5 Ways to Expand Your Gig Horizons (and Make More Money!)

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Build your audience and get paid more every time you play a gig.

If you’re like most artists, your live gigs are your bread and butter.

Unfortunately, many musicians get stuck in a rut, playing the same clubs over and over again to dwindling audiences. The local circuit may be a crucial part of your concert calendar, but it’s time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to your booking strategy.

Want to earn more money each and every time you unload the van? Here are some suggestions:

Play corporate events

Not all corporate gigs have to resemble the air-base scene from Spinal Tap. Plenty of companies are looking to boost their “cred” within the community. They allow their younger employees to choose music for their events, functions, and parties. Musicians are usually treated well, fed well, and paid well at corporate gigs.

Who to contact: Most larger corporations will have designated event planners. You might have to do a bit of cold calling and internet research to find out who these people are and how they like to receive promotional material/press kits.

Weddings anyone?

If you’re the type of band that has a large and diverse repertoire of songs, you might be overlooking a real cash cow—weddings. But even if you’re not into playing Sinatra tunes and the “Electric Slide,” there are thousands of folks every summer who are looking to throw the most unique wedding ever. Metal bands? Barbershop quartets? Avant-Garde feedback manipulators? I’ve seen them all at weddings. Your act could be next.

Who to contact:  Check out a book by Anne Roos entitled The Musician’s Guide to Brides, a great resource to get you started. Ask friends and acquaintances who are getting married if they’d like you to play at their wedding. Once you’ve played a few weddings and figured out if it works for you (and the audience), you can attend local Bridal conventions, place ads with links in bridal magazines, and get the word out to anyone else in the industry (DJs, wedding planners, caterers, other bands, clergy, florists, banquet halls, etc.)

Book some college shows while on tour

Similar to corporate events, these gigs generally don’t offer you the full glory of smoke machines and light shows, but they can pay well, and you’re generally treated like a professional. Intersperse these kinds of shows throughout a tour of higher-profile (but oftentimes lower-paying) club gigs. Whether you’re playing a lunchtime gig at the student union, a Saturday night frat party, or an evening in the campus bar, the $500-$3000 you can earn here will go a long way for your band morale on those long stretches from town to town.

Who to contact: It depends. If you’re routing a tour and you know a specific region in which a college gig would be ideal, you might want to get in touch with each school’s campus activities director (info should be on the school’s website). Speak with them about what kinds of opportunities are available and how they like to receive music and press kits. If you’re intending to do a more widespread campaign, you may benefit from attending conferences held by campus activities associations like NACA.

Touring Guide 1

Meeting people is easy

Like most things, the music business thrives on interpersonal connections. It all comes down to who you know. Build strong relationships with the popular artists in your town. Without overselling or coming across as a social climber, demonstrate to the more popular artists how YOU can benefit THEM as an opening act. Once given the opportunity, prove it! Bring all your fans out to the show and perform like your life depends on. Soon, all the popular local bands will want you opening for them.

Where should I start? Simple is best. Go to a show! If you like the music, introduce yourself. Also, be on the lookout for industry mixers held by local record labels, music stores, distributors, publicists, recording studios, licensing agencies, etc. These are great opportunities to meet people without all the post-performance sweat and nerves.

Ask plenty of questions

Talk to the club bookers in town and ask them what they see other successful bands doing. What is working? What is NOT working? How are they consistently drawing a crowd? What kinds of bills seem to make the most money? Don’t pretend you have all the answers. There is a certain mature assuredness in asking questions. The booker might just take this as a sign that you’re serious about your music and give you a show.

ARTIST ADVICE:Start by announcing that you’ll play house shows on your website and explain what is expected of the host. Take the guesswork out of the booking process and be approachable. Then, once you have a few shows under your belt, fans will see house show dates on your calendar, see pictures of the events on other fans social networking sites, and they will be more comfortable approaching you to book a show. Once we changed people’s perception of the kinds of shows we’d play, we started getting approached for more types of gigs.” – Cameron Mizell

ARTIST ADVICE:Don’t believe all the crazy bridezilla hype that TV shows would like you to believe. Weddings are very lucrative, viable gigs, and you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money touring and trying to make a name for yourself. There are many musicians out there quietly making a living playing weddings.” – Anne Roos

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  • dofunny

    What about artist that don't do club type music. What tips do you have for us? Since you handle christian artist, maybe you have some tips for us as well.

