In the first part of this two-part series, I described the roles of agents and managers and how they work together to book shows. In the final part of this series, I’ll describe 10 steps to help streamline your own efforts, with or without a team.
The music business is driven by relationships. Being able to develop and leverage these relationships will be instrumental to your success as a working musician. The best way to get more gigs is by networking to develop relationships with promoters and venues. Here’s a basic strategy to employ, based on my experience with agents and how I work with them as a manager:
1. choose a strategy
Pick touring periods based on show availability and your overall strategy. This will ensure your work is targeted to keep things from getting overwhelming. Certain festivals always take place at the same time of year. Knowing these dates (based on genre, region, festival, etc.) is a key part of a good booking strategy. Check out what’s being said online and target areas where your social media interactions show awareness. Also, keeping your overall strategy in mind is important too. It's easier to book shows in connection with an album or single release because promoters will want to take advantage of any additional buzz around you.
2. develop YOUR MATERIALS
Have a presskit with compelling materials: final music in the format the promoter wants, good looking and sounding performance videos, a professional bio, photos and marketing one-sheet. Not only will these materials be used to convince a talent buyer to book the show, but they will become the tools used to market it too. The more professional they are, the more the promoter knows that they are dealing with a band that will show up and play a great show.
3. Research. Research. Research.
Figure out where to play and keep a list. Look at similar bands or ensembles and see where they tour. Consider your friends and colleagues and whether they can book you. Check out grant-making or advocacy organizations in your genre for the contact info of presenters. Find places to showcase where promoters will be. (SxSW is a well-known example, but APAP, CMJ and CMA all host conferences that offer such opportunities.) Find online booking resources in your genre that have databases of promoters and venues. There are countless methods of going about this research, just be sure to keep your notes organized so they can be useful and long-lasting.
4. Know what fits
Once you have a sense of when and where, decide which promoters and venues from your research are good fits for the band and your tour; that is, which ones will be interested in the project creatively, have a history of presenting similar music or know that their audience wants to hear similar bands, and are easy to get to. Think about bands that are like yours: where do they play? Think about your draw: is the venue the right size? Think about your audience: is the venue one where they go to listen to music like yours? Think about their location: how far away from each are they? Learning all of this is important, as it will give you targets to shoot for.
5. Find some anchors
Having identified specific promoters or venues to target, try to establish several “anchor” gigs. These shows will get things off the ground by helping to finance the tour or provide incentive for other promoters to book a show. (Note that sometimes these “anchor” gigs may actually come first and serve to determine your strategy in #1 above.)
6. Use your connections
For those promoters or venues where you don’t have an established relationship, see if you can find a connection to leverage. Also, approach promoters and venues in ways that show you are trying to help them (maybe there is a hole in their schedule they need filled, for example). Doing this once you have “anchor” gigs in place is helpful too, as it demonstrates there’s already interest in your band.
7. know the SCHEDULE
Learn the timeframe the promoter or venue books on. How far in advance are they thinking about their calendar? When do acts need to pitch them in order to be considered? (Performing arts centers are typically booking as many as 18 months in advance; larger clubs six months; and, smaller clubs as few as six weeks.) Knowing this will help you determine when to make the pitch.
8. Make the pitch
Before reaching out, find out how the talent buyer wants to be pitched and follow their instructions. Also, finding shared connections, whether they are musical or personal is important; making the promoter like you will go a long way toward getting them to support you by putting you on the bill. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to make some cold-calls, so be ready for rejection. However, if you’ve done your research, you should be able to articulate why your band is a good fit and make a strong case. Lastly, don’t forget to follow-up appropriately; talent buyers are busy and it may take multiple attempts to catch their ear.
9. keep records to keep up the pressure
Keep track of who said no—and why—so you can target them better in the future. Also keep track so you can educate them as well. Be prepared to explain that you just sold out “X” place in a similar market and that means you are ready to play theirs. Also, develop sound promotion and marketing techniques and use your social media presence and mailing list to actively market your shows. Showing promoters that you’re invested in selling tickets will insure a future offer if you don’t get one the first time. It’ll also get you invited back.
10. Rinse and repeat
This is an ongoing process to constantly work at, so make a system that is easily repeatable. Just because a venue is not interested now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. If you lay solid groundwork in your first pitch, your second may get you the show. And regardless of any difficulties that arise during the tour, always say thank you to everyone who helps make a show a success. That is an easy way to be remembered and invited back.
Going it alone.
Having an agent on your team means you have a salesperson, and booking your own shows is a sales function: it means capturing leads, figuring out the best way to pitch them, and then converting those leads into buyers. Without an agent and their existing connections, this may seem like a daunting task. However, if you develop a solid plan and follow it diligently, you’ll begin to book your own shows. Knowing this is important for being a working musician, not only so you get work, but if you have an agent, so you can supplement what they are doing. (Or know whether they are doing it badly!)
Good luck, and share your thoughts and strategies in the comments.