How Do I Book Shows If I’m Under 21?

careers, Culture, Interview, Music Business, Performance

Hi, arts friends! I still have upcoming posts plans for photojournalism (musician photography, fashion photography, and news), but in the meantime I received this query for Question & Artist.

This question comes from an anonymous high school student in the Boston area:

“What might a music venue or booker look for in underage bands, if they hire them? Is there a particular style of music? How would they suggest a high school band go about getting gigs, since playing shows during the week is difficult?”

First, a booking agent works with a band to help you book shows. A talent buyer is the person who books talent for the venue. I’d previously interviewed Dan Millen, owner of event promotion company Rock On! Concerts, and co-owner of the future Thunder Road Live Music Club in Somerville, about…well, how to book that show! There is a lot to keep in mind when approaching a venue, similar to prepping yourself for a job interview, or pitching to a magazine, for instance.

That being said, I reached out to Dan again today to ask him these particular questions for our under 21 audience. I appreciate Dan’s honesty and insight (plus his tons o’ Star Wars jokes).

I’d say their options are really limited.  While we would all like to be supporters of the music in all its forms, most venues are bars, are regulated like bars, and exist to sell drinks to people over 21, and a few venues will do 18+ shows.   This obviously presents bad logistics as underage acts all have underage fans that only present liability to bars, and underage members have to be watched closely to ensure they don’t try to sneak any drinks. 

 There are several community center type venues that don’t serve drinks, TCAN (Natick Center For The Arts) comes to mind, and occasionally places like The Middle East over in Cambridge will do afternoon all ages shows, so opportunities are there, just limited.

As an entrepreneur I would suggest that high school bands create their own venues, rent out a church or a function hall that is not dependent on drink sales, charge a small cover to recoup PA costs, invite all their friends and their friend’s friends and make a party out of it!   

As someone who was also in a high school band (eeeek), I support what Dan is saying here. I didn’t play in Boston back then, and we played a lot of venues that were coffee shops, or kind of coffee shops (does anyone remember Curly’s?), under 21 music clubs (was it called Drifters?), and teen events, parties, and town festivals.

What Dan suggests is something to consider even when you’re over 21! It can be tricky to find a venue that is a good fit for the band I play in now, even. When I attended the Rethink Music Conference, I asked musicians like Amanda Palmer and Karmin what they thought of playing shows when your style is unconventional, and they pretty much echoed a similar sentiment. Play at parties! Post quality videos online. Play at event centers, arts studios, and function halls.

Another great way to get your music out there is to play fundraising events, and then you’re also helping a cause!

Let's be real. Nobody wants to feel like this. Unless you're actually a muppet. Who is also a baby.

Let’s be real. Nobody wants to feel like this. Unless you’re actually a muppet. Who is also a baby.

I hope this helps and, as always, feel free to send your arts oriented career questions to Question & Artist. I’ll snag someone to start a dialogue.

Fellow band members and musicians: what sort of shows did you start out playing at when you were under 21? Or, if you are under 21, what sort of shows do you perform at?

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