Whether you’re a musician who likes to sing covers for a few extra bucks, a starving artist building a fan base, or a blend of both, booking gigs is both hard and necessary.
To start working on booking a gig, we’ll need to decide what kind of gig we’re trying to book.
There are a few simple differences between cover gigs and original gigs. Usually, bar or restaurant owners will book cover artists because they’ll improve their bar sales that night. Venues will book you for original gigs because they see you’re able to draw a good number of people out to their venue to pay for drinks, food, and parking.
It’s important to understand the differences and the advantages of both. Cover gigs allow you to get paid for your time while original gigs allow you to build your brand and provide awesome experiences for fans.
Let’s look at cover gigs first.
The cover gig
You are a musical alcohol salesperson. Let’s not mince words. Your job at a cover gig is to keep people happy and make a special occasion out of the night. The bar will measure your success in terms of alcohol sales and that’s what they hired you for.
Unlike original gigs at a venue, with cover gigs, you shouldn’t be worried about bringing people out. The establishment brings people out, your job is to add to the experience they have.
It’s not about you.
People are going to this restaurant because they’re catching up with friends, on a date, looking to meet people, or watching a big game.
This can make it really hard to connect with people in these environments because they probably didn’t show up for your music.
So don’t get frustrated if you feel like your music isn’t mattering to them. Ready? Here’s what you need to get booked.
Three things for booking cover gigs
You basically need three things before you’re ready to start booking these types of gigs.
1. Videos of you performing.
Some bookers will prefer raw video from a live performance (as long as the audio is still good), and others will prefer a slightly more professional “live from the studio” type video. Regardless, the key here is to show the booker than you’ve got the skills and that you understand what type of songs they want played.
If you don’t have a video and need help, here’s a link to How to Film Professional Videos with an iPhone.
2. A professional email and email address
You should have a band email address set up that goes with your band name instead of the domain name of your email provider (for example, firstname.lastname@example.org instead of @gmail.com). You can do this using gmail.
When sending an email, it should be professional and easy to read, like this:
My name is Dane. I’m a music performer currently booking gigs for (insert next season here).
I noticed you have music ___ nights a week and thought I’d make a great addition to your rotation.
I’m always on time and can perform solo, duo, trio, or even up to an 8-piece band. (Only put this if it’s true).
I play for up to 4 hours and have covers geared towards keeping customers around and dancing!
– Pro P.A. system
– Performance experience (include a list of references or other venues).
I’ve recorded a few videos to show you examples of my performances. Please feel free to call/text if I can give you any more information or if you’re interested in booking me.
Be sure to offer to send a set list upon request.
3. A professional website
Once a booker reads your email, it’s imperative that you make it really simple for them to find your video. The less clicks the better. Your website can be simple but it needs to be really clean. Be sure and check out WordPress. Send them right to the page with the video “above the fold” of your website (don’t make them scroll).
Here’s an article here about How to Make a Website for an Artist. This will help you get through the technical part
How to discover cover gig opportunities
Once you’ve got your videos, your website, and your email ready, it’s time to find some booking people to email.
Here are some simple steps to generating “leads” to reach out to. Download this spreadsheet that should help you organize potential gigs.
- Do a Google search for bars and restaurants with live music near you.
- Look at these establishments and see who’s playing
- Go to each artist/band who’s on their calendar, go to their website, and look at their calendar to see the other places that act is performing.
- Write down the names of those places and the night(s) that they have live music in this spreadsheet.
- Go to the websites of the other artists on the events calendar and find places that they’re playing.
- Continue this until you get a good list of places.
Reaching out to the right people
Make sure that you reach out to people hosting the gig opportunities that fit your act whether you’re a solo act or a band.
During this whole process, it’s important that you’re not afraid to follow up. Always be courteous and thankful that they’re spending any time talking to you, but keep politely following up until they review your material or tell you no.
Be professional and be concise and understand that they’re busy people who don’t want to spend any more time on this than they have to. Really your goal is to make them confident that you’ll be professional and be on time that you’ll have the crowd excited and wanting to buy drinks so that they can have a good night at the bar.
