Let’s assume that after following the brilliant instructions from Step 1, you’ve found a place that will let you have a show.
Now you need to actually set it up.
Booking touring bands can either be the easiest part or the most difficult—it just depends on how you go about it. If it’s your first show, it’s probably better to start off small, which means one band. One touring band will be plenty of work on its own. You don’t need to dive in head first on a 4-band tour package with contracts and guarantees that you probably can’t afford. The smaller the better and once you've got an idea of how things go, you can start moving on to bigger and better shows.
With the Internet (Myspace especially), any 5 guys with vague knowledge of how to play an instrument are able to cobble together 18 minutes for a set. They also think that since they have this 4-originals plus a cover song set, they need to go on tour. They don’t need to and you don’t need to book them.
You don’t need to go after big name bands, but don’t start with a band that no one has ever heard of either. Those mid-level road warrior bands that tour 10 months a year are a good place to start. They usually have something tangible to support (a full length, a new EP, etc.) and know how touring works. They’re going to make your life (and your first show) a lot easier.
One downside to booking shows is that once you’ve started doing them, it creates a snowball effect. Every single band that’s been together for 5 months (like the one mentioned earlier) is going to get in touch with you about setting up a show. In a small scene (like Salt Lake) be aware of how many shows can be supported. Sure, you’d like to help out every band, but doing 3 to 4 shows a week is going to take a toll on everyone and you especially. The more small shows you do, the less people are going to come. As much as they may love hardcore shows, a lot of people either can’t afford or simply don’t want to see one 4 days a week.
Start browsing sites of good bands and see if they have an open date. Usually a good place for a Salt Lake show will fall between Southern California or Las Vegas and Denver or Boise. Some bands are willing to drive through the night for a show on an off day and some aren’t. It never hurts to ask. Send them a message (a good rule to follow is to put exactly what you’re asking in the subject headline, i.e. “Salt Lake show on 3/10?”) to see if they might be interested. If they have a tour booked already, they may be down for another show to avoid the money they’ll lose/spend on a day off. They may want to spend an extra day in the warm weather, but it never hurts to try.
If you can avoid dealing with booking agents, do so. If you have to, you have to, but bands have to pay the agency a portion of the money they make off a show booked through them. If they book it themselves, they keep everything. That’s always a little bit extra incentive. Booking agents also really like contracts, which for DIY shows are never a great idea.
A lot of DIY bands will be happy with whatever you give them, but to put them at ease, just be up front with them. The best way I’ve found is to break it all down piece by piece. Once they’ve agreed to play and set a date, just give them a list of expenses.
The venue costs X amount of dollars.
I’m charging X amount of dollars for the show.
I’ll pay the venue first, and whatever is left over after I’ve paid for expenses like water and fliers, you guys get.
Even easier, “80/20 split in your favor after expenses, which total X amount of dollars.”
Bands like that kind of thing. They like to get an idea as to whether or not the show will be worth traveling to.
Once you have a touring band, you can add a few locals to the show. One headliner and two local openers give the touring band a great spot right in the middle. Four bands is the perfect amount for a show (especially on a weeknight) so try to not overdo it. You don’t have to be a jerk, but have some common sense when it comes to shows. Don’t say yes to every band that wants to play because you'll end up with 8 bands on a show that no one is going to stick around for.
Next up is promotion, preparation and all the other fun/stressful stuff that comes along with booking shows.