Words by Alex Watts
Photography by Lucy Spartalis
The role of the band booker is pivotal in the live music landscape, however the intricacies of their machinations can be a mystery to musicians taking their first forays into performing. Damien Sutton, the booker for the much-loved venue The Wesley Anne, took the time to talk to Guru about this aspect of the music industry.
“The first thing is style – it’s really important the band fits the style of The Wes, or whatever venue you’re booking for. You need to make sure the bands fit the bill so people will trust the quality of the music that’s there. Not so much that it’s all the same, more a consistency of quality,” says Sutton.
“The other thing is numbers – what kind of pull bands have and how new they are, how old they are…what their demographic is.
“It’s so easy to track a band’s work rate these days; the amount of publicity they’ve done for previous shows makes a huge difference. Plus band bookers only give you one shot – if you say you’re going to pull a hundred people and you pull five, the chances of you getting booked again are very slim.”
Sutton lists common mistakes by bands such as emailing large mp3 attachments, spamming venues by adding them to mailing lists and choosing support bands that do not work to promote the show.
“Even if you haven’t heard of the headline band, the level of the support acts they choose tells you a lot about where the band is at. I guess finding bands that have played at The Wesley Anne before is always a good way of tricking me into letting you play there.”
Getting people to the shows once they are booked is perhaps the biggest mystery that bands have to negotiate in their early stages and spreading oneself too thin is an easy and counter-productive thing to do.
“It’s good to get your name out there but it’s not good to get your name out there too often, because people don’t care if you’re playing because they saw you four days ago, four shops down the road. You need to think about how impressive you want to be and what kind of branding you want to have, because it does matter.
“Once every two months is probably even too much if you’re doing headline shows. Doing supports every two months and a headline every three months is a good amount to play.”
Sutton is speaking from direct experience, validated by his role in folk/pop outfit The Bon Scotts. “When you first start playing all your friends are excited and they come and see you play, and once (they) stop coming you need to replace them with people who aren’t your friends. It takes quite a while to get to that level, nine out of ten shows we play in Melbourne now we’re happy with the amount of people that come, so I guess it took four years.”
Lastly, Sutton identifies objectivity, honest criticism and getting what you pay for as being key factors in a band’s growth and success.
“Just getting people who know what they’re doing to help you out and not just using friends is really important. Paying that extra $200 to get someone to do a design for you is better than getting your friend who’s got Photoshop on their computer.
“You’re a great musician maybe, but that doesn’t make you a great artist. I think the most important aspect of the creative process is critical reflection. If you can’t do it very well then it’s always good to get people who will do it for you, even if it just takes one person to say ‘look I think your design is shit.’
“Unfortunately people do judge books by their covers and music by their webpage. Little things make a huge difference and you’ve got to give yourself the best chance you can I reckon, because there’s a lot of people doing it.”
Besides The Wesley Anne and The Bon Scotts, Sutton does production work in his own studio, has recently started a record label, Cubcave, and is a freelance graphic designer.
Approach Damien with a pitch at email@example.com