I have been on both sides of the booking process in my career, working as a musician, band leader, artist, booking agent, artist manager and state fair entertainment director. What I’ve realized is that there are a large number of vital factors that go into matching an act with a venue. I have also realized that many artists never do their homework when it comes to pursuing booking agents or venues.
Are you getting as many gigs as you want? Are they in the venues you really want to play in? Are you knocking on doors only to get repeatedly rejected? Are there one or more clubs that you are just dying to play but can’t seem to break in to? If you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and can’t break out of the level you’re currently at, this checklist might help you discover why:
1. Good Act: Are you competitively good enough to work consistently and to move up the ladder? Be honest with yourself. Do the vocalists sing on pitch and have good quality voices? Are the harmonies right and in tune? Are the musicians up to par, skill-wise? Are you rehearsed well enough? Is the band ultra tight? Do you work together flawlessly on stage? Is it obvious that everyone in the band gets along and is having fun on stage? Do you have good stage presence? You need to be better and tighter than your competition to get the gigs that you are both vying for.
2. Venue Choice: Are you targeting the right venues? You may be trying to get into venues that look for certain criteria that you don’t fit. For example, playing casino lounges requires a different approach, a different mindset and maybe a different style of music than playing fairs. Some clubs only book acts with a following. Some require that you only play covers, and others only original songs. Do your homework and make sure you’re a perfect match for the venues you’re pursuing.
3. Repertoire: Do you have a strong enough repertoire for the gigs you’re seeking? Is it versatile enough to play clubs with a changing clientele? Are there enough strong dance tunes to play a full night at a heavy good dance club? Can you play requests such as those you would get in a piano bar? Do you only play original music? Some venues prefer cover songs. What are you best at? Be sure that your repertoire will work perfectly in the venues you pursue. If not, either work on your repertoire or find gigs that are a better fit.
4. Talent: Are you more talented than the acts at your current venue level? Are you at the talent level the new gigs would require? Most higher-paying venues only hire acts with exceptionally strong vocals and/or great musicianship. Be sure that you have the very best band lineup you can find. And if you’re not as strong as you need to be on your instrument (or singing), take lessons until you are. In the meantime, let someone else cover that role. Leave your ego behind.
5. Audiences: Are you catering to your audiences? Many venues have a different audience from night to night. If you only play your pre-determined shows and leave no room for improvising your set list based on your audience, those venues may not be right for you.
6. Image: Is your image appropriate for the venue? You may match the type of music and skill level that a specific venue requires, but your image just doesn’t fit. For example, a club that hires southern rock may shy away from acts that look either too country or too rock!
7. Set List: Do you use a set list or do you just wing it? Again, each venue is different. Well planned out shows are usually more professional, especially in concert settings. Many concert acts have every word and song mapped out completely, but are smooth enough to make it look like it is spontaneous.
8. Pictures: Do you have really good pictures that show your personality? No pictures and bad pictures can turn any buyer off before they listen to one note of your music.
9. CD: Do you have a high quality CD? Do you have the absolute best songs you could find on it, or did you insist on writing everything yourself? Was it recorded professionally enough to get the gigs you’re seeking? This is one of the major measuring sticks that you will be judged with when a buyer can’t come to see you perform live. Let your music do the talking. You should never have to ‘explain yourself’ or make apologies for a poor presentation!
10. Live CD: Do you have a CD (demo CD or full length) that features you performing live? This can help you sell your act. Buyers know that with the right technology, anyone can sound good in the studio. Be sure to tailor your live CDs to the venues you’re approaching.
12. Pre-qualifying: Are you calling and introducing yourself to a buyer before you send your promotional materials? Most buyers prefer to get to know you personally first, if for no other reason than to gauge your professionalism. Plus, you may be knocking on doors that either have no openings or that really aren’t looking for your kind of act. It’s best to know up front before you waste time and money. It’s also good to have the buyer expect and look forward to getting your promo kit. This also gives you the chance to ask the buyer what format they want to receive your promotional materials in – EPK or physical press kit.
13. EPK: Do you have a great looking EPK (electronic press kit with photos, bio, set list, live recordings or video, studio recordings if you have them, press clippings, calendar, one-sheet)? Many venues get barraged with requests from acts who want to be booked there. Tech-savvy owners love it when they can see, hear, read about and evaluate the act right from their email. Many will never bother to open the package you spent a lot of money to put together and send. Make it as easy as possible for a venue owner to book you! And, be sure that the EPK is high quality and really sells you well. Anything less that top-notch will be immediately deleted!
