Playing shows is rewarding and fun no matter where you are in your career.
The moment you have 40 minutes of material, you can play a set. If this is something that interests you, you need to go and book a show.
So many artists get stuck here – they don’t know how to go about booking a show without any help or they get paralyzed by the work involved.
The truth is, booking a show isn’t very hard.
In this guide, I want to take you through the process of booking a show – any show. The process is generally the same for most gigs.
If you can book a local show as an unsigned artist, then you can book a show in another city. The process is the same.
The process is the same for festivals as well – just follow these steps, and you’ll be playing shows in no time!
How To Book A Show As An Unsigned Act
Interested in booking a show? Follow these simple steps:
Research The Venue
First things first. You need to figure out where you’re going to play.
If you’re at a loss, start getting out to other people’s shows. This is a great way to meet other local artists (who you will be playing with anyway) and meet the people who book shows in the city.
Usually, you can also find a bunch of venues in your local live music listings (check online or in an entertainment magazine).
Part of researching the venue is deciding whether you are a good fit for the venue.
Sure, some artists and bands might be playing in your local 1,000-seat theater – that does not mean you should.
You need to play the right venue for your audience and for your music.
If you are a metal band, don’t book into a coffee shop.
If you think that you can get 40 people out to a show, don’t book a show at a 300-person venue. It will feel empty and weird and you won’t make any money.
The smaller the venue, the better. Your shows should always be packed, giving off a sense of excitement.
Once you’ve figured out where you’ll be playing, it’s time to:
Find The Booking Contact
There are three ways to get the booking contact for a venue. Sometimes, this process is hilariously hard.
First, check the website. Most venues will give you the booking information right on the website. If they have a booking form, fill it out to the best of your ability. If not, start an email for the booking contact.
If the website does not have the information, check Facebook next.
A lot of venues will have some contact information on Facebook. If it’s not the right contact, it’s still a place to start.
Last, but not least, ask other musician friends for contacts. All musicians know the struggle of booking shows, and are generally happy to help out. Ask for the contact information, and also ask how the financial deal was structured – it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you’re getting into.
Send A Well-Crafted Email
Sending a good booking email is an art form. It’s an art form that I have practiced and am close to mastering.
Booking emails should be: concise, thorough and easy to understand. Here is how I structure my emails.
My name is [name] my project is called [band name].
I am looking to book a show on April 12, 2019, if you have that date available.
Here is a link to my current album: [hyperlink your album].
Here is a link to a live video: [hyperlink]
Here is a link to all my booking info: [link to website with music, photos, press quotes, video and maybe even stage plot].
I would like to set up a bill with [local artist].
Thanks for your time!
[Phone number, link to Facebook, Instagram].
In about 50 words, I gave the venue/organizer/booking person everything they need to know to book me.
Note that I immediately tell them what I want: a show on a specific date.
Then, I give them everything they need to know to decide whether I’m a good fit for the venue. A link to recorded music. A link to the band playing live. And then a link to pictures, quotes and more.
At the end of the email I’ll give a little more detail on what kind of bill I want to set up, and then in my email signature I provide a phone number and links to social media. Doing things like this will mean that even if you’re an unsigned musician, you’ll come across professionally.
Booking contacts are notoriously bad at getting back to people.
You should follow up with them. It’s standard practice and you should never hesitate.
Follow up no more than once per week.
Some places do all their booking on a specific day of the week. Don’t be annoying, but feel free to follow up once every seven to 10 days.
Set Up A Bill
Generally, venues are going to want you to set up a bill with other artists.
This takes the pressure off you – now you only have to fill one set of music instead of two or three.
It also takes the pressure off you to fill the venue by yourself and do all the promotion yourself.
Mainly, venues want two to three artists on a bill, because it increases the amount of people that will come to the show, and thus increase their chance of making money.
Discuss Financial Details
You’ll probably be discussing financial details while you are setting up the bill, because everyone needs to know who’s getting paid and how much.
Basically, you need to figure out how much you’re getting paid and how you’re getting paid. Generally, there are two ways of paying bands.
Door deal: most venues these days are doing door deals. You charge a fee at the door, and the artists split the revenue.
I don’t like it, but it’s common for venues to pay sound techs and door people out of the door money. You can save a little money by having a friend work the door for you.
Guarantee: alternatively, you can get a guarantee from a venue. This is a set price that you get for performing. This is more common at restaurant gigs and certain bar gigs, but it can happen anywhere!
Food, Drinks, and more: sometimes, depending on the venue, you’ll be able to get free food, free drinks, and even free accommodation from the venues.
This is especially true of venues frequented by touring acts.
It’s also good to be aware that some venues will offer you a percentage of food and drink, sometimes in addition to a door deal or guarantee. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Advance The Show
A week before the show, check in with the promoter and make sure everything is good to go.
Check on load-in times, soundcheck times, confirm the financial details, confirm the time of the show and the timing of each act for the night.
Put On A Great Show
The show is booked, you’ve set up and promoted it, and now all you have to do is play well!
Put on a great show, make friends with the people working the venue and with the booking contact if they are around, and you’ll be able to score another show sometime soon!
Be Strategic When Book Shows, Especially As An Independent Musician!
So that’s how you book shows as an unsigned artist. Once you start playing out more, you’ll realize that you can’t just play any show – or rather, you shouldn’t.
Start thinking about which local acts are good fits for you act. Try to get opening slots for bigger bands. Try to level up venue size over the course of a year.
Be smart, play well, be nice and you’ll go further!