You’ve practiced, rehearsed and woodshedded. Your mom, significant other and best friends all agree that you sound as good as anything on the radio. You have garage recordings up on Myspace, Facebook and Youtube. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. It’s time for your first gig!
There are infinitely different kinds of gigs, but three basic types are church, club and casual.
A church gig is easy to get. The only catch is, you have to play Christian based music. Write it yourself or play an old favorite, it doesn’t matter as long as the theological element is there. Here in the Bible Belt, Protestant churches have become pretty liberal in their acceptance of contemporary music styles. Praise Teams regularly rock out the sanctuary on Sunday morning and Icthus, the regional Contemporary Christian music festival, is one of the biggest draws of the year. Most people who play Contemporary Christian are passionate about it before they start playing and know all this without being told. However, even if you perform mostly secular (non-church) music, most churches are friendly and forgiving toward a first time performer, thus a good first gig.
If you are a member of a church, ask to play special music one Sunday morning or offer to perform for a special event. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to call local churches and talk to the choir director or music minister. They’re usually more reasonable than bar owners and Mothers Of The Brides. Churches like music and they like getting together in groups. Again, maybe it’s because I live in the southern USA, but if you play any kind of Christian based music, it’s pretty easy to find a gig.
A club gig is usually a bar, lounge or other alcohol selling venue. They hire both original music and cover bands. Most of them pay the band a percentage of the door if they pay anything at all. Rare clubs will pay a guarantee (a set minimum fee) but, these are few and far between. If you play original material, this is where you develop your following. People go to clubs to hear new music and are always hungry for more.
The evening will usually include 2 or 3 bands which play for 40 minute to an hour each. Lesser known groups start first, opening the show while the more popular groups, the headliners close the evening. At many venues only the headliners is paid. The rest play for exposure and to sell “merch” (cd’s, t-shirts, drumsticks, logo underwear, etc.).
The downside is: bar owners only care about butts in seats. As the impresario of a local venue said to me “Country, Rock, Pop, Rap, it doesn’t matter; a beer is still five bucks.” A bar is a business. The purpose of the business is to make money for the owner, not to promote your band even if you are the next U2.
They don’t want you to play unless you can draw people into their club who will pay the cover charge and buy drinks. This is the main obstacle to playing clubs. You have to play out to develop a following, but you need a following to play out. In future blogs we’ll look at some different approaches to this problem.
The casual gig is a one night stand. The band is entertainment for an event rather than the center of attention. Weddings, parties, bar mitzvah; people getting together to celebrate and have fun. Usually these gigs are the realm of cover bands. The clients want music that they’ve heard on the radio and can dance to but they want the energy of live musicians. You need to be flexible; prepared to stop for toasts and speeches, adapt your playlist to the mood of the crowd, and attempt to play requests.
The usual gig is four hours of playing with three breaks. Casuals can be booked through local entertainment agencies. They charge a percentage and like bars they are a business, so realize that they aren’t managing or promoting your band. In fact it’s best to keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily working in your best interest. Some online booking services are starting to develop but I have yet to book a gig through any of the three that I’ve tried. One way to get your first casual is to play for free for a friend’s party. This lets you work on your stage craft while you gain exposure.
Usually, people at those parties will ask you to play for they’re parties and then you can start raising your fee. The downside; dealing with the Mother Of The Bride and other stressed out event planners can be difficult. You’re working as a party service; same as the caterer and inflatable funhouse guy. Your main job is to make the client happy by adding fun and energy to the party, not to show off your amazing vocal abilities, guitar shredding or poignant lyricism. Professionalism is essential; be on time, dress appropriately, have a neat stage set up, be personable to the crowd.
The GREAT thing about casuals is you get paid at the end of the evening, often times a reasonable sum. Money is a very validating type of applause!
These are three basic types of gigs available almost every where in the US. This is nothing like a definitive list of gigs. Every time I think I’ve played every type of gig this side of Carnegie Hall, somebody hires me to play for a prison or be a human karaoke for a crowd of visiting Japanese businessmen (last weekend, btw).There are no end of different places and audiences to perform for. I love to hear stories about other peoples gigs. Please feel free send me the story of your first gig in the comments.