How do we know when we are ready to book a show?


    Most people talk about wanting to be “ready” to play a show. “Ready” is great, and it’s true that you should be well rehearsed, but often it’s about being “ready enough”. Shows are amazing and are unpredictable, so no matter how much you have everything fine-tuned and no matter how much your band rocks in a rehearsal space, a live show is a whole different set-up. Anything can happen and sometimes will.


    So when do you know when you are ready to book a show? How many songs do you need? Do you need someone to book the show for you or can you do it yourself?

    Live shows are so important for you to help you improve as a performer, as a writer, to get used to performing for an audience, to get tighter playing as a band together and playing as a unit and basically to be rock solid onstage. Also, they are the best fun, so let's get started...


    Me at the very first Moth Complex show in Dublin, Ireland


    How many songs do we need before we can do a show?


    Well, start with this - how long you are going to be onstage for? What’s the length of the time slot you are going to get? For a first show, you’ll probably want to do a minimum of 20 minutes, maybe 30 or 35. So how many songs is that? About 6 – 9 songs usually, depending on the length of your songs. You can throw in a couple of covers if you don’t have enough original songs – and you can use them to cover some of the “gaps” in your sets. For example if your set is mostly mid-tempo and lacks faster tempo songs, you can choose cover songs that bridge that gap for you.




    What do we need to know about creating a set?


    When you have your songs chosen for your set, next, “run” your set. Play through your set list without stopping and see how it feels. Does the set feel “slow” at some parts? Do you need to shift a couple of the songs around? Some songs will feel right next to each other – there’ll be a flow. Other songs will feel like they drag. Just work it out until you’re happy with how your set sounds.


    Think of every rock show you’ve ever been to or watched online… there’s a reason they’re set up the way they are. The beginnings and the endings are the obvious impact points. Ideally, of course, you’ll want to aim to have a strong show throughout, but the start and end are obvious places where you can grab attention and make an impression. Generally speaking, you definitely want to start your set really strong and end really strong.


    You can have longer sets, but when you’re not a known band, personally I think it’s better to do a shorter, really tight, really strong set and leave people wanting more – especially when they don’t know your songs – rather than drag it out. I remember talking to a singer in a local band when we were playing somewhere in the middle of the States. He said “We have 17 songs” and I said “Cool. How many are you guys playing tonight?” and he said “17 songs”. Not a good idea…


    Length of your set is going to depend on situation and location, so suss that out in advance. For example, if you’re doing a short acoustic type set, you could probably do as little as 2 or 3 songs…

    Moth Complex set list (obviously!)


    Any tips about getting started with performance?


    I learned something about performance in an acting class a few years ago... that when you are performing it's better to give 100% to something you're not sure of than less than 100% to something you are sure of. I always remembered this.


    Performance is all about energy, so that's the first step - to show up with energy. There are different kinds of energy, though: frantic energy or focused energy.


    Remember that people are there to see a show, so whether you are playing to 2 people or 1,000 people, respect that they are there for your show and play your best show possible. Give your all no matter what. On top of that, you never know who is in your audience and one person who is very passionate about your music and impressed by your band can spread the word a long, long way.


    Be confident onstage. Just decide to be confident and then be confident. Get comfortable with making eye-contact with your audience and speak loudly and clearly when you have something to say.


    The next thing is to receive your applause. You see performers pause at the end of a song and receive the reaction of the crowd. It marks the completion of the song but it also allows you to really receive your audience's appreciation. I like that idea, it's like having respect for what people have to say and taking the moment in before you physically move on to the next song.


    If you make mistakes, do your best to pick it up and just keep moving. Often the audience, who don't know your songs as well as you do, may not even notice.


    Be well prepared as a band and play your very best as an individual and as part of a band. You know how kick-ass it is when you're watching a band that plays as a unit like that!


