Billie Eilish made $82.3 million from her "Happier Than Ever" tour, and Dua Lipa makes $1.2 million per show on average. Live Nation, one of the world’s top live entertainment companies, earned a revenue of more than $5 billion from concerts for the quarter ending in September last year.
For a musician or a band, a huge chunk of their revenue comes from gigs. Concerts are also an impactful marketing tool and a great way to connect with the fans. But what’s challenging is booking your first gig and then getting booked again and again.
Most musicians usually get their first gig through referrals and connections. Having good rapport with event managers and venue owners is a great way to get booked the first time. In addition, many social media marketing and online networking methods can also help up-and-coming artists land gigs.
In this article, we offer a complete overview of all the methods you can use as an artist to maximize your odds of winning gigs, as well as promoting them to ensure a great turnout.
How to Get Booked as an Artist
Getting the first gig is tough for any artist, especially if you don't allready have a massive fan base. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to make getting that first gig much simpler.
#1 Prove your crowd-pulling abilities
Contrary to what many musicians believe, venue owners aren't really interested in your talent or how good your music sounds. Venue owners are interested in one thing only: how well an artist can fill seats. If a band or musician gets butts in seats to fill up a venue, commercial operators generally don't care what the artist plays or sounds like.
If you don't already have tens of thousands of fans on social media, here's how you can buiild proof for your crowd-pulling abilities as an artist.
Make a demo video
In the context of winning gigs, a demo video is something that showcases your ability to enthrall and entertain fans. In that sense, it isn't so much a music video as it is an audience reaction video, showing how fans enjoy and appreciate your performances. It needn't even be footage of a particular single or composition; it could just be a montage of different performances, as these can be quite compelling too.
If you don't already have a demo video, you should put one together immediately. Many artists land their first gig on the back of a persuasive demo video. Here's how to gather footage to make a compelling demo:
- Get involved in your local music scene: Perform at open mic nights, and attend other musical events in your area.
- Participate in local talent contests: Entering and performing in local talent contests can increase your exposure and also help you connect with other musicians and music industry professionals.
- Volunteer: Offer your musical talents to local charities, community events, and other causes, which can lead to new opportunities and exposure.
- Play for free: Offer to perform for free or at a reduced rate in exchange for exposure, experience, and the opportunity to build relationships venue owners (like pubs, clubs, and coffee shops). The key factor to help you decide if you should play for free is to ask yourself whether the venue will be fairly packed and popular even without your presence. If so, it's probably a venue worth playing at for free, if you don't already have a lot of prior material and footage to showcase from such gigs.
- Play at private events: Offer to perform at private events, such as weddings, parties, and corporate events, to gain experience, build your network, and get some great footage.
- Participate in online music challenges: Online music challenges and competitions, such as those hosted on social media, can also be a great way of demonstrating your popularity with fans. Editing a video of how one of your tracks garnered a lot of engagement and likes can take you a long way.
Find unconventional venues
It's an oft-cited example that one of the first gigs played by The Doors was at keyboardist Ray Manzarck’s mother’s office for a party. Today, The Doors is considered to be one of the greatest bands of all times.
The point is, when thinking about gigs, it pays to think outside the box. In our context, a "venue" is any place where you can benefit from putting on a great show, whether monetarily or in terms of gaining fans, exposure, or even indirectly through merch sales. This goes beyond large auditoriums and concert halls, or even local businesses like cafes, pubs, and clubs.
Here are examples of venues where it might be much easier for you to land your first gig:
- Community centers: Community centers and youth centers occasionally hold cultural activities and musical concerts, offering musicians an opportunity to play for a varied and interested crowd.
- Outdoor events: Open-air events like street fairs, local fests, and college fests typically have live music, allowing musicians to perform for a large and eclectic audience.
- Retail stores and shopping centers: Some shops and shopping centers hold events that feature live music, giving musicians the chance to reach a mixed and captive crowd.
- Religious venues: Churches and synagogues occasionally host musical events and concerts, giving musicians an opportunity to play for a culturally and spiritually invested crowd.
