How to find paying gigs!

Heya there!

People are often surprised when they find out I perform gigs to make my living. For many musicians gigs are the main source of income as the pay can be pretty decent and it’s fun. Generally speaking there’s a lot of work available if you work hard to find gigs. Once you have the gig it’s up to you to do the right things to keep getting booked in by that venue. Finding gigs can seem like a daunting task, though. You may feel like a door-to-door vacuum salesman. This isn’t a natural feeling for many of us, after all, we are musicians! I’ll walk you through the method that I have used to be booked up to play 5-10 shows a week. This is a guide based on what’s worked for me and so apologies for assuming any lack of knowledge on your part, I just wanna build this from the ground up, properly!

One thing to keep in mind is that live music has value! Not just intrinsically (that feel-good fist-pumpy feeling). Yes, everyone loves and cherishes music but I’m talking dollar bills. If a venue hires a musician who has taken time to perfect his or her craft (learned good songs, doesn’t take long pauses between songs, takes short breaks, engages the crowd when appropriate, can sing and play well…that sorta stuff) then customers are more likely to stay longer, call their friends to join them, and consume more. By doing this consistently the venue can create a buzz and become known as a great place to check out the local talent, or at minimum they can sell more food and drinks. You should never feel as if you are being done a favour by being hired to play live music. It is a service! Showing gratitude towards venues that hire you is still important and you do this with thanks, being an easy person to deal with, and by working hard for them. Still though, don’t consider being hired to play “a favour”. You took years to learn your craft, you bought equipment, and you took the time to offer your services. You’re a pro. You deserve to be here and to be paid for working hard and being good at what you do. PERIOD.

Now with that in mind, the most effective way that I have managed to book my gigs has been by visiting venues in person. I recommend having business cards (Vista print all the way baby-cheap, great designs, delivered to your door) and a website which should of course be shown on your biz cards. WordPress.com has free websites available. There are also other very user friendly web building sites such as wix.com and bandzoogle.com. Some of these will cost a bit of money but it is well worth it at about $100.00/year (for hosting and use of great web building platforms). I’ll have a helpful guide on making a website coming along shortly. With these two things in your arsenal you’re ready to enter venues to try to find paying work.

The best time of day to enter a bar for a gig pitch depends on the venue. You get better at judging it over time, but generally you’re going to want to go in for a chat with venues on their off-peak hours. Don’t bother them when they are busy, don’t be “that guy/girl”. They don’t have time for you then and you won’t get the chance you need to make what I’m sure is an awesome killer pitch for your awesome killer performance. Now assuming you’re at a venue and it’s off-peak hours, and you have biz cards and a cool website with info and photos, and vids of you playing, and maybe a calendar showing your upcoming shows… then what? The person to talk to is the bartender! (I like the bartender (Ooh, if you’re lookin’ for me) I’m at the bar with her (Uh huh, okay)….sorry Tpain fans (do they still exist?), but moving right along lol).

Ask the bartender if there is a manager in at the moment that you could speak with about live music. Often the person behind the bar is the manager so perfect, otherwise the bartender will go and get that person for you or take your contact deets in their absence. A great tactic for starting your pitch is to ask the manager: “Do you offer live music to your guests?”. First off it sounds more professional. I’m also making it about them, which changes the playing field mentally. I prefer this then to flat out say “I’m looking for gigs”. It frames “offering live music to guests” as a thing of value. “Guests would enjoy if we offered that” the manager might think to him or herself. This can have the effect of making a venue feel like they should be offering live music. Also, this opening line is not pushy at all, which makes a good first impression. The venue will either;

  1. not be interested in any way, shape, or form in having live music,
  2. does offer guests live music,
  3. has been thinking about doing live music.

Unfortunately with option one there’s not much you can do except for maybe leaving a card in case anything changes. Option 2 is what you really want to hear. Your real pitch can begin. Mine usually sounds something like this:

“I’m a performer looking for new venues to perform in. What would I need to do to have a chance to come in and play for you guys?”

It’s simple and to the point. I won’t walk you through every word because I’m sure you can handle chatting with the manager. Keep in mind that you will want to know what to tell them when they ask “what kind of stuff do you do?“. Another thing for your consideration is if you have a following or not. You can always mention your local following which may sway the venues decision in your favour. I never reference this though. I play 5-9 shows a week on average currently. I can’t expect my friends or family to have that level of commitment at this point, mayyyybe in the beginning but not even really for me. Also, being from Toronto, which is massive in size, means I travelled all over to play, sometimes going as far as one or two hours drive away. I don’t have pull in those areas as I’m not local so I’m very upfront if I’m asked about “bringing a crowd with me”. That’s not the service I offer. I bring myself and my music and a great time for guests and staff. Trying to sell more than that may complicate your life beyond what you should, especially in the beginning. That’s my two cents, just know I have your interest at heart and that I’m trying to reduce your learning curve!

If the venue seems interested but unsure then you can suggest that they give it a try. Offer your services as a one off paid performance with the possibility of booking more shows if their guests and staff team enjoy the experience. There’s little risk in giving you a try, especially if they know you sound good from being able to hear you on your website. What have they got to lose?

After having this chat with a couple of venues you will learn to know what to expect,  what to say, and what not to say. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Experience is the best teacher so get out there! When I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to be with my girlfriend (fiancé now WOO!) I had no gigs booked and I knew no one. I had £800.00 to my name and HAD to make it work so I hustled my ass off. I had business cards made with my UK phone number and my website on it and I went door-to-door for two weeks straight. It was my full-time job to find work. If you’re serious about playing shows then act like a stranger in your city. Chose a place in town to start and walk/drive through every street stopping in every bar, club, restaurant, or venue. It took me two long weeks of walking all day but I managed to book enough gigs to pay all my bills and save money too. When you think about it, two weeks, it’s not that bad. Decide you will find gigs and make it happen.

When you’re chatting with someone about live music in a prospective venue you can always ask if there are any venues nearby that offer live music. Even if the place isn’t interested in hiring you they are usually very open to helping however they can. Some venues use booking agents and visiting many venues is a great way to find out who the music bookers are, wherever you are located. You can always try and google bars in your town, add them to Facebook and chat to them through there. Phoning in is another option but it’s less personal. I just think being face-to-face is the most effective.

So that’s it for now, it may seem like a lot but the good news is if you have music equipment, biz cards, and a website you can start doing this TODAY! Otherwise you can start setting these goals and working towards getting there. But know this, it isn’t this big impossible thing. You CAN do it! The last piece of advice I want to leave you with for now is to log everything. After every meeting, phone call, whatever, LOG IT. After speaking with someone I would jot down the:

  • Venue name
  • Who I spoke with
  • Brief summary of what was said

If you have any questions I’m here to help you, as always! Click the “Contact” tab and get in touch! I’m out for now, it’s my day off today and it’s a gorgeous spring day in Edinburgh. I’m going to hang with my lovely lady! 🙂

…if I could only get that Tpain song out of my head! Me and my pop culture references. HAHA Peace!

Your stage awaits!

mash house

5 comments

  1. Well written again =)

    I actually think you had some useful tips and I like your style, you even hang a lantern on it for those that know already which shows respect for your readers =P

  2. Good advices and well written piece. I’m a singer-songwriter too and I can appreciate these recommendations. I have a question for you: How does your setlist usually look like? do you do cover only or you juggle them with originals, if so, what’s the ratio?

    1. Excellent question JT! Stay tuned, in the next day or two I’ll post a new boo answering these questions! Thanks for visiting and reading the blog 🙂

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