    And then there is the banter part... the chatting with your audience and encouraging them to sing back parts of the songs with you. Personally, I prefer the less-is-more approach to onstage banter, but I feel I'm in the minority in that regard. I feel an audience wants. connection and wants to have a sense of your personality. Also, at rock shows especially, people want to be involved in the performance and are used to having sections where they will sing back parts of songs.


    Honestly, thus far at least, the whole banter area has been a weak point for me. Here's what I will say, though - be real. You decide what works best for you - about what you choose to talk about onstage, how you involve your audience in your performance or whether you say anything at all.


    Ultimately, I think there are two keys to improving your performance: 1) do lots of it and 2) be pro-active about getting better. Oh, there's a third thing - 3) enjoy it! That's what it's all about at the end of the day, isn't it?


    Me onstage with my band, Moth Complex, in Dublin, Ireland.


    What are the first steps to take in booking a show in an established venue?


    The first steps to take in booking a show are to research all venues in the location you want to play. On each venue website, look for how the venue representative wants you to make contact. Different venues/bookers have different preferred ways of being contacted about shows. Look to see if there is a specific person who books the shows. They may want a physical CD and be unwilling to click website or email links. They may not accept MP3s by email but will listen if you deliver them through Dropbox. Generally, just do what they say. They’re usually getting lots of enquiries and can often just delete an MP3 or dump a CD if it’s not what they’ve asked for.


    They will likely want to hear some of your music and depending on the show and the venue, they may want some info about your band or may ask for a “Onesheet” or Press Pack or EPK. (For more about this check out "How To Promote Your Music".)



    Once you know how they want to be contacted and before you send your email or pick up the phone you will want to have a few things clear in your mind about what you want and are happy to agree to and are not …




    What length of set do you want to play?
    If you are looking for a short 20-minute set but can play up to 30 mins or so, just say that.

    What does your band sound like?
    I don’t think any band really likes comparing themselves to another band, but having examples of known bands or providing a specific genre can help a venue booker quickly get clear on what you sound like and where they might place your band in a line-up.


    Be ready to show your enthusiasm.
    A booker is going to want to bring the max number of people possible to their venue. So if you are willing to really help with promo and bring all your friends to the show, make sure you put that across (and follow through on doing it – they tend to remember those things!)


    Be prepared.
    Know that they’ll likely want to check out your band and your music, so have that ready to send on to them or have your website in good shape to send them to. You will want to send this stuff on to them Immediately so your band name and your conversation is fresh in their mind. They get a ton of bands so you want to make sure you are ready and efficient so you get what you want (i.e. book a show with them).


    If you have anything of note that you can tell a booker – that you’re going to be recording your EP in a month or that your song is being played on a certain radio station, let them know. They’re not going to expect you to be in Rolling Stone at this stage, so don’t worry about that, you just want them to know that you are sincere about what you are doing and enthusiastic about playing the show.


    Keep in mind...
    Sometimes venues have the opportunity for a “first on” or will have gaps in a line-up. Bands generally want to play later in an evening when there’s more likely to be a bigger audience. If you just want to play a show and get your foot in the door and get some practice at this stage, a first on slot could be just what you need to start getting some shows underneath your belt. If you are happy to go on first or wherever there’s a gap in a line-up, make sure to say so.


    You’re getting started and that’s what’s important. You can use every single thing you do now as leverage as you go forward. For your second show, you’ll be able to say “We played at X venue and we brought Y number of people along” or whatever. You can take pictures in the venue or take live pictures for your social media page. You can make sure to connect with other bands… Once you get to play your first show, it will get easier from there.


    About "Pay to Play"
    If you’re not a named or established band on a line-up, you might be expected to play for free or to sell some tickets for the show. Sometimes venues expect bands to pay to play. Is that right or fair? I don’t think so, but still, I’ve paid to play before. What I suggest is to get clear about what feels right to you to agree to before you make a call. Be willing to be work with the venue, for sure, but if there’s something you don’t want to do, then that’s where you say “No”. Be clear about what you want and be ready to communicate it.


