How to get gigs for your band

by Dan Davies, Sept. 16, 2016

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Have you ever wondered how to get gigs for your band, or how some bands seem to get loads of gigs while your band gets offered none? If so, grab a coffee and keep reading! We've got 10 tips for getting gigs for your band that we know work (because we've used them all!)

1. You have to have your material in place

You can't expect to be booked for a gig unless the organiser can hear what you sound like. Whether it's a great-sounding demo or an official release, having something that conveys your sound is a must-have. If you're not ready to put lots of time into recording your first EP or album, recording a demo is good enough to start getting gigs, so don't worry about not having tracks that aren't completely polished. Typically if you are speaking to a promoter about them booking you for a band, tracks are traded online via SoundCloud. When you set up a SoundCloud account, you can upload your tracks and make them private so that only people who are sent the links can listen to them. This is much better than attaching hundreds of MBs of files to an e-mail every time you're contacting somebody about a gig. All in all - have your music ready to go and make sure it represents how you sound.

2. Have an EPK

Having an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) is absolutely essential. You should be sending one of these out to everybody you're contacting about being booked for gigs. An EPK is typically one sheet of paper (referred to as a "one-sheet") that summarises everything about your band. An EPK should the following information:

  • A short bio
  • Your achievements
  • A review
  • Links to your social media pages
  • Stats on ticket sales from gigs you've played before
  • Information about your music
  • Endorsements you might have
  • High-quality photos
  • A high quality, transparent logo
  • Contact details 

Basically, you need a one-page document (PDF) that you can send to a promoter so that they can learn everything important about you. Don't make your bio super-detailed. Nobody cares where you met your guitarist 10 years ago. Keep it brief and limit it to the headline points. For example "Fluffy Pillows are a four-piece heavy alternative rock band for fans of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave. The band has been playing the South East scene in England for the last 3 years and has built a serious following off the back of the release of their debut EP." Your EPK should be short, snappy, and contain everything the promoter needs in order to make a decision about booking you.

3. Find the promoter that puts on the kinds of music that you play

You don't just want to open up The Unsigned Guide or randomly scatter-gun local promoters. Specifically, target promoters who are putting on good events within the genres that are relevant to your music. To find out who the promoters are you can contact a venue where a relevant event has been hosted, you can ask members of other bands, or you can search online - Facebook events and LinkedIn are two great places to start.

Once you've found a promoter you have to think about how you are going to pitch to them. The biggest mistake that bands make when they are pitching to a promoter is they don't think about the situation from the promoter's perspective. The promoter - in all honesty - doesn't care about your band! Their business is to get people through the door, paying for tickets and drinking at the bar. That is how they make their money. 

When you pitch to a promoter you have to think about reducing the risk involved in booking you. That is going to involve providing them with stats about the amount of people you usually pull to a gig and the number of fans you have in a particular area (taken from Facebook analytics, for example). It's important not to lie about those numbers. There's nothing worse than telling a promoter that you can pull 250 people to a show and then only pulling 20. It's fine to only be able to bring 20 people to a gig - just be honest about it and pitch at an appropriate level for your band!  When you're negotiating the slot your band is going to play, typically you will be offered opening support, main support, or headline. If you are just starting out, opening support is the slot you are most likely going to get. When you've built yourselves up a bit you'll start to get offered main support slots, and eventually headline slots. Remember - it is the headliner's responsibility to bring people through the door, so be honest with yourself and the promoter if you're not ready for that yet.

4. Book a venue yourself

This is typically an option if you're just starting out or if you're trying to establish yourself in a new area, especially if you aren't making any progress with promoters. There's an upfront cost to doing this but it's a real opportunity for you to establish that you can play well live and that you can get people through the door to see you. 

A good idea when you're booking a venue yourself is inviting other artists to come and play. Instead of making it an entire night about you, make it an entire night about local music that's going to attract as many people as possible. You could even consider booking a DJ and have the event culminate in a club night. Anything that can turn the night into something like a bit of a party so that you can get loads of people through the door. Then all you have to do is play a great show! After that, there will be a bit of a buzz about the city about how great you are, which will lend itself to further opportunities where you'll be able to get more gigs. 

A potentially controversial suggestion would be to make the whole event free. Sure, it'll cost you money in the short term, but in the long term it could really pay off! The great thing about putting on a free show is that it's a bit of a proving gig. It's a chance to get as many people as possible through the door. Try to invite journalists down; a local newspaper or a local blogger. All you need is that one sentence like "Fluffy Pillows blew my brains out! They were amazing!" in a review, and that goes into your EPK. Great stuff! It doesn't have to be a serious headline gig. A party night has much more of appealing vibe, and you might even be able to offset a lot of the costs if you kill it on merch! If you make it a headline gig when people don't know you and they don't trust your performance or your music, not many people are going to turn up if there's a price attached to the event. 

