The City by the Bay is a major hub for the arts, and music is certainly no exception! This metropolis offers numerous venues and opportunities to book shows in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. First, however, you’ll need to learn the ropes! here’s how to get started…
Find Your Sound
Making music is a pretty vital first step to playing live music in San Francisco, so it’s an excellent place to start. What is your sound? Who inspires you? What is your creative direction? The easiest way to answer these questions as a band is to play together and feel what works naturally. Challenge yourselves to go outside your comfort zone, and try styles of music that might seem intimidating. Explore not only sound, but also lyrics, and tap into each band member’s individual skills and interests. The more songs you create, the more choices you’ll have for deciding which ones are best suited for promoting your group.
Produce a Demo
Once you’ve found your sound, you’ll need to record it. You’ll need a demo to book shows, but don’t spend all your money on this step – that’s a common beginner’s mistake, and it’s unnecessary. Producers and booking contacts understand that demos will have a rough feel, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Choose three or four of your best songs, and either book a studio to record them, or record on your own with your laptop. This is where networking can prove beneficial – consider reaching out to existing contacts who can help you with this step to make sure your sound is captured perfectly.
Create a Website
With modern webpage hosting, setting up a website for your music is so simple. You’ll find numerous platforms with various designs and styles, and all you have to do is a pay a fee for the site, and plug in your information. Make sure it captures your creative vision, then upload your music, and proofread carefully to ensure that it looks professional. Update the site regularly with upcoming shows, photos, or blog posts, and link your social media sites to your main page.
Establish a Fan Base
Okay, let’s be honest. When you’re a beginning band, your fan base may just include some close friends and proud parents. Don’t worry – that’s a great starting point! Don’t fret over having a posse that rivals Jimmy Buffett’s. Instead, work on increasing your fan base through word of mouth. Hang up catchy fliers inviting people out to your show. Better yet, make the rounds through town to introduce yourself to potential fans (and bring those fliers with you). Post every single show you play on social media, and network away.
Prepare Your Press Kit
A press kit is a great marketing tool in addition to your recorded demo or CD – at least until you get your own publicist! You’ll want to include a band photo, a biography page, contact information, interviews, articles, and reviews. If no one has written about you yet, seek some help from friends to submit articles to local newspapers, independent publications, and blogs. The Bay Bridged, for example, is a fantastic independently produced podcast and blog featuring shows in San Francisco, with a focus on new talent. To submit your music for review, simply head to their website and fill out the electronic form with links to your music. The Bay Bridged also accepts albums by mail, although the electronic form must be completed first.
Practice, Practice, Practice
That whole adage about practice making perfect exists for a reason. You may have the most talented band that the music industry has ever heard. The fact is, however, raw talent needs practice to really refine. You owe it to your craft to work on it constantly – and don’t be afraid of criticism! Take any feedback you receive graciously and allow it to fuel you forward creatively.
Get Comfortable Performing Live
Open mic nights are a wonderful way to practice performing in front of crowds. The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, a nonprofit community arts organization located at 2020 Addison Street in neighboring Berkeley, has frequent open mic nights, and the venue embraces a wide variety of musical styles. This is an ideal place to email or call about potential bookings to start playing shows in San Francisco.
Thursday open mic nights are also held at the Bazaar Café, located at 5927 California Street. Open daily for food and music, this cafe is a great local spot for getting your sounds heard. The Center SF within the Lower Haight neighborhood also offers open mic nights on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Located at 548 Fillmore Street, this venue provides 25 to 30 slots for each open mic session.
The Riptide is ideal for getting your feet wet, so to speak, in the live music arena. This beachy venue at 3639 Taraval Street features scheduled local acts and regular open mic nights. For information regarding booking, submit your band information and a link to your music via Riptide’s online submission form.
Continue Your Education
You’ll need to stay up to date on what venues are looking for, what they require for booking inquiries, and what advice they can provide for getting started. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from the best in the industry, either. As referenced on the club’s virtual scrapbook, Rolling Stone magazine (issue 813, May 27th, 1999) dubbed Bottom of the Hill “the best place to hear live music in San Francisco” – so, that’s saying something. This well-known venue, located at 1233 17th Street, provides excellent information for both established bands and up-and-comers, so its booking information is well worth a read. Once you’re confident and comfortable performing in front of a crowd, this is a great place to promote your music.
With some hard work, confidence, talent, and perseverance, you’re sure to find the right venue to book shows in San Francisco. What a beautiful place to make music!
Photo by Kelly Smith