3 Secrets to Booking Great Shows

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Music Festival Booking TipsI booked my first punk show in 1991 at the tender age of 18, so that’s 23 years of experience booking shows. Crazy.

A lot has changed. Nearly all communication was via phone or letters. Very few venues were keen on booking punk rock, so finding a venue (let alone an all-ages venue) was a challenge. To get the word out, you literally had to visit every town within a 100-mile radius and physically hang posters. Or find that town’s punk rock record store and give everyone with dyed hair or a leather jacket a handbill.

These days, it’s much easier to get the word out and to communicate with artists and venues. In fact, whole tours can be booked and promoted without making a single phone call or leaving home. That said, there are still some important things event organizers and producers should keep in mind when booking a night of music.

Here are three tips to steer you in the right direction:

1. Curate Your Bills

Back in the day, many things fell under the punk rock or “alternative” umbrella – a bill could feature a ska band, a psychobilly band and an electronic act. Today, music fans are easily able to fine tune their tastes and genres. The most successful bookers I know are ones who really got to know the bands’ sound and audience. They realize that even though the opener may not have a huge draw yet, the headliner’s audience will probably dig them. In this case, the sound of the bands, not their draw matters. This helps build the opener’s audience and creates a night of music tailored to the audience’s tastes. The audience not only gets to see the band they love, they also may discover a new favorite act.

2. Limit Your Acts

Playing or attending shows with five or six bands drives me crazy. It’s a disservice to everyone because bands have to play super short sets, get gear on and off as quickly as possible and audiences spend more time watching bands set up than watching them perform. Big bills can work for special events like festivals, but even then there should be a shared backline of drums and bass to ensure smooth transitions between acts.

Some bookers argue that more bands equals a bigger draw, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most fans would rather see a full set from their favorite band than a condensed one. They will likely hold out for a later bill where they can see a full set. Additionally, the bands know they won’t be able to flex their muscles performance-wise and will split the door amongst six other bands, so there’s little incentive for them to promote the show.

3. Promote (And Not Just on Facebook)

With the onset of social media, guerrilla promotions have fallen by the wayside. Often, producers and organizers seem content with creating a Facebook event page and shooting out a couple tweets. While this is an essential part of your promotional plan, don’t rely solely on social media, especially considering Facebook’s diminishing reach. Get out there and hang posters, contact the local press or bug some folks at your local independent radio stations. Basically, do all the old school “guerrilla” promotional tactics in conjunction with social media.

Nothing is more compelling than seeing a cool poster all over town or being handed a playbill by one of the band members. Get creative. You’ll see better results.

Share your thoughts and event tips for booking shows.

Photo Credit: Amanda Halm