So You Want to Come to Europe and Play Music?
How do I get my band (or myself) a gig in Europe? I get asked this question frequently. I wish the answer was as easy as "just be talented" but such is not the case of course. For what it's worth I have a few opinions and thoughts on the subject that I'd like to share with you. First of all I'm assuming that you have at the least your CD, biography, photos and press package all in order. You'll want to present yourself in the most favorable light so please put this together with some thought and care. As a former booking agent myself who was often swamped with tapes and Cd's I can't tell you enough how important that first impression is.
I've written about 4 ways in which I think you could find yourself some work.
#1. Find a booking agent to do the work.
#2. Book yourself via internet and phone calls.
#3. Hand deliver your press packages and try the booking in person.
#4. Find yourself an opening slot with an already established band.
Still interested? Read on......
The Positives: Europe supports a wide range of American musicians and music styles. They are often enamored with the more obscure acts and prides themselves on the discovery and subsequent support of those acts. Jazz, Folk, Blues, Country, HipHop, Soul, Rap, Rhythm&Blues and of course Rock&Roll are all well represented here. Obscure to main stream, there is a market and a venue for each and all. Obscure in the States is no problem here. Calvin Russel is a platinum seller in France and I don't believe that many folks know this 50 year old Texans music in the States. Eric Anderson lives and works mainly in Norway and Elliot Murphy lives in Paris and his main support is European and how many Americans remember either of them now? there are many more.
I am another example of course and friends the Walkabouts until recently couldn't get a record deal in the states but are filling up 500 seaters across Europe. Europeans even seem to like and support American music more than they do their own neighbors music. My friend Vlado Kreslin is the number one seller right now in Slovenia but has to work hard to get his music beyond the borders of his country. I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that there is a market for American music. If you can get here the money is decent (mostly better than the States I guess), the hospitality is great, the audiences knowledgeable and friendly and you'll be in Europe.
The Negative Stuff: In one sense it's not any different here than getting a gig in the states (or lets say in another state than the one where you live) and should be approached the same way. You gotta sell yourself to folks who have never heard of you before and give them the reason to book you a show and hopefully with some kind of money guarantee. In as much as I stated above that there was a certain market for Americans playing music here, on the other hand there is (at least in my opinion) a glut of Americans as well. If you can make it work here it's a great place to be but it's not a secret anymore. In other words your job is going to be difficult. It will be made more so by a shrinking entertainment "dollar". Concerts and Cd's are much more expensive here than in the states and with tough economic times this hurts attendance levels (door receipts!) for sure. There's a lot of competition for the bucks!
I first came to Europe in 1993 and at that time there were quite a few clubs in many cities that were supported by some kind of local or regional government agency or some such. Youth and culture centers who's budgets were guaranteed by the state in one form or another have gradually disappeared in the past 10 years (especially in the big cities) and with them a great opportunity to get a foot in the door for unheard artists and acts. I probably was in the last wave of musicians that made it here just before the bottom dropped out of the club and concert scene. Back then folks would give you a gig cause they liked your CD, thought their audience would like you and folks would want to take a look at you. Although these places still do exist clubs and venues are much more cautious now as they must be. Also, without a doubt I'd say that your chances of getting a gig are helped immeasurably with a European record release of some kind. It's difficult to get booking agents to talk with you without this minimum. Having a release in the states will help too as it at least points to the fact that SOMEBODY loves you. Which brings us to finding the work....
#1. A booking agent would be the easiest way to get gigs. Of course - someone else does most of the work for you. This is probably the most difficult way to go for unknown acts though. Number one is that the smaller agencies (those working with the more unknown acts in other words) are disappearing. In Germany I know lots of them were forced out of business because of unfair tax laws on the bands gig money and their own percentages. Some of the these laws have been corrected but the damage was done. Plus with fees shrinking for bands the agents themselves receive less and less money and it's just as much work (if not more) to book an act for $400 as it is $1500. On the plus side agents in each country speak the language, know the clubs and buyers, the money to ask for, the routings (although you wouldn't know that half of the time) and all the "inside"stuff. An agency would be the best and most practical way to put some kind of tour together but of course the 20% has to be paid as well.
