Hey gang, I’m writing this article because recently I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me if I can book them some shows. Unfortunately I’m busy running my own career and booking tours for others is something I’ve not got the time for nor interest in right now. That’s not to say I don’t want to help. After all that’s what this is all about. Feel free to write to me if you have questions or need some advice but when it come’s to the nitty gritty you’re going to have to get your own hands dirty.
The point of this article is to accompany my Gig Profiles. There are many types of gigs out there and all require slightly different approaches. I’ll do my best to cover as many bases as possible but this is not the be all and end all for booking shows. For example; I wont be touching on festival applications, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
It’s best to kick off this process approximately 3 months in advance.
There are a few different techniques I use to find potential venues in a new city. Firstly, the most obvious Google. Just a simple search, for example when looking for shows in Manchester google “Live music venue Manchester”. Straight away you’ll have a list to start with as well as a map with all of their locations. Go through the list and do a bit of research. Check out their website, their Facebook pages, their trip adviser reviews and whatever else you can find. Single out the venues that are going to suit your sound. There is no harm in sending off an email to all of them but you are going to want to concentrate your efforts on those that seem compatible. No point in trying to get a gig in a hip hop club if what you do is acoustic folk music, and visa versa. This will narrow your list down and by now you’ll probably have one or two favorites. The venues that really stick out.
Once you’ve found one or two compatible venues, check out their upcoming shows/events. Usually they will have a different theme for each night. For example Monday night might be acoustic Singer Songwriter night, Tuesday Open Mic, Wednesday Jazz, Thursday rock…..etc. Knowing which night you are applying for is going to help. Also in their upcoming events they will be advertising the upcoming acts. Research the local talent. Find a band or artist that is similar to you and your sound. Get in contact with them, let them know you are coming and that you’re looking for shows. Often local acts are turning down gigs because they are already booked or they are looking for support acts. They may be able to palm you off a gig before you’ve even spoken to a venue. Next check out their upcoming shows. This will give you a list of venues that you already know are compatible. You can do this with more than one band. Before long you’ll start to get a feel for the scene you’d like to be a part of, in a brand new city, that you haven’t even visited yet.
Making Contact with the Venue
So you’ve found your scene and you have a list of potential venues that will suit your sound. Next you need to know how they book their acts. First place to start is the contact page on their website. Most venues will have an email address there for the booker. If they don’t have a website, check their facebook page. If you can’t find a specific music booker email then you’ll need to contact the venue directly. You can either give them a phone call or shoot them an email. Remember you are not trying to sell yourself just yet and more than likely the person that will be receiving you phone call/email will be busy so keep it short, polite and to the point.
e.g. “Hi, my name is Simon Wright. I’m a travelling musician and I’ll be visiting Manchester soon. I was hoping to get a contact for whoever is in charge of booking your live music. Thank you for your time.”
Usually they will give you an email address but sometimes a phone number. I always prefer to communicate via email. Too many times in this industry have people broken promises. If it’s in black and white it’s much more likely they will keep their word. So if they do give you a phone number, make the call, introduce yourself, then ask if you can continue the conversation via email.
Securing a Date
Now is when you want to sell yourself. This email is the most important part of the entire process. Where you will secure your show or forever be looked over by the venue booker. You can make a template for this email which you constantly update and improve, like a resume. Do not however, send the template without personalising it for the venue you are contacting. Here is a short check list for this email.
- Let them know that you have researched the venue. It doesn’t have to be much. Something simple like “I’ve checked out the venue, I think my sound will really suit the place.” It shows you are serious and you’ve done your homework.
- Always ask for a specific date. For example if they do Funk on Saturdays and that’s your thing then write something like “I think Saturday’s Funk night will suit my show the best. The Saturday I’m hoping you have available is Nov 19th.” This is doing the bookers job for them. All they need to do is simply look in the dairy, if the date is free, slip you in, done. Rather than, deciding which day will suit, then finding the next available free date, making an offer which you reject as you won’t be in town till the following week…. blah, blah.
