[Editor’s Note: This article was co-written by Chelsea G. Ira and Jeri Goldstein of New Artist Model.]
When it comes to booking gigs, a lot of musicians put a lot of effort into perfecting their pitch, gathering all the material bookers could ask for, and improving their live show performance. But all of that planning and preparation could be for nothing if you call up the venue asking for a gig at the wrong time.
Let me explain…
Different venues follow different booking schedules and calendars. In other words, they have a set time they like to book upcoming gigs. This schedule was created to work best with their workflow, business, and promotional needs. For example, clubs need to stay flexible with their bookings so their booking schedule is a lot shorter-term than say, a festival, which can begin booking a year ahead of time.
So what does this mean for you? Well, if you called up a club trying to book a date a year out they’d think you were crazy. And if you tried to book a festival a month or two in advance you probably wouldn’t even get a response – even if you had the absolute best pitch ever! It’s all about being the right act at the right time.
So today we’re going to go through some of the common venues you may be targeting for gigs and when they tend to book their gigs. If you can call venues when they are solidifying their calendar, you’ll have a much better chance of landing the gig!
If you want more information on how to contact each venue type we’ll be discussing today as well as the things to consider when you do reach out to them, we have a free ebook that goes through everything you’ll need to know about booking clubs, festivals, colleges, performing arts centers, and elementary schools right here.
When to Book Club Gigs
Clubs work on a pretty short-term schedule compared to other venues. This can be both great, and extremely frustrating. On one hand, it’s easy to fill in gaps in your tour last minute by calling up a few clubs. On the other hand, if you’re trying to plan out a tour farther out, it can be difficult to get club bookers to commit to booking a date.
So when should you contact club bookers? Clubs are more likely to be filling their calendars one to two months prior to the play date.
Your best bet is to call up a club is as soon as you know you are planning a gig or tour. At this point you can try to get them to place a “hold” on your preferred date. Think of placing a “hold” as penciling something into the calendar. You’ve gotten their attention, but it’s not set in stone yet and it’s up to you to get back to them to check on the date and see if they are ready to firm it up.
As you get to know the specific clubs you’re booking, you’ll get a better idea of exactly when in that one to two-month period they begin actually firming up dates and making them official. Armed with this information, you can make sure to give the club a call back prior to that deadline to check on your holds.
One thing to keep in mind when booking club dates is that club bookers are always looking for proven acts who can bring a crowd and sell drinks. That means there is a chance your hold may get taken by a hot act coming through the area. If you find out a hot act is vying for your hold, let the booker know you’d be keen to jump in as an opener. It can be a great chance to get in front of a new audience and make some new fans.
When to Book Festivals
Festivals are a much bigger production requiring lots of planning and coordination to bring together multiple acts as well as other workshops, events, and sponsorships. And that means they book their acts a lot further out.
Generally, if you want to get booked for next year’s festival, the best time to reach out to the festival’s artistic director about two months after this year’s event. In other words, about 10 months out. Never call a festival in the two months prior to the event. At this point they are deep in prep mode preparing for the upcoming festival and won’t have the time to talk to you.
If a festival gig is a goal of yours, another way to get on their radar and make a connection is through conferences. Often the artistic directors of festivals will attend various music festivals throughout the year to discover new acts. If there’s a specific festival you’re working towards, try asking the staff what conferences the artistic director attends and focus on those.
When to Book College Gigs
Colleges are another venue that are on more of a slow booking calendar.
Depending on the college, they’ll either be booking bands six or 12 months out, coinciding with their academic calendar. So for example, a college may be looking in February/March to book acts for the fall semester. With the academic calendar in mind, it’s best to schedule all your communications with colleges while school is in session as you’ll most likely be dealing with students in the Student Activities Office.
The college booking schedule is also heavily influenced by the various conferences and showcases put on by NACA and APCA. Both organizations hold national and regional conferences, and your best bet for meeting with students booking their school’s activities is through these events. You can see a full schedule of the showcases on each association’s website.
Schedule follow up calls immediately after these conferences, as that is when the student activities office is dedicated to nailing down the dates for the next semester or two. It’s also when they have the most budget for gigs. Even if you were not able to attend any conferences or showcases, schedule any outreach calls and send your materials in the time immediately after the events.
When to Book Performing Arts Centers
Performing arts centers are often associated with colleges, but are completely separate from the student activities office. Instead, they are usually booked by a staff member and run by the performing arts department.
Similarly to college gigs, the booking schedule for performing arts centers are centered around conferences and showcases held by the APAP, and most of the networking and booking happens around the national and regional conferences.
Performing arts centers typically book 18 months to two years in advance, so if you want to play these types of venues, you need to take a much more long-term tour planning approach. Program directors typically do most of their decision-making between October and December, and fill in the gaps after the January national conference.
Just like with college gigs, you should plan your outreach a few days after the scheduled conferences to you can be on their radar as they’re making decisions.
When to Book Elementary Schools
Elementary school gigs aren’t for everyone, but if you have an act or performance that can translate into something educational, it can be an extremely lucrative market without all the competition that goes into the typical club scene.
As you may have guessed, you need to book these gigs during the academic year. Schools typically book gigs a semester ahead of time. If you want a gig in the fall, you need to be calling in the spring before school gets out. If you want a gig in the winter, you need to call in the early fall as soon as school is back in session.
I hope now you can see just how important timing is when reaching out to venues about gigs. If you can keep the bookers’ schedules in mind and reach out at the right time, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting the gig.
Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, keynote speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.
Chelsea Ira is the Director of Marketing for The New Artist Model.