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We all want to book bigger venues, right? It’s the natural progression in any performing musician’s career. Not only does a bigger venue allow you to get in front of more people and grow your audience, it also increases your income potential.

But how do you actually take that step up to playing larger stages? If you’ve ever tried transitioning to bigger venues you probably know that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The difference between a 200 and a 500 seat venue may not seem significant on paper. But the reality is that you’ll have to sell an additional 300 tickets if you want to fill the room. That’s 100 MORE than you currently sell at your 200 seat venue. It’s a big step.

So how can you gracefully transition your way up to bigger venues? The key is to avoid moving up to bigger venues too quickly and to approach it with a strategy. This is exactly what we cover in the How to Book Gigs and Tour Profitably online training. In the course you’ll learn from veteran booking agent Jeri Goldstein and discover how to book your own gigs and make good money from your performances.

But for now, let’s go through the strategy step by step.

Before You Try to Book Bigger Venues

Your interactions with bookers are a relationship – one that requires nurturing and time from both sides. As a musician building a career, you need adventurous bookers willing to risk a night in their venue with possible low ticket and/or bar sales. And once you find a venue willing to work with you, it takes multiple shows over months, or even years, to build an audience.

When your audience starts to grow, the venue finally begins to reap some of the rewards of their initial interest in you. Together you’re selling out the venue and doing well on bar and merch sales.

The next thing you know, you’re too big for the venue. At this point, most artists begin to seek larger venues and bigger bookers to keep pace with their growing audience (we have a whole guide about booking gigs for yourself right here). Growth is good but make sure you grow strategically as you move to the next level.

The sad truth is, most acts move too fast. They believe they have achieved a level of success that they simply have not. And leave that adventurous booker and the smaller venue far too early without exploring other options. So, I suggest that you carefully assess before charging ahead thinking you are ready to move on.

How to Make More Money from Smaller Venues

Getting booked as an opener is a great way to step up to bigger venues. But let’s look at another example so you can see how you can continue working with a smaller venue to make the step up to the next level easier.

Let’s say an act works with a promoter at a 150-seat venue. They have played there often, and now they always pack the room. The act begins to think the venue is too small and they need to move up to a 500-seat venue. But, that 150-seat venue booker has helped the act nurture and build their fan base. They also know how to reach the act’s audience with the right media and promotional outreach.

A different promoter books the 500-seat venue. Since the act has only played 150 seat venues, the booker doesn’t know for sure if they are ready to sell 500 seats. There just aren’t any numbers proving they are capable, and that’s a hard sell to a venue.

So, before attempting to move to the new venue and take your chance working with a new booker, let’s examine some additional options.

Continue to work with the original booker in the 150-seat venue. Try increasing the number of dates per month. If you’re still able to consistently fill the room without exhausting the local audience, try taking the next step and do TWO shows in one night or two shows on two consecutive nights.

A late-night audience would respond well to two shows on the same night. If your audience is more of the 8 pm crowd, work out a good deal for two consecutive nights in the venue.

A big part of successfully booking gigs is contacting the booker at the RIGHT time when they are putting together their gig schedule. Here’s a fully comprehensive break down of when different types of venues book their gigs and when YOU should be contacting them:

 

Give Back to the Venues that Invested in You

So, why does this approach work better than just moving up to a bigger venue?

The booker knows how to market your act to your audience. They have proven themselves over time as your audience has grown.

Your audience is used to seeing you in this venue. This is not to say you will never outgrow the venue and that your loyal audience won’t follow you as you move up. BUT, until the time is right, your audience appreciates the familiarity of the known venue. Often when you change venues, it may take some time for the audience to make the switch. If it is the wrong venue for the act, the audience may not follow you there.

By playing two consecutive shows, you’re reducing the cost for advertising and overhead. That means larger profits for both you and the booker. Whereas the costs and risk factors at the larger, 500-seat venue would greatly reduce profits to both the new booker and the act.

By doing two consecutive shows in the 150-seat venue, there is a perception of a growing demand for the act. If the act can truly document their established track record of sold-out double shows, the risk to a larger venue is much less. That makes it much easier to negotiate a more favorable deal when they move up to the 500-seat venue.

