3 Kinds Of Shows To Say No To

For new bands, the experience of getting up on stage and playing is exciting and meaningful no matter the circumstances. But for seasoned musicians, shows with wretched sound, empty rooms, and non-existent payouts quickly gets old. The “down for anything” stereotype musicians have had flung at them is dangerous because it’s an attitude that devalues the immense work songwriters and performers put into their craft. If you’re serious about making music, you have to learn how to discern what opportunities are worth pursuing from the ones you should be gracefully turning down. Here are three shows to say no to if you’re an experienced musician:

Shows that you and your music won’t add any unique value to

Any show in which your music doesn’t provide something uniquely valuable should be declined. A neighbor’s BBQ, a friend of a friend’s wedding, a local benefit concert supporting a cause you aren’t invested in––these are all examples of concerts most any band can play. Saying no to these kind of shows is vital because they take up your time and energy without giving anything back in return. However, an exception to note is performing at a benefit concert supporting a cause you care about. Your interest in a cause translates to value because it’s a performance you’ll be likely to promote and take seriously.

These kind of opportunities are great for new musicians, but are usually huge time-wasters for experienced artists. Your music and your time are valuable. Don’t waste your energy on shows that young bands would love to play in your stead.

Shows that don’t get you closer to your career goals

It can be hard to spot a bad show before you’re up on stage and playing at it, but there’s some sensible questions you can ask to help. Does the show in question pay? If so, how much, and will the compensation be worth my time and effort? If asked by a touring band to open, is it because they just need someone to bring people through the door? If that’s the case, is taking that sort of show worth it? If these questions sound sort of selfish, it’s because they are, but in a good way. Rather than viewing your music and time as something boundless, serious musicians have to flip the script and view what they do as finite and important. You can’t and shouldn’t take every show opportunity you get because lots of shows aren’t worth your music and your time. Take the shows that actually help you in some way and skip the rest.

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Shows at unproven venues or events

If you have any doubts about taking a show, it’s important to listen to your intuition. Whether it’s a venue with bad sound or a fledgeling music festival where no one shows up, a show can turn into a major disaster without the right planning and resources. A way to spot these kind of shows is by paying attention to the specific terms a promoter or booking agent offers. A classic show pitfall to avoid is when someone wants a band to play for free in exchange for the chance to perform in front of a huge crowd. Spoiler alert: there is almost never a huge crowd in these type of situations. Research the show opportunities you’re given and turn down the ones that look suspect.

Just like how a band gains musical experience by playing shows and writing music over the years, a musician’s discernment around show booking and touring develops in tandem. Saying no sort of feels at odds with the intrepid creative philosophy surrounding music, but learning how to is one of the best things you can do for your career.

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

Dave3 Kinds Of Shows To Say No To


Join the conversation
  • Da Mreh - May 3, 2019 reply

    Dope work!!

  • ELLIOTT C MICHAELS - May 8, 2019 reply

    Very good advice. And when the promoter or booker tells you this is an opportunity to gain exposure, respectfully ask him, “What exposure? Exposure to what?”

  • Jack - May 8, 2019 reply

    This is really great advice! I used to do a lot of “free” community help gigs for various charity and church groups. They ended up raking in the money and I got nothing, not even decent publicity. Festivals for civic groups are the same way. We are a commercial society that does not value that which is given for free.

  • Jimmy Devlin - May 8, 2019 reply

    well said !

  • Brad Colerick - May 8, 2019 reply

    Great advice, Patrick! So many artists make the mistake of taking bad gigs that deflate their value. As a presenter, I look at an artist’s schedule for the type of gigs they play. I’m reluctant to book a ticketed event with an artist playing free gigs in the area.

    BTW, a common grammatical error in your text — “there’s some sensible questions” should be “there are some..” since it’s plural, rather than the contraction of “there is”.

    Don - May 21, 2019 reply

    You might be better at teaching English?

