How To Get Gigs – The Ultimate Guide to Concert Bookings For Your Band
Knowing how to get gigs when you’re just starting out in your music career can be a complex subject. If you don’t have a band to play live with, you’re going to need to find some band members. Then you need to rehearse a good set so you can start contacting venues to finally get gigs. Luckily, in this ultimate guide to getting more gigs, you’ll learn exactly that!
We talk a lot about home recording and mixing music here at Audio Issues, but chances are you’re also a musician that produce your own music. And if that’s the case, you might also want to play that music live. Because I’m not only an audio engineer but also a professional musician I thought it would be valuable to share my system and experiences with you so you can not only produce your own music in your home studio, but also find a way to get more gigs and reach a larger audience for that music.
So get yourself a cup of coffee and strap yourself in. After reading the following article you’ll know exactly what to do to get started with performing live shows, whether you’re a solo performer or a member of a budding bar band.
How to Find Other Musicians, Even If You’re Introverted and Shy
Being a lone wolf only works for the select few.
Prince comes to mind.
Trent Reznor is another.
There are more, but they’re the minority.
It’s hard to be an island when you’re making music, which is why you need some additional musicians to help you flesh out your sound. You might have a great singer/songwriter thing going on with one guitar, vocals, and some simple electronic drums when you’re recording your songs, but getting extra perspectives and expertise is invaluable to take your music to the next level.
Even Reznor and Prince had some help from session musicians so there’s no reason not to find somebody that can help. They don’t have to be a permanent member of your band. It’s about creating a network of musicians you can rely on when you’re creating music.
Where to Find Musicians?
Let me ask you these questions to get you thinking about where you can find some musicians that could be interested in your project:
- Do you know any musicians that are great but are doing their own thing?
- Do your friends know any?
- Do you know any bands that have great musicians that you can “poach” for a while?
- Have you looked at the wanted ads, either on Craigslist or at the music store?
These are all excellent starting points. Musicians naturally like to play music so think about all of these questions to come up with ideas of where you can reach out to someone.
Don’t be afraid that just because someone is doing their own thing that they won’t be interested in working with you. Musicians naturally like to play music so unless they’re completely booked for the world tour, chances are they might have some free time to have fun with your project.
Also, asking somebody who’s already in a band to play on your project isn’t asking them to “cheat” on their band. People all have priorities but if they can fit you into their schedule you’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings.
Don’t be afraid to ask anybody you can think of.
The answer to every unasked question is always “No.”
The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And wouldn’t you rather know?
The same goes for the Wanted ads. If you really want to play with somebody but don’t know any musicians personally in your area then Wanted Ads are the way to start. I have to admit, it’s a bit hit or miss but it all depends on what you’re looking for. Getting to know more musicians, however good or bad they might be is much better than staying in the same place and never getting to know anybody.
Networking isn’t just a way for business people to make business connections. It’s the first step to creating a relationship in any industry. In the music industry that means jamming with other musicians, gigging with other bands or going to shows and talking to other music-minded people.
Networking is also a skill and a damn hard one at that, but you’ll never network with anybody if you don’t get yourself out there in some way. Whether it’s going to a show, emailing a guitar-playing acquaintance or browsing the wanted ads it’s all a helluva lot better than staying home and wishing you had a band.
Get out there. Find where the musicians are. Connect with them. Rinse. Repeat.
You’ll make connections. You’ll make friends. You’ll make music. Trust me on this one.
- Make a list of all your friends and acquaintance that play an instrument.
- Make a list of bands that you know personally where you can approach one of the players to sit in on your sessions.
- Browse the Wanted Ads daily for a week and make a list of everyone you think could be a good fit.
Little by little you’ll increase your network of music friends.
Finally, you should also Post Your Own Ad!
Let’s talk about that a little bit.
A Guide to Craigslist Posting
I get frustrated with Craigslist a lot. We’ve had a revolving door of Craigslist musicians throughout the years and it’s taught me a bit about how to get your message across on Craigslist.
1. Be Honest About What You Want
Finding a musician online is kind of like online dating. You need to be a good fit for each other. What that means really depends on what you want. If you just want to get together to jam then you can be a little more flexible about your needs. But if you have a vision for your music moving forward and you need dedicated musicians then your needs are a bit different.
