There are many ways musicians and bands can make money with their music. Perhaps the most obvious way is through performing and touring. Any given tour might rely on club, coffeehouse, and even college performances to generate income along the way – but there are other ways to generate additional revenue that may not already be on your radar. So here are 6 music money gigs you haven’t yet thought of:
1. College Keynote Concerts. College gigs are great, and are arguably the most lucrative gigs in the indie music biz. While college gigs can be a nice pay day, they are also the most competitive gigs to book. Most musicians and booking agents are going after college gigs in the same ways – through college booking conferences like NACA, or directly through Student Activities organizations. Try thinking outside the box and consider an educational tie-in with your performance pitch in the form of a keynote concert. Perhaps you or your bandmate could talk to the student body about the songwriting process and cap off your presentation with a performance. For keynote concert bookings, consider contacting various clubs & organizations outside of the Student Activities department.
2. House Concerts. House concerts are still an underground, growing trend – though they are still met with great resistance by many shy musicians who feel that they are just too close for comfort. As a touring singer/songwriter myself, I personally give house concerts my golden stamp of approval. They certainly are intimate, but you can’t ask for a more appreciative audience than a house concert audience! They are ideal for solo artists but great opportunities for bands to strip things down for a night as well. House concerts can be more lucrative than public venues with a $10-20 suggested donation jar and the higher level of interest in merch sales that they typically generate. If you’re lucky, your house concert host may even make you a home cooked meal or offer you their guest room for the night to help save you some dough on the leg of a tour.
3. Virtual Concerts. With platforms like LiveStream, Ustream, Justin.tv, Stageit, and even Google Hangouts now – virtual concerts have never been easier to administer behind the scenes. Consider setting the stage at home in front of your computers built-in camera, or step up your game if you have the right gear to do so. Stageit is specifically for concerts and has a virtual tip jar already incorporated, but you can also embed some basic HTML code on Justin.tv and sport a Paypal-powered virtual tip jar yourself. Make virtual concerts like these apart of a larger crowd-funding campaign for your next tour or album campaign.
4. Venue Rentals. If you’re really ambitious, you might consider doing what Ani Difranco did to build her legacy and rent venues. This will obviously cost you a chunk of change up front, but you might be able to fast-track your way into presenting your band in venues that are more suitable or more preferable than the usual direct-booking venue. If you are willing to hustle and ensure that enough people fill the house to make it worth the cost of the venue rental, than you can have your cake and eat it to.
5. Corporate Events. There are always Corporate companies looking to book entertainment for various internal events, and they usually have a decent size budget to work with. Corporate events gigs are not unlike the wedding gigs in that they are typically background music for attendees, so they may not be for everyone – but they are usually a nice pay day in the end.
6. Street Performances. For more seasoned/professional artists, street performances may seem too entry-level, but they don’t have to seem that way. Adapting to the new indie music biz model is adapting to fresh perspective on how to sustain a living as a working musician, so this might be the perfect exercise in checking one’s ego at the door. Street performances can be great opportunities for fast-generating tip money, as well as great new exposure opportunities. Especially on the pedestrian streets of tourist cities and towns, or any other areas with heavy foot traffic. Even KT Tunstall still plays street performance gigs now and then for nostalgia purposes.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
There are people who argue that bands shouldn’t tour. They cite the wonderful internet, the high price of gas, and better uses of time; they argue that you can build a fan base on social media, distribute your music on any number of websites, spend your “free time” rehearsing, and be A-OK.
I get what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. I’ll even concede that these efforts—social media, distribution, rehearsing—benefit bands.
BUT, I disagree with their argument. There are times that touring is the best move your band can make. It’s simply a matter of understanding what type of tour is right for your band, and why touring is important to begin with. The internet cannot replace a live event, and live events do a great job of creating fans who will actually purchase your music.
Different Types of Tours, and When to Choose Each
Now, choosing the right type of tour for your band can make the difference between a successful tour and a frustrating, expensive headache. Consider tackling the following types of tours in the order they are presented.
The Local Tour
The first type of tour you should tackle is the local tour. This means:
reaching out and playing every relevant venue in your area (say, within an hour or so of your home base),
booking steady gigs (ideally, several nights a week),
packing the house,
selling your merch until everyone has it,
mastering your set list and performance skills, and
gaining the attention of local media (bloggers, papers, radio stations).
If your band is starting out, you should focus on this type of tour.
Once you’ve mastered the local tour, you might feel like your local market has had its fill of you, and staying with those same venues and same crowds becomes less exciting and less profitable (since no one’s buying merch anymore) and feels more like you’re treading water. At this point, you have two options. The first option is to refresh your act: focus on creating and releasing new material to reenergize your fan base. This can do wonders for your fan base and for your own frame of mind.
