Tag Archive for advice

Exposed To Who? 5 Reasons A Band Should Never Play For Free

“Sorry, we can’t pay you…but it’ll be a great exposure gig.

If there ever were a line in the music business which was a bigger crock of bullshit than a band telling a booker “we’ll PACK your room!”, it’s the old “exposure” line delivered from a booker to a band.

I often hear about shows that the bands simply do not get paid for one reason or another.

And while I understand that there are a few times throughout a band’s career where they should actually play for free, it seems like most “opportunities” are nothing more than fluff and never really pan out in the end.

Here are five reasons bands should never play for free – followed by three reasons when they should.

1. You Are A Business –
You eat pizza, right? Has the local pizza shop you get your pizza from ever given you a free pizza? You walk into that pizza shop and expect to exchange a little currency for that pepperoni and mushroom, right? Think of your band in the same light. While you may not be making Foo Fighters money in your first year or two as a band, you’ve still got flyers and posters to pay for, rent on the rehearsal space to cover, gas and expenses getting to and from your gigs and probably a laundry list of other items that need to be paid for. Every dollar counts. Don’t give away your goods in the name of “exposure”.

2. There Is Always A Budget – And if there isn’t, it’s probably not a gig you want to play anyway. If someone calls you and asks your band to play their event but immediately follows their pitch by “we don’t really have a budget”, your reply should be “then we can’t play your event”. Every event – be it a church bake sale or Coachella – has a budget. If that budget can afford to include a service in it’s festivities, it pays for it. If it cannot afford something in the budget, that item gets CUT. Why should the band be treated like something of no value?

3. Exposure To Who? Is Rick Rubin going to be at that gig you were offered? No? How about Irving Azoff? Oh, he’s not either? Maybe the head of marketing for Apple Computers? Then who are you going to be “exposed” to? A bunch of pedestrians who would be at a particular event either way? Maybe they’ll buy your CD, maybe they won’t. And if they DO buy your CD, are they coming to your next gig? My experience says “No”. And that’s what you want that exposure for, isn’t it? But if you’re the kind of band who wants to “expose” yourself to little old ladies walking around a town art day or some sort of backyard party at your local church, then by all means -go for it.

4. It Cheapens The Industry – Now more than ever before, a band needs to view itself as the currency generating commodity that it is. When you get booked at a bar to play for three hours, you’re expected to either bring your fanbase out to consume mass quantities of alcohol and food or entertain the built in crowd the club already has. That’s an exchange of goods for services. How many sterotypes exist about musicians and bands? They’re broke. They trash hotel rooms. They party too hard. They’re unemployed, unreliable, unmotivated….why further those stereotypes by playing for the promise of “exposure”?

5. There’s Always A Paying Gig On The Same Night – How many bars are there in your state? How many American Legion halls? VFW’s? Dedicated music venues? Those are all paying gigs. If you’re having trouble getting a gig, you’re either not working hard enough or you’re not good enough. That’s it. There are no shortage of bars, shows, events, clubs and parties that will pay you decent money for a set or a night of your music. Don’t sell yourself short by saying that there are no other options.

Now, certainly, there are exceptions to every rule. And this one is no different. In the decade that I’ve been booking shows, I’ve asked PLENTY of bands to play for free. But in the past three or four years, that number has dwindled. Perhaps it’s because all of the shows I book are actually revenue generating events; perhaps it’s because I, like a new band, have paid my dues with the free gigs. But here are three bona-fide good reasons you should feel good about playing a freebie once or twice a year….

1. It’s A Cause You Can Believe In – It seems like there’s a benefit show for some sort of illness fundraiser every night of the week. And if you’ve got some connection to breast cancer or leukemia or diabetes or the homeless or the hungry…and a promoter or event organizer asks you to donate your time to play a set in the name of raising money for a great cause, go for it! We’ve all got our convictions – and it’s respectable to donate your time now and again for a good cause. I’m going to stop short of using the “k” word, but it’s certainly good mojo to give back now and again.

2. It’s An Opening Slot For Radiohead- Or whoever your favorite band might be. But this one has a caveat – if you’re a HUGE fan of a band playing a headlining set at your local venue and you feel that playing a set in front of their audience will help you in some capacity and YOU asked THEM (or the booker) if your band could open, then do it for the gipper. But if the promoter or band asked YOU to play in front of them, then you should always get a couple of bucks for your time (and expenses).

3. It’s a Conference Or Showcase- Nobody gets paid to play SXSW or CMJ or MMC or Launch. Or, if they ARE getting paid, it’s because they’re the sought out headliner. Many music conferences and industry showcase nights can lead to bigger, better paying opportunities. Shake your money maker.

Silly Bands and Their Emails


It’s called “BCC”, guys. Ever see it? When you put someone’s address in the address line of your email client, you have two other options. One is “CC” (which, if you didn’t know, stands for “Carbon Copy”…as in, you’re sending an exact copy of the email to whoever is in that line) and then there is “BCC”, or, “Blind Carbon Copy” – “Blind” meaning that the recipients of your email do not see the other recipients email addresses.

