Whether you’re yet to perform your first gig or you just to get more under your belt, you’ll get some top tips for show booking here today. As a starting musician, scoring your first shows to play can seem like a daunting task. This holds true for both bands, singers, rappers, Djs and producers.
Luckily, in practice, it isn’t all that difficult. You just need to know the right approaches, and have the persistence to keep at it until you strike gold. As an artist manager and booker, I’m going to run you through the strategies that I have used to get even freshly starting acts out and performing to the world.
If you want to get bookings successfully, it’ll help if you grasp the concepts behind the process. Basically, a booking is when an act is secured to play at an event or venue at a specific time. The searching and securing of bookings is usually done by the act’s booking agent or manager, and is called a ‘booking’. Booking deals are typically made with & promoters’, whom are the people that promote shows. They often work for entertainment/event organizations or the venues themselves.
Promoters essentially book acts because they hope it will earn them money. They generate their revenue from ticket and bar sales (booze), often taking cash from both these streams. It’s in their biggest interest to book the acts that’ll attract the biggest crowd, and that can make them stay the longest. Bigger crowds equal more ticket sales, and more time spent dancing results in more booze being sold. Acts are judged on their ‘poster value’, which is the expected turn-up coming from an announcement that the act will be playing. The ‘hotter’ an act and the bigger their fanbase, the more attractive they are to a promoter. Therefore, it is the booker’s task to convince the promoter of an artist’s ability to draw people to shows.
In terms of paperwork and securing deals in writing, the common practice involves ‘booking contracts, invoices, and riders’. Booking contracts are sent out by the act’s representative to the promoter or venue, which solidify the details of a show, duration of the performance, artist and booking fees, terms of promotion and what will happen if the show is cancelled or the contract is breached. These contracts are sent out before the show, and usually signed long in advance.
Accompanying the booking contract, is an artist’s rider. This is a list of requirements and specification for both stage technicalities, and hospitality. They can cover things like monitor and audio set-ups, the amount of prepared microphones and the drinks and food an artist wants to have backstage. The booking agent will then follow up with an invoice, consisting of the artist fee (price paid to the artist for performing), and the booking fee (an added fee on top of the artist fee, by industry norms calculated as 15% of the artist fee). This is expected to be paid before the date of the show, usually two weeks prior latest. Take note that the usage of booking contracts is not necessary when it comes to booking your first shows. Sure, if you have a representative, then it would add to your professionalism and credibility, but it can also be considered overkill. Contracts will become mandatory when you start negotiating big fees, deal with non-local promoters and have very specific requirements (such as the case with tours).
With the above in mind, let’s look at ways to get gigs for you and your band. Organised live shows are different from open mike nights, so you need to be sure you’re ready. And if you are, then you should be checking and improving upon the noted points, as preparation is key. First and foremost, your music needs to be at a level that’s ready for public display. Are you confident that people would enjoy hearing your stuff live? And can you pull off a show without making a thousand mistakes? Good, you need to be.
Secondly, you and your stuff should look nicely presentable. I’m talking about your online presence, artwork and design, and even your physical appearance. This means you should have a Facebook page, Soundcloud profile, Twitter account and a website. Ideally, these would all have the same extensions for your each of your personalised profiles. In other words, if your Twitter account is accessible via www.twitter.com/thebestbandever, your Soundcloud url had better be www.soundcloud.com/thebestbandever.
As for artwork and design, make sure that you have a style that you can be proud of. Cover artwork and band logos made in Paint just aren’t going to cut it. You can find a more detailed description on how to set up a proper online appearance here. Then there’s your physical appearance. Looking good helps. Don’t dress like a bum, and if you have a signature style, or want to develop one, go for it. You’ll make more of a lasting impact if you do. If you want to make money from your gig, you want to get and bring along a chip and pin reader . This will allow you to take payments if you sell any of your CDs or merch. Lastly, it’s of huge help if you have a crowd of core fans that support you, and that you could bring to shows. Understandably, this isn’t going to be a huge group if you’re just starting out, but the more, the merrier. Think of close friends, befriended musicians, even relatives. Having a crowd that you can bring to your performances is definite added value to your proposition. The better you are prepared on all of these points, the stronger your proposition will be when you’re going to pitch for shows.
Furthermore, being prepared minimises performance nerves. Of course, as a starting act, you will have insecurities about your abilities to perform live, or to bring a huge supporting crowd. No worries, these are things that you improve and build on over time.
Apart from ticking off the boxes that we just discussed, there’s some things that would serve you well to know.
Supply is greater than demand. There’s a much bigger number of acts looking to play shows, than is demand for. This is especially true in regards to DJs and producers, as the barrier to making your own music electronically is now as low as downloading music production software. As a result, promoters and venues are bombed with booking requests and have to diligently filter out the quality. Standing out as an act, and personal relationships with promoters and venue owners are thus more important than ever.
Credibility helps … a lot. An important aspect of standing out, is being credible. Good promoters much prefer dealing with booking agents and managers, to dealing with artists themselves. This is for a number of reasons; firstly, the fact that an agent or manager is working with an artist already means that some sort of quality filtering has already taken place. After all, they wouldn’t be representing the artist if they didn’t see potential in them. Secondly, agents or managers often bring experience and an understanding of business to the table, that make booking negotiations, and execution of the shows themselves, go smooth and structured.Having a representative can really help when scoring shows and deals, but may not be attainable for an artist that’s just starting out. Logically, most bookers and managers only work with artists whom are already getting shows, however you might be able to convince one by displaying your amazing musical abilities, passion and drive. If that doesn’t work out, you could always ask a good friend that’s very motivated about you to take the role, or take things into your own hands.If you do decide to represent yourself, make sure that you present this to the world in a credible way. If you email, make sure you have an email account running from the band’s domain.
