BOOKING PROMOTION 101 - What Is Booking-Promotion?
New for 2015: A relatively new word in the DIY music scene is "booking promotion". You've certainly heard, and probably wanted, "booking" (and you can probably say the same thing about "promotion"). But what makes things different is when you put them together: Booking Promotion
First of all, booking-promotion is not "gig promotion". Most people know what gig promotion is; it's when you already have "gigs" and you (or the venues) want to promote them to people in the city so that more people will come. This promotion is relatively straight forward to understand (although hard to do), so we won't cover it here. Besides, if you already have a gig booked at a place that already has customers, then the hardest part has been done.
Second, booking-promotion is not "booking". Booking, which most people know, in when you secure a gig at a place, for a certain day, time, and amount of payment (including no payment). It's one of the dreams of indie artists, to be "booked" into "big" places with lots of "fans" (that just somehow managed to appear there), and generally it's agreed that this booking activity comes by way of booking "agencies".
Third, booking-promotion has nothing to do with these "agencies". By definition, an "agency" takes a monetary role in the money that is supposed to go from the venue to the artists. These agencies are technically "employment agencies", and they not only book the place, day, time and amount of pay, they also sign any paperwork that needs to be signed on behalf of the artist, and most importantly, they get the money from the venue and take a percentage before (hopefully) giving the remaining money to the artist. But since the agencies get only this percentage, they don't care about small artists with few human fans. This is why an indie artist (with only social media, and thus no human fans) can't get regular booking agencies to talk to them. These agencies need the artist to have thousands of real human fans in each city, so that at least a few hundred of these humans will show up to a gig and pay money, causing the venue to pay at least $3,000 USD to the artist, so that the agency can at least make a few hundred dollars. This is very little, however, and at least $12,000 per gig is much, much preferred, and thus artists that are already gigging for $12,000 per gig have a realistic chance of getting a booking agency to take over the work. So as you can see, agencies don't really "promote", as much as they just take a percentage of money that's already flowing.
"Booking-Promotion" changes all this. Booking-Promotion does what the agencies don't want to do: Promote. Why? Because promotion is hard work; it takes hours, days, weeks, and months. And for gigs larger than a few hundred dollars, it takes many months, and sometimes years, to break though. This is because real venues don't want another unknown act with no human fans in their city. And this is why venues have to be constantly promoted to.
But, what is this "promotion" thing anyway, and why does it make a difference? The basic idea of promotion is communicating directly with a human that can say "yes" to something you want. In this case, you are communicating with someone at a venue, club, bar, etc that can say "yes" to you gigging there, and further, can decide how much you will be paid (including no pay), as well as the obvious stuff like day, time, equipment, etc. But why do these people need this "promotion" at all? Can't they just take one listen to your music and decide right then and there if you are "good" enough to gig at their place? After all, any music person (like you) can listen to a new song one time and decide immediately if it's "good" or not. And nowadays, all the venue people need to do is click a button, and they can hear your material right away with no delay. So there you go: Instant opinions about your music. Isn't that as easy as it can get for the venues to hear and decide on you?
