Technique: The Gig Kahuna—Just Say No!
By David Himes |
At the risk of being the messenger who gets shot, this article is about a cold, hard truth that has gotten me more haters than almost anything else. You wouldn’t believe how many bands I’ve seen get angry over this subject, then after splitting up, come back and tell me I made the right call, how they learned their lesson, and how they won’t make the same mistake again with the next band (if there is a next band). I’m talking about over-gigging on a local level.
Over-gigging usually (but not always) occurs in cities and towns that have more than one or two places for local bands to play. This is when a band plays way too often—especially locally. It’s one of the most common myths that aspiring bands and artists buy into—and one of the most foolish, amateur, and devastating mistakes that local bands make. In conventional theory, playing as much as you can is best. But the opposite is true. When you play too often, you are spreading your efforts way too thin. It’s a simple equation that unfortunately, most local bands just can’t get through their heads.
Think of your following as a pie (or a pizza). If you play as often as you should when on a local level (once every two to three months), you get the whole pie. But by playing any more often than that, you are splitting up your crowd. The more often you play, the smaller of a slice of the pie you get. Some bands, clubs, talent bookers, and other industry pros are well aware of the equation. It’s so simple, yet it amazes me that sadly, so many bands just don’t get it.
There are a million justifications and excuses for over-gigging—none of which will produce any real results. For some reason, it is still one of the most widely taught myths, and the people who still buy into it boggles my mind. Personally, I think one of the biggest reasons for the rationale of over-gigging is people tend to want to do what’s fun and easy, but not what’s hard and necessary. Either that, or ego issues are at play.
The pattern is so predictable, I could set a watch by it: Band starts with a core following made up of fans, friends, family, co-workers, etc. The first one or two gigs are successful. So far, so good, but what happens from there is downhill. For whatever reasons, the band falls under the illusion that every show, regardless of how frequent, will all be great. Or once the other local bands, “promoters,” and others see the band is bringing people out, suddenly all ask the band to play—all at once, and the band finds it hard to say no.
With each gig thereafter, the turnouts get weaker and weaker until finally, down to nothing. Calls start going unreturned, emails start going unanswered, the band no longer gets asked to return to the clubs and venues and what few gigs they now get, they play for the bartenders. Band morale (very important to keep up) goes on a downward spiral, which inevitably leads to band breakup. Band breaks up and all the members are scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong, and feeling they got so screwed, because they “worked so hard.”
Maybe a rush of stage adrenaline or the feeling of love from the initial crowd clouded the members’ logic. Or maybe the band listened to the wrong people, who encouraged them to play-play-play. But because of the over-gigging on the part of the band, they didn’t even make it past the entry-level.
The truth is, it takes at least two months of planning and promotional effort to do a show right and have a successful turnout. This is another reason that over-gigging is foolish. When a band is over-gigging, there is no time to focus on one show. Your local shows should be like an event, as if it were a big (or even mid-level) national coming to town. This will not happen when you are over-gigging.
Some bands and others involved in the scene know that over-gigging is ludicrous, and avoid it. But they mistakenly believe that playing out of town in between local shows is acceptable. In truth, this is also not the best idea, at least not in the early stages of development. One reason is it also takes away time and effort that should be going into the next local show. The only exception here is if you have some kind of hook-up or backing. This exception also applies locally—if you get some opportunity such as a local radio event or opening for a national. But if you get such an offer, be very careful and look closely at the terms of the gig. (Read my past column about opening for nationals.)
“So what can we do in between our big local shows?” you ask. A good start might be the not-so-fun, but necessary things: Photo shoots, recording projects, writing new songs, dress rehearsals, self-critiquing videos, stage coordination, vocal harmony sessions and coaching, studying the scene, the list goes on and on. Get off the social networks, turn off the TV, put the X-Box down, and get out there and do some movin’ and shakin’.
One last word on the subject of over-gigging: Did you know the big venues, promoters, and big-name nationals (and mid-level nationals as well) agree by contract that the band does not play another show within an X-mile radius of the venue and within X-days of the date of the show? Do you know why that is? For the very reasons I’ve pointed out in this column.
David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.