14. Press Kit: Do you have a great physical press kit (same as EPK but in hard copy)? Some venue owners are not tech-savvy at all, or just prefer to have something tangible to look at and hold. Many collect CDs, so always offer to send one to a venue owner, even if you sent an EPK.
15. Website: Do you have a great-looking, easy to find, easy to navigate website? This is a must for a lot of reasons, the least of which is that it is the best way to set yourself apart from the competition. MySpace, Facebook and ReverbNation pages are good to have, but they are very cookie cutter profiles. Plus, having a good looking website puts you far ahead of those artists who don’t. Be sure that you are easy to find (use your name as the domain name, or at the very least in it).
16. Personality: Do you have a pleasant and confident personality that shines both during your sales calls as well as on and off stage? No one wants to hire someone with a bad attitude, or who sounds depressing, or who sounds too overconfident and cocky. You also won’t get the gig, and definitely not a repeat gig, if you are not 100% professional in your demeanor at all times.
17. Phone Calls: Are you making the calls to get gigs, or waiting for the phone to ring. Booking your act is a sales job. It is a numbers game. Even if you have everything else in this article in place, you will still get a number of ‘no’s for every ‘yes’ you get. The good news is that the more calls you make, the better you should get at it!
18. Sales Skill: Are you a good salesperson? A good closer? You may be calling the right people but just not doing a good sales job. It never hurts for an artist to take a sales course!
19. Approach: Are you telling the buyer how you can help them? Every buyer has his or her own agenda when it comes to having entertainment. Restaurants may want you to make sure people stay and drink after eating. Bars may simply want to sell more drinks. Some venues need you to bring fans, while others already have patrons. In that case your job is to keep them there. Do some research to find out what is most important to the buyers you are approaching.
20. Networking: Are you meeting potential buyers through networking, either in person or online? There are talent buyer organizations that you can join. Business-related social networks like LinkedIn can connect you with venue owner/managers. Chances are there are venue owners who are members of your local chamber of commerce. There are conventions where you can meet the talent buyers for fairs, for colleges and virtually any other kind of venue. It is always a plus when you’ve built a rapport with someone before you ask them to hire you.
21. Publicity: Have you been getting good publicity? Doing radio interviews, getting your CDs reviewed, sending out press releases, insuring your gigs are in the local online event calendars, performing at charity events, and getting interviewed for a magazine are all examples of great press. Aggressively pursue opportunities for publicity. Being in the press keeps you in the forefronts of people’s minds. That way, when they are ready to hire someone, your name is at the top of their list. On the other hand, bad press can ruin your reputation, so avoid or manage it at all costs!
22. Reputation: Do you have a good reputation? Does everyone in your band have a good reputation? Your can often get gigs based on your reputation alone. You can also lose them if your reputation is less than stellar. The most important thing you should strive for is a good reputation as a well-rehearsed act that knows its job and does it well, with everyone involved in or with the act conducting himself with the utmost professionalism at all times. Keep in mind that if even one member of your band has a reputation for drinking too much, being rude or disrespectful, showing up late, fighting etc., it seriously affects the reputation of the entire act. Protect your reputation at all costs!
23. Track Record: Do you have a positive track record? Some venues only book acts with proven track records, and for various reasons. One might be that they don’t ant to deal with amateurs. Another reason might be that their audience expects a certain standard of quality. In these situations, getting past the gatekeepers may be next to impossible. Work your way up to them. Earn the right to perform at the venue.
24. Truth In Advertising: Is your live show as good as your EPK or physical press kit represents you to be? Can you duplicate your CD live? Are you over-inflating your abilities, experience, skills, repertoire etc? It is much better to say ‘no’ to a gig opportunity because you aren’t a good fit than to take a gig and then prove yourself a liar. If you misrepresent yourself in any way, a buyer will never give you a second chance. He or she will also warn other buyers that you’re not what you claim to be.
25. Professionalism: Are you professional in every way? Do you return phone calls in a timely manner, show up on time or early for gigs, dress appropriately at all times etc. It doesn’t matter how good the act is. If for any reason you are considered less than professional, you may lose the chance to get booked in less-forgiving environments.
26. Pleasing Audiences: Are you great at pleasing the crowd? In most live situations, being great musicians or singers doesn’t guarantee that audiences will love you. You still need to read and cater to them. Without this ‘crowd pleasing’ factor, you will find it hard to land any of the better gigs.
27. Attitude: Are you really accommodating and easy to work with? Unless you are selling out stadiums, few venue owners will put up with a bad attitude or someone who is too demanding. They will avoid someone who is always complaining and someone who insists on being crude. If you are disrespectful to the management, employees or patrons in any way, you immediately cut your chances of moving up the ladder.
