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The DIY Files

How to Put on a Gig

You're bored. There's never any good shows in your town. No punk bands ever play anywhere near you. No one ever sets up shows for bands to play at. Quit your whining and DO IT YOURSELF! It's not that hard, though it does take a large amount of dedication, some monetary risk, and a bit of free time. It's time for your free lesson in putting on a gig.

There's quite a bit of planning involved in doing a gig, if you want to do it right. You need to find a hall, do flyers, rent or borrow a sound system, find bands to play, con friends into helping out, and a myriad of other odds and ends. It sounds difficult, but hopefully this article will tell you what you need to get started.

First, figure out what bands you want to play a show, call them up and ask them if they'd be available to play. Since this is your first gig, tell them there may not be money to pay them with ("it's for the scene, man"). For your first show, use local bands, not touring ones. You don't know how well you can pull it off, and that's not fair to bands depending on gas money to get to the next town. Before you call, though, have an idea of an approximate date for the gig so the band has some idea if they'll be available. If a band wants a contract, tell them to fuck off (especially if they're local).

Next, find a place for the show. Lots of organizations have meeting halls that they may be willing to rent you for a reasonable price. Legion Halls, community centers, farmer's granges, and armories are all possibilities. You want to try to find a place that's not in a neighborhood (to cut down on noise complaints), has a big room (hopefully with a stage, but it's not a necessity), and doesn't have a wooden dance floor (boot marks will ruin the floor, and you'll pay for it!).

Once you've located a few places, call them up and find out who's in charge of renting to outside organizations. Get ahold of that person and tell them that you want to rent it for a rock concert. Don't tell them PUNK rock. They'll never rent it to you if you do. Prices can range from 50 bucks anywhere up to 500. Remember, it's your money you're risking. Find somewhere inexpensive. You also may need to put down a security deposit for possible damages. That's cool, as long as it's not too pricey. You'll need to have access to the hall for an hour or two before the show starts and an hour after for cleanup. If a show starts at 8pm, try to get them to let you in at 6, and ask how late you can rent it, including cleanup. Figure that each band will take an hour to set up, play, and tear down, so rent it accordingly.

Once you have the specific date. Call the bands you contacted earlier and find out if that's cool. If it's not, you might need to find other bands, since that will be easier than trying to change your rental date.

You'll need some sort of a sound system. This is punk rock we're talking about, so don't go crazy. If you know nothing about doing sound, find someone who does. It will make your job a lot easier. Most bands in small halls only need the PA for vocals. They don't need to run their guitar amps through the PA. If you're lucky, one of the bands or one of your friends will have a PA you can borrow. If not, rent one from the local music shop. You'll need at least 4 mics with cords and stands, a couple of speaker bins with cables, a mixing board or PA amp with at least four channels, and a couple of stage monitors. Again, take someone with you who knows a little bit about the equipment. You should be able to rent all of this stuff for 50 to 75 bucks (at least you can in my town).

You'll also need lights. Nothing sucks more than watching a band in a brightly lit room. The gig atmosphere is missing. If the hall has a stage, there will probably be stage lights. Check and make sure! If not, you'll need to either rent some or improvise. You can use regular spotlights in homemade stands set by the edge of the stage or hung on the wall (with tape or on existing nails!) if you need to. Buy the spotlights at any hardware store or borrow them from someone for the evening. Don't worry about colored lights, white will work fine.

You'll want to put out flyers right away, at least 2 or 3 weeks before the big date. Have a friend draw them up if you're not an artist. Have fun, be creative, but don't forget to include the price, location, time and date, and name of the bands who are playing (duh). Sometimes a map on the flyer helps too, if it's really hard to find. Print your flyers at a business discount store, if there's one in your town (like Office Depot). You can often do flyers for as little as 2 cents a copy. Kinko's is expensive (unless you have a friend who works there). Give a stack of flyers to one kid in each high school to pass out, and let them in for free for helping.

In determining the price to charge, figure out how much all of this is costing you, and how many people you think are gonna show up. Try to include in your expenses a little bit of cash ($20 maybe) for each of the bands that played. If you make more money than you expect, pay the bands more. If not, then use that money elsewhere (you warned them in advance they might not get paid). It's really cool if you can keep the price at $3.00 or below. If you can, you know you've spent your cash wisely. Remember, if you charge a lot, fewer people will be able to afford to come. You have to find a happy balance that will earn enough money to cover costs, but not break the audience.

Finally, round up some friends to work for you. You will want someone trustworthy to work the door. Someone who won't just wander off before the night is over and who won't let his or her friends in for free. You'll also need someone to set up and run the sound equipment, and a couple of people to do various odd jobs as they occur. Also, find a couple of big punk rockers to bounce, but only if trouble occurs. Let them in for free, but tell them to only interfere if a fight starts. Most crowds are perfectly able to control their own pit.

Some other odds and ends you'll want to bring with you: duct tape, extension cords, powerstrips, a money box, extra cash to make change with, a hand stamp for letting people come back in if they leave, masking tape, a marking pen, and anything else you think you might possibly need. Take it all, just in case.

One last word of warning. Check out your local laws relating to dances, charging admission, noise levels, and postering (putting up flyers). Just because there is a local law prohibiting something doesn't mean you can't still pull it off, but it's always nice to know what you might be getting yourself into.

I stopped putting on shows a few years ago because it was more work than I wanted to do, with what I found to be relatively few rewards. It just wasn't my thing -- maybe it's yours. Give it a try... DIY.

Mark Hanford

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