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how to book gigs as an indie musician

Gigs – before a booking agent will work with you every musician has to start out booking their own gigs and concerts. But, as you’ve probably realized, this is a lot easier said than done.

Especially since there are SO many musicians and bands competing for very limited performance spots. It can feel like a hopeless game of cold calling promoters and venue owners only to get turned down (or ignored).

Venues want to book bands with experience. After all, for them it’s a game of risk management – they want to book bands they know will fill the room. And that means getting the spot as a new or unestablished band can be very tricky.

But NOT IMPOSSIBLE. In fact, today I’m going to go through a bunch of ways you can get on the radar of local venues, get on the stage, and how to get more gigs as an independent musician.

But first…

What is a Promoter?

A promoter or venue owner is someone who buys talent. Depending on the size of the venue, they work independently or with booking agents to book bands and musicians to perform.

So, how do they make money? The venue will usually get a percentage of ticket sales and also make money from food and drink sales.

As you can see, the business of venues is really all about numbers – if they don’t fill the room, they don’t make money. This is where you come in. If you want to get the gig, you need to be able to prove that you can bring an audience and make the night profitable for them as well as yourself.

Having some kind of track record or EPK (electronic press kit that details your gigging accomplishments and experience) will really help you pitch your case.

If you can show them that you can fill similarly sized local venues, that you have an email list of 500 locals that you can use to promote the show, and give them a live video to show how great your performance is, you’ll make a much more convincing pitch.

If you don’t have much experience gigging and performing yet, keep reading. We’ll cover a few strategies for breaking into the gigging scene in just a minute.

Want to know the best time to book your gigs?

The best time to book gigs

1. Finding the RIGHT Venues to Book Gigs

The first step of the booking process is always research. Most venues prefer to work with professional artists, and the best way to prove your professionalism is to show that you care enough to take the time to do some basic research.

Especially with venues, there are SO many variables. Some venues may cater to a certain genre, others tend to serve a target demographic like college students or working professionals, and many have age restrictions you need to consider.

You need to make sure your music and audience matches up with the venues you choose to contact. If your fans are mostly teens, don’t book clubs with age restrictions. In the same way, if you play upbeat country, contacting a venue that tends to book rock and roll gigs is a really good way to make a bad impression.

An easy way to get this information would be to check out the venue’s website. If they have live music, they’ll probably have a page listing some upcoming or past acts. Do you fit in?

With that in mind, the BEST way to get a feel for the venue is to actually go there. Go to some gigs. Get a feel for the vibe and the demographics. Get to know some of the staff. If you’re not involved in your local music scene as a fan, you’re going to have a hard time getting involved as a musician.

2. Make a Spreadsheet

Now, don’t get let your eyes glaze over at the mention of spreadsheets.

It will take a little extra effort up front, but in the long run you’ll be saving yourself time. You’ll be able to come back to this in the future when you’re looking to book gigs and have everything you need right in front of you.

Create a spreadsheet for yourself with information on local venues. Here are some things that would be useful to include:

  • Venue name
  • Website
  • Email
  • Phone number
  • The name of the booker
  • Venue size, address
  • A short description on the type of music and audience they cater to
  • Have you played there before

If you want a free action plan to help you achieve your goals in music, click here.

3. Make a Connection

Personal connections are everything in the music business. And I’m not just talking about your connections with booking agents and venues.

Your connections with other local bands could be your biggest asset when it comes to booking gigs or breaking into new music scenes or larger venues.

Think about all the musicians and bands you know in your area. Where do they play? If you’re interested in playing any of those venues, get in touch and suggest a collaboration. Pitch your band as the opening act or do a collaborative 50/50 set split.

When dealing with more local-level venues, the bands often have more liberty to organize their own opening act, so they can be your ticket to getting your foot in the door. Play there a few times as an opener. Make sure your live show makes a good impression on the bookers and venue staff. Get to know the decision makers. Use these gigs as a chance to grow your fanbase. And eventually you’ll be able to leverage all that to book yourself as the headliner.

Open mic nights can also be a great way to make yourself known. There may not be a huge audience and you may only get to perform a few songs, but they give you the chance to make an impression on the venue booker.

4. Contacting Venues

If you’ve had the chance to play at the venue, the best way to connect with venue owners or promoters is in person. However, if you’re writing an email you want to be short and to the point. Here are some best-practices:

  • Make the subject line clear. If you’re inquiring about a certain date, include that as well as the lineup. As an example, your subject line could read “Nov 7 booking- My Band + Opening Band.”
  • Use actionable language. Seriously. If you’re vague and don’t ask for the gig, you’re not going to get it. Tell them what you want.
  • Address the booker by name.
  • Be brief and stay relevant. They don’t need a novel on your life to book a gig at a local 250 person venue. Only include information that will directly help your cause. Link to a gigging EPK with information like other local venues you’ve played, how many tickets you can sell, the size of your mailing list / social following, and a live recording or video so they can hear your live sound.

