PLAYING WITHOUT PAYING

This article was written for our old BigTime RipOff site before it got deleted by Myspace. We feel that the info is still important.

DISCLAIMER: This is free advice and you know the old saying about getting what you pay for. I can only give you what we've experienced, but after 25 years of Girl Trouble, this is what we've learned.

NUMBER 1 - MAKE THE SCENE: This one is so important I should make T-shirts of it for everyone to wear. Go to all the shows you'd like to play. Don't be pushy - just be there. Hang out, meet other people, meet other bands. The more you are visible (and not on stage but in the crowd), the easier it will be to know other people in your same position. In fact, you might find almost everybody is in your same position! You'll meet people who are into the same music.

And here's one I'm going to share with you that Girl Trouble does. WE SHOW UP AS A BAND. We're close friends. We just like to hang out together. We didn't know we were doing anything odd. But more people have commented that it made our band look like a force. People wouldn't say "Is K.P. coming to the show?" They would say "Is Girl Trouble going to show up?" We came as a set. We rode together, we went to parties together, we had a blast together. And we still do.

When you are around all the time, people can't help but think of you for shows. Maybe they need an opener for something. "Oh yeah, there's the Your Name Heres. They're always around. Let's ask them." Being a scenester is very important. You're not going to hook up with anybody staying in the garage and practicing. That's good but so is networking.

If there's an after-gig party - GO! Having the beverage of your choice in the kitchen of some bands' house and shooting the shit with the drummer can get you farther than all the phone calls to clubs in the world. And again...Don't ask for gigs, don't be pushy, don't be desperate - just hang. We've had more fun trading band stories with people in kitchens. I don't know why it always ends up being the kitchen, but it always does.

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU'LL GET OUT OF THIS IS: Great, amazing, wonderful friends that you'll have forever. If Girl Trouble never played another show, all the many friends we've made and experiences we've shared and fun we've had together, would be the most important thing we've gotten out of being a band. The goal is fun.

NUMBER 2 - A COALITION OF BANDS: With all this hanging out you can't help but start to form bonds with other bands. These are bands who might play your style of music, bands who have the same humor, the same goals, the same ideas, the same experiences. You'll go to their shows and they'll come to yours. It almost turns into a musical gang without you even being aware of it. I can't tell you how many times Girl Trouble thanked our lucky stars that our band pals would show up to gigs. It can turn a crap show into a good one.

You'll compare notes: Talk about good shows and bad ones, what clubs are like or who's booking shows, who's great to work with and who isn't. This information is invaluable. If some of our band friends tell us a place is good or bad - that's gold. We'll take their opinions to the bank. Finding out from your friends about some club that just stiffed them can save you from going through the same hassle.

STEP 3 - REALISTIC GOALS/WORKING FROM THE BOTTOM UP: Afton Live, Gorilla, Emergenza, and the rest does everybody a disservice by renting big clubs for these pay-to-play shows. New bands think they should automatically be playing these big clubs. Studio 7 in Seattle has a capacity of almost 600. That place is huge! Girl Trouble would be apprehensive to play that joint unless we had a solid bill! Hell's Kitchen is big too with a capacity of well over 200. Those are clubs that bands should traditionally work up to, not start at. Paying your dues isn't just some old worn-out cliche - it's actually true. Bands need to start out on the low end. Play little clubs and bars. Play parties. Play rented halls. Girl Trouble has played the Paramount, The Moore Theater and some really big clubs around the US, Canada and Europe. Do you know how many little dumps and crap gigs were played before that? Too many to count. All those little gigs are practice for the big shows. Doing it small first teaches you how to do a show, how to be on stage. Playing well in the garage or bedroom is one thing. Playing well on stage and putting on a show for a couple hundred people is something altogether different. Believe me, you really do appreciate the big shows when you've done a hundred small shows to get there! And don't forget, sometimes playing in a little joint to 50 people can be just as rewarding as a big show (sometimes MORE rewarding!). Don't deny your band the experience of playing small, wild, weird shows. The big shows might be spectacular but the small shows are the ones you'll talk about for years to come. Get any two bands together to trade stories about shows they've done and see which ones they are laughing about. I'll guarantee you, it isn't the big well-attended, highly paid gigs. It's that crap show you played in Portland, Maine to five people at a coffee shop when the woman in charge that night didn't know anything about a band performing!

If you start at the bottom, you won't stay there. You'll end up working towards the better gigs. This is inevitable. But you've got to have faith and keep at it. Don't give up - ever. It will take time but you'll make it. Which leads me to...

