The one thing you have to understand to get more gigs

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Why not all gigs are created equalNot all gigs are created equal: how to get the right gig for you

So you want to play more gigs.

It seems like other artists you know are performing all the time, so surely there must be a secret formula to getting gigs. That, or all the other musicians up on stage are friends with the venue owner or have a manager getting the gigs for them, right?

Maybe. But nine times out of ten the singer up there on stage has no insider information, no manager, and no friendship with the venue owner whatsoever.

So the burning question is….what is the Secret Formula to booking gigs?

I could reel off a few quick bullet points to whet your appetite, but to be honest that wouldn’t help you very much and here’s why: if you came up to me tomorrow and asked me how to get gigs, the first thing I’d say is, “What type of gig do you want?”

You see, not all gigs are created equal. Some gigs will pay well but won’t help you build a following; some gigs will pay next to nothing but will be massive fan builders; and some gigs… well they don’t get you fans or money but can still be valuable if used properly.

Confused?  I don’t blame you.

You see, before you can get gigs you need to understand the type of gigs that are out there and what each one can do for you. Once you understand this, it makes going after gigs a whole lot easier because you can look for a gig that is going to help you with your business (yes, you are a business) and is suitable for where you’re at in this phase of your career.

Have a look at the Gig Matrix below. These are examples of just some of the types of gigs, placed into a matrix that works on a scale of high versus low pay and high versus low fan building.

Gig Matrix

Note: This works for any musical genre; you just have to rename the gig slightly. For example, the musical theatre  equivalent of an ‘Open Mic Night’ is doing a community theatre show for free.

Bear in mind that this is not an exact science. The music industry is highly unregulated and I know that some musicians have done very well with ‘low pay/low fans’ gigs like busking if they go on a regular basis, however this is not always the case. To make things even clearer, let’s take a look at each of the areas of the Gig Matrix and find out what the benefits of each category can be for you.

Low Pay/ Low Fan Gigs

If after looking at the Matrix you thought that you would scratch Low Pay/ Low Fan gigs off your list straight away… well, think again. Every gig in the Matrix has its purpose and each is more accessible to you depending on what stage you are at in your music career.

For example, busking and open mic nights are a great way to test out new material or to gain performance practice when you are just starting out, and they are the easiest gigs to obtain; you can busk in most places by obtaining a simple busking licence and open mic nights take pretty much anyone.

In fact, I personally use both of these types of  gigs for this very purpose.  I’m currently working on some new folk material and am playing guitar for the first time (I’m usually a jazz performer and play piano and sing) so when I’ve got my material ready, I’ll hit up an open mic night to take my new songs and skills for a test drive.

Similarly, if you are in musical theatre, the best way to grow your resume is by doing free community shows. You’ll meet people in the industry and can work on your performance skills while you hunt around for new opportunities.

High Pay/ Low Fan Gigs

On the flip side of the Matrix  there are High Pay/ Low Fan gigs. These are what I call ‘Bread and Butter’ gigs because basically, they pay the rent. For contemporary singers, these might be bar/ club cover gigs where the venue pays you to play music their clientele will like, which usually means well known covers.

For me as a jazz musician, these are corporate gigs at some stuffy legal firm’s cocktail client night and I’m there to provide background music and look pretty. Yep seriously. Why else would they hire a band if they just want background music? It’s all for show. This is definitely not the place to pull out my massive ‘Nicola Milan’ banner, set up my merch stand complete with flashing lights and plug my CDs at the end of every set. You’ll be lucky if you get to hand out a few business cards during the break and get a quick thank you from the head honcho.

Use these gigs to fund the Low Pay/High Fan building gigs that we’ll have a look at next… and make the most of the free canapés while you’re there. 😉

Note: Some musos only want these types of gigs. This is when it’s not so much about building a name for themselves than it is making money as a musician without having to leave their local area (Which is totally fine by the way. I know plenty of very good musicians who make their living this way) — but for those of you who want to make a mark, raise your profile, and reach for what can happen when you do start becoming known (i.e. a higher charge rate, better gigs, a deeper connection with fans, getting your message out there, and all the possibilities that come with being a person of interest) then read on.

Low Pay/ High Fan Gigs

I love/ hate these gigs. I know they are going to be good for my profile but I also know I’m going to run at a loss and as someone who relies solely on income derived from music, the costs involved can bite.

Many support gigs with better known artists will fall under this category (initially at least.) As anything in the music industry, there will be exceptions but when you have no fans apart from your rent-a-crowd mates then you don’t really have much value (in terms of business dollars) to add to a gig and the opportunity to perform with a band that does pull a crowd is a good opportunity for you, because it means you get to play for fans of a similar sounding band. If they like that band, then they may become your fan too. However, it’s not such a good deal for the venue or the band with the bigger name.

