How to Book a Venue for a Music Gig

Concert Crowd Silhouette
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Whether you're a musician booking your own shows or a budding music promoter booking their first gig, the first step in the process is securing a site. When you're farther along, you might hook up with a club that actively goes after and hires talent. But if you're promoting your own show, here are some tips on how to book a venue. The right locale is crucial for making the night a success.

Choosing the Right Site

It's easy to get caught up in the idea of playing your favorite club or venue, where all of your favorite musicians have played. But in reality, you should look for a venue that you can fill. Think of it this way: What's going to feel better on the night of the show, having the show sell out or playing to a huge, mostly empty room? Playing the small clubs are how you earn your stripes to play at the bigger places, so make finding a venue that fits in with both your likely draw and your budget the priority.

Choosing Desirable Dates

Unless you're booking a gig way in advance, you have to be pretty lucky to stroll into a club and get a gig on your dream date. Before you book the show, come up with a window of a few different dates you'd be happy with for the event. Oh, and you need to make sure all of the musicians are happy with all of the possible dates. Finding out that the drummer and the guitarist can't make the gig after you've booked the venue, is not ideal.

Contacting the Venue

Depending on the size of the club, there will either be someone who handles all of the bookings or whoever answers the phone will pull out a calendar and write your name on it (while sounding incredibly bored and leaving you wondering if you've really booked the place). Either way, once you agree on a date, there are a few questions you need to ask:

  • How much is the hire fee/rental fee? (See more below about negotiating)
  • When can you load-in and soundcheck?
  • At what time do the doors open?
  • By what time does the show need to end?
  • What technical resources does the venue provide?
  • Are there any special rules?

Signing a Contract

Many times, very small venues will not demand that you sign a contract, but you should definitely ask about any sort of written agreement anyway. As you move to larger venues, contracts become more common. You'll often be asked to sign a paper confirming the date for the show, the price you'll pay to lease the space, and any special arrangements you have made. Be careful when you're signing one of these contracts because if the show falls through, you'll be liable for paying them the fee anyway after your name is on the dotted line.

Negotiating a Price

In club bookings, sometimes there's not much flexibility in the rental fee. Note that this rental "fee" is usually a minimum amount of money that has to be made on the door, not necessarily a check you have to write up front as if you were renting a wedding hall. Hopefully, the door money and bar money will cover this guarantee you make to the venue.

Still, you're on the hook for the sum, so it never hurts to try and negotiate the numbers. There are two things that can help you get a better deal:

  • Proving that you'll bring in a big crowd
  • Proving that you'll a lot of press before and after the show

When you bring people into the venue and attract media attention, you help them do what they need to do to make money—namely, pack the place with patrons willing to buy drinks. Give them some evidence that the night will be a success on that score and you may be able to get a better price.

Obviously, a demonstrated ability to may be tough to prove if you're still a young group. If there are no professional write-ups, even social media mentions, Facebook pages, videos, even Twitter chatter or Instagram images might help impress management.