Summer Gigging: What Should I Book?

Summer is closing in. I know that it’s not technically spring yet, but the summer local festival dates are coming in for my band, a booking process that started last fall. The area around Chicago has many summer outdoor gigging opportunities sponsored by the various suburban park systems and civic organizations. Some are summer concert series and others are special events, like festivals. Festivals are fun to play and typically the bigger they are, the more fun it is. One member of a band I’m currently working with prefers to play only these types of venues during the summer, which is understandable. Often these types of situations involve a built in audience, most of whom come specifically to listen to the music. For the festivals there is usually an actual sound company contracted to provide the PA system and run the boards, guaranteeing a better experience for the musicians (most of the time). Stage space is often more than ample and the crowds are appreciative. There are many benefit to doing these gigs during the summers; however, there are certain drawbacks to the outdoor venues, particularly when they are the only type of gig that is booked for the summer.

Outdoor gigs, such as those noted above, do offer quite a bit in terms of return for the band’s efforts. For one thing many of them pay pretty well, particularly the festivals. At the festivals, as well as some of the park gigs, the sound system is provided by folks who run and set up p.a. systems professionaly. This has multiple benefits for the band, not the least of which is the band doesn’t bear the responsibility of contracting and paying someone to come in and do so. Many bands can and do provide their own p.a. systems but usually don’t hire someone to run the board, because it’s an expense they don’t want to incur and they figure they can get things set they way they want them most of the time. This generally works well enough that it’s not an issue for small venues, but does overtask the band when working elsewhere. That being said, professionally provided sound systems usually provide a luxury experience for the performers. Sound is balanced on-stage through the provided monitors. What you need more or less of is delivered by simply asking the soundman and out front the mains are entirely in the hands of the same.

This type of situation also provides quite a bit of exposure for the performers, often to different types of crowds than are often run into in the club circuit. Most of these events are geared toward families, both young and old, while others cater to specific groups of folks. Any way you look at it, further exposure means a potentially larger fan-base, which could result in larger draws at clubs during the fall and winter, as well as potentially being re-booked for the following summer events. Plus, unlike many other venues, these events tend to be less predatory upon the acts they book. By that I mean they don’t just offer exposure as compensation for performing but also pay the performers.

There is a downside to outdoor performances, which is in itself no surprise. This type of gig is mostly weather dependent. While some do involve large tents that do more than provide shade, most of the time the stage areas are exposed to the elements and if it rains, you’re done. Cancellations can really suck the income out of a band if the summer turns out to be a particularly wet one, and while some places will attempt to reschedule, they are in the minority. Generally there will also be a clause in the contract covering payment in the event of a weather related cancellation, which usually indicates that the band does not get paid in this situation. There are also situations where inclement weather is threatening but it hasn’t started to rain as of yet. Since it is not raining you will be expected to set up and prepare to play until it does, or in the situation where there is a covered stage you will need to set up and wait for a break in the weather to start. If you don’t bring a tarp for your equipment and it rains, chances are your equipment, particularly anything electronic, is going to suffer damage, which you will solely be responsible for repairing or replacing.

Logically enough, if it’s a wet summer and your band has relied solely on outdoor venues for gigs, you are going to have a major income deficit, which will be a big deal if you’re relying on the income to make ends meet. If that is the case, then it would be wise to pursue as many indoor venues as possible in addition to the outdoor ones. While some might think that in areas with substantial opportunities to see live performances outdoors it will result in lower draws at indoor venues, this is not necessarily the case. Clubs will still draw crowds, particularly if your band is popular. Some of this has to do with target audiences. Most of the local outdoor events are indeed geared toward being family friendly and the crowds are generally filled with families and folks who really aren’t interested in hanging out in bars and nightclubs. There are some outdoor venues that cater to the twenty to thirty something folks, singles and couples, who are out having a good time, but these people are still more likely to be hitting the nightclubs and bars. The festivals that are populated by this demographic tend to be more focused on multiple band events, primarily with quite popular local and national touring acts brought together for large events. So, what are you looking forward to this summer?