Remember the “P-words”
It can seem to be the ultimate conundrum for the musician who wants to perform – how can I promote myself if I can’t get gigs? Yet, how do I get gigs if I’m unable to promote myself? Music gigs are not going to appear out of nowhere and just fall into your lap. And while the whole process of securing performance dates and getting your name “out there” is in no way an exact science, it can be helpful to remember the “P-words” – positive, proactive, professional, promotion, perseverance, persistence, and practice.
First, you need to project a positive attitude all the time. If you come across as someone who disses other musicians, bad-mouths venues, or complains about the audience or lack thereof, you won’t last long. Treat every gig as an all-important performance, even if there’s only half-a-dozen people there or it seems like nobody’s paying attention. Why? Because you never know who IS there and who IS listening.
Look at it from a venue owner’s perspective – if you show up late, goof off between songs, argue with bandmates onstage, and otherwise project an unprofessional attitude, why would anyone invite you back? On the other hand, if you engage the audience, play like you mean it, treat the venue’s staff courteously, and have a smile on your face, the word will get around and the payoff will be beneficial in the long run.
While this may seem obvious, it certainly warrants emphasis – talent alone with not get you gigs. Sure, if you can play your guitar like Jimi Hendrix, your sax like John Coltrane, or your cello like Yo-Yo Ma, your chances at staying busy with gigs are certainly better than the “average” musician. But if you act like a prima donna, you’ll accomplish little other than turning people off and closing doors to your own advancement.
Stay humble, practice your craft, respect others and act professionally.
Taking the initiative and being proactive will almost always pay off. Don’t wait for venue owners to reach out to you – such folks already have their hands full with both running their business and booking individuals or bands. Talent agents and venue owners receive countless submissions and requests from musicians, so it’s important to devise a way to stand out from the crowd.
How to stand out? Create an eye-catching promo pack that includes a business card, quality photos of you or your band, a professional quality recording, and published reviews of performances and/or recordings. Be sure to include current contact information, especially your cell phone number and email address. A website or at least a presence on social media is a necessity in this digital age and represents an easy and low-cost way to publicize shows, reach out to venues and your audience, and promote yourself.
There is, of course, a fine line between being proactive and being a pest, and this line may not always be apparent. But if you are polite and persistent when calling and emailing a venue, you’re much more likely to get a positive response. Send an introductory email, snail mail (or email) a promo kit and follow up with a phone call. The worst thing that anybody can do is say “no.”
Perseverance is critical – not only in pursuing venue owners, talent agents or even potential gig “leads,” but also in remaining positive. You will surely receive a bunch of “no” answers, as do all musicians when first testing the waters of the gigging world. Don’t let that stop you. Yes, a thick skin is necessary in the face of rejection. But so is continuing to network and identify potential venues – bars, clubs, coffeehouses, restaurants, theaters, wherever – at which to perform.
Going to open-mic nights can be a great way to network by both meeting new musicians and even getting the venue owner to notice you. This writer has joined a couple of great bands and gotten numerous playing gigs (and even a couple of recording sessions!) by faithfully attending open-mic nights over the years. Open-mic is a great place to practice new material, which segues nicely into the following paragraph.
Another form of perseverance is practicing on your own and rehearsing as a group (subjects of a future “How To …” article). Always strive to expand your ability and repertoire. It will pay off – someone will notice.
In summary, “all you’ve got to do” is remember the “P-words.” Good luck!
[Note: The information and ideas presented here come from two sources: 1) The author’s own experiences as a gigging musician; and 2) The book “The Business of Getting More Gigs as a Professional Musician” by Bob Popyk, published by Hal Leonard Corp. in 2003. Another good resource is “The Music Industry Self Help Guide” by Michael Repel, published by Repel Media Publications in 2014.]