The goal is to be transparent about what you want, post often and be on the lookout for postings that could match your needs.
2. Outline Clearly Who You’re Looking For
If you really need a drummer, clearly specify that. Don’t just say you’re looking for musicians to jam with. Chances are you’ll get a lot of guitar players that are terrible drummers, like me!
Also, you might have some deal-breakers when it comes to finding someone. In one case, we needed someone who could learn our originals fairly quickly that was also not too old. I don’t mean to sound “age-ist” but after a lot of trial and error, we found that we simply couldn’t relate to older musicians as a part of our band. We were looking for a permanent band member and having someone on the same walk of life as you was important to us.
So when you’re posting your ads, ask yourself:
- Are you looking to jam on three chords for a few hours, write chords, melodies and lyrics (i.e., songs), or someone to help you with something you’ve already recorded (i.e., laying down a drum part)?
- Are you looking for specific character traits? If you need a 20-something female drummer for your all-girl punk group then clearly specify that in your ad. Your female drummer will be challenging to find, but at least you’ve filtered out the middle-aged male guitar player from cluttering up your inbox.
- Are you looking for a permanent band member, or just somebody to play music with?
- Is there a specific skill level that’s necessary(e.g. more than 3 years playing etc…)
And finally, don’t despair if you don’t find your Dream Team in 24 hours. Back and forth emailing, setting up auditions and getting a feel for each other takes time. We’ve found some good musicians to play with over the years through Craigslist but for every good one, there were at least 4-5 people that just didn’t work, for a variety of reasons.
Always Be on the Lookout
The last line-up for one of my bands, The Long Wait, was an interesting one, and really reinforces most of the points I’ve made in this article.
- The singer and I met each other at an Open Mic. We liked each other’s stuff and we connected from there. We stayed in the same band for about 5 years so making the effort to get your ass out the door and open your heart at an Open Mic can definitely make a lasting difference in your life.
- The drummer and I met on a plane. It’s pretty random and I doubt it happens a lot but it goes to show that you can always be networking. I was editing audio and my computer, he was reading Modern Drummer. We obviously had music in common so we got to talking. A month or so later he auditioned for the band and we stopped looking for a drummer.
- The bass player is the singer’s cousin. I’ll admit, “my cousin’s a bass player and he’s supposed to be pretty good” threw up a ton of red flags. What if he wasn’t good and we had to fire him and bruise a family relationship? It was a risk but in the end, he turned out to be a great bass player, a fantastic person to hang out with and an invaluable member of the band.
- The guitar player was the drummer’s friend. They had played in bands together for a long time. Since he was a phenomenal guitar player and an overall nice guy the transition was pretty seamless into the band. He added the textures and the tasteful lead guitar playing the band needed.
I’m explaining all this to prove a point. It all started with two musicians meeting each other to see what happens. Then the network grew from there.
So even though this is a guide with some tactics to finding band members and getting gigs I think the overall strategy is this:
Don’t be so goddamn shy and get out there and introduce yourself and your music to other musicians.
You have no idea what might happen next.
The Key to Effective Rehearsals And Being Prepared For Your Next Gig
Musicians are a scattered bunch. I know you agree with me. Don’t lie.
I think some of them just glide through life with this “things are bound to happen!” mentality. I mean, optimism is great and all but you know what’s better?
Actually being in control of what’s going to happen.
Do you know how you can get more control over your music career?
Actually having a plan of action and some goals to reach.
Sure, you might get lucky. But lucky people also win the lottery, and those chances are slim as well.
Do you know what’s better than being lucky?
To quote the philosopher Seneca:
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity“
So in this guide, we will be focusing on creating our own luck. The luck I’m talking about is when you’ll be offered your next gig.
When the booking promoter asks you: “Can you play a 30-minute set before BandEx?”
Your answer will not be “oh…we only have one jam song with three chords….but it’s 30 minutes long?”
Your answer will be a powerful “Yes! We will be there, and we will be planned out and prepared.”
That sort of preparation all starts in your rehearsal room.
The reason you need effective and efficient rehearsals is so you can develop a killer set quickly.
You can’t get gigs before you have a set you can play at the said gig, now can you?
