The Business End: In the first instalment of this Building Blocks mini-series of Managing Your Band, Pt 1 – Stepping Forward, I covered reasons why you might want to propose that you manage your band. Now let’s discuss the actual job that you’re taking on, and what it’s worth to you.
There are quite a few resources on band management in print and on the internet, at different levels of professional achievement. Let’s start small, though. You’re a band member who wants to help your band get regular, successful gigs in a local club scene. How do you start, and what business do you need to attend to?
Your edge in this game is to have your act together before you even talk to venue bookers – and start by showing you’re serious about managing a band that can deliver artistically and in terms of the bar business. That alone will make you someone they’ll prioritise.
Every manager should know more about their band. If you don’t know some of the members that well, before you do one bit of business, take some time to hang out with them and build meaningful relationships. You need to learn about their hopes and perspectives as musicians. This information can help to guide you in making decisions that will make most of the band happy most of the time. (And even at that, it’s no walk in the park!)
Calling band meetings is usually pretty simple: right after practice is mostly the best time. (Though not always. If the practice went badly you may want to delay the meeting to a time when everyone’s in a better frame of mind!) At the meeting, you can take care of the other tasks listed above.
Looking forward to the next gig can really cover a lot of ground. You can talk about playing a new stage and simple things like parking, soundcheck times, any special instructions from the venue, and so on.
Or you can tell them how you’re trying to book certain places and seek advice. You can also propose opening for a more established band and see if anyone has contacts. Everything that goes into what they need to know and what you need them to do goes into this topic.
Getting everyone’s general schedule is something you can take care of as you go, but check at each meeting if there are any changes. You should avoid messing with your bandmates’ schedules too much – but you do have a right to make tentative bookings that interfere with some members’ other commitments, and then ask if they can adjust so the gig is possible.
If you want to book gigs at new venues you should get to know those places yourself. While there be thinking in terms of what will help your band. When you watch the musicians, ask yourself whether they might make good allies, or whether there’s something about them that tells you good or bad things about the venue and its scene.
Try to meet and chat with the management when they’re not busy – not in terms of doing business – you don’t want to push your band just yet. Just ask their names, how business is doing, what are some important gigs coming up, and anything else that comes up in conversation. Avoid being a pushy manager or you’re never going to build any sincere connections with anyone, let alone get a realistic sense of what gets people going at these gigs.
The bottom line, though, is that after all the research you’d better find a place and time for your band to play. Here’s the flip side to the coin of band meetings; you’re going to have to know and deal with a lot of folks outside the band. You should try to really have your act together in a world where people mostly don’t know the first thing about band management.
Listing and maintaining contacts is simply knowing how to get in touch with everyone related to your role as manager. A good first step is asking the band who they know since random members have probably been booking gigs here and there. Maintaining the list is just as important because these contacts often change. And make sure you back up this list to another system, or all it takes is a misplaced phone for you to lose all those connections.
Booking gigs is, of course, what you’ll mainly need this list for. There are so many different aspects to this which I’ve covered in previous articles that I’ll just say for now: don’t pretend anything with bookers. If you’re completely starting up, don’t act like you’re much more experienced.
Their job is to make sure you’ll do your best on the right night in front of the right people. You might want a card or digital contact – keep it as simple as possible; name, phone, band name, link to demo. Fancy graphics for an unknown band is definitely a sign of insecurity and inexperience.
Liaising between venues and band means that you take responsibility to make sure the band knows when to be there, where to park and unload, dressing room details, soundcheck time, bar tab, merch table and so on. Some venues have web pages for bands with all this info – sometimes it’s all self-evident.
The most critical instance for you as a manager is when your band is playing a particular venue for the first time. You should do your research and get all this figured out ahead.
Finally, there’s collecting the door. Some venues leave it to the bands to manage the door, in which case you’ll need a person of trust to collect the dosh and stamp hands for people going in and out.
This person might also handle your merch. Other places handle the door and give out your cut at the end of the night. Or they might hire bands at a set fee and pay you cash afterwards, or transfer funds to you.
In any situation, the responsibility is going to fall on you as the manager to collect and distribute the funds, and any number of things may happen. I remember situations in which band members had to get cash on the night simply to pay for petrol in order to get home.
It all can be hard work, and at the end of the night, you may be wondering whether all the extra effort is worth it. I’ll try to answer that question in the next Building Blocks article, ‘Managing Your Band, Part 3: Paying Yourself’.
Thomas Goss is a producer, band coach, and composer/orchestrator with an international clientele that includes Billy Ocean, Melanie C and Canadian jazz star Nikki Yanofsky.