For six years, I had a very cool job: putting great bands on TV as a music booker for The Chris Gethard Show, the oddball underdog of late-night shows. To be clear, it wasn’t my day job; technically, it wasn’t a job at all for the three years on public access, and then it was ⅓ of a job I split with my friends Heidi Vanderlee and Zane Van Dusen. So keep in mind that I’m probably somewhere between zero and 33 percent qualified to be writing about this career path.
Regardless, the three of us have been asked many times how other music fans can break into the world of TV music booking, so I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a step-by-step guide to how I did it:
1. Start a band and learn how to book your own shows so you can be sure to play at venues you like with bands you like, instead of accepting slots on badly promoted Lower East Side bar shows with random nu-metal and jam bands.
2. Build a community of like-minded musicians who play together and support each other, including a band called Mindtroll that has an accordion player and writes brilliant riot grrrl-influenced songs with titles like “Ex-Girlfriend’s Never Gonna Get Her Bass Back” and “Where Is My Hat???”
3. When Zane from Mindtroll invites you and your booking partner Heidi to meet him after work at the Union Square Whole Foods and proposes that the three of you take turns booking 50 musical guests a year for a late-night public access show you’ve never heard of, say yes—even though you’re currently in three bands and have no free time to speak of.
4. Travel to the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) studio on the far west side of Manhattan at 11pm on a Wednesday night to watch your first live episode of The Chris Gethard Show, which involves several SNL alums and other prominent comedians surprising a teenage megafan of the show, plus a performance by Ted Leo. Decide on the spot that this is how you want to spend your Wednesday nights forever.
5. Start asking every fun, weird, danceable local band you’ve met to play the show. They’ll need to drag all their own equipment to 11th Avenue and follow the MNN studio rules:
- No advertisements
- No nudity
- No alcohol in the studio, and do not show up drunk
- No touching studio equipment
- No animals (but humans in animal costumes = GREAT)
- No playing sports
6. Don’t quit your day job, as this is entirely unpaid. Become well-acquainted with being very tired at your desk on Thursdays.
7. Quickly familiarize yourself with everything that can go wrong in a public access studio, including setup delays that push the band’s soundcheck to 10:58pm, confetti getting stuck in the air vents (remember to add “no confetti” to the list above), and the very real chance that letting 30 enthusiastic Night Birds fans mosh right next to the expensive cameras will end badly (thankfully, it didn’t—otherwise this might be the end of the story).
8. Within less than a year, start fielding interest from more established bands who have become fans of the show and want to be a part of it. In the span of the next six months, book Craig Finn, Franz Nicolay, Kitty Pryde, Pearl and the Beard, Screaming Females, Geoff Rickly, Anamanaguchi, Free Energy, Real Estate, and Cymbals Eat Guitars. By the way, the main MNN studio is currently under renovation, so all of these acts need to play in an even smaller studio in East Harlem.
9. Since the DIY music and comedy fans are getting along well, start booking shows called TCGS Presents that bring everyone together to watch sets by past musical guests, hosted by Chris. Remember to tell him and the TCGS crew that in DIY venue-speak, “6:30 PM Load-in/8 PM Doors” actually means, “Someone might be there to open it by 8:30.” Enjoy the looks on the faces of the comedy kids as they discover the bathrooms of Death by Audio.
10. Be grateful that late-night public access shows allow “adult language,” allowing Chris to introduce Fucked Up and Mannequin Pussy without an issue when they play the show within a month of each other.
11. Find out that the show has secured a pilot deal with Comedy Central. Wow! Travel to the Catskills with the entire crew for a mass slumber party/planning session in an enormous house that is said to be a top destination for local post-prom parties.
12. Four months later, film a pilot for Comedy Central that ends with Michael Cera crowdsurfing to Shellshag.
13. Go back on public access and wait for a verdict.
14. Keep doing your thing for another ten months, even after Comedy Central passes on the pilot, and so does virtually every other network on television. End this run with some of the most memorable episodes, including the one where the audience hijacks Chris’ opening by chanting “eat more butts” for more than 15 minutes and Jeff Rosenstock’s band gets fully on board, the one where Gethard gives everyone kazoos and gets into a physical fight with an MNN producer named Smith who is later revealed to have been played by Brett Davis, and the one where Sleater-Kinney comes on as a non-musical guest and is asked to play a very awkward game named after their song “All Hands on the Bad One” that involves touching an obnoxious character who won’t shut up.
