It’s easy to appreciate a good show at face value – whether you’re a ballet aficionado in the front row of the Sydney Opera House, or a dreadlocked ruffian busily thrashing through the circle pit at Brisbane’s Crowbar.
The state of a venue, crowd reception to the performers and, of course, the technical skill of the people on stage can all be factored into an overall conclusion for the people watching, but it takes a certain formula for the people working behind the scenes – as well as countless email threads – to pull off a lucrative evening for their venue.
We chatted to two venue bookers:J oc Curran of The Zoo and Steven Nichols of Geelong’s Spinning Half Services. Both have years of experience in the profession, and have been in the business for long enough to see the changes that venue bookers have had to adapt to over time.
Whilst often found in the back rooms of most pubs and clubs, it’s the venue booker that forms the first point of contact for any band, DJ, or external promoter hoping for a chance on stage.
I started out like most music industry peeps, in a crappy band that was never going to go anywhere. Myself and my business partner at the time started a little boutique recording studio in Geelong that expanded in to many areas of the music industry. He became a top-notch sound engineer, and I dabbled in artist management.
Twenty-three years ago, we started out with a stage that went from being on the floor, to moving around the room a few times, to finally finding it’s home to where it is today.
Booking (The Zoo) was a natural progression and evolution in the business, as we had to do everything ourselves. I was and still am, a booker, shopper, handywoman, book keeper, and cleaner, it’s just one of the hats I wear in owning a small business.
If you’re someone who might be considering taking their first venue booking position, it can be daunting to realise the years of experience accumulated by fellow bookers, as well as the hefty lists of contacts that can come with them. Past interactions with artists and managers can generate a certain amount of loyalty that can place a booker ahead of the game when a well-known band comes to town, and the good name of the venue in question can often remain a conclusive factor for an artist that wants the most memorable experience possible.
At this point, it helps to remember that everybody starts at the bottom- and while being on a first name basis with every frontman in town can help to a certain degree, lengthy experience in the music industry isn’t necessarily crucial to being a good booker.
Most of my experience and contacts came from volunteering within the industry: Festivals, managing bands, loading in and out for events, anything I could to meet people and learn what I could.
Just like anything- if you are passionate about it, then you’ll find your way into something you love.
Because everyone has a dream or a goal- and music is that for so many people- there are always people coming and going from the industry. It has definitely grown from when I started out, but there are more venues, more musicians, and more courses at university celebrating music, and it keeps growing and evolving.
Of course changes to the music industry in the form of communication and the omnipresence of social media have meant that there have been some slight shifts in the process of getting a band from the ether to the stage.
Time constraints, deadlines and the inevitable last minute crisis’ can also be factored into the challenges that a booker might face, without considering the geographical issues that can come with living in the 6th largest country on earth- touring can be expensive.
Like all industries, I think the role has changed a little. But basically just to change and adapt with the changing times with social media and technology.
A lot of research into booking acts now seems to be heavily based of the amount of traction they have on social media.
Hard work, patience and treating the acts that do come though as well as possible has been the main success. It’s a small industry and word travels fast.
I talk to the agents; I think a lot of time these days it’s through the medium of email- you don’t get to talk in person as much as in the past.
It is however a lot more immediate with email. I remember when I worked for the Livid Festival back in 1998, and we would have to fax the states in the afternoon and then come back the next day to get a response, you can imagine how long everything took back then.Staying connected to the scene is hard. You only have 8 weekend dates in a month, so make sure the shows you choose are going to work, and people are going to come along and support it.
Everyday is a learning curve, you don’t overcome it – but you need to jump onto the rollercoaster and be prepared for the unexpected. And if you make a mistake, own it and move on.
For those of you yet to take the first step towards your goal of being a booker, your priority will be getting a foot in the door.
The best tips for getting a foot in the door are to volunteer for a wide variety of areas in the industry, so that you get an understanding of as many as possible. And like I say to the bands I manage “make friends before you make fans”.
Volunteer, be a part of something. The best way to show you’re serious is to put yourself out there and get involved.
Put on a monthly night at your local pub or bowls club, go and see local live music – be a supporter, buy local music.
Some Closing Points on Venue Booking:
– Make sure your venue holds all necessary local permits, licences, and holds it’s own degree of suitable production equipment. Rights holders are most commonly PPCA, and APRA in Australia, and these organisations are an important part of maintaining legality in the music industry.
–Organise a Rider:
Riders are by no means compulsory but they do go a long way in fostering a welcoming vibe to the bands and their team. This provides some degree of comfort for the artist playing before their set, and can range from some glasses of water and a few beers, to a triple-tiered cheese platter, depending on the artist, and of course the venue.
–Be clear on payment and conditions:
make sure the artist knows what to expect well before they go onstage.
–Supply a venue agreement for each act:
This generally includes contacts for the venue, artist and production crew, as well as stage loading times, doors open, and ticket pricing.
It’s also important to note whether your venue includes a front-of-house service as part of it’s usual business.
–Ask the Band for Specs:
Nothing could be worse than drawing a well known act, only to discover that their equipment won’t fit on the stage provided.
While it’s tempting to assume that the bassist can play from side of stage without too much of a repercussion, it would probably help if the exact nature of amps, mixing desks, and wires were first mapped out, most commonly from a birds eye view of the stage.
Use your head: don’t put the country folk singer in the sweaty basement famous for loose teeth and sawdust showers. Pander to your audiences, and if you don’t think the artist fits with the image of your venue, then think long and hard before you give the green light.
Many thanks to Joc and Steven for their time.