Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Being an event producer, pretty much every day I get pitched by musicians wanting to perform. Our company puts together in the neighbourhood of 70 shows a year, either through bookings, collaborations or original productions. Believe it or not, that is a tiny amount compared to the number of bands and acts out there requesting for gigs just in our city. In a creative hub, supply often outmatches demand. In Montreal, there are so many talented musicians and the number of requests is so overwhelming that we’ve had to develop an entire data system just to properly cater to all of them.
To address this, we methodically put together a database of over 400 acts, with a bunch of statistics of who they are as a band (genre, target market, etc) but also, and more importantly for us, stats on their current commercial value (social media following, show attendance numbers, etc). A lot of these are rough estimates or have incomplete information but still give a general idea of who we are dealing with.
The main problem with up and coming acts is that offering music as a ‘service’ is often not value-proportional. We no longer book acts only to provide music, we’ve got Spotify for that. We book artists for the community that it attracts. When you hire a plumber, you don’t deeply analyze their background and current career status to decide whether to hire or not, you simply ask how much it’s worth and pay for the given service based on the typical rate for such a job. When it comes to music, however, analyzing a bunch of variables makes the difference between a profitable venture and losing money as a concert promoter.
Music is no longer simply a service that's offered but rather a partnership and team effort between everyone involved in putting together a show. Since most of the time concert promoters aren’t interested in losing money, that’s what makes the business of booking paid gigs that much more difficult as a musician. This article puts together a list of points for artists to maximize their value and increase their chances of getting booked on paid gigs.
Admittedly, this advice is more catered to bands who perform original songs than cover bands and hired guns for corporate gigs. Most opinions on this subject get quickly outdated, and although some concepts are universal, the attempt is to make this version specifically relevant for the era we are living in right now, even if it means re-writing this article in 10 years.
These are a few of the basics you need to get out the door. This may seem obvious to most but even seasoned veterans don’t always have them all covered. Work on this before reaching out to booking agents.
You don’t need a professional-looking website, a big shot manager or a neat press kit to get more gigs. There’s only one thing that bookers care about after they’ve listened to your music; the size of your community and its engagement.
That doesn’t mean you have to be an Instababe or influencer. You only need two things: a music sharing platform and a social media outlet, that’s it. You can delete everything else that's sucking up time and resources. Save the website and press-kit for when you hit the big leagues. Until then, you can delete all of that to save money for more worthwhile pursuits.
Music Sharing Platforms:
Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Mixcloud
Any cool new platform that comes out is fair game as long as your music is freely streamable. Choose these before Spotify if you must only pick one, as Spotify's free version doesn’t allow to roam freely across tracks (no, not everyone has succumbed to becoming a member).
Wherever your music lives, the point being the ability to quickly and easily listen to songs without needing to download them. Believe it or not, this is an important factor. Whoever you’re pitching to never wants to download an attached file. It’s slow, inefficient, and when you have 100+ emails to go through in the day, you don’t want to have to wait 5 minutes every time to listen to a track. Most will just quickly skip through the songs to have a general idea of what it sounds like and makes sure it doesn’t suck.
No one has the time to download and go through the entire discography of everyone who pitches to them, so just give your best most recent songs that will most likely appeal to the audience that it caters to. As a side note, if you only pitch outdated material accompanied by a promise that your new sound is completely different, no one can have a clear idea of what you do. Remember, concert promoters are business partners, not your fans.
Stick to one or two platforms at most in order to compile all of your traffic to those core sources. That way your plays accumulate on a single, active platform rather than being scattered over different websites. Choose whatever most of your core audience currently uses.
Facebook & Instagram are in the lead right now. This is where you showcase your personality, your upcoming gigs, behind the scenes footage, music videos, whatever. Basically, everything that has to do with your brand and your craft. Here, the booker looks at the interaction between your content and your fanbase.
Don’t try to ‘’fake it til you make it’’ by buying likes and followers. Any trained eye can tell if a following is faked. As a starting point, if you have 50 000 followers, are still working at the Dollar Store and the interaction with your content doesn’t match up with the number of followers and likes, something is aloof.
An ideal scenario is an act with an engaged audience across all platforms. These tell the real story as to how much a band is worth, much more than a fancy bio, website or article mentions. The reason is that traffic to that extent can’t be faked, whereas everything else can. Work on developing these platforms and you’ll increase your value substantially.
You don’t need to have thousands of followers, the goal is that you demonstrate engagement with the ones you currently have. I’d rather have a band with 200 followers that get all of their community excited to see a show rather than an act with thousands of likes but no traction to sell tickets. Visibility and reach aren’t as important as pull and clout. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, emergent acts just starting out that can pull out a serious crowd as well as established acts that can’t get people to come even if their lives depended on it. I’ll let you guess which ones I prefer working with.
In short, the two main things you should work on when you are starting out: create the best songs possible and build your following by creating a community that is engaged and invested in what you do. In both cases, choose quality over quantity and put it front and centre.
Consider this an official public portfolio that you are constantly working and updating. Traffic and engagement in these two areas put you on another playing field. You can be sure that nothing else is more important to develop for now until you are actually a full-time musician looking to monetize all streams of revenue.
