Booking gigs is one of most time-consuming non-musical activities artists engage in.
It takes a long time to craft set lists that are ready to play, it takes a long time to develop promotional materials, and then the process of booking gigs can require a lot of time too.
Between researching and seeking out opportunities, contacting promoters, following up, organizing, and promoting a show, the time commitment is more significant than you might even realize.
All of that makes booking gigs intimidating for some. While this is completely understandable, it’s not necessary to get overwhelmed by the work.
There are plenty of credentials, documents, and materials that will help you get booked and help you book better gigs, but it is not necessary to have all of them right away.
When you get started, an iPhone video is probably fine for a couple gigs. You don’t need to spend cash on expensive live video footage until you have the money, and a show you feel proud to showcase.
Similarly, you don’t need a dozen promo pictures. You just need one good one, and it doesn’t have to be terribly professional.
In this guide, I’d like to take you through the basic things you need to book gigs, and the basic gig booking process. By the end of the guide, you should know exactly what you need to book your next gig, and how to go about it.
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What You Need Before You Book A Gig
You don’t need much to book your first gig. You should just get out there and play.
I’m going to list several things that make booking gigs much easier, but if you’re missing a few, don’t let it stop you from playing gigs.
A Set List That You're Proud Of & Fills The Necessary Amount Of Time
A set list can have covers in it, it can be all originals – whatever (though some venues have preferences, so check in advance). The important part is that you feel good playing it, and it fills the required amount of time that you’ve been booked to play.
Nothing feels worse than playing a set, and feeling like you could have practiced more, or playing a song that you’re not excited to perform for your audience. That’s not the point. The point is to be excited about what you’re playing. If you’re excited, then the audience will be excited too.
If worse comes to worse, being a little bit under the amount you’ve been slotted for is always better than going over your time.
Well-Branded Social Media Accounts That You Update Frequently
These days, no matter the gig, the venue/promoter is going to want to tag your social media in posts, and have you post about it too.
This means you’ll need the basics: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Now, I believe social media is important, but when you’re getting started, it does not need to be full-on. You can take your time figuring out what you want your personality and branding to be on social media.
The important thing is mostly just that you set it up, get a few likes, put up a nice promo picture, and keep it somewhat active. One or two posts per month is all you need.
At Least One Good Promo Picture
Building up a collection of usable promo pictures (both posed and live shots) is a smart thing to do, as promoters don’t want to always post the same image.
When you’re getting started, just have one good picture that you like. Have your face be clearly visible, with sharp lines and either nice, vibrant colors, or black and white.
I would avoid super stereotypical band shots (a band by a river, a band by a brick wall, etc.) and go with something that shows your personality a little more. Also, if your band sucks at dressing themselves, just focus on your faces. You can’t screw up faces.
Some Live Footage Of Your Band
These days, it’s relatively easy to make live recordings.
You can easily find people in your community that will set up one ortwo2 mics, a camera, and make a live take for you.
You can also easily get videographers to make passable live recordings at shows, and this is definitely worth doing.
You don’t even have to publicize the videos – just keep them as private videos on YouTube and use them to send to promoters.
As I mentioned, a simple iPhone recording can even work if you’re a solo artist.
Eventually, good quality live recordings will prove essential. If you’re looking to up your live game and book better gigs, making awesome live recordings is the best place to start.
A Short Bio
Do not overthink your bio. Seriously. If you’re just getting started, there’s probably not that much to tell anyways.
Keep it short. Keep it honest. Keep it modest.
Everyone will request a bio, and it’s kind of annoying, because writing bios is annoying, but just don’t overthink it and keep it simple.
When you put all of this promotional material together, you have an EPK (electronic press kit).
The perfect way to present yourself is with an EPK.
At the end of every booking email I send, I have a single link that sends the promoter to a private part of my band’s website that has:
- Live video front and center.
- A private stream of our album, and sometimes unreleased demos.
- Links to music videos.
- Our stage plot, technical plot, hospitality rider.
- Several downloadable, high-res promo photos.
- Downloadable versions of our bio (short, medium, and long).
- Links to any big publicity we’ve received (reviews, interviews, etc.).
- Finally, an email form to contact the band, and our management’s contact number, as well as our agent’s contact number, label contact info, and our publicist's contact info.
Having an EPK like this shows professionalism. It saves a huge amount of time on both your end and on the promoter’s end. Literally everything they could possibly request is on one, well-organized page on your website. Easy.
How To Approach Promoters & Get Gigs
If you’ve started setting up your promotional materials, it’s time to reach out and book gigs.
There are several ways to get yourself booked. Here are a few easy ways to get started.
Talk To Local Artists & Friends About Setting Up A Show
The easiest way to get a show is just to set it up with your friends.
