How to play gigs for agencies/booking agents. Tips and tricks to get yourself on the roster and be in demand.

This article is designed to educate you (and give you tips) about how to perform gigs for booking agencies. I’ll talk about the Pros and Cons and give you an overview of my experiences in this world. Hopefully there is a lot you will be able to take out of this article and apply to your own lives. Playing for agencies can be great but I want you to understand it and know what you’re getting into.

Some PROS and CONS about using a booking agency.

PROS:

  1. You get to work in venues you may not typically have access to perform in
  2. Agencies book all kinds of venues and events. You can be working on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. You may have mid day or early afternoon work. I often can squeeze in an extra gig after these shows
  3. You work in great venues, sometimes in a suit. This is great for being taken professionally. It goes a long way if a client is thinking of hiring you to perform their wedding and you invite them to see you play in a ritzy venue where you’re all dressed up
  4. You can fill in some holes in your schedule where you didn’t manage to book anything
  5. You are the backup for a long list of performers and there are tons of instances where artists have to cancel or can’t perform for whatever reason (obviously, try to limit cancelling if you’ve agreed to perform a gig). It’s nice to get calls to cover for other people, especially last minute!
  6. You can hand out business cards to high end clients (See point 2 in cons).
  7. You are building relationships and increasing you network
  8. Access to great new opportunities such as performing on cruise ships, hotels, casinos, and resorts (domestic or abroad)
  9. You learn tons of stuff and your game will get better. Playing in-demand venues and high end places teaches you next-level lessons in professionalism, reliability, and presentation. The devil is in the details and this will help you be a pro in all your other gigs. Great training for booking and playing corporate gigs and weddings of your own.

CONS:

  1. You usually make a lower rate of pay. That’s undeniable, but playing early on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday makes up for that I think.
  2. You can’t always hand out business cards (I know this contradicts point 6 in Pros, some agencies stipulate this, use your judgement. There are some instances where it’s possible, be smart about it).
  3. Red tape. You have to send in invoices and wait a week or two for your pay. You often have to pay for parking. It’s not as simple as finding a gig on your own, playing it, and getting paid.
  4. Your music can be in the background. People may not clap and cheer you on. Thats just the way it is. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The ball is in your court as the musician but generally we shouldn’t interact with guests until approached. These gigs really aren’t about us and being offended by someone not caring about the music is super redundant and unnecessary. It accomplishes nothing. Your job is to sound great, look great, and not extend yourself too much into the guests’ evening. This brings me to my next point,
  5. It’s a job. We all love music and it sucks to think of it “as a job”. But it’s so much better than actually having to go work a “job” that you hate, that has nothing to do with music. Try to take away the good side of things and you’ll have a good time and learn a TON of shit to REALLY make you a more valuable and sought after music entrepreneur.

Here are things you should have to increase your chances of working for agencies:

  1. A good reputation
  2. A good network of musicians
  3. A good attitude
  4. 3 X 45 minute sets of upbeat covers (You won’t always need that much but having tons of tunes in your repertoire is never a bad thing). It doesn’t all have to be party music but you can’t be a downer. Your music will often not be in the forefront but they still don’t want quiet minor chords with depressing lyrics. Think cocktail style (so jazz is great, old school RnB, well chosen top 40 covers from the last 5 years, easy listening basically. Instrumental works too often).
  5. A website
  6. Business Cards
  7. Good sounding gear for rooms that do not provide a PA
  8. Some promo really helps too, especially when there aren’t auditions being had
  9. The desire to grow, learn, and expand what you do, and how well you do it.

Below is my personal experience regarding this matter (There’s tons to takeaway from this to apply to your career). It’s about a 10 minute read but I think the benefits you will reap extend way beyond the time you’ll spend acquiring the information. Please enjoy! ūüôā

It is so rewarding to find gigs on your own. It really sharpens your tools as a businessperson and you learn a ton from getting out there and convincing venues to give you a chance to perform for them. You are your own boss so what you get out of it relates directly to how hard you hustle to find the gigs, and how pro you are to keep the gigs re-occuring. That being said there are some really great music venues that deal exclusively with music booking agencies. The door closes pretty quick in these places when you try to book a gig directly with the venue.

It’s great to hustle and book your schedule with as many gigs as possible. Never stop that. That being said, when you become a trusted member of the roster of a booking agent/agency the work comes to you. Instead of chasing venues you receive calls and emails to perform regularly in some pretty great venues. I’m going to talk a bit about what it is like to play for booking agencies and give some tips that should help you become a member of a booking agency in your area.Thanks for checking out my list of pros and cons…now it’s story time.

