Last Updated on April 16, 2022 by Lil Ginge
Whether you consider yourself an amateur musician or are looking to become a professional, booking a gig can be intimidating. But in this guide, I will take you through all the steps you need to know in order to book a great live gig.
In this article, I will focus on three stages of playing a gig:
- Before you book
- After you book
- After the gig
By the end of this article, you may not be a fully pro musician. But you will be an absolute pro when it comes to knowing how to book a gig.
What Do You Need In Order to Book a Gig?
Practice Performing Your Music
The first thing you need to have in order to book a local music gig is music. But you do not need a ton. Whether your material is made up of covers or original music, you just need about forty minutes’ worth of musical material in order to book your first gig. In other words, enough to fill one full set.
Of course, knowing music to play is not enough. You have to be ready to excel. This means lots of rehearsal time. Remember what they said about how to get to Carnegie Hall. Even if you just want to be an amateur musician, you don’t want to seem amateurish. So practice your ass off to get as good as possible.
There are different ways that you can practice your music in low-pressure environments. For example, some places you practice include:
- Right in your own home (but try not to annoy your neighbors)
- House shows
- Open mic nights
- Busking in public
- Renting rehearsal time at a local studio
Practicing in these various ways will help you get a feel for what it is like to perform live with our without an audience in front of you. Of course, the more you can practice with an actual audience, the better off you will be when it comes time to perform for real at a venue.
EPK and Online Presence
The next thing you should have ready to go when you are preparing to book a gig is an electronic press kit (EPK). An EPK is a simple introduction to who you are and what you are all about as a musician. It can be a one-pager or a website with links to other content. Some of the elements you may want to include with your EPK include:
- A biography of you and what your music is all about
- High-quality photos
- High-quality video
- High-quality audio recordings – these can be home demos or from a studio
- Any other additional helpful content to a show booker or promoter
Finally, it is quite helpful to have an online presence when booking a gig. For many musicians, their reliance is mostly on social media. And having an active and engaged social media profile is important. But I also highly recommend having your own website to serve as a “home base” for you as an artist. This can be your main hub.
How To Find The Right Venues
When you are trying to book a local music gig, you need to find not just any venues but the right venues for your style of music. And if you are just starting out as a live musician, you really do want to start small. Better to play in a tiny packed venue than book a large seemingly-empty one.
There are different ways to find out which venues in your local area host musicians similar to you in genre and style. For example, you can chat with other musicians in your area and see what they recommend. Go to live shows yourself and check out the venues. Also peruse online music magazines or even paper ones, too. You’ll find plenty of venues listed and can research the sorts of acts that they are featuring.
If you go and visit a venue in person, really feel the place out. Have a drink. Catch some music. Talk to other patrons, the bartender, and maybe even meet their venue booker if you can. Try to find out what they are looking for in terms of local music. But don’t be pushy or try to sell yourself. This is merely an information-gathering stage.
I also highly recommend that you go online to do further research on any venue you are interested in playing. Do they have booking guidelines online? If so, this can be a goldmine of information. Make sure you read and familiarize yourself with them and plan accordingly. If you can’t meet their requirements, it may not be the right venue for you after all.
Another way to find venues is by checking out the show pages or events pages on other local artists’ websites and social media. Where are they playing upcoming shows? Where have they played past shows? If they are similar to you in style and genre, you will likely find that these are good venues for you to play as well.
Pitching a Gig at a Local Venue
How to Pitch Your Local Music Gig
Once you have identified a venue that you want to book, the next step is to pitch the actual gig to the venue owner, talent buyer, or booking agent for that venue. Most venues will already have this person’s information and contact up on their website which makes things easier for you. If this particular venue does not, you can try to find this information by looking at the venue’s social media pages or by asking other musician friends.
The most important thing when it comes to booking a local gig is to be professional in your pitch. Even if you are an amateur musician, you do not want to come across that way. Here are some ways to be professional in your pitch to the booker:
- Be concise – Don’t say a whole lot more than you need to because they won’t want to spend all day reading it
- Be clear – Make sure your email is thorough (while still being concise) and easy to understand
- Tell them exactly what you want – You want to play a show on date x or dates x, y or z, and paired with such and such other artist
- Provide them with your EPK or with links to pictures, quotes, videos, social links, and audio, all of which should be as high quality as possible
- Be honest – don’t say you can bring in 100 people if you can only bring in 10. It’s okay, this is your first gig, the expectations are not huge
The general format of your email pitch should go something like this:
- Subject line (i.e. Booking Inquiry – My Band at Your Venue May 30)
- Addressed to the name of the actual person you are sending it to – not addressed to “Dear booking agent” or “to whom it may concern”
- A short introduction that includes who you are, a description of your music, how many people are in your act or if you are solo, and where you are from.
- Ask for the gig – be specific about what night(s) you want to play and if there are other artists you’d like to play with.
- Provide your contact information including your phone number and email address
Things to Remember When Pitching Your Gig
A few other important things to remember include mentioning that while it’s your first gig, you are excited to be amazing at their venue and put on an incredible show. When you include media, make sure to use links rather than attachments because the booker won’t download anything.
You can personalize the email a little bit if you know anything specific about the venue or booker that would be appropriate to mention. In addition, be flexible. They may not be willing to book you by yourself, so offer to put a bill together or to open for someone else, especially if they host touring musicians.
The last thing to remember when booking a local gig is to make sure you follow up! Bookers are notoriously bad at getting back to artists. It’s on you to follow up with them about 3 – 5 days after your initial pitch if you do not hear back from them.
