how to get gigs as a musician

How To Get Paying Gigs

This article is targeted at people who haven’t played much publicly or at least haven’t got paying gigs yet.

What are the steps?

Make sure that you are actually ready to play out.

Don’t kid yourself. Get some honest feedback from someone. Not your mom or a girlfriend. Get someone to give you honest feedback. Am I ready to play out?Is someone going to pay for listening to this. There is a big difference between someone paying to listen you or going to listen you for free.

Look for venues in your area where the kind of music you play is currently being played.

That’s not to say that you can’t pitch your type of music to a venue that doesn’t have that yet. Especially when you’re starting out the booking agents (whoever does the booking at a bar or a cafe) they’ll likely want to be able to say: “Oh, this person is going to play something similar to this other band that’s currently doing well in my area”

If there aren’t any venues in your area that support your kind of music it’s going to be much harder to sell. Maybe you could look in the next city over. Look for audience in a nearby city. It doesn’t mean you have to switch over to another genre permanently. It may make it easier for you to get your foot in the door if you have something that’s already established in your community.

Assuming that there are some places around where you can play…

What are stepping stones? Oftentimes, if you go into these venues without any background and any experience – you’ll get a cold shoulder. You must make some stepping stones that you can use in order to get a bit of that professional experience.

Make yourself a free website. e.g. There are lots of different ones out there but it looks a lot more professional if you don’t just have a Facebook page but actually a proper professional website. You can put up some photos of yourself, a biography, some mp3’s or YouTube videos. It just looks much more reliably.

Record some YouTube videos of yourself. You’re already on YouTube obviously so it wouldn’t be a stretch to take your digital camera or your iPhone and record yourself playing some music. Make it as professional as possible. Trim the end off the video. It’s a little extra step but it does add some credibility.

Record some MP3.

Try to record yourself in mp3’s. If you have a Mac you can use GarageBand, it’s very user-friendly. On PC you can use Mixcraft from a company called Acustica. It’s about 60-80 dollars but you will be able to record decent mp3s. You can put those up on your website or CD and give them to bar or cafe owners. They’re not going to hire you unless they can hear what you sound like. The more professional you can make it better.

Play somewhere for free.

You can also offer to play for free somewhere. There are lots of places that are looking for musicians but they can’t afford to pay, E.g:

    • Charity fundraising gigs
    • Local church
    • Friends party
    • Street

Street performing is a great way to testify your confidence and the presented material and if it doesn’t work out – just work on it later. You can play for tips on the street, of course if it’s legal for you to do that. Getting some feedback from people is important as well. You’ve got to be confident to play in a bar or a cafe. It really doesn’t work that well, if you’re sheepish and have no sort of stage presence.

You can also offer to play for free at a venue as a sort of trial.

E.g. “Listen, you know, I don’t have a lot of experience, but I’ll play for free on Wednesday night. If you like it, then we can talk about booking me for Friday or Saturday.” You can also open for another larger act. You can say: “You know, they’re playing on friday. I think my music would be a great sort of compliment to that. For 50 bucks or a couple of free beers i’ll play for half an hour to open for them, what do you think?”. They’ll say: “Well, i don’t stand to lose very much, a couple of beers only cost me ten dollars, so sure you can come on “ You have some professional experience now. Whether it’s paid or not – it’s still experience. You can put that in your email to the person who might book you at another bar. You can put it on your website. Take some photos of yourself playing that open mic. Now, you’ve got a picture of guitar in your hand at a venue with people sitting around that counts for something.

What next?

Now you’ve got something in your back pocket. how do you approach them? You’ve got to be a self star or a self-promoter. You go up there, you send off emails to everyone in the every venue in town that you might book you. E-mail should contain:

    • Mp3.
    • Your name
    • Where are you from?
    • What style of music you play
    • “I’d be a great fit for your establishments specifically because of XYZ..” or stuff like that…

Do a bit of research on the venue that you want to play. It’s like a job interview. If you just have one resume that’s blank and you send it everywhere – no one’s going to like it. They’re going to
think you’re wasting their time. If you find out what’s the name of the person who does the booking here – put that in the email. Call up and find out when that person is in the bar. You can go talk to that person. Find out when the person who books in there. Go introduce yourself, shake hands, drop off a CD.

You’ll find that you’ve got a few professional paying gigs. It’s going to be much easier to get other ones. You can say: “Can I play in your bar? I’ve already played this and that bar in town”. You don’t have to tell them that whenever you play there it was a free gig. You didn’t get paid for it. You can sort of stretch the facts a little bit until you become established and then you won’t have to do this anymore. I’m not encouraging you to lie but there are ways to present the information that make you sound more polished and experienced.

How much should you charge?

Don’t put how much you charge for your gigs in the email. They’re going to say: ”Who the hell is this person? Why should I pay you that amount? I’ve never heard of you…”

Let that be negotiated after they show some interest in you. It’s usually the better approach. Reasonable fee is from 25$ to a 100$ per hour. It depends on the size of the venue, the night etc. Full band can usually charge more than an individual performer. The more experience you get – the more price you can command. Start low, work your way up. It’s a long road and you have to get used to a bit of rejection and a bit of criticism but it is worth it in the end. You get paid to do what you love.

Good luck!


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