Book a gig. For years, I would pick up the phone and call clubs trying to book a gig. It took a lot of time. My calendar was filled with reminders so I wouldn’t forget to call at the exact time the booking agent requested. That’s if I was lucky enough to be told when to call.

Chances are, it was a shot in the dark anyway. There was never a good time to call. I was calling at all hours of the day trying to get one gig.

If I was persistent, and lucky, I would catch the club owner at a good time. He’d give me the normal response – “send me your band’s promo kit“. After he had a chance to listen to it he would “get back to me“.

Almost 100% of the time, unless we totally blew him away with our music, we wouldn’t hear from him. So, I’d follow up and follow up and follow up.

Eventually, the booking agent, again, usually the club owner, felt like they knew me since I’d been talking with them for so long. It was either that or they just wanted to shut me up!

The result was either a flat out “never” or we’d get booked for an opening slot. A lot of times I’d convince the owner to book us for the gig for the entire night. We got booked a lot because of my persistence.

It took a lot of work. On top of that, I had a full-time job and gave guitar lessons on the side. Since I was the only one booking the gigs I eventually burnt out.

Performing Hiatus After Burnout

I put 110% into everything I do. I kind of have OCD when it comes to the things I’m passionate about. When I first picked up the guitar I would practice 12 hours a day. I did that for years.

After 10 years of pouring my heart and soul into trying to get signed to a major label I decided it was time to take a break. I went from playing 20+ shows per month to maybe 1 or 2 per year.

I totally stopped booking gigs. The only time I would perform is when I would get a request and I felt like doing it.

During this time I made a living in web development and internet marketing. I dove in deep and it became my new 12+ hour per day obsession.

At this point you may be saying… get to the point. You want to know how I landed my major gigs with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Hoey, Joan Jett, Rick Derringer, Fuel, etc… Ok, let’s go.

Booking Gigs on My Terms

After I released New Beginnings I got the itch to start performing again. My availability to perform was limited so I decided that I only wanted to play bigger shows. If it wasn’t a big festival, a reputable benefit show or supporting a major label act I wasn’t really interested. That was my criteria.

Here’s what I did to start landing big shows.

1. Sign up as fan on BandsInTown to find gigs

The first thing I did was sign up on BandsInTown as a fan. I had an artist profile but I had to also sign up as a fan to be able to see shows near me.

Once I logged in I was able to see all the concerts near me. (That is “all concerts” that BandsInTown has. This is only one source for finding concerts.)

I scanned the shows to see if there were any artists playing that my music would compliment.

BandsInTown Gig Search Tips

  1. Set your location in settings. Choose the areas that you want to perform in.
  2. Set your notifications in settings. Get a weekly email listing all the upcoming shows in your area.
  3. Track artists that compliment your music. In other words, don’t try to book your country band as an opening act for Metallica.

Once I had BandsInTown set up I kept an eye on the weekly notification emails.  One show that stuck out to me was the Kenny Wayne Shepherd show at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA.

Now that I had a show I thought was a good fit I was ready to get started booking the gig.

2. Find the venue contact information for the gig

With the Internet things are so much easier than in the past. Kenny Wayne Shepherd was scheduled to perform at the Whitaker Center so I surfed over to their site and started digging around. I couldn’t find any information on who books gigs at all. They did have a generic email address I could contact so I did.

I sent something like this:

Not perfect but I was able to get a response. A response is the number 1 priority, even if the response isn’t what you were looking for. I was lucky enough to get the promoter’s contact information with the first email.

Check your contact list first.

In hindsight, I realized that I missed one of the best way to get into a new venue. I forgot to look at my personal contact list.

I had a personal contact that worked at the Whitaker Center. He could vouch for my skills if necessary. He could also tell me exactly who to contact to try and get the gig.

I was hopeful that my friend had a good relationship with the guy promoting the show. If not, it would kill my chances instead of helping it.

With the promoter’s name and email in hand, I immediately created what I call a Gig Campaign™.

Here’s an excerpt from the GigPlaybook about Gig Campaigns.

3. Create a well crafted introduction email

The first time you reach out to the person booking gigs needs to be short, simple and to the point. It can’t ask for anything but a simple yes or no.

