You learned to play an instrument, wrote some songs, and now you’re ready to share those songs with the world. So, how do you take the next step and book a show? I hope this post can serve as a guide to help artists just getting started, as well as those who may have some previous experience, but need a little extra advice to land that great gig.
1. Knowledge is power.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but be sure that the venue you’re contacting is right for you. If you’re a death metal band, your local café may not be the best place to play. If you’re a soft singer-songwriter, the biker bar down the street may not take kindly to you. There is nothing booking agents hate more than when musicians who aren’t the right fit for their clubs contact them about a show. It wastes their time and your email goes right into the trash.
That leads me to my second tip…
2. Know how the venue wants to be contacted.
Most places do email booking because it’s easier to manage and better for the environment. That said, some venues still may ask you to mail in physical CDs or demos because that’s what they prefer. Occasionally, some venues may even ask that you actually come in and audition. This seems like it would be a hassle for both you and the venue (and believe me, IT IS), but there is no better way to experience an act than to see a test run of it live. Whatever the venue’s preference, be sure to be prepared and give them what they need.
Since most venues do email booking through a couple of in-house booking agents, be sure to send emails with videos and audio clips of your best stuff. I find that a mix of both video and audio clips really helps the booker see what you’re capable of, and it also makes your email more interesting to view. Include social media figures as well—this can indicate how big your draw will be on show day. Those Facebook likes and Twitter followers do matter in the world of booking.
3. Get good at waiting.
Now…we wait. This can be tough for a lot of artists because they don’t understand how many emails a booker gets. A small club in any major city can get thousands of messages each day, all from artists vying for their attention. Be patient and don’t jump down the venue’s throat for a show. If they don’t respond in 2-3 weeks, send a follow-up email. If they don’t respond to the follow-up email, it might be time to think about playing another venue.
4. Don’t wait until the last minute.
If you’re traveling around and have never toured before, not every venue will want to have you. They expect a draw, and if you’re new in town as a young band, your draw may not be all that great. Be sure to PLAN AHEAD when booking a tour. I always say plan at least 4-6 months out for a small tour (half a month to a month of shows, local areas, etc.) or up to a year in advance for larger tours (months of touring, cross-country, etc.). Knowing what options you have will make your life a great deal easier when you’re setting up travel plans according to what you have booked. Keep track of all the venues you have agreed to play at and make sure you get there on time and ready to rock.
5. With booking comes promotion.
Whether you’re touring or just playing a show down the street, you need to promote. Not only does this make you feel great (no one wants to play to an empty room), but it also makes the booker want to book you again. If you can bring in fans, the venue makes money. If the venue makes money, everyone leaves happy. Be sure to use your social media channels to connect with family, friends, and fans in every way you know how to make your show an “event.”
6. Don’t overbook yourself.
No one will come to the show you worked so hard to get if you have another show tomorrow, a show two days from tomorrow, and another a week away. If you play most of your gigs in one area or city, space them out so people will feel like each show is something special and unique. If you’re a new artist, playing as many gigs as you can is important. Just be sure to spread out your shows over different dates and cities to maximize your audience draw.
Finally, and most importantly…
7. Be respectful of the venue, during and after the show.
Now I understand not all bookers are great, and not all venues are wonderful to play at, but kindness goes a long way. Be sure to thank everyone from the booker to the bar staff. The people who work there are the eyes and ears of the venue. If you treat them right, they will likely pass that on to the booker. Treat them poorly, and I can guarantee you won’t be coming back to play anytime soon.
I hope these tips, tricks, and ideas help you on your way to becoming a booking guru, but as always, there is plenty of room for improvement. Please feel free to leave comments below and let us know your strategies and plans when it comes to booking gigs!
Born and raised in New Hartford, New York and now residing in New York City Stephen Babcock began playing guitar at the age of 15 after hearing John Mayer’s “Room For Squares.” Since then, he has continued to craft his skills as a singer-songwriter, recording and performing a catalog of original music, including two EPs and one full-length LP. After releasing Dreams, Schemes, and Childhood Memories in May 2011 and Lost in July 2013, Stephen went on a touring frenzy. He stormed up and down the east coast of the US as well as the United Kingdom, hitting coffee shops, small theaters, and numerous singer-songwriter festivals. With dates ranging from Athens, GA to London UK, his sound grew and explored new heights while on the road.
Stephen’s new EP, Wishful Thinking, was written and recorded upon returning home from touring and was released in May 2014. The EP weaves southern charm with full band grooves to create Stephen’s most layered and complete sound to date. Drawing comparisons to artists like Brett Dennen and Matt Nathanson, Stephen’s robust performance and life experience come together to achieve a live show unparalleled in today’s pop music landscape.
Check out his music here: