top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureHelefonix Helen Meissner

YOUR DIY GUIDE TO GETTING GIGS AND ARRANGING TOURS FOR INDEPENDENT ARTISTS

Updated: Sep 7, 2022




Hello! you may have come here from the FAC piece which has just been published. And a huge welcome if that's the case. If you've not come via that piece, you might like to take a read (it's shorter!) so here's the link.


This is the tweet that kicked off my thoughts for writing up these tips. And it goes into more detail that the piece on the FAC page. And I am very happy to answer any questions and go into more detail if you have specific questions - just drop me a line at Helefonix@gmail.com.


"It's much easier securing a gig at a music venue if it's a man trying to book his band as opposed to a woman trying to book her band at the same venue(s) or if it's women led, to get her male friend/partner to book on her band's behalf" agree or disagree? @alutepena Alutepena Hughes-John ('Pena')


I saw this post on twitter and gave a relatively tongue in cheek reply – well aware that it masks a bigger issue – saying that perhaps it depends if the venue is run by a man or a woman.

Of course, that implies that a woman might be more favourable towards female bands and bookers. Which is not true of course. It’s what suits the venue. Before we go any further it’s also worth considering if you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the opening statement which I came across on twitter. And if you agree, I was wondering whether there was a difference in how men and women might approach the attempt to secure a gig? What I do know, as someone who has been on both sides of the fence, is that there are certain things you can do to increase your chance of getting a gig, regardless of your gender or that of the act you are trying to book.


There’s a number of things you will need to address/take into consideration when trying to secure a gig. For example, what sort of acts the local audience to the venue seem to prefer. Can you visit it? What’s the likely turn out. What’s the expected fee. The success or otherwise will partly depend on the confidence of the person contacting, their method, the information they present, the reassurance they provide and perhaps as importantly as all the others, whether they are likely to attract publicity for the venue, be easy to promote, and also do the legwork in terms of promotion themselves.

These might all fit neatly in a paragraph but they are all a really big deal and make up the emotion laden, relatively subjective decision jigsaw which will affect whether you can get your act (whether that’s yourself or not) booked for their venue.


It’s up to you to provide as much ‘proof’ as you can, so they can believe that your act is going to be an asset to their venue and not make a financial loss. The loss isn’t just your fee (if you’ve been able to negotiate one), it’s the bar staff, venue staff, lighting, promotion (if they do much) etc etc. Sometimes a very healthy bar take can make the difference, so if you know your audience are heavy drinkers that can help sway some bookers.


It’s not an exact science. It requires you to pack away any insecurity or lack of confidence. It also needs you to look like you can cope with rejection. Not be too desperate or pushy (as distinct from enthusiastic and persistent), to be ‘light’ in your tone but direct and clear in your communications. Giving the choice to the person you’ve contacted, keeping them and their needs/needs of the venue central to the situation, rather than trying to tell them what to do, by asking the relevant questions, being curious.


If this is not making you feel comfortable that’s one reason why getting *someone else* to try to book on your behalf can be easier as the venue feel less bad rejecting ‘YOU’ and whatever you think about people who run venues, they are doing it because they love and believe in live music and do not want to demoralise the very people who are breathing the life blood into the scene.

Which is also why many, many independent artists are crying out on the socials for a booking agent. However, as most booking agents/promoters also, perhaps not surprisingly, are after a cut of your income from the gigs, (circa 15% but it varies), and most independent artists, especially when starting out are going to struggle to attract a crowd outside a ten mile radius of their home patch, the economics simply don’t stack up.


I speak here as someone who has put on many events at my own cost. Booked for events and stages that I’ve run and that other people have run/taken the financial hit for, and as someone who has put on tours/gigs for artists who are international treasures. From legends in the folk world to unknown bands, duos and solo artists, all both male and female, of the largely acoustic persuasion. I am now an electronic artist myself and while I don’t look for live opportunities, I do kindly get offered them from time to time.


The skills for getting that one gig, where you’ve approached the venue cold with no prior relationship are what you need to possess to be able to get an act off the ground if live is where you’re ‘hot’. Not every act suits/wants live, but if you do, this is a skill you NEED to have.

