A Beginner’s Guide To Putting On A Gig

"Putting on a gig is a fairly daunting experience: it's a fair amount of work, hassle and effort, but remains ultimately satisfying. There are a huge amount of things to take into account when planning something like this, and even if you cover every possible mishap, something will still undoubtedly go wrong. Hopefully, though, if you can organise and communicate fairly well, this guide should get you well on your way to getting some good gigs together."

From the ThingsYou'reMissing archives.

A Beginner's Guide To Putting On A Gig
This article originally appeared on the ThingsYou'reMissing website back in 2003.

Putting on a gig is a fairly daunting experience: it's a fair amount of work, hassle and effort, but remains ultimately satisfying. There are a huge amount of things to take into account when planning something like this, and even if you cover every possible mishap, something will still undoubtedly go wrong. Hopefully, though, if you can organise and communicate fairly well, this guide should get you well on your way to getting some good gigs together.

Note: this is the way that I put on gigs. It is a formula that has been forged through trial and error, and is only meant as a beginner's outline. By doing a few gigs and learning from experience, you'll soon be doing gigs in your own way.

1) Venues.
To put on a gig, you'll first need a venue. The licensing and entertainment laws in Ireland make it difficult to put on a gig in anywhere but a pub. It takes a lot of wrangling and effort to do them anywhere else, so much that I haven't got it together to try yet. So, if you're doing your first gig, I'd have to recommend doing it in a licensed premises. This, however, brings an immediate problem along with
it: no-one under 18 will be allowed in. One way to get around this is to put the gig on during the afternoon, on a Saturday or Sunday. Finding a venue can sometimes be tricky. Look at where the local bands that you like play, and simply go into the places, ask for the manager and explain that you want to do a gig there. Alternatively, walk around and look for pubs that have function rooms above them, and go in and ask what the story is. When talking to managers/owners, always try to haggle. Explain that you should be able to get X amount of people drinking in their pub, at no cost to them. If they refuse to give you a room for free, try to arrange a situation whereby you give them a deposit beforehand, and if the bar makes a certain amount of money, they'll give it back. Never mince your words when talking to these
people: if you're going to be doing a gig with loud bands, tell them. If they don't like it, go somewhere else. Otherwise, on the night they will give you tons of hassle and may even shut you down mid-gig: a disastrous prospect. You should always try and communicate as fully as possible with the venue, so that both parties know exactly what the story is.

2) Bands.
This area is fairly obvious. Again if you don't know the band personally, talk beforehand about how long they'll have, money, what time they'll be there at, etc. The vast majority of bands will be totally sound, and you'll have no problem with them, but it'll be the one or two that get greedy or snotty that'll cause you problems.

3) Equipment.
Amps, drums, PAs, etc. Ask all the bands what their line-up is (if you don't already know) and figure out what needs to be there. Hopefully, you can ask each band to bring something, i.e. an amp or a drum kit, and you won't have to borrow anything. As far as drums go, it's standard that each drummer supplies their own cymbals, snare drum and kick pedal. Also, bring a large mat or piece of carpet for the drums, otherwise they will most likely end up sliding all over the place. If you need to borrow equipment, ask friends or other bands very nicely if you can use theirs. If they let you, be nice and let them in to the gig for free, buy them a pint or whatever you can afford.

3.5) PA.
This is very important so it gets a sub-section of its own.
Whatever about the stuff that you can ask bands to bring, the PA will almost definitely be your responsibility. If you're lucky, the venue might have a PA of it's own that you can use. Ask them. If not, you're going to have to hire one (unless, of course, none of the bands have any singing, in which case you could get away with it). If your venue is small, you should only get a vocal PA. This means that only the vocals will be going through the PA, and all the amps and drums won't be mixed together. If you enough mics, you could put maybe one amp or bass drum through as well. Vocal PA's are relatively small and easy to use. In Dublin, I'd always recommend Sound Hire in Ranelagh (01 497 63 85). They will give you a really good Vocal PA with 2 mics for £50, and true to their name, they are totally sound guys too. Even though it's quite easy to work out how to set up and use these things, I'd recommend that you get someone who has a vague knowledge of what they're doing to help you out, or even show you how to do it. If you need a bigger PA, ask in Sound Hire again and explain what you want it for. In this case you could end up with a very complicated piece of machinery, so you'll have to hire a sound person who knows the ins and outs of big convoluted PAs.