The Regional Tour
If that isn’t enough, your second option is to plan a regional tour. This has a couple different formats.
You can use your local momentum to branch out to surrounding areas, maybe expanding your reach to venues within five hours of your home base. This needs to be done strategically, to keep from wasting your hard-earned money by driving back and forth. Ideally, you’d do a set of shows in one local area, then move on to the next area and do another set of shows there, and so on. Be sure you maximize each area you stop in.
The other format for a regional tour is picking a large market further away from your home base and playing the heck out of it. For example, if you’re an indie folk artist based in Philadelphia, you might look at booking a month-long tour of Texas. Since you’re traveling all that way, it makes sense to schedule sets of shows, perhaps playing several nights in Houston one week, then Austin and San Antonio for a week and a half, then Dallas/Fort Worth for a week and a half. It’s worth noting that this format of regional tour becomes more difficult with larger groups of people group. It’s a lot easier (and less expensive) to make arrangements for one or two people than it is for six or ten.
Regional tours are great for pulling your band out of its “local band” status and pushing it to the next level. They can also help you catch the eye of bigger media—influential music bloggers, or bigger radio networks, or music magazines.
The Cross-Country Tour
The next type of tour is the cross-country tour, and it’s probably the type that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of a band hitting the road. It’s also likely the type of tour that people say bands shouldn’t take. To be honest, it can be expensive, especially with larger groups, and the risk of losing money is greater. If your band isn’t at the right stage of its career, or if the tour is poorly planned or poorly marketed, it could be a mistake.
So, how do you know if you’re ready? If your band:
has mastered the local and regional tour and performing live,
is gaining attention on a national level after regional tours,
has connections with artists, venues, and media across the country,
regularly performs multiple shows a week to sold-out (or nearly sold-out) venues,
has merch stockpiled and ready to sell,
has new music ready to release and perform, and
has a ready resource of booking agents working for you,
then it might be a good time to plan a cross-country tour.
Cross-country tours do require some intense planning and networking. You’ll either need to utilize the tour-planning skills you developed from your local and regional tours plus all of your industry connections and your fan base, or you’ll need to bring someone on board to help plan it, or both.
We’ll get more in-depth on how to plan a tour in a future article. Now that you know the types of tours available and when they apply, we’ll address why touring, on any level, is important.
Why Touring Matters To Your Fans
It might be tempting to throw a swanky music video up on your website, retweet a fan or two, and sit back to strum your guitar, but, if that’s the extent of your willingness to connect with fans and get your music out there, you probably won’t go far. Retweeting your fans might give them a momentary thrill, but that thrill pales in comparison to what a good live performance can give them.
If you’ve been to a great concert before, you know what I’m talking about here. Great concerts are experiences. They leave fans with the permanent memory of standing in a room with dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of other fans watching a band perform, feeling the music vibrate through their body and the crowd, singing along to the chorus as the lead singer thrusts the mic out toward the audience, shaking hands with the band at the merch table, taking home a memento at the end of the night. A great concert is something you tell your friends and family about in the following days and weeks, something you relive with fellow attendees when you get together, something you tell your children about years down the line, something you close your eyes and relive anytime that band’s music comes on. Great live performances are something attendees carry with them for the rest of their lives.
For all their glory and convenience, the internet, distribution options (digital or physical), and social media can’t compete with great live performances. Since your fans can’t always travel to see you, it’s up to you to take the opportunity to them… whether that’s on a local tour at a venue 45 minutes away, or on a national tour to a city that’s a seven-hour flight away. Thus, the need for tours.
Why Touring Should Matter To You
Just like the internet, distribution options, and social media can’t live up to live performances for your fans, they can’t give you what live performances can. Yes, you might get a little rush from recording a song, releasing it to iTunes or SoundCloud, and watching the download or play count slowly tick up. Yes, it might be a source of income for you. Yes, you can interact with fans online. No, you shouldn’t abandon the internet, distribution, or social media altogether.
You also shouldn’t use these tools—that’s all they are, really—to replace actual interaction and performances.
First, rehearsing or recording in a studio—with multiple takes and all the mixing and mastering and scrubbing and perfecting—doesn’t give you the skills and experience that live performing does. There are no retakes in a live gig. You get it right or as close to perfect as you can on the first take. The crutch of being able to do something over again is gone; you either stand or fall. If your band is going to make it, this is one place where you prove that.
