As a musician, getting gigs which put you in front of the right crowd is one of your biggest challenges. However, if you can find a way to secure good gigs, you’ve overcome this hurdle. We spoke to frontman Steve Williams, whose former band Cecil was signed to the record label Parlophone, to get his top tips on how to get the best live shows for your band. Williams now fronts the band Takotsubo Men and still regularly plays live across the UK.
List and approach venues
Look at venues which have been going for years. The more heritage a venue has or the bigger a following it attracts, the more chance you stand of getting a buzz going. Showcases are good if you’re just starting out. Finding the venues yourself is such a rewarding feeling if you get a great gig off the back of your efforts.
In the past, we’ve taken our own PA to live venues in our area and I’ve played live with a speaker clipped to myself. Sometimes we’ve not even had people pay at the door, we’ve just left a bucket out and let them pay what they think the gig was worth, which has really paid off for us.
Look for support slots
If there’s a band you like listening to and you’d like to support them, I’d get in touch with them or their manager directly. Personally, I would go over the heads of the agents or the venue, because if you contact them you’re likely to get nowhere.
Not enough musicians go direct when it comes to getting support slots. I think people get too intimidated by musicians because they see them on stage and form an opinion of them based on their alter ego. Just approach them and say that you love their band and you’d love to gig with them and give them an album.
That’s what we did when we approached Meat Puppets, which was a massive gig for us because I love Meat Puppets. We found out they were playing Manchester and so sent an email to their manager. We didn’t hear anything for ages and then he suddenly popped up saying ‘Do you want to support us then’? We ended up playing Manchester Academy with them and it was a great gig.
Ultimately, you’re better off playing a support slot for a good band at a reputable venue than playing 100 really low-key gigs and wasting your time.
Enlist the help of a booking agent or manager
The best agents will look at bands who are bigger than you and get you supporting them, rather than getting you a gig on your own. You’re better off being the first act out of three at a live show, knowing that there’s going to be a crowd there who doesn’t know you yet.
That’s what you want when you’re starting out. You want to step into the unknown, you don’t want to just be playing a thousand gigs in front of your mates and family in the area where you live. Winning over people whom you don’t know is one of the best feelings there is.
Build an online presence
Bandcamp is a great page for helping bands get discovered. Takotsubo Men’s first album was released on Bandcamp and we made enough money from this to record our second album. Pledge is another great website because you can sell all kinds of offers on there, which can include live shows.
Social media is still massive in terms of being approached for gigs – a lot of our gigs come through Facebook. Most people who approach us on there are either fans of my old band or people who’ve heard about us through other bands.
If you haven’t done already, I’d recommend putting together a website using software like WordPress or Squarespace, if you feel like you’ve got the knowledge to do this. You can customise the site to look however you want and people who are interested in booking you for a gig can make an enquiry in just a couple of clicks.
Pay to play
This has its upsides and downsides, but if you can get a decently sized crowd to one of your gigs, it’s a good idea. To be fair to the venues that do this, they’re not going to put up a gig for nothing, and the pay to play system gives you an incentive to bring down as many people as possible, which obviously you should be doing anyway!
I’d just watch out for people trying to rip you off. I know of a venue that asks for a £200 deposit and only gives you your money back if they make enough behind the bar. Someone I know played there and didn’t get their £200 back, which is unbelievable.
The Zanzibar in Liverpool has a system whereby you have to get at least 20 people to come and see you play before you get money, but after the 20th person, you get all the money. So, for example, if your gig costs £5 per person, you’ll get £5 for everyone who comes through the doors after you’ve got 20 people.
Hopefully you found Steve’s tips useful! If you want to get more live gigs and support the UK’s grassroots music scene, check out our interactive map of the country’s best small live venues!