If the goal is to perform more live gigs – and eventually get paid more for those gigs – here are some basics you’ll need:
As music agent and author, Emily White, says in her book, How to Build a Sustainable Music Career (use discount code ELEVEN to get 10% off), a musician needs to have their art in order before they worry about presenting it to others and/or monetizing it. So rehearse, get tight, be able to put on a great live performance before worrying about how much you might get paid for such performances.
Next, especially if you’re early on in your career, book as many gigs as makes sense for whatever price you can afford to take. The goal here is to simply get live performance experience and begin building a following. Be sure at each live performance, whether it’s a paid gig or an open mic night, that you’re talking with fans to build relationships with them and get them to sign up on your email list. Then directly message them periodically to let them know what you’re up to with your music and what shows you have coming up.
Finally, as you gain a following (we’ll call that your primary audience) be sure you’re paying close attention to your secondary audience – those people who actually book you at the venues you perform in. Here’s what I mean by this: Venues are in the business of sales and revenue, usually derived from ticket sales, food, and/or beverage sales. Live music is simply one way to promote their venue with an event that attracts patrons to attend and buy tickets/food/drinks. It’s not that venues don’t care about your band, but rather that your act and the event you’ll be performing at live, are a vehicle for the venue to earn more sales to be able to continue to have live bands and keep their doors open. So, when you go above and beyond to help the venue earn more revenue as a result of booking you, that will be remembered and you will likely be asked to perform again and/or be in a position to negotiate a higher payment guarantee for the next show.
With that last bullet point in mind, always try to come up with ways that you/your act can help the venue (your secondary band audience) bring in more revenue, and be sure to communicate those ideas with the venue. This could be in the form of your band doing some additional marketing to get more people to the live show who will likely buy drinks at the venue (which is where having your own following can provide you leverage in the form of how much your act gets paid by the venue), or it could be something more directly related to helping the bar at the venue make more sales the night of the show by announcing from the stage your gratitude for the the venue inviting you to perform and encouraging the audience to buy a drink so the venue has a good sales night and can have your band back in the future.
This way you are a good service provider to both of your band audiences: fans (primary) and venues or other business partners (secondary).
Here’s what I do when I’m booking a gig at a new venue.
- I RESEARCH MY POINT OF CONTACT: I find out who at the venue does the booking and what other acts that I know or have worked with before have performed at that venue previously.
- I INTRODUCE MYSELF: I reach out to the booking person to explain who I am, what I do, and why I’m reaching out (because I want a gig).
- I PROVIDE REFERENCES: As I’m talking with the booking person on the phone or in an email, I’ll share that I have worked with some of the other acts they’ve had perform there before, so if they want to check in with those bands they can, and those bands will vouch for me. This provides some level of credibility.
- I PROVIDE A VALUE PROPOSITION TO THE VENUE: Next, I’m clear and transparent about what I can do to help promote a gig if they decide to book me. By being clear and transparent you are providing the venue all the information they need to make a decision to book you or not. Once they have all the info they need, you’ve done what you can and the decision is theirs to book you or not.
The information I usually provide allows the venue to understand what size of crowd I might realistically be able to bring in, and how much marketing I can do ahead of the show to bring as many of those fans in as possible. For example, I might say, I have X number of fans on my email list. I send my email newsletter weekly, and have a 25% open rate each week on those emails. If we book the gig today, I’ll be able to promote the gig for Y number of weeks in my newsletter prior to the show date, and I’ll post to my Z number of social media followers at least three times a week up until the show date. I can drop off posters for you to hang up around the venue and we can co-sponsor some social media posts on the venue’s social profiles if you’d like. Expressing all this gives the venue a clear understanding of how much you can do to help them earn more revenue from your live performance, and it gives the venue the information they need to make an informed decision to book you.
From the above scenario, in terms of negotiating a payment guarantee for a gig with said venue, it’s wise to have an ideal payment number in mind ahead of time. You can help to justify your payment request by pointing back to how you plan to partner with the venue to help them have a good sales night. If your efforts can help the venue earn at least half of your guarantee payment for the gig in terms of sales that night (the venue being responsible for the other half, since the engagement is a partnership) then the venue should have good reason to take a risk on booking your act.
Furthermore, once you deliver on your side of the partnership (aka the live performance) and expectations are met and/or exceeded, it will be much easier to book the next gig at that venue. Plus, that venue will likely have good things to say about working with you as they talk with other venue owners in the area.
You can learn a few more things on the topic of taking care of your other band audiences in this blog post: How to Book My Band: Consider the Live Music Venue’s Needs First