First, the negatives.
The biggest problem is so many groups out there. Venues tend to go with their proven product rather than take a risk on a new artist. And artists are very protective of their gigs. They would rather have a venue go dark than have someone fill in for them. The late bassist, Professor Harry, used to say “There are 100 cats out there that are better than you and 100 that will work cheaper.” Absolutely right.
Clubs, restaurants and hotels tend to want to book groups rather than solo or duets because of the alcohol factor. This means that there is usually no money left in the budget for happy hour acts. Original music doesn’t always work in a club, so you may have to play covers, but if you play them well, you can work consistantly and use that money to finance your creative endeavors.
All of this takes time, so if you don’t have the time, hire a booking agent. Be advised that your booking agent may not be as thorough as you would in selling your music.
Now, the solutions.
Be prepared. Don’t go out into the world without all the tools. Make sure you have business cards, a web site, Facebook page, video, audio, an electronic press kit, press clippings, reviews, references. People will want to see and hear you before they hire you. Some people won’t even look at you without being able to view your stuff online.
Three words. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Facebook pages should be updated weekly if not daily. Facebook is the best resource for driving people to your web site. Add a new picture, post a gig, share another person’s comments or post an article of interest to those in your community. Other feeds, like Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Dropbox, etc. are also valuable for marketing and networking. Finding your audience is crucial. Be careful what you post online. Offensive language, salacious posts or rude and sometimes even political humor might turn someone off to you.
Communicate. Tell the venue booking agent what you want. If you want to play 3-4 nights a week, let them know. They will talk you down to one night a week if that is what they want. Your style is your style. Play the music that you play well and sell that music to the booking agent. It’s the only way to find your audience.
Follow up. Be consistent in your communication with your venues. Unless they tell you not to contact them again, send an e-mail or query card to the booking agent for the venue once a month or so. Stay top of mind so when the time comes that they are looking for someone, your name will be at the top of the list.
Play a few charitable events a year. I limit myself to five and I pick the charities I want to be involved in, but it is an audience that tends to be appreciative and they will remember you.
Have an open house. Schedule and advertise an open house every so often. Invite people to come see and hear you. For the cost of a few cookies and beverages, you could pick up some gigs.
Alternative venues. Sure, everyone wants to play a nice club or restaurant, but there are other places to play. Libraries, museums, art galleries, colleges, senior and community centers are often a better, more receptive clientele and a better paycheck. Every community, no matter how small, has a budget for the arts. Communities put on concerts, arts and crafts fairs, senior and youth events, programs of historical significance to the community and other community related programs. Political and corporate gigs are lucrative and people tend to ask you back if they like you. Best of all, you don’t have to rely on bringing people into a club.
Create your own event. While it might sound like defeating the purpose, renting your own space and selling tickets to your event can work for getting you and your music introduced to the community. Songwriter Harry Chapin leased the same club in Greenwich, NY for several weeks and booked himself into the club every night. After a while, people began to think he was a must see artists because otherwise why would this club book him every night? It worked. After a while, record company A&R people were coming to the club to see this new artist.
Put together a songwriters night, a country night, a jazz night, a native night, an open mic night and pitch it to a venue. If management believes that they can make money, especially on an of night, this can help you promote yourself. You have the responsibility to deliver patrons.
Put together a well-rehearsed show. Be consistent. Your show should not change by more than five or six songs a year. While you can put together custom programs for individual clients, your regular show should remain the same. People want to know they are getting what they saw on your website. Hire someone to video and record the show. Edit the video for streaming on your web site, Youtube, Vimeo and other streaming sites.
Don’t be afraid to ask an artist for help. Partner with someone you know or with someone established. Open for someone in the same genre as you, or someone completely different. If you want to open for a big name act coming through town, ask. All they can do is tell you no, but there are some that will at least be willing to listen to your music.
Be patient. All this takes time.