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How to book a gig as a solo artist and find the right venues for your music

Updated on December 21, 2010

When I first started booking gigs as a solo acoustic musician it was hard to really know what I was getting myself into on any given night. This was because I really didn’t discriminate one gig from another; I took what I could get. This may seem like the best idea if you are a new artist as the desire to force your talents in front of as many people as possible takes over. You need to be careful though that you don’t put yourself in positions where your music just doesn’t fit. I’d rather play in front of 10 of the right kind of music fans than a 1,000 of the wrong kind of fans.

I won’t go into detail regarding how to contact venues or booking managers in this article, this is more of an overall strategy for new performers. If you keep these important points in mind when looking for gigs you’ll have a much better chance of landing the gig just due to the fact that your music will better fit the venues you are trying to book.

So how do you determine what gigs to take and what gigs not to take?

The first step is to determine your musical identity and think about the type s of people that listen to your style of music. For me it took me a while to realize that I don’t do as in a smokey bar atmosphere as I do in a small coffeehouse.  My tunes are upbeat poppy and acoustic, trying to rock out my tunes in a loud bar just doesn’t work real well, unless it’s a smaller pub style establishment then I may have a shot.

As a solo artist whether you are playing guitar, piano, or both you want to aim for the lounges and small intimate settings. I remember one gig I played on a Thursday night in downtown Boston where I showed up to this huge nightclub with a corner stage meant for a nice big loud band. I got on stage with my guitar and looked rather silly standing on this giant stage by myself. The room was just too big for me, maybe if I had booked it further along in my career and could bring 50 people in that would hang out in front of the stage it would have been better.


Star Small....real small

After booking a few of these gigs that were a little too big for me at the time I decided to take step back and think about how to maximize my booking efforts. This is when I started contacting the smallest venues I could find. From coffee shops to intimate posh lounges I was trying to find the perfect setting for an acoustic show.

What I found was playing the smaller venues you often played in front of people that actually listened and I became much easier to engage the audience. Because of this ability to engage a smaller number of people in a more comfortable setting I was able to build up my email list and sell more CDS than I did playing the large higher profile Boston clubs I had before.

When you are able to entertain these smaller crowds more effectively than a large bar atmosphere a beautiful thing starts to happen that really propels your music career; the owners or booking agents as you to come back! Repeat business is where it is at, this is how you build reputation and create a real sustainable fan base.

Stay Local

I highly recommend new solo artists also book shows as local as possible. Don’t spread yourself too thin just so you can crank out more and more gigs. Again when you’re just starting it is not about the quantity of the gigs but the quality of the gigs. It is so easy to get stuck in the mindset of playing out as much as possible that you end up booking gigs that as an acoustic solo artist you have no business playing and it is a no win for you or the club owner.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be out playing in front of people every week however, open mics are your friend as a new artist. This is the best way to get your music and you name out to the local community. Open mic nights are great ways to get gigs and open for other bands, its all about building relationships. My best gigs have always come from other bands or artists that ask me to open or play on their bill.

Starting Small at Starbucks..15 people here sold 5 CDs though!

So here are the keys to booking gigs as a solo musician

  • Identify your sound and audience; find out where these people hang
  • Start at the smallest venues you can find
  • Stay as local as possible start with a 25 mile radius
  • Fill in your empty weeks with open mic nights to improve your stage presence and meet other musicians

I hope this helps you as a new artist on your quest to book your first few gigs. I would love for new artists and veterans a like to share their booking experiences and any tips you may have for someone just starting out, so leave a comment below.

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    • profile image

      kiwi-phill 4 years ago

      Hey mate thnx for tips really appreciate your info I have just started playing pub gigs and open mic nights but I forgot about getting a CD together will get on to this asap thnx again kiwi-phill

    • JBroyer44 profile image
      Author

      JBroyer44 5 years ago

      Hey Scott,

      Great tips, writing pop length songs are hard for sure as you always have more you can say, or there is always another cool melody that will go.

      I am also glad this article has helped some people.

      -Jay

    • profile image

      Scott 5 years ago

      Hello, my name is Scott.

      My tip for today is on writing originals.

      Unless you are so great that you are already on your way to the so called "big time" try to keep your originals at about 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.

      For me........I hear it time and time and time again.

      An original song starts out, and I think, hmmmm, this is really good, 2 minutes into the song I'm thinking WOW! Excellent! by 3 minutes or so into the song, I'm totally blown away.

      By 4, 41/2 minutes into the song I'm thinking, ok, almost over ?????

      5 5 1/2 minutes ....... Gee whiz, enough already.

      6, 7, 8 minutes, I'm left thinking, thank god that is finally over, I hope I don't ever have to listen to that again.

      This is just MY personal experience with many originals I hear, if they would have just ended it at about 3 and 1/2 minutes, I would have been left craving to hear that awesome song again.

      As far as getting gigs, one technique that has worked quite well for me, is a motorcycle. Strap your guitar to your back and go for a ride, stop in at a place you would like to play, (obviously bring your guitar in, your not going to leave it unattended by your bike) just set your guitar of to the side and order some food and a soda, sooner or later someone will bring up the guitar, work that situation and play few songs live, bar side for the boss and whoever else might be there, if you are good, they will like you, leave your information and always follow up. I have gotten quite a few gigs this way.

      And did I mention follow up ......... I once got a gig and the owner asked me, "do you know why I hired you?" He said, " because you have been coming in here twice a month for the past year asking.

      https://www.youtube.com/user/thegasmband?feature=m...

      ....................................................................................... Cheers !!!

    • Akartica profile image

      April Holman 5 years ago from CT

      It's one of the hardest things to book a solo acoustic act and your advice is amazing. Thank you for the words of wisdom. Now I don't have to look like a fool at large venues unsuited for me :)

      www.AprilLynnHolman.com

    • profile image

      Tyler 6 years ago

      Great tips! I really liked the song that guy performed.Great voice and music!Keep it rocking. ;)

    • profile image

      JLS Tickets 7 years ago

      I second Dir-Act. It's a good source.

      I wouldn't stick to just that one source though!

    • DIR-ACT profile image

      Madelon Janssen 7 years ago from Papendrecht

      Tip: register yourself at DIR-ACT.com

      An online platform for artists.

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