Got Gigs? Here’s How to Get Them

crowdIf you’re a bandleader with little to no experience in booking shows, this guest blog by Deron Wade is for you. I talked with Deron on LinkedIn a few weeks back, and the conversation turned to booking gigs. He asked if I would take a look at an article he wrote for Tune Cube, and I agreed. Turns out it’s loaded with great advice for those who are relatively new to the art of booking the gig. I have reprinted it below, with his gracious permission.

Booking Gigs? Some Magic Tips to Help You Out!

Your band has been playing in front of your friends and they love your music….

You are a solo singer/songwriter now comfortable enough to sing in front of a crowd, play your guitar and put on a show without knocking the mic-stand over……

You’ve been taking your beats to the streets and now you’re ready to take your rap game to a whole new level……

In every situation, you are ready to start booking shows,  but where do you begin?

Know your niche market

Your niche market = who you are selling your music to.

“Wait a minute, what does selling my music have to do with booking a gig?”


You need to have a venue that supports the atmosphere of your music (What’s the stage set up like?) and has a demographic of listeners that like what you do. For instance: If you are an acoustic artist,  is it a smart decision to play a venue that has a huge  heavy metal following? Probably not. In everything you do, you should be asking yourself, “How is my time being spent here? Is this going to be a valuable experience for me?”

I can’t count how many times music artists have come up to me and complained that the venue took advantage of them. When I ask, “Well, what did you want from the venue?” Their response is,  “We wanted to play.”

“Didn’t you play?”

“Well yeah, but there wasn’t any one there and then they had us get off after three songs.”

Your time is expensive. Make every moment count!

Time-for-Change-Job-Search-Strategy-e1326297140572You have to want and get something out of every show you play. This is the necessary mind-frame you have to be in to run your  successful music business. If you spend time practicing and promoting your show, shouldn’t this time be worth something? For instance, either you receive x number of e-mails on your list, you get booked for another show with a better time-slot, you get the booker to refer you to another venue, etc. Get something out of every show you play! You should never walk off any stage without a plan. Every venue you play should be advancing your music career. Why?

When you do this you will start taking your music business to the next level.

In business, time is money. Same with your music business. Time is money. Why are you going to waste time rehearsing a show, promoting a show and then playing a show and not get anything out of it? Give yourself a game-plan. Don’t just go into a venue and say, “I’m going to entertain and everyone is going to love me and buy my music.” It’s not going to happen. You need to be prepared and do the work ahead of time to get the results you want. You have 3 specific jobs.

1. Entertain and sell your live performance.

2. Sell your CD/Merchandise and make some money to invest in your next gig opportunity.

3. Connect with fans (e-mail list, promote your website and social networks) and find new music opportunities.

Do one of each of these things before you leave that venue. Teach yourself to think with an objective and goal in mind. You might not reach it, but get used to doing these three things every time.

I want to interject here: CD’s are not out of date. A CD is still very relevant when it comes to selling music in a venue. The reason for this is: “Box in hand mentality.” People are a lot more excited about what they can see, feel and touch. And to get an autograph?! That’s exciting. That’s Rock Star  Remember, you’re not only an entertainer, you also need to sell them the experience of playing live.

This does not mean, selling your digital music online is out the window.  It’s a 2 step process. If they can’t buy the CD, get their e-mail and offer them a free download in return. Then add an extra incentive, and make it about what is happening right then.

“If you download our album tonight, you get into our next show free of charge.”

Do you see what you are doing here? You are attacking the live music experience moment and being selective. Only those who have attended your show get these special privileges. But you’re also giving them a time-frame. One of the key elements of any sale is to let them know, there is something to lose here. Do it now and you get all of these extra benefits.

If you have ever shopped at Costco you know exactly what I’m talking about. Use these tools and increase your music sales!

You can sell a digital file the same as you would a CD. I recommend just having a table with your lap-top or use your phone. You should, if you can, have someone else gathering e-mails for you. You can usually find one of your fans to do this for you and their energy and enthusiasm for your music will have everyone signing up. Your job as a band/artist is to meet and greet everyone in the venue. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember their name, do your best. The goal here is to show you appreciate their time. It’s just human courtesy. You have no idea how much this little meet-and-greet means to them.  This is someone who truly loves what you do.and they deserve to have a piece of your time.

Don’t mistake kindness with Free. This does not mean give them a Free CD. Value your Art. Your music is not Free. Make them see that and you win their respect. If you’d like to read more about why music should not be Free, here’s that article:  Free is for the Bees!

Which brings me to my next main point:

Know your venue

Note: this is NOT our band. It's just an average, outdoor gig.

In other words, you need to know your product and what you are offering to your venue. Do not just go into a venue and ask for a gig.  Why? Because you haven’t done your homework. Are you going to go apply for a job you know nothing about? Do your research.

Knowledge is Power and it’s impressive. You are a lot more likely to get a job if you know a little bit about the company you would like to work for. The same goes for booking a venue. Know what type of music this venue books, familiarize yourself with some of the acts, go scout a show and get the “vibe” of the place before you make a commitment. Know your venue.

After you have researched your venue, you’re ready to book it.

Now what?

Know your booker

You need to find your main point of contact. More often than not, you will be searching for either the booker, music-manager or host of the night. On a rare occasion, you may have to deal with the owner directly. Always have at least 15 venues that you have researched and want to play.

How do you find your main point of contact? Do you just drive out to the venue you researched and hope in good faith your main contact will magically appear before you and give you a gig?

No. Remember Time is expensive. Both for you and for the venue you’re looking at booking.  If you are just starting out or have been doing this for years, save yourself some time and money. Call the Venue.  Do not Tweet. Do not Facebook. Call. Use the phone and make a call. When someone picks up the phone, relax and breathe, this is your opportunity to state what you want and get some information. Very simply ask, “Hi my name is _______ and I’m interested in booking. Who would I talk to about playing a show at your venue?”

Be quick here. You don’t need to tell your life-story. More then likely you have a waitress on the phone that has customers to attend to, be diligent and get what you want.

Don’t say, “Who is your booker?” Because they might not have a booker, it might just be the bartender. Your goal here is to get a name, then get the person’s name you are talking to. Why? Because when you call back up you sound like you actually have a friend in the joint. Remember that whole “trust” thing?  People want to work with people they trust.

After you get their name ask, “What time is convenient to give ________ a ring or do you think it would more convenient to e-mail him/her?”

Do you see what you just did? You received a name and now are mining for more information.  By asking these questions, without even meeting the booker, you are already putting together how he/she manages their events. Does he/she prefer e-mail over phone-calls? What’s his/her work routine? Just as you learned how to “know your venue”  it’s just as important to “know your booker.”

More often than not, you will get someone who says, “Oh, well the guy who books isn’t here right now.” or “I don’t know who it is who books the music acts.” Follow up. Get this person’s name you talked to and repeat the steps. You need to look at yourself as an information miner. Your time on the phone is getting all the information you need to find your main point of contact.

If you get a “No, no one is here to help you do that. We only work with people we know.” That’s fantastic. You’re running a business, you can’t yield successful results without getting a lot of “no’s” in the process. It’s just a given. Don’t take it personally, be consistent. More importantly: Follow up with these venues. I would say 90% of the time “No” means “not right now.” With this in mind, be persistent, but humble.  This could be a great gig opportunity for you down the road. Follow through with getting to know thy venue. Go to their shows, get to know the people there, build trust and you will get yourself in the door.

Many times these venues will have a website with  the best information to get a hold of them. Getting the main contact on the phone will be some work.  That’s the brilliance of the Internet, it can be an opportunity and a mean gate-keeper. My advice is to call. It’s harder to ignore a voice than an e-mail. Talk to someone on the phone. Get a name. Get a time to call. Get an e-mail.

If you do find a venue with a booking contact e-mail, contact them. But use your phone as your main source of communication until you are told otherwise. When you write the e-mail,  your goal is to be succinct. Do not give your life bio. Everyone is busy, it’s part of running abusiness. It’s so obvious it’s in the word itself.


Hello John,
My name is ______ and I talked to ________ earlier today. ____________ mentioned I should get in touch with you about booking my acoustic act. Please let me know when a good time would be to follow up with you.