28. Fan Base: Do you have a sizable fan base in the geographic region that the venue is in that you can easily market to? Some venues do not have a loyal clientele of their own and so they depend on the act to be the draw. If you don’t have enough fan email addresses and social network connections, seek out venues that only need acts to entertain their regular customers. Tourist areas are great for this! In the meantime, return to regions that you’ve played in before and keep adding to your fanbase while moving up the venue ladder there.
29. Work Ethic: Are you an extra miler? In other words, are you willing to do whatever it takes (legally) to get the gig? Will you do more work than you are contracted to do if warranted, such as playing a little bit longer than your contract states? Do you work the crowd before, during and after your shows instead of hiding in the band room? Do you consistently deliver a better product than venues are paying for? If you are willing to go overboard to make the gig a huge success, the venue can’t help but want you back. In addition, word will spread to the bigger venues that you’re worth more than you get paid for!
30. Punctuality: Are you on time all of the time? During the booking process do you return phone calls or make call-backs in a timely manner? Do you show up for sound-check at the time the venue prefers, or at a time that is convenient for you? Are you on time for your performances? Do you start each set on time or try to stretch your breaks? If you are punctual, you are showing that you are both professional and respectful. Doing things ‘in your own good time’ will insure that you stay on the lowest rung of venues.
31. Pricing: Are you charging too much for what you have to offer? Many factors need to go into your pricing, including how in demand you are, how many fans you bring to the venue, how much your travel costs are etc. But at the same time, most venues have a price range that is comfortable for them in which they know they will make a profit. Do your homework and match the price you need to charge with what the venue can afford.
32. Pricing II: Are you charging too little for what you bring to the table? You may have a great act, be 100% professional and have a good following, but still be perceived as a match for the lesser-known venues because you charge too little. Again, do your homework and be sure that you are not underselling yourself. It can really hurt your image.
33. Sales Skills: Are you a good salesman/closer? Do you know how to close the deal on getting gigs or do you give up too easily? Do you sound like you are begging? You may consider taking a sales course. Or, I would seriously find someone who is experienced at sales to book you (or mentor you). Many gigs are lost because of the act’s inability to make the sale.
34. Differentiation: Are you standing out from competition in a good way? If you just get lost in the vast sea of similar acts there is no reason for you to be hired over someone else, or to be promoted to better venues. What are you doing that other similar acts are not that earns you the right to get the gig or move on to the next level? How are you unique?
35. CD Cover: Do you have an attractive CD cover? Does it match your act? First impressions are everything! A bad or unprofessional looking CD, or one that misrepresents your sound, can turn a buyer off before they hear one note. Yes, you can get free software and design a cover yourself. But when your CD is put next to one designed by an experienced graphic designer, it is easy to see which act is willing to invest in themselves.
36. References and Testimonials: Do you have good references from the venues you’ve performed in? Do you have them in writing? It is always good to ask for a letter of reference from people who have been extremely happy with your work. It is also great to get a testimonial quote (or extract one from their letter of reference) to use on your website and in your press kits. These go a long way, especially when you’re chasing gigs in areas where no one knows you.
37. Referrals: Venue owners/managers know other venue owners/managers. Have you asked for non-competing referrals? If someone is happy with your work, they will often be more than willing to help you out by putting you in touch with someone else who might want to hire you. And of course, a venue is much more likely to hire you if they get the recommendation from someone they know and trust.
38. Buzz: Have you created a buzz about your act? Are people talking positively about your shows, your music and you personally? Are you active on the appropriate social networks? Do you work to build fan relationships, not just amass ‘friends’? Are your website and social networks set up so that visitors can easily share your music, blogs etc? Are you getting airplay (traditional or Internet), especially in their geographic region? Many venue owners look online to see what people are saying about you. Fuel their interest by giving your fans reasons and opportunities to tell their friends about you.
39. Marketing: Do you market your shows or just leave that up to the venue? Venue owners love it when an act participates in the marketing. When talking with the buyer, be specific about what you can (and can’t) do from a marketing perspective. Tell them about your newsletter, local fan base, if you have a street team in their area, what you will do to get publicity, any airplay you are getting etc. Be sure to follow up on everything that you promise.
40. Demand: Have you created a demand for your act? Are people calling to book you, or are you having to chase down every gig? The more demand you create, the more choosy you can get when deciding which gigs to take and how much to charge. You create this demand by doing all of the things mentioned in this checklist!
I know this is a lot to review and put in place. But the truth is that other acts are following this track to a tee, and doing a great job at it. If you’re not right there with them, they will get the gig every time!
Read more articles by Vinny Ribas