Well guys and gals, that first column went so well that I am back at it. I truly appreciate all the feedback, responses and support so many of you gave the first article.
This article has to do with show spacing — or lack thereof, in some cases. I’ll look at discussing what the correct amount of space between shows is, which exceptions there should be, the positives that come from paying attention to this and the arguments against it. As a general rule, my stance is that a local band should not be playing in their city more than twice a month; realistically, once a month is a lot better. Of course, there are many different exceptions and circumstances that go along with this.
If you’re trying to figure out how to space out your shows, the first step is to determine where you are in your band’s progression. Generally speaking, a new band’s friends will be more supportive and come to shows more often than for an established band playing constantly in the same city. This is actually very convenient because a new band without much stage experience should be concerned with getting frequent shows to get their stage legs, as opposed to playing very infrequently.
If your band is more established, however, there are some serious negatives that come along with just taking every show that you are offered. Most promoters/venues you’ll play expect you to bring a certain number of people, and they will confirm with you that you can adhere to that in advance. I get bands telling me all the time they can draw 50 people — and in reality, they probably can, but not if they are playing three venues that month.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: Have you ever noticed how the Horseshoe Tavern usually has very well-attended local shows? To the outsider, it is easy to presume that it’s that busy because of the bar’s “legendary” reputation, the sound system, the location, the quality of bands — or some combination of all of those reasons. And to some extent, those all play a key role in why a band can play the Rancho, Rivoli, Drake, El Mocambo, etc. and bring nowhere near as many people as they will at the Shoe. But in my opinion, the real reason is the Horseshoe Tavern’s show-spacing policy: no shows two weeks before or after your agreed-upon date at the venue.
I find this policy to be completely fair, and they will uphold it if a band decides to test it by adding another show within those two weeks before or after their Horseshoe date. By booking bands who’ll have their entire month (if not more) focused on drawing people out to their Horseshoe show, the venue knows they are going to get every bit of effort the band has to pack the place. The strange part is, bands do this and have a great show, but when it comes to booking other venues they fall right back into bad habits.
Rancho Relaxo: My policy is no other shows for 10 days on either side of the show that you booked with me for weekends, and seven days for weeknights. We aren’t as big as the Shoe, either in capacity or reputation, so realistically we can’t ask bands to take their entire month off — though when bands choose to do that, their show is better and the payout is better. The other problem is that we don’t always having a massive waiting list of bands ready to jump on a show at short notice should another band choose to violate the show-spacing agreement. As a promoter, I sometimes find myself caught between a rock and a hard place, deciding whether to cancel a band and replace them on short notice for adding another show, or going against my morals for fear of not being able to find a backup.
What is the role of the promoter, in regards to show spacing? This depends which type of promoter you are. I’m employed at a specific venue as a talent buyer/promoter for several shows a week; No Shame and Indie Social, to give a couple of examples, are outside promoters doing shows less often than that. The main difference is show frequency. When I used to do one show a month I could draw crazy numbers as a promoter, but these days I am responsible for 18-20 shows a month. So now my main role is assembling lineups where everyone understands how to have a successful show, and then doing my best to work with the bands to make sure we follow through. But the promoter’s checklist involves:
- Checking the band’s schedule before confirming any show with the band. If you book a band and presume that they wouldn’t say yes to a show if they had one a few days later, that is your fault and not the band’s.
- Be in regular communication with the talent. It is smart practice for bands or their management to “advance” their show. This means finding out important details leading into a show. But as a promoter/talent buyer, you should be “advancing” as well. It is much easier for bands to get excited and therefore promote a show harder if you give them reason to do so.
- Be clear on the show-spacing rules and make sure the band acknowledges and understands them.
There are also arguments I hear against spacing out shows.
Argument: My band doesn’t get paid nearly enough at a show to cover our costs for the jam space, gear, gas, etc., so we need to be playing more often.
Rebuttal: Your pay is tied very closely to your draw. If you play one show a month and bring 50 people to a $7 show, you might well get paid $300-350 for that gig. But if you play four gigs and bring 10-15 people for each gig that month, you could barely get paid at some of those shows. The truth is, in indie music more gigs does not equal more pay, unless you’re a cover band or straight-up bar band. But you probably aren’t reading this article if that is your style of music.
Argument: Yeah we have three shows this month, but for two of them we are just doing a favour for our friend. The only show we really intend to push is yours.
Rebuttal: If only it were that easy. If you post the shows online and on social media, some of your fans are going to go to the shows you “aren’t pushing”. Maybe they like the bands you are playing with better, maybe it’s a better night of the week, maybe the cover is cheaper? Whatever the case, bands cannot control their crowd tightly enough to get away with this.
Argument: We are a band, we just show up and play. It’s up to the venues and promoters to fill the room.
Rebuttal: I think bands have a right to decide to feel this way. In a perfect world, good bands would play good rooms with good people, and they’d always be full. Of course, that isn’t how it is. Personally, I just won’t book your band again if this is your argument for over-playing the city.
So to wrap it up, here’s a quick recap on the benefits of spacing out your local shows:
- Have more control over your draw, both in terms of increasing it but also in being able to predict it from one show to the next.
- Leave a better impression on the venues, the patrons and the bands you share your bills with.
- Have enough time to adequately promote a show.
- Create buzz about your band. If someone misses your show and then asks you when your next show is and it’s six weeks away, they may think twice about missing the next one.
- Stop playing flops. Some bands just like being on stage, but there is a lot more to like about playing to 140 people than there is about playing to 10.
- Actually get decent pay for your gigs. I use the word “decent” loosely, as $5-$7 cover shows make it hard for bands to get fairly compensated.
- Get out-of-town shows! This is an article for another day, but here’s a teaser: if you can draw a ton of people, you can invite touring bands to come play with you and then get the favour returned in spades somewhere down the road.
That’s my two cents on show spacing. If nothing else, I hope this at least made some of you think your current strategy over. As always I encourage any feedback, comments and suggestions that you might have. What is the magic amount of time to put between shows?