Wedding Gigs and Corporate Events
For booking corporate events make sure that you make a very professional EPK.
An EPK (Electronic Press Kit) is usually in the form of one page on your website. Include your videos, pictures, a bio, and your contact information all in one place. Check out our tips on putting together an effective EPK for your music.
Try things like sending emails to local startup co-working spaces, event planning services, or other wedding vendors. Get creative and don’t be afraid to be told no! Once you have your EPK done feel free to reach out to as many people as possible.
It’s hard to get people to care about your music at cover gigs because the audience isn’t there to listen to you.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have original gigs. Most original gigs get booked by music venues and you’ll need to learn how to sell yourself to these venues if you want to play at them.
You MUST have draw for original gigs
Venues also care about bar sales, but first and foremost they care about draw. How many people can you bring and how much will they drink?
If you can draw 40 people to a local venue then you can probably convince them to let you open for a headliner.
Pitching to these venues can be really difficult because they get so many emails. It’s hard to show them that you’re different the first time you reach out to them. The good news is that these venues usually have a good handle on the local scene, so if you’re putting in work around town, they’ll usually hear about you.
The key is to approach venues with the mentality that you’re going to build a long-term relationship with them. Tag them and engage with them on social media. Show up at their industry events. Make content that includes their name (in an authentic and positive way).
Maybe the promoters at the venue you want to play at also book a few smaller venues in town. Get on a bill with several other local bands at one of their smaller venues and build a good rapport with the promotion company.
If you play well and keep coming out with great content, that promoter will be more inclined to reach out to you the next time they need a band like yours.
You have to remember, in these situations, until you have a substantial fanbase, you have no real leverage. This is the hard part, but if you can fill the room they will book you. And if you book a night and don’t draw anyone then it will be a long time before they try you out again.
Content is King
This is hard because to build a fanbase outside of gigging you’ll need to invest significant $ in having great recordings and video content.
There are great examples of artists making great content for no money. If you get creative here there’s definitely opportunity, but no guide can tell you how to do this – it’s about you creating new ideas.
Look for the things that are authentic to you that are unique and that speak to a group of people who aren’t otherwise necessarily being spoken for. Then even if the production value isn’t expensive you can still connect with people in a way that they aren’t getting from other more-established artists.
In general, it’s hard to have the money to make competitive content without already earning money from gigging. On digital platforms, major artists can dominate because they have access to better production. These means ultimately it’s hard to build a fanbase off of digital content.
Which brings us to an interesting possible solution: house concerts!
Now there is one category that I left and that is house concerts.
House concerts are different than cover gigs and normal original gigs because they’re a type of original gig where you can actually make better money than a cover gig. The best of both worlds.
To have a successful house concert, you only need a few people that really care about your music and feel part of it. This can be friends, family, or fans. These people will be your “hosts” and they’re the people who invite their friends and co-workers to your show at their house.
This works because you can play to an audience of people who are there to listen without distractions and you can do it without having to invest tons of money in content.
This sounds like a small effect at first, but the cash you make can help you grow your digital content quicker and gain fans faster.
You may even generate more hosts from audience members at each show if your performance is on point.
With your audience’s undivided attention; no tv screens, no noisy bar, it’s just you and your music.
These gigs typically pay more than cover gigs and also lend themselves to selling more albums and merch and generating more email sign-ups.
Check out this podcast of Shannon Curtis who averages $850/night 4-5 nights/week playing house shows.
Play your own songs, tell your own story
If you do house shows right, you can play your own songs tell your own story, really touch people with your music, and build lasting bonds.
Once you make the house concerts world your own, you’ll have no problem booking venues and you won’t need to book cover gigs to earn dollars.
Check out No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender by Shannon Curtis for a step-by-step guide to booking house shows.
How to book house shows
It’s really all outlined in Shannon’s awesome book, “No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender.”
It’s all about putting the option out there to as many people as possible who already love your music. Mention it alongside new videos on social media, in your email newsletter, call people, and let those who want to support you know you want to play in their living room.
Just letting people know it’s something you’re passionate about can sometimes trigger them into offering to host you.
Have some fun and let us know how it goes! See you on the big stages soon!