Since getting back to normal after my travelling during 2011, it has been nonstop as far as gigs and teaching is concerned. From Southampton to Scotland, Warwick to Devon, the miles have piled up, but just how do we do it?
To be honest, I don’t know how or even remember a time when we decided to do this. I have always been keen at doing any gig that has come my way, but I don’t think that we ever purposely wanted to end up doing this full time.
The band Wild has been together in this configuration for just over eleven years with me joining in 2000. Before I joined, Wild were a three piece Rock & Roll outfit comprising of a double bass player, singer guitarist and drummer. The band started just the same as any other, a bunch of guys wanting to play their style of music to anybody who would listen.
We are all mad about the art of Rock & Roll and listen to it during our time away from each other and I think that’s the main key to our success. Style and having a purpose seem to keep us going. We don’t pick songs that we think our audience will like, we pick songs as a way of educating people and reminding people what the music past was like.
During early years together we played just average pub gigs with the odd corporate gig thrown in for good luck. It was a great time, but we really wanted to get noticed more for what we did. After a few auditions we found ourselves playing holidays camps around the country during the summer season. Although it was not intense as when the Beatles played Hamburg, it certainly helped the band gel to the standard we are today.
As with anything in life, it was not to last forever. Soon the holiday camps were cutting budgets, which meant bands like us could no longer afford to play such events. Soon after this, with the help of a few agents, we found ourselves playing corporate events and weddings. This is where we are today and very happy we are too.
Weddings are our main source of income, but have I just said the right thing? Income? Should the fact that the average wedding gig pays well be the reason a band should want to do them?
Over the past year I have had many other musicians ask how do we get wedding gigs? My first question is why do you want to play weddings? They would usually answer, because the money is good. Hang on a second here. It is true that weddings do pay well, and as a full time musician I have to consider this, but didn’t you start playing because you enjoyed playing an instrument? Of course everybody I speak to says yes, but because of the decline of the pub gig (especially in our area) people seem to think it’s a easy way to progress. It is true for Wild, we settled into this quite easy and I’m glad we did, but it isn’t as easy as some musicians would think. Through my twitter account and on a personal level I have been asked the question so much, how do you get the gigs that you do?
My answer usually covers the following. All my answers are from experience with Wild and have worked for us. If you have any different advice please leave a comment! I’m trying to help bands with this blog; after all, I think there is enough work out there for all of us.
1) The band has to be in agreement about how often it wants to work and the kind of work it wants.
This might be obvious, but it can be soul destroying when a band is excited about getting a gig and the guitarist turns around and says “I can’t do it because I’m going out with my Mrs. that night” I know what you are thinking, it sounds cruel, but it isn’t. If you are putting yourself out there, when an enquiry comes in, you need one person in charge to say whether the band can do it. There would be nothing worse for the client to hear ” I’ll just ring everybody to see if they are free. By the time that has happened, you’ve lost the gig. In Wild, Paul looks after the bookings, the only time we say no, is when we have another show booked in. Our holidays are usually booked well in advance or at a particularly quiet time, January or February for example. There are times when it’s not suitable for us to do a gig, but the band has to be in agreement that you are not working on that date.
2) How much will it cost us to do corporate and wedding gigs?
Yep, that’s right, it’s going to cost you. This is a shock to most bands, but it has to be treated like a business. If you are not prepared to lay out money for expenses and just think you can turn up with the rest of the guys, do the gig and then go home, you’ve got it all wrong.
Firstly, if you are intending to travel any distant, then you’ll need a van. Not only for the equipment, but also for the members of the band. This can reduce the travel costs immensely for each show. Travelling any kind of distant is also a factor to consider. If you intend this to work, be prepared to take a gig anywhere. As far as prices are concerned, pick a central point where you all are, and increase the price the further away the show is, for example an extra £50 per hundred miles. If you have this agreed, when a quote comes in, you are ready to give a price instantly to avoid the client waiting and having the chance to look elsewhere.
Not only the van expenses, but also one thing overlooked can be PAT testing. This is surprisingly cheap, but a must for any band that wants to play in different venues. A typical wedding venue can be a barn conversion, having been renovated at some point they can be very protective over their electrics. Who can blame them, but you’ll often be asked for a certificate proving that your equipment is safe.
Liability insurance is a must, and again, you’re likely to be asked for proof. I’m not an insurance salesman, so it’s well worth you having a look on the Internet for the best deals. Our insurance is through the musicians union, which seems to work best for us.
3) How do I get the gig?
This is the important one. You’ve paid out all things above, now you need the gig. Firstly I’m surprised at how many bands don’t have a website. Gone are the days of looking in the yellow pages. It seems obvious to me, but we now we have the opportunity to play potential clients music and videos so they know what they are getting. It’s a fantastic way of marketing yourself and can seal the deal quickly. As with anything, this also can cost more than expected. Also you need to be found. I’m not an Internet expert, but with the right web design you can be found quite easily if somebody is looking for a band like you. I think most of us know about Google Adwords. We do use this service and it can be very expensive, but if it brings in the work, it’s totally worth it. Remember you are a business, look at the figures you’re paying out against what you are bringing in; this decision should be made as a band.
Using agents is great way of expanding your work, but don’t expect an agent to take you in just like that. You’ll have to earn your strips. Although I think there is enough work for all of us, these days competition is tough, remember you’re not the only band out there.
Having a press pack ready at all times is a must. Although the Internet is king, there are still agents who prefer a hard copy. This usually consists of a Demo CD, recent photographs and a biography about each member. Again this costs money, but a must for any band. From personal experience I wouldn’t sign up to just one agent. Agencies can talk the talk just as good as us musicians. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll work every week, keep your options open.
Although I have already mentioned the advantages of agents, be very careful. We once got offered a deal that involved sole management with one company. All of us got excited and thought our lives were sorted. The work didn’t come and thankfully there was no commitment made, but it was a lesson learnt. To this day we have a great working relationship with this company and have no intention of leaving, but don’t get sucked in by over ambitious promises of stardom.
I’ve left the best question until last
4) How good do we have to be?
The short answer? Very good. As far as weddings are concerned, this is a one off event for the client. Lets face it, they are not planning on remarrying and they will remember this night forever. If you’re not a great band, you’re going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Firstly think about your people skills. This might seem obvious, but almost every wedding will run late, but this is no excuse to arrive late. You may find it very frustrating, but its just something we have to except. Set up quickly and efficiently without complaining. It’s not very often we walk into a venue and there is a big stage welcoming us, it is usually a small corner built for a solo act. Remember, people skills.
Secondly, the bride and groom will be nervous at this time of day. You’d think with the ceremony out of the way everything would be fine, but no, the first dance is looming and this can cause unnecessary stress if you are not able to relax the bride a groom with all that they need.
Often we get asked to perform the song live. Usually this doesn’t happen as we persuade the client to dance to a recorded version of their special song. Now don’t get me wrong here. I think it’s a great idea, but I’m in a fifties rock and roll band. Being asked to perform Angels as a three-piece rockabilly band won’t do it justice. You have to be honest with yourself, can you perform this successfully. Its fine if you can, but it has to sound just like the original song as much as possible. That’s the version they have grown to love and it needs to be as good. If you don’t feel that you can cut it, it’s worth being honest with the client, usually the bride and groom will understand.
As far as your band performance, none other than as best as you can will be acceptable.
That just about covers everything that I consider to be important apart from one thing. Enjoy your work. If you don’t, it will always show in your performance.
This only leaves me to wish you good luck. The music world is hard, but it’s there for the taking if you want.
Thanks for reading.