Get your band booked over break
Now that the semester’s over and we’ve all got some free time on our hands, we can start getting into things we meant to do, but couldn’t because of all that damn required reading.
For example, many of our fellow students play music. Some of them have even dreamed of playing in a show.
So, being benevolent and helpful, we talked to some people on the subject of getting booked at a real, live venue. We also interviewed a guy who ran one.
Sam Irons plays solo shows at UNM and in downtown Albuquerque. He says the first step in getting booked is fairly straightforward: Send out a letter saying you want to get booked. Then follow it up.
“They usually just ignore (your first letter.) So after a couple weeks send them a couple e-mails — personal e-mails, more personal than just the boilerplate shit you send in a letter of inquiry,” he said. “They usually get their attention drawn by that, and then they look for spots to open up.”
It helps to know booking agents by name, and to do favors for them, like playing undesirable time slots, Irons said. It’s also good to keep bothering them until you get a show.
“Usually, whoever’s hounding them lately, that’s who they’ll call,” he said. “Play for free. Play on a Monday night at midnight. (At first) they’re not going to want to give you a good set.”
Adam Abeyta, who has played venues from the El Rey Theater to the UNM SUB Ballroom with his band Zagadka, said bands often have to pay a venue to secure a time slot, especially if the band is new and unproven.
“Some venues don’t really care as long as they’re getting paid; some venues really want to see a draw,” he said. “They want to see heads in the building, that sort of thing. They can make money on top of it. But if they’re charging you a flat fee outright, they usually don’t really care, one way or the other.”
Bands typically have to put in a lot of groundwork playing lots of shows before they’re able to draw a large enough crowd to impress a venue, Abeyta said.
“That’s something that you kind of gain notoriety for in the music scene itself. But it’s not something you can show unless you’ve done it before,” he said. “That, in itself, is a problem for bands starting out.”
He said another effective way to get a good slot at a venue is to find an established band that will let you open for them.
“The New Mexico music community is pretty tightly knit and pretty welcoming at the same time. So if you’re starting out as a band and you want to play a public venue, it’s probably better to contact a band than to contact a venue,” he said. “They’re definitely more receptive, and they tend to not just care about the money side of things.”
Irons, who has played several on-campus shows, said artists need to take different steps to get a show on campus as opposed to at a commercial venue.
“The process is very different for that, because everything goes through the Student Activities Center. So you want to go down and get to know those guys,” he said. “Do it at the beginning of the semester, because they only have so much money, so they usually book it all out by two months into the semester. What really helped me out with those guys is playing Battle of the Bands. And I really do recommend doing that, because they don’t get a lot of people out to do it.”
Zagadka once opened for nationally known rock band Head Automatica in the SUB ballroom. He said his band got the opportunity because of the connections he had made with the Student Activities coordinators in the SUB.
“We’ve always had a pretty close relationship with them, and they thought we fit the bill, so they put us on, because they know we can draw heads and we know them personally,” he said. “You have to say it takes that long to get a gig like that. We started out in Grants, which is a pretty small town, and slowly got our foot in the door in Albuquerque.”
House shows are another good option for local bands looking for shows.
Alex Denbaars managed a house venue known as Heaven and Hell for more than a year, and he said house venues are generally open to letting untested bands play. He said he found a lot of the bands that played at his venue through websites like Dodiy.org that connect independent venues with artists.
“Personally, I really like a band’s first show, because they’re very much about the concept of the band,” he said. “They’re trying very hard to amount to something. Also, sometimes the musical aspect isn’t all the way (there), but it’s very exciting, a band’s first show. I love booking a band’s first show.”
Denbaars said he was always looking for fresh talent to play his venue, which made it fairly easy to get booked there.
“You don’t want to throw the same show every week, so you want different people playing. So that also means you want different local bands, because otherwise people will get bored,” he said.
“So basically, any promoter is looking for different bands all the time, and of course the band is looking for shows, so it’s just a matter of linking those people.”