Booking & Performing Tips From Talent Buyers & Venue Managers

July 9, 2018

In honor of the first annual U.S. Independent Venue week a while back, we reached out to some bookers, promoters, talent buyers and venue managers to find out more about what indie artists could be doing to get better at DIY booking, what to consider when playing new venues or touring, and what talent buyers are looking for in a pitch.

Not quite at the point of playing at these venues? Don’t sweat it! Everyone has to start somewhere.

1. How do you suggest that local artists representing themselves get in touch about booking shows with talent buyers?

“The most effective method of communication is a succinct but informative email. The subject should include your band name, the dates about which you are inquiring and the name of the venue. Important things to include are links to your Bandcamp/Spotify page, your Facebook page, and a brief recent history of your shows in the market – be sure to mention how many tickets you sold at what price, and if there were other bands on the bill. Also be sure to note headline vs. support plays.” – Austen Bailey, Talent Buyer at Mohawk (Austin, TX)

“Short, straightforward emails are the best! My ideal local booking email mentions their local play history, expected draw, what kind of booking they’re looking for, (supporting a touring artist, booking a fully local bill, etc.), and what date range they’re looking for. It should include social media links and a link to hear the music.” – Dan Apodaca, Talent Buyer at Schubas Tavern (Chicago, IL)

“Email the talent buyer links to your music and social [profiles]. Keep the email short and sweet and to the point. Include previous local venues you have performed at and let us know what your expected turnout will be. That makes things easier for us to figure out and will probably get you booked faster.” – Ned Wellbery, Talent Buyer/Manager at The Middle East Downstairs (Boston, MA)

2. On that note, how often should they be following up? What do you consider to be effective when doing this?

“It would be wise to reach out 90 days prior to the date range you wish to secure. If you haven’t heard back in one week, follow up with another email. If you still haven’t received a reply and don’t already have a relationship with anyone at the venue, it’s likely you did not provide enough information for the booker to make a decision, or you’re simply not a good fit for the room.” – Austen Bailey

“I think that depends on the kind of booking. When it comes to submitting to support touring artists, it’s tough to put a timeline on it. We have to wait for artist approval and that’s not something we can force. For local booking, I’d say one to two weeks is a good time to follow up if you’re still waiting for a reply. And sometimes there might just not be a good option right now, so you can circle back around in a month or so.” – Dan Apodaca

“Every two to three weeks. Sometimes there aren’t any opportunities available when you first send an email. Following up on a later date could be the right time when an opportunity or slot becomes available.” – Ned Wellbery

3. Give us the basics of what you want to know about an independent artist who contacts you about booking a gig in the future? What should they include/exclude?

“When bands contact us for the first time it’s helpful to get the name of their act, (you’d be surprised how many forget that detail), an electronic press kit with links to articles and photos, some insight into their expected draw in our market based on other shows they’ve played, links to their music on as many platforms as it exists, video links of shows or rehearsals, and an idea of their availability/target dates for a show.” – John LaRue, Founder/Facilitator of Fun at Deep Ellum Art Co. (Dallas, TX)

“When I am contacted by a band who wants to play our venue, I want to know how long they’ve been playing, where they are from, where they’ve played, [links to] recordings, when they will be available and a contact for booking. I love when they send music I can listen to. This is good for the initial contact. After that I do some research, then respond.” – Kimba Stefane, Talent Buyer at The Caribou Room (Nederland, CO)

“They should send SoundCloud links and any performance/touring history (including venues they’ve played and artists they’ve played with). Social following numbers are fine; if they have any particular scene or fan base that might come out to see them live. We want to see and hear artists that are active and part of their music community – tapped into what’s going on. On top of being able to be ready to perform, being nice people that promote shows helps a lot, too.” – Liz Garo, VP of Talent at Spaceland Presents (Los Angeles, CA)

“There are a lot of variables that can factor into booking a show, from where the act is from to what other venues the band has played or is playing, (and in the case of local acts, are those shows close to the date we’re talking about). The one thing that factors in a lot lower than artists realize is the music. If you’ve got a good story, I’ll be interested in booking you regardless of if I like your music…and, vice versa, if I love your songs BUT there isn’t an audience for it, it’s hard to book the show. I strongly prefer a link to source that makes it easy to access what I might be looking for (Facebook, Reverbnation, etc) versus a bands own website, (which can be tricky to maneuver), or a Soundcloud or Bandcamp link that doesn’t show me the full picture, (bio, photos, dates, music can all be important individual components depending on the situation).” – Glenn Boothe, Talent Buyer at Motorco (Durham, NC)

4. What tips would you offer to artists looking to book their first non-house shows locally? What kind of venues should they be targeting?