Live performances are also an ideal opportunity for your fans—the people on an adrenaline rush after a once-in-a-lifetime show—to buy your merch. If you wow them with your act, they’ll want something to remember it by, and they’ll be more than willing to support you (especially if you’re at the booth selling and signing merch). If you’re touring with new music (which you should be), there’s at least one product that they won’t already have. If they are new fans, odds are they won’t have much of your stuff at all. If you’re setting out on tour, regardless of the tour type, you should have merch with you; if you send people to your site, you lose that opportunity to make a sale. If you send them to third-party sites, you lose out on both opportunity and profits. In what universe does it make sense to tell eager supporters to wait or shop elsewhere?
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, touring gives you a connection to your fans. Live performances bring you face-to-face with fans. You meet the people who love and enjoy your music. You meet the people whose purchases put food on your table. You watch them from the stage, dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of fans standing in a room, swaying to your music, singing along. You watch them from the merch table, as they come up to shake your hand and buy a little piece of you to take home and cherish. That’s something that the internet and social media can’t replicate.
That’s why it’s important that your band gets up and gets out there—across town, across your region, across the country. That’s why you should care about touring.
After hundreds of hours of hard work and practice, your band has landed its first public performance. You couldn’t be more excited. As soon as it’s confirmed, your head starts spinning with visions of screaming fans, lines down the block, crowds swaying to your music under the bar lights, and sold-out venues.
Your band kicks the rehearsal schedule into high gear. After all, you want your first gig to be stellar. You blast all your social media accounts—both personal and those your band just created—with information about the show, and you put up posters around town.
The big day comes, and you all take off early from your day jobs. The shorted paycheck stings, but the sacrifice will be worth it since this isyour big break. After sending one last tweet about the performance, you finish loading the gear into your van and head out to the venue.
On a good day, it’s an hour away; today is not a good day. There are three wrecks on the highway, and with rush hour traffic it takes you nearly two hours to get there. Good thing you left really early… but now dinner will have to wait until after the show. When you finally arrive, you can’t help but notice that the bar’s a little more run down than you’d remembered. But that won’t matter when the crowds fill it in and the lights go down… right? Shrugging it off, you set up, run your sound check, and head backstage—to a tiny room with a couch and a table—to hydrate, shake your stage fright, and focus.
And then? The doors open. It’s time.
When you walk back out onto the stage, you notice a group of friends and family at the tables in the corner. Twelve or so familiar faces have made it. You tell yourself that the rest are stuck in traffic and will be there soon, and you start playing.
Aside from your group, there are maybe another ten people in the bar when you start. By the time you finish your set, the bar’s crowd has quadrupled. Problem is, half the bar is watching the big game on ten screens, and another group is waiting for a fight to erupt between two drunk, angry patrons. Besides your friends and family, only two tables have looked your way.
The rush of booking a show and performing on stage in front of strangers is strongly countered by the feeling that none of those strangers really noticed. With mixed emotions and a growling stomach, you pack up your gear and head out into the night.
Welcome to gigging.
Gigs versus Concerts
“Gigging” and “gig” are terms casually thrown around in the music world. You might have heard or even said, “I can’t make it to your party… my band has a gig that night,” or, “We’ve got five gigs in the next two weeks.” Generally speaking, a gig is a chance for you or your band to do your thing; hopefully you’re getting paid for it, but that’s not always the case. A gig could be an event, a festival, or at a bar, restaurant, or party; it could be for ten people or four hundred people.
While these opportunities to play are great, gigs most certainly are not concerts, so don’t be disappointed when some people in the crowd seem distracted. In fact, you should count on it.
At a gig, the focus isn’t on you or your band. It’s on the happy couple, the game on the bar’s TV, the food or drinks, and the other people at the table. With gigs, you’re simply a part of the ambiance, an enjoyable element of the event or venue… but you and your music aren’t necessarily the draw.
Now, your fans can show up to gigs. And, with the right touch, you can win over a gig crowd that didn’t come to see you. (With some events, like weddings, this requires a delicate balance—don’t steal the happy couple’s thunder!) But the fact remains that you and your music are not the reason most people are there.
With a concert, though, music is the focus. People aren’t at the venue to watch some game or visit with friends or drown their sorrows—they’re there for the music. (If there happen to be drinks, great!) Whether they bought tickets to your concert in advance and traveled just to see you or they dropped in to see who is playing at their favorite venue on a night you happen to be playing, with a concert, people are there for the music.
Should You Even Book Gigs?
I’m sure that it’s frustrating to practice for hours, travel to a venue, unload your gear, run a sound check, play your heart out… and be ignored in favor of some televised event or dinner conversations. Even if you do win over the crowd at a gig—maybe even sell some merchandise or collect some email addresses—there’s the nagging thought in the back of your head that those people weren’t there to see you.
But that doesn’t mean gigs don’t have value.
