In this day and age we live in the best period for upcoming independent musicians. With technology being so advanced and the internet growing at an alarming rate, musicians can record and produce their own tracks and albums in their home. Upload their music to Soundcloud, release it through a music distributor like DistroKid, and have complete control of their creative pursuits.
When you’re an independent musician, especially in the beginning, you don’t have a manager or agent booking you. This inevitably means that you have to contact venues yourself, and that can be a tricky task that can easily make or break a musician’s career. Here are my 5 extremely important tips for musicians when contacting venues and booking shows on your own.
This, above anything on this list, is hands down the most important point. There are tons of DJs, bands, rappers, singers, and musicians out there – why should they book you? At this point, it all comes down to value. If you’re a famous musician then the value you bring to any establishment is your name, but when you’re just starting out, your following isn’t going to be as strong.
The key here is figure out what value you can bring to a venue. For example, when I did my first ever tour called The Light Nearby, I performed at venues and festivals all around the country. I realized that my following wasn’t big enough yet for me to matter – so I went down a different route. I explained that I was producing 10 songs about 10 major cities in the United States, and that they could be a massive part of my music project. I also explained that I would give them a shoutout in my blog posts, sponsors section, and YouTube Channel.
By providing value to a venue you’re setting yourself apart from every other musician asking if they can get booked.
2. Play for Free
Yes, this is an unfortunate fate for many starting (or should I say starving) musicians, but playing for free is a great way to gain experience and get your foot in the door. When I first started touring, I said this in every email: “[In addition], I have no problem playing for free – this doesn’t undermine my talent as a DJ, but more so to demonstrate that I love [venue name] and would love the opportunity to perform.”
Don’t get me wrong – you don’t, and shouldn’t, want to perform for free forever. But in the beginning it’s a solid way to make it easier to perform (it gives you more value, just like the first point). I’ve seen so many musicians get pissed when they have to play for free, and although there’s some truth to their frustration, if you’re contacting a venue then be prepared. Although this can be debated, I do believe that exposure, if leveraged correctly, can really get your name out there.
3. ATTN: Talent Buyer/Artist Relations
The subject is the most read part of any email – simply because it’s what people see first. When contacting venues, use the ATTN: prefix, followed by who you’re trying to contact (usually the Talent Buyer/Artist Relations). This helps your email avoid the spam blockers (which I’ll get to later), and also helps your email get routed appropriately.
4. Follow-Up Email
The follow-up email is crucial, because if you’re sending an email with your mix/demo, it can easily be flagged as spam. I always send a follow-up email to venues that don’t get back to me after three days. Here’s what I do: I put the subject line as Follow-Up, and I say “Hi! I sent an email a few days ago, and I completely understand you’re extremely busy, but even a couple sentence reply would make my day. Thanks!”
This has increased my response rate by over 50%, so even if they don’t want you to perform, they will respond and either say no or something else. I’ve even had places say “Hey, we’re booked, but since you followed up, how about you stop by one night?” Aligning yourself with the right people is anything, and sometimes a conversation can be better than a performance.
Here’s a video I did about how to have the proper follow-up email:
5. Double Check Everything
Know exactly what time you’re playing, what equipment you need, what cables you’ll need, etc. The truth is, you should always bring more equipment than you think. For me, I always bring my laptop, DJ Controllers, and a huge bag of cables to wire into any type of input. In addition, I highly suggest bringing business cards/promotional items to get your name out there further.
Although this post is mostly about the networking aspect of booking a gig, it’s important to be prepared for anything, so don’t be afraid to ask a few questions to the booking agent to have everything prepared ahead of time.