Right of First Refusal

I also want to talk briefly about the “right of first refusal.” This basically means that before you move on to a bigger venue, you should give the booker of the smaller venue the opportunity to do consecutive shows. If they refuse to do the consecutive shows, you can pursue other venues with a clear conscience. You did not go behind their back or leave them out of a potentially lucrative opportunity. You offered them a chance to be part of your next move. This demonstrates your respect and appreciation (remember, a positive indie attitude is key to being successful) for their previous commitment to the growth of your act.

Why is this important? Remember, your connections with bookers are relationships. And relationships should be nurtured and treated with respect.

As emerging artists, it’s tough to find venues that will take a chance on you. When a booker finally catches on to your act and gives you a chance, it is important that you recognize that promoter’s efforts. If success finds you, make sure you return the favor to those who have invested their time, belief and money on you back when first started.

I believe in leaving doors open as you move through career changes. If you burn your bridges as you go, you may be left with very little support when you need it. This business is built on relationships maintained over the years, connections made and nurtured. The first promoter you work with in any city helps build your foundation for growth. I believe it is important to maintain strong ties with past promoters as you build toward your future.

Conclusion: How to Book Bigger Venues

Hopefully now you can see how you can strategically make the step up to bigger venues. Remember, it’s not always about getting to the bigger venues faster. It’s about booking bigger gigs when you’re ready so you can get a good deal, progress your career, and make good money.

By Jeri Goldstein 

Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, key-note speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.

by Jeri Goldstein

You called the venue and they were already booked… How many times have you had that happen? Wouldn’t it be great to know the best times to call to at least have a fighting chance of getting booked? Well today I’m going to show you how to book club gigs and specifically focus in on timing your calls to club bookers. Do this, and you stand a much better chance of getting the gig.

When to Book Club Gigs

Clubs are likely to be filling their calendars 4, 6, or 8 weeks prior to the play date. This can be great for filling in last-minute gigs. But it can also be incredibly frustrating if you are planning your tours farther ahead.

When is the best time to call a club? As soon as you know you are planning a tour in the area. Give them a call and let them know about the tour plans. Try to get them to place a hold on your preferred date. After that, it’s your job to get back to them, check on that date, and find out if they are ready to firm it up.

Check with each club to see when they finalize their monthly calendar, prepare any strip ads, or start monthly promotions. This will give a clue as to how far out the booker plans and at what time in the month they actually start firming up dates. Once you know the deadline for the booker to have their marketing ready, then you can make plans to call prior to that deadline.

What to know the best time to book your gigs?

Check Back with the Bookers

As bookers start filling their dates, they look for hot tours that may have just announced their schedules. If they can book a hot act when they are coming through, it will take priority over any holds on the calendar. In other words, it’s important for you to keep checking back with the booker to make sure they are still holding your desired date.

If a larger act is vying for your date, that’s okay too. By keeping in touch with the booker, you might be able to score an opening slot!

Once you are in contact with the club, ask them for other referrals to clubs in the area. Look for clubs that would be far enough away to not interfere with their date but close enough to help build your regional following. These extra gigs could help solidify your tour in case the desired venue isn’t able to confirm their date.

As you can see, club dates are more of an ongoing process. Your tour schedule, your tour routing, and the club’s monthly calendar will be the determining factors, suggesting the proper time frames to begin your calls.

Getting into the Mind of Club Bookers

A few years ago, I wrote a column for Gig Magazine that was a series of interviews with club bookers across the country. My goal was to get into their thought process around how they select their acts and what kind of marketing materials helped them make their choices. As a result of that research along with my own booking experience, I have some helpful insights on how to book club gigs I’d like to share with you.

Be Aware of the High Money Nights

Since many clubs have multiple shows each week, they need to make sure their “money-nights” (Thursday-Saturday) are winners. They use these nights to help pay their bills. These are NOT nights they are willing to take a chance on an untested act.

Now you don’t necessarily have to be a national touring act to get a Thursday through Saturday gig. Regional or local favorites are fine, as long as you can sell tickets, food and bring in healthy bar revue.