Early on in your music career, gigs might be your only opportunities and chances to perform. Take them! Gigs will help you hone your craft and performance skills in a way that rehearsing in your garage never can. You’ll develop your set list; you’ll also learn to read the crowd, throw the set list out, and wing it if needed. Playing to rooms of people ignoring you helps you build up a thick skin; you’ll need that later on, when you gain traction, reviews, and fans (because no artist is exempt from negative reviews and haters). Even later in your career, gigging can provide reasonable income and exposure. If the gig pays well and you like the venue, do it.
And those fans we just mentioned? You know, the people who genuinely like your music, and not just because they’re your friends and family? You get those through playing gigs. Sure, people might not have come to see you, but, if you’re good, they’ll notice you. If you’re really good, they’ll buy something or sign up for your mailing list. They might even come see you again, bringing a few friends along. That’s the best way to organically grow your fan base.
Gigs also let you interact with your fans on an individual, personal level—something that gets harder to do as you begin booking big concerts. Lastly, gigs keep you humble, pulling you out of your “music-is-my-whole-existence-why-haven’t-you-heard-of-me?” bubble and giving you a fresh perspective.
While gigs have value, I’m willing to bet that you’d rather book a concert over a gig. I can’t really blame you. Performing for people who appreciate your music, connecting with hundreds or thousands of fans, packing out a venue—these are the thoughts that keep you going. Concerts are the dream for most musicians. That dream is needed to get you through the bumps you’ll hit along the road; it’s what helps you persevere. When you start booking concerts instead of gigs, even at a small scale, the fact that people come and pay specifically to see you boosts both your ego and your wallet. If you have the chance to book a concert, take it!
As tempting as it is to ignore gigs and chase concerts, you need to spend a significant portion of your music career playing gigs. Gigs provide the steady base—your performance skills, your core fan base, your tough skin and humility—that you need for a successful, long-term music career.
The truth is, you will not be able to book many (if any) concerts until you have some experience gigging and have created a following of fans that will pay to see you perform. So gigging is really a path to bigger and better things over time.
In the end, if you have a legitimate opportunity to play and you have an opening on your schedule—whether it’s a gig or a concert—take it!
There are easier career paths than that of the independent musician. In most cases, you—the artist or band—are the songwriter, manager, social media director, roadie, and, oh yeah, you play music. But, where do you play? And how do you break into those venues? We’re here to tell you.
First, know that the advice you find below won’t mean a thing if you’re not ready for the stage. To the serious performer, this means your songs are memorized, your instrumentation and vocals are tight, you have your transitions down, and—lest I forget the obvious—you’re comfortable in front of a crowd.
Having gotten those pre-requisites out of the way, let’s talk about getting gigs.
It’s all about who you know, so get out there and meet your fellow music makers. You might have thought I was going to say ‘get to know the venues’; that is also important, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It may seem counter-intuitive, but getting to know and befriend other bands can pay big dividends. Besides the fact that collaborating with other artists will help you grow and make you a better musician, knowing people in the local scene is a great way to hear about gig leads. These people can help; they are not your competition (unless you actually are doing a competition, like Battle of the Bands).
The independent music community is a place where you can find rich resources. If you make a connection with other groups and artists, they may be willing to put in a good word for you with promoters or bookers. Or, if you’re a fit, you could become an opening act for them. If you want to know the best places to play or get an introduction, play nice with other local musicians. And, when you get a break, remember to pay it forward for other up-and-comers. You never know who will be the next big thing.
Do Your Homework
The contact information for local booking agents is generally just a Google search away. But before you reach out to these people, find out all you can: their name, their preferred genre, the information and materials required for an audition, etc. If you have a buddy who knows the person you’re contacting, at the very least make sure to mention your friend’s name in your correspondence. Even better? See if your friend will introduce you in person—another situation where networking comes in handy.
If you’re trying to play an event or festival, first make sure your genre fits the audience. Your death metal sound may not jive with the bluegrass festival-goers. Second, know that there may be several stages, each with their own booker. Find out who you need to talk to about the stage that best fits your sound.
If it’s a bar or a club you’re looking to play, go check out some shows there. Get to know the bartenders. Watch the crowds; find out what they respond to and what seems to bore them. Make a connection with bands that are already playing at the club; a good word from a currently-performing band will go a long way in securing your gig.
You’ve found the person you need to contact. You’ve done your research. Now, make sure your email or letter to them is thoughtfully written. If this is not your strong suit, enlist a friend to help you. (I mentioned a letter intentionally. Lots of emails get lost in spam filters, are deleted without being read, or just don’t make it to the intended recipient; personal letters will at least get opened.)
I should also mention that persistence is a virtue when contacting a new venue. Don’t make the mistake of sending one letter and thinking all your work is done. It may take several attempts to get the attention of the person who makes booking decisions.
Whichever way you send it, make sure you have reviewed and edited your communication thoroughly. This includes spelling your contact’s name correctly. I had an opportunity to interview three different PR firms last month to help promote my band. I was surprised by the offer from one of the firms; they spelled my name three different ways in one letter! Needless to say, I did not use them.
No, not like that. I mean, make it easy for your potential promoter to listen to your audition. After going through all the trouble of researching your contacts, do everything in your power to ensure they listen to your awesomeness. For example, check (and double-check) that links to tracks and videos are working. Also, be sure to send a link or recording of a live performance—not a shiny studio recording. Your potential booking agent wants to know you’re capable of performing live.
In your communications, keep it brief (no life stories, please), but be informative. Include your contact information, genre, influences, and experience. If you have a considerable fan base and think you can pack the house, by all means, tell your contact that. (If not, don’t lie about it. You may get your foot in the door, but you will not be asked back.)
As in reflexes. Be ready to respond quickly if a promoter contacts you back—the same day if at all possible. They could have a dozen other hungry musicians waiting to take your spot. If, for some reason, you can no longer take the gig, let them know, and communicate your disappointment in the schedule conflict. They may remember you for the future.
Allow for Small Beginnings
When you’re just starting out, you have to build a fan base. To do that, you have to get your music into the ears of potential fans. Unless you’re getting booked every night, take the gigs that come your way—no matter how “insignificant” you think they may be. You can be proactive in these matters, too. Find a cause to support and do a benefit concert. Or, play your neighborhood’s next block party. Just get your music out there. You never know who will show up and catch your amazing set. Then, capture your fans’ info and invite them to future shows. As mentioned earlier, a following will help you land future gigs.
If your material is up to snuff and you are stage-ready, these steps will be instrumental in helping you get your next gig.
There are two ways you can take this—the way your wife says it when she thinks you’ve lost your mind, or the way a well-intentioned friend offers you some career or relationship advice. The truth is, neither way is particularly favorable.
Most people in the music world would assume that this headline (and the subsequent article) is related to using the professional services of a record label or booking agent. It’s not. A record label might be a necessary part of furthering your music career, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
So what are we saying? Maybe re-phrasing it would help:
You need help from professional friends
Let’s back up a little here.
Early last year, a talented young musician came by our office. She told us what she was doing to make it as a performing musician; she was full of creative ideas (so much so that we had some trouble keeping up), and it was an informative discussion. She plays gigs often, and she’s recorded quite a bit. She has a website, a product manager, music videos, CDs, and merchandise. She has a street team of dedicated fans that help out. She has profiles and content on all the right social networks: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+. She has her music for sale on iTunes, and it is also available on Pandora, Spotify, and Last.fm. And then there’s…well you get the idea.
It didn’t take long to figure out that she has a lot going on. Maybe a little too much.
Part of our discussion covered how she gets gigs. Now, she stays busy, performing three to five times per week (on average), and her music is her only source of income. She knows gigs are important, she makes most of her income from gigging and selling CDs and other products from her merch table. Her challenge was finding venues that worked—meaning, the money was good, she connected with the audience, the venue fit her style and skill level, and the venue was happy with the night. When these gigs turned into regular repeat dates she was able fill out her schedule with rewarding performances. When all these stars aligned, she felt like she’d hit a home run.
Earlier in her career, she had worked with promoters and managers who had booked gigs for her. However, she hated that they monopolized the relationship with the venue, so she made an effort to start networking directly with the venue owners. As she dropped the managers and promoters, she worked her existing venue relationships to keep booking her regular gigs. To this day she still believes this was a good move for her career. She is in complete control of the booking process and it has paid good dividends.
The drawback to this method is that, when her go-to venues were booked up and she needed to connect with new ones, the new venues didn’t know her, and they didn’t know if booking her would work out for them. Remember, she no longer had access to a promoter or agent to introduce her to new venues. These professionals spent many years building a reputation for providing the talented artists that a venue needed to survive. If the manager or promoter vouched for the musician they were putting their reputation on the line. A trust relationship with the venue is very important.
Since she no longer had someone to vouch for her, our artist would quite often spend hours making cold calls trying to book a gig, and nine times out of ten the answer she heard was “no”. This soured our artist with this method of finding gigs. (We can’t really blame her; we have past experience with cold-calls in the business world, and it’s absolutely no fun to hear a dozen or more rejections before someone finally says yes.)
To make things even more challenging—when she got a “yes” it was really a “maybe,” and that was just the beginning. She had to send over a press kit that included a complete workup showcasing her talent. Once she passed this initial review (sometimes it would take weeks to get a response), she might be invited to audition in person—another hurdle. Sometimes she got no response at all. Now her success changed from one-in-ten to one-in-twenty. It wears us out just to think about the process.
