Let me show you how to get gigs for your band. At the time of writing (July 8th, 2020), England is supposedly coming to the end of Coronavirus lockdown. But live music is still not allowed anywhere, even outdoors. I’m sure gigs will return one day and, in anticipation, I’m sharing the benefit of almost 50 years of experience at the coalface of the music industry. Well, on the outer edges of it, if I’m being totally honest. The music business establishment never really took to me.
How to Book a Gig (part 1)
This is a YouTube video I made a few days ago. Called, ‘How To Get Gigs’, it obviously contains similar information. But I’m sure I’ll manage to include unique information both here and in the video. The format may be different but the message is basically the same.
These strategies and tips apply to just about every type of act within the world of entertainment. From solo singer-songwriters and comedians to theatrical troupes and heavy metal bands. It’s up to you to use your common sense to make my experience as a music promoter and booking agent work for you.
In the course of putting on gigs and festivals in London and beyond, I’ve received quite a lot of emails, letters, and suchlike, from acts wanting me to put them on. It must add up to tens of thousands over the years but sadly, I can count on very few hands the few who inspired me to give them a gig. Being musically good or even great is simply not enough.
Although cream has a tendency to rise to the top, being the best is not a guarantee of success. If it was, we’d only drink the best champagne and eat the finest foods, instead of the fizzy sugar-water and junk food the human race seems to prefer.
How to Get Gigs: The Basics
If there’s one secret to getting gigs, it’s this: look at things from the point of view if the venues you are approaching. Ask yourself a simple question: Why should they give me a gig? To answer that, you might need to ask yourself some more pertinent questions. Top of the check-list must be to make sure the venue is a suitable fit for your particular act.
Unless they run a specialist Folk night, singers of traditional whaling songs might not stand much chance of getting gigs at a Jazz or Reggae club. Similarly, a comedian who’s just starting out cannot expect a major theatre or concert hall to grant them headlining status
It all comes down to money. There are basically two types of venue:
- Commercial (the vast majority of venues, who rely on income from ticket sales and subsidiary sources, such as bar and food sales to survive).
- Subsidised (e,g, arts centre or community theatre),
What Males Commercial Venues tick?
To get a gig at a commercial venue you either need to be able to sell a lot of tickets (i.e. already have a following) or else be good enough, or unique enough to entertain people another act has attracted. This is basically, being a support band.
The more entertaining your act is, the more chance you stand of getting gigs. To be brutally honest, whenever I was looking for (say) a Blues act to support a bigger name, I’d give the gig to anyone who stood out from the dozens of (usually all-male) bands, who all seemed to dress in denim and play as if rooted to the spot. The same went for Indie acts, Folk, Punk, Ska, or whatever…
Try and be as original and as entertaining as possible. Being just another member of a large and largely identical herd is not a great way to get gigs, even if you’re the very best of them. To use yet another analogy, no one looks at a herd of cows and picks out the best and the worst, They just see cows.
About Arts Centres and Community Venues
Venues that independently-funded by local councils and arts organisations are getting rarer. But they do still exist in certain parts of the world, including the UK. Selling tickets and beer is not their sole source of income and so they are freer to book acts on artistic merit. Having said that, if you can bring large numbers of people into their venue, as well as being artistically-relevant that would certainly help get you a gig!
The one thing all this type of venue has in common is the need to be relevant to their communities. This can help you but it can also be a hinderance. If you are local to the area, great! Make that very clear. If not, maybe look for a connection, no matter how tenuous.
In my experience, the person reading your email just wants to “tick a box” when it comes to local relevance. They are unlikely to employ a team of private detectives to check out your claim that your family came from that particular town or that you were born there. Just make sure that nothing on your website or any publicity materials contradicts anything you might tell people in order to get a gig. That’s why it’s generally good policy not to lie or make stuff up.
How To Book Shows
Do your research first. Never write a generic email saying how great your band is and send it to as many venues and promoters as you can find. This is the booking agent’s equivalent of junk mail and it’s pointless. None of them will get back to you.
I suggest you look for 10-12 venues you really want to play at and send each one an individually-written email. Pick venues that you know and think you are a good fit. By all means include a couple of ‘aspirational gigs’, such as a major festival or as a support to a band you love. You never know…
Do as much research for each venue as you possibly can. Look at their website, try and find a booking policy, look at the line-up of past and future gigs. Be honest: would you fit in with what they are doing. If not, move on to find one that is more suitable. If you think it would work, look for a name and email address.
Even if the name and address you find is not exactly right for you — say, only the general manager of a venue is listed — write by name to that person and ask them to forward your email to the right person. You are demonstrating that you care, that you’re professional and that you have done research.
