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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.

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.

build a team for music success

Today, I’d like to talk about what it takes to build a team for music.

As a musician, you’ve probably got more things to do than you have time in the day, right? You need to write, practice, play, rehearse, perform, and record.

But you ALSO need to manage your social media pages, manage your email list and email your fans, plan your music releases, pitch your songs to bloggers, music supervisors, venue owners and bookers, and music libraries, and that’s only scratching the surface. And more times than not, these essential business tasks push your music aside.

The simple fact is it’s hard to get everything done on your own.

And this is one of the biggest dilemma of the indie artist.

Isn’t the music why you set out for a career in music in the first place? Is it really necessary to push aside the music to be successful in today’s music industry? I don’t think so.

DIY vs. DIWO

DIY has been the catch phase of the last era in music. But the truth is, no one has all the skills – or time for that matter – to be successful completely on their own in music.

Let’s say you’re trying to do everything yourself… Will you realistically be able to dedicate enough time to do each thing really well? Will you be able to put in the time to come up with interesting and engaging posts for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat while also developing a strategy to get gigs in bigger venues, recording and planning an album release, pitching your new single to music bloggers, and keeping up with your email list? You need to work smarter.

We all start out as DIY artists when the to-do list is shorter, but it’s not usually something that can be sustainable as we begin to grow and we take on more (and bigger) responsibilities – at least not without completely burning out or skipping sleep entirely.

So I’d like to propose a new phrase: DIWO, or Do It With Others. Instead of trying to do everything yourself, try approaching your career like an entrepreneur approaches a new startup. Build an efficient team gradually over time. Start lean with the people you have around you already, divide tasks according to skills, and hire in new team members as you grow.

Here’s some of the key steps in building an efficient team around your music.

1. Figure out what kind of team you need.

There’s no single formula for a team that will work for every musician. Your career path, your goals, your personal skillset, your time commitment, and your career level all factor into who you will bring onto your team and when.

If you need a little help figuring out your goals, I suggest you download this free guidebook: Your Music Plan for Success. It will walk you through easy questions to help you determine what you want out of your music career, which will also help you figure out which team members you should target. Click here to download it for free.

So for example, as a songwriter you may begin working with other songwriters and co-writers in the early stages of your career to grow your catalog and increase your skill set quickly. Depending on your skills, you may work with a producer or engineer to get TV-quality recordings, or you may be able to do this yourself in your home studio. At first, you may start submitting your own songs to music libraries and other licensing opportunities, but you may begin making direct connections with music supervisors, ad agencies, and filmmakers to license your music. As your career begins to grow, you may start working with a publisher to help you get bigger placements and connections. You may not be interested in releasing albums so you won’t even need a record label.

Let’s look at another example. If you’re a traditional band that tours and releases albums, your team will look very different. At first, you might either self-record your songs or work with a producer or engineer you know, and distribute your songs through a service like Tunecore or CD Baby. You’ll probably do a lot of the booking yourself at first, but eventually you’ll employ the help of an agent when your gigs start bringing in enough money. As social media, email, and planning gets too difficult to handle on your own you might seek the help of a manager. And eventually you may begin working with a record label or some bigger distribution partner.

2. Bring on team members when the need arises.

In both examples above, the teams grew slowly over time as the needs manifested. Early on, your team may very well consist of friends and family, and that’s okay!

It’s also important to remember as you build a team for music, that many team members come on board when there is a financial incentive to do so – they need to make a living too! Agents make a percentage of your live performance income, so if you’re only making a few bucks, they’re not going to find the gig too appealing.

3. Assign roles and responsibilities.

A really important thing many musicians miss is that your band members can function as a team in the early stages of your career. Each member has different skills and proficiencies they can bring to the table, and you’ll get a whole lot more done if you divide up tasks.

The first step is to take a look at the jobs that need to get done. You may need to consistently be posting on social media and engaging with your fans. You may need to write weekly newsletters to your email list. You may need to be reaching out to venues and booking gigs (and of course, promoting those gigs). You might need to design a basic t-shirt to sell at your gigs, or get a few key photos to use on your website. Get together with your band and make a list.

Once you have a list, brainstorm together who might be best-suited to take each task. Do any of you know photographers, artists, or website designers you could work with? Is one person more comfortable with talking to people and pitching your music to venues? Are any of you a social media buff who spends hours online? Look at each member’s skills and divide up the to-do list accordingly.

Once you start splitting up the tasks, you’re able to get things done a lot faster and move on to new ideas and new goals.

Build a Team for Music Success – Where to Go From Here?

Wherever you are in your music career, planning and building your team accordingly should always be a number one priority. Like we talked about earlier, who you bring on to your team will depend entirely on your goals, so it’s worth getting your goals and expectations straight.

If you need a little help figuring out exactly what you want in your music career, check out this free planning guide: Your Music Plan for Success. This guidebook will walk you through easy questions and exercises to identify your goals and begin building a plan to achieve them. Click here to download the guidebook for free.

In the New Artist Model Music Business Accelerator course, we have an entire module dedicated to team building and time management.

The New Artist Model is an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers and songwriters. Our classes teach essential music business and marketing skills that will take you from creativity to commerce while maximizing your chances for success.

Check out the Music Business Accelerator (MBA) a new program that will help you plan your music projects, promote your music and create a sustainable career.