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How to Get Gigs

There are lots of things you can do to get yourself booked for a gig but by far the best way is to simply walk into a local pub and ask.

It can be quite soul destroying to ask a number of landlords for a gig and then get turned down by most of them as they’re often only interested in booking established musicians with a following. It always helps if you’ve got a few loyal fans or a load of mates who’ll turn up and buy drinks all night as the pubs like to know they’ll cover their expenses if no one else turns up to watch.

If you haven’t got much of a following or you can’t guarantee a few people will turn up, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get yourself a good few gigs but you might have to try a little harder.

It’s the classic chicken and the egg problem. How can you develop a following when no one will give you a chance in the first place ? You’ve just got to keep plugging away and hassle as many venues and people as you can until you get a break.

Chicken and the Egg

You might feel the urge to offer to play for nothing to get your foot in the door at your first few gigs. It sounds like a good idea but whatever you do, do not offer your services for free or dirt cheap. In doing this you undermine your own position as a musician and also undermine every other musician out there trying to make a living out of their playing.

There are thousands of new bands and musicians out there and if every new act offered their first few gigs for free, there wouldn’t be any point in paying for musicians at all.

Charging for your music proves that you consider yourself to be worth the money you are being paid. If you perform a gig for half price or just a few measly pounds, the venue might not be so happy to pay you the next time you play. The owner gets a free nights entertainment and gains the profit from your efforts while you struggle to achieve your goals. Imagine the next guy turning up and playing for free as well. It seems like a good idea but playing for peanuts puts the livelihoods of all musicians at risk, unless it’s for charity or mates of course, then it’s always good.

I thought of playing for very little or nothing in a few pubs when I first started out, then I spoke to a few experienced musicians who put me straight. Just think about it a bit before you consider this option.

If a landlord doesn’t know how good you are you might be required to drop your asking price by ten or twenty pounds but make it known that you are doing this as a one off and the next one will be full price.

Don’t Get Disillusioned

Hanging Around

You will probably be turned down in 8 about out of 10 pubs you visit to try and get a gig. The chances are the landlord will have most of his entertainment for the year booked up already with tried and tested acts. If you’re lucky, he or she may have had a cancellation or have a few dates left in the book available for you so keep your calendar clear and take whatever date you can get. Generally, if you are worth your salt they will like you and have you back for repeat bookings once you’ve got your foot through the door.

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Best Time Of Year

The best time to go out and get bookings is early on in the year, around about mid February. In January, after the expense of Christmas and New Year, everybody is totally skint and the pubs and clubs are pretty much empty for a good few weeks. Everybody is still reeling from the shock of it all and most people need a wage packet or two to repair the damage before they can venture out again.

Come mid February there’s plenty of gigs for the taking as landlords start to to fill up their entertainment bookings for the year. They’re also looking for new talent and are more likely to give new artists a try.

Be quick and get in as many bookings as you can as venues will fill their books fast. Loads of new acts spring up at this time of year and you’ll also be competing with many bands reforming and getting back on the scene as they try and live up to their New Years resolutions.

February is probably the one time of year you need to be ready to go for it and commit yourself to gigs months in advance.

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Book Them All At Once

Check out the local venues in your area on Google and print out a list. There is bound to be a local web site or pub guide listing on the net and be prepared to go way out of your way to find gigs. Many musicians regularly travel long distances to get an audience.

Take your list and visit all the pubs, clubs and bars in the area over a couple of days. This will make your search more efficient and you’ll waste much less time and effort than trying to cover just two or three every time you venture out. Make a day of it and visit at least fifteen or twenty venues to start with. You’re bound to comeback with at least one or two bookings by the end of the day. Over a few days you should end up with some good results.

Don’t Forget The Clubs

Don’t forget to try the private clubs, hotels and local holiday camps. These places tend to have captive audiences and can often afford to pay more than local pubs. Be aware that these venues are usually played by experienced musicians and if you end up gigging in a large holiday camp or posh hotel, you’ll be expected to be professional and play at a reasonably high standard. You could also try tackling the more rougher social and working clubs. They are not quite so fussy and can be rough at times but they are fun and often pay quite well.