    Contacting Venues
    When you are clear, well-rehearsed and have your promo stuff in place, get to work. Send emails, make phone calls, make contact. And be positive, be patient but be persistent. Bookers for these venues have lots of slots to fill and lots and lots of bands looking to fill them. You never know when you’ll get a break.


    If someone says “no”, it doesn’t matter. Move on to the next one. We all hear "no" in music. If everyone says “no”, take a look at what you are doing and how you might tweak it. Consider their perspective and what they might be objecting to – or ask them. And then try again.


    Other details...?
    When you are at the stage of confirming shows with a venue, you'll want to confirm some other things too. You'll need to confirm what is and isn't provided in terms of "backline" (what equipment is provided by the venue) and what you will need to bring to your show. You may want to confirm if there is a House Engineer and if he/she will be doing your sound or if you have to bring someone. You can ask the same about lighting, if you wish, depending on the venue size.


    Other details include load in times and locations and whether there is parking provided, restrictions about filming and other items... but we'll list this out a little later on.



    Here’s the thing to know… You WILL get shows. It WILL happen. It may not be easy from the get-go, you may have to hustle – or it could be easy. As always, be positive, be patient but persistent. It will work out



    Pictured above: Me at one of the first shows I played with my band, Moth Complex. In Dublin, Ireland.



    What if we are under 21 and can’t play in venues that serve alcohol?


    Look at your options and see what IS available to you. Are there music halls or community centres in your locality that put on live shows? Are there local festivals that you could play at? Is there a venue you can rent?

    What about the bars that put on live bands? Can you speak to the owners and see what their policy is about under 21 band members? Some venues will allow you play but will not allow you be on the premises other than showtime or load in. Some venues insist on a parent or guardian being present. Some venues will allow you entry to play at an all ages show only. If you talk with them directly you can get clear about which venues ARE options for you to play at and which are not.


    Or… where can you create a show of your own? Do your research, gather your list of options – and then it’s time to get to work.




    What if we DON’T want to play at an established or licensed venue?


    Cool. So I suggest you start with some brainstorming… if you’re going to set up your own show on your own terms, what would you like that to look like? Do you want to team up with some of your friends’ bands or even different types of creative artists to collaborate with? What type of location do you want to use? Do you know people who have a cool space you can use? Do you have sponsors you can approach? Do you want to film it? Do you want to play in peoples’ houses? (Remember the idea of leveraging everything you do – you could create a video of your show or do a “behind the scenes” mini-documentary…)


    This is where there are no rules or outlines to follow… and you can go as big as you want. (Isn’t that an exciting thought?)


    You can play acoustic sets at coffee shops or on local radio shows or at parties or in record shops – you can also do all of these things in addition to traditional shows.


    Stay alert to any opportunities or possibilities around you and it will work out.



    Should we get a booking agent or do this ourselves?


    You can do either, but a booking agent will usually want to work with a band that has established some sort of name for themselves and has been making some headway. This is because it makes their job easier and also because just as they are representing you, they are also representing themselves and building their own career.


    Booking agents will likely want to take a cut of anything you are paid and if you are not being paid, will charge you a flat fee, so just make sure you are happy with all of this before you agree to work with anyone.


    Honestly, I'd say do it yourself. That way you are personally making connections and getting to know the ropes. The more you keep doing this and playing shows and doing well, the easier it is for you – and whatever booking agent you may choose to work at that stage too.


    Everything builds upon itself. When you’ve done a few shows and you get on a roll, you will have experience, you will have contacts and it will be easier to repeat the process. At this beginning stage, it’s really a matter of getting the ball rolling.

    Backstage in the Dressing Room at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin. Supporting Lacuna Coil.


    How important is it to get confirmation of our show?


    It’s very important. Sometimes guys who are booking for venues are managing multiple nights with multiple bands of varying budgets and with a large number of demands. Your band’s show is not going to be top of their priority list, so make sure that you make it your job to get clear confirmation from them so when you turn up for your show everything is going to go ahead as planned.