5. Make a Promotion Plan

Especially if you’re playing smaller, local venues, you’re going to be doing most of the promotion yourself, so tell them how you will promote the show.

At the most basic level, you can set up a Facebook event, put up some fliers, and share some social posts and emails promoting the gig.

But we can do better than that, right?

  • Come up with some incentive to get fans to buy tickets early (as opposed to at the door). Maybe you can give away a merch bundle to anyone who buys early. Or maybe they will get a coupon that they can use to buy cool stuff at your merch booth at a big discount.
  • Give the show a cool theme. Maybe all the bands in the set will cover one of each other’s songs. Maybe you’ll all cover a song from a particular band that inspires you. Get creative and see what you can come up with. Try to make the show seem special.
  • Let your fans vote on the set list/order. When fans feel involved in something they are much more likely to financially support it.

6. Follow Up and Be Professional

The process doesn’t end after you get the gig. If you want to really connect with the local audience, you need to play the venues regularly. So introduce yourself to the venue’s booker and staff and keep in touch.

On top of that, the best way to build a good relationship with local venues is to be professional. Always be on time for shows – in fact, be early! Make sure all your gear is working properly. Treat any sound or light technicians with respect and follow any venue rules. Above all, be prepared for your set and play well-rehearsed songs.

Sometimes the gigging grind can get tiring, but you need to remember that for the promoter and the fans, this one show is everything.

7. Think Outside the Box

As an end note, keep in mind that you don’t need to only book gigs at traditional venues. Live music is something so embedded in our culture. And that means there are A LOT of opportunities.

Often it can be easier to get gigs if you step out of the traditional venue scene. There are always plenty of community or charity events, store openings, and company parties that are looking for great live music. These markets tend to be much less saturated than traditional venues.

House concerts are also a great option if you want to skip the gatekeepers all together and take your performances straight to your fans.

Another option is college gigs. There’s a whole industry dedicated to booking college performers, and it can actually be an extremely lucrative venture.

While there are a lot of opportunities outside traditional venues, always keep your goals in mind. Doing corporate parties or college gigs ins’t going to be for everyone.

Always ask yourself, will this gig take me closer to my goals? Or is it just a paycheck? Of course, sometimes you have to take those just-a-paycheck gigs, you know, the ones where your heart’s not really in it. But doing too many will get you discouraged and running out of drive.

Conclusion: How to Book Gigs on Your Own as an Indie Musician

Hopefully you’ll be able to use these tips to book bigger and better gigs for yourself both in your local music scene and beyond.

Remember, the most important element to booking great gigs is planning. Click below to get a free ebook on how to achieve your goals today! This planning guide will help you organize yourself and focus in on goals in every aspect of your music career.

How to book college gigs as an indie musician

Photo credit: musicoomph.com

How to Book College Gigs – Case Study from Indie Musician Mike Sullivan

Musician Mike Sullivan makes his living touring the college circuit.  The Los Angeles-based independent singer-songwriter knows exactly how to book college gigs, playing more than 250 over the past 10 years.

As a college music artist, some of the schools he has played include Hawaii Pacific University, Odessa College, Indiana University, Purdue University, Green Mountain College, Shenandoah University, Embry-Riddle University, Lipscomb University, Spokane Falls Community College and many more.

Mike Sullivan started doing college shows after a record deal fell through.  He had never played a college before and didn’t know how to book college shows. “I was so naive.  I didn’t even know that colleges paid bands,” he says, adding a Chicago Tribune newspaper article opened his eyes to the college market for music.  “When I was in school I went to lots of great concerts and figured that the bands made their money off merch.”

Contrary to what many musicians think, college shows aren’t any less “cool” than traditional gigs. Not only are they a good source of revenue from the booking fee and merch sales, they’re also yet another way to get yourself out of the crowded and competitive gigging market while still getting in front of a very large and potentially relevant audience. Plus, huge artists like John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Sting and Prince all got their start traveling the college circuit.

Use this ebook to sell more merch at your college gigs and regular gigs:

How to Book College Gigs Step-by-Step

So now the big question: How to book college gigs? Let’s go through a few steps to get you on the road.

1. Use the NACA, APCA, and SGA

There are a few organizations that specifically deal with getting acts booked in schools. There’s not really a “college music booking directory” that you can crack open, send off some emails, and book some gigs. Most colleges prefer to go through trusted agencies – just for ease of use and protection of their students. You’ll have a much easier time getting started if you use these showcases, resources, and connections.

The first thing to do is get in touch with the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) and the Association for Promotion of Campus Activities (APCA), two agencies that hold regional showcases and conferences around the country where college activities directors and students check out talent to book at their schools. To participate in the NACA showcase, you’ll need to be a NACA member, which costs a few hundred dollars per year. But on the plus side, that is a small fee compared to the income potential of college gigs and once you have the connections you need you can ditch the membership.

