The live music industry was hit hard by the pandemic. The landscape for performers, production, and venues has changed in different ways.
As restrictions are starting to ease in some parts of the world, we thought it would be beneficial to have a conversation with Kyle Weber (founder of live show & tour booking platform Indie on the Move) and Kristen Ford (singer-songwriter and touring artist) to gain some perspective on how artists are going about booking or re-booking tours.
This conversation is up on the Bandzoogle YouTube channel if you’d like to watch it there. But there was so much great information, with many questions and perspectives, that we wanted to share it here on our blog as well.
So if you’re been thinking about booking shows again, or are getting back into playing live, here are some takeaways from our discussion.
Start booking shows again...now!
Musicians have been keeping busy in different ways throughout the pandemic. If live shows are on your radar, now is the time to start doing some outreach.
If you’re feeling unsure about how to start booking again, go over what you’ve accomplished over the last year or so. Whether it’s recording, writing, or live streaming - take all of that and update your pitch. Dust off your music website and EPK so it’s all relevant again.
Indie on the Move started seeing an uptick in booking shows in March, with venues starting to plan for the summer. Places are actively booking. So get out there and start looking for shows if that’s what you plan to do.
It is hard to know how far in advance venues will be booking. Reaching out is worthwhile to get a feel for when shows will happen at different venues. As Kyle says, “I would always rather get the response “I’m not there quite yet,” than, “I just booked that show yesterday. Get back with me another time.” If someone isn’t there yet, at least you’ve created an introduction, and started a dialogue to touch base again.
Get ready to head back on the road with a professional website and EPK for your music. Try Bandzoogle today!
Start dreaming big for your tour
The bigger the tour, the more time you’ll want to give yourself to prepare and to book those shows, especially as we all figure out the new normal.
Prepare your pitch, get your website up to date, and figure out what you want to do two months from now. Then look at those dream places you want to play as your anchor dates and see how far out they’re booking.
If music isn’t the main focus, such as a restaurant that also had music on the weekends, they probably want to get their main focus back in order, like brewing beer or serving food. In every city, there are venues that are not there yet, but many that are.
And of these venues, some are already planning for either the fall, or for January 2022 - which is only 7 months from now. If you have your website and pitch ready to go - it doesn’t hurt to ask about 2 months from now.
Many venues will be re-booking artists that had cancelled shows throughout the last year, but some venues will be filling in the gaps with newly interested artists. There are also new venues popping up constantly. More and more places have decided to offer live music as restrictions lift and we find the new normal.
Brushing off the rust and getting back into it
Start putting together your plan. What are you doing with your downtime now, to make your way forward? Figure out what you want to accomplish and the resources that will help you towards that goal.
If you haven’t played out in awhile, and want to get back into it, create a good video with good audio of you playing live. In light of the pandemic, it could be a closed room, a sound stage, your living room set up nicely, or a radio show.
If you don’t have your set tight yet, schedule a taping of your performance, get it rehearsed, and promote it as a livestream. Record it as well, and you can put it on your website as a show. You can use that to book more shows.
You can also take on a few lower pressure, low-key gigs to get your confidence back. Some venues are filling in the gaps, maybe 3 weeks out. If you book a show that’s 3 weeks out, can you properly promote that? Maybe, maybe not.
But with venues that want to get the wheels moving, it could be a good opportunity to get back into it. Look for some of those gigs to get your confidence back and get used to interacting with an audience again.
Get your website back up to scratch
Getting your online presence back up to date is an important way to be sure that you’re prepared. Dive back into it; independent artists wear a lot of hats and you may be acting as your own manager to book shows. Think about how you want to represent yourself, and make sure that comes through on your website.
Be critical to get together what you need, but not so critical that you don’t get anything out there. Include that great video, updated photos, and a concise EPK for your music.
This will help you with a solid background not only to do outreach, but also to help venues promote the shows more easily once they’re booked.
Tip: here at Bandzoogle we give website reviews, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of updating your website, contact our support team. You can also have a peek at Bandzoogle website reviews: a 15 point checklist. We want to help you put your best foot forward!
Reaching out to markets you haven’t played before
Is it more difficult to get your foot in the door now with clubs booking back all of the artists they had to cancel? This will vary, so keep your booking requests simple, reference your EPK with your best photos and content. Show that you value people's time; the entire industry is getting going again from a standstill and a lot of people are overwhelmed as things get moving again.
Don’t have any imposter syndrome; feel really stoked about what you’re doing and just keep reaching out. There are thousands of places to play and ways to get in the door.