With everything this girl had going on—all her talent, all her drive, all her gigs, all her outlets and channels and efforts—she still had trouble with getting by. She knew she needed to find a better way to get gigs, and that she needed better gigs.
Can you relate to her situation? Are you, despite your talent and hard work and creative ideas, still struggling to get by as a musician? Do you need a more-effective long term method for finding gigs? We see artists like you every day. We hear your struggles. We want to help.
Now, back to the story.
We shared a story about another musician with her.
When he was starting out, he was full of promise and talent but had little money or name-recognition. He had not played professionally as often as he would have liked, and he was not making enough money. He was contemplating giving up on his dream. His part time job had became more than a distraction – it was not fulfilling, it paid very little, and got in the way of focusing on his music. Part time work was supposed to help bridge the income gap while he pursued his music career in the off hours. It was not working.
Going out on a limb, he bid for a job at a music festival several states away from where he lived. Time was running out, he had to make something work quickly or give up. As luck would have it, he got the gig. Well, not so much luck as his willingness to work for nothing, plus the fact that the festival was short on his musical style or genre and needed him to play. With only $50 in his pocket, he drove 630 miles to the festival, hoping for the best.
He went, and he played. After the performance, he had the opportunity to visit with some other musicians backstage. They liked his sound. A professional friendship was formed, and the other musicians invited him to sit in on one of their performances. He agreed (again, playing for no money). The relationship flourished. After the festival, they introduced him to several of the local venues where they would be performing in the near future and again asked him to sit in. They also took an interest in his career and gave him the input and support he needed to improve his game. Even though they were not much older than he was the results were significant.
Because his new professional friends vouched for him, he was able to book gigs at those venues as well. He ended up staying in the area for several weeks, padding his pockets with good gig money and helping further his confidence and music career. Over time he was able to expand his circle and meet even more musicians. He continued to work with these relationships and created a good reputation of his own with the venues and other artists in the area. Almost overnight his career began to turn around. What had happened?
Now, his success didn’t come from luck. It didn’t come from hiring a booking agent, making cold calls, or signing with a label. His success came from being open to opportunity and from his focus on relationships. That professional friendship with the other musicians is what got him the good gigs, which made him the money he needed. He leveraged up—perhaps unintentionally and without knowing it, but still.
This is what we mean when we say “professional help”: creating genuine relationships with other musicians as often as you can. We offer you the same advice we gave that talented, hard-working, struggling artist: work hard to create as many professional fans backstage as you do in the audience. Look around you for musicians who are more experienced and try to learn from them. Ask for advice and help. Use these relationships to leverage your career, and be willing to offer the same help to others.
There is no reason go it alone.
This is one of the things that we truly love about the independent music business. Unlike the business world, where companies constantly compete directly against other companies selling similar products, one musician does not compete with another musician. Music is not an “or” commodity, which can only be consumed in exclusion to the alternatives. Instead, it’s an “and” commodity.* A fan’s affinity for one band doesn’t mean he can’t also like your band. Fans don’t go to concerts hoping one act is great and the other two suck. The better each act is, the happier the fan is. The better the music available, the happier the fan.
The next step for you is to look into opportunities to perform where your exposure to other musicians will be the greatest, like the music festival our artist went to or an open mic night in your area. Visit a venue where you want to perform and see if you can connect with musicians that are already performing there. Don’t be overly concerned if you have to play for free or less money than you’d prefer,** since building these relationships is a long-term investment in your career. Remain open-minded and reach out to other musicians to create connections. Leverage up.
* We know this is a generalization, and that there are instances where you compete against other bands for a fan’s time and money. We still feel it’s a different type of competition.
** To keep the bills paid, try working these low-paying, opportunity-laden gigs into your schedule among the paying gigs.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
When it comes to the question of how to promote your gig or music, there is a pretty rigidly, almost exclusive split between those who swear by using promoters and those who prefer to DIY. Where do you fall on the issue?
What Do Promoters Do?
In short, music promoters build the hype around gigs and events. They either contract with the venues (promoting their events), or they work independently.
Using a Promoter
Odds are good that you want more people to come to your shows, and you want more money from your gigs. Good promoters can help with those goals. They use their existing and extensive industry contacts to draw crowds to your band’s appearances; bigger crowds mean bigger payouts. Music promoters can also get you on the radar of the right people. If a promoter worked with you before, they might recommend you to other club owners looking to fill their schedules. Having someone outside the band promote the gigs leaves you free to focus on the music. What could be bad about that?
Well, you do have to pay the promoter. So, that’s a bit less money for you.
