This month we’re focusing our conversation on booking live performances. Nathan sat down to talk to Grant Evans about booking shows in Music City, why we don’t think of Nashville as a country town, and why nothing compares to the honest hustle.
Grant Evans works as a promoter for Music City Booking; They promote concerts within Nashville as well as Birmingham, focusing on the realm of all ages and working to fill just about any room around under a 2000 person cap. Unsurprisingly, he is a transplant, leaving Boston when he began college at Belmont. Like so many Music Business students, he had the tentative plan of creating a record label, and went so far as to be distributing cassettes, but he fell into success with booking due to a lack of knowing anyone in town. When his newly formed pop punk band realized they didn’t know the first thing about how to play in rooms around town, they did what any Belmont student would; turned a classroom into a venue and threw their own shows there. The Thrailkill classroom saw acts like Diarrhea Planet come through in their early years, and Grant quickly realized he could make as much money throwing one show as he could selling every cassette they made, so he began to follow into the world of booking.
We talked to Grant about what it’s like to book shows in a town that is known almost exclusively for country music, what a band needs to book shows and make their way into the scene, and what exactly an agent or booker can do for you. Grant’s company, Music City Booking, represents that thriving world of Nashville below the country town shadow. As Grant says, “There’s not many country promoters, it’s the in-house at the venue or it’s Live Nation”. His world traverses everything from pop to death metal, right back around to his punk roots. Music City Booking helped build bills for Warped Tour as it came through over the years, and Grant maintains relationships with many of the small punk bands that came through his classroom venue in the early days.
Grant works with players on both sides of art and industry within the music industry, cultivating relationships with both musicians and agents alike. While he books many acts through these agents, especially ones that he trusts and knows, he also works with bands that lack this kind of representation. Bands really don’t need a legitimate agent in order to book shows, which is something a lot of musicians don’t understand or know. The first two years of touring should be seen as a marketing expense, because that’s what they are; touring will eventually become profitable, but not before you’re looking at breakeven for a good goal. Bands need to start small; which also goes for trying to get on shows around here. When Grant gets emails from local bands, especially those who are willing to play the smallest bill or smallest room, he always saves them in a folder to refer back to when a spot opens that could be a good fit. Bands trying to get on the bill for a massive show in town probably won’t be successful, opportunity comes to the ones trying to get out and play shows, to get their name and sound into the arena. And the fact is, a booking agent isn’t going to want to book those small tours for bands, even if they’re working for them. A booking agent exists to get bands supporting slots, opening up for the bigger bands on their roster, and throwing their weight around in their ability to push you upwards.
So how does one book a tour? And how does that lead to the addition of team members like promoters or agents? Grant makes it clear that the biggest thing you can do is go out, show up, and know the players in your arena. Opportunities arise from being a part of your local scene; when a band first makes it and begin to book a large tour, the first bands they want to take on the road are the ones made up of their friends. The other big thing is investing in the work it takes; committing to the hustle. What a label, management, or an agent wants to see is a band that is putting in the work; a band that is dedicated to the art that they’re making as well as the steps they know they need to take in order to find success. Success in this industry is reliant on getting the attention of the major players, and anyone in the music business is going to notice the hustle. While it may feel like tedious, thankless work, nothing is more visible than the grind; people will respond to it.
Here in Nashville, Elisabeth Beckwitt has been branching out through booking both small tours and starting projects in town to showcase other artists. Her first “Sad Girls Night” was in September and acts as a way to, as she says, “celebrate the beauty, vulnerability and power of some of Nashville’s most talented ladies”. Creating and curating this ongoing project allows her to showcase herself, to send a message about what is important to her, to give a platform to other deserving artists, and consequently, to expand her audience and brand. Like Grant did in Belmont’s vacant classrooms, sometimes the best way to find a show to play is to put it on yourself.
Even bands outside the Nashville climate have been able to branch out through self booking and cross-country relationships; In Orlando, the band “The Pauses” have tirelessly toured for the last years, slowly forming a solid following while they also meet and befriend bands from all over. These friendships with industry players all over the scene have allowed them to go even further with their music, collaborating and helping each other succeed. Now in 2018, The Pauses are embarking on an entirely self-booked, headlining tour, and they’ve expanded to creating a small booking company in their hometown of Orlando. When they aren’t playing their own shows, they’re making sure that the bands they love have a room and reason to play in their city.
For a band in the early stages, booking may seem like a foreign, formidable mountain to conquer; but in a town like Nashville, it’s really much easier than one may think. You do not need an agent to book shows, or even a tour, but you do need to try and make friends. If you take anything from this interview, let it be the importance and benefits of simply being in and around the scene and its players. The biggest and most beneficial work an artist can do is just that: hard work. Putting in the effort and dedicating oneself to the hustle, be it getting out, trying to book shows, or plastering the city with flyers will always be noticed and appreciated.
Now stop reading, close the computer, and get out into the scene!