Look, I really thought that this was 101…shit you learned on your first day. But the number of band emails promoting their shows that I get with a hundred email addresses in the “to” line or just plain “CC’d” is absolutely stunning.

Here’s why you don’t want your email addresses viewable to the recipients on your list:

1. You EARNED those email addresses. And there are still shady promoters and venues out there who would LOVE an extra hundred email addresses without even working for them. Those email addresses should be viewed as your personal client list. And if you were in ANY other business, you wouldn’t share your client list with potential competitors, would you?

2. Those people who gave you their email addresses also gave you their TRUST. An email address is viewed by some people in the same light as their telephone number. Some people simply do not want that information just tossed out there. Ever heard of a thing called “spam”? Yeah, well, that’s what they’re afraid of. And when you irresponsibly leave their email address (and sometimes full name) exposed on your big email about your gig this weekend, you’re violating that trust.

Plain and simple.

One way to avoid ALL of this is to use an inexpensive and simple email list manager. Personally, I’m a fan of Campaign Monitor. But there are dozens of inexpensive choices that do most of the work FOR you…thereby rendering your emails idiot-proof and more effective.

More Advice for Aspiring Bands (And Agents)

I recently accepted a new contract with another venue. It’s much smaller and not nearly as centrally located as my primary venue, but a fun room nonetheless. It’s more of a “neighborhood bar” than anything, but they want to increase their bottom line by expanding their music programming for the weekends. Consequently, my workload has increased in the way of fielding calls, emails and calendar-crafting. Which has inspired today’s post.

Far too often, I get calls from bands who simply do not have their shit together. No website. No MySpace. An email address that’s difficult to spell or sound out (Me: “What’s your email address?” Them: “stixxvoxx69atAoldotcom”) Twitter? What the heck is that? Facebook? Nah, but we have six hundred followers on MySpace!


So here are a few more tips for young bands (or older ones who may have forgotten) who want to get into the calendars of music venues…but can’t figure out why they don’t get booked.

1. If you call (and you really shouldn’t) – know what you want to accomplish.

Do you have your thirty-second elevator pitch ready? Or will you fumble and make it up as you go along? Most every talent buyer or club booker I know hears from hundreds of bands all wishing to do the same thing: get booked and get paid. So when you call (again, you really shouldn’t unless you have a preexisting relationship with the booker) make sure you know what you want to say and get it done. There’s nothing worse than me taking a call from a number I don’t recognize and have to listen to a band pitch their act and then not even have a website to direct me to. Or a band who, until the phone call, I had never heard of ask me what I can do for them.

2. Don’t call. Email.
I realize this will contradict what I explained in Number One, but knowing that most people don’t listen, I’ll say this as well. Personally, I would much rather get an email (or two or three) from a band who wants to play with a simple “Hey! Really love your room. We’d love to play sometime. Here is a link to our site/MySpace/YouTube, etc.” This way, when I’m sitting here in my giant, climate controlled office in a skyrise high above the streets with my receptionist screening calls, sushi-delivery at the door and all the free time in the world, I can click your links and see if what you’re doing will make sense in our calendar.

3. Patronize the place you wish to play.
The first time The Hold Steady played Harrisburg in 07, following the announcement, I immediately got inundated with requests from bands who were hopeful to get the opening slot. And I had to laugh, because I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen any of the members of most of the bands who inquired at a show or an open mic. And THEN, a few of them had the audacity to tell their friends what an asshole I was for not booking them (I know this because it’s a small town and your friends aren’t as loyal as you think they are). Some of my favorite bands to work with are the ones to come to other bands shows, pay the cover on ticketed nights and generally participate. This is a participatory industry. You cannot expect to receive without giving back in some capacity.

4. Be persistent, but not annoying.
Send an email. If you don’t get a reply in a week or two, send another one. If you know the booker is going to be at a particular show, stop by the show and introduce yourself. Sometimes, the best way to “break through” the chatter is to go old-school on my ass. Come into the venue, have a beer with me and tell me in person why I should book you. And then thank the person for their time and go enjoy the show…maybe make note of what that band is doing and how you can relate that to what you’re wishing to accomplish.

5. When you DO get booked…
Sell that show as if your life depends on it. Think “If I don’t get 150 people out to this show, my life will END”. Well, maybe not THAT extreme…but you get the picture. Times are TOUGH. Budgets are being slashed like a going out of business sale and you need to make me (or any buyer) realize that we made the right decision when choosing to book you. There have been bands who have BEGGED me over the years to give them a shot. And when I finally gave in, they didn’t even send a poster to the room. Promote your show. Tell EVERYONE you know that you’re playing. But more importantly, do something to make them WANT to come see you. Be different. Unique. Use that noggin to create a compelling reason for your friends to take time out of their schedule to come to a bar and spend their hard earned money supporting your band.

Or, just stay in your garage practicing those Nickelback covers and playing backyard barbecues in the summer.