The Art of Booking – Prepare for Battle – A Crash Course

Right at the start, let’s get this out there. These people who are booking you, they’re not your friend. They want you to come in with as little hassle, they want to pay you as little as they have to, they do not want to be your friend. Does that mean we should be rude to these people … Don’t be silly that will get you nowhere, no, I am merely telling you, they are not your friend. Don’t pretend that they’re looking out for you. Treat them like a business, and you’ll be just fine. There are exceptions to this rule. Obviously, we have exceptions to this rule. But don’t believe that you are the exception to this rule, as far as you’re concerned, this is war. 

You are playing a numbers game here, you’re not going to book every place you call, not every place you email will respond and even if you walk into the place, you might not be what they’re looking for. It doesn’t always work out, not by a long shot. Even the best groups only retain 10% of everything they try to book (This fake statistic brought to you by me). The turnover game is high in this industry (especially at festivals) don’t worry if you didn’t make a smashing impression the first time you reached out. 3. There is plenty to go around. So, don’t spend too much time focusing on a single place. 

All of the work to get a good gig is done WAY beforehand. A while ago, I wrote a post on how to create a dope EPK (hands down my most popular post). It has everything an EPK needs to look, killer! Click on the link below if you need some help.

So obviously we want to have our shit together before we approach a venue, BUT and this is a big but, we don’t want to cut ourselves completely off and not hit any places! I think this is a huge problem that people just don’t understand. If you have connections, you really don’t need much to book a place (duh) and part of getting more gigs is by playing gigs. 

This is important, when you write a venue, you want to keep it short and sweet. They have a lot to read through. Keep it concise! Give them your name, list how long you’ve been in the area, list other places in the area you have played, give them an idea of what you sound like, tell them how many people you usually draw, wrap it up.

The biggest problem I see with the way most people book – they treat it the same way the Stones tried to book places when they were starting out. It’s not the 1960’s anymore – stop promoting to venues like it is. Let me tell you something that will probably bum you out. Most people can just watch Youtube these days, they’ll have a pleasant experience. They don’t have to come into a bar to listen to music like they did 60 years ago. Those times are past. This isn’t a bad thing, though! We just have to rewire our thinking. It was tough to get a gig back then. Now, most restaurants have a place for musicians to play some live music. Even if it doesn’t have the same draw it used to, it will still make someone stop for a few minutes and listen (that is, if you’re any good). 

The art of seeming busy, but not too busy (AKA the lazy boy/girlfriend principle) – Yes, I understand that sounds counterintuitive, but suspend logic for a moment so I can make my point. Venues like it when you’re busy, it makes them confident in your abilities. Okay, there’s a fine line though. You can’t be too busy for them. I like to compare it to a lazy boyfriend/girlfriend. Have you ever dated someone who had nothing going on other than dating you? Doesn’t that sound nice at first, then freak you out? Let me explain why. They can get five you all of their attention, which sounds nice… for about fifteen seconds. They have nothing but you! That’s terrible! I know that sounds cruel, but it sucks. It’s not fun, it gets real old fast. Just imagine coming home (maybe you don’t have to imagine this) “How was your day?” “Great, I watched two seasons of Rick and Morty. Again.” Okay, other than having great tastes in crude humor, this sounds terrible. 

This long tangent to say, you want to have something going on. How do you find anything? Easy, start with the crappy places to play, then frequent the areas that have live bands, punch your weight at first. If you want to play that local bar, go to the bar when they have live music. If you’re a singer/songwriter and you notice they never have any singer/songwriters frequent the bar, don’t waste your time trying to book that place. 

I​’m afraid you might try something I have tried a few times. It’s very tempting, it’s also a terrible idea. Don’t try to change your music to fit the venue. It NEVER goes well, don’t suffer for that paycheck. It will go terribly. I have a funny story about playing an R&B place, we had no business being there, the crowd knew it, and the couple hundred dollars I had to split between the band was not worth the torture of playing to a audience that did not like us. I have been blacklisted from that place, and it almost cost me the next night at a different location (where I did fit in). It is not worth it. Play your game, there are more than enough places to play! I promise you! 

Watch your peers – If you were a venue and you were going to book a show with four bands from the area, who would you put in the same night? Do you have them in mind? Now follow them on their social media and find out where they play. Better yet, ask them how they booked their show! Ask them for the contact information, be persistent, be overly grateful and extraordinarily lovely. If they have a booking agent, ask for their booking agents contact information. Ask a lot of questions, I’m not saying you’re not doing enough! I’m merely saying, ask more questions, if you feel like you’re being obnoxious, then you’re doing it right. If you feel uncomfortable asking for so much, get over it. Because that’s how you need to be to get things done! At the same time, be very likable and kind and observant. Know when to pull back for a little bit.

It’s okay to tell a white lie – I know! It’s terrible, but remember, these people are not your friends! They will lie to you about what they have going on. Let me explain my white lie. They’re going to ask your draw, especially if you’re coming from out of town. It’s okay to say that you’ve played the region on before, it’s okay to say you have a little bit of a draw to you, at least for the show where you don’t have to sell tickets, I mean, duh. A bar in Denver is much more likely to book a band that says they’ll have a draw of twenty over a group that has never played in the state. Is that lame, yes! But you won’t get a draw if you’ve never played there before. Obviously, don’t tell someone you’ve got a draw of 250 people when you don’t. Don’t be stupid. Tell them what they want to hear, don’t go overboard. Most of the time, you’ll have enough foot track so that no one is the wiser. Honesty is always the best policy, till you’re dealing with someone who won’t book you for a stupid reason. I feel funny posting this paragraph, but honestly, a white lie to a venue has helped me book a lot of places, and 95% of the time I get another show there. 

Are there prime times to book – Yes, the beginning of the week is MUCH better than the end of the week. Most places won’t check their email over the weekend, which means your email is buried under the HUNDREDS of emails they will get. Now, every home is a little different. As you start to learn about the venue, you will begin to learn when their hours are. If you get an email, its best to respond right when they return to you! If you can’t get to them that quickly, it’s okay. 

Persistence is hands down the most important thing – If the venue responds the first time you write them… you’re are the exception to the rule. I had emailed some venues six times before I got them to respond to me. SIX TIMES! I remember to write some festivals TEN times before they responded the first time. I would send them two emails a week. It happens, almost every time. Now there is a fine line you will need to walk between being obnoxious and lovable. There’s no formula for it. You should definitely come up with a template that you can send to these venues. Save the template, keep it on your computer. Make fill in blank spots, 

Hello ___________, My name is Dean, I book for my band, we play Eclectic Smooth Rock, (it sounds kind of like an angry John Mayer) we’ve been in the area for a couple years, playing places like _________ and ____________. We usually draw a crowd of around ______. We would love to come to play for you! We have an hourly rate at $___________, we’re will to negotiate that price though. I have heard nothing but great things about ____________, I hope to hear from you soon! 

Can you send that email again at the end of the week? Sure! Just change the beginning to say

“​Hey, I don’t know if you got my last email, I really would love to play ______________! I think we’d be a good fit! I’m resending this email to see if we can work something out!”

Then copy and paste that last email. Is it annoying? Yes. Does it work, not 100% of the time, but it works enough to help keep you sane! Don’t spend too much time in one place. Remember we’re playing a numbers game. Don’t take it personally if you’re being ghosted. It happens to everyone. Just remember how busy you are… and then multiply that times ten and that’s how active they are. I know when you get shot down it sucks. It still hurts me to hear “no.” I have to remind myself that as soon as I started asking, I was bound to catch more than a few. If you don’t want to hear a no, sit at home and play in your bedroom. Cause that ‘s the only place you will be safe. 

Let me tell you this. It’s okay to hear the word “No”- No. It’s okay! In some messed up way, it’s right for you. You are going to have some dry spells where you can’t book a damn show. It will happen. It’s not you, it’s the game. I’m not trying to make you feel good about yourself. It’s just the truth. 

