Booking gigs without putting any effort into it? How absurd!
And yet, I’ve had to book very few of my own gigs in the last seven years (if any), and I’ve still had more than my fair share of well-paying and creatively fulfilling gigs. So, I’m here to tell you that it is possible.
I’m not going to promise you, however, that there isn’t some legwork involved in getting to that point. But once the right pieces are in place, much of it can happen on autopilot.
So, here are the steps you’ll need to take if you don’t want to be booking your own gigs forever.
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How To Get Gigs Without Personally Booking Them: Build Worthwhile Connections & Add Value To Them
This is the number one thing to prioritize when you want to get gigs without having to book them all yourself.
But instead of offering some general advice on how to network and create new connections, I’m going to share some of my personal experiences with you.
Currently, I have about four people in my life that book gigs for me (or for the bands I’m in) without my involvement. I’m going to talk about each.
Band Leader #1 – Rootsy Folk Pop Band
I’ve often been called upon as an accompanist or lead player for singer-songwriters. This has translated into many gig opportunities and has helped me generate some income as well.
There’s one such songwriter I’ve been performing with since 2010. I stepped away from performing with him for a couple of years, but eventually rejoined his group.
He likes having control over the band’s sound, branding, and the types of gigs we play, which means I’m not involved in the marketing or booking side of things at all.
This isn’t to suggest there isn’t any creative freedom in the band. But every decision ultimately goes through the leader.
Over the years, we’ve played on many stages, and continue to find new venues that are interested in featuring us.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a gig with this band, but when we’re particularly active, we’ll play just about every weekend, and the pay is not bad.
Key lesson: Unless you can’t imagine being anything but the front man in a band, it can be good to humble yourself and contribute your talents to other people’s projects. They may not share all your values and ideals, but it’s still better to be playing some low-paying gigs than no gigs at all.
Band Leader #2 – Tribute Band
I’ve played in a tribute band, on and off, since 2011. We haven’t had a lot of gigs as of late, but when the going was good, it was good.
Since we’d hit a bit of a ceiling with the bar circuit, the band leader has been working on a new kind of show for a couple of years now. He wants to scale our audience and do more than just play our instruments and sing onstage.
At one point, he put together a list of every venue he could find in the province of Alberta. He systematically reached out to each one. That’s how he managed to find a few paid gigs for solo acts. He was kind enough to pass these contacts onto me.
One such venues has had me back to perform multiple times, and I’m always happy to do it, because they love me there, I have a good time performing my music, and the pay is decent.
I wasn’t expecting to get solo gigs from performing in a tribute band, but I’ve relished in those experiences.
Key lesson: Never burn bridges. You just never know who might surprise you down the line. Even if you must leave a band for a time, try to leave on good terms. You could end up rejoining in the future, and it could be to your benefit too.
Band Leader #3 – Nigerian Worship Band
One of the first “gigs” I ever had was playing in a church. No, it was never paid, but it did get me playing in front of an audience on a regular basis.
I don’t have too many ties to churches anymore, but last year I met the band leader of a Nigerian worship band.
I can play just about anything, but let’s just say I was not expecting to learn soukous style guitar in 2017 (and trust me, I’m no pro at it either).
Anyway, the band leader has always been fair with payment. So, even though I wasn’t planning to stick around in this band (I have a lot of other stuff going on without adding another band to the mix), I decided so long as it doesn't conflict with other priorities in my schedule, I would stay with the band.
I’ve never been asked to market or book any shows for this band. I just get to show up and play (though there are usually a few rehearsals beforehand too).
Key lesson: You might be “forced” into bands you never knew you would be playing in. At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping a positive attitude. It can still turn out to be a profitable venture if the band leader has their head screwed on right.
Band Leader #4 – Thought-Provoking Singer-Songwriter
This is someone I’ve known since the early days of my music career, probably since about 2005.
Though our paths had crossed several times through the years, we didn’t end up collaborating until recent years.
In 2015, I was brought on as a tech host for one of his community projects revolving around the exploration of truth.
Soon after, we joined forces with a local event organizer, and again I was brought on as a collective member to help with listening rooms. I got to perform at some of these listening rooms too.
Then, I was also asked to play guitar at his CD release concert.
This relationship continues to this day, and as you can see, it has led to more than just gigs.
Key lesson: Keep growing as an individual. I would have never connected with this band leader on the level I did if I hadn’t put significant effort into my personal development. If I didn’t work on my technical abilities as well as my people skills and attitude, I’m sure I would not be working with him today and would not have the opportunities I now have.
