Maybe you’ve formed a new band that hasn’t played out yet, but you’re ready to take the stage. Maybe you’re a songwriter looking to transition from open mics to longer shows. Maybe you’re an old pro who’s coming back from a long break and you’re not sure how booking gigs works these days.
Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, but most musicians I know used some variation of this basic approach in order to book their first gigs:
1. Wait until you’re ready
No sense in looking for a gig if your first show is going to be a train wreck. Patience, grasshopper. You only get one chance to have a debut performance.
2. Make a “demo” recording or video
“Demo” is kind of an outdated term these days, especially when so many people are recording at home and have the opportunity to tinker until they’ve built a finished song from what started as a demo session. But think of it this way: you need a way to demonstrate your talent and your style to the booking agent. A recording of your best song or a YouTube video of you performing (presumably in your basement or garage, since you haven’t played live yet) is the best way to show a booker what you can offer.
3. Ask around
Have any friends in bands that need an opening act? Do you already know any venue owners or booking agents? Obviously whenever possible you want to call upon your existing network within the local music community to make this process easier.
4. Visit the venues and introduce yourself
OK, so you don’t have any connections to help you take a short-cut to your first gig. Then it’s time to do some legwork. Go check out the venues in town that you’d like to play at. Keep in mind, you’re going to need to rally all of your friends and family to come to your first gig. How many people is that realistically? 15? 25? 35? That’s not enough folks to fill a big music venue, so maybe you should start with smaller clubs, bars, and restaurants. Go pay them a visit. Get a drink. See some music. Talk to the bartender. Ask if the booker is around. Make some conversation and get a sense for what they’re looking for from the musicians they hire. Make mental notes.
5. Do your online research
Once you’re back home, get on the computer and visit the website for each of those venues. Read their booking guidelines. Does it still seem like a good fit for your music? Can you deliver what they’re asking for? (For instance: a minimum of 25 attendees, a three-hour set, bringing your own PA, etc.) If so, make note of the booking email address or use their online form to…
6. Contact the booker, venue owner, or talent buyer
Write a brief email asking if you can play at their space. Again, keep it BRIEF. If it’s too long, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be ignored (since these folks probably get dozens or hundreds of emails a day). Here’s what you should include:
* address it to their actual name, not “to whom it may concern” or “hello booking agent.”
* a short introduction describing in one or two sentences the sound of your music, the size of your group, and where you’re from.
* provide a link to your recordings, videos, etc. Do NOT send attachments unless they specifically ask for them.
* personalize it; if you met the booker already, or if you checked out the venue and really thought it was an awesome room, let them know.
* ask for the gig; be specific and tell them what nights or time-slots you’re looking to play.
* mention that it will be your first gig, but you’re ready to make the event a crazy success.
* tell them how many people you can bring out. Be realistic. Don’t lie or exaggerate. That will only hurt you afterwards.
* be flexible and offer to put a whole bill (a grouping of bands) together if that would help, or to open for touring bands.
* provide your contact info (email and phone) and politely sign off.
Alright. That’s about it. Now you just wait for a reply. Hopefully it’s a YES. If so, congrats. Now it’s time to start promoting your first show (which is a whole different blog post).
How did you book your first show? Let us know in the comments below.