You’ve arranged/written the songs, practiced performing, and feel ready to share your musical brilliance with the world. But how exactly do you take the leap from creating for personal enjoyment to getting ready to book your first gig? We lay out 10 dos and don’ts to help you book your first gig, with anecdotal support provided by a few of our Musicnotes sheet music friends.
Do: Record a demo
You’ll want to have some demonstration of your talent to show booking agents/promoters. You don’t need to book studio time, at-home recording technology has improved so much in recent years that you can build a decent at-home studio with your computer, a mic or two and headphones.
Don’t: Hand them a CD
These days YouTube videos and/or SoundCloud links are the media of choice for demos.
The best way to get started is to tell as many people as possible about your music. Play open mic nights, talk to other local artists/bands, and create a professional Facebook page to share news about upcoming gigs.
Don’t: Worry about social network size
There are many ways to ‘inflate’ the appearance of your fan base. Don’t rely on gimmicks (like ‘buying’ followers) to boost your artist recognition. It’s not only expensive, it also could backfire.
The Black Keys have said they had just eight audience members for their first show at Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Cleveland in 2002.
Do: Research venues to gig at
A venue’s promoter will want to fill a room, so it’s your job to explain why you’re a good fit for their audience. Consider the genre the venue is known for and the demographic they serve (including any age restrictions). If you pitch yourself to a promoter with these factors in mind, you’re more likely to book your first gig there!
It’s said George Harrison was nearly denied admission for Beatles‘ precursor, The Quarrymen’s, lunchtime gig at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in ’61 because he was wearing jeans & the venue had a dress code.
Don’t: Limit yourself to traditional venues
While clubs/bars/coffee houses are top-of-mind when it comes to traditional gigging venues, don’t rule out other opportunities that often are searching for live music. Community events, charities and private parties are also a great way to expand your fan base & get paid at the same time.
As you start growing your network & musical connections, consider working with similar artists to book your first gig as either an opening act or set split. You can bring your audience and local promoters often appreciate having an act they know puts on a good performance vouch for a newer artist.
After being released from his first band, Rod Stewart teamed up with folk musician Wizz Jones. The pair toured the streets of Europe until getting deported from Spain for vagrancy.
Don’t: Rely on others to promote the gig
Even if you’re joining others on one ticket, you’ll still want to create your own promotional materials/plan. Use your social network, print fliers, and even send out good old-fashioned emails to your fan base to get everyone pumped for your gigging debut!
Ed Sheeran has said he was consistently rejected starting out because his look wasn’t a good “marketing tool.”
Do: Be professionally persistent
Just because a venue/promoter isn’t interested in booking you right now, doesn’t mean you’ll never get a shot to play there. Look for smaller opportunities to continue building your audience and name recognition. Likewise, be professional and polite, but keep those contacts in your database and don’t be afraid to circle back to them. How you deal with rejection is almost as important as how professionally you handle yourself when you book your first gig!
Elvis Presley was fired after his first performance at Grand Ole Opry in 1954. Manager Jimmy Denny told him “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
Don’t: Forget why you started
We don’t need to tell you that most people don’t start playing music for the money. No matter what happens, remember why you started this journey in the first place and don’t let frustration overshadow your passion. If your passion remains priority #1, your music will be better for it.
Sheryl Crow was a school teacher, jingle singer and backup vocalist before making a living off of her music.
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That’s all for our tips on how to book your first gig. To all our gigging readers, we’d love to hear about your first gig and any advice you’d like to add for those just starting out. Please share your insights in the comments section below!