The reason is because these type of gigs usually operate on a pay by door sales basis. If you have no fans then your ability to help with the door sales intake is going to be minimal and therefore you shouldn’t expect to be paid for something you didn’t provide. The catch here however, is this: if you are a singer who uses an accompanist or session musicians in your band, then you still have to pay your musicians and you will have to fork out of your own pocket to pay them. It is easier if you have a band dedicated to doing any gig they can to ‘break in’ but for singers, this is frequently not the case.

The good news is that if you make the most of these gigs, you should start building fans from the first gig and it does get easier. That, or you can do a heap of advertising to get people through the door… but that is a topic for another blog post.

The bad news is that every time you want to break into a new market (location) you will have to repeat the support gig process, unless of course you have a major radio hit and venues are clambering over each other to book you… and we all know this is definitely not the norm.

However, playing support gigs is the fastest way to go from zero to fans and get you one step closer to the juicy gigs we’ll have a look at next.

High Fans/ High Pay Gigs

Ah yes, now we reach the realm of the Rich and Somewhat Famous and I can hear you thinking ‘Now we’re talking. Ok Nicola, just tell me how to get heaps of these gigs, really well paying and in front of heaps of fans.’

My answer? “Patience, Grasshopper. They are not YOUR fans… yet.”

I’m not saying this to hold you back by any means because on average, festivals and promoted shows with advertising dollars behind them are hands-down the best way to get your name out there as an artist. The gig in itself would be enough, however most Festivals are accompanied by advertising dollars to spread your name further and have media salivating over the opportunity to get you on their interview list. Yes these are the best gigs to get, but they are also by far the most competitive.

Festivals are expensive to put on and so the Festival Promoter needs to ensure they will attract an excellent turnout each year. They do this by booking artists that they know will draw a crowd, which means that you need to be doing pretty well and have a solid following  to get one of these gigs (that, or be good friends with whoever is in charge.)

Don’t worry, there’s a catch to Festivals which is your secret way in. Create a list of the Festivals that support your type of music in your local area (and beyond if you can afford the travel costs). Most bigger Festivals don’t even accept artist applications so scratch those off initially. Your best bet is to target smaller festivals and then build up from there.

Keep an eye out for contests to play at bigger Festivals but realise the competition is going to be fierce. Some Festivals do offer busking opportunities which you can snap up if you perform solo and acoustic, then make the most of it; get your banner out, play loud and promote, promote, promote!

The other type of show that can sit either under this category in the Gig Matrix or under the Low Pay/Low Fans category is a show that you put on yourself. You hire a venue or agree to a split of the door sales and then it’s your job to book the support acts and get people through the door (this is where that rent-a-crowd friend base comes in handy).

These gigs are great for a reason to promote yourself in the local media and can be decent earners if your door numbers are solid. Do a good job and your rent-a-crowd might actually become true fans and bring more friends along next time.

So let’s go back to the start and revisit our original question: how to get gigs. Now that you can have a think about the type of gig that you want, doesn’t that make it easier to know where to start looking?

My advice is to pick the gig according to what your needs are as an artist. If you are just starting out, go for the Low Pay/Low Fan gigs where you can get some performance practice singing in front of a crowd. That way, if you stuff up, it’s not going to be such a big deal. If you’re past this stage, then have a look at the bands gigging in your local area that sound similar to you and reach out for a support gig.

Whatever the stage you are at in your music career, go for the gig that will benefit you the most… and once you have it, make the most of it.


Author bio: Nicola Milan is a professional singer, songwriter, recording artist and vocal coach. On her website Singer’s Secret, she shares tips on how to improve your singing, gain confidence, and get gigs when you’re just starting out.

Visit her at and

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  • Ronnie

    Apparently the secret formula is still a secret . This article does not live up to it’s hook line “Secret formula to getting gigs” Where is the secret sauce?

    • Point taken. I changed the title, AND added a new graph!


    • Royal Flesh

      The secret source is:
      1. Good music
      2. Have a good personality
      3. Patience
      4. faith
      5. Be humble
      6. Sociable
      7. Good promotion
      With all these qualities you’ll be respected.

    • Royal Flesh

      The secret source is:
      1. Good music
      2. Have a good personality
      3. Patience
      4. faith
      5. Be humble
      6. Sociable
      7. Good promotion
      With all these qualities you’ll be respected.

  • dylan

    excellent post. lot’s of great info and very well written.

  • John Rush

    the secret formula is call, call, call and keep calling. I’ve toured 100+ colleges nationally every year since 1998 and before that I played 6 nights a week in Nashville from 1994-1998. You have to call them over and over and over. I knew a bar manager who wouldn’t even return a band’s call until they had left 10 messages (he kept a notebook record). Call them once a week until they say yes or no. If they say no, ask why. Even if they say no and you think it’s a place you really want to play keep calling once a month. The turnover rate is very high and often the next time you call there is a new person doing the booking who has no idea who you are.

    • Persistance! Good tip about the turnover rates at places.