Ask around: see who does the sound at other gigs. Transporting this stuff will also be an issue you'll have to deal with. You will need someone who has a car for this: Sort out what time the PA can be collected at and make sure to ask what time they need it back by the next day. Most venues should let you store gear overnight; again, ask and find out.

4) Promotion.
The easiest way to promote your gigs is through posters and flyers. Be creative, it's not difficult to create a good poster without the use of a computer or anything fancy like that. I find it's usually easier if you make an A4 poster, and then blow it up to A3 when photocopying. You need to enlarge it 144% to do this: ask at the copying place. Don't forget the obvious: it's easy to leave out a date or time from a poster. You can then either reduce your poster to flyer size or else make a totally different one. I'd always go for the second: I like seeing a lot of different posters and flyers for one gig. Record shops are an obvious choice for somewhere to hang posters (ask at the counter if you're not too sure if it's permitted), but you can chance your arm in many other places: hostels, laundrettes, anywhere you can think of.

There is a certain code of ethics that go with postering: it's another essay in itself, but should be pretty easy to figure out with a bit of experience. Apart from posters and flyers, there is a wealth of other ways in which you can advertise your gig for free. Local newspapers, radio stations, Irish entertainment internet sites will all list gigs for free. Seek out contacts in all of the above, you'll usually find a phone/fax number or email address that you can send stuff in to. Write up a little piece on each band, a small blurb of maybe three or four lines, and send it to as many of these addresses as possible. It's usually a good idea to send stuff in at least (at the very least) three weeks before the gig. If you're dealing with monthly magazines then you'll want to even be in before that. It's also a good idea to send a "reminder" (if possible) about a week before the gig. This whole process is much easier and cheaper if done via email. Don't be afraid of sending all your stuff into these places: it's their job and they get loads of it from everyone.

5) On the night.
This is where it all comes to a head. Try and get all the equipment and bands to be at the venue about two hours before doors are due to open, so you can attempt to give everyone a soundcheck (if they want one). Hopefully you'll have someone helping out with the PA, so everyone should be able to help with lifting gear and setting up. The bands should be able to take it from here, as far as sound and so forth goes. All you have to do is decide the running order and make sure things runs smoothly time-wise. Most bands will probably want to play for half an hour, some maybe more. Work out before the gig what time everyone should go on at, based on what time you have to have the gig over by. Allow fifteen minutes between bands for changeover time, and fifteen minutes at the end in case anything goes wrong (which it will).

So, for example, say you've got three bands playing 30 minute sets each, and you have to be finished by 11.30. Work backwards. Band A finishes at 11.15, starts at 10.45. Band B finishes at 10.30, starts at 10. Band C finishes at 9.45, starts at 9.15. Let bands know what time they should be on at, and what time they have to be over by. This is important, because it means that a band who take ages to set up should lose the time from their own set, and the final band won't end up suffering. As the time a band should finish at approaches, it's always a good idea to let them know they've got enough time for one song left, instead of coming up to them out of the blue and saying "right, that's it, off".

You'll need someone to take money at the door. If you're going to continue doing gigs, it's wise to invest in a permanent black marker or a book of cloakroom tickets, to allow people who've paid in to leave and return if they wish. Also, some kind of money box or kitty is always useful. We use a tin which once contained pig-shaped sweets. Use your imagination. Finally, bring a plugboard and extension cord. You'll thank me.

6) After the gig.
When the gig is over, go home and make a list of everything that went wrong. Take careful note of everything you've written down for your next gig. Learning from your mistakes is the single biggest skill that you'll need for putting on gigs.

Good luck!

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