Last Updated: Feb 2016

If you don’ t have the benefit of a booking agent or manager to arrange shows on your behalf then the responsibility lies with you, the  artist. (Yup, something else to arrange in-between writing, rehearsing, recording and everything else involved in building a music career.)

I am writing this in response to what seems to be an increasing number of e-mails and messages from artists wanting gigs and slots at festivals, but are not sending me any of the right information which a promoter/booker needs to make a decision.

I put on gigs in Cambridge and Ipswich as well as program and run a venue at The Secret Garden Party and another festival in the region. Each year I receive over 1500 requests for gigs but with only about 100 slots in total available I say no more times than yes.  I mainly book acoustic(ish) performances. This does not just mean a singer/songwriter.

  • I will listen and respond to everything that is sent to me (which has everything I need to make a decision).  If I’m missing what I need to make a decision it is likely I will leave it.
  • If it is not appropriate but the artist clearly have made effort to research and present what they want to do, I will direct them to somewhere more appropriate.
  • If no effort has been made – I move on to focus my time on those who do make the effort.

These decision I feel are reasonable. Chatting to artists and watching forums the same question appears ‘I contacted X about a gig but didn’t get a reply’.

So, to help artists (and promoters), here are some top tips to help you with getting gigs, replies and generally building a better relationship with people in the industry:

1) Research:

You can obtain contacts of promoters and bookers from all sorts of places – direct from websites, lists from friends, industry directories and lifting e-mails from where people have not BCC’d in all the recipients.

But, you need to understand who you are contacting. Sending a cold e-mail to someone will usually result in a cold answer.(usually none at all!).

For example, sending your metal bands info to a promoter of Jazz events only wastes everyone’s time and energy. It also shows  how seriously you DON’T take your music.

Assumptions can also be an issue too. I receive a lot of requests to play Secret Garden. This is from all genres to just play the festival – unfortunately I just run one stage of about 10 at the event. Doing your research about the event will allow you to direct your message to the right person. This information is out there!

2) Keep it personal:

When a message comes in which reads…

“Hi, we’re band x and we’re looking for gigs. Here’s our facebook link, drop us a line if you have anything. Cheers”

“We’re nemo and the fish and here’s our soundcloud. Hit us up for gigs!'” – This is much more common than you would believe!

Then it’s unlikely that I or many promoters will listen let alone respond.

There are a lot of promoters out there and it will take a lot of time to contact the right ones. If you can’t even be bothered with that then just stop reading, stop emailing right away. There are more artists than promoters – You have to raise the bar in how you communicate.

  • For gigs – find out if a promoter has put on any friends of yours – get the lowdown on them, and perhaps ask that friend to introduce you. Recommendations are a very good way of reaching out to people who can help you. You may hear the term ‘filter’ used. Essentially that is what a recommendation does. It filters you through the irrelevant into a line of sight.
  • Learn what venues they put on shows – if you know your fanbase are 14 years old, then find a promoter who knows how to put on these events would be far more appropriate.
  • Genres – Does the promoter have any preference to genre. Begin by approaching those who understand the style of music you perform.
  • Spell their name right! (Phil, Phill, Phiel, Fil, Peter, Pete, Paul, Penny) – Some of the names I have been called in e-mails!
  • For festivals – find out about the stages at the event – identify which one is appropriate for your music – demonstrate to the booker that you understand what type of music they program. If you have been, then tell them.
  • Don’t lie or bullshit – it’s very easy to get caught out.

Your e-mail may now look something like this…

“Dear Simon,

John from the generic band name passed me your e-mail as a person to speak to about gypsy-swing gigs in Peterborough. He told me about your monthly event at the Golden Swan…”

The promoter now knows how you got their details and that you have clearly researched into appropriate promoter – Your most likely through the first barrier.

