Booking Shows While Traveling
This can get a little tricky. The difficult part of booking out-of-town shows always comes down to your lack of a local following. This is what most bar managers look for when they hire a band, which is a little bass-akwards (compared to hiring based on talent) in my opinion, but that’s a subject for a different article. When I book shows on the road, I counteract this by underbidding my gigs. Whether you need the extra cash or you want the extra exposure, it may be worth it take a pay-cut. After all, a little money is better than no money at all and the same certainly goes for exposure.
There are three ways to snag a show on the road:
• Call the Venue
• Email or Facebook Message the Venue
• Walk Into the Venue and Talk to Someone
Which option you go with will depend heavily on your specific situation. And whether or not I have a phone where I’m at. If I’m traveling in a foreign country, it’s harder to know where I’ll be very far ahead of time, and much harder to contact the venue, especially being unsure whether I even speak the same language as them. I’ve had much better luck just walking in and talking to a manager. No matter which route you take, be confident. I was able to book a show in Italy using only my very terrible Italian simply because I was confident. I researched the words I needed to convey my intentions and simply walked in there and acted like I did it all the time. The manager didn’t even ask to hear my music. If you sound professional, many people will assume you know what you’re doing. Now, let’s build up that confidence by giving you some specific how-to advice:
What To Say
Remember: Be confident. You know exactly what you want, so tell him. I tend to act almost as if I’m a salesman who knows I’ve already sold my product. The intended effect is to influence the venue manager into thinking you have something he/she wants, and you’re offering to them buy it as a favor. Be careful however, not to portray arrogance, which is not to be confused with confidence. Like the Fonz, be cool. Don’t by any means act better than them, just be proud of what you have to offer. Know what the least price you’ll take will be before you call or walk in, and start out higher than that. Even practice what you’re going to say before you walk in. You need a sales pitch to be an effective salesperson. For an example, I’ll include what I had said to the owner of a bar to book a show while traveling in Italy. This one was definitely rehearsed since I had to speak it in a foreign language, but here’s an English translation:
Owner: Nods head and smiles–“Ciao!”
Me: “Ciao! Do you speak English?”
Owner: “Mmm no, very little English.”
Me: “Ahh, I speak very little Italian.”
We both chuckled. I didn’t falter here. I had practiced this beforehand, so I jumped right into my spiel in Italian.
Me: “I play music. Me and a hand drummer. We play American music. We play for two or three hours, you pay us euro.”
Owner: Smiles and keeps nodding. “Yes, yes. What kind of music do you play?”
Here is where the language barrier really kicked into overdrive and I had to resort to what I call traveler’s charades, this time complete with my performance of instrument-absent karaoke. The message, albeit laughable, was portrayed, and he understood. In retrospect, I should have known he would ask this question–considering it’s asked almost every time you’re booking a show anywhere–and rehearsed it in Italian as well. The message to take away from it is this: It doesn’t matter if you get into a jam like that. Just keep confident and keep moving along.
Owner: “Yes, you play! Friday, you can play?”
From here it was only a matter of price negotiations. Let’s just say if a venue back home offered me the price I was paid I would have laughed at them. It was understandable by both the owner and myself however, that I didn’t have any local following there. Not to mention, it was still a good chunk of change for me, triple what I was making busking in a day. I was, and still am, incredibly appreciative to him. He not only paid exactly what we had agreed to, but also fed us twice that night–before and after our show–and arranged for a ride to take us back to where we were staying; he also booked us again the next Friday.
This transcript is relevant to book shows while traveling as well as in your home region: Tell them what you do, how much you want to do it, and be ready to negotiate. I usually tell them I’m on tour and looking to snag an extra show for an added portrayal of experience. There’s a tip I learned long ago in the art of booking shows: Don’t be afraid to “bullshit.” Get your foot in the door and if your music is good, the manager will be happy at the end of the night.
How Much Should You Charge?
This will obviously vary between artists. If you’re an experienced touring musician, you can probably charge higher. However, with that being said, if you’re an experience touring musician you’re probably not reading this article. My general rule of thumb is 1/3 to 1/2 the price I charge in my local region. I will reiterate here that it depends on your specific situation. It should be noted that if you provide your own P.A. you will most likely be able to charge a higher price and you will have some other benefits as well, which I will mention in a moment. If you really need the money, you can go lower of course. This is entirely up to you. If you aren’t playing shows in your local region yet, you should probably wait a little while before you delve into the task of booking on the road.
Do You Need a P.A.?
This one is pretty simple. How many shows do you want to play? How much money do you want to make? Want more shows? Want more money? Bring a P.A.. This is simply not feasible when I’m abroad, so I’m forced to do without. You will also have the added benefit of greater busking opportunities. You will draw a larger crowd when busking with a P.A. system, therefore, earn more tips. I recommend a small P.A. when the situation deems it possible.
Be confident: Know what you’re selling, and sell it. Know how much you want to charge, and the least amount of money you’ll take. Go into it knowin that if you’re booking shows while traveling, you’re most likely not going to get paid as much. Most of all: Be personable. Venue managers will be much more likely to book a band they’ve never heard of if they like you rather than if you sound like an egotistic asshole. Similar to dating–where your level of insecurity, confidence, or arrogance can drastically affect another party’s opinion of you–you need to find that sweet spot, which I think is just a tiny, tiny bit above confidence.
If you’d like a LOT more tips for traveling musicians, making money while you travel, getting places to stay for free, and stuff like that, please consider grabbing a copy of my book Two Bucks to Timbuktu on Amazon.
Or, if you’d like to read the hilarious journey of my friends and I attempting to vagabond our way around the world, check out my book Planes, Trains, & Broken Strings!
Peace and happy travels,