- Mention your engagement with your audiences. The bookers job is to find entertaining acts for their punters. They do not care how many years you studied the bass clarinet in university before moving on to guitar to be more accessible. They just want to know that you’ll entertain the crowd.
- Mention your latest and greatest achievements. You want to keep this email short and punchy. Do not rattle off everything you’ve ever done from winning a battle of the bands in high school to supporting Adel before she was famous. Just mention two things, your latest, and your greatest. Myself, I mention my #looptheworld tour on which I have performed over 270 shows in 15 countries (latest) and in 2013 I was nominated Australian Independent Music Awards “Live Artist of the Year” (Greatest)
- Include a video of you performing live. The sound and even the performance are not that critical here. What is important is the way the crowd are responding. So pick your video wisely. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s the best performance of your life if the video has one guy in the audience checking his phone. What you want is something that has a big audience that are all glued to the stage and having a good time.
- Links! Use them for everything! A link to your Bio, a link to your website, your facebook, instagram, soundcloud, youtube. It’s a way of putting a lot more information in your email with out cluttering it up. If the booker wants to research you more they have the option.
- A brief description of what you do. Remember try to keep it short and simple. e.g. “I’m a loop artist. I layer acoustic guitar, beatboxing, base lines and backing vocals to create a full band sound and call on the influences of blues, soul and hip hop.”
- Compare your sound to a well know act. This is the easiest way to give the booker an idea of what you do. I have difficulty like any of us when asked the question “So what kind of music do you play?” I could yabber on for hours the intricacies of my sound and performance. However I find it gets the point across a lot quicker if I say something like “My performance has been described as Dub Fx meets Ed Sheeren”.
- Let them know how long you are in town. You never know, if they like what you do they might offer a second show or even a residency.
- Be confident, professional and most importantly polite. Don’t be unsure of anything. If you are then they will be too. Professional just means good grammar, spelling and language. And polite, we all know what that means but remember to stay polite. Sometimes you will have a back and forth with the booker as they try to decide if they will have you. At times they can come across as rude, cold or unappreciative of your time and effort. They speak to cocky musicians every day. Being rude is a symptom of their job. Don’t take it personally.
I like to use this video however sometimes it’s not appropriate. I also play a lot of restaurants and cafes. This is not the vibe they are after. Know your venue.
Don’t mention money in the first email unless they ask you to. It’s best to let the booker decide if they will have you first. That way you have more of a leg to stand on when it comes to negotiating. If you over quote in your first email, you’ll never hear from them again. If you over quote after they have offered a date, at least they will write back to let you know it was too much and you can go from there. When deciding how much to ask for it’s always a good idea to know what they pay other musicians. One of the bands that you found earlier should be able to help you out with this. Some people, like myself don’t like to give out the details of how much they get paid so put the question more like “How much should I ask for?” Rather than “How much do you get?” Then remember, there is always a little give so quote just a bit higher. Getting paid, particularly internationally can be tricky. Most venues won’t want to do international bank transfer. In the past I’ve had to ask a local friend to use their account. Make sure you sort this out before the show. You don’t want to be left high and dry once it’s all over.
After the Show
The best time to book another show, is straight after a show. Always invite the booker to your show. They do this for a living and don’t turn up to every show they book. But, if you get to play for them live they will feel a lot more connected to you.
Plant seeds, if you are leaving town, let them know when you’ll be back and that you’ll be in contact about another show when you are on your way. If you ended up getting the Tuesday night but you really wanted the Friday, let them know. “I had a great night, next time I’d love it if we could organise a Friday show.” And always write a thank you email. Let the booker know you enjoyed yourself, the staff treated you well, the food was delicious, whatever. Give them pride in their venue and harbor the friendship. These relationships will be your bread and butter.
Best of luck, get out there a get a show. Let me know how you go if if you have any hints and tips that we could add to this piece.