How to be a Successful Gigging Musician

by | May 17, 2022 | Uncategorized

With the pandemic waning, many musicians, pro and independent alike, are starting to get back out there to share their music with the world.

Having survived these treacherous times, what can gigging musicians do to ensure they are successful with their ongoing live performance efforts?

“Where Can I Perform Music?”

This is the first question many artists ask, and it is the right question.

For better or for worse, though, there are no magical answers. We need to do our homework to identify the full range of opportunities available.

Here are some of the methods I’ve relied on over the years to find potential gigging opportunities:

  • The first is to go through your local entertainment rags and make a list of where other acts are performing. You may or may not be able to perform in these environments. Some of them are proper music venues, and you will have a better chance of booking with those. Some of them might be community centers, theaters, or churches though. And whether you can book these can be contingent on your budget, availability, personal beliefs, or other factors. But at least you can broaden your horizons by looking at where other artists are playing.
  • Second is you can check local events online. There should be an event site serving your specific township or city unless you happen to be living in a very small place, like a village or hamlet (in which case, broaden your search to a 50 or 100 km radius). And check to see where artists are performing. Again, if it’s things like stadiums or arenas, those may not be immediately accessible to you. But if it grows your awareness of potential opportunities, then it’s not doing any harm.
  • Third is you can check local artists and band websites. So, getting a good idea of the local music scene can only help you and not hurt you. Because you can look up these people on their websites, check out their social media channels, and find out where they’re performing. And chances are most of those venues could be great opportunities for you too.
  • And lastly, don’t forget alternative venues. Just because a specific place of business doesn’t typically book music doesn’t mean that you couldn’t potentially book yourself there. In fact, there can be some advantages to playing clothing stores or restaurants. You might have better luck getting paid what you’re worth, for example. So, even if it seems like a shot in the dark, it can’t hurt to start thinking a little bit outside of the box.

How to Get Gigs

How to get gigs? Now, this is another great question. And yet again, there are no magical answers.

But by now you should at least have a list of venues to target. So, let’s talk about the next step.

The typical process to getting a gig is this:

  • First, you want to find out who books the gigs and get their contact information. You can’t get in touch with them if you don’t have their email address or phone number. So, seek out that information. Oftentimes you can get this information by calling the venue. But you might also want to check their website – festival, event, venue, or otherwise.
  • Next thing to keep in mind is following instructions. That begins with contact method. A specific booker may request that you contact them via email, not phone, or maybe the opposite – via phone and not email. Follow these instructions for best results, and if they have any other requests, such as “please be prepared with music samples” or other relevant information, be prepared with that before making the cold call.
  • Next step is to be confident and proactive with follow up. The gig isn’t always booked upon first contact. This is a little bit of a long game. It doesn’t take forever, but you do need to be patient with the process. Not everyone’s going to get back to you right away. People are busy. So, stick with the process. Be tenacious and follow up every week or every other week. But don’t be too persistent. Don’t keep bumping email threads. This can only annoy people. Follow up intelligently and thoughtfully.
  • And finally, don’t forget to build relationships. There’s a lot of people out there, playing gigs, booking gigs, going to see gigs. These connections can all prove helpful. I found a lot of value in local instrument stores because they often have a sense of what the scene is like. You can go to workshops, clinics, and other music-oriented events. You can also make connections with band leaders; I’ve been set up with a lot of great gigs that way.

Work Out the Gigging Details

Next is to work out the gigging details.

Date & Time of the Event

You’ll want to nail down a date and time for the show. This will typically be on the weekend. And the venue may be booked up to a certain point already. So, it’s entirely possible that it will be a month or two out before you get to perform.

Posters & Promotional Materials

Next is to work out posters and other requirements. Does the venue need posters? Would they like it if you did have posters? Would it help them promote the event? Or do they create their own posters?

Do they have any other types of print material or promotional material requirements?

Promotion

Which segues nicely into the next point – promotion. How is the show going to be promoted? What’s the expectation? Are they expecting you to promote it? Are they going to be promoting it? Are you going to be collaborating on the promotion to get your fans out there?

Payment – Guarantees, Ticket Sales, Food & Drink Sales, etc.

Next thing to work out is how you’re going to be paid. The most typical sources include guarantees, ticket sales, a percentage of food and beverage sales, or a combination thereof.

So, how are you going to be paid? Are you going to be paid at all? And what’s the agreement around it?

Contracts

In some cases, you may also want to have a contract but in my experience, you don’t want to bring a contract into a situation where you can do without.

I’ve booked many shows at friendly local coffeehouses and bringing a contract into it would have been complete nonsense. Sure, they may not have paid me a lot of money to play at their venue. But bringing a contract into it may have prevented the opportunity altogether.

And always bring a contract into situations where professionalism is a requirement.

Merch Table & Email Signup

Also, there’s a few things to work out on your side. You want to prepare your merch. You want to prepare your email list signup forms. Check with the venue to see if they’re okay with you bringing in merch.

