Featured Department: Jambands Business School: Subject To Advance
I remember getting the call. One of my bands, was on the road and in I think New Hampshire. The caller was somewhat irritated, telling me "Dude, there's no PA here and your gig confirmation has House PA written in it. It's written on the contract, too. But when we got here, they said that the PA is being repaired." And my response to him is the same one that I would give to any band big or small today, regardless of the nature of the problem. "Well, Did you Advance the show with them in the last 2 weeks?"
Obviously the answer was no, because if they had, they would have known that there was no PA, and they would have brought their own. In the end everything was resolved as I recall, and the gig happened. But this raises an important subject for all bands, promoters, agents, managers, and roadies. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ADVANCE PHONE CALL.
I was on tour with my garage band Freaks of Nature in the summer of 97 when I was hanging out at a club called Mulligan’s in South Lake Tahoe, CA. We were chatting with a couple from La Honda, CA (the coastal town made famous when Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters hung out there for a while.) We were to be playing there in about a week, and I mentioned it to them. They said, you’re not playing there, the roof is off the joint. And they didn’t mean that the place was jumping- the roof literally was being replaced.
So, I spent the next week on the phone trying to contact them, and figuring out that in fact there was no gig there. I struggled on the phone, but found a place to do a show, and forever it stuck into my mind that no news is bad news when it comes to communicating with clubs. You never know what the story with a club is. Sometimes you show up somewhere and the club has been closed for a week! I suggest 2 rounds of advance phone calls, the first 2-3 weeks prior to the gig, and the second 4-5 days before the show.
While it may seem to be the obligation of the band manager or booking agent to advance the show, it’s best to have either a tour manager, or someone who will be at the club the night of the show doing the advance. It’s best to have the people most affected by the final details to be asking the questions, so that they are fully informed on the night of the show. Agents and managers have so many larger and more frequent questions and concerns happening all the time, you want to keep them free to do their most important job- selling the band and making you money.
During the first advance phone call, you are really just making small talk with the club, and establishing a friendly relationship. You can review the major details, check and see if they have received your posters, make sure they have a PA, etc. This conversation is vital, because it uncovers major problems that can be resolved in those weeks before the gig. Red flags should go up if you can’t get through to a club for a week- or if a PA is in the shop, or whatever. Trust your instincts- call the club during music performance times and see if anyone answers? Call someone else in town (perhaps a media person or a friend) and check to see if they know anything.
You will often get vibes off of the person you are talking to in this preliminary phone call that can forecast any troubles that might occur the night of a show. If they are commenting that things have been really slow lately, you know to look out for a monetary shortage the night of the show. Use this time to telegraph what problems you might encounter. At 2-3 weeks prior to the gig, you can have plenty of time to solve problems. If it turns out that they don’t have posters, you can easily have some there shortly, and in time to still promote the gig. If the gig goes completely South, you have time to find another one potentially. This time is vital, because it can save you a lot of time while you are out on tour. The quicker that you can jump on these problems, the better your chances are of resolving them.
This should not be the end of your advance however. The week of the show, an advance phone call should be made, in which every detail of the show is reviewed. Load in, Set Time, other acts on the bill, hospitality, PA scenario, backline, the monetary deal, the cover charge, everything should be reviewed. You should make up a sheet that is generated before the tour that will help you to navigate these conversations.
Be sure to get the name of the person that you talk to on your gig advance sheet. When you are arguing with an irate manager or promoter in the middle of the night, the ability to whip out a piece of paper and say- "Well, I spoke to Vinnie on Sept 12th at 5 PM, and he said that there was a PA here. I spoke to Tony on Sept 22nd at 4 PM and he said that we were getting pizza and beers as a part of the deal. Today is Sept 25, and I hope that we can make all of this work out."
Either of these advance phone calls can also be an opportunity for you to get something out of hospitality that might not have originally been a part of the deal. It is not a good time to be pushy, as you don’t want a club disliking you and your band before you get there. But you can either play innocent, or perhaps hopeful. You know, we’re coming a long way- any chance we can get a pizza out of y’all before the show? Know of any good hippie flop houses nearby where me and the boys might be able to crash after the gig? I have used both of these lines many times, and have ended up with a lot of pizzas and a row of couches! Club owners and promoters like to think that they are helping out traveling musicians, and if you very lightly play the weary traveler meets lost puppy vibe, you can often get them to kick down.
When I showed up to a club in San Francisco with International Anthem, the first band that I booked- with a broken down van and nowhere to stay- we cruised into a club called the Quake (it had also been called the I-Beam.) When we cruised up into the office of the woman who was queen of the establishment, Caledonia, and we told her the story her reply was classic. "You’re the band that needs me to take care of them for the next 3 days." The band had 3 gigs in the Bay Area that week, and Caledonia let the band stay in the club one night, and put them up in her house at least one other night. She kicked down a bag of potatoes that were quickly scarfed after a micro-wavin, and she arranged for a buddy of hers to help out with a truck for equipment transfer between gigs. This was mainly because of the right attitude taken by the band when dealing with her at the club.
Both advance phone calls should inquire about the acquisition of the contract. Don’t be afraid to bring up the contract when you’re advancing the show. It can signal problems upcoming, and will keep you informed as to which shows are relatively safe and which ones are worth of worry. Communicate with your manager and booking agent (if you have them) about the presence or absence of the contract. Chances are they have too many clients, so you need to tell them that you need a contract. By not advancing the day of the show or the day prior, you give everyone an opportunity to succeed at their job. Don’t be afraid to ask for the contract to be presented at the club when you get there if you can do it without sounding paranoid or sketchy yourself. Keep a running list of shows that you are advancing and be sure to include questions about the contract acquisition.
When in doubt- Advance Everything. The Power of the Advance Phone Call will deliver you to Knowledge and Enlightenment. I got a call from one of my national bands today asking whether the gig was at 12 noon or 12 midnight for Friday’s festival show. I can’t believe that a band that has 500 gigs under their belt is not positive which half of the day their show is in. If there was a problem developing because of this, there is no way that on Thursday any booking agent or manager could have done anything about Friday’s show. But my response was still the same. "Advance it with the promoter."
Phil Simon is a long time traveler- and the owner of Simon Says Booking, a full service booking agency and publicity firm. You can visit them on the web at www.simonsaysbooking.com Among others, he books or does publicity for Max Creek, ulu, Revision, Guest, YoungBlood Brass Band, Michael Glabicki, Moses Guest, A440 and many others.