Keep in mind, that for many clubs, they make their money from the bar and possibly the food. So they are interested in getting a crowd but are not wedded to the specific group. This sets up a dynamic where the competition for gigs is at a fever pitch, driving band fees down.

How to Book Club Gigs: Not too Early, Not too Late

Filling the calendar in a timely manner to meet deadlines is a driving force for the booker’s schedule.

That said, you may find they are more willing to “see who’s coming through town” toward the beginning of the month. And then, they set their dates rapidly as the calendar deadline approaches. You may find them more non-committal during the early part of the month because of this. But if you wait until the later part of the month, you may just find them booked!

It’s a balancing act. But again, here’s where placing a hold on specific dates may prove to be a very valuable tool.

Start with Weeknight Gigs

Many clubs look to the weeknights as a place to test new acts, so if you want to book club gigs, that’s a good place to start. If you have a growing following, you are more likely to get a more favorable night. And you may be able to work your way into one of the “money nights.”

Developing local talent tends to be something that many club owners and bookers love to do, especially when they can see the potential of future success for the act. If you fall into this category, you could discuss a regular night, multiple times a month with a club to foster this audience-building process.

Be Ready to Promote Your Gigs

Clubs want to know you have marketing tools and plans in place to help with any shows you do in the area. Most clubs do minimal marketing for individual acts. If you have a good mailing list, put it to use! That will be a plus for consideration and help you stand out from the competition!

How to Make Your Act More Attractive to the Club Booker?

Participate in Development Programs

Pay attention to any programs offered by the club for developing acts. Some have open-mic nights, others have a hierarchical method of growing the talent by strategically placing new acts early in the evening and as their audience grows, moving them up to more prime-time night slots. Participate in these programs if you are new to the club.

Keep Track of Numbers

Club bookers appreciate a growing fanbase! So take the time to develop your fanbase in each new market and use your numbers to leverage your value and book club gigs. Use your social networks and email lists to nurture your fan base. Make sure you share how many people on your list live in the area around the club. These numbers may mean more food and drinks sold along with tickets.

You can also track and share your numbers from past performances in the area. Remember how much merchandise you sold last time you came through town at this club or any others you’ve played.

Participate in the Promotion of the Gig

Marketing for club dates is often left to the act. If you rely on the club for your marketing, you may be disappointed with the shared strip add listing multiple acts for the month. So share your marketing plan with the booker to demonstrate your commitment to your audience development.

Offer to be on hand early enough to do radio or phone interviews prior to coming to town.

Be creative and willing to share marketing ideas that might create an interesting, unusual performance night. Whatever clever marketing pitch you can add to increase media attention or audience awareness will work in your favor to build your value to the venue and the area.

Be Easy to Work With

Make sure your set up doesn’t require any unnecessary expense or actions on behalf of the club or their technical staff. If you have unusual backline needs, make sure you carry those with you and are pro-active in creating an easy load-in, set up and sound check.

Also remember that club bookers are juggling a lot of dates. Sometimes as many as 6 different acts each night! So there’s a good chance the club booker will seem stressed. If you meet with a harried voice on the other end of the phone, it’s not about you. It’s the relentless pressure from the job. So your best approach is to be prepared and easy to work with. Prepare your pitch, send appropriate materials that are easy to read through and be prepared to make multiple calls to develop your relationship.  Be accommodating, plan your call-back time and be vigilant but not obnoxious. If you don’t land your optimum date the first time around, keep at it and plan for the next tour through the area. Remember, it’s all about building the relationship.

Conclusion: How to Book Club Gigs

By now you should have a better idea of how club bookers approach their timetable. Try keeping everything we talked about today in mind next time you’re booking club gigs and you’ll be much more successful.

If you want more tips on when to contact different venues and performance opportuntities, we have a free ebook for you where I break down the best times to contact bookers for festivals, college gigs, performance arts centers, and elementary schools. Click here to download the ebook for free.

By Jeri Goldstein. Copyright © 2019 Performingbiz, LLC. 

Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, key-note speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.