How to get gigs
Getting gigs usually requires patience and persistence. It may be daunting at first if you're only getting started in the industry. However, the steps involved in finding and booking gigs are generally simple to follow.
It will also suggest how to promote your gigs and find audience for your show if you're only just starting. Finally, it will explain how to negotiate a gig deal and what best practice to follow when playing gigs.
Booking gigs: the basics
Gig is a term for a live musical performance. Gigs can take place in many different types of venues - from concert halls and industry events to coffee shops and birthday parties.
No matter where it takes place, performing live is probably one of the best ways for a young artist or a new band to build up a fan base and attract interest. For seasoned performers, gigs are great for growing audiences, promoting new releases and generating income.
What does it mean to book a gig?
Booking happens when there is an agreement for a music act to play at an event or a venue. Bookings usually take place between:
- the artist, or their agent or manager
- the promoter or the venue owner
If you're only starting, you will most likely represent yourself and be responsible for your own booking arrangements.
What are promoters looking for?
Simply speaking, promoters - and venue owners - book acts because they want them to generate profit. Shows can create revenue from ticket and bar sales, so it's in the promoters' interest to book acts that can draw in the crowd and fill up the tills.
Promoters and venues are usually inundated with booking requests. Many acts compete for limited performance opportunities, so getting a spot as a new act can be tricky. If you want to get a gig, you will need to be able to prove that you can bring in the audience.
How to book gigs
Before you dive in, make sure that you have a demo or a promotional pack that you can send or give out to venues, booking agents and promoters. This will help you to showcase your music and potential.
From there on, several steps will follow. See:
- how to find a venue for your gig
- how to approach gig promoters
- how to pitch your music
- find audience for your show
Keep in mind that, the more often you perform and the better your act gets, the more opportunities you may get to play. See best practice when playing gigs.
How to find a venue for your gig
Preparation is the key to success when it comes to getting gigs. This is especially true if you are looking to find and book a venue for your act.
Finding the right venue
The first step to booking a venue is finding one that is willing to take you. Start by getting to know your local music scene. Compile a list of all possible venues, from well-known establishments to small pubs, bars and similar sites.
Don't limit your research to just the traditional live music venues - look at community events, corporate parties, etc. When it comes to playing your first gigs, it's worth taking any opportunity you can get.
Focus on the right venues
When researching venues, try to scope out:
- which spots in your area put on local bands or fresh, unsigned talent
- which ones put on touring bands who may need an opening act
- which bands in your area play live often and may need a support act
- what types of music local promoters are putting on
Keep in mind that some venues may prefer a particular music style, or serve a target demographics such as students or young professionals. If you're not familiar with the venue:
- look at its calendar for past and upcoming shows
- check the venue specs
- visit the place in person to get a better feeling for it
Aim for a venue that caters to your genre and has an established audience who share similar taste in music. Think about the needs of your audience (eg a coffee shop may not suit a metal band). Bear in mind that many venues are booked well in advance. Approach them ahead of time and let them know to put you on their call list in case they have any cancellations.
Make friends and network
As in any business, networking can open up opportunities. Go to as many local gigs and live music nights as you can. Speak to other musicians - they can help suggest venues and introduce you to their contacts.
Once you find out who is in charge of booking bands, send them your press kit and demo and, if necessary, follow up by phone or in person. If you are looking to book gigs through a promoter, see how to approach gig promoters.
How to approach gig promoters
You can book a gig directly with a venue or with a music promoter. If you book with a venue, you may be responsible for promoting your show yourself and paying venue rental fees. If you would rather someone else handles this, you can approach a promoter to get a gig.
Different types of gig promoters
You will mostly come across three different types of promoters:
- large promoters working with booking agents or managers, and promoting gigs and tours on behalf of signed bands and artists
- smaller promoters working with independent or emerging local musicians
- in-house promoters working exclusively for one venue, booking the venue diary
If you are approaching promoters, keep in mind that:
- Not all promoters appreciate cold calling. Use your network and contacts to make introductions and ask permission from the promoter to send them your music.
- Make sure that your demo is of good quality before you send it. First impressions count and promoters often receive dozens of proposals and emails a day. If you want to land that gig, it's important that your promotional materials stand out.
- Think how you can create a win-win situation for the promoter. Align your goals with the venue's and, above all, remember that promoters want to get crowds through the door - show them that you can deliver the audience and fill the venue. See how to find audience for your show.
- Promoters are generally busy and may not reply to all the proposals they receive. You should follow up by phone, or even in person if you haven't heard back.
