Booking Release Shows

Booking Shows

Opinions about how to book shows and how often to play are usually as strong as they are varied.

Before we get to release shows specifically, navigating the balance of wanting to play a lot of shows to get better, reach new crowds, and have fun, etc. with having venues and promoters push you to not play too often so as to protect your draw (for their show) isn’t always easy. And that’s before you factor in the expenses. Ultimately, I’d say there’s no strictly “right” answers here, rather just that it’s important to be making conscious decisions about when, where and why you play shows and who you play those shows with.

…don’t be too cool to let your friends know that you have a new band that you’re proud of and you’d love it if they could make it out. If you aren’t excited about your upcoming set, how will others be?

Release Show Timelines

When I’m booking an important local show for my bands (i.e. album release), I’m usually trying to get a date locked down 4-5 months in advance. This tends to timeout pretty nicely with knowing when an album will actually be hitting the streets. Having a solid Thursday/Friday/Saturday release show the same week your album comes out ensures you’re playing while chatter is at its peak. That said, that’s about the timeline shows are being booked in advance in Calgary these days, your mileage may vary and may need to be adjusted.

When booking a release show, I’d suggest being specific with the venue/booker about what you’re looking for. Do you want to headline the night? Do you want to play at a specific time because you know some of your crowd will stay home if it’s a late one? Do you want to have a certain type of atmosphere/want to suggest other bands for the bill? Release shows tend to get more attention than other shows, and it’s a good time to ask for and get the show you’ve always wanted.

Personally, if possible, I’d avoid playing a local show within about 2 months of the release show. That way you can maximize how much excitement there is for your big release day, and have the most people possible in the room when you’ve got something new to share (and/or sell). That said, again, there’s no hard rules about this, and if you’re in a situation where you need to play a couple of lead-up shows to tighten up your set, or to make a bit of money to help pay for the actual release, go for it.

Tip: don’t book your release show or tour to support your album until vinyl is in hand. The old joke in Calgary used to be “I’m going to the band’s album release show this Friday, and then will go see them again in two months once their vinyl actually arrives.” Try your best to not have two album releases.

Example E-mail Asking For A Release Show

Below you’ll see a template of an e-mail I would have sent out to confirm a release show for Napalmpom. The basics of the e-mail are:

  • Introduce yourself/describe your band
  • Establish your history of playing in the city (whether it’s a first time playing situation, or that you’ve been booked multiple times). This can act as a little validation nudge for you and your pitch
  • Be clear about what you’re looking for (release show, the specific date or range of dates, a slot you’re looking for and either the band or type of bands you’d like to play with)
  • A statement of payment expectations up front (in this case, making it clear we’re needing some kind pay to cover out of pocket expenses, but aren’t asking for a huge guarantee that makes the show not viable)
  • Links to stream the music without downloading or needing to log into a site and some select highlights to validate that the band is “worth” booking

Show Booking Etiquette

Outside of release shows, below are some of the general principles I have always lived by when booking my bands’ shows.

  • If you like a venue, and want to play it again in the future, then above all else, make sure some friends and/or family show up to see you. While it’s nice to imagine that your band will be rewarded immediately based on artistic merit, I’ve always found that the best way to get asked to play more shows is to prove that people will come out to see you play. So, in the early days especially, don’t be too cool to let your friends know that you have a new band that you’re proud of and you’d love it if they could make it out. If you aren’t excited about your upcoming set, how will others be?
  • When discussing shows with venues or promoters, be up front and clear about where your band is at and what it is looking for. While it may be tempting to oversell your band and its draw to eke out an extra $100 or a sweeter slot, there’s no quicker path to losing show offers than over-selling and under-delivering. If you’re looking to book your first show, just be honest about it and make a pitch that, because it is your first show, you’re expecting a good number of friends and family to come check you out. The venue may be willing to take a risk on an unknown band if it means 30 more people will be buying drinks. Alternately, if you’ve been playing for years in the opening slot on a four band bill, it’s absolutely okay to ask promoters you have relationships with if they might let you know when there’s an appropriate, high profile or direct support opening.
  • If you are planning to play shows in close proximity of one another (within the same month) in the same city, let all venues/promoters and bands you’re playing with know your schedule before each of the shows are booked and announced. If the shows are different enough, or if you aren’t booked as the main draw, everyone might still proceed with the shows. But it’s far better to be transparent up front than to have a show with poor attendance be blamed on you, because all of your friends saw you the previous week instead.
  • On that note, secret shows, house shows and after parties are fun. But if word gets out before the main show, a lot of folks are going to choose the cheaper option. By all means, it’s okay for you to decide what makes sense for your bands. But again, transparency with the venues/promoters you’re working with, and discretion so as not to kill your “main” gig can go a long way in ensuring that these remain fun memories, not the reason you burned an important booking bridge.