For the do-it-yourself singer/songwriter, booking shows and all of the additional duties that come with playing live gigs usually fall on the shoulder of one person.
Who? You already know the answer to that. It’s you.
So how do you do it? The answer can be summed up in one word: relationships.
Just as you’ve been diligently manning your band’s Facebook page and crafting amusing Twitter quips to jettison out into the vast spaces of the internet to keep fans engaged and on their toes, so too must you keep in mind one of the most important sets of relationships that you can develop in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business: the venue owners.
Some large venues can afford to employ talent-buyers, and others rely on a manager to handle the entertainment schedule, but more often than not, an up-and-coming band will be dealing with the owners of the venues in which they play. For lack of a better term, let’s simply refer to each of the people mentioned above as “the owner,” since regardless of financial stake in the game, they’re the ones who are giving you the date or paying you your earnings each night.
Here are some tips about how to connect – and stay connected – with these important members of an independent singer/songwriter’s network.
Make the call.
Get on the phone. It may take three or four times, but eventually you’ll get to talk to the person that makes the entertainment decisions. Give them your pitch as to why you think your music would be a good fit for their venue. Offer to send them some music, or to follow up with an e-mail with your available dates and the link to your website. If they accept your offer, follow up on that after a little while as well. Remember to always be polite and professional. And, if they decide your band wouldn’t be a good fit, ask them if there is a venue in their area that would be. What are you going to lose? I got lucky once, and ended up finding one of my favorite venues out of exactly that kind of a referral.
Get To Know The Owner.
Got a date? Great! Find out what they’re looking for from you—the entertainment. Find out what kind of clientele they cater to, and do your best to keep that in mind when you’re planning your show. You can find all of this information out by asking them ahead of time.
I once had a venue book my band only to stop us two songs into our first set to ask us when we would start playing western swing. Now, as much as I enjoy the sound of twin fiddles, we didn’t even have one fiddle. It’s just not a style of music you can expect to hear when you come to one of my shows. Should he have known that? Probably. Should I have known that when I was booking the show? Yes.
Sometimes knowing when your sound doesn’t fit a venue can go a long way towards alleviating the headaches that I ended up dealing with on that particular night. I’m reasonably certain I could have made the same amount of money playing in a different room in the same town and on the same night. I didn’t ask, and it ended up burning me.
Advance the Show.
Call a week ahead of time. Confirm all of the details that you previously worked out (contracts are good—draft one and send it out!). Make sure your posters arrived, see if there are any local radio stations you can reach out to before the gig, and find out where you’ll be staying. No hotels? See if the venue has a relationship with a local hotel and discounted rate they can get for you. Confirm your start times and the length of your set. Usually everything is as you are expecting it to be, but in the off chance that something has changed, the more time you can get to game-plan for that change, the better.
Let the dust settle for a few days after the show, and then give the owner a call or shoot them an email. Even if you leave a message, or don’t receive a reply, they’ll get it and they’ll appreciate it. Letting an owner know that you care about their feedback and success has a way of making them care about you in the same way. This is a business, after all, and professionalism and mutual respect go a long way.
Make these tips your new habits, and before long, you’ll have a solid roster of venues that you can call directly to land a gig when a gig is needed. A core group of venues means that you can route farther from your home, keeping gas in the van and food in your stomachs as you branch out. Owners like to deal directly with the people that end up walking through their door—there are less middlemen, and less of a chance that something will be lost in translation.
Time is money, and the fewer moving parts, the more efficient the machine. And to the owners, efficiency is the thing that keeps them paying the bills—most notably your bill at the end of the night.
Drew Kennedy is a singer/songwriter based in New Braunfels, Texas. Visit him online at drewkennedymusic.com.