Have you ever felt frantic about getting more gigs on your schedule? So often I find music artists are fixated with filling up their calendars with every gig that comes their way. Depending on your goals and where you are in your music career, that may be exactly the thing to do. If you are in this to create a lasting career in music, one that builds momentum and progresses from one level to the next, you ought to have a plan when booking music gigs to help guide every decision.
If you’re a fledgling band and just beginning to book gigs, it is important to play as much as possible, build a fan base, and create interest. That said, there’s the potential for booking music gigs that are just not right for you. Some gigs just won’t have any impact on your career building process.
There might be times when you need to accept a gig just to make money – keeping the band solvent is certainly important. But my advice is that you work from a master plan, guided by career goals that will help you determine what gives one show an advantage over another. I’ve seen artists get buried in the day-to-day details of booking dates and completely lose sight of the big picture. Your master plan should guide every decision, help you evaluate each potential gig, and decide to accept or reject it based on how it advances your career goals.
Think about the following factors as you consider each date.
The venue. Is this the right room for you? Have you selected the room because similar acts to you play the room? Even if you’re not quite ready to play a particular venue, but it is one you should work toward playing, it is important to develop relationships with the booking personnel and to follow the schedule of upcoming concerts booked into the room.
Will your fans attend your show at this venue? Even if this seems to be the right venue for you, is it right for your audience? Will your 11 pm start time hamper your audience or suit them? Is it in a part of town they will travel to? Is the stage appropriate for the size of your group? Is this a venue where emerging acts are normally booked along with more notable acts or is it a local dive?
Sharing the stage. Sharing the stage can be a huge career boost. It puts your act in front of an audience you hope to make your own. In some instances, the association with a more established act can help secure you a headlining slot in the future.
Potential record deals, agent signings and management deals have come from opening slots or co-bill appearances. Selecting appropriate acts with whom to share the stage should also be done in relation to your master plan – accepting co-bill or multi-act performance slots can be a detriment when inappropriate matches are pursued. Whether you are the opener or the main act, a bad match can hurt you.
Always check out the act intending to share the stage, get recorded material and a press packet, get comments from people who have seen them live, and find out something about their audience draw before accepting the situation. If you are trying to grow your audience, it probably doesn’t make sense to open for someone who draws less than you, even if they are more established in the market.
The city. Part of your master plan should include which cities or markets are important to your career growth. Your goals will clarify those markets that are a must-play in order to develop important media attention. When faced with a choice to play a showcase venue in New York City or a smaller market outside of New York, your decision should be based upon your overall goals. If media attention and playing this particular showcase venue are important career moves, then the fact that you will be paid more money at the secondary market venue should not sway you to pass up the career opportunities offered by playing in New York City.
Does a certain city fit within your touring plans, making it an important transitional date helping you get from one major city to another? Can a date serve to pick up some money on an off night or weekday? These dates are important to include within a tour as you route the important career building dates together.
The media. Selecting dates in media rich markets is always an important consideration when your career goals depend on gaining media attention. As you negotiate your dates, inquire about the local media opportunities and how much promotion the venue is offering. Find out what the venue’s relationship is with local media and will they share their media contacts so you may take advantage of those opportunities. Do you have potential to play a date in a city where certain nationally syndicated radio shows are taped or broadcast live? A date in that city may be worth scheduling if you can get on one of those radio shows even when the gig doesn’t pay much. The syndicated show offers future national exposure worth many times more than the gig.
The money. We would all like to be making a good living from our art. Creating touring budgets can help you manage your costs more effectively. When it comes to accepting or rejecting a gig based on money alone, go back to those career goals, as well as your goals for each tour. Certain tours will most likely be investment tours such as when promoting a new recording or breaking into a new market. In the first scenario, media attention will be a priority, and in the second, building new audiences and playing new venues will be paramount. The money factor may play a secondary role in each of these situations.
Adhere to a realistic tour budget and attempt to break even or better even while achieving other goals, but be prepared to finance some career building tours while moving to the next level.
These are the challenging questions sure to arise as you book dates while holding true to your career goals. Don’t be so eager to simply accept a date just because they sought you out or you have the date open on the calendar. Consider each situation, make sure it works within your master plan to move you one step closer to your goals.