1. Find a space.
You can’t have a show if you don’t have a room, duh. This can be a traditional venue – surf the sites of your local venues, there’s always contact information – but more likely, it will be more like your mom’s basement, a coffee shop (looking at you, Olympia, Washington), a converted warehouse, or a restaurant (these are really cool, because who doesn’t want to partner a killer concert experience with tacos.) The possibilities are endless!
But seriously, if you have a basement: use it. You’ll get to name it something awesome like the now-defunct Western Massachusetts venue “Dad City” or Philadelphia’s “Cloud City.” That’s right: you can have your rock ‘n’ roll with a side of Star Wars.
2. Size matters.
Get intimate. The smaller the space, the more crowded the floor. Science!
4. Or friends of friends!
Everyone knows someone in a band. Or knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. Having a relationship with a band pre-show is always beneficial—it’s also a great incentive to have them play.
6. And they want to play your show!
Not having any booking experience doesn’t mean your show isn’t a legitimate gig. We all have to start somewhere! Don’t let the prospect of booking intimidate you, bands want to play shows, especially cool underground ones. You have the power!
7. Shoot for the moon!
Go big (or at least attempt to—) or go home. Bands like playing shows, larger acts value the intimacy of a “secret” one off show, etc. If you ask them they will come.
8. Go direct to the bands.
If you can, ask the band members themselves. They’re typically easier to deal with than managers/publicists/promoters, and they won’t ask you over and over again about money. Check their social media, email them, message them on Facebook. Sometimes you can even book a band through direct messages on Twitter.
9. Don’t offer money you don’t have.
I’m sure you’re booking the indie show of the century, but if you don’t have money AND you’re unsure of what the attendance will be like: don’t offer it! Honesty is the best policy.
This is usually referred to as a “guarantee,” which is when you offer a band a certain amount of money for playing a show. If you can’t give them a guarantee, tell the bands they’ll get whatever comes in through the door. You should also give them beer – some bands will ask for drinks instead of payment. It’s a party after all!
10. Tell your bands to bring stuff to sell.
It seems obvious but it doesn’t hurt to remind them. Chances are you won’t be able to pay bands very much, but some nerd will want to buy a tape or a 7-inch.
11. Know what the word “backline” means.
Booking shows doesn’t really require much music vocabulary, but you need to know what a backline is (your bands will ask.) Basically it’s all the amps and equipment behind the band, and more often than not includes a drum kit. If you don’t have this stuff, don’t worry, ask the bands to bring their own. They’ll share stuff.
12. Have a party theme!
This step isn’t necessary, but it makes the entire experience more fun. Earlier this year I threw an “indie pop prom.” Nothing brings people like an incentive to wear their dad’s ill-fitting 70s tux.
14. And legal.
Coppers love to bust shows and ruin a good time, so be wary. There are few DIY spaces that are legal and even fewer people involved in the legalization process, so be aware that what you’re doing isn’t exactly kosher.
15. Or at least hide it well.
Tell your friends not to hang outside your venue. If you’re selling alcohol, make sure it stays inside at all times. If you can, end before midnight (that way you can cloak your event under the “wild house party” premise.) If your show is at a house, tell people to park down the street—anywhere other than directly in front of the building.
16. Get connected.
Promote your show! No one will come if they don’t know it’s happening. More often than not there are genre-specific Facebook groups you can join and post in, ensuring that your show information goes to the right people.