What is it like to play for a booking agent/agency? What to expect…

The first agent I ever played for was an independent booking agent and he was pretty sleazy. He used to pay me and a buddy $200.00 as a duo (The venue paid out $300.00) and would pocket $100.00 to himself. That is pretty shady. I mean, I get that it’s a free market and all, but there’s a reason why this guy got fired from booking that venue when the manager caught wind of the extortionately low rates he was paying the musicians to play there. I want to issue a word of caution to you all, stay vigilant and don’t let yourself be underpaid because people will start to expect that you’ll work for very little. On the flip-side, I was pretty new to the biz back then, and I had a bunch of openings in my schedule so I would take the $100.00 rate to play for 4 hours (yikes! “It” really does float :P). When playing for agencies you have to walk the line between being underpaid and receiving a fair pay for your services! I’ll also touch base on this further in this blog post.

So when did things get better?

Basically, I would accept bookings with the sleazy agent whenever I had a hole in my schedule. After all, $100.00 was better than nothing when I started out. I constantly hustled to find more work though as I knew I deserved better. One day I tried to book a gig in a venue that used a booking agent and so I asked for their contact info and got in touch. I also have friends in the business that worked for that person and I was introduced that way. As I was pretty new to the business I still had a pretty open schedule and I remember getting a call from this new agent one day and he offered me like 15 gigs over the next 2-3 months. I hung up the phone feeling like a champion. The gigs paid $125-150.00 which was an improvement for me at the time. I kept working hard and learning new things and I got better. Eventually I was booking more gigs for myself and did not require the agent as much. Outgrowing an agent is great thing!

Whether you have a connection to the agent or not, they’re always looking for new performers. You find them by networking with other musicians (Open mics, etc) and by looking for venues in which to perform (So a pub manager might say “Hey we actually book through an agent and here are their details, get in touch!”.

This is what the business is like. Don’t expect to get into this knowing how to handle playing the best steakhouse or most swanky cocktail bar in town. There’s baby steps you need to learn to attain the next level, and there definitely are many levels.

Fast forward to now

In Edinburgh I was a lone wolf. I used a couple booking agents here or there but generally I really learned to hustle and make it happen for myself there. Now that I’m back in Toronto there are a bunch of venues that were taken over by various booking agencies. You can’t play direct without an agent in these places anymore. By using my network of musicians I was able to play a gig as the duo partner of an artist booked in to perform at one of these venues. We did a great job and I sent in an email to the agency letting them know that I was the duo partner and that I would love to be considered to perform more gigs. I provided my website details and they looked into me and got back to me offering me some work. I also heard about another agency that books a ton of super high end gigs and so I wrote an email to them and managed to be booked in to play a room for them.

The way it works is like this: Some agencies require you to audition, so google “music booking services in” your area and get in touch to try and set up a rehearsal. Other agencies will give you a booking (if your promo checks out) and will use the feedback of the venue to determine if you are good enough to continue booking. This is pretty par for the course so go in there and be the complete image of what a pro is! Do whatever they need and do it with a smile. You want the best review possible and that comes from sounding good and being easy and great to work with. Provide the service they are paying for. Thats basically how you get your shoe in the door. Work with your musician network, find out who books what venues, get in touch and be friendly, try out/book a gig and crush it, await more gigs, and repeat.¬†

In the last month I’ve been driving into the city from my suburb to perform in a suit and tie up to 2-3 times a week. It feels great to be taken seriously and to be respected. The money can still be hit and miss. It’s never under $150.00 and often more, but it’s early and mid week work. The thing is that the more good work you do for the company the more valuable you are to them. You have the right to request more money if you feel you deserve it. It’s up to you to feel it out and request a higher pay and to deal with the agencies response however you see fit.

I hope this was all very helpful. I would love to hear from you for your candid input about this topic. Please¬†Comment below or on the Community Page”.¬†Also PLEASE¬†LIKE and SHARE¬†this article if you know people that might benefit from it. The better our network of musicians do, the better we do. Not only is there enough work to go around but by being great at what we do we are creating more jobs! Keep kicking ass, good luck!

Bradly

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‚Äôt a natural feeling for many of us, after all, we are musicians! I‚Äôll 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 things that have worked for me to find paying gigs.

