If you’re like the average musician jumping back into the post-pandemic tour machine, it either feels like riding a bicycle (easy) or like rehabbing an atrophied muscle (very, very hard). Regardless of what camp you’re in, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: booking is still no fun! In fact booking might feel like even more of a challenge now than it did prior to 2020. But don’t worry, we’ve put together some tips to help you stay focused and be successful in what is still the most frustrating part of touring.
Who are the hosts, venues, and people you have stayed in contact with over the past few years? Start there. Instead of trying to book a tour in places or with people who don’t know your band from the next one, start with the people who already love your sound. If you have built up your online following through two years of live streams, let your online fans know. Restart your journey on the path of least resistance.
Write a good pitch
The power is (still) in the pitch! The average venue doesn't need to hear from an actual booking agent, manager, or someone representing you. They just want to open their inbox and not be overwhelmed with your 2-page life story. Write a to-the-point, concise email that pitches your talent and worth to that venue. Include date (in the subject line), and limit your email to 3 short paragraphs (at most) with links to media.
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Remember: Venues are starting over too
Your favorite venue might not be there anymore. If it is, chances are they’ve overhauled their booking policies, pay scale, how far out they book, etc. When you reach out to a past favorite stomping ground, be prepared for changes. Knowing that things aren’t going to play out the way they did before is really half the battle.
In addition, pulling your creative resources together is truly the name of the game in a post-pandemic world. Be willing to collaborate with venues to see how you can make shows worth attending for customers and fans alike. Venues are now more dependent than ever on musicians to create a quality atmosphere that makes people want to show up and show out; so use that to your advantage. If you do, everyone benefits.
Crowdsource your intel
With so much that has changed, it’s that much more important to get good information from trusted sources. Your friends in other cities know about that new venue that hasn’t been around long enough to even have a Google footprint. Have friends in a specific city? Ask them where they go for live music these days. It’s sure to be different from where they went 2 years ago.
Think outside the box
It’s all about new models these days! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Maybe your typical venue and audience has changed…probably because you’ve changed. A lot can happen in two years.
Consider booking in spaces you’ve never played before. If you used to play mostly bar gigs, try a space that’s more conducive to a listening audience. Don’t go back to the places that sucked you dry or didn’t appreciate what you had to offer in the past. Give yourself some new parameters and see what happens when you decide to work within them.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Make a list of the things that you love about live performance. Make a list of things you hate. Don’t want to play shows where you have to bring your own sound? Don’t want to play shows that require you to do 3-hour sets? Use your list to guide your booking process and if you find yourself booking shows that make you dread an upcoming gig, start saying “NO!”
You won’t miss that next big thing if you pass on an opportunity. These days it's quality over quantity and knowing what your ‘yes’ is, makes saying ‘no' so much easier.
Be consistent, not creepy
Don't email the venue every 3 days to check on the status of a potential show. Give your pitch the space it needs. Follow up after a week or two. When you follow up, include a line that fishes for a response, such as, ''If those original dates (13/14) don't work, another good date would be the 28th as I make my way back up north.'' Keep your follow-up short and to the point. Again, bookers are flooded with emails and need you to help them keep it simple.
Check the calendar first!
This tip never goes out of style. DO NOT email a venue about a date that is already booked on their calendar. Do your research. Visit their calendar, see which dates are still open, determine if any of those work. Then reach out to the venue about one of those. You’ll save yourself a lot of work if you do your due diligence first, and confirm that the date you are asking for is open in the first place.
As a ''booking agent'' your job is to sell the product - YOU. When you read your pitch, do people wanna ''buy'' you? Are you appealing? You don't need to embellish or lie. Just package yourself well. Send your pitch to a few friends and get their opinion.
Sell an idea
Sometimes you're not just selling yourself. You are selling an idea. Maybe you're actually selling a Women's themed event because it's Women's History Month. Maybe you're selling a Veterans Day event with performers who are all veterans. Maybe you're putting together a piano-themed showcase or a tribute show. Sometimes the idea is much bigger than yourself. Venues like that stuff.
Last but not least, be professional. They’ll take you as seriously as you take yourself. Be clear. List dates. List links to your music. Be specific. Know that a song or video that might appeal to a club is not necessarily the same video that will appeal to an arts center. Remember: this is not a one-off. You are trying to develop a relationship with a venue so that you can keep coming back. First impressions matter and when you keep showing up with excellence, a venue will jump at the chance to have you every time.
Joy Ike is a full-time singer/songwriter and artist coach based out of Philadelphia, PA. In her work through Cultivators, she helps artists grow well by casting vision for the big picture while giving attention to the daily challenges of creating and communicating genuine art. With her background in publicity and marketing, Joy is especially passionate about helping independent artists tell a better story through branding, booking, fan-building, and authentically connecting with their audience. Her writing has been shared by ASCAP, BMI, Bandzoogle, Indie on the Move, CD Baby, and several other prominent music industry blogs.
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