Quotes, Testimonials & References

You may want to prepare quotes, testimonials, and references so that you can get future bookings.

Focus on Relationship

And don’t forget to build a relationship with the venue, event organizer, booking agency, etc. Relationships are what get you gigs, not emails or phone calls.

Prepare for Your Next Band Gig

There’s a certain amount of preparation that goes into every gig.

You’ll want to spend some time rehearsing and learning new material unless you’re especially tight and already on tour. It’s generally a requirement that you prepare and be as good as you can possibly be for the occasion.

You’ll want to get your online presence in order. Whether it’s venue owners, event organizers, or show bookers, they don’t typically want to work with artists that seem like they don’t have their act together.

So, if your website looks like it was last updated in 2017, you might not get the gig. And even if you do get the gig, the venue is thinking they probably can’t count on you for any promotion. And then they might back down on their agreement to pay you a guarantee in the first place.

You want to make sure that your YouTube channel is loaded up with recent videos. This is one of the most common places for people to go to learn more about your band, to listen to your music to see what you’re like.

It can’t hurt to have some good live videos. Music videos are fine, but you don’t want to give the false impression. Gigs can go sideways if people think you sound a certain way, but you show up and don’t sound like that at all.

You want to make sure your music is available on all the major platforms. This doesn’t mean you have to distribute your entire album or EP, but you should still have singles on SoundCloud, Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, and so on.

Not everyone is going to check out your YouTube channel, not everyone’s going to check your SoundCloud account, not everyone’s going to listen to you on Spotify.

So, having a few different options for the people who want to book you, as well as the fans that are going to want to check out your music before they come to the show is word to the wise.

You also want to make sure you get your promotional materials together. That might include posters, banners, graphics, emails, social media posts, etc.

Another good thing to do is to prepare your gear.

Have everything ready to go, and preferably have backups for things like cables, capos, batteries, guitar strings, drumsticks, and so forth.

You can even practice your load in and load out process. See how long it takes you so you can be at the venue on time for soundcheck.

And it can’t hurt to develop checklists and systems for all this, because it can make it easier on you the day of the gig, for instance, if you don’t forget your music stand at home or something silly like that.

7 Ways to Maximize Musician Gigs

Now here are seven ways to maximize musician gigs.

1. Promote

The first is to promote. if there is an agreement that you would promote, or if it’s the type of show where you’re required to sell tickets… whatever the case, if promotion is part of the deal, then engage in promotion.

And if the show date is not on your website, you’re doing something wrong. You want to make your fans and potential fans aware of the opportunity to see you.

2. Make a Large, Physical Banner with Your Artist / Band Name & Web Address on it

No matter how many times you announce your artist’s name or website address from the stage, people sometimes still can’t hear you.

The microphones aren’t always set up perfectly for talking and speech, especially if they’re heavily coated in reverb.

The much simpler and easier way for people to find you, even those who only stick around for five or 10 minutes of your show, is if you have a big banner with your band name and website address on it. That’s going to help you maximize opportunities.

3. Set up a Merch Booth

Unless you have an agreement with a venue not to put up a merch booth, be sure to bring your merch and actively promote it throughout the show. Have someone running your merch booth the whole time if it all possible.

Have everything priced out, prepare some spare change. And have Sharpies ready to go in case someone asks you to sign something.

4. Collect Email Addresses Proactively

You need to have an email list signup form at your table. You can take advantage of technology these days, whether it’s an iPad or a laptop, but typically the more reliable way is to get people to write down their name and email address on a piece of paper.

5. Ask for Referrals

Ask the organizer or the booker or maybe even the sound engineer. “Hey, do you know of any other venues where we could play? Are there any other opportunities you’re aware of?”

If you ask for referrals and don’t get any, you’re in the same position you were before you asked. But if you ask for referrals and get some, you win.

6. Write a “Thank-You” Note

Write a “thank-you” note to the organizers, booker, or venue.

Be thoughtful, be considerate. Let them know that you appreciate the opportunity.

Repeat performances can always help you maximize your opportunities, so write thank-you notes when and where applicable.

Repeat performances can always help you maximize your opportunities. Share on X

7. Send a Post-Show Email Campaign

After the show, you want to welcome new subscribers. Say hello. Let them know how much they’re appreciated.

And if there was something specifically you mentioned at the show they can access, then send them the link. Whether it’s a link to your music on Spotify, a new music video on YouTube, or some other special offer they can claim.

Get Your Gig on, Gigging Musician

Well, that’s all there is to it. Get out there. Identify your opportunities, do your outreach, organize a date, promote the show, have fun, and maximize every opportunity.

If you do this, you’re sure to make more at every gig and grow an email list much faster than if you hadn’t carried out a plan with intention.

And if you’d like to learn more about my approach to gigging, pick up a copy of my first best-selling book, The New Music Industry.