Working Mens Club

Local Working Mens Club !

Do I Need a Demo CD ?

People often assume a demo cd is a must for getting yourself gigs. It can help but this also works both ways. Listening to a roughly recorded home made demo may not capture the dynamics of your live performance and the listener might not like the choice of song you have recorded, so in some instances having a demo cd could work against you.

The chances are you won’t have spent a lot of money on a professional cd and mixed it down with state of the art equipment like the cd’s you buy in the shops, but nowadays you can make perfectly adequate recordings and demo cd’s from home on your own pc using programs like Cubase and Sonar. If you do have a well recorded demo that represents you well, it’s always a bonus but if you haven’t got the means to produce something that sounds good, you might be better off without one.

You will almost always be asked if you have some kind of material to listen to but if you don’t have a demo then there are other ways of showing how good you are.

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Take Your Acoustic

Taking your acoustic guitar into the pub and offering a live demonstration can be a great way to get yourself booked. If you can pull out a good song there and then in front of daytime customers then you should be home and dry. Don’t ask for an opinion or booking straight after your performance as you don’t want to be putting pressure on the landlord and make them feel uncomfortable. If you don’t get a ‘yes’ straight away, just tell them to think about it and you will call later.

Come and have a go or jam nights are also a good way of promoting yourself to the management. It may take a few sessions but if you play well over a couple of nights and inform the boss that you have a full set and are interested in doing proper gigs, you have a good chance of getting in.

Talk To Other Musicians

A lot of musicians or professional entertainers who have been in the business for a while end up acting as agents which helps supplement their income alongside their music. They’ll have been round the circuit many times and will have built friendships with owners and management. This allows them recruit talent and recommend new artists to these venues. Depending on their circumstances, they may charge you a percentage of your fee to do this or they might just help you out for free as a favour from one musician to another.

Most musicians or entertainers have been in the same boat at some point in their lives and if you approach them and enquire about getting a few gigs, the chances are they’ll will be able to help you out in some way or at least point you in the right direction.

Get A Professional Agent

The easiest way of getting yourself gigs is to get a professional agent. Look in the local directories or on line and you are bound to find one in your area. You may have to audition to prove your ability and will most certainly have to pay around 15-20% of your fees for every gig you are booked for. A good agent will be able to get you as many gigs as you want and will have contacts all over the country as well as abroad. An agent will save you a lot of time and hassle but it’s not so great when you have to pay them a large percentage out of your hard earned cash for the privilege.

A lot of musicians have big problems paying out to an agent every time they perform and although you might not mind at first, after a while it becomes a bit of a sore point shelling out time and time again when all they’ve essentially done was get you that initial gig. If you constantly play different venues then it’s not so bad and it’s probably worth the fee, but if you are paying out over and over again for playing at the same place, it’s money for nothing for the agent when you could have easily introduced yourself and saved yourself a lot of cash.

If you are prepared to go the extra distance and be your own agent you can save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a year.

If you choose an agent, ask around and speak to other musicians about them before you get too involved. Not all agents are good and some are downright useless or even crooked. I have heard many stories about agents ripping off their clients or having a detrimental effect on their careers. When I began my career, my agent was so useless I ended up sacking him and spent more time helping him out than he did me.

Just like anything in life, some agents are brilliant and will enhance your career no end while others are useless and will bring you down.

Sleezy Agent

Golden Handcuffs

One last piece of advise whilst you are out there trying to find your feet.

You may encounter one or two particularly controlling landlords who reel off a list of conditions about where you are aloud to play around town once you have agreed to perform in their venue on a regular basis. Be careful here because depending on what they propose, their restrictions might be quite acceptable or they could be way out of order.