So before you go to your next rehearsal which is just a poorly disguised three-chord jam session, you need a plan of action so you can start playing in front of people instead of the posters on your walls.
Have a Plan
In the rehearsal context, you should plan what you and your musicians will do at each rehearsal to make the most of your time.
Just like you need to start by finding people to make music with so you could potentially build a band to play live, you also need effective rehearsals so you end up with a set you can confidently play live when you get your first gig.
To quote Benjamin Franklin:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So if you don’t plan to have a great set list for that first gig, then you’ve already failed.
You not only need to sell the booking agent on the music you can play without them ever hearing it, but you also need to deliver the goods when they book you to play their venue.
How Do You Plan Which Songs to Rehearse?
This depends on what kind of band you are.
- Do you play only originals?
- Do you play only covers?
- Do you play a mix of songs?
- Do you play a specific genre?
Depending on how you answer these questions you’ll find out how to spend your rehearsal time.
Let’s use my old band, The Long Wait, as an example because it’s easy for me to describe.
- We played mostly originals, but we also play some covers.
- We play folk-rock.
That means that in order to really impress people at our next show we need to really nail our originals as well as play very convincing covers.
By narrowing down what kind of band you are, and what type of gig you’re looking to book, you can narrow down the tasks you need to accomplish for your next practice.
Are Your Originals Well Rehearsed?
Can every band member knock out each of your original songs with no problem?
If not, focus on the songs that are actually giving you problems. Don’t waste time playing all your originals if they don’t actually need to be rehearsed.
If you have five originals and only one of them needs work you can play the troublesome song five times in the same amount of time it takes to run your whole set. So if you want to be efficient at your rehearsal you should only focus on improving upon that which needs improvement. Anything else is a waste of time.
How Are Your Covers?
As a mostly all-originals band, we don’t play that many covers. However, saying yes to three-hour gigs results in some scrambling around to fill time.
So far we’ve accomplished this in two ways:
Working on our between-song banter with stories about our songs is a great way to fill up some time. By throwing in some shout-outs about our website, mailing list and the merchandise we have for sale we can often fill up a few extra minutes of time if we need.
However, this doesn’t just fill up our set time but it also creates engagement with our audience and sometimes yields some merchandise sales so it serves as a solid marketing tactic during your gigs as well. I give you a detailed plan for creating convincing stage banter in my book, Getting More Gigs, so check that out for further advice.
Covers are the easiest way to add more time to your set list. Unless you’re a speed-demon songwriter that can conjure up compositions in five minutes then learning a few covers will always take less time.
Even if you’re hesitant about playing other people’s music because you’re a purist and your songs are the best (probably not), it’s still a good idea to add them to your set. You can always put your own spin on them instead of copying them directly so you feel like you added some originality to them.
Being known for your original twist on a cover song has skyrocketed many an artist. Even some covers have been so popular that they’ve actually skyrocketed the original artists’ music to a new level. Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley comes immediately to mind.
So look at adding covers to your repertoire not as filler material but as an original musical challenge in itself. Change the tempo, change the key, transform the arrangement or figure out any other way you can add your own musical style to it.
It’ll end up serving two purposes:
- Lengthens your set of songs people know (unless you’re really into obscure covers).
- Challenges you as a musician by transforming a known song into something that you can call yours.
Rehearse Away From Rehearsal
Here’s my #1 tip for more efficient band rehearsals:
Record one take of each song you rehearse and send it to all of your band members to practice on their own time.
Scheduling five people to rehearse one day a week can be a nightmare. We’re all busy with our personal lives and professional duties so I sometimes think it’s a miracle we even get one practice in.
The trick to getting more practice time is to have everyone practice on their own time by giving them recordings of the rehearsals to go over. You don’t need a fancy studio. You just need a smartphone placed in the middle of the room so it picks up every instrument. It doesn’t have to sound good. It just has to sound good enough for you to practice your own parts.
Does Everyone Have to Be there?
Because scheduling is such a bitch it might be worthwhile to see if you actually need all members of the band for every practice. It’s a lot easier to schedule two people than five.
If you’re just working on vocals harmonies or chord structure you don’t need everyone there. Having mini-practices around your normal weekly rehearsal can be a really effective way to iron out parts that only certain band members are struggling with.