Not all venues work with promoters. Try to find out what their preferred method is before approaching them, or ask other bands who have played in the venue about their experiences.
See also how to pitch your music.
How to pitch your music
Getting gigs is often very competitive. There are few performing slots and many musicians or bands looking to take them. It can be difficult to know what the best approach is to pitching your music and asking for gigs. Always check with the venue for specifics, as their requirements may vary.
While there are no firm rules when it comes to asking for gigs, the best pitches usually follow several simple steps.
1. Make your music available. Publish it on your website, YouTube, sites like SoundCloud, ReverbNation and Bandcamp, or any other online platform. Even if you don't have a polished recording, venues and promoters will want to hear you first before they consider taking you on.
2. Send your electronic press kit (EPK). This is basically a resume or CV for musicians, artists, bands or DJs, containing their online media or marketing portfolio. It should provide simple access to all your essential information.
3. Pick a date. When suggesting a date, keep in mind that weekends are usually reserved for bigger or more experienced bands who are likely to fill the space. You may want to give the venue or the promoter a choice of dates to book a show - being flexible may increase your chances of getting selected.
4. Send your pitch. This is usually done by email. Be friendly but professional - check your grammar, spelling etc to make sure that you come across well. Include a brief description of you or your band and explain why you feel your show would be good for their venue. Be clear in what you ask for and give a timeframe during which you hope to schedule your gig. Make sure to include links to your music, website and social media accounts, or any photography and video you may have. It can help to point out if you already have an audience for your show, eg you previously had a sell-out gig. Alternatively, you can include a plan for promoting the show online and offline.
5. Follow up. If you don't hear from them, follow up with the promoter or the venue by phone or in person. There is no rule regarding how often you should follow up, or how long you should wait after submitting your pitch. You will have to decide where the balance lies between pursuing an opportunity and simply being pushy.
If your pitch is successful, you may discuss payment, a contract or a live performance agreement. See how to negotiate a gig deal.
If you were not successful, it may help to find out why and use this to improve your pitch in the future.
Negotiate a gig deal
When you book a venue for your gig, the owners may not be flexible around rental fees. However, it may be worth trying to negotiate. You may be able to get a better deal if you can show:
- your ability to bring in a big crowd
- your commitment to promote the show and make the event a success
The rental fee will usually be a guarantee you make to the venue. Often, it will be covered by the percentage of money collected at the doors and bar sales. In order to negotiate a good gig deal, it helps to understand the differences in the way gig payments can be made.
Typical gig deals
The most common types of gig payments are outlined below.
In guarantee gigs, the artist is paid no matter if the gig is sold out or barely attended. Most independent artists tend to want a guarantee. The venue or the promoter assume all the risks and lose money if you don't get enough people through the door. Because of this, guarantee gigs are hardest to get and often reserved for bands proven to draw in large audiences.
Door 'split' gigs
In 'split' gigs, there are no guarantees. The artist or the band do not get a set fee for performing. Instead, their payment depends on the event's attendance since they get a percentage (or a split) of ticket sales. This means that, if you get a good turnout, you can make a decent amount of money. If few show up, you may leave with nothing. Most venues prefer door splits for new and growing bands acts because it removes the element of financial risk from them.
When the venue doesn't pay you anything at all, regardless of attendance, you're talking about donation gigs. In such an arrangement, you may collect donations or make money on sales from the audience. These deals may suit certain artists better than others. For example, donation gigs may be a good option:
- if you have lots of merchandise to sell
- if you're looking for exposure (eg a showcase or an opening act for a larger band)
- if you simply want to boost your experience and fill up your schedule
Pay to play gigs
These are the easiest type of gigs to get. The venue will be asking you to pay to perform there and you will have to:
- get the fans to pay you to come in
- buy the tickets yourself and try to resell them to fans
It is important to understand that, when you are just getting started, you may not always make money on your shows. But that doesn't mean that you should always pay to perform either.
Think carefully about the financial arrangements and be flexible - even if you don't earn any money, gigs can be a valuable way to build your reputation and develop a fan base.
Remember that, if you have merchandise, you can increase your earnings beyond your gig fees.
Find audience for your show
Getting people through the door is probably one of the biggest difficulties gigging musicians face. If you struggle to find an audience for your show, you can use simple strategies to reach out to fans and get them along to your gigs.
How to get more fans to your gigs
1. Actively promote gigs to your fans. Don't rely purely on the promoters or the venues to advertise your show. You will have more success in reaching audiences if you work together and coordinate your marketing efforts. See more on how to promote your gig.