The answer is: Venues are not really interested in the music. They are not concerned with how good it is, or how bad it is, or how long or short it is. They only care about one thing: How many people will come to see you. The phrase you will usually hear is, "What's your draw?" This means that the venue person wants you to tell them a number, and this number will be how many people will come to see you if you gig at their venue. I haven't talked to an indie artist yet who could tell me a number for this, and this situation is exactly what booking-promotion is here to solve. After all, if you could tell a venue (and prove it) that 50 people would pay $5 at the door to see you in Amarillo, Texas, or that 120 people would pay $12 at the door to see you in Fresno, California, then you would instantly have a gig in those cities (more or less). But since you probably can't do that, you have to rely on booking-promotion. So here goes:
Booking-promotion follows the basics of promotion, like this: First, you of course have to find the person(s) who can say "yes" to your gig. So your initial list should be at least 100 of them as a bare minimum, of places that you are realistically big enough for. 500 of them is much more realistic. Then you have to build rapport ("make friends") with them through at least direct email, and preferably phones too. This tells them that you are a real person, with a real personality. This is important because you are asking him/her to put you directly in front of the customers, and the customers are what make the money for them. Doing this with 100 (preferably 500) of these venue people is going to take at least a week, and maybe a month. After one pass through this list, go to the next step:
The obvious part: Show them your gig videos (not "music videos"), current gig schedule, typical set list, equipment needs, and reference letters (yes). Don't spend too much time on this step though, because they really don't care for any of it (except for the reference letters). They are just going through the motions. And certainly don't bring up payment. Rule #1 in negotiating is let the other person mention money first. But DO let them know that your REALLY appreciate them taking the time to review you, and you hope they like the material! DON'T tell them you are a hit, or that you are hot. Ever. Instead, ask for their OPINION. And do one more thing with each place: Find something you like about them: something on their menu, something at their bar; something on their wall; something that they wear; something about their building; SOMETHING. Don't go to the next person on the list until you can come up with at least one thing that you like. After you have found it, then go on through the list one more time (another week or month), and get right on to the next step:
The important part: Show the venue person your track record of gigs played. This part can vary greatly from "nothing", to years and years of touring. Since a lot of artists reading this have very few previous gigs, we'll focus on it with this example: If you have only done two gigs before, have a text or verbal spiel practiced that talks about both gigs in a positive light, so that the current venue person can visualize how the gigs went. Present this to all the venue people on the list (one-by-one, of course), and say how you think their venue/place would fit with the two gigs you just described. If you have any reference letters (which will be a different article), include this in your email, and/or offer to read them during your phone calls. Tell them you'll give them some time to review, and that you'll be checking back in a bit. It's at this point that you can get back to one person or the other sooner, rather than going through the whole list, if the other person says to do so. Otherwise, go through the list (another week or month) and get on to:
The follow up and first close: When you check back now (by email or phone), you've come to know the person pretty well. Start the follow up with something they like to hear about. What might this be? You? Your music? Not at all. They only care about them and their place. So start by mentioning the thing that you found you liked a few weeks ago. Remember that amazing burger on their menu? Remember that cool boat on top of their building? Tell them how cool you think the thing is. THEN, go into asking what they thought about your material and your previous gigs. If they say they like it, then offer a date for a gig. This is the "first close". Unless they offer first, it is UP TO YOU to bring up the first date first. No talk of money yet, of course. Unless they bring it up. See what they say about your first date offer; everything from this point depends on it. Here are some usual responses from them, assuming a very new act with few gigs:
"Let me think about it". Certainly. Have a great week!
"I don't think you are a good fit here". Ok thanks much, and I hope you sell lots of those burgers! By the way, are there any other venues that you can recommend that you think we would fit better?
"That night is usually always booked". Ok I'll check back in a week to see.
"How many performers would you have?" We usually have about _____. Will that work?
"Your act seems too big for our space". Would a slimmer version work better?
"Your act seems too loud for our place" Would an acoustic version work better?
"What's your draw?". Well we really wanted to play a food or drink establishment like yours, for the people who are already there. Will that work?
"What's your performance fee?" Let me get with my players, and I'll have a number for you tomorrow. Will you be in then?
From that point on, the negotiations are dependant on which direction it goes. Most important, is keeping good (and fun!) rapport with the people; always throw in an extra few days or a week if you seem to get stuck in the conversation (don't push for "now!"), and always have something you like about their place. The list will drop like flies as they find out you have no fans, or no radio, or no big names, or whatever. That's why you need a very large number (100 to 500) to go after, so that you can move on immediately to the next person if it's not going well. They will NOT be pushed into a gig.
So, that's booking-promotion. Note that it does not include the actual signing of papers, or taking a percentage of any money, etc. That part (the "booking") is easy once you have promoted to them enough, and once they WANT you. Promotion makes people WANT things, and booking-promotion is supposed to make venues WANT a gig with you. After they want you, the actual booking part is easy.
Next topic: Reference Letters!
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