Tweak Your Website & Make It Booking Ready So You Get Booked On Auto Pilot
I don’t want to make assumptions, but there’s a good chance your website isn’t helping you get any bookings. I’ve looked at enough artist websites to know this is probably the case for you too.
So, let me help. Here’s what you should be doing to generate more gigs from your website:
#1 – Make It Easy For People To Contact You
I suggest adding your contact information to the bottom of your bio. You should also have a contact page. Heck, you could even have your contact information on every page of your site (such as in the footer or sidebar), just in case.
Here’s why – if event organizers, venue owners, or booking people come to your site and get excited after reading your bio, watching a video, or listening to your music, you shouldn’t put another step between them and booking you. Get them while they’re hot! You’re leaving opportunity on the table if you aren’t capturing your visitors early.
#2 – Ensure Your Show Dates Are Up-To-Date
Most artists and bands promote their upcoming show dates on their website. You get a passing grade if your show listings are up-to-date, but that’s not all you could be doing.
I’d recommend creating an archive of all your old shows too. That way, people can see where you’ve played, and that can give you a bit of a credibility boost – especially if you’ve played in a lot of venues. This shows you’ve got a bit of a track record.
#3 – Publish Your EPK On Your Website Or Use Your Website As Your EPK
As much as people complained about MySpace back in the day, it made the job of booking artists easy.
All venue owners had to do was go to your page, hit “play” to listen to your music, see your upcoming show dates, learn who you were influenced by, and so on.
So, you should make it easy for organizers to access all the basic information they require to book you right on your website.
Here are the basic elements you’ll require for your press kit:
- Video footage of your band performing, preferably at a nice-looking venue that’s well-attended.
- Two or three of your best demos.
- Professional, high-quality photos at 300dpi.
- Your two- to three-paragraph bio featuring press clippings, quotes, and tour dates.
- Your contact information – URLs to your website and social profiles, email address, phone number, mailing address, and backline requirements.
#4 – Add A Call To Action To Your Website
What do you want people to do once they land on your website?
If you’re serious about getting more gigs, then there should be an obvious button encouraging people to book you. Yes, it can be as simple as a “Book Us” button in the upper right-hand corner of your menu bar. Just make sure it stands out.
You can use the same call to action everywhere – on your business cards, in your emails, on your social profiles, and more. This makes it clear, to everyone, what your primary goal is. You want to get booked as often as possible!
No, this might not mean much until you’re driving a lot of traffic to your website, but trust me, most people aren’t going to dig deep into your website to try to figure out what you’re about. Just tell them!
#5 – Drive Traffic To Your Site & Impress Your Visitors
With the above steps complete, the only thing left to do is drive traffic to your site and impress your visitors.
The easiest way to impress people is with a killer video – if you aren’t sure what to do, try watching a few Pomplamoose, Jack Conte, Walk Off The Earth, or OK Go videos. How could anyone resist such compelling videos?
Once you’ve put together your video, decide where you’re going to drive the traffic to – preferably, your homepage or landing page (not your YouTube channel). Again, there should be a clear “book us” call to action under the video.
You can even put traffic generation on autopilot using Facebook ads. But I wouldn’t suggest paying for ads unless you have a bit of a budget for it.
Hire A Booking Agent To Get Gigs For You
The final, and most obvious way to get gigs without booking them yourself is to hire a booking agent.
A good booking agent can be hard to find. Plus, you must be at a point in your career where you necessitate an agent. That’s usually at the point when you have more work than you can realistically handle by yourself, not when you start getting frustrated with the booking process.
Every musician, at some point, becomes disillusioned with booking their own shows. It feels like a grind, and it’s hard to be taken seriously by venue owners and event organizers.
But until you’re established, you don’t have much choice. Just about anybody who’s anybody in music had to endure this process. So, don’t give up on your passion!
As Liam Duncan shared in this guide on booking agents, you should have a whip-tight show before seeking out the help of an agent. It also helps if you have a manager, you’ve figured out your branding, you have a good track record, and you have a bit of a draw.
How To Get Gigs Without Booking Them Yourself, Final Thoughts
Though it depends entirely on how many gigs you want to play, what types of gigs you want to play, and how much money you want to make, it is possible to put booking on autopilot. Just recognize you will likely need to put forth some time, effort, and/or money to get the ball rolling. You may even need to spend some money on an ongoing basis depending on your strategy.
You can’t tell other people what to do, especially if you’re dependent on your band leader to book shows, but you can make suggestions if you come across worthwhile gigs or venues that would be willing to book you for a fair price.