If you have it, use your newly-acquired live stream knowledge to your advantage. If your dream has always been to play Chicago, and you can’t get a date there on the way, stream a few songs from Millennium Park. Let your fans know you’ve made it there - they want to support that.
Original music artist vs cover bands
If you’re an original artist looking to get your music out there, look at different venues to see what they usually have. Or get together with 3 other bands to put together a bill if your original set is shorter.
A cover band might play a full 3 hours in the evening. Another way to do this is to create a set where every third or fourth song is a cover, and communicate that to the booker.
This helps you play longer, and if you don’t have a song that the audience recognizes, it helps the audience relate to you and gives them something to hold onto. Then they’ll have better ears for your own original music.
Artists will face challenges as things resume
We’re in a period of transition in many areas of the world when it comes to live shows. This might include things like reduced hours for a club: if they’re not open as late, or have reduced capacity, they can’t do the same sales, and that can trickle down.
As a result the guarantees for artists might be lower. Venues are not as confident about what they can offer until the bodies are in the door.
This is a time of transition. The best thing to do is to have patience and love for each other as we knock the dust off and emerge from hiding: promoters, staff, musicians, and everyone, as we figure out the new normal.
Prepare for last minute cancellations and issues along the way
As an artist, just try to protect your health. Travel can be gruelling, and now we understand germs that much more.
You can add a level of extra protection by wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and bringing your own microphone. Plus, just have extra patience and goodwill; cancellations and issues are going to happen to everyone.
Figure out the rules in advance so there are fewer surprises - for example, in New York, you need a vaccination passport. Other states may say masks are not necessary, but a private establishment within that state may require it. So do your research ahead of time and be prepared.
As an artist, be sure to pass this information along to the people you’re promoting the shows to. You don’t want your fans getting turned away if they don’t have a vaccination card. There’s no harm in keeping people informed.
Over-communication is key - it’s how you add value to your product, which is yourself on tour. If the show is all ages, if alcohol will be served, if it’s outdoors - maybe set up an email address just for questions and be sure to check in with your fans regularly.
Don’t stop the live stream, but do it strategically
The surge of live streaming is a direct result of the pandemic. So should artists continue to live stream now that they can play live shows again?
Live streams are still a great way to connect with a fanbase you may have built up over the last while. Your fans might rely on the stream as a way to continue to connect with you. It’s a way to reach international fans, who may then come to your shows when you tour in their area.
But don’t necessarily live stream your live show. The audience is different, and it’s challenging to interact with fans in person and online at the same time. Plus, with the technical requirements, it's just one more thing to worry about, especially as you may be rusty getting back into performing.
Use your live streams in conjunction with your live shows. If you’re playing a tour, add a few live stream tour ‘stops’ as a different way for fans to see you. Since it’s a different feel to your live show, it shouldn’t detract from fans coming to see you live if you’re in their city.
If you offer fan subscriptions, you could work in a live stream, or record your live show and edit a clip together for your subscribers.
Interacting with fans in a post-pandemic world
Pre-pandemic, the post-show hang was a longstanding way to meet and greet with friends, and new or old fans. It’s part of what makes shows so awesome. The interconnectivity of people in a shared experience is irreplaceable.
It would be hard not to be there in the moment, like we were before. So making sure everyone is comfortable during this transitional period is crucial.
Your fans will understand that there are different levels of comfort now. Put two tables so you’ve got 6 feet to create the distance, or come in your own entrance if it’s crowded and you’re not comfortable. Some venues have implemented color-coded bracelets to show levels of comfort.
People are also more familiar now with cashless options, including a virtual tip jar or online merch table on your website. So if you want to use those options, just be prepared before your show to help everything go smoothly.
Post-pandemic tour accommodations
Staying with strangers, billet-style, might not be the best way to plan a tour any longer. But there are always great people out there that may be willing to host you or your band; it comes down to personal comfort level.
Lead with kindness, positivity, and move forward together
The biggest theme running throughout this conversation was that no one really knows best. The industry is evolving and things are changing every day. Some venues are closing; others are opening. People might feel anxious, or uncertain. Musicians might not be where they used to be, and venue staff might be rusty as well.
But everyone is finding their way back to that amazing experience that’s a live show shared between musicians and fans.
Lean on that engineer to get you those forgotten mixes. Get merch and be ready to sell it at your shows. Get back out there - you don’t have anything to lose. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s very exciting to think that we can go playing music in person again.
Want to watch the video of the full discussion? Check it out below.
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