Musicians just starting out have a hard road ahead of them. No matter what genre of music you play, unless you have what it takes to make it big, you could spend the majority of your career toiling in small clubs for a few bucks a night. Booking successful gigs is about the only way to build a fan base and fans are the only way musicians make money.
It’s very easy to make mistakes when putting shows together, so we’ve compiled a list of the most important steps to booking and playing a successful concert.
This is by far the most important step. Write good songs and get good at performing them. Don’t attempt to play a show until you can play your songs backwards and forwards, blindfolded, with both hands tied behind your back. Audiences can smell fear and the most powerful weapon you have is preparation. Remember the 6 Ps: Proper planning prevents piss poor performance.
A good way to get experience in a live setting is by playing open mics or house parties. That way you can practice your stage presence and performance in front of people, which will help get rid of any stage fright. Pre-show jitters are very common, but practice every aspect of your show and you’ll be rocking weddings and Bar Mitzvahs before you know it.
2. Record A Demo And Create A Press Kit
Now that your songs are tight and everybody in your band knows them in their sleep, you can start marketing your band. Record a demo, or if you have the money to invest, a full length album. Spend the money to make a high quality recording, because the more professional you sound, the more professional people will treat you. Booking agents listen to an unbelievable amount of bad music, so the more polished you sound, the better you’ll stand out.
Put your music online everywhere you can. Build up a strong social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Create pages on ReverbNation, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Put up good content and interact with your fans. Make videos, take photos, and put up live recordings. Be as active as you can, but don’t bog people down. Focus on your best work. The internet isn’t going the way of LaserDiscs, so harness it and use it to your advantage.
Create a press kit with photos of your band, information about the members, and any notable press you’ve had before. It doesn’t have to be very formal, just make sure you include any relevant information. Make sure to have both digital and hard copies available, with every possible bit of your contact info.
3. Choose The Right Venue And Listen To What They Want
When booking a show, make sure to pick the right place for you to play. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much of a fan base, don’t try to play the 1,000 person venue downtown. You’ll have to start small and work your way up. Pick a smaller club that deals mostly with local bands. Many small bars and coffee shops have live music, as well. If you or any members of your band are under 21, be sure to try for all-ages clubs, so your bass player doesn't wind up sitting on the sidewalk.
Make sure your style of music fits in with the venue, too. If you play Black Metal, Crossroads Christian Coffee Shop might not be the best place for you. If you’re a Jazz singer, the punk rock dive bar probably won’t have many open dates. It’s easy to learn what kind of bands play where. Be active in your local music scene, go to shows, and get to know everybody.
Once you decide on what venues you want to play, reach out and see how their booking works. It is paramount that you follow their instructions. Most places will have a website with contact info, but if not, feel free to call or stop by and ask how their booking works. Some places prefer physical demo CDs, but nowadays the vast majority of bookings are done via email. Unsolicited CDs often go unheard, so check how each particular club does things before you waste the money. More often than not, a link to your music online is more than enough.
4. Request A Show
This is the big one. The way you contact and interact with the promoter or booking agent can make or break your chances of getting a gig, so make sure to be professional. Check their concert calendar for available dates and do as much research as possible. If there’s a touring band with a similar sound, feel free to ask if they need local support. You can also put your own bill together, which is especially helpful if you can open up for acts that already have their own following.
Chances are pretty high that you won’t get every show you try to book, so accept rejection graciously and professionally. Getting indignant or offended because you weren’t booked will only serve to get you written off for future shows. Conversely, being respectful and creating strong relationships with booking agents can carry you a very long way.
Additionally, make sure you understand how the money will be handled. Some places charge their own fee at the door, some places give you a percentage of the bar, some places just give you a free pizza and a few pitchers of beer. Be sure to ask how it works and be responsible for whatever your end of the agreement is.
5. Show Up, Play Well, Be Respectful, And Repeat
You got the gig. You’re playing a Thursday night at Surly Joe’s Tavern. Now what? Firstly, get there on time. Scratch that. Show up early. You’re not rock stars yet, so people will not want to wait around for you. Get set up as soon as possible and be ready to play at a moment’s notice.
Secondly, one of the more important things you can do is bring a crowd. Bring your friends and their friends, family members and their friends, strangers off the street, and everyone’s pets. Use any kind of social media you can to create a buzz. Create a Facebook event, posters, and flyers. Bars and venues appreciate a packed house, so the more people you bring, the better the odds of you getting invited back are.
Thirdly, have fun, but be mindful that this is a business transaction. You are being paid (maybe, sort of) to do a job. If you get sloppy drunk and tip poorly, it doesn’t matter how well you play, the staff will not want to deal with you again. Be friendly, meet everyone you can, give away a few CDs, and you’ll be playing there again in no time.
Once you establish yourself as a professional musician with a reputation of being reliable and fun, you’ll be able to play bigger and better shows with bigger and better crowds. Just work hard, be excellent to everybody you deal with, and party on, dudes.
If you have any tips for aspiring musicians, feel free to leave 'em in the comments below.