There are two words that will send any new artist or band into a rage: pre-sale tickets. They’re the proverbial gateway into playing local shows for new bands at popular venues with touring bands, doomed to a nigh-empty floor with nobody but their friends and family members who bought these tickets. Cue the “forever alone” meme.
Almost every single show I’ve played for a bill with touring bands has gone pretty much along this vein, unfortunately enough. There have been a couple lucky incidents where I’ve played to a packed house as the opening act, but opportunities like that come few and far between. Usually, people start showing up as the night goes on for the bands on tour. Makes sense, if you value the feeling in your legs after standing and watching band after band perform.
However, selling these tickets is probably the single most annoying thing any artist will ever have to do early in their career. Having to sell anywhere from 15 to 40 of them, whose price ranges between $10 and $30 depending on the show, isn’t just time-consuming; sometimes, it can be damn near impossible without having to ask the same friends and family members over and over again, show after show. This can be extremely discouraging and feels awful when you’re first trying to get your name out there as a new musician or band.
As I mentioned before, what makes this even worse is that there’s usually nobody at the show early enough to watch you play other than the people you already know. I was always looking for ways to play shows out in Lancaster and Palmdale that didn’t include selling pre-sale tickets as a requirement, but I quickly found that to be nearly impossible as well.
This was before I came to UC Irvine, when I was still drumming for hardcore bands that couldn’t just set up at a local coffee shop and entertain guests, gently play in the background as they enjoyed their dining experience. That kind of music requires a full stage and (preferably) a well-functioning sound system with all the appropriate mics. Being a drummer, I also needed to find musicians to play with.
Most of the musicians that I’ve met at UCI are acoustic artists. I guess it only makes sense, considering that it’s easier when living in either the residence halls or in apartments where noise is an issue. That, and you don’t have to worry about coordinating busy university schedules to meet for practices and writing sessions.
Hell, that was difficult even when I was in high school and wasn’t nearly as busy. On the other hand, both of the bands I was in had six people to coordinate, including myself. That also includes coordinating equipment transportation, mind you.
Since I’ve been at UCI, I’ve bought myself a cajon to solve the issue of playing with acoustic artists. A cajon is essentially a wooden box that the player sits on and plays with their hands, with the two main sounds being produced emulating a bass and snare drum. It sounds simple, and it is. That’s all I really need for acoustic settings though, and it’s worked out well for me thus far. But I digress.
Back to pre-sale tickets. For any new artists out there seeking to start playing venues with touring bands, be prepared.
It’s not easy trying to get your name out there, and I would highly recommend getting some recordings done of your songs (a worthy investment) and start promoting yourself before your first couple of bigger gigs. It’s going to make selling those pesky pre-sales a whole lot easier, and it’s going to annoy your friends a whole lot less when you’re not coming to them every couple of weeks asking for them to spend their hard-earned cash to see you play. You don’t want to be that friend, trust me.
You want to be good enough and at least relatively well-known enough to be selling tickets to people you don’t necessarily know first-hand; it’ll be a good indication of how well you’ve been spreading the word about yourself as well.
Until then, the best of luck to the new artists and bands out there trying to start gigging. I feel your pain.