When you have an audience clearly loving every minute, playing live can be a thrilling and intoxicating experience.
Getting your first gig though is often a challenge. Why is it so difficult, surely venues should be falling over themselves to book performers? What’s going on? You may be beginning to wonder if you will ever get a gig.
Venues need to book good performers to keep punters happy. New bands and solo artists are an unknown quantity. Make sure you record a great demo, set up an online presence, list venues that will allow new bands, visit the venues in person to speak with promoters directly. Create more opportunities by networking with similar acts to your own. Let's look into how we can do this.
Make sure you’re ready to gig
Typically, gigs are between 90 minutes to 2 hours plus a couple of encores. Make sure you know enough songs to cover that time period and can play all this material to a good standard so you can nail the live performance. You want to impress enough during your first gig to get re-booked.
It’s always best to be a little over prepared if anything. Performance anxiety before your first show can easily fester. This can be minimised by thoroughly preparing as well as making sure you provide a great and memorable show to the audience and importantly, to the promoter (the person that books live performances if the venue has one) and others that will be involved in hopefully re-booking you.
It’s important to have all the equipment you need plus backups. Instruments can fail, amps can die, cables need replacing from time to time. Make sure you’re prepared for breakdowns.
Record a demo
This doesn’t need to be studio quality but it needs to show what you can do. Practice two or three songs until you can play them really well. Make sure the vocals are clear and if you’re in a group, check the balance is good between the various band members.
Some prefer to record the song live to give an authentic feel. Others will record tracks to layer on top of each other for more flexibility. Whatever you do, keep it simple. Don’t go layering extra guitar parts or using loads of effects. A straightforward demonstration of your sound is what the listener is looking for.
Regardless of whether you like social networking or not, having an online presence these days is essential for artists.
If a venue or promoter finds lots of interaction on your Twitter page, they know any gigs you play are likely to be attended by a decent amount of people making it a good night for all involved.
You might be thinking, how do I get interaction when we’ve not even played a gig? Be honest on your bio. Say you're a new band or solo act looking to play your first live performance. Follow other musicians and you’ll find some will follow you back. Add family and friends. Then upload a recording of one or two of your songs. You should start to get some interaction to build upon.
Create two or three social media accounts but don’t overdo it. Creating an account with every social networking site will quickly become unmanageable.
Get yourself a simple but well designed website that you can upload your music to. Putting in the effort with your own site will show your professionalism. Make sure you link your social media sites back to your own website. Having your own domain name should allow you to have email addresses under your band name for example, firstname.lastname@example.org. This looks much more professional when emailing venues.
Social networking is great. Mailing lists are even better. There's no better time to start a mailing lists than at the very beginning. Discover ways to get social networking followers onto your mailing list.
Discover music venues
You’ll probably know all the venues musicians play in your area but you may have to branch out to find locations further afield.
Simply Googling ‘music venues’ or ‘pubs with live music’ in a specified area will get you some quick results. This won’t give you much background information though. Combining this with gig guides will help get an understanding of who plays where.
Make sure you chat with other acts like your own. Explain the situation you’re in. Most musicians will be able to relate as they have probably been in the same situation themselves. Find out which venues they think you’d be best to approach. Ask them if they have contact details they can share with you. People in the business of playing live are a great source of information. Be sure to add them as contacts on whichever social networking platforms you choose.
As a side note, when chatting to other performers, you can offer to play a short set to warm up an audience before their own show. This might not be a gig but it will certainly show a promoter or venue what you’re is capable of. Tell the band you’ll bring 10 or 15 people with you (or whatever you can muster). Therefore, it’ll be in their interest to let you play as well. See more on supporting bands below.
Make a list of venues you’d like to play
You can’t be too picky and you might even end up playing at whatever venue will accept you. There’s nothing wrong in approaching your preferred places first though. Remember to keep expectations realistic. You’re a new act and therefore an unknown.
Also consider locations you’d be comfortable playing your first show. A low-pressure live performance to get the ball rolling may be best.
Visit venues in person
This will not only give you a chance to get a good feel for the place to see if it’s right for you, you’ll also have the added bonus of possibly meeting the person that deals with music bookings.
Go when the venue is likely to be quiet. Order a drink and politely ask whether you could be considered for a gig. With a bit of luck, you’ll get to chat to the right person. Be polite and upbeat.