    Sometimes venue managers will leave things to the last minute to confirm, but where possible, make sure you have all of this in good time. Mistakes can happen, and there are few things more disappointing than arriving to play a show that doesn't happen, but the clearer you communicate, the less they are likely to.


    I played more than one show that was booked well in advance and then the venue booker seemed to disappear, didn't respond to any communication, so we were arriving at a venue we had driven for hours to get to, not knowing whether anything was actually going ahead. It's not a nice situation to be in.


    For the most part, though, your band and the venue both want the same thing (a smooth running, super cool evening and show) so just keep that in mind and work with them. Whenever possible have clear communication and get confirmation.




    Do we create posters and flyer or does the venue?


    When you’re starting out, creating posters and flyers will probably come down to you. Remember to use strong, consistent branding and be sure to include the most important details really clearly and easily read. That may sound obvious, but it’s so easy to mess up on. You’ll want your band name, venue, date, time and price on your poster regardless. You may need age restriction details, you may need other band names - then spread the flyers and the word far and wide.


    Creating a really cool design for posters and flyers need not be expensive. If you can’t do it yourself, you can use a site like Fiverr where you can have a flyer made up for $5 or little more than $5 – and then replicate and distribute to your heart’s content digitally, in colleges and coffee shops, send to radio stations – wherever you think people who love your music will be.


    Often a venue will allow you to distribute flyers on-site at the venue in the lead up to show – it is in their interest after all. You can post on the back of toilet doors in the venue, if they allow that, and can hand out flyers after the busiest shows in the venue.


    There’s no hard and fast rule about this, but from bands I’ve talked to, you need to expect only a super small percentage of people you promote will actually turn up at the gig (I've usually gone with the 1 in 100 ratio when distributing randomly like this). When you can target an audience or niche that is into your band or music, do it. This will up ratio.


    The best way to promote is to connect with people directly – in person and online. Once you make a personal connection, people are more interested. Plus, venues will continue working with hard-working bands who are willing to promote the shows (once you can deliver live as a band too, of course). Every one person you bring is money for the venue, remember. So promoting and spreading the word benefits you all.


    Remember that people are busy and have their own priorities, so think of how you can make them supporting you as easy as possible for them to do. In the pictures below you'll see posters for my band Moth Complex that we got made up for a US tour. We left the bottom part of the poster blank for the show details. Then we filled those in for each venue and mailed the posters out to each venue we confirmed so all they had to do was put them on their walls.


    It worked!


    Remember the idea of leverage – you can use your posters and flyers for social media promo too, you can give them away or sell them at shows. If your venue allows it you can film the show, get live photos and backstage photos, tag those who turn up on your social media sites. Make sure to make the most of every single opportunity. And get building a buzz about your band.



    Here are some of the places we randomly spotted those Moth Complex posters we mailed out on walls, doors and wherever else (in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Arizona).

    What should be on our checklist of things to do for our show?



    Have you got everything sounding great and ready for your show?
    Have you been giving some focus to your performance?


    Your backline:
    Have you confirmed what will be provided by the venue (and the standard of what will be provided, if you wish)?
    Do you have your bass and guitar strings changed, if you need to, and, of course, tuned?
    Do you have a spare bass/guitar beside you on stage if you have spares?
    Do you have spare strings/drum sticks in case you need them?
    Do you have all the essential cables/leads you need with you? And spares?
    Do you have guitar picks? Do you have any batteries you need for effects pedals? Do you have your drum key?
    Have you brought the money to pay for anything you need to pay for?


    Transport & Parking:

    Have you got transport sorted out for going to and from the show if you need it?
    If your transport is going to be left at the venue while you play, does the venue provide a parking space that is safe and legal and affordable for you?

    If not, have you a plan for where to park and who is going to look after this?


    Agreements with the venue:

    Have you a contact name and number for the venue contact/booker/venue owner/sound engineer?
    If not, do you have the name of another contact who will be there on the night and who knows you are playing?