- Galleries: Art galleries and museums sometimes hold events that include live music, giving musicians a chance to showcase their talents in a unique and imaginative atmosphere.
- Public areas: Public locations like parks, plazas, and public squares can give musicians a chance to perform for a large and unexpected audience, and connect with communities in novel and interesting ways.
All of these strategies can help you put together footage for a strong demo video. Already have a great demo reel in place? Great, you're ready for the next step.
#2 Connect with venue operators
You've heard the old joke about the man wanted directions and asked someone, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?", and was promptly told, "Practice, practice, practice." Well, finding the connections to your first big gig is like that. All you have to do is network, network, network.
Leverage local events, music festivals, and media opportunities to build the connections and credibility that will eventually get you on the big stage. Here's how:
- Attend music industry conferences: Attend music industry conferences and events to network with music professionals, learn about the industry, and discover new opportunities.
- Collaborate with other artists: Join forces with other musicians, artists, and creative minds to create unique events and experiences.
- Join a music exchange program: Participate in music exchange programs, where musicians from different countries collaborate and perform together, to gain international exposure and make new connections.
- Utilize podcast appearances: Reach out to podcasts and offer to be a guest on their show to share your music and story. This can increase your exposure and help you connect with new fans and potential collaborators.
- Reach out to college radio stations: Many college radio stations have music programs and offer opportunities for up-and-coming artists to perform or be interviewed.
- Start a residency: Offer to play at a venue on a regular basis, such as once a week or month, to build a following and create a sense of community.
- Connect with music supervisors: Music supervisors are responsible for selecting and licensing music for film, television, commercials, and other media. Connecting with music supervisors can lead to opportunities for your music to be featured in these projects. Not only do these make compelling selling points when pitching to venue owners, they also help you get noticed by producers and industry insiders.
Once you get your foot in the door with a few of these connections, you're already ahead of 90% of other new artists, and you've greatly increased your odds of winning mainstream gigs. However, once you land a meeting, it's important to do some homework before your first discussion with a venue owner.
#3 Know your venue, fans, and performance requirements
No matter how eager you are to book your first gig, make sure you research the venue (online and offline) before approaching the venue owner.
Ensure that you know that the typical demographics and turnout at a venue is a good match with your own fan base. One way of doing this is by using online analytics tools like Spotify analytics to determine how many listeners you already have in a given city.
Telling a venue owner that you already have, say, a thousand fans in their city, will go a long way in persuading them that they should book you for their venue (For more insights on this, you might want to check out our helpful guide on how to get the most mileage out of Spotify analytics. Tons of research went into that and we've heard from a lot of artists that they found it useful.)
Here are some other important factors to figure out before you talk to a venue manager. Knowing these can make the difference between coming across as a newbie amateur, or a professional who knows what they're doing:
- Sound system: Ensure that you know what type of sound system is optimal for your performance needs, including speakers, mixer, amplifiers, microphones, and other necessary audio equipment, and that the venue either offers these, or is suitably equipped to let you bring your own.
- Stage lighting: If you need stage lighting, including spotlights and other special effects, be sure that you know what you want and what you don't want. If possible, find out what the venue has to offer before talking to the venue manager, so that it's clear you've done your research.
- Power supply: Ensure that the venue has the necessary power supply to support your equipment, and consider bringing backup power options, such as extension cords and power strips.
- Technical support: Ask if the venue has a sound engineer or technical support person available during your performance, or if you need to bring your own.
- Acoustic considerations: Check if the venue is acoustically suitable for your performance, such as the presence of sound-absorbing materials and the absence of unwanted echo or reverb.
- Accessibility: Make sure the venue is accessible to your audience and equipment, with ample space for setup, performance, and storage. This includes areas for convenient loading, unloading, and transportation of your equipment.
Talking to artists who have played at the venue before would offer you a lot of insights into what to ask and what to look out for.
With all of these measures in place, you should be able to land your first high-profile gig. Congratulations! But your job isn't over yet; in fact, you're just getting started.
