Booking your own band in the 21st century
The old adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know" ought to be embroidered on the inside of every musician's eyelids. In an ideal world, a musician's raw talent would be enough to attract the attention of the masses. Unfortunately, this is ever less the case in the digital age. The media and the marketplace are over-saturated with sonic product and the record industry is hell-bent on stifling the technological innovations that might sort out this cultural crisis. The only sure-fire way to stand out in this crowd is to aggressively (and personally) solicit support from the people who are in the best position to help you.
Musicians make their first important contacts while booking and promoting shows. Their first audiences will be comprised of friends and colleagues (literally 'who you know') and will be hosted at hometown venues with which the musician is probably already familiar. Many bands never make it beyond this point for many reasons, though too often musicians get stuck in a rut by failing to socialize outside of their own clique or scene. You can be the quiet, eccentric artist of few words, but if you don't shake some hands and make some phone calls, you'll be preaching to the converted night after night.
The Web is nothing if not a communication revolution, and there are plenty of digital resources at the independent musician's disposal. Now it's easier than ever to jump into new social circles without all the anxiety of face-to-face encounters. You'll still have to make the personal connections, but the modern tools of the trade should put you within one degree of separation from almost anyone you need to reach.
I'd like to draw your attention to four of the most useful booking resources which no independent musician should be without:
MySpace - An obvious one, for sure, but the utility of MySpace for DIY booking cannot be understated. The first step is to find your sister acts -- other bands that are stylistically similar to your group, and who are friendly enough to swap shows. Using MySpace's search tools, it's easy to find bands by genre, location, popularity -- you name it.
You can start contacting other bands and promoters inside MySpace, though I suggest you get email/phone info right up front and maintain a more personal rapport than sending IM's back and forth. I've known bands that have booked entire 2-week coastal tours on MySpace alone. Since you're dealing directly with other independent musicians who share your same goals and tastes, MySpace is the perfect place to start booking.
Later on, when you're dealing directly with promoters and venues instead of other musicians, it still comes in handy to fill in those hard-to-nail-down dates in between your bigger shows. Using MySpace to promote your events to your fans also couldn't be any easier.
IndieBandManager - Musican and database designer Charlie Cheney has created the ultimate tool to manage one's booking and promotion activities. IndieBandManager is the program that every hard-working independent musician has been waiting for -- the ultimate convergence of contact and project management, mass personalized emails, event coordination, invoicing, accounting... if it's part of the business of being a musician, it's in there.
To sweeten the deal, IndieBandManager is already loaded with great contacts for booking, press and radio, and additional contact databases from quality sources can be purchased at ridiculously reasonable prices. It's also extremely easy to input your own contacts and import them from other sources.
Surprisingly few bands realize how important it is to have this kind of tool at one's disposal. It may be overkill for the weekend warrior, but for those of you who truly aspire to have a music career (or at least aspire to live above the poverty level), you absolutely must get organized. Until recently, this meant running separate programs for your contacts, calendar, accounting, etc... IndieBandManager puts it all in under one roof. Do yourself a favor and download the demo -- you'll wonder how you ever booked a show without it.
These last two resources are more genre-specific, but will come in quite handy if you're a punk or a singer/songwriter.
Book Your Own Fuckin' Life - This site pre-dates Napster, and it recently got a much needed overhaul after a long span of lying dormant. For punk and indie rockers, this is a great do-it-yourself booking resource. As the name implies, it's up to you to do all the work; BYOFL is simply a listing site. Though it is moderated by a team of dedicated volunteers, anyone can post new information to the site and update existing information. That means you'll have to wade through a lot of crap, which can be challenging since the search tools are very basic. The upside is that you will find diamonds in the rough, true gems of people whose hearts are in exactly the right place. You won't get thousand dollar guarantees, but much of the time you'll be taken care of with food, shelter, and a generous cut of the door.
Just Plain Folks - Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Just Plain Folks founder Brian Austin Whitney at an open mic night in my hometown. Through e-mail and word of mouth alone, he somehow got 23 singer/songwriters to show up and pour out their hearts for the audience and for each other (photo here). I had never really witnessed anything like it -- Whitney had found a way to unite the national circuit of independent singer/songwriters under a common banner: Just Plain Folks.
The musicians weren't just there to play -- the event was part of a national networking tour which got artists socializing with each other, strengthening their regional scene. Sure enough, as the years went by, Just Plain Folks grew into a community of over 40,000 performers and music professionals. They even have their own awards ceremony that dwarfs even the Grammys in size and scope.
Though anyone can join up as a member, I especially urge all singer/songwriter solo performers to get involved with Just Plain Folks. All it takes are a few clicks, and you'll instantly be included in this inspirational, unifying independent musicians' network.