For instance, if you have a new guitar player that you need to get up to speed you might want to schedule as much time with them as you can so that they feel more comfortable during the regular rehearsals.
Have a Plan Every Practice
At the start of every rehearsal, it’s a good idea to outline the plan to all the members.
Break down the rehearsal into a few tasks that you need to get through:
- Outline of what you need to do today.
- Warmup. Play an easy song everybody knows to get you all warmed up.
- Problem-solving. Work on the songs that need the most amount of practice until you have it figured out.
- Recording. Record the songs you want everyone to take home with them.
- Plan the next rehearsal and discuss future goals and gigs.
The Goal: Have a Set Ready for a Gig at a Moment’s Notice
If you practice efficiently and effectively you’ll get a set list together much faster. That means you won’t have to worry whether or not you have enough material when you get your first gig.
You’ll have planned and practiced with a purpose so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready.
How do you structure your rehearsals? Do you plan them out as methodically as I do or do you waste a lot of time that you could use more efficiently?
How To Get Gigs In Half the Time Using These 3 Steps
So now that you have a band and have a tightly rehearsed set, how do you start finding gigs?
Step 1 – Find Venues
Before you get a gig you obviously need to find the places in town that have live music. Please don’t email every bar you know asking if you can play there. That’s like asking every woman you meet whether she wants to go out with you.
I’m not saying you won’t get a date. I’m just saying that there are more efficient ways to narrow down your criteria.
Think of it as a marketer looking for his target market. Marketers might aim their new widget to:
- People between 18 – 35 years of age
- That live in a certain geographic area
- That really like the competitors’ widget
Instead of aiming the widget marketing to “EVERYONE!” the marketer can save money by only directing their marketing dollars towards the people that are more likely to buy their product.
You should do the same when you’re looking for places to play.
Look for publications in your area that have listings of live shows. Some cities have a Weekly newspaper. The Weekly lists a lot of the concerts that are happening every week. All you’d need to do is go to the show listings page and make a list of all those venues to contact.
Another way to find shows happening around you is to use the Gig Finder on Reverbnation. It will list all the venues in a certain radius around whatever location you choose. It’s a great way to get a fairly comprehensive list of all the places that have live music in your area.
However, be aware that the venues listed in the Gig Finder include auditoriums and concerts halls. Unless you’re extremely sure of yourself or know you can book a sold-out show at a concert hall maybe you should limit your search to smaller bars and venues.
Of course, there are multiple ways to find the venues in your town for your first gig. These are just two suggestions. If you have some great suggestions to add, please leave a comment to tell us about it.
Step 2 – Find Email Addresses
Once you’ve made a list of all the venues you can play at it’s time to find a way to contact them. Find their website and see if they have a specific booking or live music page. If you’re lucky you’ll find an email address. If you’re less lucky you’ll find a contact form. If you’re really unlucky or the venue is terrible at online marketing you’ll only find a Facebook page.
Make sure you add each email address or contact to your list of venues and keep track of all these venues in a separate spreadsheet for this particular purpose.
It’s an excellent way to keep everything in one place, especially if you’re going to delegate the tasks to multiple band members.
Step 3 – Save Time With Your Emails
Once you have all the emails and/or contact methods it’s time to reach out.
The emails should not be long, but they do need to include some critical information.
Here’s a template you can use:
“Hi [Name of person]
My name is [Your Name] and I’m the [Role] in [Your Band Name]. We were wondering about your gig schedule and whether we could book your venue for a date sometime in the near future?
We play [Description of Your Music or Genre] that’s similar to [Other Famous Artists They Might Know]. You can find examples of our music at [Your Website or Site With Your Streaming Music].
We are looking to play [Any Date That You See Open in Their Calendar or Any Day That Has Live Music On Their Website]. We can play a short set as a part of a lineup with other groups, or we can play a longer set by ourselves.
Please let us know what dates you have available in your schedule.
Looking forward to your reply,
[Your Name | Your Band]”
That’s the bare bones of it and should be enough for the first point of contact. If you have played shows before be sure to mention other appearances. If you have any other accolades make sure you mention them if it makes sense in the context of the email.
