….

Steve Kleenex

Jan 2010