DIY Music Promotions
Depending on the venue, you might have to use their promoter. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say you don’t have to and don’t want to. Whether you’re blessed with a knack for marketing and promotions or are wrapped up in the magical fairytale about the exhausted, busking musician who gets his big break on the very last leg of a very exhausting tour (isn’t that a nice thought?), you’ve decided that you can handle your own promotions. That’s fine. Really, it is.
But, if you want results, you’ll have to work hard. Make your own connections; get to know those in your local music scene on a first name (both ways) basis. Go to the bars and venues where you want to play; meet the managers, owners, and bartenders. Let them know you’re serious about your band, and leave a press kit or demo with them. Build friendships and alliances with other bands, so when they see an open slot at their gigs they call you first. When you have a gig, tell everyone. Post it on your website and your social media accounts, put up posters around town, call your friends and their friends. Be aware that the time you invest in promoting might impact your music or your personal life.
Promoter or not, at the end of the day, you need to be your biggest mouthpiece. Choosing to go without a promoter just makes it even more important.
Have you worked with promoters before? Were they chosen by the venue, or by the event, or by you? Did you also promote the gig? How did the experience go for you?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
As a band, music marketing and the right supplies are something you need to think about. If you meet someone at a bar, show, or around town, do you have an eye-catching, informative business card with you? If not, you just missed an opportunity. Having the right marketing materials can make or break you.
In the past, press kits have been an essential marketing material for musicians. However, in a changing music industry, you might wonder if they still necessary. The answer: absolutely!
The Role of Press Kits
Press kits were sent to record labels, music reviewers, clubs, and managers as a way of familiarizing the recipient with the band. They included a press release with current news about your band (new releases, tour, studio) as well as a band bio. A single, full album, or demo and band photo(s) are also often part of the package. Because a press kit may be your band’s first and only chance to make an impression, have a polished, professional, and interesting press kit ready to go.
Digital Press Kits
As technology has advanced, an electronic or digital press kit has emerged as a greener, more state-of-the-art alternative to the traditional physical version, containing the same or more content but in digital format. They allow the recipient to quickly click a few links, preview your music, read your bio, and make a decision. If you want to create an electronic press kit for your band, websites like SonicBids and ReverbNation can help. If creating your own, be sure to include links to your band’s music, website, and social media accounts and text with your band’s latest press release.
Physical vs. Digital
Some artist reps, media outlets, blogs, magazines, record companies, and booking agencies will only take a physical press kit, while others will only take a digital press kit. For now, your best bet as a band is to have both types ready and available.
Submitting Your Press Kit
There is a good chance that most places you would submit to have their submission guidelines available online. If you can’t find their submission policies online, give them a call or send a friendly email. The point is, be sure to follow their guidelines and send them exactly what they want in the format(s) they want. There is no faster way to earn a negative review or annoy someone you want to impress than to ignore their submission requirements.
Have you created a press kit for you band or act? Did you go with a physical press kit, an electronic press kit, or both? How do you use it the most?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 3 minutes
When they actually stop and think about it, most people realize that, aside from the big-name artists, musicians don’t get paid much. What they might not realize is just how often artists pay to play gigs.
The concept might sound counter-intuitive and like a bad business plan, but it’s nothing new, and it’s not limited to music. In the business world, the concepts of investing to make a return or spending money to make money are fairly familiar. But is paying to play something artists should do?
Types of Pay to Play
First, you should understand the different types of pay to play. Venues are concerned with their overhead, which they can’t do if your unknown band doesn’t draw many fans. To remedy this, they make opening bands purchase tickets (often at a discounted price) in advance; the bands then sell these tickets at whatever price they want. If they band doesn’t sell enough tickets, the band is the one short the money, meaning they’re paying to play.
Another way smaller bands might pay to play is to “buy on” as an opening act for well-known bands on tours or at festivals. Larger acts require bigger venues, and festivals spread out over several days can be a big investment to put on. To offset the cost of large shows, the venue or festival might ask small or local bands to pay for a slot; the closer to the end of the night (and to the main act), the more that slot costs.
Unlike their standard Friday night bar gig, the band might have to pay to play these large shows or festivals, but the exposure to thousands of new fans and the potential merchandise sales make these pay to play gigs pretty tempting.
Even playing gigs for free isn’t truly free when you consider the time that could’ve been spent at other (paying) gigs and the gas to get there.
The pay to play concept goes further than live shows. Artists might pay to be listed on streaming services, to bid on gigs (especially with online gig-finding sites), to have their music considered by a label, or to enter a contest. As a marketing effort, musicians might also agree to give away product (such as a free download) on their website or through third parties (like the download cards in most Starbucks stores) in hopes of increased exposure and converting those free takers into long-term fans and buyers of other merchandise.