Ask bands and artists that you like if they would be open to playing a show with you, and once you have a three- to four-band bill, get in touch with a local venue.
Most often, venues will be open to these kinds of nights, because they a) didn’t have to do any work setting up the show, and b) with three to four artists, they’ll have a pretty good night. Between the bands, friends, family, and fans, the bar will definitely get fairly full.
When you’re booking this sort of indie gig, here’s what you should be looking for in a venue:
It’s much easier to set up a successful show in a 100 to 150 person venue than a 500-person venue. Even if it seems fun to play on a big stage in a big room (even to a small audience), trust me – it’s way more fun to play to a room that feels full.
Also, small venues make their bread and butter off of indie shows that are bringing out 40 to 150 people. They’ll be happy to have an easy night.
A Decent Sound System
Sometimes, indie venues don’t have good sound systems. This is annoying, but if that’s the only option, that’s okay.
Ideally though, a place with a good sound system and a sound tech is better. It makes it easier on friends and families when the sound is a reasonable volume and is easy to listen to. It makes it more likely you’ll have repeat customers.
The Venue Helps Promote The Event
These days, it’s hard to expect venues to do much promoting. There’s no good reason for this really, but it’s the way it is.
That said, in most cities there are a few small venues that do a good job. Putting up posters and putting a few dollars behind Facebook ads makes a huge difference.
Playing small venues with a better reputation helps you build your reputation as an artist in your community. Local promoters always keep an eye out for new artists, but they’re probably only looking at the “good venues”.
A Reasonable Room Rental Fee
Many small venues in 2018 are doing small room rentals or requiring the band to pay for the sound tech.
If the room is good and the sound tech is also good, I don’t really have a problem with it.
That said, you shouldn’t be paying more than $150 for a small venue.
If it costs more than that, you should consider negotiating the rate down.
Approaching A Promoter/Venue
Approaching a promoter or venue can feel intimidating, but it shouldn’t. They get emails from artists literally all day every day.
Here’s what a basic booking email should look like:
My name is Liam Duncan, I’m an artist from Winnipeg, and I would like to book a show on Tuesday May 1st, if it’s available. I have Super Good Band, and Acoustic Artist on the bill with me, and together I think it could be a great night.
Below, I’ve attached an EPK with live video, recordings, photos, etc.
Thank you for your time!
It’s that simple! Approach the venue with simple, necessary details and the kind of promotional material they want to see.
Getting Other Types Of Gigs
Setting up your own show is one thing, but there are many other types of gigs available to you.
You can play festivals, events, you can open up for bigger shows, and you can play gigs at restaurants and bars that pay guarantees, instead of paying based on how many people come.
Getting these kinds of gigs is a very similar process. Depending on what you’re going for, it can be easier to get these types of gigs.
Here are a few common gigs and how to play them:
Artists love playing festivals. They pay guarantees, there is a built-in audience, they are usually outdoors and in the summertime, there’s a bunch of other awesome artists performing – what’s not to like?
However, because every artist wants to play festivals, they are somewhat hard to get into.
To apply for festivals, there are two approaches:
Going Through A Festival’s Application Process
Many smaller festivals have applications you can fill out on their website.
These are great, because it takes you through the process, and you can just send them everything they request. It takes the pressure off of you, as you’re not left wondering if you’ve forgotten to send some critical piece of information.
In time, the festival will review all of the applications and make decisions. If you got in, they’ll send you an email with an offer.
Offers are always negotiable. If you don’t like the time slot you’ve been allotted, you can ask for a different one. If you need more money, don’t be afraid to ask.
Of course, you may not get what you want – many festivals operate on very tight budgets and have a lot of bands to fit in. It’s always worth asking though.
Contacting The Artistic Director Directly
If you can find the artistic director’s number or email, don’t be afraid to pitch them directly.
Simply send them the same email you would send to promoters (see above) and include all the necessary promo material.
Often, the AD will throw your application in a big pile and look at it later, but feel free to follow up once every two weeks or so, just to keep yourself on the top of the pile.
Getting Good Opening Slots
Playing good quality opening slots is a great way to build an organic fan base.
The best way to get opening slots is to contact a band or a band’s management directly.
Express that you like the band you want to open for, and send them your music. If you have a draw in the city, mention that your presence on the bill adds value for everyone.
Alternatively, contact venues and promoters in the city, send them your material and tell them you are looking for opening slots.
They’ll keep that in mind, and hopefully you’ll get a few offers.
Getting Other Gigs That Pay Guarantees
For a full guide on playing background gigs, check out the guide I wrote on booking gigs at restaurants.
Good luck, and happy gigging!