Getting Gigs and
by Christopher Knab - Updated April 2010
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Live performance is arguably the most important part of an artist or band's career.
Playing live in front of your audience/fans can be a very exciting experience, too.
Because of this, it's not uncommon for performers to forget that the owners/managers of the venue they are performing in look at your performance in a very different way: they see it as a business venture! A business that is risky and very competitive.
So, knowing the following information should be a priority for you. It should be studied carefully before you begin dealing with the club bookers, managers, promoters, and assorted other characters who make up the live performance industry. Keep this information in mind as you prepare to play live and tour:
- When approaching a booker of a live venue consider "Why do clubs book certain acts and not others?" In other words, are there certain things that clubs look for in the acts they book, and if so, what is the criteria to get a gig at a live venue? For starters, the bottom line for a venue owner is that they need to make a living at their profession, and the only way they can do that is to book acts that fill the club. So any artist wishing to get booked should do an inventory of their talents and accomplishments and make a list of impressive data to present to the bookers.
- Your Promotional Kit is the tool that a booker of live shows needs to see. The Promo Kit or EPK (electronic press kit) should include a cover letter, a Bio, a Photo, a selection of press clips, possibly a 'Fact Sheet', and of course a CD or music file of your music.
Don't send music files to the booking manager without getting permission to do so before hand!
- If you don't have a full CD, send 3 or 4 of your best songs on a CDR. Unlike radio promotion, live venues will accept a live recording of your music instead of a studio recording IF the live recording sounds good. If a full CD is sent, mark 3 or 4 songs that best relate to the music style that venue typically presents.
- What kind of live venues are there? Many. Besides clubs, there are taverns, bars. coffee houses, festivals, fairs, concert halls, schools, churches, and even book and record stores, as well as shopping malls. Keep in mind that when dealing with venues other than traditional club type gigs, there are still many business considerations to take into account, that may affect whether or not an artist is qualified to perform at the venue.
- Artists who are just beginning to perform live have a tough time getting those first shows. A certain 'Catch 22' type situation does exist. You can't get a gig unless you have gotten other gigs, and you can't get other gigs until you get that first gig. So be it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and many artists frustrated by this situation have simply rented a space, gotten a permit, and rented a sound system...and put on their own show. (At least then, they can say they have performed live before.
- It is the venue bookers job to be aware of what acts are up-and-coming and causing a stir in their own community. It is also their job to listen to the demos included in the Promo Kits that come in the mail by the dozens every week.
- This brings up the issue of protocol. Yes, there is an etiquette to be followed in all areas of music marketing, and when it comes to dealing with bookers, that protocol calls for mailing the Promo Kit, waiting a week to ten days, and then calling the booker to follow-up on the kit. Believe it or not, politeness, and respect are fairly uncommon virtues in the music business. It is strongly recommended that courtesies be extended when calling a venue. Make sure not to interrupt meetings. Ask the person if now is a good time for them to talk. If they request a call back, do so at the time requested.
- Artists and bands who think they are ready for prime time may not be. It is a good idea to have at least 3 or 4 hours of prepared material that can be performed live. If an artist has only a half hour or an hour of songs, the clubs will most likely not be interested in booking your act. Different clubs have different needs, and some offer special nights of the week for open mikes, or showcases for unproved acts. Be sure to check the booking policy of every venue.
Never forget: any live venue can only afford to book acts that draw crowds!
- Live venues make most of their money from sales of alcoholic beverages and food. They like artists and bands that get people up and cheering or dancing... getting thirsty or hungry and buying more drinks and/or food.
- As long as you are out on the scene getting good airplay and press, report decent sales of your music, getting listed in concert calendars and print media calendars, more resistant venues may become more friendly toward you. If you are out there playing gigs and expanding your touring base, bookers should eventually take notice of you. That is part of their job.
- Once a venue books an band or artist, they add them to their schedule and include them in their press releases, calendars, posters and flyers. This does not mean that an artist should leave the promotion of the concert to the venues. On the contrary, acts should notify their fans consistently about all their marketing efforts, and print up their own posters and flyers, and promote their shows in any creative way they can think of, especially utilizing all the tools that the Internet has available these days.
- The music business is very fond of contracts. The record, publishing, merchandising, and management sides of the industry are contract crazy. In the performance arena, there are indeed contracts, but in the beginning they are more of the handshake or verbal variety, then signed contracts. When an act gets more established, they can rest assured that the written contract will be around. This does not mean that a beginning act should not try to get something in writing.
- The verbal contract between a club and an artist may simply be an agreement that the artist will perform on a certain date, at a certain time, for an agreed upon length of time, with what specific other act, and how much will be paid. Many venues require some kind of written confirmation of a verbal agreement made over the phone. This is to the advantage of the artist anyway, so it is strongly recommended that you invite this kind of thing to happen.
- As your act gets more established, you will probably stop booking your own shows, and a manager, and/or booking agent will take over the task. At this time the artist's attorney may write up a Performance Contract with the following points to be negotiated:
1. The name of the venue hiring the act
2. The name of the artist
3. The date, place, and time of the performance
4. The price of the tickets
5. The fee paid to the artist
6. How the artist is to be paid (fee system)
7. The length of the performance
8. The type of billing the artist gets for the show on the marquee
9. The order of appearance (if other artists are on the bill)
10. Food and other refreshment considerations
- Without a doubt the single most contested area on the above list is how the artist will be paid. The act may receive a flat fee, a straight percentage of the door or ticket sales, or a flat fee plus a percentage, where the artist receives a guaranteed fee plus a percentage of the door after the venue (or promoter) reaches a break even point. Remember...the venue is concerned with making and not losing money, so the break even point for a show is based on the costs of putting on the performance, which includes promotion costs and any 'guarantees' that may have been made to the artist for their performance.
- A good habit for young acts to get into is to have a member of the band's team count the ticket stubs collected at the door. This is a fairly common task, that assures the artist of getting a correct count of the number of patrons who came to the show. More established artists who are dealing with Booking Agents, can demand as much as 50% of their performance fee up front, before they perform. Even more established acts can demand their whole fee before they perform.
- One of the most important financial advantages to playing live is the opportunity for an artist to sell their CD's and other merchandise at all their shows. Most clubs and venues, outside of big festivals and fairs, allow acts to sell their wares in the lobby, or from the stage. Only a few venues take a percentage of the sales. Whatever the case, it cannot be stressed strongly enough how essential it is for an artist to take advantage of this lucrative sales opportunity.
One last thought..don't forget to bring a mailing list sign-up sheet to all gigs.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: email@example.com
Chris Knab's book, 'Music Is Your Business'
is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.
Visit the FourFront Media and
Music website for more information on the business of music from