    • catherine cunningham

      Yes, I think persistence is the key too. For good or bad, we’re all trying to sell something, so a commitment to the business end is probably more highly correllated with success than a commitment to the music end.
      It’s hard to remember not to take things personally though!

    • Marz Nova

      John is bang on!

    • David Cavan Fraser

      Yep, that’s my experience as well. I’ve made a LOT of money by dialling and not hearing NO.

  • Robert Lazaneo

    I like this post. It had some very good tips that were presented in a realistic way. Here is something I can add about booking at festivals. Make your inquiries almost a year in advance of the festival because, sometimes they already have the bands booked months before the festival begins. One festival that began in April and I contacted them in January had a full roster of acts by November of the previous year.


    Understanding the purpose for and making the most of every gig is great advice. Performers who draw the most fans consistently will be easier to book. So, it makes sense to use every show to become better at our craft and build our fan base.

  • Marz Nova

    Excellent post. Great job.

  • Good information here. You should talk about your bio/demo. I think that’s important too, especially for these high pay gigs you speak of! my blog post on it :

  • Jessica Harper

    Great post! There are two things I like about having gigs:
    1. Seeing people happy while I play songs makes me happy too. 🙂
    2. Some of the gigs pays a great deal (which is good for expenses)
    I want to share to you guys some of the gigs and singing jobs that you could possibly choose, list of singing jobs. All the best of luck.

  • Thanks for sharing the link and commenting. (That Taylor Swift picture might have to be moved from “country” to “pop” — or even “diva” now).


  • Robbie Alan

    When you go into any situation,be confident,don’t go with your hat in hand.
    Without the artist,there’s no show. Show the audience they made the right choice
    coming to see you.

    If you’re making an audio presentation,and you want it to sound it’s best,I
    recommend, Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition By Bruce Bartlett.

    This book will show how to get top notch recordings.

    Good luck to one and all.

  • Robbie Alan

    When you go into any situation,be confident,don’t go with your hat in hand.
    Without the artist,there’s no show. Show the audience they made the right choice
    coming to see you.

    If you’re making an audio presentation,and you want it to sound it’s best,I
    recommend, Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition By Bruce Bartlett.

    This book will show how to get top notch recordings.

    Good luck to one and all.

  • Hi everyone,

    this was a gem find of an article hidden among the gravel of dirt
    and fluff. Thanks Chris and Nicola for sharing such valuable knowledge
    for a novice like myself.

    I read this article like it was my first book for class that would be called “Intro to Gig Acquisitions’ 101.”

    As i will be applying and executing all the practical guidelines
    given here I plan to return back to this forum as a place to update my
    experience resulting from applying the strategies and to seek continual
    feedback from the experts who frequent this forum.

    I wish everyone on here good luck on their journey.

    To make this intro. as quick and to the point, I’m not a muscian. I
    work in the front of the house (ticket sales) when the (Native Elements
    SF) band plays on stage in the venues. I could increase my net worth
    to the band by acquiring monthly gigs in say a new category maybe called
    “Medium pay/Medium Fan building” gigs.

    I look forward to have an open dialogue here with the community
    of artist that frequent this forum. As I will follow up with my lesson’s
    learned as I figure out what my action plan to acquire gigs for Native
    Elements band develops.

    Thank you in for this awesome place to promote learning how to acquire the best gigs!

    -Paul. “I’ll be back” (arnold’s voiceover)


    -all positive opinions & suggestions or continued open dialogue welcomed on

  • I’m not sure I understand: venues charge YOU for using a certain kind of instrument or amplification? That doesn’t really make sense to me unless you’re renting the equipment from them and that’s a rental/security fee.


    • Eric Vera

      That’s exactly what I’m saying. Most venues told me to pay for renting a guitar amp plus security fees. What they didn’t told me is, if there’s something else to “cover” with a payment. The last thing I want is to get to the venue and they go like “hey, You didn’t pay this or that service, you can’t play until…”, you know what I mean? That’s what I want to know, if there are other things that, either I don’t know or I haven’t Heard of, when it comes to getting a gig at any venue, you know, like requirements.

      One question, “give me some details to the tour you want to make”, What does that mean? Are there types of tours? I really didn’t get it. Hope you can help me. Thanks for Reading.

      • Tough to say without knowing the venues, but if you’re worried there might be more in the fine print to beware, I’d suggest doing a Google search on the venue, or check out venue databases like Indie On the Move (where you can read reviews of the venue by other musicians). If the venue treats musicians badly or changes the terms of the agreement at the last minute, you’ll be able to find people complaining about somewhere online.

        As for kinds of tours, yes. Tours differ based on geography, length (number of dates), routing, whether you’re traveling solo or with a band, crashing on friends’ floors or staying in hotels, riding in a car/bus/train/plane, etc. Also, it differs on where you play: traditional venues, house concerts, festivals, etc.


  • You’re very welcome. Hope you had a great holiday.

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