My first introduction email went something like this…

Unfortunately. I didn’t receive a response. Nothing at all. That’s actually normal.

You have to remember that agents, promoters, club owners, etc are all very busy. This is nothing new. It has always been difficult to get them on the phone.

Email sometimes is no different. Many times they’ll get your email on their phone and forget about it by the time they can do anything with it. That is why follow-up emails are crucial.

4. Send a follow up email at the best time

My next email was scheduled and sent during the “normal” work hours for promoters. Good timing can be the difference between a response or nothing.

I sent a follow up something like this…

TIP: It’s normal to NOT hear from a booking agent/club owner on the first couple of emails. If you don’t follow-up you probably won’t get the gig!

I was fortunate in this Gig Campaign. The promoter replied to my 1st follow-up email with a great response. It was my 3rd email I had sent if you’re keeping track.

His response was short and sweet… “It’s a possibility. Send me a link to your music or videos.

One thing you need to notice is that I didn’t send an electronic press kit (EPK), tell them my life story or ask for the gig directly in my first couple of emails. Instead, I kept my email short and to the point with ONE call to action.

What is a Call to Action (CTA)?

A “call to action” better known as a CTA in the marketing world is the ONE response you want the user to take. So for example, in my case, the CTA was a simple yes or no response.

This simple question “ there an opening act for Kenny Wayne Shepherd?” doesn’t put the promoter on the spot to say “yes or no” to the Craig Kelley Band as an opening act.

The beauty of a well crafted intro email is it is nonintrusive but it also opens up the possibility for conversation.

In Prime Your Pitch, Cheryl Engelhardt states, “Intention is knowing what you want before the conversation even happens. If you have clarity, so will they.”

In other words, don’t be pushy but also don’t “beat around the bush”. Be clear in your call to action. You don’t need to ask for the gig in the first email and you shouldn’t.

5. Manually follow-up to keep the conversation alive

My Gig Campaign ended when I received my response from the venue. That’s when I take the baton and it’s my turn to do my thing.

Emails went back and forth for a couple of days and then I didn’t hear anything from him for a couple of weeks. I was left in limbo not sure if I had the gig or not.

You need to be is flexible and quick to respond in these circumstances. The Craig Kelley Band has one full-time member – me. I try to use the same musicians for all of my shows as much as possible but it doesn’t always work out like that. This creates a little bit of a problem when you aren’t sure if you have a gig or not.

If I was 100% sure that the gig was booked I could round up the troops but since it wasn’t set in stone yet I had to get a tentative band together. No offense but musicians are some of the most noncommittal people I know. If the gig isn’t booked they aren’t going to commit to practicing for it. So I need to wrap this up as soon as possible.

I sent the promoter an email and tried to call since I had his number now. I got an out of office response and his voice mail with the same message. It was 10 days until the show. Glad I followed up! One thing I knew was that he’d be back from his vacation on Monday.

My next follow-up was on Monday. I tried both email and phone again. Nothing. At this point, I thought the show was not happening and let my tentative band lineup know what I was thinking.

6. Never give up

Two days later I got a call from the promoter. “Hey, looks like Kenny hurt his hand. Could your band play 40 minutes instead of 20?” Heck yeah!!

Be persistent. It paid off…again.

The gig was finalized and we were now playing a full set in front of Grammy nominated Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his backing band Double Trouble.

With less than 5 days to until show time, I booked the gig. It would have never happened without being persistent and following up at the right time.

Tips for booking your next gig

  1. Sign up for bandsintown to see gigs near you
  2. Reach out to other bands, club owners, and booking agents and introduce yourself
  3. Be sure to follow-up when you start a Gig Campaign
  4. Always be positive in your emails and voicemails
  5. Prepare –  You might get the gig at the last minute!
  6. Never, ever give up.

Thanks for reading!

Craig @ GigFaster

Craig Kelley

About Craig Kelley

Craig helps indie artists book more gigs, promote their music and submit to record labels @ GigFaster and GigFaster University . His latest release is his 7th album, Not So Blue. His band has supported Grammy artists including Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rick Derringer, Gary Hoey, Joan Jett, Fuel and many more. He is also the host of The 5 Minute Podcast For Musicians.

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