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