If at all possible, buy tickets and go to at least one show at the venue to get a feel for the place. Never ask the venue for free tickets just because you are an act. It doesn’t work like that. But if you know someone who’s playing there, you could ask to be put on the guestlist.
Writing The Email
Before you start writing, think what the person you are writing to is looking for.
Almost all the letters and emails I still get from bands are written entirely from their point of view. They tell me how good they are. That they’re planning a tour and want to play in my town. How they’re getting airplay on their local radio station, blah, blah, blah. Usually, it goes on and on, paragraph after paragraph…
It’s all stuff I don’t care about. Multiply that by 5-10 a day and you get some idea how little chance they’ve got of getting a gig from me…
Make Your Email Stand Out (for the right reasons)
Your email will be different. You are going to keep it short and address me by name, maybe adding a sentence that says something like, “If you’re not the right person, could you please forward to the relevant booker?” The next line could introduce yourself. Maybe something like:
- The Beatles are Liverpool’s most dynamic live pop group.
- “Happy Mondays are the best live band to emerge from Manchester in the last decade”.
- Adele is a mesmerising British singer-songwriter, known for captivating her audiences.
These aren’t perfect. I don’t have a band to sell and I just made them up off-the-cuff. You know your act. The aim is to attract attention for your act in as few words as possible.
The quote marks around the Happy Mondays sentence is an old trick to be used sparingly. Make up your dream descriptive quote that you’d love to see in print and add quotes to it. Do not be tempted to add a name. Making up a quote for someone is essentially cheating and no one likes a cheat. Plus, it cheapens your ‘brand’.
Getting a Gig: Second Paragraph
Then start a new paragraph (people have short attention spans) and write a sentence or two showing that you’re done your research and know what the venue’s all about. Something like: “I came to see The Beatles play and I was knocked out by what a great venue you have. The Stones would be a great fit and we’d love to play there. I’m sure we could bring some like-minded people.”
If you’ve not actually been, you could say, “I’ve studied your gig guide and I’m knocked out by the quality of acts you have playing there, especially Oasis and Stone Roses. My band would fit in really well and I’m sure we could bring you some new customers.”
A little flattery can go a long way to getting you a gig. Everyone likes to be appreciated and, again, it shows you’ve spent some time checking the venue out. It’s also good to say that you will bring some ‘new customers’ as selling tickets and beer is how most venues survive. Just don’t go over the top and make promises you can’t keep.
Make sure your email includes your objective in clear, easy to understand terms. You want a gig, so say so. You’d be surprised how many bands have sent me letters and emails over the years that don’t say why they are contacting me. A ‘call to action’, as it’s called, is important.
Finishing the Email
Add a quick line about where they can check out your music and/or videos (and the links) and leave it at that. It helps if the videos and music are stunning but that’s a completely different topic.
Some acts sign off using the name of the band. That’s OK but I think it sounds better coming from a single, identifiable person, whether it’s a member of the band or a manager. You can invent a ‘manager’, provided you make it obvious by giving them a name that’s completely OTT. Provided everyone knows it’s done for comic effect and that you’re not trying to trick them, you should be OK.
Before you sign off, ask them to contact you. This will create a reason for you to get back to them if they don’t reply within a week or so. And close with another compliment, plus a reminder of what you can do for them.
I’d suggest the best way to finish an email of this kind would be to say something like this:
I look forward to hearing from you with an opportunity to perform at your great venue. It really would be an honour and I’m sure we could bring you some new people.
All the best
Adding a cell-phone number always helps. Some promoters (not me) like to book shows on the phone and adding an alternative method of contact is always good. And include your website URL. Just make sure your site is as good as you can possibly make it.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
Avoid copying and pasting, as the vagaries of the email system, means that when it’s received, some text might appear in different fonts and that’s a dead giveaway that you tried to cut corners. Keep the email brief and to the point.
When you’re writing emails to prospective promoters and venue owners, concentrate on your live show. That’s what the venue is in business for. Too many acts think I’m there to sell their records or downloads, which may be part of the plan, just don’t make it so obvious.
How Can I Help You?
The ultimate goal is not just to get a single gig but to build a relationship with individual venues and venue-owners. One of the best ways to start on that road is to offer to help. Everybody needs help, right?
“Do you need someone to take your gig-guide around local record shops and cafés?”
If you have a specific skill within the band, such as a web designer or sound-engineer, offer to help them. But don’t make it look like you’re criticising what they already have or touting for work. You are offering to help in order to build up a relationship.
So, best of luck! If these tactics help you find more gigs, please let me know by leaving a comment. And please tell me if you have any better ideas or if something I suggested didn’t work for you and why.