    • In the Christian market there are always the festivals, churches, youth group meetings, Young Life camps, Bible colleges, prayer retreats (if your music fits), etc. Plus, you could rent a space or even a club for a night and advertise with local churches to come out. Same thing goes with a restaurant.

  • call me to gig please!
    craig Morrison http://www.roundtownsound.com
    215 906 5103

  • Richiestix

    I have done most of these gigs from time to time + some . But remember to keep it fresh with new stuff ,so many of us get stuck in a rut and don't rehearse new material.

  • Michael Crutcher

    Is there a market for blues/funk/soul bands in the wedding scene?

    • Absolutely. I've been to 3 or 4 weddings in the last 10 years where the band seemed to focus in on soul/funk stuff. And one of them had a bluesy edge to them.

      • We've gotten hired for some weddings and we do blues/Americana and lots of originals. Special request songs … ask beforehand and usually, because the bride really wants the song just like she remembers it, bring it on your iThing. Also comes in handy when well lubricated guests want songs that band doesn't know. Then everybody's happy!

  • Well I had a problem with the very first statement of this article. Simply because it's not true. Live gigs are difficult for most artists to live off of alone since for many smaller, lesser known acts – most gigs will not pay enough for you to make a decent living off of them. Though it's true that wedding and corporate gigs are far more lucrative, you've got to remember that they are in a different category than your more promotional gigs because you're providing more of a service to those clients than you are trying to sell CD's or T-shirts. And you may not have as much freedom to play the music that you want, because it this case, it's about what the client wants to hear – not about what you want to play.

    I don't mean to be critical of CD Baby, because you've done so much for the independent musician movement. But I sometimes feel like some of these articles are a little weak and aren't written for serious professional musicians – because there seems to be a disconnect between the imagined lives of musicians and the actual reality of many of our situations. The advice in this particular article just seems like it's aimed at more hobbyist musicians who want to be rock stars than it is towards people who are already in the field and trying to get a leg up on their careers.

    It just feels like this article is phoning it in a little bit. Sorry.

  • Blues Boy

    I really appreciate all this advice and a lot of sounds great. But I've spent twenty years as a blues musician but the gig opportunities for my genre of music seem to be dwindling rapidly. Cover bands are multiplying everywhere, young people don't even seem to know or appreciate blues music and club owners are only interested in how many people we can guarantee to bring in. Any advice for a blues musician who doesn't want to start singing Bruce Springsteen songs in order to book a gig (no disrespect to Bruce intended)?

    • I have a couple friends in blues bands and it seems like they've had to do 2 things: 1) accept the fact that most clubs won't be open to their genre, and 2) work extra hard to book themselves into the few remaining clubs that feature blues, and make their own little scene of it. Oh, and 3) when no venues are available, they've worked with bars and restaurants to do a kind of low-volume blues night, and those have ended up becoming more regular gigs.

      • Chairman Ralph

        I've also seen the proliferation of blues-themed events that combine an activity with the music — for instance, "blues cruises," particularly on the East Coast. Don't forget, one of Danny Gatton's first notable professional gigs was on a steamboat that plied up and down the Potomac! I'd look for venues doing the same thing — for instance, there's a hall in my neck of the woods (SW MI) that started doing "blues dinners" on Thursday nights, which have been reasonably successful. Local libraries are another option — contact them about doing some type of unplugged/country Delta gig, under the umbrella of an educational program…then you can strip down, and not have to worry about dragging around a bunch of amps and stacks. These are just some of the ideas that come to my brain, anyway.

  • Thanks Chris, as a start up development company, your advise and expertise is really helpful. I'll try and peek at more of your stuff!

  • Sixx Digit

    These "tips" always seem to strictly address bands. There are a few Hip Hop artists (let me stress FEW) that could use some advice too. Obviously noone is going to book me to rap at their wedding, nor would I want that type of gig, but getting out of town gigs is a HUGE problem for me. The "promoters" always want you to buy in (which is a scam no matter how you look at it,) or they want me to sell tickets which is impossible to do in a town where I have not been given the opportunity to become known. I have a large local following, but I am burnt out on the scene, and my fans must feel the same way. I am tour ready, complete merchandise and all but have hit a brick wall with getting booked elsewhere….. I would love to hear some opinions and advice on what I could do to get booked!

