A Guide To Booking Your First Show

When you begin playing music out – especially in a new place – it can be intimidating. There’s often gateholders to breaking into a music scene, and they often have their own standards by which they allow people to play the shows they involve themselves with. I come from a big town where I was involved in the music scene for almost a decade, and then moved to a giant city with hardly any idea of what to do next. This one is personal to me.

What I truly believe is that no matter how old you are or what kind of music you play, there are ways to find people to play with and an audience for you. You just have to get out there and find them. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to play shows or have never done it before, let this serve as a guide to booking your first show.

BEFORE ANYTHING – Record Your Music

Before you reach out to anyone about playing a show, it’s wise to predict that they will ask to hear your music first. In that case, having something recorded is important. Whether this is a demo, or a more professionally recorded single or EP, just make sure you have something so they can hear what you sound like. Luckily, recording your music today is easier than ever.

This piece of recording doesn’t have to be perfect, especially for your first show. Many laptops, computers, and smartphones come with the ability to record. Home recording has also come a long way in the last decade, and Craigslist is full of people who can cut a quick demo for you for a decent price. Get it out of the way early, and upload it online for people to hear it. I recommend making it free to download somewhere as well as stream, since it’s your first recording and nobody knows who you are yet. Additionally, social media doesn’t hurt either, and depending on the promoter, they will expect at least one social link with your music.

Reach Out To Venues and Promoters

After you have something to showcase your band, you can start reaching out to promoters, venues, and other artists who throw shows regularly in your area. This is something else that the digital age has made to be really easy, because you can do so from your personal computer or smartphone. Most social media sites, promotion companies websites, and venues will have an e-mail address listed.

Use Gig Finder to connect you to the best possible venues and clubs for you

You can pitch a generic request or ask to get on a show that’s already been booked. It will probably be easier to get on a local show than it will be opening for a giant band, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Whatever it is, make sure you’re respectful of the promoter, venue, and the things they work and stand for. It’s not necessary but it will probably help to tell them how you plan on promoting the show or how many people you might be able to bring. They probably won’t expect you to bring a lot of people if you’re a new artist, though, so don’t worry about including that if you don’t have much to show for it yet.

Befriend Gateholders

Another important thing to do when trying to get your name out is to simply make yourself familiar to those scene gateholders. Scene gateholders are the bands you want to play with and promoters who book shows around your area. They’re the inner circle, if you will. You want them to know you because otherwise your music will continue to be just another message in their inbox.

This goes beyond just reaching out about a show. Actually, it’s more about building a relationship. Understand that these people get contacted a lot from artists looking for places to play. So go to their shows and introduce yourself. Stick around for all of the artists, make small talk when the opportunities arise naturally, and most of all be present in the situation. Give them a face to the name that reached out to them. They’ll get to know you this way, thus making you more than just another show request message they get from someone they don’t know.

Become An Active Participant

If you want to become respected in your music scene (which, by the way, will also lead to more shows), then you have to be an active participant in the music culture around you. Of course this means going to shows that you aren’t playing. However, it also means helping out.

Bring friends to the shows. Offer to help load in and out gear for artists. If the show is at a DIY venue, help clean up afterwards. Tip the bartenders kindly. Buy merch from the local artists. Grab some flyers for upcoming shows. And don’t just do it once and never show up again. Stay an active participant in the music scene, and it will thank you.

When In Doubt, Do It Yourself

If all else fails, you can always throw your own show. Shows don’t have to have corporate backing or be at established venues. Shows don’t have to be in bars or include alcohol. Many of the biggest artists we have today started playing in backyards. You can do the same.

This is what people mean when they talk about “DIY” and I think it can be translated to just about any form of music. If you want to play a show and can’t find a place that will let you play, then it’s up to you to make that space for yourself. It could be in a living room, a backyard, church basement, or local business space you may be able to rent. Every scene is exclusionary in some way – there’s some kind of market demand it’s not meeting. If your demand isn’t being met, then find like-minded people and create the market for it. It’s not as hard as you think, especially in this digital age. Using meetup apps and social media groups to connect with people can bring this sort of thing together, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a revolving door of people and artists with similar musical tastes and values wanting to work with you. Don’t wait for the rest of the world – do it yourself.

What troubles did you have booking your first show?

Robert Lanterman is a musician, writer, and record label owner originally from Boise, ID. In 2015, he started Hidden Home Records, an independent record label focused on putting out records for bands in the punk rock scene who didn’t know how to do it themselves.

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  • Jerry T. Yates - April 10, 2019 reply

    That was a great article! I’ve been playing and singing in public for 55 years, and yes, I’m sort of an old man now. Throughout my musical endeavors, I have mostly been booked by people calling me, instead of me calling them. But now, those calls have slowed down, and I need to be getting back out there! I am an ordained minister, and I play Christian Country, Country Gospel, Gospel Rockabilly, and some Gospel blues. I have been on Reverbnation for years and on a few national Gospel Radio charts, but I’m not getting a lot of bookings. You’re article might just change that! Thank you very much for putting it out!!

  • Ray Naylor - April 10, 2019 reply

    Just a few thoughts. People looking for gigs can take some tips from the sales field. First, when contacting the venue, attempt to establish some rapport with the person before you start. Second, when I booked a number of venues about 90% of people contacting me would say something like “Hi my name is —— and can I play at your venue”. 10% of people would asked me what type of music I was looking for. In other words, find out what the person wants. If you can honestly provide that, explain what you do and why you will be a benefit to the venue and the like. If you can’t provide what they want today but think you might in the future, ask if you can call at a later time (for example, in 6 months). Asking if you can call back rather than saying I’ll call you back later, is a good way to do it. First of all, people don’t mind being asked, but they do mind being told. A salesperson (a good one anyway) knows that the person asking questions is actually in control of the conversation, as opposed the someone who just talks and talks. (There is a time to ask for the job, but that’s when you have going through all other other stuff first, and have a good feeling that a “yes” is possible.) And if course, you need to make sure that what you say you can provide is actually what you can provide. I read a book once that explained the sales process simply: Establish rapport, find out what the person wants, tell why you can provide what the person wants, discuss any objections that the person has and try to resolve, and asking for the “sale”.

  • David Minto - April 10, 2019 reply

    Hi Jerry, My name is Dave. I’m 68 and have been playing for money since 12-31-1961. Done most everything I wanted musically in many different genres and bands. 4 years ago I discovered the last good audience. Assisted living/memory care centers. It’s a different kind of gig, but I love it and make enough money at it to keep me in toys. Today I play 10 to 15 gigs a month as a single. Gigs are 1 hour in the afternoon and the folks love the entertainment. Email me if you want to have a discussion about it. Good luck out there!-Dave Minton-Red Rock Senior Show

  • Casper Paludan - April 11, 2019 reply

    That was a great article. Ideas here I hadn’t thought about and I felt you were writing this one to me 🙂

  • LiveTrigger - April 4, 2020 reply

    That is an amazing article, well done! I really like the way you phrase things, the DIY attitude and to become an active participant on how to book shows

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