If you’re a musician, either in a band or solo, you probably want to advance to playing live events at bigger and bigger venues.
But before you go bigger, you have to start somewhere.
How do you get your first gig and build it into a successful live performance career?
Read on to find out!
Music Industry Terms You Need To Know
What is event booking?
When you reserve the right to perform at a certain time and place, you’ve booked an event.
Normally, the venue will pay you to appear, based on your ability to draw a crowd.
The venue makes money via sales of tickets and/or booze, so the more people you can draw and the longer you get them to stay, the higher your performance value.
What is a promoter and what do they do?
An event promoter either works directly for the venue, or for a company the venue has hired to promote certain events.
They are responsible for booking shows and scheduling events, as well as promoting it via their usual means of advertising.
It’s still your responsibility as the artist to advertise your gig through your usual channels–social media, your website, flyers, a radio ad, whatever you can do to reach your fan base and increase the crowd at your event.
The better the turnout, the better your chances of being invited back.
Do you need a manager?
Generally speaking, having a manager makes you look more professional–but only if the manager is someone other than your well-meaning but ill-equipped friend/sibling/spouse.
If your friend/sibling/spouse happens to BE a manager, or have those skills, great!
But unless you’re big enough to be managing multiple shows per week (or your manager works for cheap), you may not need one.
What is a booking contract?
While it’s probably overkill when you’re just starting out, a booking contract covers the exact details of the event and holds both the venue and the band/artist to the particulars of the deal.
Unless you’re touring across the country or have a reason to suspect the venue of last-minute canceling/rescheduling your show, a booking contract isn’t strictly necessary.
What is a booking/artist fee?
An artist fee is, of course, what the band or artist is paid for performing.
A booking fee is what the booking agent charges for their services.
The industry-standard rate is 15% of the artist fee.
This percentage-based payment motivates a booking agent to find you the highest paying events and to get you the most money.
However, it also makes you 15% more expensive to book than someone who doesn’t employ a booking agent, so unless the demand for your performances justifies the expense, you may want to do without one.
What is an artist rider?
An artist’s rider is a list of requirements and specifications that the performers have laid out prior to the event.
It can cover both stage specifications (screens, displays, audio setups, the number of microphones) and accommodations, such as sleeping arrangements or specialty food and drinks.
Unless you’re in high demand, don’t risk making a nuisance of yourself with frivolous requests.
How To Prepare For Getting Paid Gigs
Make sure you’re ready to perform in front of a large crowd.
It’s a good idea to work your way up from open mic night to bigger rooms, to get used to performance jitters and gain confidence before tackling a larger venue.
Here’s a great article discussing how to face and overcome stage fright or performance anxiety.
The more time you have to practice your act, the more time you’ll have to iron out the kinks before you risk it all.
It’s better to fail on a smaller scale than to get in the news for being a total flop on the big stage.
Pull yourself together and don’t look like a bum.
If you’re playing with a band, you should have similar (but not necessarily matching) styles and look like you’re a single unit.
Unless your band name is Homeless Junkies, don’t look like one.
If you want to dress up a little, go for it–but also remember that you can look good in jeans and a T-shirt.
Whatever style you choose, be consistent.
Don’t stop perfecting your craft or listening to professional advice.
The better you get, the more successful you will be.
Competition in the music industry is fierce.
To rise above the others and stand out will require some serious work and dedication.
Have your social media accounts linked and keep them updated.
Use a professional, memorable handle and use it across platforms to make it easy for people to find you, even without the exact link.
Have quality band photos and a standardized artist or band bio on each platform.
Use your Instagram bio link wisely–link to your main web page or Soundcloud account, and make sure you let everyone know how to find you.
When it comes to logos and cover art, five minutes on Paint won’t do the trick.
Having a unique and recognizable design attached to you as an artist or band is a great way to look more professional.
Be ready to capitalize on fan interest and make some money on the side with custom merchandise.