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‚Äôm also making it about them, which changes the playing field mentally. I prefer this then to flat out say ‚ÄúI‚Äôm looking for gigs‚ÄĚ. It frames ‚Äúoffering live music to guests‚ÄĚ as a thing of value. ‚ÄúGuests would enjoy if we offered that‚ÄĚ 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 (fianc√© 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! ūüôā

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

For my article about finding paying gigs outside of the pub/restaurant scene, click here!

To be inspired by my Music Entrepreneur Video (a day in my life), click here!

Your stage awaits!

how to find gigs
Finding gigs is very doable – your stage awaits!

What is a Music Entrepreneur? Does it sound like “monkey business”?…lol, fair enough, let’s take a deeper look!

What is a Music Entrepreneur? Taking a deeper look into this “monkey business”!

My girlfriend at the time and mom thought I was crazy when I first quit my job at an insurance company to be a “full-time….musician?” (Yikes, right? What’s this dude going to be able to afford?)! They assumed that I was trying to be a rockstar and play stadiums rock shows. Maybe I didn’t communicate effectively to them that I had very modest and realistic goals. I didn’t properly explain to them that I had a game plan and that I had taken steps to make sure I’d be alright without my traditional job (that gave me security but little else).

The reason I knew I would be okay in my new endeavour as a music entrepreneur is because I:

  • Surrounded myself with people who in some way or another were making a living solely with music,
  • I started working as a musician and getting paid before I quit my full-time job. I¬†made sure I had bookings extending a month or two into the future as well as a bunch of guitar students to teach lessons to,
  • I was diversifying. This is super important, especially when starting out! This means doing a few different music related things to make a living.

If you have the skill to play and/or sing but have never considered being a music entrepreneur then you understandably may not know all the ways to make money with music. Hell, I’m still learning and I’ve been doing this for the better part of a decade. That’s the best thing about music, you are always learning. Every new lesson opens a bunch of new doors you never knew existed. It is true with your playing and it is true with your business skills. Here are a bunch of ways that you can turn your passion of music into a career (Thats RIGHT! A career! I know music entrepreneurs that own their own homes and have normal lives that they enjoy very much!);

  • Busking (Wherever able, check local laws concerning where and what regulations apply)
  • Playing live shows (Pubs, clubs, restaurants, hotels, etc)
  • Playing private parties (Birthdays, anniversary parties, special events, etc)
  • Playing weddings/having your own wedding band
  • Playing on cruise ships/overseas hotels or casinos
  • Teaching music lessons
  • Booking and/or promoting live music
  • Selling original music and merchandise
  • Licensing original music for film and television
  • Owning music industry assets such as your own music school, booking agency, recording, or production company
  • Scoring music for artists/bands in your area (or online…another business opportunity for starting a company!)
  • DJ-ing or hosting Karaoke/Open mic nights
  • Writing songs for artists, ringtones, etc
  • Recording local artists’ music
  • Doing session work (playing in studio or on someone else’s home recordings)
  • Gaining a following playing online (YouTube, Periscope, etc. Other business options become available here such as leveraging your influence for network marketing).
  • And more!

As you see, it isn’t all monkey business indeed! It is a lot of fun to play shows to make a living, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made! But you can see how I’ve had to consider a wide range of options available to me to make money. It literally is a business, not a loosy goosy way to rock out, do whatever you want, and answer to know one. You should take it seriously and not lightly.¬†When you are your own boss (as you will be as a music entrepreneur) then you have to have the discipline and business sense to cover your ass and line up enough work to succeed. I’m blunt about this because you need to know this going in! If you can’t take it seriously then there is still money to be made part-time (you’ll get what you put in) but¬†being a music entrepreneur requires more commitment to really reap the benefits of this life (This paragraph was brought to you by Captain Buzzkill)!

Real talk guys, it is a fun life. You do rock out, you do spend most of your time doing whatever you want, and you generally don’t answer to too many people. You answer to yourself though, and if you don’t approach this business properly then it will be you that you are letting down! It is all about positioning and it really isn’t that hard. It just isn’t¬†THAT obvious if you’ve never done it or haven’t got the time in OR¬†connections with the local music scene.

My next few blogs will expand upon the idea of positioning yourself for success in this business. That means doing stuff that will make it easy to shift your life towards a life as a pro musician. My tips and tricks will be designed to give you things you can start doing immediately to get you closer to your goal of being a successful music entrepreneur. Practicability and applicability are everything to me. My future content (which btw is coming very soon) will also give you insights as to what this life looks like. I’ll talk about the pros, the cons, how to overcome obstacles, and how to¬†kill it in this business. I’ll show you the life you are considering and give you the confidence to make your mind up for yourself…Is this “Monkey business” for you?