What Should Artists Do?
As nice as it getting paid to make music is, there are times when paying to get gigs might be the right choice. If a gig will truly help you break into a new market or significantly expand your fan base, but requires forking over $50, it might be worth it.
In the end, you should treat your music career like a business. Yes, it will require some investment (in equipment, travel, time, and marketing) and a lot of hard work. Yes, it might take some time to receive a return on that investment. But, if you’re always working for free or paying to play, something needs to change.
We know many artists who argue that they’re musicians because they love it, not because it’s the highest paying job. That’s fine, even admirable, but it doesn’t mean they (or you) have to go broke. There should be a happy medium between starving artist and money-hungry mogul. Part of reaching that happy medium is knowing when to pay to play, and knowing when to say no.
Have you paid to play a gig? What type of gig was it? Did it help or hurt you? Would you do it again or recommend it to other artists?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
In a time when grabbing a fan’s attention gets harder each day, when people’s attachment to their smart phones, tablets and computers makes it simultaneously easier and harder to connect with them, when you’re competing against a flood of content and noise from other artists, how is a band supposed to stand out and get actual attention? One way to gain increased exposure and recognition is by entering band contests, which are becoming increasingly common.
Battle of the Bands—Contest Formats
There are a few different ways a contest can be held. The most common are web-based or live. In a web-based contest, you’ll be asked to upload a song (or more commonly, a video) and promote yourself, in effect promoting the contest. In a live contest setting, the setup is very similar to a live show. You’ll be asked to perform a shorter set, and there will be judges that will be watching for the best performance, crowd interaction, song quality, and so on.
Benefits of Band Contests
In addition to reaching new fans, contests can have other benefits. Winning or placing in a contest looks good on your band’s bio. Quite often, the judges are people from the industry with proven track records and lots of pull. Sometimes, contests award recording sessions, the chance to play a big show or on a big tour, or just a substantial amount of cash. All of these things are helpful and useful and good… so why wouldn’t someone want to participate in a contest?
Drawbacks to Band Contests
Contests can have their downfalls as well. If you spent a lot of money on the contest and don’t win, you may feel like you have wasted money that could have been spent on recording a new song, buying newer equipment, or getting better gigs. Additionally, not all contests are as legitimate as they seem; triple check the contest to be sure you’re not walking into a scam.
Where To Find Contests
The Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands is one of the most popular ways to get involved in contests. Their current opportunities including playing at Warped Tour, Epiccenter, Aftershock, Uproar Festival, Crossroads, and Showdown at Cedar Street. The Hard Rock Cafe also hosts a battle of the bands. On a smaller scale, look for local battle of the bands at cities and venues near you. Even if you lose, these can help you gain a local following.
The ball is in your court; keep an open mind about contests when moving forward.
Have you entered a Battle of the Bands or other contest before? How did it affect your fan base? How did you do?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
A gig is a gig, but a gig with a cash-spending, dancing crowd is a gig that makes everyone happy. This includes the venue, the fans, and you, the hard-working advertising wizard who also happens to be a musician. So what makes the difference between a gig and a good gig? Music marketing. Here are some tried and true methods to filling the venue:
Fliers, Promo CDs, and Awareness
It may seem basic or outdated, but fliers are important. What are the demographics that (you expect to) attend your shows? Go to the stores, coffee shops, hookah lounges, restaurants, and bars that your adoring fans would likely frequent. Leave fliers (well-designed, legible, and informative) on their community boards, or ask if the shop would play a promotional CD. Be sure to leave cards with your website on them. Genuinely get to know their patrons and mention your gig.
Find and use every resource in your area that has a schedule of local events. Local entertainment magazines and websites are an obvious resource. If your target market is the newspaper reading crowd, get your gig listed in the classifieds.
Certainly you’re going to take advantage of your social media accounts. Use the Facebook event function to inform your fans and encourage them to invite their friends. You could also use Facebook ads, which could be a beneficial investment depending on the type of gig. If your target crowd is on Twitter, give them 140 characters on why your band will rock their face off two weeks from Friday at 9. (Hint: you can share a pic of your event poster.) The point is, these are free tools that you can use. So do it!
Word of mouth advertising is the best that it gets. Attend similar shows in the area and strike up conversations with those around you, then slyly mention that you have a gig coming up. (Just don’t burn bridges with those performing at these shows.) Another solid word of mouth option is to play at an open mic night (or two). This is a good way to showcase your music for a few minutes. Tell the crowd that, if they like what they hear, to come ask you about your next gig. (Just don’t burn bridges with the open mic venue.)
What marketing strategies do you use to promote your gigs?