You love going to shows, but you've realized that there just aren't enough in your city. There's not enough venues, not enough bands, not enough kids, the current venues that people use suck, the bands suck, the kids suck, whatever. There's always something wrong with anyone's local music "scene." Chances are, yours is no different than mine. What should you do about it aside from complain on message boards and in zines? If you're adventurous enough, you might consider throwing your own hat into the ring.
Throwing a show in any music scene (be it hardcore, punk, frat rock, hip hop, metal, folk, or a mixture of all of the above) is an arduous task. Each music genre can present its own specific pitfalls. I've been booking and promoting shows on again/off again for the better part of 12 years now. Most of the shows I've thrown have been punk, hardcore, or metal shows, but I'm going to try to make this as general as possible.
Keep in mind that many of these things will happen concurrently and you're going to have many things to manage. I'm going to try to break things down as step by step as possible, but chances are you're going to be juggling dates, bands, and venues at the same time. Write everything down! Make sure you've got phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, a calendar, and anything else you think is useful handy. Write down potential dates, venues, bands, helpful friends, and anything else you might think will be helpful.
This seems to be the most basic and obvious step, but let's face it, you need a solid lineup to make a show happen. Know the bands you're booking - listen to them, see them live if you can. Even if it's your best friend - at least drop by a practice session. You want to be as familiar with the music as you can be.
Get a feeling for the following of your bands. How many people show up to other shows they play? What age groups are their fans in? Answering questions like these will help you determine the type of venue you want to have your show at. The last thing you want to do is rent a hall with a capacity of 300 and only have 20 kids show up. You don't want to rent a bar for a show that should be all ages.
Make sure you inform each band of what you're trying to put together, and fill them in on every detail they ask for. Nothing is worse than finding out the day before a gig that you've got to provide your own PA, that your friends needed to buy tickets to get in, that there's an age restriction on a show, etc.
Try and book bands that will compliment each other , either in their similarities or in their differences. Most people enjoy stumbling on new music they haven't heard. However, some people also might not dig the metal band you sandwiched between the folk act and the DJ. At the same time, not everyone wants to sit through 5 hours of similar pop punk bands over and over again.
Make sure that there's no weird rivalries or feuds between the bands you book or their fans. Most of the time, this isn't an issue, but keep in the back of your head that if the Rock and Roll All Stars got into a brawl in the parking lot with the Superheroes of Metal last month after the show, they might not be keen on playing together.
Find a good contact. Pick one person and work with them. Make sure everyone in the band communicates with each other, but you shouldn't have to worry about getting everyone's schedules individually. You shouldn't have to worry about calling the bass player and making sure he doesn't have another show that night or making sure the drummer has the day off work. You're probably going to be dealing with multiple bands, so it's good to have one solid contact for each one.
Give everyone plenty of time. Don't call your contacts up three days before the show and expect them to be able to play. Give them plenty of time to talk to everyone and schedule things properly.
Get confirmation, but be flexible. If you haven't secured a date yet, at least have a few in mind. Try and find the day that works best for everyone. Make sure that whoever your contact is, they've spoken to the other members of their band and there are no conflicts. If your contact says "yeah, it'll be fine" - ask them if they've gotten in touch with everyone. Don't be a jag though - be as accommodating as possible. If your contact is still waiting to hear back from people, don't pressure them. They want to play as much as you want them to.
Don't overbook! If you're planning a fest, that's one thing, but cramming 8 acts into a 4 hour time frame will make everyone unhappy all around. Don't ask six bands because you're unsure on whether or not two will play. It's good to have a backup, but make sure you explain it to your contacts. It's perfectly fine to say "hey, I'm throwing a show in three weeks and the Rock All Stars may have to cancel - will you play if they do?" It's not okay to say "Sorry! I found someone better after all!"
Local and touring acts. If you're planning on doing an all local show, some of the mechanics will be different than doing a show with touring acts. Doing an all local show means that you won't have to worry too much about things outside the show. You may though, have to promote harder, depending on the following of your local acts.
If you're planning on booking a band on tour, you're going to have some additional work. You might need to find them a place to crash, help them out with getting to know your town or city (if they haven't been through before), and make sure they get paid. Talk to your bands on tour - ask lots of questions. Find out what they know about your location, the length of their tour, what they expect from you as a promoter.
Clear communication is paramount. Make sure your touring act knows how to get to the location exactly. If they need help finding crash space, food, something to do for the weekend, help them as much as you can. Chances are, they probably have considered these things, but be able to offer help when asked. Above all else, make sure you've got a way to give them some cash. No one wants to drive 300 miles to find out they're not going to be able to gas up the van to get home.
Make sure everyone knows the load in and load out times. Have a pretty good idea of when the show will start and end. You'll need to be prepared for change, but stick as close to your schedule as possible. Tell your bands how long of a set you're going to give them as well as how long you expect setup and breakdown to take. If you don't want the world to know the order of the bands, that's fine - but make sure each band knows when they're going to play. Always be prepared - last minute changes happen all the time, but make sure everyone knows about it.
Next week, Dates!
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