You Need Professional HelpBy -
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
… getting gigs, that is.
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.