You need to understand that although there is cross border booking (i.e. Germany - Austria - Switzerland, Belgium - Nederlande - Luxembourg, Czech Republic - Poland - Slovakia, Croatia - Slovenia) each country has their own languages, customs and the rest and agencies tend to book their own areas. You probably need to target what country your most interested in visiting and find an agency there. The last part of all this is that Booking Agents like to work with Record Companies. Record companies can and do help with posters, press, photos, backline, van rentals, guarantees and all other tour support that are an important part of making these tours successful. To try and coordinate all of this from the states, though not impossible is very, very difficult (and made more so if this is your first time!). So - agencie-s- a great way but perhaps the most difficult for a first timer.
#2. You can book yourself. The internet is the place to start here because your so physically far away. One thing you can do is to find where your favorite artists are playing, note the club names and do your research. Contact the club, send your own promo out, perhaps with a phone call just like back home. Perhaps music magazines with tour shekels will clue you into venues. Friends, other musicians are all important resources for finding cool clubs that might give you a chance. Though the internet allows you to contact most venues cheaply, still and personally speaking, I find a phone call is the best way. I recently booked myself a month of shows mostly in Germany and I did it 90% by phone (of course most people knew me or at least my name and that's a BIG step up!).
Be that as it may though of course the internet is a great resource and you should use it. Once again if those clubs have never heard of you, your going to have to convince them that your reliable even if they do like your music (in other words that your gonna show up to do the gig if they do decide to take the chance!). Each of you has their own requirements money wise but my advice is for you to stress the fact that you want the opportunity to get in front of an audience and money is not so important this first time out. You'll want to be paid of course but don't make it an issue. You mostly want the chance to get in front of folks and if your good and people like you you'll get the return engagement. Once again this talktalk presupposes that the club agent or music buyer speaks English or that your speaking their language and all of these details can be handled by you. Not everyone speaks English don't forget and even if they do often times on the phone is the most difficult! Make sure you speak slowly and clearly if you feel some hesitation or difficulties. You can often get through them but you gotta slow down.
#3. Make an exploratory visit here yourself. Perhaps you've got some time and enough money to get over here and look into a few clubs yourself ? Make a list up and hand deliver a few press kits ect, talk to agents directly ect ect. and why not ? If nothing else you'll get a few beers out of the deal and get a unique Euro vacation to boot plus of course perhaps a few future gigs to take home and tell your bandmates about.
#4. Hook up with a band you like and ask to be their opener when they tour here. I know lots of bands that started out in Europe this way and in fact it's how I got my own first shows here First you gotta connect with your headliner and get them to at least ok the idea of carrying support. They then are going to have to get in touch with their agents and the clubs and see if it will work logistically and get the ok for it. Start planning 1 year before your arrival. Much will depend on how much clout they have on the scene. Be flexible though in all areas. What's a minimum number of shows you need for this to be viable? It might be hard to get a solid week but perhaps 5 shows spread over 2 weeks will do it for you? What about your backline requirements? Can you share? It will cut your costs for sure and also make it easier at ShowTime's with less breakdown time ect. but you know all this.
To make this work you'll need to make things as easy as possible on the headliner. You'll not want to bother them with much (unless your REALLY good friends) in the way of taking care of your needs. It's tiring work touring and the more you take care of your own business the happier everyone is going to be believe me. This means you'll need to arrange your own transpiration especially and perhaps even have to cover the cost of your hotel, food, and getting yourselves to the venues in the different towns on time for soundchecks AND with a smile on your face.
Unless your told to contact the headliners booking agent directly for details and questions you should get all your information from the band itself. Booking agents tend to be overworked and stressed out and having to answer questions from an opener that they are really not responsible for can be a real drag for them. You'll want to be independent, self sufficient, professional as hell (for Gods sake, if your spot is 30 minutes play ONLY 30 minutes with encore even!) and tolerant. Remember you're the support! The clubs MIGHT remember that your nice guys and easy to work with but for sure they WILL remember if you're a pain in the ass!! This touring with friends can be fun for everyone though and once here the clubs will treat you right (mostly).
Making it happen will take a lot of work but it's a good way to get in front of an audience. It is gonna be expensive though depending on where your flying from. Tickets are not cheap, food and hotels are not either. Perhaps you can do the floor tour here and it's possible but it's pretty tough but you know that right? All details to be worried over before arrival time. Still, nothing will happen if you just stay home and whine about never doing anything.
That's it amigos and fellow musicians. I hope this might help you a little bit. I encourage your efforts, applaud them and wish the best of luck to you! Be sure to read my notes for "Americans Traveling in Europe" elsewhere on these pages. Combine those rules with your music, some positive attitude and I'll see you out on the road!