As a performer, booking your own shows can be a daunting task. It’s rarely easy, and it’s almost always time-consuming. For every 100 inquiries you make, you could get 99 rejections, but that one gig that you do land can make all the difference in the world. While that gig is unlikely to skyrocket your career, it’s a critical step in building your business as a professional performer.
For this article, I’m using musicians as the type of performer looking for shows, but the tips I’m sharing are relevant for a variety of performers. If you’re looking for audiences to perform to, then these tips should help you. To get started, I want you to start thinking strategically. As a performer who needs to make money, you’re selling yourself as a product, so it makes sense to think of yourself as a business.
With that in mind, learn as much as you can about business – from marketing and sales to finance and operations. You should even learn about managing teams and personnel, because as your brand and “business” grow through more gigs and opportunities, you’ll need to hire staff to help you.
Think of some of the most successful musicians and the stories of how they’ve lost their fortunes because attorneys, producers, and managers took advantage of their lack of knowledge of business and the industry. Do your homework now and learn as much as you can, so you’re always in control of your success and your growing business empire.
All of the decisions you make today and all of the steps you take to build the career, brand, and business you want should be in support of your long-term goals. That means you might have to play shows for free to build awareness of your brand. You might need to open for better-known performers, and you’ll definitely have to work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It’s a very rare thing for a musician to be discovered without putting any effort into being noticed and taken seriously first. Get ready to work!
8 Steps for Performers to Book Their Own Shows
Now that you’ve started to think strategically about the business of music and performing, it’s time to find some gigs. The eight steps discussed below will help you find and book your own shows, but as you read these tips, always keep in mind that your success is entirely up to you and how hard you’re willing to work. No one is going to hand success to you, so you need to be relentless in your pursuit of it.
1. Do Your Research
Start by identifying where you can play your music. Search the internet, read local music and entertainment publications, and ask people where they go to listen to live music in your area. Be methodical and create a spreadsheet with venue names and website URLs.
Look up every venue online, visit their websites and social media profiles, and get to know the types of customers they have and the types of music they typically offer. It’s important that you narrow your list down to venues and events that you’re a good match for or you’ll waste a lot of time pitching yourself to the wrong venues. Hang onto this spreadsheet because you’ll be using it a lot as explained in Steps 5 and 6 below.
2. Build Your Brand
As you’re doing your research, you should also be working to build your personal brand. What do you promise to your audience? How are you different from other performers? What is your unique value proposition? Your brand isn’t just your name or a logo that people will come to recognize over time. It’s also a promise that emotionally connects them to you. As they become aware of your brand and recognize it, they’ll develop expectations for it based on their experiences with it. You need to consistently meet those expectations!
Fortunately, you can start building your brand by creating a website, profiles on popular music sites, and profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You should also create a YouTube channel immediately (if you don’t already have one) and start publishing videos of you performing at gigs, practices, and so on. The goal is to surround people with a variety of ways to engage with you, your music, and your brand, and the social web is a perfect (and affordable) place to do it!
3. Create Some Proof
Next, you need to create proof that you’re good and can fill a venue. Remember, venues want to hire musicians that can fill the room because that’s how they’ll make money. If they have a choice between an established performer who they know can sell out the venue and you – a new performer with no track record – who do you think they’ll choose? It would be a bad business decision to risk hiring a new performer when they know they can generate revenue with the established performer. However, for new artists, the challenge comes in booking gigs to build a reputation when you have no track record to land those gigs.
The good news is that you can leverage the social web to create proof. By building your social media following, you can show booking managers and venues that you have enough fans to fill the room. You can show them your videos so they can see what your shows are like, and you can tell them about all of the ways that you’ll promote the show to pack the house. Read Step 7 below to learn more about promotion.
Networking is one of the most important things you can do to book your own shows. If networking isn’t your thing, you need to push yourself to get out there and do it anyway. There simply is no better way to get to know the right people in the industry and build relationships that lead to shows.
In-person networking is essential, so go to venues and events, watch other performers, and talk to the performers and the venue staff. Every conversation could lead to an opportunity, but don’t immediately try to sell yourself. Your goal in networking should be to learn about other people’s needs and look for ways that you can help them by performing.
