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Home for the Holidays (Or Not)
Keeping the band busy during the holiday season
By Brett McCarron
The holidays can be lucrative for the working musician. You can literally be as busy as you want to be. Check out these tips to make the most of this special season.
Determine the dates that your band members are available to perform and hold them to it. Make an assignment for each member to check with their significant others to guarantee available dates for the coming holiday season. If there are family events that take priority, get those on the calendar now so they can be marked as unavailable.
There's no sense hustling gigs if the band isn't available to play. So find out which dates are free before you start looking. Having to cancel gigs not only makes the band as a whole look unprofessional, it also makes the other band members resentful (because they mentally counted the money they could have had). This is even more true during the holidays, since every performer could use a little extra cash this time of year.
Ideally the band calendar will be a shared resource, such as a Google Calendar, that all band members can view. The calendar helps all band members (and their families) to remember that the band had certain dates set aside for performing. We've all had occasions where last-minute family decisions have impacted a band's ability to perform. By keeping a master copy of the band calendar in an easy-to-find location, members and their families can work around the schedule to keep conflicts to a minimum.
- Respond quickly to performance inquiries to increase bookings. Again, if you have an up to date band calendar (see tip #1), this part should be easy. Let prospective clients know right away, as in 24 hours or less, if your act is available on the requested date. Ideally you can do this on the first phone call or email reply. It stands to reason that the sooner you can answer the client's questions about availability, cost, and logistics, the sooner the client can make their hiring decision.
In an emergency, your band leader may accept a performance offer without even contacting the other band members. This depends on the band. In one instance, one member was finally told of a last-minute booking only a few hours before curtain time! Obviously, this was an act that was used to performing and had their setup situation down pat. I wouldn't dream of doing this with most groups.
Even if the whole band isn't available on a particular date, there are still opportunities to perform, such as you and the keyboard player playing a private party; or a few of you getting together to perform an acoustic set at a local bar or radio station; or going it alone and trying out some of your material as opening act for another band. Or even as a DJ to spin CDs or music from your iPod through the band PA.
Bring a camera for these special, smaller gigs. You can add the photos to your band's web page, and also show them to prospective clients in case you need to perform "small" again in the future. This is also a great opportunity to fill in for a band mate who is late showing up to a gig due to a family emergency, illness, or bad traffic. The show opens with one or more of the band playing acoustic numbers, or perhaps one band member has other entertainment skills, such as comedy, magic, or juggling.
Start promoting holiday shows early. August/September is a great time to begin booking Halloween parties. If a club has their Halloween party band booked already, perhaps they haven't booked the Christmas season, yet. September and October are good months to get a head start on soliciting those Christmas and New Year's parties.
After the holidays, the temptation is to relax and unwind. That's fine, as long as your booking agent or band leader is still out hustling gigs. Clubs and taverns want to get their patrons off the living room couch and into their establishments. Your act can help them do that. So be aggressive before, during, and after the holidays, to ensure that your performance calendar is as full as it can be. There's never a bad time to promote, and never a bad time to hustle gigs. (Except a bad time of day, such as lunch or dinner. Make your appointments with the club management early in the day, such as 10 am.)
Start the New Year with a bonus. Most everyone likes to attend a good party to bring in the New Year. Did you know that most bands ask for, and receive, 150% of their normal gig price for New Year's Eve? It's true. This is the last big party of the year, and one you should start planning for early on.
Some bands also increase their non-refundable booking deposit fee for this night. After all, if the client cancels two days or even a week before the gig, that doesn't leave you much time to find an alternate place to perform. If you take deposits, then by all means use a performance contract that clearly spells out that the deposit is not refundable. It should also include the acceptable conditions by which either party can break the contract. Blank contracts are available online. You can also obtain them from your local Musician's Union. Of course, if you have a booking agent, she/he will already have a contract. Ask your agent about the holiday bonus, since extra money you earn is extra money for your agent, as well.
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