Booking Gigs: Six Tips for Success
Blog by Joseph Ogden under Live
This blog is contributed by Joe Ogden, former booking agent and author of Early Stages: A Guide to Booking Gigs
In November 2019 I released a book called Early Stages: A Guide to Booking Gigs, which is a framework to follow for any artist trying to build momentum on the live music circuit. The Unsigned Guide have kindly asked me to share some key tips and advice for emerging bands and solo artists who are booking their own gigs.
Making some small changes to the way you navigate the live music business can make a big difference to the types of shows you will be offered. As a result, you can use your stronger live schedule to demonstrate which direction you are heading in as an artist, which can have a significant impact on the perception created in the minds of your fans, potential new fans, the music industry and the media.
It was only when I joined a major booking agency in London, after years of trying to break through as a musician, that I began to properly understand how agents at that level operate. My experience as an agent made me realise how I could have been doing the job more effectively when I was booking gigs for my own bands.
Whatever stage you're at, if you do not have an agent and you need to be your own, here are six ways to give yourselves a better chance of success.
1. Keep your story brief and current
Think of your approach to a promoter as akin to meeting someone for the first time, in the pub. How much do you tell them about yourself? Probably the highlights, I’d imagine. A brief overview, maybe. You wouldn’t give them a biography of yourself in a jiffy bag, would you? I hope not.
Sending press kits is overkill in your initial approach to promoters. It's too much information. You don’t need an extensive backstory emphasising how long you’ve been around for and how many great (and terrible) shows you’ve played – that often just puts people off. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, hi there, look how long we’ve been around for, yet we still haven’t really got anywhere.’ You need to appear exciting and relevant today. If there's not much happening at the moment, launch something. Announce something. Depending on the stage you're at it could be:
A debut single
A new single
A new EP
A headline show
A new music video
I'm sure you can think of some others. Create a story. Get some attention. Bolster your position and you'll give promoters a reason to book your band.
2. Refine your pitch
What you're trying to achieve with a pitch to a promoter is to start a conversation. You want them to want to know more about you. Give them the highlights about what’s been happening and tell them what else is lined up to coincide with the shows you want to book.
Who has expressed interest in your band recently?
What kind of show are you looking for?
When do you have releases / campaigns scheduled?
Where are the bulk of your fans based?
Which recent shows were packed or sold out?
Why is now a good time to book your band?
Your answers to those questions will form a big part of your pitch and will help give the impression that momentum is building. You need to create a sense of urgency to help persuade the promoter to get on board sooner rather than later i.e. if they don’t commit to booking your band now, they will be left out of that upcoming run of shows involving other, cooler, younger, better-looking and more cutting-edge promoters.
Remember to always be clear about a timeframe within your pitch as well. If you’re too vague about availability you might struggle to prompt that promoter to make an offer, so try to narrow it down a bit.
3. Understand the promoter landscape
From in-house promoters to local promoters, national promoters to festival bookers, local party organisers to pubs - understanding the differences between them all will improve your approach to them. And remember - a promoter is for life, not just for Christmas. Let me rephrase that. If you become connected with a good promoter and make an impression, chances are you'll get more than one show with them. If they become your promoter in that respective town or city, you’re potentially going to play many shows with them. Keep that in mind when you do a first show with a promoter. It’s like you’re both dipping your toe in the water.
Having good and enthusiastic promoters on side will put you in a strong position to get slots at established nights with a regular crowd, to support as the ‘local opener’ for touring artists and to play on the bill at events and festivals they’re involved in. Promoters also talk to promoters in other cities sometimes, and the people they most definitely do talk to are agents, so that they can book touring artists of course. If you’re looking for an agent or for other promoters to book your band, becoming established and hyped with reputable promoters is a great step in that direction.
4. Create a moment in time
Now I’m not suggesting your headline shows need to have a tour name, as that can be cheesy. But you need to think about how the shows can be positioned to attract maximum attention, and that is going to depend somewhat on how established you are. It’s worth speaking with the promoters you’re working with to see what ideas they have. Demand for tickets and press attention is going to be heightened for a show or tour when it is part of a ‘campaign’ of some sort. Some events and themes to tie in with performing live:
The debut EP release tour
The support tour
The key-city tour
The other cities tour
The homecoming shows
The new material preview shows
The festival warm-up shows
The unplugged shows
We are all familiar with the above categories and we’ve all bought tickets for some of those types of shows. Greater urgency is created for the media and ticket buyers when each show - or run of shows - is perceived as a moment in time.
5. Go after the right support slots
To give yourself a chance of getting good support slots, you need to be connected with other artists. The headliner’s agent is usually responsible for the sign-off regarding the suggested support acts on a show or tour, but they often run suggestions past the manager, who in turn asks the artist for their preference. Promoters also put forward local support suggestions to the agent for the shows they’re promoting. Therefore, as well as having good promoter connections, if you’re on the headline band’s radar and you’re a suitable match musically, you're going to stand a better chance.
Avoid accepting supports that aren’t the right fit for your band. Big shows are tempting but if the association with the headliner isn’t right, then it could be more damaging than anything. Are their fans the kind of crowd that would like your band? Think not just about the people at the shows either, think about anyone that sees you listed as the support on all of the marketing. How does it look? Is the headline artist still popular and relevant? It’s all about the perception it creates. Try and support the artists that are further along a similar path your band would like to go down.
6. Pack out your headline shows
If you estimate your band has 150 fans in a particular area, speak with your chosen promoter and work out which 100-capacity venue options there are. Don’t be tempted to play the 300-capacity venue just because other bands you like have played there or because you think it will make you look good. It’s more important that it’s packed or sold out.
Venues come in all shapes and sizes, so it shouldn’t matter how many fans you have, in theory. If you think 25 to 50 people would buy tickets to see your headline show, you can still make it feel busy. Once you’ve found a suitably sized venue that is available on the date you want, ask the promoter or the venue directly to see if they have drapes or curtains in-house to adapt the space to the attendance on the night. Or perhaps they can scatter tables and chairs around to make the room feel fuller. The room itself might not always be very adaptable, but it’s worth a try.
Proactively find a solution to a lower-than-hoped-for attendance. Make the room feel busy. Make people believe they were at an exciting show. One to remember. They were there. Make them want to come to the next show and bring their friends.
Right, it’s time to book some gigs. What do you reckon?
Thanks for reading and good luck!
Grab a copy of ‘Early Stages: A Guide to Booking Gigs’ here.
Advice on booking gigs for unsigned and emerging bands and artists