Austin has more than 200 venues that put on multiple shows a week. For young bands trying to book their first shows, figuring out how and where to start can be overwhelming. Venue calendars are often full with national touring acts and established local acts, making it difficult for smaller local bands to break into the schedule.
The barrier between these bands and the stage is typically a booking agent or club manager.
“I probably get 10 submissions a day,” said Max Meehan, a booker at Beerland. “In a whole week, maybe two or three are worthwhile. Most of them are either terrible fits or just plain terrible.”
Booking agents are looking for fairly basic requirements from submissions they get from new bands. James Taylor, manager of Holy Mountain, explained that what most young bands need to work on is simply being able to write a coherent email with links to music or live videos. Some booking agents, such as Taylor, require some sort of recording from prospective bands, while others prefer live clips to get a feel for the band’s stage presence.
“It’s so easy to get a cheap recording these days, [that] there’s really no excuse,” Taylor said.
There are plenty of venues in town including Beerland and Holy Mountain that mostly book local bands. There are also larger companies, such as Transmission Events, which handle the booking for Mohawk, Red 7, Fun Fun Fun Fest and occasional shows at venues such as The Parish, The Belmont, Hotel Vegas and ACL-Live. While Transmission focuses on booking and promoting touring acts, it also books local acts to support those touring acts, and sometimes to headline its own shows.
Marcus Lawyer, a talent buyer associate for Transmission, books the local bands for those shows. While other Transmission employees book the national touring acts that come through Austin, Lawyer’s job is almost entirely focused on finding and breaking local bands. Bands have to work their way up, though, as Lawyer typically won’t book a local band to open for a touring act or play a festival slot unless he already has a relationship with them.
“I usually have to work with the band a few times before I add them as support because I want to know they’re the right band for the bill,” Lawyer said.
In order to work their way up to that point, bands have to prove themselves by playing slots on local bills and conducting themselves in a professional manner, like simply showing up on time.
“There will be shows where load-in is at 7, doors at 9, show at 10,” Lawyer said. “Don’t show up at 9:45 with your drum kit.”
Since so many bands are emailing these booking agents on a daily basis, the majority of them will end up getting rejected. This is often not as harsh as it sounds. Sometimes, Lawyer and Taylor will tell bands to stay in touch and reach back out when they have more experience playing together.
“There are bands that I just don’t think are ready to play Holy Mountain, in which case I try to encourage them to keep at it and touch base at a later date,” Taylor said.
One thing bands can do to improve their chances of booking a show is find a couple of other bands they are friends with and go to the venue with a pre-made lineup. If a band can do this, it benefits the venue because, then, the booking agent doesn’t have to worry about seeking out two or three other bands to flesh out the lineup. Sometimes new bands will also only draw a few fans that leave after the set, but, if all the bands are friends, there’s a greater chance that people will stick around and buy more drinks, which is how venues make money.
Lawyer stressed that venues aren’t always the best places for bands to start. His advice is that a band plays a house show for friends first. House shows serve as comfortable settings that don’t have the added pressure of being in a venue where the band might be worried about bringing a lot of people out to the show.
“If you can pack a house show, you can bring a comfortable crowd to a venue,” Lawyer said.