Like writing an essay, get in and get out. Remember, you are busy. In fact, you have another 15 venues to contact.  By staying busy, having a plan and executing you are learning the language of business. Know your booker and understand how the venues you’d like to perform in operate.  While having great material is nice, most venues care about the bottom line: Results. Bring them customers and they will be your best friend, bring them nothing, you’ve lost a venue to play and your reputation could be on the line. Businesses like to talk. Referrals is the way of the world. If you are continuing to play venues and not having any one show up, you’re making your business look bad. On the flip side, if you are bringing in new fans every time you play and making this venue a profit, you just found yourself the talk of the town and everyone will want you to play their venue. Value your time and make every opportunity you have an extreme success.

“Show me the money!”

show-methe-moneyThe booker is depending on you. If you don’t bring your people, he looks bad. There’s a lot riding on your shoulders and theirs. Work together. A good way to contribute is to ask about flyers. “Hey, I was going to print out this many flyers, you think you’d be willing to post this on your venue’s website?”

Or, “Hey I’m doing a cool Facebook promotion on my page, I was thinking every one that “Likes” my band page gets a $1 off the cover charge. 1 Like, $1 off.

This shows initiative. This shows you actually are thinking about the venue making money.  Start thinking this way. You should always be asking yourself, “How can my act make this venue a lot of money?”

“But wait a minute, I’m entertaining the crowd. I write songs. I’m working practically for Free and the venue should be bringing these people in, not me. I should be getting paid to play my songs!”


You get paid, when the venue gets paid. More importantly, you get paid when you bring in results. Do you know how many times venues lose money by supporting artists because they can’t bring a few people in the door?

Following along these lines: I met this guy who was a fantastic guitarist and whose fingers moved around the guitar like bolts of lightning. He put on a great show, entertained the crowd and even had the rock-star long hair with the mysterious black shades to give him a great look. But despite all of this,  the Rock God had only one fan show up to support his show.  Do you think the venue cared that this guy might be the next Jimi Hendrix? No. Why? He didn’t bring them results. His no-fans weren’t around to buy anything and this is how these venues stay open. Do you think this Jimi Hendrix protegé got another gig at this venue? Absolutely not. You can be talented and great, but just being great does not yield great  results. You need to be great as both a performer and businessman.

When you book a venue you should always be thinking: How can I help out? How can I make money for this venue?  Start thinking of yourself as a band/artist with a great product to sell. Why is this venue going to “take a chance” or “buy” what you are selling?

1. You have a lot of fans
2. You have an established social network presence on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
3. You have ideas. In fact, you want to offer incentives to your fans based around the venue’s business model.  What are they selling? How can you help them make a profit. If you are helping the venue turn a profit, they will return the favor.

“Wait a minute. Why am I helping them? Shouldn’t I be the one getting paid here, instead of working for free?”

You are not working for Free. You are building a relationship with a potential client who will, if he sees value in you, pay you. This is a business. Learn the rules and you will succeed. So many Artists, think they can fly by with talent, good looks and skill. The real ones that make it, have either a huge marketing team working for them every second of every day, or they are committed to making every one of their shows a win-win situation for both the venue and themselves.  If you are bringing in people to the venue’s  establishment and helping the owner pay their bills and get the vacation on the calendar they have been staring at for months, they will keep you around. Will you get paid? Yes, but I encourage you to think outside the box. Money is important, so is building a relationship with a venue that supports your music and gives you a place to build your fan-base. What else can you ask for besides money? Perhaps a better time-slot? Perhaps free drinks at the bar and a meal? Again, you will get to the point where you will be negotiating a pay-check, but there are steps to this process. Patience is a virtue, be patient and you will get paid. Build your relationship, the rest will follow. When it comes to booking a gig, most bookers will say something along the lines of, “Bring in 20 people and you get the full cover after 20.” I usually don’t play for places like this. I prefer the number 10. “Bring in 10 people and then we’ll split the cover.” After you prove yourself and are bringing in consistent numbers, you can talk about getting a % of the bar, instead of just the cover, or you may just want to settle on a number that you’d like to get paid. A percentage of the bar is not an easy feat, but if you do pull this off, your hard work will pay off in dividends.

