Advice from David Barber's guide to gigging: It's all about selling beer
In his six years on the job, Herman's Hideaway security manager David Barber has seen mike stands get broken, equipment get mashed, sets lit on fire, bands fall off the stage and, at least once, a bandmember threaten to stab the staff. This, he admits nonchalantly, did not increase that band's chances of getting booked. With ten years of local music industry experience and an additional fifteen of fandom behind his name, Barber opted to write a gigging guide with the goal that (hopefully) some of this history doesn't repeat itself.
After an additional two years -- one spent writing the book and the other spent self-publishing it -- the result of Barber's music experience is available in a digital guide, Gigging: Everything You Need to Know About Playing Gigs (Except How to Play Your Ax). Written from the perspective of a venue, not a musician, Barber's book takes a conversational and highly knowledgeable trip through both the practical and the embarrassing sides of setting up a gig without ever setting anything on fire.
"I got tired of giving bands the same advice over and over again, and some of them really need it," Barber says. "I looked around out there, and I didn't see a book like this. There are a lot of books on the music industry, but there aren't any about gigging and how to do it successfully on a regular basis."
In the early stages, Barber's guide to gigs began as a series of articles on local music blog rockoncolorado.com, but he soon realized that the material he outlined could easily become a book if fleshed out. For a year, Barber rifled through old memories on the job, peeled back the layers, separated the wisdom from the mistakes and recorded the entire guide, from beginning to end, in Google Docs. Because he wrote only on nights spent off the clock, Barber received consistent reinforcements via anecdotes from his nights at Herman's.
"I think it's important that musicians understand that when they're going into a venue for a gig, everyone has a different perspective," Barber says. "Every one of the stories inside the book is a real story that happened, though a few are a combination of multiple stories that happened across bands. Some of these stories are more than twenty years old, but they're still good advice."
The book is written with a direct voice, as though Barber is speaking directly to you and your musical issues, and his years of experience come across clearly in the minutiae. Barber is a founder -- and was at one time the president -- of the Colorado Music Business Organization, and he's spent years watching Denver bands make it or break up during his time as a monitor and guide through the local scene. Chapters follow a variety of topics, from microphone etiquette (the picture above is a don't) to the real reason venues want to book you (to sell a whole lot of beer). Because Barber remains firm in his belief that venue needs and musician wants are two entirely different issues, he splits his time between both topics in varying chapters throughout the guide.
"Apparently, for bands, the hardest part is being professional," Barber says. "A lot of musicians look at music as art, and there is a significant artistic part of it, but by the time you get to the venue, you really need to look at it as a job, as a business. If you throw a hissy fit every time something goes wrong, that doesn't help."
Barber's book costs $24.99 as a PDF or Kindle file, but in the meantime, many of the early articles that contributed to it are still available on Rock On Colorado!. So far, Barber has sold "not a whole lot," he says, but he's not expecting a huge payoff. The ultimate goal is to educate bands, improve the industry and potentially avoid more threatened stabbings.
"I want them to learn from the mistakes other bands have made," Barber says. "In this business, the venues constantly deal with new bands all the time. Trends and styles and lineups change, but we want the bands to walk into their first gigs feeling like they actually know what's going on."
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.