Performing at a new venue or event is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you're going to get.
You hope for a sold out show with an attentive audience who become new fans of your music, and - as much as you love them - not just your mum cheering you on in the front row or the couple of friends who said they’d come along and actually did.
Getting great gigs is a challenge for all emerging artists - trust us, we’ve done our fair share of shitty gigs to know. But, in our 8 years of gigging we’ve learnt a few tricks along the way through our mistakes, networking, and just doing our research.
Read on for our advice on finding gigs and which ones to accept or reject.
How to book gigs
Many bands book gigs through promoters, but there are also many people, collectives, musical communities and venues who you can book gigs with if you know where to look.
But what if you’ve done loads of research and haven’t found the promoter or event for you? Put on your own gig! Most pubs and venues have a booking facility, and although the UK has lost many small music venues, there are plenty of places to find opportunities.
Whichever route you go for, here’s what you’ll need to help you land that gig:
Enough material for a 30-minute set If you don’t have enough original material for a 30-minute set, that’s OK. We have previously padded out our sets with a couple of covers. But, it might be worth sticking to open mic nights while you work on getting more material together.
Live videos of you performing Even if these aren’t great quality, the people booking you just want to know you can perform live. If you’ve never performed live, see if you can get a video at one of your polished rehearsals or video your debut at an open mic night.
Recorded music This doesn’t need to be studio quality, but a decent demo on Soundcloud or YouTube would help.
Press photo Sending a photo of you/ your band can be used to promote the gig. The higher quality the better.
Biography The people in charge of booking artists want to know about your story, your sound, influences, and achievements. They don’t need your life story so keep it between 50-150 words.
Working with promoters
Most artists will work with a promoter at some point in their career. Promoters have relationships with many venues so can potentially bag you some great gigs. However, few take the time to get to know you as an artist and prioritise profit, so they don’t always have your best interests at heart.
Here are the typical deals a promoter will offer you with regard to pay:
You buy tickets which you then have to sell, in order to make profit, or in some cases to break even! We always avoid these types of gigs as they are frequently used to exploit musicians.
Paid after the first X number of tickets sold
With these types of gigs, the magic number seems to be 10, so unless you’re able to bring along 20 people to your gig, these aren't worth doing for money.
Percentage of each ticket
This arrangement can work well if you have a big group of people you can bring along and if the gig is well-promoted.
Percentage of the bar’s profits
We’ve experienced the good and bad side of this type of arrangement. It's dependent on the head count but there’s less pressure on you to bring the audience. A tip for this one is to ask the bar manager to see the difference in takings from before and after your set or the event (depending on what you agreed) to make sure you’re being paid fairly - wish we’d known this one sooner!
Paid a set fee This is not one we’ve seen with promoters. But, ultimately, being in a position where you can negotiate your fee based on rehearsal time, travel, and set length is the best case scenario! You can read more about this in our blog about when and how to negotiate pay.
As we mentioned, doing your research and network is important. We found a great Facebook page called London Live Blacklist (Good n bad London Promoters, Bands & Venues) where musicians report and discuss their experiences with different promoters and venues - it's helped us avoid some dodgy promoters!
Without a promoter
There are loads of great nights put on by music lovers, collectives, and venues themselves. We’ve found these through social media, Google searches, going into venues and asking and checking out venue listings.
We created a resource of our recommendations which we hope you'l find useful. We listed the promoters, events, folk clubs, open mic nights, collectives, and venues we recommend. We've worked with or attended most of these, or have been recommended then by friends. Click below to download.
To accept or not accept a gig?
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to accept a gig.
Does it fit your goals?
Why are you booking gigs? Is it to promote a release, to grow an audience, for money or for networking opportunities? Or very possibly, all of the above. It’s important to keep this in mind so you know whether each opportunity is going to satisfy each goal.
Does it pay?
If music is your bread and butter, then you most likely won’t accept an unpaid gig. But, if you want to grow an audience through your own music, getting paid is sadly not always on the cards. In reality, venues should pay, even if it’s just expenses. If you aren’t sure, weigh up whether it will help you grow an audience - consider the travel costs and time and vibe of the venue to help you decide.
Does it suit your sound?
A good promoter shouldn’t put a folk band on with a metal band. Seems obvious, but this actually happened to us recently! Luckily we found out before we accepted the gig. Not all promoters are good. It taught us that it’s always worth checking out the other artists before accepting.
Is it OK to reject a gig? YES!
Don’t feel like you have to accept every gig you’re offered. Five great gigs are better than 20 average ones, so be selective. Assess each and every offer for all the points above.
The most important advice we can give you is to talk to other artists. They are your friends, not your competitors. Find out what venues, events, and promoters are popular with artists, and which aren’t and listen to recommendations.
Good luck gigging! If you have any questions or thoughts to share on this, please drop us a comment below, tweet, message us on Facebook, or email us. Carrier pigeon also works ;)