5. DON'T pay to play

This is a problem in the music industry, particularly for young, new bands. Pay to play is basically a cheeky way for the promoter to get rid of all their risks by booking you. They sell you the tickets for the event upfront to cover their costs of putting the event on. For example, a promoter could sell you a book of 50 tickets for £250. You then have to sell 50 tickets at £5 each just to break even, meanwhile, the promoter has completely eliminated their risk of losing money. Pay to play is often pitched to bands as "great exposure" and "the way the industry works now". This is nonsense. Don't do it. You'll lose money, and the promoter isn't doing their job properly. It's well within your right to say no! It's a promoter's job to sell tickets as well as yours. 

6. Make sure your contact details are available wherever you promote yourself

If you are on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, if you've got an EPK - wherever you are putting yourself out there, make sure people can easily find your contact details, and make sure they are the correct contact details! Also, make sure you're not the kind of person who ignores calls when they're coming from an unknown number. You could be letting you and your bandmates down. If you put your contact details out there and you get a call from an unknown number, make sure you answer it - it could be somebody phoning to offer you a gig. Promoters and agents are busy people. If they can't get in touch with you quickly, they'll move on. Don't blow your chances!

7. Consider looking for an agent

If you're just starting then this probably isn't appropriate, but when you're at the right level as a band, it's worth approaching an agent. An agent will contact promoters on your behalf to get you booked to play events, and they will also try to get you a fee to play. By this point, you should be getting paid by promoters anyway, but if you are being pitched by an agent, your pitch will be delivered with a lot more credibility and weight behind it. This means promoters will be more confident that they can make money on the night, therefore fees tend to be higher.

8. Try to think beyond playing gigs at local venues

In your hometown and in the areas surrounding your hometown there will be things like charity events, open mic nights, jam nights, corporate events, and loads of other things happening! Turn up to these with your bandmates! Offer to play charity events. Get involved in jam nights. If a few members in your band or your whole band can play a wicked cover of a popular song, get up at a jam night and play it! If you do a good job you're going to really appeal to the venue where the jam night was hosted, you'll appeal to the audience you play to who might become fans, and you'll have fun! You never know who's in the crowd who might be able to hook you up with a gig. When you're starting out, it's definitely worth playing as much as can. If nothing else, it'll give you the valuable practice time to help improve your live performance.

9. If you want to play gigs, you've got to be at gigs

Being on the scene is really important. You've got to know who's playing and you've got to get involved! You're not going to get as far if you just stay at home all the time and don't immerse yourself in the live music scene. Instead of e-mailing promoters, go and see them at the shows they're putting on! Face-to-face interaction is so much better than a cold e-mail. Do a bit of research. If you can approach them and say "I know you're organising X event and I think we'd be great for it" or "I know you're booking X band and we'd be a great opening support, we should be able to bring 30 people" that's so much more effective than an e-mail. Being a positive, involved part of the scene is a very effective way to get opportunities. The other benefit is that you actually get to see live music! You will not be as good a live musician if you don't immerse yourself in live music and soak up the inspiration.

10. Have a great live video

Obviously this does require you to actually play live and have the facility to shoot a video, but the point is if you're contacting promoters to get booked for gigs, there is no better proof that you can pull a crowd and play a great show than sending them a video of you doing it for real! Adding footage of you playing live well is a great thing to add to your EPK, and if a promoter can see & hear what they're going to get, they're going to be much more encouraged to book you. Your video doesn't have to be high-production. Get a bunch of mates to film a song on their phones from different parts of the room. Sync all the clips together and cut it into a cool DIY live video. Use a GoPro if you have access to one. There are loads of options! The other benefit is that you can put it on YouTube and start building a fanbase online - even better!

11. Bonus point - be professional!

It's worth saying at this point that it's so important to be professional. Make sure you arrive at your gigs on time, help pack up, help set up, and make sure you are nice to everybody! The friendlier and nicer you are, the more chance you have of being invited back. There's just no time to dick about, be an idiot, get really drunk, and cause loads of problems. It's not worth doing and you'll probably never be invited back. Put yourself in the shoes of the venue staff or the promoter. Say you're working behind the bar or you're doing sound at the venue; if these young wannabe rockstars turn up, get wasted, go over their curfews, don't load out, get a parking ticket on the van, and have everyone messing up the dressing room, there's just no way that they're ever going to be invited back. If you really want to party - fine! But get the gear packed away, finish the show, sign everything off, and then party. You have to take things seriously if you want to be taken seriously. 

So there you go - 10 tips for getting gigs for your band (plus a bonus point!) Happy gigging and good luck!

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