On Gatekeepers

YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

Are you feeling a little stuck? Maybe you have lost your excitement about playing from being at the same two places you play every other month. Are you feeling a little frustrated and have no idea what to do next? I have felt this way before, I will feel this way again. The remedy is finding someone to help you up the ladder to the next level of success! What we need is a new gatekeeper.

I’m going to be using some light jargon, so let’s go through some definitions real quick!

Gatekeeper – The one who connects you to the level in which you are operating.

Key master – A person that connects you with a venue or an event. They do not have a lot of power themselves, they do not operate anything at the venue. They are well-connected with the person who is running things. These people have their foot in the door. They can be musicians, fans, booking agents, people named Steve.

Over-saturation – A point when you have played so much in the same area or venue that you have seen an exponentially diminishing return.

Area of influence – Areas that a fanbase is located. This is a major city and a tiny town. It can be divided by east Salt Lake City and west Salt Lake City. It is an imaginary line that you define by where you consistently play.

Example: Scottsdale, AZ is a different area of influence than Tempe, AZ. It has different people and venues in it (duh).


Everyone is trying to make it in LA. How about we start with the immediate area folks, eh?! We’re always pushing through different levels, even if we’re not active in doing this, we are still affected by this scale. It looks something like this:

  • 1​. Beginner
  • 2​. Proficient
  • 3​. Local
  • 4​. Local Hero
  • 5​. State
  • 6​. State hero
  • 7​. Regional
  • 8​. Regional Hero
  • 9​. Radio friendly
  • 10​. God status


Will you make it to level 10? Probably not. That takes a lot of luck and ultimately is out of your hands! What is level 10? Taylor Swift is at level 10. Drake and Aerosmith are at level 10. Are they talented? Of course they are! But they’re also very lucky to be where they are.

My favorite swifter picker upper

Instead of banking on getting lucky (something you have no control over), and jumping from level two to level ten (something that will never happen for you), focus on just making the next step. If you haven’t played in front of people before (a beginner stage), concentrate on the gatekeepers that are at level one. What does that mean? Find out who hosts a local open mic night, learn what you need to get there and show up! Don’t schmooze them, be kind, and be yourself. Befriend that gatekeeper.

Hell yeah! Finally got the solo to “Teardrops On My Guitar” down!

Maybe you’ve passed the proficient phase and you’re working towards becoming part of the local scene. There are PLENTY of places that have your gatekeepers. If you’re living in North Dakota and you have nowhere to play. Then you need to move where there are gatekeepers. You want to consistently be focused on how big of a fish you are versus the size of the pond. This is defined by your area of influence. Your area always starts small and then expands further and further with the gatekeepers, you will tap.

There are a lot of gatekeepers in your area. There are alot of gatekeepers in every area! 

For instance, if you are in Chandler, you will have different gatekeepers, than there are in Phoenix.

Nope, wrong Chandler.

Now I know that might be kind of a weird concept if you’re not from Arizona. But I want you to think about the small town that you live in instead of the bigger city that surrounds you. You want to find the gatekeeper in the other small areas around you. Think of this (if you’re in Arizona, this applies to you) there is an area called Chandler and there’s also an area called Gilbert. Gilbert and Chandler have different gatekeepers. You, yes you, the reader, are going to go find the gatekeeper in your area (as well as the surrounding areas). Doing this is going to get you a lot of shows! I like to do it like this.

Simply google “Venues that play live music near me”. Be sure to add different google searches in your queue. For instance, “Live music venues” will pull up a different search result than “Coffeeshops with live music”. Or “Bars with live music” or “Restaurants with live music”. Mix it up for maximum efficiency. If you’re looking for more gigs in the state or region, you can do the same on a grander scale.