    • I'm going to pick the brains of a couple of our resident CD Baby-ers who are in the hip hop crew Sandpeople. They've toured a bunch and probably have some good advice to share. Will report back.

    • The Mootown Snacker

      I know a couple guys who have been in yr shoes. What they did, basically, was scour myspace and reverbnation for similar artists in their target cities and then go crazy with the networking. Do it like the old hardcore bands did — come play in our basement this weekend and we’ll come play in yours the next. That also means bypassing promoters and clubs at first and building up yr out-of-town presence slowly, fan-by-fan, grassroots-style. Hope this isn’t too obvious or non-applicable to yr situation.

  • Cynthia

    What is a house show on my website and how does it work?

  • Not many corporate events or weddings available to original material metal bands. And college gigs wouldn’t pay very well (if at all) outside of the US. Points 4 & 5 aren’t very useful unless you’re just starting out.

  • stanislav

    i'm dj i think in our country is a lot about how much mixs you put out.

  • I played in a jazz combo in my late-teens and early 20's (but kinda on the fusion-y side of things, since my jazz chops weren't up to snuff for standards and playing freely over changes). We did some gigs at small/community performing arts centers, schools, corporate lunches, college bars, and student unions. But I think if you can cover the more traditional stuff, you could get in on the wedding scene too. Not the late-night dance party part, but some light standards and slow dance tunes during the dinner.

  • Thanks, Johnny.

  • Connie

    THere is the old rule of thumb, find the people that would like your music. do you have something your write about that is different than others? Do the things you write about , regardless of style, have a meaning to a particular community? A case in point is a friend of mine who wrote songs and worked the folk circuit with some success but struggled with finding gigs. One of the things she loved was quilting and she decided a few years back that she would put together a cd of quilting songs, traditional and a few she had written herself. It was a success. She travels to quilting conventions, is paid to perform and her cds are found in quilting specialty stores. She is reaching a large appreciative audience, and doing what she loves. Connie

  • GuitarEffectsPedal

    With all respect you are talking from an American point of view. The scene is way different here in UK. It is such a small country that word travels quickly if a revered indie/rock band turn their talents to playing covers at function events, it would be regarded as total loss of credibility. The ‘corporate event’ mind-set is very narrow minded. A punk or rock band would NEVER be booked at a corporate event in the UK. Regarding weddings and so forth, it is a good idea for bands to learn lots of cover tunes BUT this approach kills all respect that you fans have for your original music, they see it as sell out. Sadly the UK audiences have very distinct rules when it comes to what is credible or not. Brits are renowned cynics unlike you Americans. I know you cannot write for every musician from every country but please understand that your advice does not apply to everywhere on this musical planet.

    • Claire

      Yep, I second that!

  • Nickyhoy

    On the Anne Roos comment, duh. Of COURSE you can make money playing wedding locally, as it has been going on since time began. But touring and playing weddings are about as diametrically opposed as Diet Coke and Glenlivet. You really shouldn't even be talking about them both in the same paragraph.

  • Johnny Pierre

    Good article Chris — thanks!

  • How think he meant "announce on your website that you'll be playing house shows."

  • ChristianBandHelp.com

    Christian artsists also need to make connections with their local Christian Bookstore. The clerks that handle the music department usually know what is going on in the local Christian music scene. They can be another resource to let you know who to contact to book your next gig!

  • In this struggling economy a lot of venues have dwindled away and for some reason music only venues have gone wayside so I’m playing a lot of restaurant/live music venues. Also the out of town gigs got hard to handle as gas prices climbed and pay guarantee’s started to drop.

    As a musician who is doing this for a living I had to get creative locally and needed get out of my comfort zone. Aside from beating myself to death trying to get gigs for my band, I decided to be a guitarist for hire, this has placed me in genres outside of the norm such as backing a Country Artist, a Blues/Jazz Singer and also connected with a Band that hires me for weddings and corporate gigs… needless to say this has filled up my calendar and as mentioned the money is usually 3 times more at a wedding or corporate gig then what I get paid at a restaurant/music venue. Also, it’s made me a better player by learning new music, chords, scale structures, etc. and that’s carried over into my own personal performances.

    I felt weird at first playing cheesy wedding gigs but I found comfort in bringing a Android Tablet with charts on it so when a song is called I just pull up the tab and away I go. Nobody knows who I am at these gigs and as you mentioned you get paid well, you’re in an environment where everybody is in a good mood, drink and eat well too. If you want to make money in this business you have to be creative, so few folks “make it” so if this is what you do for a living think outside the box and don’t be ashamed to take on those weddings or corporate gigs, at least you doing what you love to do… playing music!

