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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. Click here to download the free ebook and get 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.

Making a good impression at gigs

Guest post by Jonathan Sexton | CEO Bandposters

Before I ran a company, I played hundreds if not thousands of gigs all over the US. I’ve played to 10,000 people (2 or 3 times) and I’ve played to 10 people (more than 2 or 3 times). As important as learning how to book gigs, I’ve learned 8 things NOT to do when showing up for gigs, especially to a new venue in a new town.

Everyone of these tips come from cringe worthy personal experience. Here are some great ways to make a good impression on your next show or tour.

1. Don’t Be Late for Your Gigs

Everybody is late, be different. This is the baseline of professionalism, if you show up on time, are professional and easy to work with and don’t have a huge crowd your first time out, it is more than likely you’ll get a few more shots at it. Venues and sound teams have a million better things to do than come and find you. If something happens that you can’t help (van breaks down etc.), then call as soon as you can. Then be on time next show.

2. Don’t Hangout in the Green Room All Night­

Your show and your career completely hinges on how many fans you can earn. Fans love your music and they want to know you. If you are new to the market, you need to get to know the sound guy, the bartenders, the regulars; you’re playing gigs to earn fans and build a business.
Don’t hide, get out and talk to everyone, be friendly. Relationships are the key to the music industry and this where those relationships are made. Don’t hide. Get out there with the people

3. Master Stage Volume­

If you play a show, and the crowd can’t hear the vocals, you’ve lost (this includes punk and metal). There are a million scientific reasons that the human vocal cords cannot compete with drums and amps. Some big clubs have the power to get the vocals up over anything, but most small clubs do not. In my opinion, it starts with the drums, you can play great without playing as hard as you can. Then guitars have to get over the drums, and the vocalist is generally screwed, let the PA do the work, so you don’t have too.

4. Talk to the Crowd

­You may have played your songs 1000 times, but that new person in the crowd or in a new city has no idea who you are, what your songs are called, and what your twitter handle is. Tell them, thank them for being there, introduce the band, say something funny. You have to engage the audience. It’s a show and you are earning their interest. The best bands plan when they are going to say something in the set, and what they are going to say. Not scripted, but at least a general idea.

5. But Don’t Talk too Much­

Don’t ramble on before every single song, also, my pet peeve is when people say “this is a new one” it’s like a reverse apology. 9 times outta 10­­ they are all new ones, even the old ones, because most people haven’t heard you before. I prefer to play 3 songs, then say a little something, then play 3 more. It seems to be the right mix. Find what works for you and your audience. In the end it’s a music show, engage your audience, but don’t monologue.

6. Don’t Get Wasted­

This screams amateur hour. It’s not even about acting like a fool, you also lose awareness of how you are performing. No one in the industry wants to babysit you. Have fun, but don’t fall off the stage.

7. Thank the Crowd (even if it’s just the sound guy)

The first 15 minutes after your gigs are your best opportunity to collect new emails, thank fans and sell merch, especially if you are the opening band. Once the next band starts, it’s harder to talk because it’s loud and people’s attention is elsewhere. In my band, we had a deal that we’d divide and conquer. 3 bandmates would get the gear taken care of and 2 of us would immediately hit the crowd or get to the merch booth. That way we could maximize the small window of opportunity and have contact info for the people that we would reach out to when we return.

8. Thank the Venue­

Taking 5 minutes to find the manager or head bartender after your gigs, look them in the eye, and thank them for having you can do wonders for your career. You are building relationships and it’s something that most people do not do. It’s a great way to stand out from the hundreds of other bands that play at the venue around the year. Same with being on time and professional, venues will remember it the next time that you want to play at their spot.

Bandposters lets you design, print, and ship customized posters everywhere in seconds. We make it easy, in just three simple steps. First, use our powerful design tools to create a custom poster. Next, choose your tour dates or other destinations, and we’ll print that data directly on the poster (no more magic markers!). Then we take care of the rest – we print every poster with care and ship directly to the venues or wherever else you’d like. 

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