7 Questions to Meet Your Goals
Whether you’re just starting to get serious about gigging, or have been doing it for years, it’s beneficial to pause and consider why you are gigging. It sounds strange, but if you don’t have your goals in mind, you might not be booking shows that will be the best for your career. As you grow, your goals will change and you may need to reassess your strategy. But early on it may not be immediately apparent what qualities you should look for when scoping out new locations, venues, and dates. While some musicians simply want a side income (making a guarantee a top priority), you probably have other goals like getting your music heard, growing your fanbase, or promoting your recordings. When it comes to reaching new listeners and building your audience, not all gigs are created equal.
Here’s what you’ll want to consider to book the best gigs that meets your goals:
Who is the audience and why are they there? This varies from the bar crowd looking to party, to listening room venues where patrons come to hear music, to nursing homes with captive recreational listeners. Assess whether the audience will support your goals and if your genre fits their interests. Also consider the size of the audience. In particular, watch out for venues that expect you to bring in patrons and you know your fans have zero interest in going there. Playing to empty venues is neither fun, nor will it move your career forward. On the other end of the spectrum, festivals that attract music fans can provide a large new audience for you and may be worthwhile even if not paid. Small town festivals can be a way to get started, but if you find yourself playing for the kiddies by the petting zoo and bounce house, you may want to reconsider if you could better spend your time.
Who else will be there? Exposure to press and bigger bands are obvious reasons to play bigger or multi-ticket events, but consider the networking benefits of smaller ticket events too. Meeting new artists will give you leads on new areas and venues to play, and gig swap and partnership opportunities. If you’re looking for a new bandmate or trying to get the attention of the booking manager, you may even want to spend some time at a variety of open mics.
Where is it located? You should put some thought into which towns, cities or states you want to play in. As you expand away from your home base, look for locations that will have a bigger audience for you (typically cities), or towns that have a supportive music culture. Towns with radio stations are also good to target, as it can be a way to up the publicity for your shows.
What type of venue is it? Do your homework to make sure the venue fits the mood and genre of your music. If you’re a singer-songwriter, you’re not going to make many new fans playing at a rock club. Check out their website and Facebook page, look for photos and reviews, and also look for videos on YouTube if you’re still not sure.
How well does the venue support musicians? If you get in the habit of networking, you’ll also be able to ask around about the reputation of a venue. And you can check reviews on indieonthemove.com. I had a band tell me once how they got spit on by the booker of the show because only 25 people showed and the band had said they’d draw 30. Or the band that got stiffed despite packing the house, and had their lives threatened when they argued for their compensation. Do your homework!
The other thing to consider about the venue is how well it promotes their music events. Is it all up to you or are they a good partner? Do they encourage patrons to listen to the music and give tips, or do they treat bands like background sound? I had it out once with a booker at a restaurant bar because every time I had seen an act there it was not well attended, and I realized that the restaurant never made a single mention of music on its website or Facebook. And to make it worse, they wouldn’t hang posters. When you’re scoping out a venue online and you’re having a hard time telling if they offer music regularly or not, you might want to move on. The best gigs will be advertised loud and clear by both the venue and the artist.
When do you need to start promoting? Venues and events that don’t have built-in audiences or their own publicity machine will likely require promotion on your part if you want a decent size showing. Book gigs with 3 weeks lead time when choosing a date, to give you time for making posters, sending out press releases, and other publicity.
How will you be able to build fan connections at the show? Ideally at every show you’d have a table setup with your CDs and merch for sale, and a mailing list sign-up (even if you don’t have a mailing list in action – start collecting signatures now!) Surprisingly, not every venue will permit that or provide space for you. Be sure to ask before booking, especially if the merch sales will be a main source of income for the gig.
In summary, know your goals, set your gig strategy, and choose shows that fit your plan. Hopefully some of the above questions will give you ideas on what to look for. What else do you consider when planning shows? What are the best gigs for you?