The trials and tribulations of booking that music gig


With the closures of Covington’s Mad Hatter and Newport’s Southgate House this past year, local music fans have lost two major music venues. This has made many curious as to where shows will take place now since so many shows rolled through both venues. Fortunately for the Cincinnati area, there are many great venues still around, but a question that not many know how to answer is how does one actually get a show booked in these venues.

If you speak with Jimmy Nielsen, singer/guitarist for Doctor Bombay and the Atomic Bachelor Pad, the booking process all boils down to good business sense. And he should know; he’s been booking shows in the Cincinnati area for over a decade. “You always have to present it [the show] like a business. The business side is the side that everyone hates,” Nielsen explained. Luckily, many Cincinnati venues have quality websites with a booking contact listed. This makes it very easy for bands to get a hold of their right person and start setting up a show quickly and efficiently.

Jimmy Nielson (second from right) brings many years of experience to latest music project known as Doctor Bombay and the Atomic Bachelor Pad. Photo: Courtesy of Jimmy Nielson

However, Nielsen explained that just an email to the listed contact isn’t enough. “Because they’re websites, not knowing when they’re updated, you’ve got to do your due diligence and give them a call,” Nielsen said. This due diligence and taking the extra steps extended past an email and a phone call to the venue’s booking contact. “Even though it’s not said, it’s expected that you have either an electronic press kit or a hard copy one, consisting of a CD with a couple songs or a place where, digitally, you can listen to a couple of songs, information on shows you’ve played before, band bio, etcetera,” Nielsen said.

If the appropriate work is put in, Nielsen said that the booking contacts are generally receptive to new and aspiring bands, and working with them to book a successful show. Many of the booking agents are either musicians themselves, former musicians or connected in the scene in other ways. Bands just have to remember that the venues are businesses and they’re looking for assurances that the show will be successful and make them money. “All venues want to know that you’re going to have a draw and understandably so, they’re running a business, they want to know that people are going to be there,” Nielsen said.

That responsibility falls on the bands, not the venues to guarantee. Once the show is set up, the promotion process starts and, once again, treating the procedure like a business is paramount. Nielsen is a fan of going old-school. A Facebook announcement isn’t enough. Flyers, stickers, and other tactics are just as important, as they get the band’s name out into the public, including those who’ve never heard of it.

Going old-school is very important for new bands. In Cincinnati, name recognition for both the band and the booker are very important. For new bands, just starting out, earning that name recognition is a major hurdle. Nielsen explained that he earned his good name by working with other bands, often playing shows for free, to establish himself. “Not having a name locally, showing that you can promote yourself and your band, it was a lot more difficult to get in on stuff. I had to work with other bands because the venues weren’t giving us opportunities; it was other bands that were opening the doors,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen has seen Cincinnati’s scene grow over eleven years of playing and booking shows. His opinion of the local music scene is positive. He firmly believes that, if bands work hard, network, take the extra step and craft a strong product, the local venues will respond in kind. “Treat it like a business. Present yourself in a professional manner, don’t half ass it. S**t in, s**t out,” is Nielsen’s final advice. New bands would do well to take heed.