So regardless of whether you are trying to lay on a UK tour or book just one venue, it all starts with the ‘seeding’ gig, which is usually the first one to say ‘yes’ and from which you work out a potential route which makes sense and for which you need to keep a map of the UK open in your browser at all times!!


You then know which venues to follow up more earnestly and which dates to push for and pray that you can create something that will not get people (ie the driver/artist) questioning your grasp of google maps or the basic geography of the British Isles! Especially now that the cost of four (or more) wheeled travel is SO prohibitive.


It’s impossible to share a decade’s worth of trial and error in one piece here. But I can give you an overview of things to consider and perhaps get in touch if you have further questions.

There’s two distinct types of ‘gig getting’ here. Independent ‘unknown’ artists in small venues and solo/small band ‘household name’ artists who have gone independent after a lifetime of very hard work and considerable achievement, who ‘expect’ a concert like, small theatre style venue. I’ve done them both, and they are worlds apart.


I feel that the former type are more relevant here. But how I started doing the other ‘theatre’ events is a story worth telling as it also shows how important certain fundamentals are for ALL gig / tour planning.


I approached the legendary folk fiddle player, Dave Swarbrick from Fairport Convention via facebook in 2014. Eventually asking him if he would be a Patron of my altruistic (inevitably!) foundation supporting independent folkish/singer songwriting performers. (Folkstock Arts Foundation). Never one to miss a trick, Swarb responded, yes, if you will put a tour on for me. What an honour. But one for which I was hopelessly inexperienced to deliver. Which I quickly pointed out. I will teach you, he said.


We met up. I had no idea ‘what’ he would be touring. Did he have a band? No. So it would be him solo on the violin. He was about to turn 70. Was very charming and desperate for one last tour. How could I resist? He was indeed very specific. Told me how many hundreds was the minimum fee he would do it for. What sized venue was suitable and not (small theatres were good). Which venues he refused to play at (because they charged a percentage of the merch takings which he felt was immoral), where he’d like to play. Many of which he’d never played at before. Certainly not solo if he had been there. How many gigs he’d like to do. When he’d like to do it. (not too early in the year to reduce the risk of snow driving/cancellations).


So we settled for April the following year. The month he turned 70. I asked what he was releasing, what the ‘reason’ or ‘hook’ was for the tour. An angle for getting press in the run up. Other than the honour of Swarb coming to their locale (which was significant of course). There was nothing specific.

So I came up with an idea. He needed local support acts. He wanted me to pick them from the ‘Folkstock fold’. All good. Experience encouraging fresh blood. It’s sounding promising. But not enough of a hook. How about we run a competition where artists submitted their songs and invited Swarb to add a fiddle part. What a boost that would be for the lucky winner (s)? He loved it. We settled on ‘Passing the Baton’ as the theme for the tour and I organised an EP to be made (physical and digital) of the top 4/5 tracks which had been ‘Swarbed’.



It worked really well, people were excited, the specialist folk/acoustic press and reviewers were very supportive and we had great quality entries and a super EP at the end. One of the winning acts supported Swarb on every date of the almost 20 date run (Said the Maiden) and the opening act was one of the other winners or local acts who had entered the competition.


In addition to Swarb, I was booking gigs and tours for the artist I was managing at the time, Kelly Oliver. And these points below are a distillation of the main points which I hope help you get the gigs you’d like to play!


1. You need a hook. A reason/an angle for PR.

No matter WHO you are/who you’ve been in the past. Your promotion and story is every bit as

important as the quality of the gig. People need to believe BEFORE they get there, that it will be, in some way, a life enhancing experience. Otherwise they just won’t bother, to book you or to

book tickets. If you are ace live and there’s barely anyone there to see you, it’s a shame and means that you couldn’t somehow convey how great you are. You need to be building this

tour/gig, with the promotional opportunities in mind. And usually for tours, with a six-

month window from booking it to rocking up. Some venues operate a year in advance. ‘One off’

gigs are different, but still, building a bit of anticipation is always a good idea. At least a month in advance if possible.

2. Look at yourself through ‘venue booker’ eyes.

How are your socials, are they active? do you usually promote gigs well? Do you have follower

engagement? Are you presenting your act as excited/ present or depressed/ erratic? Would new

people hearing about the gig (let’s say if the venue were to put you on a poster/in their socials), who went to the bother of checking you out, be intrigued/curious about the experience of

seeing you live? Are you enticing people or repelling them? Can they even find footage of you live on YouTube/your website etc? (Most will check this aspect first).

