Eventually it had to happen. Everything you’ve done so far has resulted in happy audiences, happy venues. You’re fielding offers, or venues actually get back to you when you submit. It’s possible even an agent is trying to sign you up. Good for you. Now don’t screw it up. There are mostly words-of-warning here, as too many make stupid mistakes, costing them good, professional relationships.
Quick word on agents: I like dealing with smaller agencies where we all know each other. They know what I’m looking for, how I work. They know who I might be interested in, and don’t bother me with players that won’t fit my theme. They answer my calls! They’ll even call me if they have someone interesting! Pick one where you’ll get some attention. Pick one where you fit in with the vibe of all the other artists. That will make it easier for that agent to suggest you to a venue who may have used them for similar talent. I get plugs all the time in this manner. I want Joe Smith for February. he’s not available. But the good agent will say, “Hey, Joe’s touring in China then. How about Willie Grundfeld? I signed him recently, and really like his sound. Nice guy, great vibe, easy to work with. His guarantee is a little lower than Joe’s, because he’s just establishing himself. Give him a listen and let me know.” Many things happen here: First, I have just found out about Willie. Second, I know he’s good, because that agent doesn’t rep junk. Third, I can easily afford him, and as he’s new, hasn’t been overexposed. I can look like a cool guy because I’m helping expose him to a new audience. And he won’t be asking for an unreasonable guarantee. He’ll make as much as I can possible help him make, but I have less worry about covering a guarantee.
Anyway, agent or not, here are a couple of rules.
Respect the “Promoter Of Record.” This might be an old school concept, but if you want to piss off a venue, then play at one place once or twice to let them help you get established, and then jump to a competing venue just because you want to fill a hole in your schedule. I have stopped working with agents who have broken this. Most agents really respect this, and artists who are real road veterans live and die by this rule. I have had feedback from various sources where artists will turn down an offer from a competing venue because of this rule. One competitor/friend (agents just don’t know who knows whom…) told me an artist flat-out refused his offer, saying, “Nah, when I play in your area, I’ve always played at Fire In The Kitchen. That’s it. Until he retires, that’s where I’ll play.” And yes, I do go to extra effort for he and his band. I’ve had others who have played at this friend’s series come to me, looking for a gig. Sorry guys, no way.
Respect Geography: Many bigger venues have a 60-mile, 60-day rule. You sign with them for a gig, you can’t play for anyone else within a 60 mile radius for 60 days. Period. No house concerts the week before or after, no little filler bar gigs. They’re putting a lot of time and money into your gig, and they don’t want their product diluted. Yup, you’re a product. And yes, you’re a unique product, until you start overexposing yourself in a given area. Once you start playing everywhere and anywhere, you’ve descended into the Walmart category of live music. You can get it anywhere. Venues need to distinguish themselves from one another, so anything you do to undermine that aura of exclusivity that each venue tries to maintain is one quick step to losing gigs. I’m constantly checking the schedule go bands I’m interested in. If they’ve already played around a bit in Connecticut, I’m out. This concept of “building an audience” is overrated. If you’re show isn’t spectacular, you might even draw fewer people the second time, as many audience members are always looking for something new. Which brings us to:
Respect Overexposure: Make sure you keep yourself special. If you circle around too frequently, you become just another band. Artists representing themselves can screw this up. One well-known artist that I had a date “pencilled-in” with also contacted other venues within a 20 minute drive to see of he could also book there, keeping his tour tight. I’m out. I can’t trust him to keep his brand exclusive enough to make him worth the risk of promoting. Agents who call trying to talk me into an artist that’s been around the area 3-4 times over the past year… why should I bother?
House Concerts: Cool or death by devaluation? If you sign with an agent, they won;t let you do house concerts, and there’s a very good reason. You may like small spaces mid-week, though, and that would preclude you from signing, and that’s fine, but know the dangers. Keep in mind there’s a growing resentment among better venues regarding house concerts, and it’s all about the pricing structure. It’s critical that whomever they bring in to perform, there’s a perception of exclusivity, scarcity, and value. If the public gets wind of your proclivity to play house concerts mid-week (and they’ll see that from all your posts on social media), they’ll know they can see you for less money than at a bigger venue. And if they see you play a lot of them, they’ll know they can catch you sometime in the very near future at a house concert. So what’s the public’s motivation to go see you at a big venue at a higher price? The venue has invested in equipment, in the room fixtures, in insurance, in a PR campaign, and so on, all so that they can present you so you can make some money. And yeah, most of them want to make some money, too, but what’s wrong with that? It’s a business.
The house concert doesn’t have any investment in anything; for the host it’s a cool thing to do, that makes them look cool in the eyes of their friends. See how willing they are to put you on if you tell them you need a thousand dollar guarantee. Then it’s not so cool. Do not devalue yourself, especially if you’re trying to play high-end venues. The venues will not be pleased.
If you want to play one, play one that has a private email list, does not publicize your appearance in any way, and DO NOT EVER speak of it on social media. It never happened. It can never have happened. Even then, make sure it’s a good couple of hours away from where you’ll be playing that weekend.
Supply and demand is the key, do not overexpose, do not undervalue yourself. You’re building a brand, and it better not be a discount brand.
Oh, and don’t comp people in. Friends don’t let friends work for free, and venues hate it when artist at the last minute, says, “oh, and a couple of friends I want to comp in are showing up…” I stopped allowing comps when one artist wanted me to comp in front row seats. No way, those are for sponsors who write nice checks. If they’re really your friends, they’ll be happy to pay.