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[whitespace] How to Get a Gig

Even punk bands can find a place to play

By Matt Koumaras

SO YOUR NEW PUNK BAND, the Well Hungarians, just recorded a blazing new demo that will shatter rock & roll's boundaries. Now, it's time to book a few weekend shows in Santa Cruz next month. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! You have a much better shot at forming a black-metal side project with Isaac from Hansen. I remember a few years back when my band's guitarist, Dave, called a local venue. The response he received was unfathomable: "Yeah, I saw your demo--I threw it in the trash. We'll call you when we've heard of you!"

With a vast array of established Bay Area bands competing for spots at a limited number of clubs, getting a first local show can be intimidating. But it can be done. Making phone calls before sending out any demos. Document every call in a journal. Be certain that you're speaking to the right person. Don't forget to make follow-up calls. Those stories of bookers saying, "That band just kept calling me. I finally had to put them on a bill," are not entirely apocryphal.

A decent promo packet should accompany your tough-as-nails audio feast. Mention something about the band's history and include a high-quality photo (particularly of your band, but you could put in one of the Dixie Chicks since they're so damn marketable). Don't flatter yourself by sending out a demo tape with 20 songs on it--promoters don't have time to listen to every song. Plus rumor has it that they own ample rolls of duct tape to put over the tabs you popped out so they can dub the latest Y&T offering for all of their friends.

Promoters aren't necessarily looking for quality when booking a band--they want to know that a band has an established draw. And that's the rub. It's difficult to prove you have a draw when you can't find a place to play. Play parties--they're a good means of establishing a fan base. Promote yourself. If you still attend school, hand out small fliers at lunch. If you've just graduated from high school, my best advice is to forgo college and getting a job. Hang out all day in the high school parking lot with the kids and play your band's demo as you "keep things real."

One alternative is to put on your own show. A benefit is a great idea--some halls, student centers and the like are receptive to a worthy cause. Punk bands, however, shouldn't mention the word "punk"--it's a kiss of death. Just say "rock." Go to local shows and find out who put on the show. Keep a few demos handy. Leave your "rock-star" persona at home. I can't count how many times I've overheard bands at shows complaining about bills "they should be on" as they badmouth another band. It's not a competition, it's music--it's meant to be fun.

Ideally, bands would help each other out with leads for other shows in and outside town. The law of averages states that your band eventually will get a call back from a promoter who says yes. As you maniacally hang posters for your first big show, may your stapler be full and the county's many telephone poles willing.


Matt Koumaras used to toil with the Exploding Crustaceans.

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From the September 22-29, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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