I had a conversation with another musician the other day. He was grousing to me about how hard it was to get a gig in this town. I hadn’t had that problem, so I asked what he meant by that.
“It’s obvious!” he began. “These club owners expect you to bring your own following to the gig!” He waited a bit, apparently expecting some sort of condolence from me. When he got none, he went on.
“I mean, nobody in our age group goes out anymore. Nobody has the time! Nobody has the money! I mean, I don’t go out unless I’m playing.”
I was about to say something to all of that. I wanted to tell him that of course the owner expects you to bring a following, that people in his age group (mine as well) do go out, and shame on him for being part of the problem: not going out and supporting other musicians. I changed my mind, though. I realized whatever I said would make no sense to someone who actually believed the world owed him a living, a club owed him a place to play, and that he didn’t have to lift a finger to draw a crowd. The crowd would be there, waiting on him, chanting his name, and waving the Zippos in the air.
Unfortunately, there are more musicians out there just like him who believe that if a club owner could only hear how good they are they would land the gig. Here it is, the ugly truth: the person who books your band does not really care if you are any good! Being good is a perk. He or she expects the booking to put butts in seats, sell food and drink, and make money. In the case of a club, the owner that pays your band $800 expects to earn at least four times that amount because you’re there. He has overhead in his lease, his insurance, his staff, and his product, plus he has to make a profit. If you’re not bringing in fresh faces, it’s only good business if he replaces you.
And the club owner isn’t the only one interested in your money-making potential. If you have an agent, he wants a cut, too. Same with your publicist, your merchandise company, and your CD distributor. Don’t forget: you are the product, not your music. You may be the best act out there, but that title means nothing without fans.
So the next thing you have to consider is why you don’t have a following.
If you’re not doing what you can to market your band, then stop wondering where your friends are and start telling them. Send out emails letting them know where you’ll be next, and when. Put that information on Twitter and Facebook. Create a group of contacts in your smartphone and text them a couple of hours before the show. Make up some flyers with upcoming show dates and contact information: put these on tables at your gigs. Take pictures at the show and put them on your website and Instagram. And don’t expect the club to do any marketing for you.
But if you’re doing all of that and you still have empty seats out in front of you, then you don’t have a following because no one likes your music. Period. The tribe has spoken.
Your friends may listen to a track you uploaded to Reverb Nation and become fans; they may like you on Facebook and hang out with you on Google+; they may even tell you that they’ll make it to one of your shows. But if they haven’t shown up in 3 months, then you either need new friends, or you can assume the old ones are just not into your music. And that isn’t the club’s fault, either.
So what can you do if you this article hits close to home? Plenty. First, determine why you’re not getting gigs or why the ones you do get have low attendance. Then do one (or both) of the following:
- Work at your craft until you’re ready to perform. Get good here. Go back to the basics of scales, modes, and arpeggios. Study. Take lessons. Listen to lots of different music, both inside and outside your genre, and learn how to play it. Read a wide variety of poetry to help you with your lyrics. Go out and listen to other musicians.
- Work on your business chops. Get good here, too. Read all you can about the business of music. Get some networking skills and use them when you go out to listen to other musicians. Learn as much as you can about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You don’t need them all; learn which ones are best for you.
Notice the first word in those points: work. Like the musician at the beginning of this article, you can grouse all you want to, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t make you a better musician. All it will do is alienate you from those working hard on their own careers and who have no time to listen to someone else complain.
So if you’re not getting the bookings you want, take charge of your career and figure out why. Assess your music honestly and be willing to make changes. And don’t waste time and energy blaming others: you are the master of your fate.
Image credits: Top – the author; Bottom – Chad Miller