The ability to play corporate gigs can almost be considered a secret weapon for the performing musician.
Most people don’t realize that not every musician tours or plays sold-out shows. Some artists play weddings, retirement homes, and business luncheons—and they make a lot of money doing it. I want you to make a lot of money too. So I’m going to share some tips on how to get these “secret” gigs, how much you can make, and what you can do right now to get going.
(Note: I’m not much of a performing musician myself, but I got in touch with someone who makes a living at it—Mark Warren of Exodus Sound—he’s a full-time DJ and performing artist, and he’ll be sharing his wisdom throughout this article).
But first, a quick word on selling out...
Making money doesn’t mean you’re “selling out”
When I was younger, I thought that making any money from my music was to be “selling out.” I thought the cashflow would taint the art. But now I realize that’s totally wrong.
If you work hard at something and pour yourself into it, you should be compensated.
The problem is when you let the money drive the train. If you start making decisions in your music career because of the money, that’s risky territory. If you compromise on your values for the value of money, watch out. So I’ve got a suggestion.
If you book some corporate gigs and realize you hate them, maybe try something else, despite the promise of big money. You don’t want to dread having to perform, even if you’re getting paid well. But if you think you’d like playing weddings, business events, and retirement homes, you’ve got to explore the idea of playing corporate gigs. Here’s how to start.
Tips on how to get corporate gigs
Now let’s dive into some practical tips for booking your first (or more) corporate gigs.
1. Figure out what makes you unique
Whatever type of musician you are—performer, producer, songwriter—uniqueness is the key to standing out. And you’ve got to figure out what makes you unique. Why would a potential client book you over the next person?
For example, Mark Warren is a DJ and live performer, which is not super common. Most people are just DJs or just performers. And he plays to that uniqueness in his communications.
Once you find your angle, highlight it on your website, and make it your selling point.
2. Create a professional video
Having a live performance video is really important for corporate clients. Your video is the first impression potential clients will get of you, so it’s even more important that besides playing well, the video needs to look and sound great too.
A well-shot performance video can really help your chances.
For example, a couple who’s planning their wedding wants to see what you’re going to look like “on stage.” They want to see how you’re dressed, your demeanor, how you sound, and how entertaining you’ll be—because it’s their event, not yours.
If you can afford to hire an indie filmmaker to shoot your next concert, go for it. If not, remember that phones have come a long way; simply ask your friend to film you at your next gig with a newer smartphone.
3. Make a setlist of songs people want to hear
As great as your original songs probably are, people at corporate gigs probably don’t care. They want to hear the songs they know and love.
So build a repertoire of songs everyone knows, and also be prepared to learn songs requested by clients ahead of time. The more songs you know and can play on the spot, the better.
4. Embrace diversity
But wait, how do you pick the songs people want to hear?, you ask. Well, it depends on your audience.
“Be flexible,” Warren told me. “Look at who you're playing for and play for them. Not to some imaginary people you wish you were playing for. A 60s+ crowd isn't going to appreciate the same things as a 20-somethings crowd. Don't try to force it.”
That’s why it’s always smart to have a diverse library of songs you can pull from. That way, you can focus on being entertaining and not having to ask yourself whether or not you’re playing the right songs.
5. Get involved with charities
When you’re just starting out, you probably shouldn’t expect to make the big bucks. You’ve got to show people you can do the job first. And a great place to start, according to Warren, is with charities.
“Find charities to get involved with,” he said. “They might not pay much, but they're always worth it and all the corporate sponsors love to pay someone who cares about others and shows it by being a part of charities.”
When you’re being philanthropic with your time and supporting a worthy cause (hopefully), it’s a win-win.
6. Reviews are your bread and butter
Unless a client knows you personally or someone they trust has referred you, they’re probably not going to book you for a high-paying gig based solely on your website. It doesn’t matter how good your bio is. In fact, nothing’s as powerful as a good review.
But how do you get reviews if you can’t get gigs? It’s the chicken and the egg.
Try this: ask previous venue managers you’ve worked with, fellow performing artists, and even fans to leave you a good review. Tell them that, in exchange for a positive review that you can post on your website or socials, you’ll send them free merch or help them out some other way.
This is what’s known as “social proof,” and it goes a long way.
As you get into playing corporate gigs, you’ll find you play for lots of different types of events and people. So you need to learn how to adapt to any situation.
“There is absolutely no telling how each party or event is going to go,” Warren said. “It could be a complete rage-fest, but it could also just be a bunch of people sitting at the bar having a chill evening with music. Understanding these dynamics helps you to not be so disappointed when you go in thinking it's gonna be a flash-dance and it ends up being a tea party.”
So be ready for anything. Remember that preparing a diverse repertoire can also help with this step.
8. Have fun
Finally, don’t forget to have fun. Even though you’re getting paid and it might start to feel like a “real” job, enjoy yourself and the people there; because if you’re genuinely having fun performing, that’s contagious.
“...If you find a way to make it fun, they'll usually have you back,” Warren said.
How much can you make playing corporate events and weddings?
Now for the big question: how much?
According to WeddingWire, “the average wedding musicians’ cost in the U.S. comes in at $500.” That’s not bad for a few hours of entertaining people. Obviously, this price tag can vary depending on how unique you are, how much experience you have, and other factors, but that’s still better than your average show at a dive bar.
So what should your starting price be?
Well, WeddingWire puts “$200 or less” at the low end, so start there. Then as you get more gigs and more experience, you can slowly up your price.
Finally, here are some steps you can take right now to get your first corporate gigs:
Create a page on your website clearly promoting your performing services (with a professional video).
Ask previous venue managers, fellow artists, and fans for positive reviews and post them on your website.
While you’re at it, ask those same people if they know of anybody who’s looking to hire a band.
Sign up with a service like GigSalad and optimize your profile as much as possible.
Contact local charities you support and offer your services for free the next time they’re throwing a benefit.
Build your repertoire and practice a ton.
Now you know the secret weapon that so many other performing artists have been using for years. Use it responsibly, my friends.
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