10 tips for getting booked (and invited back!)
by Rachel Udow
Confession: five years ago, I didn’t have a clue about any of the information I’m about to share. I spent most of my free time hunched over my guitar in my bedroom, pouring my heart into songwriting. I told myself that the reason I only played at home was because I was just doing this for me, though the real reason was that I had no idea how to go about booking a gig or performing in public.
Soon after, I connected with people who taught me what I needed to know, and everything took off from there. I’ve done solo gigs, played in three different bands, and booked successful tours in various parts of the U.S. and Canada. Now, I own a music venue as well. These different experiences and perspectives have taught me a lot about how to get booked and get invited back, and I hope this information will be useful to musicians of all experience levels throughout the Valley.
Find venues that are a good fit for you
Thankfully, live music is alive and well – and while there are a lot of venues out there, not every venue is going to be the right fit for you. Brainstorm a list of qualities that would make a venue a good fit – e.g., a large venue with standing room or a small venue with seating? 21+ or all ages? Then, find the venues that fit! Websites like Indie on the Move and plain old Google can be very helpful; another good strategy is to find bands like yours and find out where they perform.
Do your homework
Before you reach out to any of the venues on your list, do some background research. Find out what kind of music the venue books, when they have live music, how they prefer to be contacted by musicians looking for gigs, etc.
Make a professional first impression
When you reach out to a venue, make sure your first impression communicates that you’re serious about what you do as a musician. This doesn’t mean you have to be uptight – just show that you’ve taken the time not only to learn about the venue you’re approaching, but also to anticipate the information they will need from you and to give it to them as clearly and concisely as possible. For example, if you’re emailing the venue, state up front the date/performance slot you’d like to book and include links to video and audio samples. (Note: when we’ve booked out-of-state gigs for our tours, most venues have required that we submit either our website or electronic press kit [EPK] – not just social media pages.)
Set reasonable expectations
Most music venue owners love music – but they’re also business people who are trying to make a living, and they’re going to be interested in artists with a following. If you think you can draw a crowd, say so, but always underpromise and overdeliver. If you’re trying to book a gig in a city where you don’t have a following, it’s a good idea to propose that you could open for a popular band in the same or a similar genre the first time around.
Do your part to promote the gig
A successful gig requires strong promotion by both the venue and the artist. In no way does the responsibility for promotion fall solely on the artist, but venues always appreciate artists who do their part or go above and beyond in this area – especially since, often times, the venue will have multiple live music events to promote during any given week and will only have so much “air time” to give each one.
Show up – on time
Cancellations happen, but unless you’ve got a real emergency on your hands, don’t cancel within 24 hours of the gig. If you do – I’ll admit, I did it once – apologize and go out of your way to show the venue that you respect them and can be trusted to come through in the future.
And of course, be on time for gigs. If you’re running late, communicate this as soon as you can to the venue so they’re not left wondering whether or not you’re going to show up.
Be (as) low maintenance (as possible)
There’s a fine line between coming off as professional and coming off as high maintenance. You’ll come off as professional if you communicate your setup/sound needs to the venue ahead of time, arrive on time with whatever you said you’d bring, and do a thorough sound check before your set if time permits. You might come off as high-maintenance if your setup rivals that of Pink Floyd, if you start pacing next to the stage if the evening is running a few minutes behind schedule, etc.
Put on a great performance no matter what
On one tour, we played for a crowd of three hundred one night and a crowd of three (one of them being our photographer) the next. Obviously, it was easier to turn on the energy and charisma in the former situation, but the sign of a true pro is being able to put on a great show regardless of the circumstances. Playing to a tiny crowd can feel demoralizing, but you can also use it as an opportunity to practice connecting deeply with the people who did take the time to show up for your performance. Venue owners recognize and appreciate musicians who can achieve this – and will often make the effort to get these musicians a prime spot the next time around.
Stick around to hear the other performers
This one’s a bonus. We all have busy lives, and very few venue owners or talent buyers will hold it against you if you show up on time for your set, deliver a great performance, and leave shortly after. However, artists who come early and stick around to support other performers on the bill, even if it’s just once in awhile, are noticed and appreciated. This gesture communicates that you see yourself as part of a broader live music community and that you’re about more than just yourself. Not only is this a good thing in and of itself, it may also keep you at the forefront of venue owners’ minds the next time a big opportunity comes around.
Say “thank you”
Remember to say thank you to the folks who were involved in making your gig a success – from the person who booked you to the sound engineer to the other artists who performed on the bill. It takes a partnership between venues and musicians to sustain a thriving live music scene, and the more we take the time to acknowledge each other’s contributions to this end, the better!
Rachel Udow is co-owner of the Prelude, a musician and has years of writing, editing and gigging experience.
The Rio Grande Valley’s Musicians’ Incubator!
The Prelude is a “musicians’ incubator” located in Historic Downtown Harlingen, Texas. They offer a comprehensive and focused set of services designed specifically for musicians. No matter age or experience level, The Prelude can help you clarify where you are as a musician, set specific, measurable goals for the future, and develop a roadmap to get there. The Prelude is also a resource center that you can access at any time as you travel along your career path as a musician.
113 E Jackson Ave • Harlingen, TX 78550 • (956) 335-5173