    Do you know your load in time and location? Do you have an idea of your stage time (you often won’t get your stage time till the night of the show)?

    Can you get the name of the guy on sound or lights or anything else show-related who you’ll be working with on the night?


    Print out/write out set lists so you all know what you are playing at what stage during the set. (With excitement and adrenaline, this can be easy to forget).


    Pack CDs, posters or t-shirts if you have them to sell.


    ( There's a downloadable PDF called "Show Day Rundown" to help you with all of this at the end of this page. *


    These are pics from my first ever solo show, at The Cattleboat Festival in Ireland

    What if we want to film our show?


    Definitely, whenever possible, film your show.

    Some venues are picky (to say the least) about this. I personally don't see why a venue should object to a band filming their own show, but some do. With this in mind, you might want to confirm with the venue in advance. I’ve played at a venue where they wanted to charge my band (a lot) for the privilege of filming our own show. So if you’re going to film the show and you think they’re going to have an issue with it, just clear it in advance – and if you don’t, just don’t get caught!




    What if we want to record the show audio? What options are available then?


    If you want to record the show, often it’s possible to get an audio feed from the sound desk, in which case you’ll need to work with the sound engineer for the show. You will want to make sure that 1) you’re working with a good engineer (who can get the best sound from you) 2) you as a band are really good (so you get an awesome recording that really sells your band).

    The engineer may want some cash for doing this… maybe not. A good idea is to either get his/her phone number or email in advance so you can explain what you want to do. With a talented and obliging sound engineer, this can all be easily arranged. You can use a great live mp3 for a freebie for your fans or for using as audio for a live video.




    Do we have a say in the lighting we want to be set up for our show?


    Unless you are bringing your own lighting, it’ll be the house lights that you get. Sometimes for small shows, these are automated, but you may have the option to talk to the lighting engineer in advance. Like the audio feed recording, the same things apply… 1) make sure the lighting engineer is good 2) make sure you as a band are really good (so you get an awesome performance with awesome lighting too).


    As before, your guy/gal may want some cash for doing this… maybe not. And if possible, get the contact details for the lighting engineer and/or arrange to drop in, drop off a CD and see if he/she might be willing to customize your lights a bit for even a couple of the songs you are most interested in having filmed.

    Pictured below: Onstage at The Roxy, LA just before curtains go up at our show.

    Pictured below: Onstage at The Roxy, LA just before curtains go up at our show.

    Can we put up our own onstage backdrop?


    Usually venues appreciate as much promotion as you are willing to do. As far as putting up backdrops onstage, they can be picky. Sometimes because they are nervous that these can be a fire hazard, other times because there are headline bands that have their own stuff in place and don’t want them disturbed, other times because they just have a set way of doing things and aren't willing to change… so the best thing to do is check first.


    Some venues will be absolutely accommodating and obliging. Definitely give as much notice as possible, talk to the contact you have and let them know exactly what you want to set up, the dimensions and how it's going to be done. Also, of course, there's the option of using a projection. The same thing applies - clear communication, being organised about what you want to do and giving the venue advance warning/notice.




    What about sound-check? How does this differ from a line check?


    Sound-check is pretty self-explanatory. A full sound-check is usually focused on getting the best sound for the main band in the venue on the night, so priority is given to them as far as checking all instruments and sound levels. After that, it ordinarily goes in reverse order … the band on second last will sound-check second, the band on third last will sound-check third. If you are an opening band, you may not get a sound-check at all, but it is pretty standard to get a “line check” before you play.


    A line check basically means you get to make sure your musical set up is working and can be heard, but we are literally talking a minute or a couple of minutes of a line check and you will be expected to play. It’s usual to move really fast through all of this. As in one or two minutes ONLY.


    When you have been to a few sound-checks, you’ll start to notice the pattern. Once all the backline and instruments are in place and cabled and mic’d up, the sound engineer will begin checking the drums. The levels of all other instruments will be adjusted accordingly. Sound-check starts with the kick drum, goes through the snare, hi-hat, rack toms, floor toms, the overheads and then finally, the full kit to set the levels.