If the promoter is not about, ask for their name and when they’ll be available for a chat. You can then either visit again or call the venue.
The best way to convince someone to give you a gig is to meet them in person. The fact you’ve travelled out to see them also shows how serious you are. The next best way is a phone call. Speaking to the person on a call is more likely to get you a positive result than cold messaging. A few lines in an email is not nearly as likely to get you a good result.
Think of it like getting a job. You have to convince the employer you’re going to be an asset. You’d never expect an employer to give you a position in their company just because you’d sent an email. They’d want to talk to you, usually in person.
You’ve hopefully met or chatted on the phone to the promoter or person that deals with live music bookings by this stage. You may need to follow up with an email sharing your demo. Make sure you keep the email short, friendly and to the point. Nobody wants to read through a huge block of unnecessary text when all they need is your demo!
Don’t ever send your demo as an attachment. It’s much easier to click a link that opens a site with your demo ready to play. People don’t like messing around with email attachments. If you don’t have your own website, put your demo on a site like soundcloud.
Dear John Smith,
Thanks for speaking with us yesterday about the possibility of MyAwesomeBand performing at YourAwesomeVenue.
As requested, please see below the link to our demo:
Link to your demo here
If you enjoy our music, we’d really appreciate the opportunity to play at YourAwesomeVenue. We have the 18th June available if that works for you?
[Add your phone number, website address, email, social media links here]
If you don’t get a reply, follow this email up with a phone call or reminder email a few days later.
If you still have no luck, try again after a few more days. Sometimes you just have to be tenacious. If you’re just using email, make sure you don’t just keep resending the same message over and over. Write a different one each time. Stay polite and concise.
Open mic nights
Does the venue need a little extra convincing you can pull off a great gig? If so, find out if they do open mic nights. Some people find open mic nights just get in the way of securing an actual live performance but they can also be a great way to show off your skills to the venue.
If you’re part of a band, you don’t need every member up on stage, perhaps two or three members covering a few songs.
Additionally, open mic nights are a great place to get tips on securing your first gig from other musicians.
You might not like what I’m about to say here but bare with me! If you’re just starting out, negotiating a fee could be tough. Putting it bluntly, they don’t know if you’re any good. If you scare off the customers, they lose out on income.
Try and see your first live performance as an opportunity to get your foot in the door. If you manage to negotiate a fee then great. If not, most venues will at least give you something for your effort even if they just pass a hat around for you. Don’t let this put you off. Put on a great show and you’ll be wanted for more gigs at which point, you can ask for more cash. Remember, gigs create more gigs.
As you make a name for yourself, you’ll be able to negotiate a reasonable fee even in places you’ve not been to before as they will have likely heard of you and if not, you should have some great live footage of previous gigs on your social media along with interaction from people that enjoyed the shows.
Promote your show
Once you’ve secured a live performance, make sure you get the word out. The more people that turn up for the show the better. Promote your show using social media, flyers, posters and word of mouth. Get as many family, friends and relatives to support you as possible.
Still struggling, why not host your own live performance?
This may sound a bit weird, but stick with me here. The main goal here is to get great footage of you or your band playing live in front of an audience, showing off what you can do.
Some pubs have rooms for private events. Check out pubs in your area. Some rehearsal room venues have a larger room for events. See whether any of your band members have or know anyone that has a place you could put a gig on. Look into hiring out a small community hall.
Once you secure a place, get as many friends and family to come as possible. Ask someone to record the gig. This can then be uploaded for music venues to see next time you ask for a live performance.
It may be worth putting on your own gig with other performers so you’ll have two lots of supporters.
Keep your eyes open. Perhaps someone you know is having a birthday party. Would they mind if you played a few songs there for them? Another chance to record footage, get some interaction and gain momentum.
Be a great support act
Check out performers like yourself or your band. Find out if they need support acts. More established bands will often tour with their own support bands but many need support acts. To get extra opportunities, offer to be the support act for these guys.
You may feel a little less pressure than if you were the only band or performer playing. This is a great way to get in front of a new audience that enjoy the genre of music you play.
Persistence pays off
Don’t get disheartened if after a few weeks you still haven’t secured a live performance. Keep plugging away. Persistence is the key here. Keep going and you’re sure to find a few gigs to set you up.
What are your experiences?
Are you a performer or band that started from scratch? If so, what did you find helped you get your initial gigs. Please let us know in the comment section below.