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.

We all want to move on to big regional, national, or even international tours. But, it’s a mistake to rush into touring too quickly and skip out on booking local gigs. I have always been a believer in starting your career in a central place, like your hometown or a town nearby that would be conducive to your career development. Then, you can expand outward systematically from that central point.

If you spend a little more time booking local gigs and really growing and nurturing your connection with the fans, venues, and community locally, you’ll be setting yourself up with a solid foundation to grow regionally and nationally and sell out your gigs.

So let’s examine some of the benefits of developing a home base of support.

1. You Build Performance Confidence When Booking Local Gigs

Your home base provides a supportive environment to test new songs and performance styles. Over the weeks and months of booking and playing local gigs, you really build a special close relationship with hometown fans. They want you to succeed and will be there to support all your new efforts. And this is exactly the kind of environment that will help you build confidence in your performances. You’ll be more comfortable to experiment and push yourself creatively as a performer when you’re in front of an audience that feels familiar.

Most artists will be quick to say, “There is nothing like playing a CD release concert for their hometown fans.” And that’s absolutely true!

As you network with other artists locally, open mic nights and songwriter’s groups also offer avenues for creative growth, testing, and critique. These other local artists will often become your very first fans. They will come out to gigs once break out of the open mic scene. They may even share your music with their audiences. This is organic word-of-mouth marketing at it’s very best.

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2. You Build a Local Reputation

Creating that all-important “buzz,” needs to begin somewhere. And some of the most fertile ground to begin that process is in your home base.

As your performance confidence grows and you being to play more often, a solid foundation of fans forms. And when you work within a concentrated area such as your hometown, the word about a great, unique performer can spread quickly among friends and communities. From there, you’ll begin to build a loyal audience – fans who will consistently come out to local gigs and support you.

The cool thing about a loyal audience is that they will often follow you as you move to bigger venues or even nearby towns. A local reputation tends to filter out beyond the home base as fans share their excitement about newfound acts.

There are so many examples of major recording artists touring today that started by booking local gigs and developing a loyal home base of support. One great example is the Dave Matthews Band. He grew a solid home base foundation before moving into other parts of the southeast region. We all watched as his solo gigs at the local bar moved to a regular Tuesday night gig at the local club with his band. He expanded strategically around Charlottesville and throughout the southeast region—and the rest is history!

He remains committed to Charlottesville today as his entire organization still lives and operates out of Charlottesville. They consistently pump funds back into the community to support local businesses and charities. And all of this grew out of their original development of Charlottesville as his home base. The community offered their loyalty as fans helped the band gain a local, then regional, then a national reputation. And now the DMB supports the community in return.

3. Booking Local Gigs Keep Costs Down

It’s no secret that touring is expensive. And touring long distances can wither an already slim budget. When guarantees are low and sometimes nonexistent, additional travel costs can deplete your motivation as well as your budget.

But when you concentrate on booking local gigs and performance dates, you’re not spending unnecessary money on hotel, meals, and gas. And that means more profit in your pocket rather than getting eaten up by expenses!

4. Daily Routines Remain Familiar

No matter how fun life on the road may be depicted, we all love the comforts of home. And when most of your gigs are home-based, you can comfortably go about your business in familiar surroundings.

Even short tours can take days (or weeks) of preparation and being on the road. But with local gigs, the interruption to your daily routines is only for the brief time when you pack up and go to play the gig.  And that means, you can continue working on larger plans and projects within your normal, supportive environment. You’ll be a lot more efficient and get a lot more done when you stay local.

5. You Can Develop Business Skills

Just as you seek to practice your performance skills in a supportive environment, you need the opportunity to practice your business skills and become proficient. And booking local gigs allows you those golden opportunities!

You can work on your booking, phone techniques, and build your confidence as you negotiate with local promoters and draw upon your network of musicians for gig information. There is less at stake locally compared to those of intense long-term touring situations. Which means you can ease your way into better venues as you develop the various aspects of your performance career and business savvy.

While home-based, you can also begin to create a network of potential financial supporters or sponsors. You are constantly in touch with local businesses and organizations that are becoming familiar with your act. And that means you can take the first steps to contacting some of them with proposals.

Once you have success on the home-front, it will be much easier to attempt a proposal to a regional, statewide or national business or organization.

7. You Can Develop Marketing Know-How

What better way to become familiar with the marketing game than to practice in your home base? I’ll bet you are already aware of the various print media outlets and probably know each of the radio stations intimately. Which means you won’t have to spend much time researching in order to begin any marketing campaigns.

If anything is unfamiliar to you, turn to one of your musician friends in your now growing network for help or information.

8. You Make Networking Contact

Once you have a working system for the home base, it can easily be applied to distant touring markets. With a bit of research thrown in for each new market, of course.

You can use your home base media contacts to begin networking with those markets nearby. It’s very likely that the Entertainment editor at your daily paper knows the name of the Entertainment editor two towns up the road. Similarly, your hometown radio and television contacts can toss you some names to help get your foot in the door in nearby towns.

Conclusion: Why Booking Local Gigs Will Set You Up for National Success

Your home base of support is the launching pad for your expanding touring career. Take your time to develop your fans, media contacts, industry network or other musicians and local venues before venturing beyond your surrounding region. All lessons learned in your home base will serve you well throughout your touring career.

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. She is the author of How to Book Gigs and Tour Profitably a new online course from New Artist Model. 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.