Three Keys to Booking Gigs at Small Venues

It’s not what you do…it’s how you do it

If you perform as a solo singer-songwriter with guitar and/or piano, or if you have a small band, you are likely looking for gigs at local venues such as coffee houses, church and community music centers, and restaurants or bookstores with live music.

Kyle Rightley

Kyle Rightley at Tuvalu Coffeehouse & Gallery in Verona, WI

Here are three keys to getting booked at small venues:

  1. Be easy to work with
  2. Be prepared
  3. Be politely persistent

Be easy to work with

One way to make a connection with a venue’s booking coordinator is to follow their directions for communicating your interest. If the website gives info on whom to contact, what information to provide, or specific times to stop by or call, it’s best to comply with these directions. Often the music booker also has another role in the business or organization, and may not have much time to sort through e-mails, phone messages, or sample CDs. Sometimes the booker is a fellow musician. On the other hand, they could be unfamiliar with the music scene and need you to follow directions so that they don’t get overwhelmed.

You can also save time and energy by doing a bit of research in advance. Check the venue’s music calendar, listen to the artists who are playing there, and determine whether you’d be a good match. While you’re in research mode, check out the gig schedules of some of those performers–you’ll find further booking ideas for yourself.

If the venue offers open mic nights and you are able to attend, go. Get a sense of the vibe, meet people, and test out the in-house sound system. Or attend a show there as an audience member. Learn the landscape and use this knowledge when making your booking request.

Be prepared

Have all your materials ready for download–don’t send large files via e-mail. They may be sent to a junk folder. Here’s what you should have available:

  • A plain text bio in short (about 100 words) and long (about 250 words) formats
  • A band or artist photo, ideally in black and white AND color versions. If unsure about size, bigger is better (photos can always be reduced).
  • Links to your website, YouTube, SoundCloud, or other easy site for listening to your latest music (what you are likely to perform if booked at this venue).

Recent live recordings are good–and the minimum you should have. Homemade is OK as long as they are clear and can be understood. Recent videos *with excellent audio quality* are even better. Recent LIVE PERFORMANCE videos with excellent audio quality, recorded in a similar venue, are ideal. If your video does not offer your best sound, do not send it as part of your booking request.

You may get as little as 10 seconds before a decision is made about whether to book your act–put your best material forward.

Be politely persistent

If you’ve followed directions and sent good material, be patient. If a week goes by with no response, follow up in a friendly manner. If you don’t get the result you want, move on to another venue. It pays to remain polite, and it’s okay to be persistent when you do so in a cordial manner. If you’re on tour and have limited availability, mention your schedule up front. If you can be flexible, you might be offered a last-minute substitute slot if other acts cancel with short notice (offer to do this if you are able!).

These tips will likely work with most other types of venues, from festivals to arenas. Being a pleasure to do business with not only gets you opportunities now–it builds a positive relationship and increases your chance of a return request.

It’s not what you do…it’s how you do it!

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