Things to Avoid:
- Spelling an Grammer mitsakes – Proofread your email and make sure you don’t have typos and bad grammar that makes you look unprofessional.
- Lying – This should really go without saying but don’t lie about what you can or cannot do. If you can’t actually play a long set by yourselves, don’t say that in the email. You might get an email back that says “Great! We need a 3-hour slot filled next Friday. See you then!” Then what are you going to do?
- Writing like a fucking idiot – “Hey I wuz thinking if u needed anybody 2 play at your place soon dude?” What do you think happens to emails like that? They get deleted. Be professional and write like a professional.
If you use Canned Responses in Gmail then emailing every venue in town should take you less than 20 minutes, unless you live in a huge city, at which point you should narrow down your venue search even further.
Create Relationships to Book Your First Show
This will get you started with creating a relationship with the venues in town and it will hopefully land you that first gig. If you don’t hear back from anybody feel free to follow up after a couple weeks. Venues can book months in advance so they might not have needed you at that exact time. It doesn’t mean they hate your music or don’t care about you.
It just means they’re busy with other things and you’re not a priority for them at that time.
When you’re following up make sure you’re persistent but don’t be a pushy asshole. If you’ve never played a gig before it’s hard to get started, but keeping a list of who you’ve contacted and whether they’ve returned your message is important to keep it all together.
3 Different Ways to Make Money From Your Gigs
Once you get that first gig, it’s time to make the most of it.
Chances are, you might be limiting yourself to only making a percentage of what you can earn. So let’s talk about how you can take advantage of every way you can make money when you’re gigging.
Different Revenue Streams
Off the top of my head, there are at least three different ways to make extra cash playing live.
- Get money from playing gigs. Not even counting the different ways you can get paid for playing.
- Selling merchandise.
- Getting tips
If you’re only relying on one of those things for revenue during your shows, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.
Before you get all “I don’t want to be sales-y and annoy my audience” let me explain what “leaving money on the table” means.
It’s the money your fan already wants to pay you. However, since you don’t have a way to give him value in exchange for the money he’s already willing to pay, you can’t get more money from that elusive and invisible table people keep talking about!
Let’s backtrack to those three things above and analyze why it’s essential to use them all.
In a given night you could get paid by the venue for playing. Then you sell merchandise during your breaks and/or after the show. And don’t forget, during the show you have a tip basket that you mention throughout the show so that people regularly give you tips when they walk by.
So that’s three revenue streams that are all chugging along before, after and during the show! I talk about this in-detail in the monetization chapter of my book, Getting More Gigs: The Essential Guide to Booking, Performing, and Making Money From Gigs as an Independent Musician.
Your Monetization Lesson for Today
Make the most out of your show by having the business sense to realize how you can earn money in multiple ways.
Realizing multiple streams of income is a vital skill to develop. It’s not only applicable to gigging but any aspect of your career so you can do it full time.
Full time doesn’t mean one job. It involves creating a multifaceted skill set that creates a kick-ass career.
The 3 Things that Take a Gig From Good to Great
In case you haven’t noticed from reading this article, playing live is one of my most favorite parts of being a musician. Writing about it might be a close second!
It’s almost addictive, standing onstage and performing for an audience that’s there to listen to you.
Of course, not every gig is great, and you don’t always have a good time. But it usually beats sitting at home watching TV!
One year, while we were on tour, we came up with a checklist of the three things that could make a gig worth it.
- People were listening
- We made money
- We enjoyed ourselves onstage
If we got at least two of the three, it would usually be a good gig.
If people were there and we had a good time onstage it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we didn’t make money because at least we had a great time and people were into us.
Other times we might make money from the venue paying us but nobody was there. It still wasn’t a terrible gig because we enjoyed ourselves onstage and had fun playing random slow blues songs to nobody in particular.
Of course, when we hit all three it was usually a great night! Playing to a receptive audience while sounding good, having fun and getting paid?
That’s the type of experience I want you all to have.
The Golden Triangle of Being Booked Back to the Venue
Now, the war’s not over once you get your first gig. The key is to get repeat gigs to create a sustaining live performance career.
Assuming you get a gig at one of the venues in your town, I think it’s important for you to realize the value of the relationship you just created. You don’t want your show to be a one-off, especially if you get paid for the pleasure of playing your music for other people.
It’s a dream come true and you want to return to that dream as many times as possible. So to make sure you get booked back, I want you to understand the “Triangle of Being Booked Back.”
In my interview with Kris Kerry, booking agent of the Rialto Theater in Tucson who’s booked such acts Elvis Costello, Yes, Brandi Carlile, Randy Newman, Snow Patrol and The Decemberists, he told me that to be booked back, you need to have at least two of these three things:
- Be easy to work with
- Sound good (read: play decent music and be competent onstage)
- Draw a crowd
If you’re two of those things you’ll get a second gig. If you’re all three, you’re golden.
I want you to make sure that you’re all three of these things at all times. It comes back to that thing about being professional. It shouldn’t be too hard to be all three of these things, and if you make it a priority, then you’re already better than the other musicians in town that make us all look bad.
The first two should be easy to reach.
First, Don’t Be a Dick
Think about your gig from their point of view so you can understand how to show them What’s In It For Them.
Seriously, it shouldn’t be too hard to be nice to the person that’s helping you get a gig, so make sure you’re easy to work with. Nobody likes working with assholes or prima donnas, so make sure you’re not one of them. There are already too many in the world!
Second, Make Sure You Sound Good
Sounding good shouldn’t be too hard either, but it might take a little more practice at rehearsal for you to be gig-ready. Record your rehearsals analyze them objective to make sure that you are actually all playing well enough together to please an audience.
Third, Draw a Crowd
Drawing a crowd won’t happen overnight, so it’s a good thing you only need two of the three to get booked back. Getting booked again is the first step towards increasing your fanbase so work on the first two as your #1 and #2 priority and the rest will fall into place.
If you keep at it, are easy to work with and sound good, sooner or later you’ll start drawing a crowd.
I’ve developed a specific process to make a good side income from gigs over the years, and I put it all into my book, Getting More Gigs: The Essential Guide to Booking, Performing and Making Money From Gigs.
Your Essential Guide on How to Get as an Independent Musician
I’m proud to announce that you can get the complete system I’ve used to create a professional career playing gigs for the last decade.
I want everyone to have the ability to learn the information inside so I’m deliberately making it too inexpensive to pass up.
All The Ways You Can Make Money Gigging
You’ll learn strategies such as:
- The 4 Basic Ways to Make Money At Your Gigs (And How To Implement Them)
- How To Get Paid As Much as Possible From Your Performance
- The One Unique Way to Get Paid Royalties From Your Live Show After the Show Is Over
- How To Make the Best Merchandise For Your Band
- How To Price Your Merchandise So It Sells!
- How To Make At Least 200% More In Tips Using This One Simple Tip Jar Trick
Using just one of the strategies from this chapter will immediately earn you back the price of the book, if not 20x that!
I certainly have.
P.S. Here’s Where You’ll Be When You’re Gig Ready!
A subscriber asked me whether the content inside Get More Gigs is relevant to solo performers.
It absolutely is. Whether you’re a solo singer/songwriter, a duo or a full band, you’ll learn the step by step process I used to start getting paying gigs and making money via merchandise and tips.
If you take action using the process inside Getting More Gigs, that’s where you’ll find yourself…guaranteed!
Getting More Gigs isn’t a How To Get Gigs book.
It’s a HOW I GOT GIGS Book.
There’s a difference between writing a manual on doing something that’s purely based on research and writing a step by step process based on actual real experience.
That’s what Getting More Gigs is. Simply put, it’s a blueprint and a pathway for how to get gigs.
In case you’re wondering what you’ll learn inside, here’s a sneak peek at the Table of Contents:
- Requirements Before You Start Getting Gigs
- Researching and finding the right venues for your music
- Reaching out to venues and how to start a relationship with booking agents
- All the ways you can make money gigging (you can download this chapter instantly when you pre-order)
- How to sound good at the venue if you’re not an audio engineer (and don’t have one working at the venue)
- How to follow up on your contacts and getting them to email you back for a gig
- How to get people to your gigs
- Tips on engaging with your audience and performing the show
- Alternative ways of gigging when nobody wants to book you
If you’re interested in learning the step-by-step process I’ve used to make a nice side-income from playing live music for over 10 years, then Getting More Gigs is for you.