So yesterday I was reminiscing about my underage days and remembered how much it friggin’ SUCKED that all the shows I wanted to go to were either 18 and up (when I was 16) or 21 and up (when I wasn’t 21). It led me to thinking about one of my absolute favorite shows this year in Green Bay, WI. It was supposed to be in a club but the place got shut down so the promoter was kind enough to move it to another venue. Where?
An Eagles Club– which is essentially a VFW/Kiwanis Club/Place Where Old Lame-Asses Hang Out and Drink Cheap Beer. It’s a club club, not a nightclub.
There were drawbacks to the show (or what some would consider drawbacks):
-No “real” PA to speak of. We pretty much played off the few guitar amps that were there and a few monitors.
-No sound guy. We set levels and hoped for the best.
-No stage. We were in front of an ELECTRONIC BINGO BOARD.
-No lighting. We turned off the back half of the lights for “effect”.
Not to mention no “back stage,” the regulars thought we were serial killers, and, well, it was in a fuckin’ EAGLES CLUB.
But it was also ALL AGES, and it was a SHOW. And people that came weren’t there to pose or be lame-ass scenesters– they were there to party and have a good time. And it was a fucking blast.
I get emailed from bands and people who are underage all the time asking how to get gigs. Here’s my only advice, and this won’t come as a surprise to anyone:
DO IT YOURSELF.
I’m taking a page out of the Ian MacKaye/Fugazi/punk-hardcore handbook here, but if you want to see bands in your area SET IT UP. Places like your local Eagles/Kiwanis/Jaycees club…hell, local CHURCHES, are generally extremely inexpensive to rent. So is your friggin’ BASEMENT or GARAGE on a Saturday afternoon. Rent a PA (“public address”, aka a sound system) to blast the music through, get someone who knows sound (track down some of the drama kids) and will work cheap (or learn it yourself– the basics aren’t rocket science), get some bands together, draw names out of a hat for the line-up so nobody’s playing favorites, and GO.
After the first few shows see who gets the best reaction from the crowd or brings in the most people and have them play last so everyone comes early and sticks around.
Charge $5 to get in and, for the first few shows at least, see if the bands that play will do so for free so you can use the money to pay for the venue/sound person and save up to buy a PA of your own. Once the PA is bought (check Craigs List for used ones in good condition) and hopefully a decent crowd of people are coming in regularly (hell, it may even build if the shows are fun– word of mouth spreads fast), start paying out the bands by splitting the door money and keeping a small percentage for making fliers and keeping the “back end” of the business rolling. It’s not about making money– it’s about keeping it going and giving a great party and not LOSING money. Luckily, with the wonderful world of the interwebs you can promote on everything from listservs to MySpace to Facebook to whatever and it’s all FREE.
People throw the term “support the scene” around a lot, but people won’t want to support a scene unless it’s WORTH supporting (hence why people get really pissed at the term), so don’t play politics. Keep strict ground rules for the band and crowd so the venue doesn’t boot you, and be professional and fair. Word spreads fast if there’s a fun place to play that actually gets a TURNOUT, so travelling bands who know that a crowd in a less-than-ideal venue is better than not having ANYPLACE to play at all.
With less and less venues that serve alcohol catering to small all-ages gigs (which bands see as some of the best ones, as kids have more disposable income and can be a lot more enthusiastic and fun during shows), as long as the bands know what they’re getting into (don’t promise tons of lights and a massive arena if you’ve got a few cans and a shitty makeshift plywood stage) there’s a decent chance that with enough work you can get them to play. No, you won’t be getting bands that are selling millions of albums, but the nice thing about the underground scenes is that they need YOU as much as you need THEM.
A band will forgive a shitty sound system or less-than-ideal stage if the crowd is having fun. Nothing’s more important to a band than connecting with an audience, so if you can pack a small room with crazy caffeine-tweaked kids and some boozed up adults and they sell some merch and make gas money to the next city then, well, that’s a good night on the road.
So get your ass in gear and start putting on shows. It beats driving around all night bored or dicking around on MySpace for 6 hours a night. I know I play any all-ages shows I can and have been lucky enough to play a couple awesome ones in Milwaukee and a few other places, so help make opportunities for bands and crowds and start putting together shows NOW!