This is basically your performance record, and the ability to showcase all the gigs you’ve performed in the past. This gives insight on very important information to the booker such as crowd attendance and types of venues played.
Based on these factors, this guides the booker as to where you are in your journey as a musician and what your current market value is. You don’t need to provide stats and hard numbers as long as this information is searchable in some reliable form. Personally, I usually go on Facebook to the ‘events’ tab and check the numbers of ‘going’ and ‘interested’ in the last few gigs. This is why it's important to record and display all of this on social media. If you're attracting crowds regularly but you have nothing to show for it, no one can tell if the hype is real or not. If a tree falls and nobody hears it, did it really make a noise?
Now, if you are just starting out and you haven't done many shows yet: go to open mics or independently create your own concert. If you don't have at least four public shows under your belt, you are probably not ready to contact bookers. Performances aren't meant to act as band practice. Get some experience, develop a critical, engaged fanbase and then reach out to expand your reach to different people.
A positive value (what determines your fee)
After the process of validating artistry, performance history, fanbase size, now what it comes down to is to figure out how much your fee should be (or if) you have positive value as an act. Once that is established, promoters can maybe attempt to put a number on it. What does this mean? It means: are you actually profitable as a booking choice? Is what you bring in more than what you cost?
Yes, as a musician, you are still subject to the laws of economics. That's because as an artist, you are not an employee but rather more akin to a small business. No one bails out the small business owner if it has no sales even if they ‘worked really hard and have bills to pay’. Everyone does, join the club.
To put it simply, if you bring in 10 people for a 10$ show then $100 should be the absolute ceiling from which to work with. That being said, if the concert promoter gives you the 100$, he isn’t breaking even, he is actually losing money. Even if you perform for free and you bring no one, you still have a negative value as a band, meaning you are actually costing money to the promoter. How is that so you ask? The promoting organisation has higher base costs associated to putting on a show than the artist does. Giving a slot to a band that has negative financial value can be both costly and a wasted opportunity.
You must ensure that whatever you are asking for as a financial arrangement is a good deal for the booker as well. In exchange, you then get exposed to a new crowd that can turn into potential fans, get to sell merch on-site and establish a long term relationship with the booker for higher-paying gigs in the future. On the flip side, it makes sure the organisation you are dealing with doesn’t have to gamble on an act that hasn’t proven itself consistently yet, and gets to develop a working business relationship with you. Win-win.
In short, physical attendance is king in show business. Don’t mooch off another crowd without giving back, be proactive and you’ll be rewarded for it in the long run.
Conflict of interest
No one wants to feel like they are secondary. Even if that’s not your intention, if you double book yourself two shows the same week in the same city, someone is getting screwed. When it comes to public events, less is more. Put on quality productions rather than mindlessly say yes to everything that comes your way, unless those are private gigs that don’t interfere with your main engagement. There’s nothing worse than someone who announces a free surprise show on the day before the event the organiser has been working on tirelessly for months. All you’ve managed doing is piss off the promoter and fragmented your attendance.
This point should be easy enough; check your schedule, and be respectful of the opportunities that are given to you. The few extra bucks you make by playing at another random bar isn’t worth muddying a partnership over.
Build bridges, don’t burn them
It shouldn’t be a secret that talent bookers can get insider information about upcoming acts. Let’s say if there’s a band that I am hesitating towards, I’ll simply check out their last gig and call up whoever organised it to ask questions. If you burned that bridge by being disrespectful to the organization, didn’t manage to draw a crowd, was just generally hard to work with or any other red flag, that can affect the decisionmaker.
Having a good attitude goes a long way in this industry. I personally can’t stand divas and self-entitlement: I’m allergic to it. I don’t care how much you are worth or how many plays your last Youtube video got, if you’re an asshole, I don’t want to work with you. Simple as that. We’re all in for the same reasons: to chase the dream. The lesson here: be a good team player, not a primadonna.
Wrapping up: approaching the gatekeepers
So now that you have worked on getting all the necessary keys to open the doors, you’re now ready to get more gigs. Research thoroughly who it is that you should hit up. Most booking agencies or concert tours will display their contact information pretty easily. Don’t waste your time e-mailing everyone under the sun that works in the industry. Focus on those that are in your niche and work towards establishing a relationship with them.
The ideal, perfectly pitched, email should have these elements:
-Name of person you want to reach
-brief intro on who you are and what you do
-Links to the music and social media platform you are most active on (limit it to one or two per platform at most)
-An estimate on how many people you draw
-Brief breakdown of how you’ll promote the show (newsletter, blogs, facebook posts)
-A tentative date that is clear of any other engagement
-Financial win/win proposal. If this is the first time they have heard of you, diminish the risk to the promoter by proposing a commission-based deal. Eventually, if you exceed expectations you will most likely be proposed a better deal the next time around
-Positive, enthusiastic attitude
-Follow-up strategy that makes sure the request gets delivered and schedules a reminder (I personally use the extension Boomerang for Gmail for this)
If you can cross everything off the checklist, you are miles ahead of anyone doing the same thing as you. Remember, being successful in this industry is a long-term game. No one can improvise themselves to get a quick cash grab. Persist in developing these aspects and good will come.
After all, the best things in life take time.
Want to start somewhere?
Follow these tips and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even make us want to book you at an event?