  • Rob Roper - May 8, 2019 reply

    I would add:
    4. Gigs where the venue requires you to sell tickets for them and do all the promotion.

    Mike Artz - May 8, 2019 reply

    I second Rob’s comment

    Anthony Kammerhofer - May 10, 2019 reply

    I second Rob’s comment, too. It’s an essential issue you have to get your ducks in a row on within your band: Are we pro or contra pay-to-play?

    My blues duos position on this: We’re totally against it and welcome the number of promoters sporting this business model decreasing in our main markets for gigs(Germany and Austria).

    Tony of Runway 27, Left from Vienna/Austria

    Gary Millward - May 8, 2019 reply

    Amen to that, Rob! Been there – don’t want to go back.

    Eric Jerome Brodberg - May 9, 2019 reply

    Ohhhh I love this one!! Too many venues out there don’t want to put any work into promoting “their” shows.

    Tim Trautman - May 9, 2019 reply

    welcome to hollywood!

    za ka lu - May 9, 2019 reply

    yeah, where these tickets often are required to be purchased by the band upfront–it is a scam really, paying to work—-all of these examples are Denver to a T—great advise, yeah say no and leave the ‘venue’ with free or paying to play ‘acts’ , also saving regret and animosity after–

  • Alan Lane - May 8, 2019 reply

    5. Venues where it is unlikely anyone is actually listening.

    Juan Maria Solare - May 13, 2019 reply

    Not sure. Some of my best paid gigs where to politicians who didn’t give a dime about musi but paid a good amount for having us there. As far as you know it in advance, is not a problem. However you cannot usually know in advance if the audience is gong to listen…

  • Shannon “DJ Steady B” Burton - May 8, 2019 reply

    Great read for fresh new artist. I also agree with Rob!
    No one will promote you like you! So do promote yourself and put links for tickets sells.
    Pay to play events are bogus because then it’s not based on talent but deep pockets.
    Along with having to sell “x amount of tickets” to be on a bill. Your main focus should be an artist and entertainment the people they should be bringing in for the show.

  • Briks - May 8, 2019 reply

    Thanks for the advice

  • JWEPublicist - May 8, 2019 reply

    Great Article. In addition Rob Roper I agree!

  • mat - May 8, 2019 reply

    what’s the problem with the wedding? nothing wrong with making some decent money (weddings can pay well) and at the same time exposing your band to other prospective clients.
    same with playing a bbq. gotta earn a living! make money playing your instrument, unless you’d rather sling burgers, wash cars or sell shoes.

    Erin - May 9, 2019 reply

    I would agree with this one. While they’re not artistically ideal, weddings and similar types of events can be a good side gig to put some money in your pocket. Look, I’m all for authenticity and getting your work out there, but I also like paying my bills, so…

  • J. Tom Wilson - May 8, 2019 reply

    Pay to play? Not today.

  • EJ Nolan - May 8, 2019 reply

    We booked an Awards show for a youth Hockey League as a favor to a local DJ. But we couldn’t set up til after the awards were given out. Before we could play, hundreds of kids and parents…and the radio DJ all had left. We played for 3 jerk kids throwing donuts at us. Never Again.

  • Fritz - May 8, 2019 reply

    Venues that require you to pay them to perform, they keep the proceeds from admission, and they keep the revenue from bar sales! Obviously, anyone surrendering to these kinds of conditions is playing for all reasons other than making a living!

  • ken - May 9, 2019 reply

    All Good Advice.

  • Anaiyah Sunshine - May 9, 2019 reply

    Definitely !! I totally agree with this.

  • SpiggyMonster - May 9, 2019 reply

    Add bowling alleys and VFWs to the list. Hell, I won’t play any place anymore where the stage isn’t at least 2′ high.

  • steven fogelman - May 13, 2019 reply

    I totally agree Musicians need to value their self worth and get paid what well while doing it !!

  • Sam - May 30, 2019 reply

    Totally agree! For any profession or trade, you don’t want to take on jobs that aren’t going to make you better at what you do. Great post!

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