Playing Live

Whether it’s to showcase your music to friends, to increase your fanbase, to attract industry interest or to create new income streams, playing live is an invaluable experience for most bands and artists. And in the current industry climate, playing live is more important than ever.

The art of performing is completely different to writing or recording music. It’s important to put on a good show so that people will come away from your gig talking.

Some people find performing in front of others nerve-wracking. The best way to overcome stage fright is through practice so get out there and play more gigs and be as prepared as possible. And remember, alcohol might help nerves but chances are you will play better sober.

A good gig doesn’t just rely on playing your songs right. Good performers make sure gaps between songs for tuning or changing instruments are short and get banter between songs right. Your style of banter will depend on how you want to come across but certain information such as the band’s name is vital.

Practical Advice

Equipment

If you’re just starting out then you might not be able to afford the best equipment available but there are certain things that won’t impress a crowd. Technical problems happen to everyone but there is no excuse for basic problems like dodgy leads and out of tune guitars. A tuner and spare leads, picks, strings and sticks are vital.

The majority of gigs run on a tight schedule and therefore promoters prefer bands to share backline. This normally means one band (usually the headliner) will supply the drum kit and bass amp but sometimes means sharing guitar amps too. The promoter should organise this and every band should bring breakables like snare drum and cymbals.

Soundchecks

For obvious reasons, the soundcheck is often the most important part of a gig. Everyone involved should arrive at the venue on time and be as prepared as possible. Send the promoter your sound specs in advance and be ready to set up quickly and quietly.

Many see the sound tech as the enemy which is a stupid attitude to take- you should work together to ensure you communicate any concerns easily and cooperate when needed to get everything sounding right. It’s also important to waste as little time as possible by making sure your gear is working well and being ready to play through one or two songs that enable the sound tech to get the necessary levels.

Setlist

Choosing the right songs is something many bands don’t spend enough time thinking about. You should decide which songs suit a live environment when choosing what to play. If someone in the crowd is seeing you for the first time, start with one of your better songs to make sure they stay for the whole set. A well paced set will ensure you maintain attention and your songs stay in people’s heads. You should play through your set in practice to make sure you can go from one song to another easily and you won’t go over your allotted stage time (usually half an hour).

Get the Gigs

Venues

If you’re just starting out sometimes any venue will do. Many bands start out playing house parties, but once you’re ready to play pubs, clubs and other venues, it’s good to look into which venues you could play. Look to see where other bands are playing and decide which venue would suit you then approach the venues to find out who promotes their gigs.

Promoters

Promoters are responsible for putting shows at various venues. They are normally involved in booking bands, booking the venue, organising sound requirements, marketing through media, and distributing posters and flyers.

A promoter is usually responsible for covering the venue costs, promotional costs and for paying all involved. Sometimes promoters can be paid by the venue but often the promoter would expect to recoup costs through ticket sales. It is best to agree a deal before playing. Every deal is different and depends on the type of venue or show taking place. If you are making a deal with a promoter for profits from a gig, you are most likely to have a set amount you will be paid no matter how busy a gig is. Another common payment deal is the ‘door-split’ where the promoter splits profits from door or ticket sales (once costs are recouped) with the band. You should expect to get anything from 50-80% from such a split.

It is not uncommon when you are starting out to get paid nothing for a gig. Although we advise against playing for free, it can sometimes be in an artist’s best interests- it can help you to increase your fanbase or gain valuable live experience. There are promoters out there though who are out to make a quick buck from naïve bands. Beware of this type of promoter and avoid ‘pay-to-play’ gigs at all costs. A little research goes a long way to ensure you are approaching trustworthy and hardworking promoters. Talk to other bands and attend as many gigs as possible to give you an idea of which promoters to approach.

When contacting promoters, you should be aware that different promoters access music in different ways. Make sure you can send them a good press kit (demo, band picture, biog, etc.) and have all this information available through websites such as MySpace. Use these tools to demonstrate that you can get enough people to your gigs.

Agents

The majority of gigs featuring unsigned bands won’t be organised through an agent as the promoter will take on most of the expected roles themselves. However, many signed and touring bands work with a live agent.

Agents work closely with artists, promoters and labels to ensure an artist plays to the right audience and progresses on the live scene. They also negotiate pay between promoters and venues and artists.

Once you have established a good live reputation, it is a good idea to approach agents who deal with similar artists to you. However, as with many industry contacts, agents are unlikely to listen to unsolicited material and usually rely on recommendations and buzz around a band or artist.

For more advice on agents, see our Agents section.

Support Slots

Securing the right support slot is a great way to gain recognition as a good live band and to reach a new audience.

For the reasons stated above, getting a support slot through an agent is difficult. If local support slots are available, your best chance of securing the gig is through the promoter so it is a good idea to develop a good relationship with good promoters in your area.

You could also try contacting the band or their management directly as some bands like to choose their own support and it could even lead to being asked to support the band on tour.

Putting on Your Own Gigs

You might decide that the best way of getting your music out there is by putting on your own gigs. An advantage is that you get to choose which bands you play with, where you play and who does the sound. It can also show others that you are serious about your music and the DIY approach suits a lot of bands. However, it can be expensive and very stressful so you should only consider it if you feel confident that you can organise a successful gig. It is a great experience though and will give you an idea of just how hard it is to promote gigs.

If you want to put on regular nights, you should start off small and not overstretch yourself. You should keep costs low and be aware of how busy your nights need to be to break even once you have paid everyone involved. You should also consider that good nights take approximately 6-8 weeks of promotion.