  • Im in a jazz combo, not in a metroplex, was wondering if you have any tips for us

    • Wendi Maxwell

      I sing jazz.. A lot of how you market your music has to do with how much you want to play. My goal is 1-2 times a month, not weekly or nightly gigs. I could book lots more gigs if I went “smooth” or sang weddings, or turned into background music. But that’s really not my kind of music – not what I like; not what I want to play. Mostly we play places where we can collect the cover charge. We also do pretty well with playing local festivals. Our best gigs are at the local museum. The local gay pride center also loves us, so we get shows there a couple of times a year (Oscars, MardiGras, fundraisers). Actually we play a fair number of fundraisers – especially for classical music groups (chorale, chamber music). They appreciate the complexity of jazz and want something a little more light for their entertainment than the stuff they play themselves. I used to think we didn’t play enough, but when I started actually paying attention to other local groups’ schedules, I found we were performing quite a lot.

  • Kate Carpenter

    I am a family and children’s artist and I also do senior shows. My rule of thumb is to always double book a day if I possibly can. So if I am playing at a preschool in the morning, I try to book a senior gig in the afternoon. Everything adds up! I call the little gigs “gas gigs”. Anything to fill the tank, it all helps. You never know who is going to be in the audience at those senior gigs. I am always giving out my biz card, gathering email addresses and networking.

  • Anne

    Thank you for the mention, Chris! And I’ve done both–toured and played at weddings–sometimes at the same time (been paid well to travel outside of my local area to perform at weddings, and played concerts on the same trip). So, I think it’s okay to talk about touring and weddings in the same paragraph 🙂

  • mary g.

    Good ideas here Chris, thanks. I have a group of friends (of a certain age) that had a wedding band that played lots of goodtime music ~ Stones and Creedence and basically anything that they liked that came into their heads. They had a card they used to hand out that always gave people a smile…it was their wedding band name with, underneath, a tagline that shouted "SONGS OUR FATHERS HATED!"…they got loads of work 🙂

  • you can also get side gigs as a dj if you already have a good pa, apparently all you need is a laptop to access all genres of music

  • Hey Anne, sure thing. Thanks for sharing your advice!

  • Chairman Ralph

    As far as the overall drift of this article goes, nobody can write something that will cover ever single situation! Chris's piece is no exception. All you can do is filter his advice through your chosen genre or band, and see what works best for your situation.

    I doubt that a metalcore or punk band would get a shot at any corporate/wedding gigs here, either, unless they agreed to not play anything really disturbing…and what would be the point of that, exactly?

    That said, corporate/wedding gigs might pay a lot better, but I agree with Michele: they definitely belong in a different category. After all, the audiences aren't coming to these functions just to hear you play, unless you view these types of gigs as a way of subsidizing your own music. I know people who do exactly that, and it seems to work out OK for them — a means to an end, if you like.

    One reality, given the U.S.'s current horrible economic climate, is that people grow more risk aversive than usual — and that goes for venue owners and audiences. It's no accident that we're seeing so many big-name band reunions; people want to hear something they already know and love to get them through next week. That's why cover bands have an edge, like it or not — these things don't happen in a vacuum. With people spending so much time looking in the rearview mirror, it's even harder for new artists to flourish than in better economic times, when folks actually have money leftover to spend on things like entertainment.

    Surviving in such an environment takes uncommon persistence and creativity: as I've said before on this subject, you're probably better off creating your own gigs and/or events with like-minded folks, rather than begging the local watering hole to take a chance on something that they probably won't re-book again, anyway. I recently opened for an improv comedy group, of all things — not a mix that springs to mind right away, but definitely made for a more interesting experience than your standard issue bar or club.

    This problem is not new: if you read OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, there's no lack of off-the-wall gigs/venues that those bands played — such as a clothing store, in the Replacements' case, for example. Then or now, however, I think that the best results come from finding people who think along similar lines, then setting up an event that speaks to them, or their friends…as Bob Stinson used to say, "You win 'em over, one fan at a time."

  • GATA Negrra

    I'll be looking forward to that particular report; I'm a rap artist with a bit of an off-kilter niche and I need some ideas….