How to book gigs and make the most of them
Playing regular gigs is one of the best ways for musicians to expand their audience and increase their street cred. But it’s not always easy to find gigs, especially if you’re relatively new on the scene.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps you can take to find and book gigs, no matter what type of musician you are.
Why booking gigs is good for musicians
If you’re used to creating content online or performing in a studio, you may be wondering why you’d spend the time looking for gigs. But ask any artist who’s done it, and you’ll see there are a number of benefits to performing live at local venues.
Building your fanbase
The most obvious benefit of performing live is the chance to reach new audiences. When you eventually headline your own shows, most of the audience will already be aware of your music (they bought a ticket to see you, after all).
But with gigs, you have a chance to reach music lovers who may have never heard of your band before. If you promote yourself well during your gigs, you can turn these one-time listeners into long-term fans. We’ll explain how to promote yourself when performing live later in this article.
Discover a new revenue stream
In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to find music gigs that pay. Your music is valuable, and, live performances should be part of your revenue as an artist.
If you work well with promoters and booking managers and show them your professionalism, you will gain more bookings that pay higher fees. Eventually, these live performances could make up a significant segment of your income.
Gaining practice and experience
Performing live may be intimidating the first time you do it, but there’s no better way to get experience than playing your music in front of a live audience. The more gigs you play, the more you’ll understand how to set up your equipment, what songs go over well with your audience, and how to create banter with live listeners while on stage.
Connecting with your existing fans
In addition to reaching new audiences, gigs are an excellent way to connect with your existing fan base. There’s nothing like hearing a performer you love live, and regularly performing in paid gigs gives your existing fans a chance to see you shine on stage.
Before you start: How to prepare for playing gigs
You may be excited to start reaching out to venues and asking about performance opportunities, but you’ll have a lot more success if you take some time to create a few assets before you start.
If you’re wondering how to get booked for shows once you start reaching out, try these tactics:
Creating a demo
The most important thing you can do before you start hunting for gigs is create a demo of your music. Your demo should showcase your best songs, but they also should be reflective of your actual sound. For example, if you are a blues singer, but have written one rap song, don’t feature the rap song on your demo (unless you plan on doing more rap eventually).
Your demo should include a number of songs, and you’ll want to make sure you sound as good as possible on the sample. You may want to book out time in a studio, but you can also set up a home studio and record your music that way.
When you’ve finished recording, don’t bother putting the music on a CD or tape—these are outdated and won’t be appealing to booking professionals. Instead, upload your music to Soundcloud or another platform, and put it on a USB drive you don’t mind giving away.
The easier you can make it for booking agents or venue managers to listen to your music, the more likely you are to get booked.
Creating a press kit
Once you’ve created an awesome demo, you should put together a press kit to help promote your band. In addition to examples of your music, a good digital press kit will also include a bio/background of your band, any videos you have of your band, links to full albums, examples of artwork and merchandise, and any press coverage you’ve had as a musician.
Like your sample, your press kit should be something you can share digitally. This may mean setting up a portfolio page on your website or putting the information together in a single document (like a slideshow or PDF) that you can then share on a USB drive.
Build up your website and social following
Venue managers want to book bands that can show they are popular and experienced. The best way to demonstrate this, aside from your press kit, is a healthy website and active social media profiles.
(Check out our guide on creating a musician website.)
Post updates on your website frequently—whether that’s new music, blogs about what your band is up to, or photos and videos from recent performances.
On social media, put in the time to grow your audience, and spend time interacting with them when you can. This will show any booking agents or venue managers that you have the potential to bring an audience (and paying customers) with you when you perform.
How to find and book gigs step by step
If you’ve taken the above steps, then you’re ready to start reaching out to venues to book gigs. Here’s how to take this on:
1. Research potential venues and businesses
The first step to booking a show is creating a list of potential businesses and venues in your area. First consider how far you’d be willing to travel for a show, and limit your search to those areas.
You can look into a musician booking agency, but these typically charge a commission, meaning less money in your pocket in the long run. If you have the time, you can start looking for gigs yourself using Google to search for terms like “live performances in [your area]” or “live music in [your area]. Narrow your search by looking for your specific genre – for example, you may search for things like “DJ gigs nearby.” Look for any of the following:
- Night clubs
- Small or medium-sized performance spaces
- Wedding venues
- Event spaces
- PR firms and event-management agencies
- Community event boards
You may also want to look for open mic nights in your areas. These are unlikely to pay, but if you’re new on the scene, these are great ways to build your experience, get used to those pre-performance nerves, make some great connections and get some new footage/photography for your press kit.
You can cut corners by looking at where some of your fellow local musicians have played. Look through their websites and social media pages to get ideas on potential venues to reach out to.
Finally, if you are a solo performer, consider reaching out to other bands looking for singers or backup musicians. These people may be willing to let you join them during their next gig – a fantastic way to gain experience and make yourself known among local venues.
2. Check out the space
You likely have already been to some bars or venues where you’d like to perform, but if there are any unfamiliar spaces on your list of potential targets, it’s a good idea to visit the space itself.
This will give you the chance to feel out the space – ask yourself whether you think you’ll be able to draw enough of a crowd to fill the venue, and consider whether the look and sound of the venue is something you like.
Be sure to bring your press kit or a business card with you. There’s a good chance you’ll meet some of the people who will potentially hire you. Make a good first impression and you’ll be that much closer to booking your first gig.
3. Find the right person to contact
If you don’t meet the people you need to contact when visiting the venue, you can try sending a message through a website or social media page. However, these messages will often get lost in the shuffle, so it’s best to try to find the contact who will be the most useful for your goal of performing live. Specifically, look through a venue’s website or check out LinkedIn for people who have titles like:
- Booking manager
- Talent manager
- Event manager
- Venue manager or owner
When you reach out, make your message professional and friendly. Be clear about what you’re looking for, and leave your contact details so it’s easy for them to contact you if they’re interested. Attach your press kit and demo, so they don’t have to ask you for it later.
Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear anything back – venue managers are busy folks, so as long as you wait a few days between messages and maintain your professional and polite tone, there’s no harm in chasing up anyone who hasn’t responded.
What to do once you’ve got the gig
If you reach out to enough venues and come prepared with a press kit and demo, the day will come when you finally book your first gig. Time to celebrate!
Your job isn’t over yet, though. There’s still a number of things you should do before your performance to impress the venue and make it easier to book more gigs in the future.
Gather the details and enquire about sound checking
The key to a successful gig is being prepared, so once you’ve got the green light from the venue, take a moment to gather any essential information you’ll need prior to the performance.
Ask if there’s any way you could stop by on a weekend or before/after their opening hours to run a sound check. This isn’t a guarantee, as some venues won’t have the time or space for this, but if they do it will make it easier for you to pull off an incredible live show.
You can also ask about equipment. Will they provide the amps, microphones, and other tech you need, or should you bring your own? Will they record and photograph the performance, or will you be able to take your own video/photos for your website and social media pages? Is there anything unique about the venue that you need to know ahead of time?
Compile your questions into a single email, phone call, or meeting if possible to reduce the amount of time a venue owner has to spend giving you a run down of the performance space.
Doing your own promo
It’s very likely the venue team will do their own promo, but they’ll remember you (and perhaps book you again) if you make their job easier by running your own promo. You’ll also have a larger audience on the big night if both you and the venue are running promos.
Once you know the gig venue and date, start reaching out to your fans and followers.
- Update your website with information about the gig
- Post about the gig on all your social media pages
- Retweet/share any promo from the venue
- Email your mailing list if you have one
- Create flyers and post them around town (just check that it’s ok with the venue itself first)
- Inform family, friends, and anyone else who you think will want to come, as the more people you can bring in, the more impressed the venue will be
How to get an encore and secure more bookings
Once the big night arrives, all you have to do is what you do best—perform your music. However, there are a few last items you can do to help your first (or second or third) gig turn into more gigs later on down the line.
The keyword here is professionalism—you want to make the very best impression with the venue and your audience. This means:
- Arrive on time (with enough time to greet your hosts, set up your equipment, etc.)
- Dress professionally. This doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie—your outfits should match your band’s style. However, be sure you are aligned with any dress codes put on by the venue, and no matter what your style, your clothes should be clean and selected with care.
- Start the show on time, when the venue says you should begin.
- Stick to any break times the venue gives you.
After the performance is over, be sure to send a personalized thank-you note to the venue. Let them know you appreciated them hosting you, and tell them you’d be happy to perform there again any time (assuming you enjoyed the experience).
Next, upload any photos or videos from the event to your social media profiles and website, and remember to tag the venue when appropriate. You’ll not only be able to show off your performing chops to any fans who didn’t make the show, but you can then add the photos and footage to your press kit for future shows.