The Art of Gig Promotion
Whether it is your first gig or your 10th, promoting the gig is as important as the performance. Do not rely on the promoters, the venue owners or anyone else for promotion. Do everything you can to ensure that the maximum number of fans and listeners know about your show.
When is the best time to start promoting a show?
Once the date and the venue are finalized, you must kick off the promotion. Early promotion will give the opportunity to promote across multiple channels and reach maximum people. Ideally you should start promoting at least 6-8 weeks in advance to build momentum and create buzz.
In 2023, successful concert promotion requires combining online and offline marketing channels. Target your audience across multiple channels to make sure your gig gets the maximum visibility possible. Here are the tactics that will help you accomplish this:
Use Social Media
Social media is the biggest and the cheapest marketing tool you have in your arsenal. If used effectively, you can generate excitement about your show. Here are a few ways to use social media to spread the word about your gig:
- Create click-worthy social media posts to announce the gig. Unless you're confident of your copy and design skills, it's probably worthwhile to hire inexpensive professionals on online platforms to help you craft posts that maximize engagement.
- Do a Facebook/Instagram live to announce the gig. This will also give you the chance to interact with your fans. A video announcement is way cooler than a static one.
- Create a Facebook event page with all the details regarding ticket sales. Every time someone RSVPs, the event will appear on their friend’s newsfeed, giving your event extra mileage. Also share the page from your personal and artist/band page.
- Your family and friends are your biggest cheerleaders. Ask them to share the post on their social media handles. Remember to give a shoutout from your page to the people who share.
- Run a social media contest and give out free tickets to the show.
Reels, post, Insta/Facebook live, stories - use these to create content that will increase the hype about the gig. You can share some BTS snippets of the artist or the band practicing for the big day.
You can also use social media to interact with fans and ask them what they're looking forward to from the gig, using feedback to design your setlist. Remember to update the cover photo and profile photos of your social media page.
Create a Landing Page
A special event landing page will function as a one-point contact to know everything about the gig. All your social media promotion must link back to the landing page. A good event landing page will have the following:
- Date, time and venue should be the focus
- All the details about the artist/band with compelling photos
- Clear instructions regarding registration for the event/ticket sales
- Clean design and user-friendly interface
Since your landing page is going to be the one-stop shop for everything related to your gig, ensure that it's well-designed and comprehensive. Again, don't try to DIY everything; get help if you need to.
Send Personal invitations
Reach out to people from the music industry like agents, record label executives, other artists etc. and invite them personally. This will help you to build a strong base of supporters in the community. You never know who can provide you the next big opportunity or the next gig.
Flyers and Posters
In today’s day and age, printing a flyer or a poster almost seems redundant but this old-school method has its charm and can work wonders. You can distribute them in the venue and in nearby hangout places with footfalls.
You should place the flyer and poster in places where your target audience frequents the most like cafes, pubs etc. Take help from the designer who created the social media post to design flyers and posters.
Reach out to the local press and get your show featured in all the magazines, newspapers, journals etc. Local coverage will get you some mileage and give your gig extra exposure. Also make sure your gig is listed in event websites like StubHub, Gather, SongKick etc.
Keeping the Gig Offers Rolling In
Your first big stage experience will always be exhilerating unlike any other, but hopefully, it's just the first of many more to come. Here's how you can keep the momentum:
- Hire a booking agent: As you build a reputation and start to get more gigs, consider hiring a booking agent to handle the logistics and negotiation of gigs on your behalf.
- Offer value: Be flexible, reliable, and professional, and bring a positive attitude and energy to each gig.
- Keep your stage presence professional: Dress appropriately, be punctual, and have a positive attitude. Interact with the audience, engage with them, and make a memorable impression.
- Document every event: Take photos and videos from every performance to use for social media content and future promotions.
- Evaluate and improve: After each performance, reflect on what worked well and what can be improved for future gigs.
If you takeaway just one thing from this article, let it be this: as a musician, your journey to success is a marathon, not a sprint. Avoid burnout, keep going, and don't give up! Here are three potent resources that will help you along your way: