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Gig Talk: Getting & Keeping Gigs

  • Published Aug 13, 1999
Gig Talk: Getting & Keeping Gigs
by Terry Spence, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

You've been practicing for days and you're ready to take your show on the road. Ah, yes the fans, the money, the limousines. Wait a minute. Reality check! If these are your goals then perhaps you should be asking exactly who it is you are trying to glorify.

Now please don't get me wrong. Those things are great and probably a lot of fun, but before you start booking a cross-country tour it may be worthwhile to sit down and analyze exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. If you are the type of musician who is bent on being world-famous, you may have difficulty swallowing this next pill. Consider becoming well-known in your own town before you go out to conquer the Nashville scene. When you sign dozens of cds after one of your shows or sign autographs for your fans, you will feel a deep sense of pride knowing that your music has made a difference in the lives of those living in your town. As an added bonus, if you stick around after your gig and talk to people before you start breaking your gear down, you will have a fantastic opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Hopefully I have convinced you that a good starting point for your music career is working the local gigs. "So how do I land these local gigs in the first place?" you may be asking. It is really much easier than you think when you set your goals realistically. Here are some very basic steps to follow to obtain the all-important first gigs.

1. Write down a list of all places within your town and surrounding area that might be interested in your type of music.
Be creative when making your list of potential gigs. One of the most obvious places to investigate is the local church scene. If you do mellow music, I'm sure many churches would be happy to have you perform a song for offertory and maybe a special song appropriate for the pastor's message. If your thing is heavy metal, ska or just good old rock-and-roll, there are lots of youth groups who would love to hang out and listen on a Friday night.

Almost every town has a book/music store that supports local musicians. Just call them up and ask for the community relations director. How about doing an unplugged set in a small coffee shop? If the coffee shop manager is not sure about booking you, offer to do the first gig for free. Make sure your friends and family attend the first show. If the place is packed and people are downing caffeine like it's going out of style, the manager should be eager to book you again. This time explain that you need a little cash to help offset your expenses. Hopefully, with time you will consistently be bringing in people and you will earn the right to be paid well. Patience is the key here.

2. For each item on your list, write down vital information necessary to make initial contact.
At a minimum, each entry should contain a contact name, an address, and a phone number. Create a notebook to keep your contact list organized with one page per contact. I have sorted my list in zip code order, but alphabetical order works well too. This is a "living document," meaning that it never goes away, it just gets augmented.

3. Go through the list and contact each person, making a note of when the call was made and the outcome.
Don't throw away the contacts who are not interested in booking you. Just make a note that they should not be called in the future. This prevents you from adding the establishment to your list next year.

4. For those establishments interested in possibly booking you, ask if you may give them a promotional copy of your cd or to audition if you don't have a recording.
Many establishments have booked me right over the phone without even hearing me. Again, sometimes I have to perform for free, but when first starting out that was the price I had to pay.

5. When they agree to book you, write down all the details during the phone call or audition!
It is vital that you record information such as your fee (if you're being paid), date, time, place, and any other special instructions. Questions you should ask the booking manager are:
+ Where do I set up?
+ Are there other bands playing on the same date?
+ Where are the nearest electrical outlets? (I've had to run extension cords from some pretty odd places.)
+ What is the lighting like?
+ Should I send promotional material and, if so, when?

6. Write a reminder on your calendar (did I mention that you need a nice big calendar?) to call the establishment a couple days before your scheduled gig to verify that they are expecting you.
Calendars are vital to your success as a local touring musician. I keep mine in a notebook and take it everywhere I go. You never know when you're going to run into someone interested in booking you and it's nice to be able to seal the deal immediately.

7. Do the gig.
Regardless of the number of people listening to you, perform to the best of your ability. If your music touches the heart of just one listener, you may have opened their heart to Jesus. Remember that it is God working in their hearts, not you. When I perform, I always try to minister to God and allow Him to minister to those listening to me. The listener may not accept Christ immediately after your gig, but you will have planted a seed that may sprout tomorrow or next year. It's all God's timing.

8. Be a Christian at all times.
When you are standing in front of an audience, you are representing God. Churches have very forgiving audiences, but when you do the coffee shops and book stores many people sitting in front of you just want to talk or read. Some won't care about you and your music. Just last week someone threw a penny into my tip jar in front of the entire audience. I must confess that I wanted to take that person outside and teach them the meaning of respect, but that is most definitely not what Jesus would have done. I just smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and played on. Don't let the world interfere with your ultimate plan, which by the way, should be the same as God's plan.

Probably the single most important thing to remember when setting up your gig schedule is that you are doing this because you enjoy it and you love Jesus. If you want to become a professional musician, you will probably have to start by performing many gigs for free or very little cash. As your following increases, your bargaining power also increases.

Eventually, you are going to need to establish a budget that supports the life of a musician. At first it will probably mean holding down a job to make ends meet. As you start filling up your gig schedule, you will get an idea as to how many performances you will need in order to support your standard of living. At first it is useful to establish a goal for a certain dollar amount for a given week. When you reach this goal, establish a goal for a month. If you attain this goal, try increasing the amount for the next month. If it is God's will for you, someday you will be able to leave your part time job and perform for a living. If you're willing to look at your music career in a new light and try the ideas presented here, you may very well see your musical dreams come true.