After that, reach out to them again once every week or ten days, but no more often than this. You do not want to annoy them. But once every 7-10 days is normal, standard practice so do not hesitate to do this. If email follow-up doesn’t work, you can try calling.
Promoting The Show After You’ve Booked
Congratulations, you’ve booked the venue! However, your work isn’t done yet, not by a long shot. Now you need to promote the show or else nobody will show up and that’s bad business for everyone involved. So how do you promote a show at a local gig once you’ve booked the venue?
Most likely, you will need to use your social media channels in order to promote your show. Post your upcoming show date with all of the relevant information. Tag the venue and any other artists on the bill so that they share these posts as well. You can create an official event page for the show on Facebook if the venue has not already done so. You should also add the date to your music website.
Offline word of mouth is also crucial. Reach out to your family, friends, and acquaintances you think may be interested in coming to see you. If there are other artists whose shows you have gone to see, invite them to come to hang out at yours. The more people you bring into the fold yourself, the happier the venue will be.
If there is another promoter working on the show besides you, make sure to stay in touch with this person and keep them informed of how you are getting the word out about the show. The promoter may ask you for posters they can use to hang up so be prepared for that. Share any other promotional assets you may have with them as well.
A week before the show, you will want to make sure that you do a final check-in with the promoter. And you will want to verify scheduling including load times, soundcheck times, and performance times of you and any other acts on the bill. Finally, get ready to have an amazing show!
The Financial Aspects of Booking A Local Gig
Whether you want to be a dedicated professional musician or you consider yourself an amateur, there will likely be financial aspects of booking a local music gig that you will have to deal with. Be as professional about this as possible no matter what.
Make sure you understand the financial structure of the show. There are different ways a show can be structured including Door Deals and Guarantees. With a Door Deal, the venue charges an entry fee at the door. The artist on the bill will split this revenue, and you probably need to share it with the sound techs and door workers as well. You might be able to save a bit of money if you have a friend work the door.
With a guaranteed deal, the venue guarantees you a fee to perform and there is a set price for the event that you will get paid. This type of deal is more common at restaurants and some bars rather than in dedicated music spaces.
In addition to your cash money payment, you may be able to get other perks from the venue such as free food and free drinks. At some venues, you may be even able to get paid a certain percentage of food or drink sales in addition to what you earn at the door.
Most importantly, make sure you completely understand what you will be paid and how you will be paid for the gig. This way, there will be no confusion and you are less likely to get a raw deal in the end.
The Night of the Gig
The night of the gig is finally your time to shine! You want to make sure you bring your A-game so make sure you rehearse and get yourself ready to put on a spectacular performance that will blow the venue staff and the audience away.
At the beginning of the night, make sure you introduce yourself to the key people including the promoter of the event, the sound tech, and other venue staff. Making friends with venue people is another great way to make sure you are invited back
Then get yourself on stage and have an amazing show!
After the show, make sure you thank the appropriate people again. Let the show booker or promoter know that you will reach out to them to book future dates. If the show went well, they will be happy to rebook you.
You can have a drink now that your gig is over. You’ve earned it.
After The Night Of The Gig
After the day of the gig, you’ll want to follow up with the promoter or the booker a few days after the show. Make sure to thank them again for all of their efforts. And now is the time for you to inquire about upcoming dates they have available.
Now that you have successfully booked and played your first local show, it’s time for you to rinse and repeat. The more shows you book, the easier this process will get and the better you will learn to play as a live musician.
It is a good idea to start keeping a spreadsheet of both venues you have already played and venues you would like to play in the future. In the spreadsheet you can track things like:
- Name of the venue
- Booker’s name and contact information
- Fees and fee structure
- Audience capacity and venue size
- Names of any other important contacts
After you have booked some more shows, you may be able to start building a regular rotation of local music venues where you can play.
One thing you want to be careful of is not to overbook yourself. If you spread yourself too thin, you will probably have smaller crowd sizes. Your friends won’t be able to attend all your shows and even fans won’t feel the need to see you every time if you aren’t a somewhat scarce resource.
Some people recommend booking no more than one gig per month, but I do not think there is a hard and fast rule about this. Get a feel for how often you can play without harming the size of your audience per show. You want to be able to balance keeping crowd sizes good with performing enough to keep you happy as a musician.
Last Few Tips On Booking Your First Local Gig
There are a few more important tips to remember when booking your first local gig. One thing is to remember that you can offer to the venue to set up your own bill with other artists for the show.
Doing this takes some of the pressure off you to carry the entire promotional and financial burden. This way you do not need to fill the venue yourself but can rely on the other artists to help you. You also can lean on them to help you with show promotion on their social media platforms, etc. Venues also appreciate this because it helps them boost the size of the audience and can lead to them earning more money on the night.
Another important tip: check with the venue before you play any covers. You want to make sure that the venue is legally set up to allow you to perform cover songs. If you can’t, you’ll have to stick with original material for the night.
If you do not want to do all of the legwork yourself, there are also online booking platforms like Sonicbids that can help you book gigs. Most of these platforms will charge you a fee – although there may be a limited free version of the platform – and some of these sites are higher quality than others so do your research here.
You should now have a good idea of how to book your first local music gig. Pretty soon, you’ll be on stage and under the bright lights of your local venue playing your heart out in front of your new adoring local fans.
If you enjoyed this article on how to book a local music gig, check out my article How Do Music Open Mic Nights Work.