    Next will usually be bass then guitar then keys then vocals, but it can vary. Vocals are usually last.


    Always on my tours and shows, I helped out as drum tech because being the singer, I had least to set up and the drummer always had the most to set up. It also helped speed our whole set-up up and stopped me from being completely bored at sound check. I also used time at sound check when I wasn’t busy to set up the merch stand.

    Onstage in Dublin, Ireland

    Onstage in Dublin, Ireland

    Can we bring a friend to help us out?


    If you’re playing at a venue, check with them first. Some places are cool about it. Some are certainly not cool about it. But even before that, is your friend really going to help? If they want to just hang out, that’s fine once you’re happy about it, but the venue may not be. If you have someone who wants to help, would they consider coming on board and helping on an ongoing basis? Would they want to become part of your “crew”? If they are legitimately crew, just tell the venue when you are booking shows – 4 band + 1 crew, or whatever the case may be. Usually, they'll accept that.




    Is it ok to talk to the other bands?


    I know to some this will sound like a silly question, but it's something I've been asked more than a few times.

    I say Yes! It’s like anything else… most bands are super friendly and open to hanging out. Others not so much. Others not at all. The best thing is to be respectful of the time they are working and setting up their show or doing their soundcheck or just before they go on and come off stage. Let them do what they are there to do.


    But shows are a great place - maybe the best place - to make connections and make friends and also these are the people you can potentially collaborate with on music and on shows and show swaps and tours. These are the people who can collaborate with you and help and support you and who you can help and support. So yes! Introduce yourself and make connections/friends. Definitely.




    What if we don’t know something and need help setting it up?


    Ask. Ask the venue staff, the sound guy or any stagehands. Ultimately, it’s their job to work with you to make sure everything is set up and sounds right. Ask the other bands too if you need to. The general rule is to know your stuff as best as possible and be prepared – outside that, be specific about what you need help with and definitely ask for help where you need it. Confidently stand your ground!


    * There's a downloadable PDF called "Leveraging A Show" to help you with all of this at the end of this page. *




    What about setting up a benefit/charity show?


    I used to be part of a Music Promotions Collective with friends of mine and periodically we would set up benefit/charity shows raising funds or gathering items for non-profits/charities. We ran some benefit shows where people paid in as they would ordinarily and we donated all that money to charity. Also we did shows at Christmastime where people could pay in with a toy or with non-perishable food and we would donate all that afterward to organizations that supported people in need. Benefit shows are so much fun and the energy at them always feels really good and kinda different to normal shows.


    Here is the bones of what to do if you would like to set up a benefit show:


    Decide which organization or group you are going to do the show for. Confirm with representatives of that organization that this is all good and that you are in agreement with their rules and regulations.


    Choose a great venue that will give you a free/reduced price of rental based on the fact that it is a benefit show. Choose bands and crew members who will give their services free of charge or for as little as possible.


    Make sure you put on the promo posters that it's a benefit show and who it is in aid of.


    All the other steps for booking a show apply - backline, show day times, reliable contact information, one point of contact... all the stuff that is listed above still applies to make sure you have a smooth running event.


    Optional extras include: You can gather prizes from shops or people who are happy to support the show. You can then run a raffle on the night for everyone who has paid in. Also you can (venue rules permitting) bring lollipops or popcorn to hand out to people as they arrive at the door. I spent all afternoon making popcorn prior to some benefit shows and arrived at the venues with huge bags and bags of popcorn for us all to hand out.


    Honestly, the benefit shows we set up were the BEST fun. Everyone gets into the spirit of it and it's so much fun and it's pretty awesome to be able to support a worthy cause at the end of the day too. Good luck!



    PDF: Show Day Rundown


    This is a multi-page and fillable PDF. Click on the button or image below to download it and save it to your computer before you fill it out and definitely save as you go.

    PDF: Leveraging A Show