Getting gigs can be a tough chore, and booking agents are not interested in bands that don’t already have a good following. I spent some time with George Merkel, full time musician and guitarist for the Ben Daniels Band. George does most of the booking and we talked about how to make a living as a regional band.
Alex: So, you’re with the Ben Daniels Band, and you’re playing about three days per week. That’s Thursday through Saturday every weekend?
George: On average, yes. There are some Thursdays we don’t play, and sometimes we’ll play on a Sunday. Ben Daniels Band is also Jeff Daniels’ backup band and we’re doing sixteen dates with him in August. But our regular schedule is Thursday through Saturday. I also have some weekly gigs Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Alex: How far out are you booking?
George: Five or six months out. It’s July and we’re looking at November and December right now.
Alex: And what is your process?
George: It depends. If we’re looking for a new gig we’ll research where other Michigan bands are playing. Then we’ll vet the venues to see which ones would be good for us and whether we get the door or if there is a guarantee. Usually we’ll go with the venue that has the guarantee first because the door typically doesn’t pay as much.
Alex: What’s a typical guarantee range for you guys?
George: On a Thursday night it’s usually four hundred. Friday and Saturday it’s usually five or six hundred, which I feel is getting close to the ceiling in Michigan on venues that pay out guarantees. Most clubs can’t go any higher than that. We play a lot of bars and microbreweries. We have a good contact list for microbreweries. That’s actually a really good circuit to book now in Michigan because they tend to have a built in crowd and they can pay guarantees, which is awesome, so once you can get into that circuit it’s pretty sustainable. There are small to mid sized breweries across the state. There’s Bell Brewery‘s in Kalamazoo, Shorts Brewing Co. in Bellaire, Ore Dock up in Marquette…
Alex: Founders Brewing?
George: Founders is really hard to get into. We’ve only played there once, but it was great.
Alex: So talk to me about keeping track of your contacts. How often do you contact clubs? I imagine you have been trying to get back into Founders?
George: Email, call them, harass them.
Alex: Do you keep track of when your last contact with them was?
George: Email makes it easy to keep track. It’s usually about once every two weeks. I try to be persistent.
Alex: What are the things that matter in terms of your ability to get gigs?
George: It’s hard to say what works, but having a well recorded song that right off the bat sounds good helps. We’ll send them a link to a track online, along with a short paragraph describing what we do, who we’ve played with, and where we’ve played, plus a link to our website, a link to our facebook page, and a picture. We try not to overload it too much or they won’t want to check it out. Usually when I write to a club, I think they can tell when I’m just cutting and pasting things, and that’s not going to connect with them as much. I try to make it more personal.
Alex: And so over time would you say you’ve built relationships with the people who book you?
George: Definitely. That’s one of the most important things in terms of getting a gig and getting invited back. I mean, show up on time, play well, don’t get wasted. Though, that happens sometimes, but don’t be obnoxious while you’re there, and be gracious towards them and try to make some friendships.
Alex’s Bio: Alex Anest has been performing, recording and teaching music in the Southeast Michigan area since 1996. He was a founding member of the Jericho Guitar Trio, Never Nebula, and Delta 88. With Delta 88 Alex performed across the Midwest and played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004. Since then he has toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with songwriter Kevin Meisel. Alex currently performs with Ryan Racine and Gas for Less and the electric anti-jazz ensemble Giraffe. Giraffe is a chance for Alex to bring his many musical influences together – a very enjoyable, though sometimes difficult task for a musician who finds inspiration from artists as varied as Paco de Lucia, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix. The common thread among these giants (and the goal to which Alex aspires) is the ability to transcend stylistic boundaries while keeping their own unique musical voice intact.