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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.

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.

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.