Better pack a small venue, than leave a big one empty. When targeting venues and events, it is way smarter to play a smaller club with a 100 people capacity, which you can fill, than playing a 500 capacity club and leaving it empty. After all, promoters and venues are after revenue, and if you disappoint them once, chances are you won’t get a second chance. If you pack a place, and people have a good time, they will almost definitely want you back.
Be generous on those first shows. Say you score those first shows. When you do, you’ll hardly be in a bargaining position, and should do everything in your power to over deliver on your promises. After all, it’s likely that the promoter or venue is offering you an opportunity, which far outweighs what you’re doing for them by playing. If you do well, and repeat that a few times, you’ll build a relationship and develop goodwill. In due time, that might lead to recommendations, future gig requests and other leads.
Keep these things in mind when you’re looking for shows, and doing them. Winning the game is much easier if you’re familiar with the playing field.
Ok, so here’s one of the main parts in how to get gigs. Here are the approaches that I use when looking for shows for my artists. There’s many different people to talk to, angles to use, and resources to tap in to. Try using all of them, preferably at the same time. It’ll have a cumulative effect, and the network that it will help you establish will make the whole process easier. This is the best ways to get gigs.
Gigs lead to gigs. When playing shows and delivering, people will take notice. Whether promoters, venue owners, or people in the audience, if you leave a killer impression, it’ll undoubtedly come back to you some way. Usually, this results in a tip to another show, the promoter asking you to come back or the audience inviting you for private events. Regardless, this means that the more and the better you perform, the more often you’ll get to play!
Use your existing network. Look within your existing network for people that could somehow provide an opportunity for a show. Look deep, and look everywhere. When starting out, you need all the exposure you can get. Do you know people hosting events? Talk to them, buy them a beer and link them your music. Is your friend involved in college radio? Hit him up. Any birthday parties coming up? Ask whether you could perform, for free of course. And most essential, is connecting with fellow musicians that make the same style stuff as you do.
List and approach local venues. Create a list of all local venues that do live music events. Depending on whether your a band, or a DJ, this can start from small venues such as music cafes, to larger places such as clubs and live venues. Build this list in Excel, and start by thinking of all the places you know from the top of your head. Then expand by doing Google and Facebook searches for your area, and make sure to check out where budding local musicians are playing. For all the venues you find, look up their website, and look for a ‘booking / programming / promoter’ contact email address or telephone number. If you can’t find it, call the venue, and ask for the promoter / booker, or for the manager / owner.You can also find directories of venues online, but I tend to avoid those, as they contain out-dated information, and won’t provide you with the specific details and leads that you would develop if you’d put in the time and effort of doing personal research. A phone call goes a long way.
Take note though, that it’s always better to introduce yourself over the phone or in person, than it is to drop an anonymous email. Also, it’s becoming increasingly common for venues to not have an in-house promoter, but to only work together with external promoters. If this is the case, ask the club who their regular event partners are, and contact them.
List and approach relevant promoters. Every area has a number of event organizers and promoters that specialize in a specific musical style. You want to find and list all of those, who do anything related to events, which your style matches with. If you could imagine yourself playing at one of those events, then you need to be talking to those people organizing them.A good way to go about this, is to check the event agendas of common live music venues and to find the events which are hosted by external promoters. As this is increasingly the case, you’re in luck. Also it would be smart to check out which events related local artists are playing, and whether there are any recurring local events you’re being invited to by promoters on Facebook.
Mirror budding musicians. Find successful or growing local artists whose style is matching to yours. If you do, it’s smart to review their steps; study them. Try to figure out what and who are making them successful. Look for specific venues or promoters that they are working with frequently. Seeing as you have the same sound, those will probably be interesting contacts for you too. Observe what works, and what doesn’t.
Look for ‘support’ opportunities. Surely, local promoters and venues will frequently book big artists that play a style matching to yours. These bigger artists often need ‘support acts’ to open for them, before they play their show. Sometimes touring acts will bring their own support, but often enough they don’t. An open support slot of a big band that’s matching to your style, is the PERFECT opportunity to score a gig. Not only will it immediately expose you to a bigger audience, who will probably dig your stuff, but it might also open lines of communication to a band whose support might just result in bigger things for you.
Take a moment every month, to browse the event calendars of all reputed venues and event organizers within driving distance, and look for shows of big acts that complement your sound. If you see anything interesting, hit up the promoter and show your interest in the support slot; make sure to explain why you are the perfect fit. Sometimes, the bigger artist’s management or booker will have the final judgement call in who the supporting act is, so it can be beneficial to attempt to connect with the act or their management directly, before talking to the promoter.
The cultural stuff; and competitions. Most areas will have music focused non-profit organizations or cultural hubs. These are places that tend to be sources for band tournaments, musician meet-ups and other things in which you could qualify for free exposure. Find and connect with all these local hubs, and index which tournaments and championships exist that are relevant to your sound and style. Once you do; apply and participate in them, as it’s free experience and exposure. With a little luck, you’ll meet some good people along the way.
Applying all these methods consistently and persistently, will inevitably get you gigs. And as mentioned before, once the ball start rolling, it’s only going to snowball into more and more shows. You will see that you’ll start making name in your local scene, and that will attract increasingly more offers. So GO GET ‘EM’!