Promotion

Whether you’re putting on your own gig or you just want to help to spread the word, it is important for an artist to get involved in publicising a gig. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should be out every day flyering (that’s the promoter’s job), but you can help by spreading the word online and to your friends and fans. Many promoters are in it for the love of new music so it’s good to work together to make sure as many people come to the gig as possible.

You should already have a good network of fans online through sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter so you can use these to tell people about your gigs by inviting them to events and messaging friends. Make sure all your gigs are listed in local publications and online and don’t forget to list all your gigs on any press releases you are sending out.

For more advice on promoting your own gigs, see our Live Music pages.

Playing Other Towns

Although creating a buzz locally is important, you should consider playing other towns as well. The advantage is that you can reach an all new audience and eventually create a buzz nationally. It’s also an enjoyable experience for most artists.

Gig swapping with bands you like from other towns is a good approach. You can share each others crowds and it will ensure you are well looked after when you get to their town.

Getting gigs through promoters in other towns can be harder than getting gigs in your area but the same approach is needed- find out who is putting on the best nights and get in touch with them. They might let you play on the strength of your music alone but it is more likely that they will want to know that you can attract people to their gig. Good press and a strong online presence can help. It’s also worth considering playing gigs to support releases. If you are bringing out a single or EP at the same time, you might be able to secure more media coverage around the release which will get more people along to the gig.

Touring

You might decide that there is enough demand for you to go on tour. Unless you have an agent involved to book the shows for you, you will need to carefully plan a few dates and book them through promoters in other towns. Unless you have one already, you will also have to assume the role of Tour Manager, the person who contacts all promoters and organises sound requirements, transport and accommodation. Touring is expensive and there are many things to consider like vehicle costs, instrument insurance, logistics and promotion. With careful planning, it is possible to put together your own successful tour but you should be prepared for things to go wrong and not outreach your capabilities.

Festivals

Many bands dream of playing festivals but with such competition for slots for new bands, it is important to look in the right places. Sites such as SonicBids.com list which festivals are looking for unsigned bands to play and you can apply through that site.

Festivals in your area might have slots for local bands so get in touch with the organisers to find out. Most festivals finalise their line-ups many months in advance.

Some of the larger festivals such as Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds run competitions to play and BBC Introducing offer slots at most of the major festivals to emerging artists.

DJing Live

A lot of the advice given above for bands is applicable to DJs when you’re ready to move from bedroom or studio DJ to live act. House parties might be a good place to start before you approach booking agents or promoters at local and national clubs. There are also opportunities to play between bands at gigs so it’s worth getting in touch with good promoters for slots. Check out other DJ sets and keep an eye on what’s happening by hanging out at record stores and other nights. Many successful DJs start by securing residencies at one or more venues to help them to develop a good live reputation.

Many people believe that the ability to seamlessly mix two pieces of music together makes you a DJ but the real skill of being a live DJ clearly reaches far deeper than that. A great DJ tracks down amazing music and carefully crafts it into a musical collage, condensing the work of hundreds of producers and artists, old and new, into a single mind-blowing journey. The most successful DJs don’t just roll out the best tunes- their sets are about the place, the time and the people in front of them. In other words, they know how to read what the audience wants in order to create a good party.

The real skills of a DJ take several years to develop and fine tune and the work of a DJ happens behind the scenes, digging through crates of records looking for that hard-to-find dub or a capella track that will blend perfectly into their sound and make them stand out from the crowd.

Always remember that the role of the DJ is to act as a tastemaker, the finder of new beats and scenes and not many musical movements could have grown without the help and approval of DJ’s all around the world.

Another important skill is interpreting the needs of your audience. Not only do you have to love and understand your own musical taste but also that of others. You need to learn what makes them tick, what makes them dance and go crazy.

With a huge selection of rhythm and grooves at their disposal, the DJ arguably controls more inherent musical potential to be creative than a live musician. DJs are not limited by instruments, the DJ can take 30 seconds of an artist’s best work and loop and craft it into a club monster, playing music from 30 years ago alongside modern grooves live in the mix.

The modern DJ industry places an unhealthy emphasis on the technical side of DJing. Of course, you will need some technical ability to play records but not a lot to be perfectly honest. Remember that the music comes first - always.

USEFUL LINKS

Venues

The Cluny and Cluny 2
The Head of Steam
Newcastle 02 Academy
The Other Rooms
Digital Newcastle
Northumbria Student's Union
Newcastle Student's Union
World Headquarters
The Cumberland Arms
Star and Shadow Cinema
The Sage Gateshead
Independent Sunderland
Arts Centre Washington
Middlesbrough Town Hall
Empire
Arc, Stockton
Ku Bar
The Georgian Theatre
Westgarth Social Club
The Hub

 

Promoters

The Cluny
Jumpin’ Hot Club
The Great Northern
Fake Indie Label
Portions For Foxes
Insangel
Ten Feet Tall
The Kids Are Solid Gold
Travelled Music
SSD Concerts
The-Outsider
Lone Wolf Promotions
Deviate
Inertia
aLIVE MUSIC
Not-Your Cuppa-Tea
The Polite Room
DADA/Object Of Distraction
Seen & Inside Out LIVE
KO:ALITION
Distraction Records
Tiny Lights Recordings
Leave Me Here
JLC Events
HeartRock Live
A Glimpse Of Paradise
Evolution Emerging

Other

The Unsigned Guide: http://www.theunsignedguide.com/

 

Other

The Unsigned Guide: http://www.theunsignedguide.com/