“Why aren’t venues replying to my emails?” This is one of the most common questions I get from bands trying to get to the next level. This is a great question. After all – you did a bunch of research to find a venue that booked bands who sound like yours and is small enough that you can sell a reasonable amount of tickets for the space. So, you go and send your email and… no reply. Then you follow up a week or two later and… still no reply. What is a band to do? This is the sort of dumb stressful thing that makes musicians lives so hard. Its ridiculously complicated to get a show going sometimes, especially when you are starting off. It seems like the whole world is against you. So, what are you doing wrong and how do you fix it? Why is booking such a chore all the time and how do you hustle to ensure that it is actually something that is going to pay off for you in the long run? After all no one wants to waste all their evenings fruitlessly emailing venues.
Well first and foremost there is a decent chance you are emailing the wrong people. Online venue registries are especially guilty of listing the incorrect email addresses. Oftentimes they just toss up a general contact. The thing is when a club gets onto one of the big online venue registries they are almost always inundated with requests. It’s stressful and there’s too much to pick through to give random bands opportunities. On top of this, frequently venues aren’t the people booking their own shows, or they are only booking the bigger shows. Oftentimes if you want to get a show at the key venue you are looking for you need to go for an independent promoter. These guys work with a variety of venues and frequently target their work towards a specific genre. The advantage with this is that you can find someone who is able to help you in a few cities. How do you find a local promoter? Simple – you engage with the bands in your scene and trade notes. Go to shows. See who you meet. It’s the best way.
Another issue a lot of bands have when they first start reaching out for shows is that they don’t look pro. Running a show is stressful. You need to organize twenty or more people to be in the right places at the right time and you are not going to make a lot of money, especially at the DIY level. It’s not a fun thing to have to put on shows night after night with people who act like idiots. A lot of venues and promoters will thus self select. If someone reaches out who clearly seems to be an idiot or just will bring no one to their show then they aren’t going to book them. Remember that venues and promoters want to work with bands who appear to be easy to coordinate with. If you have bad promo shots, poorly set up social media with a small following and take too long to reply to emails then people are going to think that you are just a clueless dip. The thing is – there are so many clueless dips out there that most of the time show bookers will think you are an idiot until proven otherwise. You are fighting an uphill battle.
Tied into the idea that ‘everyone is an idiot until proven otherwise’ is the notion that ‘no one draws until proven otherwise.’ That is to say – you probably don’t pull as many people as you think you do – especially if it’s your first time playing a show or you are generally early in your bands career. The thing is, even if you do have a clear idea, promoters are used to being jerked around. You might tell them, ‘yeah we can pull thirty people in this city.’ But they frequently have no basis for which to believe you. It’s a question of supply and demand, only so many promoters exist, but a ton of bands are trying to play shows to a very finite number of fans. Thus, promoters mostly want to work with the bands who are easy to work with and who are going to actually bring people to the show. If you can’t prove to someone that you have a decent amount of people coming to your shows – well you’re kinda screwed. A great way to combat this is lots of photos of your band playing to bigger crowds. It takes time to build the relationships for people to see how many people you pull. If it’s your first time working with someone then most folks will assume you can’t pull anyone.
So, of course the question a lot of people ask when they are told ‘Well we don’t know if anyone will come see you’ is, ‘Why don’t you just put us on a bill with similar bands so we can grow together?’ Well – here’s the thing. If you were already having a hard time engaging with your community then you probably aren’t talking to the people engaged with the right set of bands. This might just be because your band is not playing a style that is in demand. I see this happen all the time. Bands are out playing what is objectively good music – it’s just that no one wants to hear it. I get it, you’re playing jazz funk fusion. Are there a lot of people looking for that? At the end of the day, some genres of music are just not in demand, even if you are doing it well. If people don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to hear it. The market is the market is the market. Simple as that.
The point being – if you want cool shows engage with your scene. If you can’t find a scene for your music there might not be one. That might be because there is a market opportunity. That might also be because no one actually wants to hear your type of music. It’s hard to differentiate between those two things unfortunately but this is the unfortunate reality we all need to deal with. So do your research, present yourself in a professional way and engage with your community every day. If that isn’t able to help you get some shows and get venues answering your emails then I don’t know what will. I’m not trying to get too down on DIY bands here, but sometimes this is the world we live in.