Most landlords will not want you to play in their pub on a Friday night and then at the pub next door on the same weekend or even within a couple of weeks of you playing there. This is reasonably acceptable as local drinkers often frequent pubs within range of each other and if they know you are playing at the next pub in a weeks time or tomorrow night, they might not bother coming out to see you tonight. This means the venue loses potential customers so they can be excused for asking you to steer clear of the immediate area for a couple of weeks after gigging there, but be careful of landlords asking you for complete exclusivity to their venue or giving you wide areas or lengthy time limits to avoid playing in the vicinity just for the right to play in their venue.

I was once asked for exclusive rights to play in one venue in a street of seven bars on the edge of town. I didn’t mind so much as I was just starting out and was glad of the opportunity to play, but a while later the golden handcuffs were extended to another 5 pubs within a few hundred yards. I didn’t mind because there were still shed loads of other pubs in town so I agreed at first. I was then asked by some people to gig in three of these particular venues but because of my previous agreement I had to turn them down.

That really bugged me. All of a sudden I felt like a prisoner and had lost my freedom as a musician. Within a few days of turning these new gigs down I jacked in my verbal contract with my regular venue and spread my wings again. I appreciated the opportunity the original pub had given me but felt much better once I’d broken the handcuffs. I lost the original gig but gained the freedom to play in about 12 other pubs…none of which had the same stipulations.

It just goes to show the lengths some people are willing to go to to make their establishments exclusive and pull in customers.

There is something to be said for exclusivity and in some ways it can help your career. You don’t want to overdo your exposure by gigging the hell out of an area until everyone is sick of you. On the other hand, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin either. Try and achieve a balance that will benefit both you and the establishments you play in.

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Get Yourself Out There

The more you put yourself out there in the public view the more chance you have of someone booking you. I’ve been booked for gigs in all sorts of places, when out busking, at jam nights, at my own gigs, practicing in weird places, even over the internet. You never really know when the next one is coming until someone asks you.

Think of yourself or your band as a product that needs to be marketed. Get yourself a website, advertise, perform for charity and make yourself known at any and every opportunity you can. Once people start to know you and word of mouth gets round, you’ll find it much easier to get bookings and develop a strong following. Then hopefully, if you are good enough, the gigs will come to you.

Posted 22.09.09

Other Posts of Interest

Gigging Preparation
From Home to Stage
Good Gigs – Bad Gigs
Busking

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10 comments to How To Get Yourself Booked For Gigs

  • I’ve been doing this for 33 years, and I’m still learning. Even getting hold of a pub manager can be a challenge in itself. Remember you are trying to sell him something, in effect, so be patient. Whoever answers the phone may be able to tell you when the booker might be available, but expect them not to be, expect to have to make several attempts. “My name is Derek Eynon, I am a musician” is my standard opening. I follow with “I Play a, b, c, d (venues) and I would like to come to play for you”. Choose your target venue, somewhere where they have similar acts to yourself. If you want to be paid a fee (rather than a door take) you will be expected to play predominantly covers. If you are going in in person, be presentable and sober. Do not combine it with a night out! Have something printed to leave with him.

  • Thanks Derek, some good advice there. Expect to have to make several attempts rings very true.

  • I am not good at playing instruments this very moment but I am good at singing though and I am looking locally for places I can sing covers and originals

  • Fantastic to see so much practical, industry info available to budding musicians. Great work guys!

  • I found this site extremely useful as well as the comments. Thanks!

    Glen

  • I agree with the others comments, great article. One thing I tell my students is to believe in yourself, make a commitment to yourself, make a commitment to your music and have the will to perform in public.
    Best
    Les

  • Gordon Fame

    Anyone know of a reliable agent? Looking to gig in Denmark/Germany. Solo artist.

  • thanks it was very informative.

  • I used to play a load of lead guitar instrumentals from the band “The Shadows” as a back bedroom guitarist. I haven’t played my guitar now for maybe a year or so, but I am seriously thinking of getting all those songs back fresh in my head and putting myself out there to play the local pubs. I did a couple of local gigs for charity events and everybody seem to like the playing.This website has great information on it and has made me determined to go back to the guitar and get myself out there. There are a couple of songs I recorded and put them on my facebook which you guys can have a listen to. The link is in the website tag.
    Regards
    Gary

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