15. Get incredibly lucky when Chris decides to meet with one last network, Fusion, and they pick up the show for ten episodes.
16. Congratulations, you are now ⅓ of a music booker on a cable TV show! Do not pass go, do not quit your day job. You may, however, collect $200, mostly to compensate for the fact that this role is now 90 percent paperwork.
17. You may also let the bands know that they will finally be paid. There is still no backline.
18. Crush the booking for the Fusion season: The Front Bottoms, Ikebe Shakedown, Screaming Females, Cakes da Killa, Mal Blum, War on Women, Jeff Rosenstock, Open Mike Eagle, Downtown Boys. Shellshag plays the finale—without Michael Cera crowdsurfing this time, but they do get to play their set at Asbury Lanes after Chris brings the entire audience to New Jersey. Plus, unlike the Comedy Central pilot, this episode actually airs.
20. Four and a half months later, find out via the TCGS general mailing list that the show has been renewed for a second season on Fusion, with full-hour rather than half-hour episodes. Congrats! You have less than two months to book the next ten episodes.
21. This season, take the opportunity to book a diverse group of artists both huge and local, including Kool Keith, Idgy Dean, PitchBlak Brass Band, They Might Be Giants, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, and Zulu P, plus a full reunion set from The Ergs! (The exclamation point is part of their name, but this is very exciting, especially for punks from New Jersey.)
22. Wait again, with no idea whether the show still exists (or what’s going on with the Fusion network itself). For reference, the last episode ended with Chris being sent into a dumpster by his nemesis, Vacation Jason, to be erased from existence, and then waking up naked in another dimension.
23. A full year later, find out that the show has been picked up by truTV for sixteen full-hour episodes. For the first time since public access, it will air live. Congrats! You get a raise and your first official TCGS email address. Please note that you are still technically ⅓ of a music booker who is only needed on set once a week, so again, don’t quit your day job. And keep saving those vacation days—you’ll be needing even more of them now.
24. You also get more money to pay the bands! (Still no backline.) Let’s get it cooking—book Young Paris, Atom and His Package, Cayetana, Mannequin Pussy (unlike on MNN, it’s a fight to say their name on the air), Worriers, Rebelmatic, RVIVR, Ted Leo, Bash & Pop, Deerhoof, Nitty Scott, PUP, Less Than Jake (18-year-old you is flipping out over this one), Red Baraat, Japanese Breakfast, and The Skins. The episodes are a blast. The ratings, however, dip from “not bad!” to “…not great” over the course of four months.
25. Congrats! Season three has been extended for 10 more episodes in the new year, and you didn’t even have to wait that long this time. This might be your last chance, so go for broke with your picks: Charly Bliss (feat. confetti cannons), METZ, Chris Farren (feat. the whole audience in Chris Farren masks), The Go! Team, Martha (all the way from England, filling in day-of during a debacle referred to as #NoLaTengo), Ezra Furman, Ladama, and Bush Tetras. All of them crush their performances. The show’s ratings continue to falter.
26. Cancel the final band at the last minute, because the episode is changed to a recreation of the show’s first public access episode at MNN. When that plan falls through, it’s too late to re-book the band. The episode ends with Chris, alone, making a bittersweet speech that implies he’s ready to move on. There is no final musical performance, no final chance to celebrate the show with a giant dance party.
27. Wait for two months, which feel more like two years. You’re pretty sure the show is over—but keep saving up those vacation days in case it comes back.
28. Find out via text a few hours before the official announcement comes out that The Chris Gethard Show has been cancelled. It ended its run as the lowest-rated show on truTV.
29. Apologies, you are no longer a TV music booker. You had a great run, though! You and your friends put more than 150 incredible bands on TV (and even paid some of them!), brought together the DIY music and comedy scenes, introduced hundreds of thousands of viewers to new artists, and met tons of great people. Thanks for the memories! You may now return to your regularly scheduled day job.
You’ve probably noticed by now that if you’re looking for inside info about how to snag one of the few coveted jobs in TV music booking, I have none to share. Sorry about that. I do know, however, that if you commit to making weird, risky, original stuff with your most talented and driven friends and stick with it for the long haul, you just might end up with ⅓ of a temporary job doing what you love. And when you find your very own version of that, it will be worth it.
(Photo Credit: Edwina Hay)