NW Phoenix – This image is a little further out than the image below. Phoenix obviously has more to do than Chandler! Separate them into different areas to make it easier for you.
Downtown PHX – Take note of the biggest venues that you might be a little too small to play right now. That’s okay! We’re getting there, just keep playing! If the area has a lot of venues, bring the map in closer for more detail.
Gilbert, AZ – Cross off the places you will not be able to play – or you’ve burnt your connection with them.
Just outside of downtown Chandler, there is still stuff to do! Be sure to write down the contact information and any special information on how to get the gig. For instance, to play at Sozo, Lori wants you to perform at an open mic night first before booking a night for you or your band. -Much love to this woman who has saved me more than once and is one of my favorite people OF ALL TIME!

A quick side-note – this map is going to change a lot! It is essential to keep an up-to-date map. It keeps you sharp, but you also don’t wanna spend a ton of time doing this because it is going to change businesses open and close bands break up, we all know this is just part of the gig.

Do you need to do it like this? No, but it helps me to organize things and make it easier for me to book shows.

🙂

These are the places that you can play. Now obviously you’re not always able to just walk into the place and get a gig. If that were true you wouldn’t need to read this blog at all. Gatekeepers are not the only tool that you have. Sometimes you need someone who will vouch for you.

Not only does he sing. I’m not exaggerating this when I say. Seriously, his tears cure cancer.

Key masters. These folks are the friends of the bar owner. Their aunt runs the festival downtown. They probably don’t even know that they have any pull at all.

Actually, imma backtrack just a second. Some people think they have more pull than they really do have. So don’t ever solely rely on one person to get you what you’re looking for. 

We’re cereal guys. Super Cereal about the whole thing!

Let me break it down like this. Booking agents have connections with gatekeepers. A key master knows the owner of a bar and/or the venue really wellA key master is held in high regard in the gatekeeper’s world, making these people INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT! You’re going to want to find as many of these as you can! They should get a cut of what you make. The standard rate is 10%. It’s good to pay them at least this, if not a little more, to keep them caring for you! Just as you have limited time in the day, they have a finite amount as well. Be considerate and realize that they are going to want something mutually beneficial. They believe in you, sure, but they also need something to keep them going.

Pay no attention to that watermark

One other thing we need to understand is over-saturation. If you’re playing the same bar every dang night, the rule of diminishing returns comes into effect.

This is the mentality that will crush your soul.

Think about it this way. If your favorite band was playing just down the street EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the next month, you would probably go to see them a couple of times (maybe even a few times), but you would eventually stop going to see them so often if ever again the rest of their month stint. Sure, you still love them, but you have other things to do! You can catch them again another time, right?

“Baby, You’re gonna be the one that slays me…”

Over-saturation works this way. You have to be smart about how often you’re playing in the same area (or the same location).

Some reoccurring gigs only require you to make some pretty sound. This is for a paycheck and is a different kind of gatekeeper, and it can be a wonderful thing once you realize it’s okay to be playing the part of some background noise for conversation. Not all bands fit this model (that’s okay). This is just another example of understanding what this gatekeeper can do for you.

I am band, hear me ROAR!

I​ find a lot of bands have problems understanding this part of the gig. I include myself in this category. I lose focus often. It’s okay and a quick fix. We need to gather our bearings! We need to ask ourselves these questions.

  • 1. How are we being received in our current area of influence? Are we selling a lot of tickets/having a good turn out? – This is a constant thing! You’re always working on this. Always! So don’t treat this as if it’s a box you can check off.
  • 2. Which market are we looking to break through next? We haven’t played in Tempe very often. Who are the gatekeepers and the key masters in this area? It’s a nasty word, but we’re taking the colonizer mentality here. I realize as a white guy, that’s a dangerous thing to say. Instead of obliterating an indigenous race, we’re gathering the riches of applause.

I don’t do it for the money, the booze, the women. No, I do it because I really like clapping.

I do it for the CLAPS!

Common Questions

Is my friend’s band a gatekeeper?

Probably not, if you’re always playing the same open mic night that they’re playing, you’re on the same level and they can’t really help you move forward! Another band could be a key master, but they most likely don’t have much to offer you as far as a venue that you can consistently play.

