I’ve been a musician a short while, but I’ve been performing, giving talks/workshops and crafting my brand for over a decade. If you want a paying music gig, almost the same rules apply for seeking professional speaking opportunities, which include having a strong website with videos, emailing potential business partners (and following up), knowing your audience/platform, plus constantly invest in yourself.
So here goes:
- Work hard on your craft and constantly invest in yourself and your instruments. Make sure your instruments are in top-notch condition and that your amp, cords, PA, looper, mic stand, mic aren’t going to let you down. Do you have fresh batteries on you at all times? Extension cords? Work with a songwriters’ group like the NC Songwriters Co-op to motivate you to write new songs and to push past your comfort zone. Also, invest in yourself via lessons, a music coach or by attending a musicians’ retreat/conference.
- You won’t get many call-backs if your website is unprofessional or if the sound quality is off when booking managers check out your music. Update your music website with fresh events (even if they don’t pay!), new songs, videos and photos. Speaking of photos, be sure to get a professional to take a few shots of you at an outdoor festival where there’s natural light. Or you can do an outdoor location shoot. Bars and restaurants tend to have tricky lighting issues.
- Develop a repertoire of at least two hours’ worth of music that you can take from gig to gig–memorize these songs!
- Know your audience and your musical persona. I’m a singer-songwriter who covers “Luka” and “One Headlight,” –I’m definitely not someone who sings “R.O.C.K. in the USA,” although I’d cover “Pink Houses” in a heartbeat. I don’t bring on the party machine at the bar and that’ s okay. My venues are breweries, coffee houses, pop-up markets, farmers’ markets, retirement homes, art galleries and festivals. When I perform I wear a “costume” of a hat, boots, and sundress.
- I research the venues I visit via social media before I introduce myself–mostly via Facebook. Many times I’ll attend an anniversary party, food truck fest or pop-up market and meet the manager there, showing them that I’m already a customer and that I know their customers. Also research where your fellow musicians are playing so that you can ask them for a referral.
- I physically go the venues where I want to perform and ask to speak to the manager or owner—I go to the top! I’ve found that in musician world, physically meeting someone goes a long way before a cold email. I always have my business cards on me and make sure that they’re clean and smooth—no one wants to get a rumpled up card that’s been collecting pencil lead stains in your laptop bag.
- Regularly attend open mics to keep up your performance game and to also meet other musicians and network. Be the first person to pass along an opportunity to a fellow musician when you can.
Quick story: I go to almost every First Friday Art Walk and my first stop is usually the NC Museum of History. I’m a docent at the Museum and I also know that a local brewery provides samples every month. So, I get there on the early side and talk to the brewery folks to see if there’s a possibility of me playing at their venue. So far it’s worked twice!
Another important item to mention is your fee—figure out what the market usually bears for a two-hour gig and adjust your rates accordingly when the venue wants you for less or more time. Know your fee even if you’ve never had a paying gig so that you appear super-confident and a pro. Believe me, it works!
Getting gigs is all about training your asking muscles—the more you ask, the more results you’ll get. Good luck out there!