2. Use online tools to engage with your audience. This can be your own website, your social networks, distribution platforms such as SoundCloud or YouTube, and - for new acts - even sites like BBC Introducing and Amazing Radio.
3. Use social media effectively. Offer different content and engage with your audience online. Be active on social networks before, during and after the event.
4. Tap into the blogging community or use radio or media contacts to announce your gigs. Put your PR into practice and build a relationship with the local press.
5. Play with other bands - this can be a great way to liven up your gigs and expand your fan base. You could find other bands that play similar music, open for each other or play joint sets to mix things up.
6. Use covers - if you're playing local gigs and have limited songs to draw from, add interest to your show by playing cover songs. Get creative and appeal to a wider audience by choosing songs from a different genre and adapting them to your style
7. Record live - if you have the equipment to capture the performance, filming a live music video or a live track can add excitement and lure the fans. You can also sell the resulting track or use the video to further promote your music.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time to promote your show. It is worth reminding people about it a few times before the show date. Use your email lists and other contacts to target your audience and send personalised communication.
Remember that, if you have merchandise, you can increase your earnings beyond your gig fees. As well as that, if you write, compose, perform or publish music, you can get other additional income.
How to promote your gig
Once you have secured a gig and booked your venue, it's time to get promoting. This is the most important part of getting people to your gigs.
There are many ways in which you can promote your show to ensure that you:
- get audience attending
- secure press coverage
- show agents and promoters that you are a marketable and profitable business
Starting early is the best way to promote your show. As soon as you have a booking, you should take steps to find an audience for your show.
Flyers and posters
You can use promotional materials like flyers and posters to promote your gig. These don't have to be fancy. They do, however, have to include the necessary information about your show, including:
- who you are
- where you're playing
- what are the ticket costs - and if you can purchase them in advance
- what time do the doors open
Make copies of your materials and give some to the venue, and circulate them more widely through your local networks or on social media.
Social networks present an effective way of promoting events. They can connect you with your target audience at a click of a button. You can create event pages, blog entries, join groups, publish posts, announcements and show teasers. All of this can help generate buzz and energise your fans.
One of the simplest ways to gain publicity and increase coverage of your show is to invite the press. You can use a press kit to attract media representatives to your show. You can also:
- write a press release - see how to write an effective press release
- let local papers and radio stations know about the event
- offer guest list places to members of the press and industry
Don't just target the largest media outlets and publications. Contact your local papers, school and university publications, local music bloggers, arts magazines, etc. Read about public relations.
Create a mailing list
A mailing list can help you establish a direct way to engage with your fans. An email shot can help you communicate important updates about gigs, new music or developments, or send reminders about gigs in a personal and timely matter. See more about direct marketing: the basics.
Best practice when playing gigs
Playing live music for the first time is a life-changing experience. Even if you feel comfortable on stage, getting your gigs to run smoothly is no easy feat. Here are some top tips to help you ensure the success of your show:
- Make sure you practice - rehearse playing your songs in different environments and scenarios, eg walking around, in the dark, with people talking, etc. Playing in the comfort of your studio and playing live are completely different experiences.
- Record your rehearsals - focus on visual impact as well as audio consistency. Get feedback from friends and family before performing in front of an audience.
- Develop great stage presence - remember that people come to hear and see your gig, so make sure that your performance is visually striking and memorable.
- Write a set list - don't try to wing it. Decide what songs you are playing and the order in which you will play them. This should help you get your set as tight as possible.
- Don't be late - allow plenty of time to load in and set up soundcheck. Lack of preparation ahead of the show can adversely affect your set.
- Sort out the logistics - being on time will help you sort out the performance logistics, such as the sound. Work with the sound engineers to check amplifiers, tune your instruments, test the sound mix, etc. This will helpfully prevent possible issues during the performance.
- Open with a song that makes an impact - it will help you capture the audience attention. Remember that you can keep fans engaged before, during and after the show through smart social media messaging.
- Look at your audience during the show - it will make them feel part of the act, which can shape their positive view of your performance.
- Control your stage fright - have fun on stage and don't let performance anxiety affect your show.
- Plan contingencies - things can always go wrong. Think about what you can do if problems come up on stage, eg an instrument breaks down or there's a problem with the sound.
- Pack up quickly - unless you're the headline act, the next band may be waiting eagerly to get on stage. Follow any pre-determined set lengths. If you're expected to play for a certain amount of time, don't play less or more than requested. This will help ensure that the event runs as smoothly as possible.
Finally, for a live show to work, team effort is essential. Treat everyone at the venue with respect, be professional and make a good impression. Each gig can lead to another, so don't make poor behaviour cost you opportunities in the future.