3) Don’t just send your latest studio recording:

Anyone can sound good in the environment of a studio and the technology within. Even I (with the voice of a hound having it’s nuts crushed) can be manipulated enough in the studio to create a track worthy of daytime play on local commercial radio. Promoters and bookers want to hear what they are booking. So, please….. (see next point)

4) Provide live examples of your performance:

(Londoners take note – Not everyone lives in the capital, near a night bus or a tube). I love live music, going to gigs and finding new music.  But to spend each evening going to shows would bankrupt many. If you are good as you say you are then this will shine through in a live video example of your performance. A promoter does not expect a blockbuster, lip sync masterpiece but something more than a shaky phone clip is needed.

Live video does not only provide you with evidence of how good you are (for promoters) but it is also content your fans can consume, share and help to promote you. Live video is now a vital tool for any artist.

If the thought of getting this sorted terrifies you, then I suggest a call to your local College or University which teaches media production or film. If you work your charm, you will find plenty of students with access to kit who (should be) desperate to build their portfolios of work. Filming and recording a live performance is always very good for their portfolios.

5) What do you send..Attachments vs Links:

Initially, just send links to audio, video, biographies etc – Who you are contacting may well just read and listen on their phone/tablet at first.  Stick your live video on YouTube; your songs on Soundcloud.

6) Other stuff in your message:

Please don’t copy and paste your biography / life story / PR’d journey to date. One paragraph describing your music, influences and recent successes. You can put quotes in if you like but personally I don’t care too much about what others say.

7) Respond promptly:

24 hours – There is enough technology available nowadays to do that. Slots can come up at the last minute due to illness or  idiots. Promoters sometimes just need to fill a slot quick – you respond quick then you get it.

8) Ask, be prepared and don’t assume:

Good promoters will tell you everything you need to know (arrival time, address, parking, load-in, soundcheck, doors, set length etc), but if there is anything you are not sure about then ask. For example, I have known artists to arrive at shows expecting to put 28 people on a guest list. These things are agreed in advance (and were). I have also had instances of artists arriving late and unprepared and expecting the promoter to provide 9V batteries, picks and a capo! Word does get around if you known for being late and unprofessional.

9) Work out your costs:

If you want to make a living, you need to work out how much it costs you to do a gig.  Consider travel, insurance, food, accommodation, kit, and anything else. Then as an artist or a group, decide what you ‘ideally’ want to be paid per show and what you are willing to accept.

In reality not all shows will cover costs. Some shows wont pay. You need to decide what you are willing to accept. You may wish to invest in your career and do 12 months of shows for free, then when you are invited back by the promoters you ask for petrol / fee (if you enjoyed it enough to want to come back).

Performing live is expensive. Do consider limiting your geography too. Perhaps to 100-150 miles from where you live – enough to get home the same night or stay with a friend.

Essentially this is where music get’s quite business like. Many companies lose money for a couple of years as they promote and market their product or service. They will do jobs which lose them money as they need to build profile, trust and refine what they are doing. If you want to make a living from music then do consider this point. There are many artists out there using this strategy.

At this point I will re-iterate that you should do your research on the event and on the promoter. Some shows may not earn you money, but they may lead to other benefits, which leads me on to…..

8) More than just a promoter:

Every artists journey is different and everyone you meet along the way is a part of it. What you should realise early on is that most people working in music have more than one job. For example, the sound engineer at at pub gig with only 5 people attending, probably runs a studio and uses the engineering job (not just for extra cash) but to look for new talent to record. That same person probably knows a festival booker or scouts for a record label.

No gig is a bad gig as long as you do your best – You don’t know who is watching and what they can offer.

If you decide to present your negativity, attitude or ego in a disrespectful way then you will join a long list of chumps who will wonder why no-one replies to your calls, emails or text.

I hope this post has been of use. If so please pass it on to a friend or visit my other Music Business resource:

Who am I?

My names Phil Pethybridge, aside from the gigs and festivals work (mentioned above) I run the resource which I created to help students studying music at school/College/Uni learn about the business side of this rather strange and exciting industry.  I do this through video/audio interviews of active music industry professionals (check the site and you will see)

I also lecture Music Business at Anglia Ruskin University and Ravensbourne, guest speak at various colleges and Uni’s across the country, tour manage and occasionally provide football commentary!