You should also network online by joining social media groups, online forums, and so on. Share, engage, and connect with other members. Ask questions, tap into other people’s experiences and expertise, and see where it leads. Referrals are one of the best ways to land gigs, but it will never happen if you’re not networking!
5. Build Your List
As you research different venues and events (as discussed in #1 above), add more information to your spreadsheet including:
- Phone numbers
- Booking managers’ names
- Email addresses
- The venue size
- The location
- The type of music they typically offer
- The type of audience they cater to
If you can’t find this information online, call the venue and ask. Keep this spreadsheet updated so you always have a list of potential places where you can perform.
6. Be a Salesperson
Using your list, start calling and asking to speak with the booking managers to pitch yourself. If a booking manager doesn’t respond to you, keep trying. Call and email, and when you email, be sure to include links to your website and YouTube channel. Mention how many followers you have online and include a link to your promotional plan (see #7) so they can see everything you’ll do to get people to come to your show.
Follow-up is the key to success, so be relentless and persistent until you hear a solid, “No.” Do a Google search for sales and negotiation techniques, and learn some of the tricks that professional salespeople use to entice prospects and close sales. You’re selling yourself as the product, so you should learn how to sell before you try to sell.
7. Promote Yourself
As mentioned earlier, you need to prove to booking managers and venues that you’ll do what it takes to fill the room with people. Therefore, it’s a good idea to put together a sample marketing plan to show them all of the steps you’ll take to spread the word. Put all of this information into a PDF file and upload it to your website so you can quickly share the link. When you visit venues to discuss performing, bring a copy of your marketing plan with you to leave with the booking manager.
Your marketing plan should include descriptions of specific things that you’ll do to promote your show. For example, explain how often you’ll promote the show on your social media profiles and how large your reach is on those profiles (i.e., how many followers you have). If you’re willing to give away free CDs or merchandise as an incentive to get people to come to your show, include that information, too.
If you have a list of email addresses from people who have opted in to hear from you about your music and events, you can include email marketing in your marketing plan. Printing, handing out, and posting flyers in the area of the venue is another way you can show the booking manager that you’re willing to invest in guerrilla marketing to ensure you draw a crowd.
When you visit venues to pitch yourself, you should also bring a media kit to leave with booking managers that explains who you are, what you do, how big your following is, and where to learn more about you. Include the URLs for your website, YouTube channel, and social media profiles in your media kit. Of course, you should also include a list of previous venues you’ve played at, awards or competitions you’ve won, press and publicity you’ve earned, reviews, and anything else that adds to your credentials and abilities. Make sure your media kit is available as a PDF on your website, too.
8. Don’t Give Up
Remember, the key to booking your own shows is to do your research and be persistent. Calling one or two venues once isn’t enough. No venue is looking for you. Instead, you need to look for them and prove that you’re the solution to their problem, which is to fill their venue with people who will buy tickets, food, and drinks.
With that in mind, make sure your online presence accurately reflects the brand you want to sell (a poorly designed website and media kit won’t be good enough) and devote a minimum of a half day every week to finding places to perform and pitching yourself. Be a great salesperson and promoter and show the venue how you can make them money.
Your Next Steps to Book Your Own Shows
The steps above can help you book your own shows, but there is one more thing you need to keep in mind if you’re going to find success. You need to be professional, reliable, and polite. Even if you can land a first gig at a venue, if you show up late, act like an entitled rock star, and are rude or unfriendly to the staff and customers, you’ll never be asked to perform at that venue or for that booking manager again.
Word travels fast in this industry, and your reputation can make or break your career. Even if you’re playing at an event that you’re not particularly happy about, remember that it’s a step in getting you to a position where you can land the gigs that will make you happy. To that end, be professional, be present, and be the type of performer that people are happy to pay to see.
If you need help with online ticket selling or marketing for your shows and events, call AttendStar at 615-823-1164 or fill out the contact form to get started. And if you want event and performer promotion tips and marketing strategies that help you sell more tickets delivered directly to your email inbox, follow the link and subscribe to the AttendStar newsletter.