3. Which venues are you going to approach?

There is absolutely no substitute for doing your own research.

If you have friends / relatives in certain towns who might be able to put you up, you will be able

to avoid one of the most expensive costs of touring. And I am not kidding here or exaggerating.

Probably best to assume (if you’ve never played most of the venues before or have no discernible

following in that location) that the actual income from ticket sales is not going to be that significant.

Keeping your costs low is going to be your saving grace.

Other than where accommodating friends might live, the next way to find venues is to pay attention

to the socials of other acts. If you already follow acts similar to yourself, you are helping

one step ahead. Stalk them! Notice and research the places where they gig, what the

promotion is like, by the venue especially. Are there posters. Are there good graphics for the posters which suggests a ‘house style’. Does the venue help the act promote it. Do they have

support acts. Or a four-act bill. Are they planned or random – i.e. are the acts similar in

some way – likely to attract the same audience or are they so diverse that the audience for one act

will hate the following one and drift off. Will the final act be ending up performing to the bar staff and the sound engineer (unless they can bring their own audience). Try to contact some bands who have played there, or ask an act how they arranged their tour (along with some genuine comments about their music and how/why you’re following them etc.). You might be surprised at how helpful they can be.

4. How will you approach your venues of choice?

Email is an easy option but if it’s ‘copy and pasted’ it’s likely to get a very depressing response. Not always but usually. Phone is best. All venues have phones and people who run their bookings who are contactable by phone. You might have to do some legwork. So, if you’ve done your research as in the point 3, you will be able to say that x band have played at yours and we’ve been told we are similar – and we thought we’d get in touch in case you were thinking of booking more acts that are like them. (Even better, ask how the gig went first!)

Be real, no need to be fake. They will smell it a mile off! Explain why you think your music will fit. But if you’re at all not sure, say you’ve been researching them via their website / social

media channels, but that you have a few questions as you don’t want to assume.

Most people will be happy to have a short and focused conversation. As long as you

listen to their answers and don’t just use them as a springboard to give them the hard

sell.

5. Prepare yourself mentally

As an overview, do this on a ‘good day’ when you’re sure that you sound positive and clear about

what you’re offering. Don’t be vague about what your act sounds like or who they ‘sound like’ (even if you don’t like those comparisons).

Perhaps you could use some quotes from others to help? Be clear about what you are after on the phone – might be the name of the person who does the bookings, and / or their procedure for booking new acts. What information they need from an act and in what format. You might be able to get into a chat but don’t expect this, just be professional, friendly and polite and see what happens! Some acts approach bookers with the ‘you’d be lucky to have me’ with a certain entitlement or conversely, a chip on their shoulder about being rejected. You will need to distance yourself from that stereotype and work hard to listen to them!

You could visit them during another show and ask directly which acts and genres go down the best for their audience.

It is also useful to find out if they have specialist nights or any vision for the venue which might

impact their booking policy. What type of acts they prefer to book (solo, duo, band, punk,

alternative, indie, acoustic, singer songwriter, drum based, heavy metal, electronic, experimental,

etc.)

6. Topics for discussion

What’s their preferred set length.

Do they provide a PA or backline or lighting or sound engineer.

Whether they have acts as support acts initially.

Whether they run mixed acts/introduction nights.

Whether they use a certain promoter to book their gigs.

Whether they prefer to see acts live –or are happy with some live footage via youtube etc.

What sort of lead times they work with.

Whether they prefer local acts to support/headline.

What is their payment arrangement for acts – is there a policy or a system.

You will find that other questions flow off this style of line of ‘professional/relevant’ enquiry. The

main point is that you are finding out what they want and need rather than just forcing yourself on

them. They might then ask about your act/the act you represent. It’s no surprise that if they like you and your approach they are more likely to book you.

7. Don’t oversell

Never be tempted to wildly overestimate the number of tickets you are likely to sell.

Be realistic. If you’ve never played there and the only person within a thirty-mile radius is

your aunt who is away that week anyway, you’re not going to have a wild turnout. It will help them plan better and perhaps put you on with a well-known local act who are known for

bringing a decent crowd.

8. No to bulk emails

It won’t even get opened.