“When trying to get that first venue gig, musicians need to have a polished product to pitch. Send video of your most recent show/rehearsal rather than that one really cool one from last year that doesn’t show your current cohesion. Bands should be realistic about their expectations based on their experience. Don’t pitch a Friday or Saturday headlining slot if you’re only capable of bringing a handful of people, and NEVER exaggerate about how many people you can draw. Target venues of appropriate size and seek days of the week that make sense for your act.” – John LaRue

“Look at an appropriate-sized venue; head to a 100-150 capacity room or even a cafe that hosts live music. Get used to being onstage and know how to do a proper soundcheck within a venue. Even if you have a big house party-following, be realistic about how many attendees you can draw. You’re better off downplaying your draw than playing to 12 people in a 300-capacity room. As an artist/band, you’re ‘growing up’ in public and need to be comfortable with that.” – Liz Garo

“Firstly, you should be targeting local venues where you can get your friends/followers to come and see you…and you should likely be targeting supporting a bigger band. Headlining a venue with a cover charge can be different than playing pass-the-hat house show and the biggest issue is most bands assume everyone who came for free will also be willing to pony up cash for the show. I also recommend doing some research and asking to play a specific show.

And don’t always focus on the bands you know, (which probably means many other acts are interested), but listen to the bands you don’t as well as they too might make a good fit. And if you ask a specific question that has an answer, you are much more likely to get a response. I will always try to respond to an email that I can answer (i.e. “Do you need support for X act?) but I can’t really reply to (and will eventually lose track of) an email that says, “Keep me in mind for any support slots?” If you do the research and target specific shows, your success rate will increase dramatically over putting the onus on the venue to think of your band when looking for support.” – Glenn Boothe

5. In your opinion – either as a talent buyer or just a music fan – what should artists be focusing on in terms of strengthening their live performance so that they are ready to play larger capacity or more established venues?

“As an artist grows their fan base, or starts to perform with larger touring artists, they need their performance to hold up to, if not even stand out from, the other artists that play the same evening or in general. It’s extremely important to not be forgettable. Additionally,  as fans start paying more for your shows, they expect more –production value, stage setup, length of set, etc. Make each show special, and make each potential fan a real fan.” – Heath Miller, President/Talent Buyer at Excess dB Entertainment (Jersey City, NJ)

“The key to this whole thing is to develop a community with other bands and help each other expand audiences. Go out five nights a week and see other bands and support them and they will do the same for you. There’s no other way to organically develop a following outside of PR, blog love, label interest, etc., but it is almost impossible to get that going without having an audience interested in your band.” – Steven Matrick, Talent Buyer at Pianos (New York, NY)

6. How does a non-local artist/band looking to head out on their first regional/weekender tour appeal to out-of-market venues?

“Supporting a larger act where you’re not “on the hook” to fill the room is ideal. If you don’t have a larger act to support, try to do trades with an artist that has a draw in that market for playing with you in your home market. If you don’t have that option either, strategy plot out how you can slowly move away from your home base, while staying in an overlapping market. Picture it in circles – and have each circle overlap a bit with the last. As each circle gets farther away, you’re expanding in all directions around that market.” – Heath Miller

“This is always incredibly difficult. First off, make sure you have plenty of merch to sell so you can try and break even on your tour. Venue trades with bands in each city is always a good idea. Offer them to book them as support to your shows locally in exchange for them doing the same for you. Of course all of this is predicated on your band being a kick-ass live band. Try and make your show interesting and stand out from the other 10,000 bands out there so that people who’ve never seen you before have something to latch onto.” – Steven Matrick

7. Do you have any suggestions for how artists can develop and maintain relationships with venues before or after even performing there?

“Infrequent but informative updates letting us know when you play shows that receive good press or sell well are very helpful.

Go to shows! Let us know when you see a show at our venues and your experience.

Help us help you! Inform yourself on the venue size before reaching out and hit up only the appropriate size venues for your expected draw. When we can tell that you’ve done your research and understand our venues and, even more so, some of the workings and limitations of running a venue, it goes a long way.” – Hunter Motto, Talent Buyer at the Crocodile (Seattle, WA)

8. What are some missteps you’ve seen from artists/bands who are brought on as ‘opening’ or ‘middling’ acts at your venue? How can these be avoided?

“Well, the touring world is increasingly unfriendly towards local openers, (ok, not universally, but generally). Offer a stripped down or smaller version of the project for an support position. “Small footprint” is the key phrase here because it let’s bookers and agents know, 1.) that you understand our silly insular vernacular, and 2.) that your opening set will be less negatively impactful towards the challenges of headlining and touring performers stage demands.

Be an uncompromising professional! It is an invaluable lesson to learn as early as possible: backstage etiquette (keep guests to a minimum, keep it chill), not exceeding your set time or length, go with the flow (your sound check was shortened or cut, stay cool).” – Hunter Motto

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