How To Book Your First Paid Music Gig
Whether you're aiming for musical superstardom or just regular bookings at your local club, there's a lot of legwork involved in getting that first paying gig. Where to start, once your band is feeling confident and ready?
First of all, identify the band member with the greatest appetite for taking on key marketing activities. You can have all the talent in the world, but scoring paying shows is about determined self-promotion. So figuring out who among you is most inclined to enjoy this kind of work can make all the difference.
It's important that everyone in the band agrees on your goals before you start promoting yourselves publically. Get together and talk about your expectations first.
- Do we want to perform covers or original material?
- Do we want to play on a part-time basis (and keep our day jobs)?
- Do we want a career as full-time professional musicians?
Taking the time for a reality check can help you assess your musical objectives and take the necessary steps to achieve them. It can be challenging to earn a comfortable living working as a full-time musician. Many musicians who gig weekly or monthly while keeping their day jobs find that's enough to satisfy the urge to play. But if you want to play every day and are willing to hustle, maybe a professional music career is right for you.
This may be the music business, but it's still serious business. The network you develop will play a key role in getting you where you want to go. Is there a way to open for a friend's already-established band? If so, that could be a great start.
Keep the momentum going by widening your circle. Become an active member of your community. That includes other musicians, other bands, local and college radio stations, club and coffeehouse managers, bartenders, servers and bookers—anyone and everyone who is playing, promoting or hiring. They're a wealth of information. When going to see shows, ask to talk to people in these roles about what they're looking for and how they hire bands. Begin building a knowledge base and keep notes for later reference.
Make a list of all the venues within driving distance that are booking bands like yours. Some book only original bands or cover bands, for example. Find venues in local publications that advertise live music shows. Then visit them to get a sense of the space, the crowd and the vibe. Check out their websites and social media pages. Get contact names, phone numbers and email addresses, then put them all in a simple spreadsheet database that can double as a mailing list. Be sure to keep it current!
Develop Promotional Tools
These are the building blocks of your band's marketing plan.
It's unlikely that a club owner or booking agent is going to hire your band without first hearing your music or seeing your band. If you've already played a few gigs, you may be able to entice him or her to check out a live performance. It's more likely, however, that you'll be sharing a video or an audio demo either as part of a press kit (more about that in a minute) or online.
In either case, make sure the quality—especially the sound—is as good as it can be. If you're shooting a video, an effective rig can be as simple as an iPhone with an external microphone like the MV88 and a recording app like ShurePlus™ MOTIV™.
You don't have to include an album's worth of material. Three songs is probably sufficient. However much you include, the goal here is to offer a true representation of the band's music.
Also, don't expect to walk into a club with a demo CD or flash drive and have the owner play it on the spot. It doesn't work that way. Rather, whether you introduce yourself in person, on the phone, or via email, expect to hand off your demo and other materials for the club owner or booking agent to review at their convenience.
This is the focus for all your promotional materials. A digital version (often called an EPK for electronic press kit) is probably sufficient and a low-cost way to get started. But down the line, you also may want to produce a print version that you can hand out to booking agents and club managers.
Here's what you'll want to include:
- A one-page bio of the band and its members
- Band photo or photos that are suitable for reproduction
- CD, flash drive, or link to audio/video files on your site or social media pages
- Song or set list
- Press clippings (if you have them)
Do a professional job. Spell-check it. Ask a friend or band member to proofread everything. Remember that part of what you're selling is your brand.
A website can be your storefront. There you can provide background about your band, build an email list, share audio and video clips, write blog posts, direct fans to music download sites and social media, and, of course, alert them to upcoming gigs. With dozens of low-cost, feature-rich DIY site-building solutions, it's easier than ever to create a fully functional band website.
Social media has become an essential tool for building a fan base and connecting with your music community. And on a Facebook page, for example, you'll find many of the same features you'd have in a standalone site without spending a penny.
Post news. Upload videos. Start a dialog with your fans. And don't forget to follow other artists and bands. Shares and retweets expand your reach.
Facebook and Twitter still lead the field, but Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Live-streaming apps like Periscope should be on your list, too. Don't forget that booking agents and club managers will want to see how many social media followers you have before booking your band, so post several times a week if you can. Invite family members and friends to get things rolling.
Gig Booking Tips from a Pro
We asked Seattle-based musician Raymond Hayden to offer a few thoughts based on his years of experience not only as a solo artist and band member, but also as a promoter and a label executive. Here's what he told us:
- Appoint a point person. Not everyone is comfortable with self-promotion and rigorous follow-up in calling, emailing and visiting venues to secure bookings. But someone in the band needs to do it and stay on it.
- Know the venue's audience. Don't market yourself to a blues club when you play metal. Be targeted in your efforts.
And remember, a small venue is easier to fill than a large one. It may offer more opportunities to create an air of intimacy that will help you connect with the audience.
- Don't limit yourself to clubs and coffeehouses. Expand your visibility at neighborhood festivals, battles of the bands, concert events in your community and open mic nights. Offer to play or open for free. (But don't offer to play for free too often.)
- Invite your friends and relatives to club gigs. Booking agents and club managers are looking for you to deliver a paying, spending audience.
- Create a mailing list and use it. You can build it on your website and at shows with a simple sign-up list. Club managers like knowing that you're participating in filling seats.
- Unleash social media. Make sure that everyone in the audience knows where to find you on the web and social media. Make announcements from the stage or distribute flyers and cards. Live stream interviews with band members to generate interest. Booking agents and club managers will be checking to see how many followers you have.
- Create posters. Let the booking agent know you have posters to display at the venue and around town, then arm yourself with tape and a stapler or whatever you need to get the job done.
- Don't forget the media. This means staying in touch with local entertainment reporters and radio stations. College radio is a great place to start. When you get a great review, include it on your web page and in your press kit.
No matter how famous you get, it will serve you well to retain your best manners along with your humility. Booking agents, club owners and musicians all agree: "Don't be a jerk."
This means giving props to the booking agents and talent managers willing to take a chance on you, and treating everyone at the club (from the manager to the house sound crew, bartender and wait staff) and your fans with respect. Without them, you're just another band rehearsing on weeknights with a great flash drive or CD you recorded in your home studio.
Show up and set up on time. Keep partying and performing separate. Give the people what they want. In fact, give them a little more.
And, of course, invest in the best gear you can afford
Shure PG ALTA™ Microphones are available in lots of form factors and give you professional sound for rehearing, performing and recording at a price that won't break your band's bank.
We recommend these essential mics to get started:
Studio Mic Kit