By using print-on-demand (POD) services for things like hats, T-shirts, and tote bags, you can increase your per-gig profits and also gain some extra advertising from people using and wearing your swag.
See why having a good logo is so important?
Whether you’re using CDBaby to produce CDs and using their POD network for merchandise, or going bigger with a company like Printful, make sure you take a credit card and smartphone payment reader to your events to capitalize on fan spirit.
Do This Before Trying To Book Big Gigs
You can’t start at the top, so that means starting from further down.
That could also mean not getting top billing.
But don’t despair–though it may not pay as much, opening for a larger act can get you huge amounts of exposure.
This is your chance to prove your professional worth and show that you have what it takes to perform on your own merits.
Opening for an act similar to yours lets you demonstrate that an audience responds favorably to you.
When the event managers see this, they’ll take you more seriously when you ask to book a solo gig in the future.
Once you start making friends with other bands and artists in your genre, you’ll get to know the venues and venue managers who can open doors for you.
The best thing you can do for yourself when starting out is to build up a good reputation.
That means showing up on time with your equipment in good order and not bringing in any drama.
No one will recommend you to a venue as a good act if you constantly show up late and cause problems–no matter how good you are.
How To Choose What Kind of Gigs to Book?
There are a variety of ways to perform live events, and each has its own advantages.
We’ll go over the main types of gig and what they can do for you in the sections below.
Low-Paying, Low Exposure
You may be wondering why anyone would bother with this type of gig, which includes things like open mic night at bars and clubs, small private parties, karaoke, or county fairs.
The answer is that when you’re just starting out, any kind of exposure is better than none, and any chance to perform in front of a live audience will boost your confidence, add to your experience, and even look good on your musical resume.
It’s also a great way to test out new material or methods without risking the anger of an audience who paid admission.
Low-Paying, High Exposure
This type of show includes opening for other acts, playing at fairs, festivals, or other low-admission events, or taking low-paying weeknight gigs at bars or nightclubs.
Before you have any kind of name recognition, you have to get yourself out there, and you may have to take a hit in your profit margin to do so.
Use the experience to perfect your performance and build fan fervor around you and/or your band.
Local or regional festivals are a great way to grow your audience, but the demand for a slot could mean that you’re scrabbling to get in.
Working your way up from smaller festivals to larger ones is a great way to build momentum, as well as entering contests where the prize is a top spot on the roster.
High-Paying, Low Exposure
Private parties and wedding receptions can be lucrative gigs that pay the bills, even if they don’t build your audience very much.
Still, there is likely to be some people there who haven’t heard of you and may become interested after hearing you play.
If your music is more soft or acoustic in nature, you may even be able to play at high-end office parties or socialite events.
These can pay very well, but you will be expected to keep networking to an absolute minimum–you’re there to provide background music and look good, not announce your stage name between DJ sets.
High-Paying, High Exposure
These are the gigs every artist dreams about getting, but it won’t happen without a lot of work.
Playing in arenas, stadiums, and auditoriums is the ultimate goal of many artists, where money and fame roll in at the same time and fuel a career that will go down in history.
Not everyone can make it here, but that’s no reason not to try.
Since you’ve been conducting yourself like a professional from the beginning, moving up in the industry shouldn’t shock your resources.
Having taken the advice in this article, you keep your emails professional, always follow up when you say you will, and thank everyone who helped you out for their part in your success.
GigFaster, Not Harder
Putting together a successful career in music isn’t easy.
There are a lot of things you need to balance to bring your passion into reality, and that’s why GigFaster is here to help.
Not only do we help you pitch your songs to record labels and producers, we put you in touch with a list of venues that cater to your act, in your area.
By maintaining a database of up-to-date names and contact info, we can save you time, money, and headaches, by letting you focus on what you do best: making music.
Track your pitches and event calendar all from one dashboard, and get tips and advice from industry experts on how to get yourself out there and succeed. Sign up today for a free trial and see how GigFaster can help you jumpstart your musical career!