Stay friends, plan shows together, but don’t plan on them getting you further than you are right now. That’s not their job. While they can help you get shows, they are not the people we should be seeking out to fill this specific position. Understand? Good. Next question.

Can another band in the area be a key master?

A​ much better question! YES! Other bands can be key masters. Remember that a key master holds a connection. In fact, you’ve probably used other bands to break you into various venues already! (Smooth work, you old dog, you!)

Great shot, kid. That was one in a million!

I​n fact, this is one of the best things you can do when you’re looking to book into a new area. When I booked shows in London for our band, the first thing I did was ask the local bands where they played and who their gatekeepers/key masters were, and it worked so well it was… well it was stupid!

A WORD OF CAUTION

Other bands are focused on themselves. So don’t solely rely on them to book your shows! Duh. But you’d be surprised how often people do this. Find someone who is well-connected in your area that doesn’t play music. A strange concept for sure. Every domain has one of these! I’ve heard it referred to as a maven, a connoisseur, someone who doesn’t make their own product. These people have the energy to carry you further! They’re out there. They simply take some time to find.

Y​ou can have more than one key master working for you at a time. Even in the same area of influence! Treat these people as if they were your own mother. Give them gifts, ask how they’re doing, keep them close, LOVE THEM!

I​ don’t think the area I am in has a gatekeeper. Are you sure my area has one?

1​00% for sure there is a gatekeeper in your area! I made a comment about North Dakota earlier. I was trying to be funny. Even North Dakota has a gatekeeper. I don’t know a lot of things, but. I know that you have a few gatekeepers in the area you are living in! No exceptions. If you’re in a village in Africa and they have music, there will be a gatekeeper.T​here is a big fish, small pond thing going on in the area for sure. Eventually, you will have to expand your area of influence to other places.

Can I burn out my gatekeeper or key master?

Burn Baby BURN!

Yes. Eventually, everyone does this. All gatekeepers have their own area of influence and it’s always increasing and decreasing in small increments. How do you keep yours happy? By being a decent human, by maintaining a healthy work relationship. By being honest with them and understanding how easy it is to oversaturate an area. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to leave an area alone for a few months.

Although your gatekeeper is batting for you, please understand that they are also human and have limited (albeit legendary) patience for you and others. As the child consistently asks the mother for things, her responses slowly turn quick and agitated. So the gatekeeper turns a slightly deaf ear on the squeaky band.


I​ play a unique style of music, do I have a gatekeeper or a key master?

Yes! Maybe even more so! People are always looking for unique acts! This is a good thing because it sets you apart from the rest of the people looking for a stage! A good key master will really help you out if you’re especially unique. They have a good idea of which venues, specifically like novel acts. If you’re playing something unique, you absolutely have to understand the area and who your gatekeepers are!

Are you the key master, Zuul?

No one is more important than anyone else. Not at the end of things. Not the way the world sees things. Lance is important to me, but you don’t know Lance. You probably don’t care much about him! And that’s okay. If one were to be more important than another, than gatekeepers and key masters would be at the top of that list for you. If you’re great at writing songs, you are great at that aspect of the job. Someone else somewhere else must be good at some other part of that job. These people are searching for you, just as you search for them! Recognize these people and fight to keep them in your life. If you’re stuck, a gatekeeper (or a key master to help you find a gatekeeper) can change your life! The most successful acts have great relationships with many gatekeepers and key masters. Change your mindset and find that traction you’ve been looking so hard for! 

Before I finish up, I just wanted to check in with you, my friend! How are you doing? Has life been fair lately? I hate how inhuman it can sometimes be. I want to verbalize over this keyboard how wonderful and beautiful it can be as well. If you’re feeling down or are in a particularly dark place, we’ve all been there. I want you to know that you can reach me anytime! Let’s talk and laugh. I’ll tell you that one joke I know. I love you! I know that’s sappy, but I mean it! Be well, my friend!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s