Be well!

Image courtesy of Ron Pereux, Dec 2012)

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It’s been a long time coming and I’m so pumped to be here at The Music Entrepreneur. A bit on what I’m doing here…

Are you an artist trapped in the life of a 9-to-5er? I’m here to help you to use your musical skills to break out and live the life you are dreaming of!

Hi there! Welcome to the Music Entrepreneur page. I’m beyond excited to get going with all of this so that I can help you achieve your goals of making money playing music…and maybe even quit that job you don’t like! So here we go!

I know that for many of you I am a total stranger at the moment, but that will soon change (I hope). This post is meant to be a very quick n dirty introduction to me as well as to let you know what to expect to find here in the coming days, months, and hopefully years.

My name is Bradly Cooper and I’m a full-time musician from Toronto. I drew kind of a crappy deal having the same name as a major Hollywood actor but I’m rolling with it! I’ve dabbled with¬†using the stage name Bradly Mitchell (my middle name) just so that I’d be able to rank on Google at some point BEFORE page 5,000… lol! I’m in the middle¬†of organizing a ton of exciting content that I will be uploading here as the days go by.

Question 1: “What kind of stuff should I expect to learn from you Brad”?¬†

Great question! (what an awkward self Q&A huh? :P) I will be imparting all of my knowledge about how to go from working a regular-ass traditional job to becoming a full-time musician. For anyone who is already playing music for money I want to give you other tips and tricks that I know will help you step your game up to the next level. I’ll cover things like:

  • How to find gigs
  • How to crush (and I mean absolutely SLAY your gigs and get paid tips while growing your social media)
  • How to find students to teach
  • How to start your own brand and market your music to generate sales (Through your own website or platforms such as iTunes).
  • What equipment you need
  • How to know when you’re ready to quit your job
  • and so much more!

Question 2: “Ok, fair enough. Who doesn’t want to quit their boring job? But why should I listen to you Brad”?

Another great question! I’m just some dude writing on the internet and I understand the cynicism that goes along with that. The reason you should lend me your ears is two-fold.

  1. First I care immensely about you succeeding. I love what I do but the next level for me is to help others achieve success with music too. I’m passionate about being the best musician I can be and helping others to do the same so that together we can improve the quality of live music in our cities around the World! The better we are as music entrepreneurs the more seriously musicians will be taken, and that bodes well for all of us!
  2. The other reason why I am able to help you grow as a music entrepreneur is that I’ve done it! I’ve done it myself not once but twice. As I mentioned, I’m from Toronto, Canada. In the summer of 2015 i already had a few years under my belt as a full-time musician and things were going great. I was playing a ton of gigs and private parties and teaching as many private students as I wanted to. When my girlfriend moved to Edinburgh, Scotland (what a class city) to complete her masters’ degree (sugar momma!!!) I followed her and thought “I can do music over there full-time to support us”. I didn’t know 100% that it would work as there were a lot of question marks. But I believed in myself and knew I’d give it 100%.

This is me, arriving in Glasgow (another class city, I love Scotland!) on August 18, 2015, struggling to carry all of my music equipment and ready to make a name for myself!TME002

I used a lot of my old tricks to find work in Edinburgh however I could not count on the network of musicians in my inner circle that I had fostered back home in Toronto. I was a lone wolf! I had no musician friends to have my back and help me so I had to learn a ton of new stuff to find success.

The #1 thing I learned is that you have to treat it as if it’s¬†Do or Die! I¬†HAD to act fast. I¬†HAD¬†to fight hard and desperate. I learned that as an outsider I had to make myself known. I¬†went door-to-door to every pub, club, and restaurant I would find until FINALLLYYYYY somebody gave me a chance and I had my first gig booked in at the Black Bull in the Grassmarket, in Edinburgh. The rest is history really. At this point I play 6-9 shows per week and don’t even teach anymore as I grew kinda tired of that (always an option to go back to though!).¬†By¬†acting like a stranger in your own city you will have the right mindset to get out there and make things happen for yourself! Growing a network of music friends is a must too but firstl you gotta have that hunger and desire to make it on your own! When you have your own gigs you get treated seriously.

So there I go, rambling when I said it’d be quick n dirty (I don’t know why I like that expression so much?) but in reality I’m too excited to get started with helping¬†you kick ass in this business and get you on the path to living your true life! There’s so much more coming very shortly.

Are you an artist trapped in the life of a 9-to-5er?

P.S. just for fun, here’s a video I put together when I first moved to Scotland! Be well!