Don’t sell yourself short.

Do not get taken advantage of!

If you can’t bring enough fans to a specific venue:

Say No.

If you aren’t happy with the venue and you feel like you’re being pressured:

Say No

If you just feel intuitively, for whatever reason, that this isn’t the best opportunity for you:

Say No

No is a great word. It means you are selective. It means you value your business and not every opportunity that comes your way is an opportunity. I’ve turned down hundreds of showcases.

I’ve been told, “Look, you just have to bring 35+ people, there are going to be A&R Reps and Music Licensing Supervisors there.”

Do you think there were? No. Why? Because they are doing the same thing you are trying to do: Selling their story. Every one of us has the dream of being  seen by someone who will launch our career. Many venues will prey on this weakness. Don’t fall for it.  I encourage you to say No.

There’s that saying, “Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way.”

Well, decide first, if it’s even an opportunity. Then ask yourself, if it’s worth your time, money and emotional investment. Spin it on the ones offering the opportunity to you. Ask yourself, why are they offering me this opportunity? What am I getting out of it? Don’t ever say “yes” right away or sign any contracts without stepping away from the situation. Take your time. Weigh your options. You have a long life to live full of music and making these decisions, pace yourself and don’t just jump at every opportunity because some guy is promising the world to you. He has an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. It’s business.

The good news here is, if you are good at what you do, know how to run your business correctly and have a great product to sell, you will be found, don’t worry about it.  Concentrate on being Great at running your business/booking your venues and take some pressure off yourself by saying no. You did not lose that specific opportunity, just gained another one.

To Succeed is to Fail

When you start booking gigs for yourself, take everything you do as a learning experience. People are not very nice in this industry. Like you, they are extremely busy, have deadlines to meet and they are always pushing to be more successful. Understand this. When you meet someone who is not very nice to you, that’s alright. They don’t “owe” you anything. Appreciate any one that offers you a hand and give them the respect they deserve. You do not make it in this industry alone. You make it by being respectful and understanding how the game is played, who is playing it and offering to jump in and play a round.

My point is, things are not going to always run smoothly, that’s fine. Some of the most successful people are the ones that failed thousands of times. One of my favorite quotes is by Benjamin Franklin, “It’s not that I failed. It’s just that I found 10,000 things that do not work.” The key here is to stay persistent and keep going. Do not give up and enjoy the learning experience.  When you go into the ring as a boxer, you may know your opponent is a lot stronger in certain areas, but weaker in others. Preparation is what will take you over the top. Know your opponent, get into the ring and show them you can fight just as long and hard as them.

What’s your story?

Think about it. Everywhere we go, we are being sold stories. Stories about computers (iPad), stories about e-books, (the Nook) – The world revolves around creating, building and selling products with stories. Know your story, know their story, sell the product.  Be smart, effective and masterful in your craft.

You don’t need to be great at sales. Selling is talking to people. That’s it. Talk and get your foot in the door and then move to the next step. It’s not a race, if you truly love what you do, you will be doing this forever. Relax. Enjoy the adventure and the journey. When you mess up, congratulate yourself. You just learned a very valuable lesson, now don’t mess up the same thing again. The only way to succeed is to fail. You have to know the face of failure to be able to succeed on any level. Every time you hear “No!” you are that much closer to hearing the word, “Yes!” Be patience, be consistent, be diligent, know your story and theirs inside and out and you will be successful at booking shows and making a live-performance career for yourself.

Ask yourself these 5 questions, before you start booking venues:

1. What are you selling?

2. Why are you selling it?

3. Who is buying what I’m selling?

4. How are those that are buying what I’m selling benefiting from it?

5. How can I help them benefit even more?

One of the great actors of our time Al Pacino said it perfectly when he was asked, “What is it about you that makes you a great actor?” With a laugh, he responded, “When I’m acting, I’m not thinking about myself at all.  It’s about being honest to the story and making the other person I’m with look good.”

Make whoever you are working with look great and more often than not, they will make you look great in return.


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