NUMBER 4 - PATIENCE: Being in a band is not a short term project. Think years - not months. I know that's really tough for young bands but the key to success in this biz is to be in it for the long haul. Hell, I think of a band that's been around for 5 years still as "the newcomers". So many bands get impatient, burn out, have unrealistic expectations, turn on each other and break up. You've got to be doing this for one reason, and one reason only: BECAUSE YOU CAN'T STAND NOT TO. It's like oxygen to breathe or blood in your veins. You do it because you have no other choice. If you are in a band for fame and fortune, get out now. There's a 99.99% chance you will be disappointed. Doing this for the right reason will keep you going when others have abandoned their (pipe) dreams. (And I'm not saying fame isn't a possibility. Girl Trouble knows some pretty famous bands that made it. I'm saying that initially it's got to be for the right reasons - just like it was for all those big bands.)

NUMBER 5 - KNOW YOUR CLUB BOOKER: (And this does not include pay-to-play companies who rent the club and then book. These are not club bookers, in fact most of them don't even live close to you.) Can you imagine what a nightmare of a job this is? Being a club booker is about the most thankless job on the planet! Why these people would want to even attempt this task is beyond me. They've got to put together shows months in advance, work with all kinds of bands/people, fill up nights that aren't booked, deal with artist demands, hustle when bands drop off the bill, work through the complaints and concerns of all the shows they've booked, be on the phone, email people, make sure all the promo gets done, and get hundreds of demos and requests of impatient new bands that want shows there. And then to top it all off they'll get complaints when even though everything was done right, for whatever reason, the show didn't work out so well. This is why many times bookers don't stay in the biz for long periods of time. They end up burning out after awhile. It's nothing but stress with very little payback or appreciation. You couldn't pay me enough to handle that job. So keep this in mind when you call, email or write these people. They are on your side but their work-load is huge. They must love bands or they wouldn't be doing this thankless job.

And yes, there are good bookers and bad bookers but you'll sort that out pretty fast. For Girl Trouble, the crummiest bookers are the ones that tell you one thing and do another. They try to re-nig on a promise or worse yet, pretend they didn't even say it. We give those guys one chance and if they blow it, we won't deal with them again. This does not apply if something goes wrong with a show. Shit happens, and it definitely will with a rock show. The good booker will let you know about it and try to work it out with you, the bad booker will pretend they never said it.

Of course the last thing about dealing with bookers directly is that you make some really great friends. I'm not going to name them all but many of the club bookers Girl Trouble has dealt with have become close friends who we still keep in touch with even though some have stopped booking and moved away. In addition to that, being on good terms with your booker can mean that when he or she moves to another club, you start getting gigs at the new joint. If you've developed a good working relationship, they'll sort of take you along with them, and sometimes it can be a pretty sweet deal. When they move up in the world, so does your band!

NUMBER 6 - DO IT YOURSELF: DIY isn't just cool initials that appears on punk stickers, it's words to live by! There is no good reason why bands can't rent a club, rent halls and spaces, and put on a show. You've already built up a coalition of band pals. If there's nothing happening - MAKE IT HAPPEN! Make an event, make flyers, pump the crap out of it. Learn all the ins and outs of what goes into putting on a show. You'll learn a lot and these are lessons that will carry you through years in the music biz.
NUMBER 7 - DIVERT YOUR ATTENTION: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, shows just don't come along. This is where you'll need a Plan B (something other than live shows) to keep you and your bandmates interested. Now is the time to write new songs, go out and take some good looking band photos, try recording new songs on your own, work on your website...anything you can think of to keep the band moving forward while waiting for gigs will work. Get creative. Make a video, put out your own limited edition CDs, design and make some T-shirts, patches, buttons, bumper stickers. There are hundreds of different ways to get yourselves out there when nothing seems to be happening. Girl Trouble went the fanzine route. Nobody was going to write about our band so we cut out the middleman and made our own magazine, Wig Out!. We ended up making 25 issues and sometimes it almost got more attention than we did. But it kept us busy, motivated and entertained during those down times. Wig Out was a great way of keeping the old Girl Trouble name visible without us having to play a single note. It worked.
NUMBER 8 - ABOVE ALL, HAVE FUN (AND I MEAN IT!): Don't forget that being in a band is an experience that you should treasure, and you will for the rest of your lives. This is special. Not everybody gets to form bands. Consider yourself lucky to be in on this. Your actual time on stage is so small compared to the preparation, the hanging out, all the goofy (both good and aggrivating) things that will come your way. That's where the fun is. If you aren't having fun at practice, there's no amount of big shows that will make it fun. And don't forget that the good will outweigh the bad experiences, as long as you keep at it. So don't stress out when it doesn't seem to be working. Hang in there, enjoy your bandmates, and eventually everything will work out. I promise.

-Bon Von Wheelie/Girl Trouble

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