Should you be upfront with pricing – Yes, always. This clears up a lot. You know you’re getting paid, they know they’re paying you. Don’t treat it like it was that time you grazed your mom’s boob. You can and should talk about it openly! As far as asking price, do what you feel like is worth your time. $50 an hour is a low starting place, if you’ve just started playing shows, it’s totally far. Realize that not every place you play is gonna pay you. They should, they won’t. After playing for a while, bump that price up. If you’ve got a full band, ASK FOR MORE. There’s no reason a four-piece group shouldn’t make $200 an hour ($50 per person, per hour). Honestly, that’s low! It’s an excellent place to start, though. If they say “That’s too much.” you haven’t blown it, just respond with, “What fits in your budget?” if you feel it’s worth your time, then do it! Remember that if you’re traveling further, it’s okay to ask for a little more (a good place to start is treating your car like it’s worth at least half a band member, that goes for gas). Remember, it’s okay to ask for money. God, you should be asking for money! Promise me you will treat yourself like you’re worth the money! This is a business! If they are not paying you what you deserve, then you don’t need it. Obviously, there are a few other reasons to play as well, which is my next point.

Is it okay to play for something other than money? – I will book a show. Does it help me with exposure? Does it pay me? Is it for fun? I have a scale for each of these. The show has to meet a level of fun for me to want to play it, that level is higher than the level of exposure I need. I will supply a graph to show you what I mean. 

Okay but in all seriousness, use your brain. If you feel that playing that show for the city sounds super fun, then do it! If there is a show that seems lame, but it’s good exposure, but doesn’t pay (still, that blows my mind) and you feel that it is worth it, play that show. Set up your rules, live by those, after a certain point (it comes quickly) don’t just take a show because “it’s what you should be doing.” Sometimes, playing is just wasting your time. 

Think if this like dating. You are probably getting hung up on that one girl/boy! We all do it, and it doesn’t help us out. AND chances are once you start getting busy with a more, they’re gonna want you! It reminds me of a quote from Brad Mother F***ing Pitt. Before he was famous, nobody cared. He was still stupidly good-looking. He was also having a hard time finding a lady. As soon as a woman showed interest in him, as soon as he was pitched as desirable, he was SUPER helpful. It’s crazy how that works. It’s kind of like how if you go to a party, you’re alone, and you make a silly joke, and people look at you’re a weirdo, but if you have a friend with you, they laugh, and it’s almost like they’re saying “Don’t worry, he’s cool.” Booking a show is a lot like that. You want people batting for you! Duh. 

Booking festivals – Want to get into a new region? A Festival is the best way. But how do you get into this extremely competitive market? A few different websites have festivals listed. I like going through obscure sites (at least for musicians) and get email updates on festivals I would like to play (starting with state fairs in the tri-state area). I use websites such as – Eventbrite – Findfestivals and Everfest – to help me find festivals people wouldn’t usually think to book. I will go through the festival’s page and find the email contact and ask them how to book my band. It is time-consuming, it also works. I have played many storytelling festivals I knew nothing about, and that’s all thanks to these sites. 

(This can and should be its own blog post, I have an easy way to book festivals, it’s very time consuming though! It will take a long time to explain. I will go into further detail soon)

These festivals do pay (not always) although most of them don’t pay well. How do I afford to go out to Colorado? I will book bars in the area around the festival. Festivals typically book 6 months out (some even further out). You want to start booking those summer festivals in December/January. When you know you have the gig, start booking bars in the festivals area. You can make a grand on the round trip by using the festival as your focal point. Is it hard to do, no, is it time-consuming? Yes, very much so. I would recommend starting a little black book for these bars that you get into. Remember, you’re making money from these bars. It fills out that – Does this pay – Column.

I​ know it’s lame to say most of this boils down to being friendly and having the right mindset. But that’s what it comes down to. There isn’t a magic word. The more time you put into contacting places, the more shows you will get. 

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