These showcases take place late summer to early fall, and in the mid-winter timeframe around February and March. When you attend these showcases, keep in mind that the school representatives there are looking to either book for the next semester or the next year, so we are talking 6 to 12 months ahead.

There are college booking agents that specialize in booking college gigs, and if you work with one they will more often than not cover your NACA fees and showcasing fees. Keep in mind though, you’ll have to give them a cut of every gig they book for you, so it ends up evening out in the end.

It may also be worth looking at is the Student Government Association. While the agencies showcase many different kinds of acts in addition to musicians, it’s still a good place to start to get the connections you need for schools across the country, not just your local area.

As with anything in music, if you want to get a showcase spot and book gigs, you need to have a professional EPK, active social accounts, and a professional look. After submitting a demo, Mike earned a 15 minute set at a national APCA showcase. He nailed that first appearance and got another 25 gigs right away.

2. Your Connections Are Everything

Just like in the gigging world, it’s possible to get college gigs on your own if you have the direct connections. So once you get some gigs from your NACA showcase and the APCA showcase, it’s really all about maintaining those connections.

You also want to keep in mind that students are usually in charge of booking music gigs for their college, so that means you need to make new connections every few years as they graduate. It will be a constant effort of managing your contacts. Make sure you always have the name, number, and email address of the student you are working with so you can follow up if they don’t get back to you.

You should also take the time to get to know the student advisors or the heads of the student activities departments of the schools you’re targeting. These are the people who will actually be signing your contract once all the details are worked out, so it’s worth building a relationship with them.

Because most colleges seek out the act, if you take the initiative to make the first contact it can make a big impression. Whether you made it to a NACA or APCA showcase or not, it’s best to schedule your calls and send your materials after the convention period as this is when the schools are finalizing their schedules AND when they have the most budget. 

3. Book Gigs in a Row

When an artist works with NACA or APCA, they can take advantage of their “block booking” system when booking or “routing” their college tours.  This system allows individual schools to work together and get a discount when they book an artist around the same time — and it gives artists the chance to make good money.

4. Don’t Just Focus on the Big Schools

Just like with traditional gigs, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of “bigger is better.” But, especially with colleges, that’s not always the case.

“You can make a great living playing colleges. You know every year my price has gone up,” Mike says. When he started out in 2005, he charged $1300 for a gig. Today, he gets $2500. But one of his biggest tips is to avoid overlooking the smaller schools, which is a little counter-intuitive to how we think about traditional gigs.

“Smaller schools sometimes pay more than big ones because it is harder for them to attract acts. A lot of community colleges feel neglected and they have budgets to spend,” Mike says.

Want to see the best times to contact people to book your gigs?

Best time to book gigs

 

5. Be Flexible

Flexibility is key when it comes to getting asked back to play at schools. Colleges have good and bad budget years just like any other organization, so be open to being the act the school needs. If you usually bring a band but money is tight, offer to do a solo or duo performance instead. You’ll keep your connection to the school alive and generate lots of goodwill.

Beyond just the price, the settings of college gigs can vary dramatically. Audiences can range from 50 or less to 200 people or more depending on the event.  You could end up playing intimate coffee house settings, in theaters and even in a hallway.

When you’re booking college gigs, it’s all about being flexible. Remember that creating these events and performances and negotiating your contracts are all an educational experience for the students involved, so you’ll need to be patient and have an educational approach as well and help them along. 

6. Book Traditional Gigs Around College Gigs

College gigs aren’t something you need to dedicate 100% of your gigging efforts to. In fact, you can make even more of a profit if you book traditional gigs en-route to college gigs.

If you take advantage of the block booking method, you’ll have a mini tour route setup in a certain region. Instead of spending your off days just sitting around, get proactive and contact local clubs and venues to book a few gigs. After playing a few college gigs in the area you’ll have a local audience to draw on when you come through. If you don’t quite have the following to book a headliner show, try getting in touch with local bands and getting an opening slot.  

Hopefully now you have a better idea of how to book college gigs as an indie musician. Whether you want to spend all your time gigging the college circuit or you just want to squeeze in a few college show in your tours as little revenue boosters, college gigs can be a big income driver.

Of course, the key to any successful strategy is PLANNING. Click here to download a free career planning guide so you can get more done faster. You can use this guide to plan our any aspect of your music career from gigging to recording and releasing original music. Use this guide as a workbook to organize yourself.

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For more information on Mike Sullivan visit his website at mikesullivanmusic.com

New Artist Model is an online music business school developed by Dave Kusek, founder of Berklee Online. The online school is a platform for learning practical strategies and techniques for making a living in music. Learn how to carve a unique path for your own career with strategies that are working for indie artists around the world. Learn to think like an entrepreneur, create your own plan and live the life in music you want to live. New Artist Model provides practical college-level music business training at a mere fraction of the cost of a college degree.  For more information visit http://newartistmodel.com