Smile Politely

Put on your own show

This music scene is only as good as the people who create it. And right now, I feel like we’re moving into an extremely creative and renovated period in our history. In a previous column, I wrote about the importance of artists choosing to not just form here, but also stay put and make Champaign-Urbana their homebase as a place from which to tour. The band that I referred to has chosen to stick around, at least, for the next year, and as such, I am pleased. They bring a lot to the table around these parts.

But what about the newer bands? What about the ones that are just starting out and want to get on stage? And what about the kids that simply want to be involved and aren’t performing?

My best advice to anyone who ever asks is universal: put on your own show, and get things happening.

As it happens, our music scene is ripe for the picking and the intention is to let this particular column do nothing less than show you how, in case you were interested.

Step by step, here it is:

  1. Contact the venue. Here is what is true: we are filled with venues that are what the industry calls “open rooms.” This is simple. It means that anyone, at any time, can put on their own show, provided that they assume the responsibility of booking the artists, promoting the show, producing it, and then getting the artists paid. And while that seems like it might be a daunting task, the reality is that it’s really quite easy, and moreover, a lot of fun. To which venues am I referring? Take your pick: Mike ‘N Molly’s, The Iron Post, Cowboy Monkey, The Highdive, the IMC, Brass Rail, Memphis on Main, and even The Canopy Club, provided that you are talking about booking local or regional artists not represented professionally. The other venues listed prior will allow you to book whoever you want to book — from your neighbor’s polka-crustcore band to that new Best New Music on Pitchfork. In the end, it’s just a matter of risk management, and how much one is willing to risk.
  2. Book some bands. Once you’ve discussed a date, or some potential dates, with the venue, the next step is elemental: booking the bands. Here is a little secret about bands: most of them are willing to perform live. That’s the whole thing about being in a band. They want to play, and they want to do it for an audience. A band isn’t truly a band until they are on a stage and performing songs for people outside of their partners and family. As such, most times, by simply asking a band to perform, you will likely get a response similar to this one: “Sure!” Now, certainly, bands are and should be choosy with their shows, but with the myriad choices among you, this shouldn’t be a problem for long. Just keep asking, and you will see that this falls into place pretty quickly with just a little effort. Part of the allure of being placed on a bill by a promoter (or even another band) is the idea that someone will be spending some time, great or small, promoting the name of said bands, and trying to influence people to come out to the show. When it works well, different social networks end up coming together to create a good solid crowd of people, all of whom want nothing more than to watch some music and enjoy a fun night out. I know, I know — it seems like I could be talking about a pizza party at your Christian Cultural Center, but if the music is good, and there is beer, trust me, it will turn out a bit more raucous.
  3. Promote the show. Naturally, you’ll want to post your show to the only online calendar in the whole world that matters, here at Smile Politely. Of course, you could also post it to the other one in town — you know, the really good one down the road here that is well designed and has been around longer? But more than that, and even more than the Facebook event that you should definitely create or the Tweets you should definitely send out — you should make some good old fashioned black and white posters, and put them up in as many legal places as you possibly can. Oh sure, you could make color copies as well, but it’s a much larger cost. Black and white is the way to go here, especially if the budget is light. It’s a small expense, and one that you can certainly feel good about reimbursing yourself from whatever money comes in from the tickets or cover charge to your show. Now, it won’t guarantee that anyone is going to come to your show, but more than anything, it shows that you care. The bands will appreciate it, and that’s a good thing. That’s the whole deal. We want people to see art in C-U, and you’d be helping that along. If you are feeling really really awesome about your show, you might want to employ someone to produce a silkscreen poster, too. But this is a major expense, and should only be done in the interest of oneself, and not the artists or the expenses associated with a local show.
  4. Produce the show. OK. Before the big night, make sure you’ve properly communicated a few key things to a few key people. To the bands, let them know what time to be at the venue, and what time the order of events will take place. Is there a soundcheck? Find out by speaking with the sound engineer, who will be glad to let you know about what they expect from the bands. What times do the bands play? Again, speak with the engineer and the owner or buyer at the venue in order to properly relay the information to the artists. The more communicating you can do, the better. Just be straight with as many people as you can who are involved with the show, and in the end, things will run smoothly. Another thing to consider is how money is broken up. Generally speaking, it’s the responsibilty of the artists to simply ask the producer of the show, “How’s this money get broken down — essentially, what’s the deal?” But as my friend pointed out to me, most bands don’t know or are too bashful to even ask. I’ve learned bitter lessons from not properly communicating things like times and percentages to artists and venues, and while everyone makes mistakes, that’s no free pass; the one putting on a show should always carefully engage the participants involved with what is going down on the night of the show. It’s OK for a promoter to take a cut of the door for organizing and producing the night, but that cut should be nominal: 15%–20% at the most, depending on what fees were associated with producing the show. And bands should feel good about having their show promoted, with posters going up, and websites being updated, and handshakes being extended. When it works well, it’s great. When it doesn’t, it can get to be a bummer. I’ve had my fair share of the latter, and each time, it reminds me to do as good of a job as I can communicating with the artists and the venue.

The reality of the situation here is this: we need more promoters putting on shows in this town. It’s not a specialized field. And moreover, it’s not something that anyone should be ashamed of doing. In fact, it should be something that we encourage and promote. The more people putting on shows, the better. We’re at a critical moment in our history as a music scene, and as a promoter myself, I want nothing more than to see our kind grow and prosper. It would be an exciting and courageous move on the part of some more folks to pound the pavement and make our scene a little more diverse and active.

Take the Dubstep Massacres as a prime example. They’ve organized; they’ve promoted; they’ve booked good artists; and they treat all of their events as if it were their last. The result? Well, let’s just say the womp-womp has even turned this indie-rock kid into a believer. It’s really a sight to behold, because you know it’s the result of hard work and fun paying off.

So, there you have it. Let’s get moving on it, and I’ll see you near the back of the room, if my wife lets me out for more than a few hours.

(Full disclosure: the author of this column books shows at Canopy Club and owns the agency that represents the artist referred to above.)

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