So, you and your gaggle of awkward, adolescent friends formed a rock 'n' roll band. You've been practising in your dad's garage for six months, carved out some kind of niche, cobbled together ten songs, stuck a few on your Bandcamp/Soundcloud pages, decided on a fitting moniker, and now you think you're ready for your first show. Chances are you're not but that should never stop you from doing it anyway. There are many avenues to pursue to secure your debut performance. Depending on your style of music, some approaches are clearly better than others. For instance, if you're an all-women band, there's a great network of feminist promoters and collectives around the country who would be more than happy to assist. Conversely, if you play black metal, it's highly unlikely that your local church hall will host you, unless you pretend to be happy-clappy God-rockers until you walk out onstage in your Mephistophelian best.
go on the offensive...
First things first, you need to go on the offensive. Seek out sympathetic and established local artists who may give you a support slot on their next hometown show. You may already know people in other bands who have heard you practising and like what you do. Badger them for a support slot. If you approach venues direct, most will have regional promoters who are keen to give new bands a leg-up, so might offer you a first-on support slot. You may only get a few beers as payment but, at this stage, it's better to take what you can rather than be indignant little divas. Wherever possible, send a link to any songs that you've recorded, but make sure they sound half-decent. Nothing turns off a promoter, or anyone in the industry, more than having to listen to a bunch of songs that sound like they were recorded underwater using walkie-talkies.
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
If you have nothing recorded yet, you could side-step the established venues and arrange your own gig in the local community hall, school gym or social club. Reach out to bands whom you have some kind of musical/cultural connection with and co-promote a DIY event with them: share resources, equipment and responsibilities. Or think about organising a house show, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Just make sure the neighbours are on board, and get things wrapped up by 10pm. A lot of promoters and venues host benefit all-dayers. These are a perfect channel for brand new bands, especially if the cause is something that you identify with. For example, in Plymouth, The Junction hosts quite a few fundraisers – some promoted in-house, some externally – from Love Music Hate Racism and Autism Awareness to Gables Animal Support. Keep your eyes peeled for band requests for similar benefit events and get in there quick. The organisers are usually grateful for any and all musicians who wish to be involved.
DROP BY YOUR LOCAL
If you're a solo artist, or part of a duo, or play music that doesn't require a full backline, you could try your luck on the pub/bar circuit. They will definitely want to hear recorded material first, although you could just walk into the bar with your guitar/ukulele/bassoon and audition on the spot. Bar managers often expect an artist to play two 45 minute sets or more. If your own material is only an hour long you'll need to pad it out with covers or get writing fast. In fact, the management may insist that you include a bunch of covers in order to pique their customers' interest. These narrow conditions are why a lot of songwriting musicians tend to shun bar shows. It doesn't allow for much creative freedom, and playing the same handful of regional venues on a regular basis can sap the soul out of your ambitions. However, there is money to be made here and, if you view the gigs as paid practices, they're a great place to hone your skills, as long as you can tolerate drunken requests for 'Wonderwall' and 'Galway Girl' all night.
HITTING THE ROAD
By hook or by crook, you got a show. It went well. People warmed to your sound. You even shifted a few self-made CD copies of your Bandcamp songs. Now you're keen to set your sights further afield. Maybe a show or two in neighbouring towns, or maybe even a tour. Hold your horses, cowboy! You need to establish your name first, and that means playing a lot more regional shows to build up a local fan-base. Try for more high profile support slots, record some more songs and link/send them everywhere, keep all regional press in the loop, send your best songs to your nearest BBC Introducing radio station (https://www.bbc.com/introducing), upload your songs to as many streaming sites as possible and make playlists with your songs included. You're limited only by your imagination. Juggling your social media pages can be a tedious occupation but the results will reap dividends. Your band's Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts are simple to create but need constant maintenance. You could delegate one for each member of the band, making sure that there's consistency across all platforms. You can cross-link certain platforms to keep things synchronised.
DREAM GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL
Of course, in the meantime, there's no harm in sending your music to national promoters, small indie record labels, festival organisers and booking agents around the country, and contacting fanzines and magazines for reviews. Growing your music outside of your hometown is a long and arduous task but if you put out the feelers early, it means that your name will be worming its way into the music industry's psyche. And don't be disheartened by a lack of response. Keep writing, keep playing and keep sending. Someone, somewhere will pick up on you if/when you're good/suitable enough. Getting reviews online is so much easier these days with the army of music bloggers and cottage-industry webzines out there. Do some research and build up your own list of contacts. The Unsigned Guide offer a comprehensive directory of UK labels along with invaluable advice on setting up your own: http://www.theunsignedguide.com/tour/record-labels
TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR APPEARANCE
If you want promoters and labels to take you seriously, consider making an Electronic Press Kit (EPK). This is an online one-stop shop that acts as a professional resume for your band. It should include band photos, band logos, a biography (short history) of the band, press reviews, music, video and social media links, gig listings and contact details. You could cobble one together yourself but you're much better off using one of the many online sites that specialise in them. The likes of Reverbnation, Sonicbids, Bandzoogle and Freehand offer EPK building tools. Sonicbids offer information on how to set up an EPK along with a whole host of other useful information for new artists: https://www.sonicbids.com/.
Similarly, sites like Wix, Squarespace, site123, Godaddy and Weebly offer website-building templates with cheap hosting options that cut out the need for professional (ie costly) web designers. It takes a while to learn but if you have experience in any computer graphics programmes (Photoshop, GIMP etc) the process is pretty simple and painless. I personally recommend Wix – good continuity between pages, easy to drag and drop images and music, and cheap, basic-rate hosting fees: https://www.wix.com/website/templates. Another invaluable site for bands making their first tentative networking steps is https://www.submithub.com. They can facilitate in casting your net far and wide: taking in music bloggers, Spotify playlisters, record labels and more, as well as offering a myriad of ways to approach industry movers and shakers.
DON'T BE DISCOURAGED
Finally, a word to the wise: the music industry is not a meritocracy. If you're a punk rock band or a hobby band that doesn't give a shit about the music biz then there's nothing to worry about. It won't give a shit about you, either. But if you view music as your potential career, it can be a tough, unforgiving business. Remember that all your most loved/hated bands have more than just good/bad songs. They have a strong team fighting their corner: record label, PR, radio pluggers, booking agents, manager, publisher, lawyers and more. So in these very early days, you need to learn to deal with knock-backs all on your own. Terrible gigs, nasty reviews, negative feedback and, worse, complete indifference will hurt like hell, but you weather the storms and then you improve. And you make sure that you enjoy the hell out of the journey regardless of the destination. It can be a wild, weird and wonderful ride that'll reward you handsomely in feels if not fame, in fans if not finance. And if you think you need a Plan B, forget it. You're in it for the long haul. Now buckle up!