Performing live is certainly one of the key dreams of musicians everywhere. It’s a chance to show the public the result of hours, days, months and even years of hard work in the studio. Not only that, but today live performances can often be the main source of income for artists.
Of course, it’s not easy to make this dream a reality. There are many reasons for this, the main one being the tough competition: there are countless talented musicians that deserve to play to a live audience, but only a selection of locations available.
Before you catch the eye of a professional booker, you’ll be working as an independent musician, perhaps unintentionally. This means contacting event organizers and acting as your own show manager. Here I will share a few practical tips to help you land your first gig and avoid some common rookie mistakes.
How to choose the best venue or organizer for you
The first important question to ask is: where do I really want to play? Usually this selection starts in your home city, and rightly so. You’ll already know the music scene there, have a network base and friends who can come and support you.
The size of the location doesn’t matter, remember that this is your first gig and you’ll probably have a select audience. If you’re popular, you might expect a decent turn out. So, look out for a small place that has a quality line up, using tools you have at your fingertips: the internet, your knowledge of venues and your existing contacts.
Who should you contact?
How do you find the best person to talk to? If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend of a friend that’s an events organizer, you will need to find a contact of your own. There’s lots of ways to do this. Maybe you’ll find the details on the venue’s website – just remember to avoid writing to info@ addresses, as they aren’t checked as often.
Otherwise, you can hit social media. Facebook hosts a wealth of contacts, and is increasingly being used for networking. Find the venue’s fan page, and scroll to the section “Events” on the left hand side. Click on an event and you’ll see the “Organized by” information next to it. Add that person or company, or try and find a contact e-mail address online. Don’t forget to have a look on LinkedIn either.
Why not go to the place in person and explain what you’re trying to organize too? There are events organizers that will appreciate this approach!
How to meet the event organiser. Time is money!
You’ve finally got the event organizer’s details and you need to write them an email. You could say lots of things at this point, but I’ll limit myself to the essentials here, the rest is for another article.
Keep it simple: all you need is an opening sentence about why you want to play there, three lines about yourself and three links that sum up your work. Don’t forget to include a video that shows a live performance and a link to your latest tracks. Linking to your SoundCloud page can also be helpful, allowing them to listen to your work and get a better idea about who you are. If you have a curated and current Facebook page, send that over too.
Events organizers are often under a lot of stress with limited time available. Their inboxes are always full and they are passionate about music in all its forms. So, go straight to the point: the music.
How to negotiate and set fees for your first gig
You receive a reply from the organizer, they are interested! Next steps? Once you’ve asked about availability and settled on a date, the negotiations begin. A good rule of thumb is to let them do the talking, asking a few key questions such as:
CAPACITY: It’s important to know how big the venue is, you can times the capacity by the ticket price to get an estimate of how much revenue to expect.
FLOOR NUMBER AND CAPACITY: How many floors are there? Where will you play exactly? Let’s avoid any nasty surprises, locations usually have a main floor and a “B floor”.
PROMOTER: Is this a private organizer or a company? It’s useful to know who you’re talking to.
SPONSOR: If it’s a sponsored event, it’s worth asking for a slightly higher fee.
TICKET PRICE: The ticket price will help you to understand the revenue, but don’t forget to account for how much the event will cost!
OFFER / BUDGET: You won’t always get a straight answer from this question, but it’s useful to know where you stand and what you can aim for.
PERFORMANCE START TIME: When you’ll play and how long the set will be.
CONTACT: Always ask for a telephone number where you can get hold of the event organizer.
OTHER BANDS PERFORMING ON THE NIGHT: This will help you to understand the context of the event and have a better idea of how the budget has been managed.
Once you have all this information, you’ll be able to decide how much money you want to play for and let the organizer know. At the end of the day, the aim is to perform: don’t be too rigid and try to hit the right balance. Good luck!