How to Create a Gig out of Thin Air

With or Without a P.A.

©2000 by Hal Cohen
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say they can't find a gig, I'd be loaded. The first thing I usually ask them is "Do you own a P.A. system?" Not that it's the be-all end-all solution to the problem of getting gigs, but it helps.

How many times have you been in a restaurant or bar that has no entertainment and you said to yourself, "This would be a nice place to hear live music."? Well, let me let you in on a little secret. Many restaurant, bar and coffeehouse owners have thought about entertainment of one kind or another, but for many, it's usually an afterthought and they're often in the dark about how to go about finding the right type of music to fit their crowd. Another major drawback is the lack of an adequate sound system. I'm here to tell you, if you want to open up some doors, get yourself a small (but powerful) P.A. and a whole new world will open up for you. Have you ever noticed how you tend to want to play in the venues where you sound the best? So, take the ball and run with it, be master of your own sound.

Don't get me wrong. Although I am telling you you can find a good inexpensive P.A. - I do not mean to buy a cheap P.A. inexpensive and cheap are two very different animals. If you are looking into a P.A. system for yourself and do a little shopping around, you will find that there are some pretty nice set ups out there for about $1500.

In my opinion, the best for the money based on my own experiences has always been JBL. If you want a really compact system that will work well in small rooms that fits in even the smallest car, the Eon Power 10 Power System from JBL will do a fantastic job. Even the microphones are included!

JBL Eon Power 10 Power System
JBL Eon Power 10 Power System

If you have a larger vehicle or a van, however, it would behoove you to get a system that includes 15" speakers, because they really provide the most well rounded sound and can handle the low end on keyboards well and not break a sweat when someone blows too hard on a harmonica. For this reason, I would heartily suggest the JBL Eon Power PA System pictured below:

JBL Eon Power PA System
JBL Eon Power PA System

Make sure you have enough mics. The best stage mic for the money, in my opinion (because they can withstand a severe beating and still make you sound good) is the Shure SM58, legendary for its uncanny ability to withstand abuse that would destroy any other mic.

Shure SM58-LC Mic
Shure SM58-LC Mic

Let's assume you have gear. What other drawbacks might you encounter? Well, for one thing, original music is difficult to put across in a room full of people who are there to chat, read the local alternative newspaper, or study for their final exam. Unfortunately, singer/songwriters and bands who only play originals are limited to the places who are already known for the promotion of original acts. One solution is to learn enough cover songs to get a steady gig at a local night spot. Gradually slip your originals into the mix. If you're even halfway decent, people will begin to notice the ones you wrote and on many occasions, you'll find that the regulars actually request your originals after they become familiar with them. Humans like to sing along, and even if it's on a subconscious level, they prefer to listen to songs that they can sing along with, unless of course, the audience is there specifically for original music.

As for singers or singer/songwriters who want to join or start a band... The one with the P.A. usually becomes the music director by default. There are other criteria of course. You still need to have talent, because, if you suck, eventually someone (or more than one someone) will tell you what to do with your microphone, and I don't mean a song request.

Entertainment license - That's a tough one. It's not really up to you; however, I would strongly encouarge you to strongly encouarge the owner of wherever it is you're playing to get one if they don't have one if it's required. I have known a few owners who just ignored the laws until they were busted - and then dealt with it. If that's the situation you find yourself in, you have what's called a moral dilemma. You need the gig, they need the licence. If you're asking my advice on this issue - I can't tell ya.

On a related note, if you play live music, then the place in which you perform should also have their dues paid up with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

This is about creating the gig. Okay, let's suppose a P.A.system is out of the question. You're just plain broke; whatever...That's okay, you may be able to find a book store or coffeehouse where your audience can sit in a circle, up close and personal. If it's a good listening room, all you need is the audience. (Getting an audience, by the way, is a whole other issue which I'll try to tackle in another article. In the meantime, many articles have already been written about promoting gigs, so my take on it can wait)

One last alternative, which has recently become a viable and popular option... house concerts. This is exactly what it sounds like: You simply create a performance area in someone's home, or have a "songwriter's circle" where several songwriters perform "in the round" and each takes a turn performing one song. You go around like this 4 or 5 times. You can provide food or snacks, order pizza, charge a cover at the door and there is not a more intimate setting to be had anywhere. Most people who have attended house concerts agree that it is well worth the price of admission to listen to music in this environment. What could be more "homey" than someone's living room?

Well, that about wraps up this article. I was going to go further into detail about chosing a P.A., but, briefly, I'll say this - Shop with your ears. That is, try a couple out with different microphones and let your ears tell you what sounds best. If you have to turn the master volume control all the way up to get a decent level, forget it. Sooner or later, someone with a weak pick-up in their guitar will plug in to play and you won't be able to hear anything. Learn some cover tunes. They'll save you in a pinch. Believe it or not, playing other peoples music will also help you with your own songwriting and is a great way to keep your chops up.
Now go find your muse...