Live Performance is the most effective way to build an engaged fan base as a musician. When you’re independent, it can be a great way to make money as well. The problem is, most musicians have no idea how to get booked for shows. This post will teach you how to book live shows, no matter what stage of your career you’re in.
The Beginning: Open Mics and Artist Showcases
There are two reasons to go out and perform live. 1.) To build a fan base, and 2.) To make money. When you’re starting from zero (no fans, no buzzing songs and no track record), building a fan base is your first and only priority. You’ll be taking gigs with that in mind. Because you don’t have a proven track record yet, the majority of your opportunities will come in the form of open mics and artist showcases. These performances will give you experience performing live and help you build your initial fan base.
Though these performances won’t be glamorous, you want to be sure to take them seriously, as they provide genuine opportunity for growth. When you perform at open mics or during amateur night at a bar or coffee shop, you’re dealing with an audience that didn’t come to see you. If you can grab their attention away from their food, friends or dates, that means you’re really onto something.
Each performance should be seen like a notch on your resume. You’ll play to bigger and bigger crowds, winning more people over with each showcase. With the right people in attendance, you can build quite the local buzz in a short amount of time.
The key to graduating from this level is building your fan list. Bring a sheet of paper or an iPad to collect people’s names and e-mail addresses. Announce your e-mail list in the middle of your set and give fans an incentive to join the list. Make notes of which cities and venues your fans are coming from. Have a friend take photos of your performances, as well as the size of the crowds you perform in front of. These assets will be the key to showing gatekeepers at the next level that you’re worth the booking fee.
Mid-Level: Pitching Your Own Shows to Promoters
The key to getting booked as a live performer is your draw — the amount of people you can guarantee will come to see you perform in a given market. This is the most important stat for talent buyers, booking agents and venue owners. The more people you can bring in, the more money you earn for the establishment. That makes you a winner in their eyes. Research venues in your area (or in other areas if that’s your goal). Keep an eye on their maximum capacity, as that will determine how many fans you’ll need to draw. A good number to aim for is 70% to guarantee you’ll be taken seriously.
Once you’ve found the venues you want to target (and you’re sure you have enough fans), it’s time to pitch the gatekeepers. I’ve covered the art of e-mail pitching in a previous post, but here’s a quick summary. You’ll reach out in an e-mail to the booking address listed on the venue website. Be sure to include:
- Your Name
- Your Band’s Name
- Bands/Artists Similar to Yours
- Your estimated draw
- A few dates you’re looking to play
- A link to your website, press kit and social media (proof that you’re as popular as you say you are).
If you don’t feel you can draw enough people to a venue just yet, reach out to another band in your area. Combined, the two of you can draw a great crowd and you’ll benefit from being exposed to each other’s fan bases. Pitching the promoter with your full show lineup makes their job easy and makes it even more likely that you’ll be booked.
The Pinnacle: Hiring a Booking Agent
Once you become a household name (or touring becomes a major part of your career’s livelihood), you will want to consider hiring a booking agent. The booking agent’s job is to do everything you’ve been doing in stage two, but on a much larger scale. A good agent already has the relationships with the people who matter, so they spend less time researching and more time actually doing the work. In exchange for their work to book the shows, booking agents typically receive a commission between 10 & 15% of gross earnings from the shows. That fee is more than worth it to keep you on the road and well paid for your time.
No matter what stage your career is in, learning how to book live shows will help you take it further. The live show is the quickest way to win over skeptics and find new fans. Many artists fund their whole lifestyles just from tour bookings and merchandise revenue. This could be your story too, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
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