Joe Ogden is the author of Early Stages: A Guide to Booking Gigs, a comprehensive, well-informed mix of insider wisdom and basic common sense, and a must-read book for bands and solo artists.
It was during my first year at university in London when I became aware of Arctic Monkeys, in 2005. I remember all the stories about how they’d managed to upgrade their upcoming London show from Mean Fiddler to the Astoria despite having only just signed a record deal. They’d practically got to that level by themselves, so the story went. Apparently a lot of their shows in Sheffield and across northern England had been sold out and similarly raucous.
It was exciting. It felt really fresh, like a movement. Like something you’d read about from the past. But this was different. My musician friends and I were in awe of what they had achieved and all before they had even released their debut album. Their distribution of CD demos to fans and the countless amount of packed shows they played in grassroots venues famously played a big part in their rise, as did their early fans’ adoption of social media and file-sharing sites to spread the word and share music.
But what stood out to me the most was the impact that London Astoria show had. The perception it created. I wasn’t even at the show, but that didn’t matter. I knew about it and so did everybody else. How much you liked their songs was almost irrelevant. And I loved their songs. The fact that they had caused this huge wave of excitement across London with that show piqued my interest in the live music business in a big way.
I was hooked.
Don’t get me wrong. Arctic Monkeys will almost certainly have had an agent and wider team in place by the time they were playing that show. Very few artists – if any – can get to that level without a team of industry professionals steering the ship somewhat. However, playing the right shows is absolutely crucial whether you have a record deal or not. Or a manager, an agent, a lawyer, or, well, anyone working on your behalf.
Gigs can be game changing. Literally. They’re like moves in a game of chess. The shows you choose to play and those you choose to decline can have a huge influence on what people think about your band, which in turn will affect your chances of building a good team and breaking through as an exciting emerging artist.
When I eventually became an agent I studied tour dates of other artists on a daily basis. The dates that were announced at least. It became an obsession almost, but it’s also a requirement of the job if you’re in that line of work. You need to understand the landscape of the business at all times and to know what other artists on the scene are ‘worth’ in terms of venue capacities. By studying tour dates you can get a good sense of whether demand to see any respective artist is increasing or declining, and that can paint a pretty clear picture as to which direction that artist is headed. Agents also study festival line ups and support bills, which is why making connections with good promoters and supporting on the right shows locally can really help you grab the attention of the wider music industry, especially agents.
Getting good professional representation can seem a bit like the chicken or the egg conundrum. Which comes first, the agent or the good shows? It’s not got quite the same ring to it, but you get my point. You need an agent to get good shows but you need to play good shows to help get on the radar of agents, managers, promoters, labels and so on. Therefore, if you learn to think more like an agent you’ll have a better chance of getting one.
My new book – Early Stages: A Guide to Booking Gigs – draws on almost a decade of experience as a touring musician and booking agent to provide a clear and accessible guide for artists without professional representation. With personal anecdotes and stories from my time on the road, and later as an agent at a major London booking agency, I focus on how artists can build greater momentum on the live circuit by booking the right kind of gigs.
Who’s going to book the right shows for your band? You are, and here’s how to do it.
For more information please visit www.earlystagesbook.com, where you can also read what other people have said about the book so far.