Starting this ‘Stage Trek’ series last issue, I gave a few general pointers on how to hunt down places for your band to play. Now let’s work forward from the most basic types of venues to the most high-stakes. The first logical audience might very well be with all-ages, especially if you yourself are still in school, or have only recently left. Many breakout uni bands have mixed audiences, with followings from both fellow students and younger friends and fans from their high school days. All-ages gigs can help a band stay motivated and connected to a wider audience.
However all-ages and school gigs are a different territory than pub/club gigs. There’s a definite approach that will help you find the right gigs and play them to your best advantage. Let’s go down our Building Blocks checklist and see how many of these you can tick off in your own bookings.
Pub and club bookings are most often done through the venue or a booking manager. All-ages audiences don’t have the same infrastructure supporting their musical entertainment needs, there are actually three ways to approach this, each tied to a different type of gig.
If you’re to perform at a dedicated youth performance venue, like Zeal, you’ll need to find out from their staff who handles the bookings. Whatever their title, they bear the responsibility of organising events that serve the organisational mission of (say) reaching out to teenagers. Whatever you’re proposing to do in their venue will have to live up to their expectations. The most successful approaches will be by those who bring something to the table – a cause that draws teens together, or a reputation, or even just being on their radar as a band worth seeing.
For a teen band just starting out, this may be your home until you’re attending uni. You might actually get pretty good attendance from your classmates. But a pro or semi-pro band is actually at a disadvantage here unless they bring something along with them, like a mighty rep in the local scene, or some experience reaching out to a young audience. So don’t think this is going to be a walk in the park unless you’re really connected to that audience. What’s more, a teen venue may not even book a uni-age band.
Another venue option is a place where you put on your own event, or perform in connection with a youth organisation. When I ran the Wellington School of Rock, we sponsored many such events, bringing pro bands together with our teen talent. If you’re organising this yourself, you’re responsible for staff, security, hall rent and so on.
Things get complex when dealing with issues of underage behaviour, and the stakes are much higher with the local constabulary around issues of violence, drugs and alcohol. Some cities have been known to peremptorily shut down events like this once they start, simply because they think something awful will happen. My advice for this type of venue is to book your band only when the event manager has a good reputation for handling all the above concerns.
Youth performance venues and DIY events are one thing, school gigs something else entirely. We’ll talk more about school-sponsored events like proms in a couple of issues, for this article let’s look at gigs that happen on campus during school hours.
Quite often, such gigs are booked by the HOD Music, or someone in administration. If it’s the latter, the admin will be looking at any experience with, or relevance to their students. They’re usually more interested in how professional and organised you are than your musical style and quality. This is why very slick but awful-sounding bands get booked at high schools so often.
Then there are the HOD’s. Don’t assume they’re just a bunch of marching band geeks or fuddy-duddies. A crusty old codger in his 60s might well have played in a heavy metal band in the 1970s for all you know, and may have decades more experience with an electric guitar than you’ve been alive. I know many of the HODs in the Wellington area and their level of hipness and musical experience is among the highest for pro musicians in the area. If you can impress the hell out of them, then you will get all their support. But be ready to live up to high expectations in that case, because their students may also be way more sophisticated than you think…
If you’re looking into all-ages/school gigs for a quick ego boost while you entertain some kids, then stop now. You’re only going to bore them and embarrass yourself. But if you want to be successful, then treat your audience as equals in intelligence and passion for what sounds good.
During the Wellington S.O.R. years I trained about 1,000 teen musicians and worked with around 100 bands here, and nationally through our Rock Camps. One thing I can say about these teens, now all young adults, is that they were generally sophisticated in their musical tastes and in their perception of what made a performer good or bad on stage. And so were the many thousands of their teenage friends who came to watch them at our gigs. It’s just as hard to win over these young women and men as it is for a club audience of complete strangers – possibly more if their school is well-known for a high volume of teen bands like Wellington High School. But if you do win them over, then you might gain followers who can bring some new life into your crowd of supporters, and spread the word about your music to their friends via social media.
Professionalism makes as much of a difference here as it does at the Kings Arms or Bodega. You should absolutely have every detail worked out in advance. Find out what the staging will be like, if the PA is any good, and whether you need to bring your own sound and lighting (both equipment and tech).
The band should be as well-rehearsed and mentally prepared as for any other big gig. Give the audience a show that treats them exactly like any other group of treasured fanatics, with great energy and commitment. Engage them with banter between songs, and be humble (and funny) if they give you a hard time – which they will, you can count on that.
There’s another side to professionalism. It’s there to protect you as well. Certain mistakes can not only close the door on future all-ages gigs, but can also land you in heaps of trouble. Never show up even a little drunk or stoned to an all-ages gig. Never mock or taunt or lose your temper with your young audience. Never give out your telephone number to minors after the gig or chat them up on Facebook (that’s so creepy).
You’re not there to act out some sort of post-adolescent rock star fantasy, where the show is all about how closely you resemble the members of Spinal Tap. Instead, you have the opportunity to connect with a crowd of listeners who don’t always attend gigs, and that is a huge responsibility. Live up to it, and get them interested in being great audience members and possibly performers and future allies in your music scene.
Don’t miss next issue’s article, in which Stage Trek continues with a look at street fairs and festivals, where the possibilities are just as big as the crowds.
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. He is Education Composer-In-Residence for Orchestra Wellington, and his online orchestration course is available from macProVideo.