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So, you've spent all this time and effort (and probably $$$) on creating an amazing recording, and now you want to get out into the world and share that with your fans. This is the best part, where all the hard work pays off. Right?
Well, booking shows as an indie artist can be a daunting task that takes considerable effort, but with the right strategies, you can make the most of your time and get the most out of your shows.
Whether you're just starting out or have been playing for a while, there are many ways to find and book shows that will help you get your music heard.
We're going to assume that if you're reading this post, you likely are booking shows for the first time, or are looking for additional ideas. So if you have already done your research, feel free to skip to the next section.
If you are still here, then essentially we're going to compile a list of suitable venues in locations that you want to play
One of your first steps is to figure out in what regions you want to play. Here are a few things to consider in that decision:
How far can you reasonably travel for shows?
What regions typically enjoy your style of music?
If you have some analytical data from online sources, where are your listeners most densely located?
Once you have that, then it's time to dive in and get research. I would recommend starting with simple Google searches to capture as many venues as you can and put them in a spreadsheet. That way you're not missing any that might be a good fit.
But once that's done, it's time to narrow down the list. Here are a few ways to do so:
Check reviews on the venue
Ask other musicians if they've played at the venue before and how their experience was
Check the touring history of similar artists and see what venues they most frequent
Make sure the capacity is appropriate. One of the worst feelings is selling 500 tickets to a show, which is fantastic, but the room capacity is 2000
What genre of artists does the venue typically have? Make sure you're aligned with that
If you're doing a tour, does the venue reasonably lie in the driving path you're planning to take?
Ok, we've got our list of venues, so now it's time to start connecting with them and see if there's an opportunity to play. So how do we do that?
Well before you start blasting off unsolicited emails, try to be a bit more strategic about it. Here are a few tips that can improve the quality of your contact:
Show that you did your research by making a compliment on something unique about the venue or promoter
Don't come across as arrogant or stuck up. Remember this, from the venue's point of view, they're helping you, not the other way around.
Focus on relationship building, that's what the music business is all about. You build great relationships, you'll have a fruitful career. So be helpful, respectful, reliable and just a good human, and you'll gain a huge list of venues you can call on whenever you need a show
Be sure to send all needed materials, preferably in the form of a link to your press kit. This is absolutely crucial, you want to make it as easy as possible for the promoter to gain insight into you. We have a post called How To Create An EPK That Gets You Opportunities which can help you build a great presskit.
Now that you've got the show booked, it's time to make sure the show is a hit. Although the venue may do some promotion for you, I would highly recommend considering that a bonus and focussing on full marketing efforts from yourself.
This extra effort shows the venue and promoter that you are willing to go the extra to make sure the room is full, which means they will make more money. If you succeed and build a strong relationship, they'll invite you back over and over again.
Promoting a show could be its own post (or even a course for that matter), but for now, we'll just give some high level points to check:
Use both organic and paid social media to raise awareness
Use word of mouth, which is still one of the best ways to promote an event
Run giveaways or contest campaigns on your social media. Something like free tickets for up to 10 people if they share your show post on their socials. Get creative here.
Reach out to local media outlets for press coverage. This could be local TV, newspaper, blogs, podcasts, etc.
This point assumes that you are the headliner of the show, so if you are the support act, then you can skip this section.
But if you're a headliner, then there's a dual benefit to getting support acts:
Local support acts typically have a local following, meaning they can help you fill the room! This is especially useful when you're on the road and playing in a new city for the first time.
This is a great opportunity to build relationships with other bands/artists. Remember how we said that building a relationship with the venue is extremely important? Well, the same applies to artists and bands. Building a strong relationship means you can help each other and leverage your audiences. You help each other set up shows, open up for each other for support, and ideally each grow a little more by working together.
You can offer the opener a guarantee, or ask if they're interested in doing a door split. We would suggest an even split to start, as this is a gesture of good faith towards them and will help the relationship building
Show day has arrived, and now it's time to make the most of it. If done right, you will get invited back over and over again. Here's a list of recommended things to do:
First and foremost, be on time, ideally early for any scheduled events, such as load in, sound check, show time, etc. DO NOT make the venue wait for you
Remember, the venue is doing you a favor, so make them feel appreciated. Introduce yourself to as many staff members of the venue as you can and thank them for having you. Bonus tip, if you can remember names and thank them again later saying their names, you'll score extra points
Make sure your show goes off without a hitch. Have all the supplies you need, from extra cables, to spare guitar strings, to additional DI's. Anything you can think of that could go wrong, have a back up plan
Be respectful to the sound tech. Don't play your instrument unless asked to, pay attention when they call your name for a check, and get off the stage as soon as you're done. Also, stick to your allotted soundcheck time, don't push it over.
While playing your set, take a moment to thank the venue, the promoter, the sound tech and the other bands for the night. This will go a long way in solidifying those relationships
Leave the venue clean and undamaged, essentially the way it was when arrived. If you don't you can be sure you won't be getting an invite back.
These are only a few key items, but in general, be respectful, gracious and entertaining. The show will go well if you do.
Ok you had a successful show, now what?
A key element to a successful music career is momentum, whether it's releasing music, touring, posting on social media, etc. So the best way to keep the show momentum going is to use those relationships you've built for further development
Do a follow up the next day to thank the venue, the promoter, the sound tech and the entire staff. You can ask them if they have any feedback on how you can make the show even better next time as well.
Then ideally within a few weeks, do another follow up to book another show. You'll want to leave some time between shows, but it's best to get the conversation going early. Maybe you want to play at that venue again in 6 months, so reach out 1 month after your first show just to get the talks going. This way the relationship is still fresh
Follow the venue on social media and engage with their posts. This will serve as a reminder that you're there, that your show went well, and that you are a champion of their brand. You can even go one further and post on your own socials about how great of an experience it was dealing with the venue.
Booking shows can be a ton of work, but as you can see, there is a method to the madness. We hope these tips help you book and run progressively better shows, building your music career one step further at a time.
Thanks for reading!
Velveteen offers full service release campaigns for most types of artists. We help build a release strategy based on your goals as an artist and help you execute them in the most effective manner possible.
We aim to help artists build a long term fanbase, increase their streams and visibility, and set an upward career trajectory towards sustainability.