You will need to do some research online and tailor each email. Starting the email with a

personalised message to a correctly named person is a very important first step. Many people will

not open a generic email.

Showing that you have done some research is always a good way of starting an email. “I

noticed you...”

(If you're interested in some ideas for how you might proceed with this email I've got some ideas below, please scroll to the bottom)

9. Have the right stuff to send

So please, in addition to your beautifully worded and personalised email, also include links to

a live gig, ideally with some audience participation/reaction rather than a mock-up of a gig which has no personality/audience. But if you don’t have any, then footage of you performing

live is better than a false representation with you lip synching over your studio mastered

perfections. Some pics of you at a venue with an audience enjoying what you’re doing always go

down well! And a link to your website and socials. There are many free online multi link providers.

If you have your branding set up before you contact them, it’s an advantage. A consistent message, key words and imagery/colours helps people be sure they’ve found the right

account.

10. Update your socials and general online presence before you start

Most promoters or bookers will check you out first, so establishing some presence online is a good idea before you try to book gigs. If you’re just starting out, you can get good footage from open mic nights if you ask a friend to help you. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and no one is going to judge you.

If you are in time, in tune, interacting with the audience and looking like you’re enjoying yourself

you’ve got a good chance of being booked by the venues that will suit your vibe.

11. Don’t leave the detail to chance

Make sure you know what to expect, who’s providing what on the night, how and when you’re

loading in. Sound check expectations. Fee or ticket arrangements etc. Don’t leave stuff to chance. It’s stressful enough without a load of uncertainty!

In summary

· Work on your presentation; your style, your image, logo, branding.

In essence, your unique ‘presence/message’ before you approach venues.

· Get some evidence of how great you are; harvest some quotes from friends/online

reaction to tracks, use reviewer quotes or radio presenter quotes if you’ve got them, share

some video you’ve shot on a phone which has been edited a bit – there’s so much simple

free software out there, there’s no excuse not to provide some which is uploaded to your

own YouTube account), set up a SoundCloud account to send some demos perhaps but bear in mind that audio visual is better for live promotion.

· Do your homework. Make all contact personalised and ideally in person (go to some of

the gigs if feasible), ring them or if via email, make it unique to each

promoter/booker/venue.

· Take care to provide any information in the format and to the detail required, in the

timescale they need it. If in doubt ask, don’t assume.

· Agree all aspects up front, perhaps make a list of what you need to know and go

through it systematically on a form if you get booked. Or in a document with the questions

written out, which you send as an attachment or in the body of an email as ask them to

complete.

· Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet. This is not a time to be modest. Be proud of

what you do and the music you make and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through.

All the best with this. I hope it’s helped in some way. If you have any questions feel free to email me,

Helen Meissner at helefonix@gmail.com


PS here's the additional ideas I promised for how an email might go, in order to personalise it and get it a chance of being opened.


Dear first name, I see that you put on a gig/ I went to one of your gigs/ heard about one of your gigs/ noticed online you promoted a gig, which made me think that you might be interested in us/my band/my act (called…… and a statement of genre for positioning/association purposes) because I/we are….. similar to x band/same genre as your specialist night ….are planning a tour/future release promotional plan around y time…. and are super cool because ….best airplay/achievement/claim to fame/favourite colour/quote from someone significant/respected/your nan (if no one else available and always raises a smile for ‘effort’) and would love to play at your venue because it….has a nice toilet/we love the logo/I was conceived there/has a great rep/is super cool…. (use your imagination and a bit of truth!!).


Ask what is the best way for you to progress this possibility (or something similar), do they have a booking procedure etc… make sure you leave contact details, phone number too in case they are moved to ring you! I

N.B. f you send the links at this stage you will not know if they have seen them or not if they don't respond. You can follow up of course. But gently. However, emails with links that are the first contact with someone often go into spam. Best to have them at least aware that you are sending something, because they've invited you to. Which is why I prefer phone contact first. You've got something solid to base the rest of the exchange on - whether it's via email or phone thereafter. Getting them to open the email is the hardest hurdle, so do all you can to build some sort of contact, even if it's via social media - twitter is very good for that - before you send an email.


All the best. Any questions? please email helefonix@gmail.com

Is there anything helpful in here? feel free to share the link to the page. I will be very grateful!





16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page