Have You Always Dreamed of Starting a Band?
Creating music is an expression of the soul. No matter what kind you prefer—blues, R & B, classical, country, jazz, metal, rap, rock or a variety of other genres—playing and/or listening to music makes (most of) us happy.
With proper management and a little luck, playing music may add a few dollars to your piggy bank but developing a local band can be a real challenge; you must find musicians who work well together and strive to meet similar goals. Making money with your hobby band is possible in today’s economic climate . . . if you take a serious, professional approach to creating, managing and maintaining your business.
Where and How to Advertise for Musicians
Where to advertise? Although music stores still have musicians’ message boards in their establishments—and they can be very effective—you should probably start by going online. Find websites that feature local musicians, bands and message boards. In your “musicians wanted” advertisement, specify exactly what you’re looking for so that others with similar goals can respond.
Be open to the kinds of music your band will play. Don’t tie yourself into one or two genres because good, versatile, available musicians are not always easy to find. Note that your project is a “start-up” and include the long-term goals you have for the band. Provide a rough blueprint of how you to plan to achieve those goals.
The type of music you wish to play and particular kinds of gigs you hope to book can determine the number of instruments for the band. However, having too many people can become complicated when scheduling rehearsals and shows. If your band is collectively interested in merely creating a great sound, then add as many players as you wish. But if the group is about making money, then start out with a drummer, bassist and guitar player; adding vocals, keyboards, a second guitar and horns as the music—and number of gigs obtained—warrants.
Be sure your band members agree on how much they expect to be paid for shows and the kinds of gigs they’ll play because pay rates and performance types do vary.
What Kind of Shows to Book?
The musical selections your band chooses to play will vary depending on the types of gigs sought. For example, let’s say your focus is on playing shows at bars and nightclubs—chances are you won’t need to learn how to play the Beer Barrel Polka or Hava Nagila. But to perform at fairs, corporate events, restaurants, festivals, weddings and other private parties, a band must have a large repertoire of music (such as rock, pop, country, jazz, standards, etc.) to satisfy all audiences. You may determine preferred venues, if the gigs are available, but be open to playing for whoever is paying.
Every band needs a leader, but if you are the kind who wants to decide on every aspect of what the project should be, you probably won’t keep bandmates around for the long run. Bands have a better chance of staying together when each member is respected for his or her opinions and what they can actually bring to the musical table—not just what you envision. Because musicians all have opinions about what songs to play and how to play them, this could lead to changing (your idea of) the group’s musical direction (but not necessarily the business plan). When starting out, bring your musicians together for a couple of jam sessions to determine which songs come together easily and which ones would take more time to perfect. Song lists develop naturally this way.
Build Your Repertoire
Now, after a couple of impromptu jam sessions and the musician roster in place, it’s time to set a rehearsal schedule and have your first business meeting. Bands that play “cover” songs should create shows that will please different types of audiences. Tunes that are appropriate for late-night bar gigs may not be suitable for restaurants, fairs or festivals—especially when children are in the audience.
“Originals” bands face challenges because audiences are not (necessarily) familiar with their music; these bands must have a following if they hope to make money. “Originals” bands with a solid fan base may do well financially if their loyal listeners come out to shows (and/or buy recordings). Along with your originals, consider adding cover songs that people know and can sing along with you. Doing so will help to create a more welcoming atmosphere for your audiences.
Develop a Business Plan
When the music is set, the next step in the business plan is to decide who does what. Someone has to:
- Move heavy sound equipment; set up/tear down, etc. (individual band members are responsible for their own gear)
- Run sound (professional sound companies are best but not always practical)
- Direct rehearsals, create setlists, introduce new music, etc.
- Promote the band
- Book shows
- Seek show opportunities
- Handle the payroll and band fund*
- Client communication
And handle the odds and ends that always crop up in the production process. The team generally functions better as a whole when each band member has some type of job to do. However, the band manager must be sure everything gets done.
- Always have "Happy Birthday" ready (and perhaps "Birthday" by the Beatles)
- "Auld Lang Syne" is a standard for New Year's Eve
- Add several slow-tempo songs per set for couples who want to snuggle up on the dance floor
- Include extended-mix songs that you can keep playing if the dance floor is rocking!
- Be flexible. You may have to change around the list, depending on what the audience is requesting.
- Start out by learning and perfecting 40 or 50 songs.
- Build your setlists with varied selections so that you can start booking as soon as possible (a working band is a happy band!)
- Consider bringing your group to some (unpaid) open-mic music sessions (it's like having public rehearsals) to enhance the show's onstage flow and to introduce the band to potential employers
- Always have technical rehearsals for the musicians and the sound crew before playing in front of audiences
How to Book Gigs
Encourage all band members to search for show opportunities.
There is no “gig fairy”; it is in everyone’s best interest to work toward booking shows. Today’s economy is hurting people who earn a living playing music and those who play for beer money because many venues have completely stopped or cut back on hiring live music for their events.
Booking agents are available in many cities; however, they may be particular in choosing the kinds of bands they will represent. Agents may even want you to pay them! Online agents often require bands to pay a fee upfront. Watch out for “promoters” who want to add you to their show lineup—many require bands to pay a fee or to sell a certain number of tickets. "Originals" bands are particularly in demand for these shows but the outcome may not be in your best interest. Unless the band is willing to give away its talent to promoters promising "exposure," avoid these (what are known as) "pay to play" gigs.
Some venues and clients require signed contracts. For example, promoters of fairs and festivals, corporate events, agents and wedding parties often put terms in writing as to expectations on music, behavior, equipment, attire, promptness and other variables pertinent to the show. Read these contracts carefully and make sure your band mates understand what is expected of them.
Promote Your Shows
Promoting your upcoming shows is very important because most nightclub owners want the bands they hire to bring in new customers. In today’s Internet world, you can have your own private website and music pages on Facebook, ReverbNation, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Myspace, just to name only a few.
Along with the internet, social media and other online event pages, promote your upcoming appearances with fliers, mass emails, art-creative posters for the venue and mentions in the local newspapers. If your band plays original music and has recordings for sale, offer the CDs with other merchandise such as decals and t-shirts.
How to Handle Band Expenses
Hold back a percentage of the amount of money that the band makes from each show so that all expenses are paid from band income. Expenses may include promotional materials like paper, ink, CDs, business cards, fliers and posters, websites, art and technical designers, branded band merchandise, banners, drum heads (with logos) and billable service hours (roadies and sound technicians, for example).
Although each player is responsible for his or her own musical gear, the Band Fund may help with sound equipment, lights and hiring an extra or substitute player for a special occasion or to “get you through the gig.”
Prepare for special shows where you may have to hire professional sound companies. If the band is earning large amounts of money, open a specified bank account and designate someone to be the treasurer for the group.
The Bottom Line
Bands can be volatile; musicians come and go. Patience is the key—it can take months or even years to develop the necessary chemistry of a solid musical group. Building a good reputation among clients and potential employers also takes time; word of mouth and social media are key components to promotion.
Today’s musical climate for booking shows is challenging, partly because of the economy but also because of the many, varied entertainment options that venue owners can offer their patrons. Even the jam-band “weekend-warrior” musicians who want to get out of the basement and into the clubs may find it hard to get those shows on their calendar.
Get organized and develop a band strategy. Above all, be flexible … even the best laid plans need altering sometimes.
© 2014 Teri Silver