One of the biggest barriers to success for most DIY musicians is booking. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, and quite honestly, it takes a lot of the fun out of being a working musician entirely. Except, that’s the problem isn’t it? You ARE a working musician, which means you don’t have the luxury of having someone else to do the work for you while you just enjoy showing up and playing live to all your new favorite fans.
Sure, you could hire an agency to handle it, but then you’re out of money, and you don’t get much control over how the tour goes. You’re putting your trust into someone who sees you as one of many new artists that may not understand your music or your target audience. This is how you end up playing an acoustic love song gig in a heavy metal bar during bike week. Not ideal.
Besides, there is a HUGE fan-base building opportunity that you miss out on when you let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. With that in mind, here are my ten steps to better band booking:
Step 1: Figure out which mainstream theater and large club level bands most closely match your ideal audience.
Step 2: Look at their tour schedule… make a note of which bands take the first slot opening each date.
Step 3: Review the venues said opening band plays. Also review the other bands on that opening band’s bill. Make sure you’re still a genre-match, and make a note of any promotion company credited on those show fliers.
Step 4: Begin reaching out directly to each venue, band, AND promoter you found in your research. At the same time, micro-target your marketing to reach the existing fans and followers of those bands, venues and promoters. Be sure to send introductions, then follow up a week later.
Step 5: Through research and homework you should now have both a gig AND the best marketing list ever for every gig you managed to get for this magical mystery tour. Organize the data and use it.
Step 6: Employ free and cheap tactics to grow that list… “text to win” merch packs to a google voice number so you can later text show reminders and merch deals to the same fans. “Share to win” social media campaigns to spread your reach in the target area. Send posters ahead to the venue, promoter, and other bands on your bill. Make your girlfriends stay at home and use your +1 to get a local entertainment writer or photographer into your show instead… you know, someone who DOESN’T have to love you unconditionally and can probably introduce you to a ton of people they know in their local scene?
Step 7: Play an excellent show. It’s all about networking up until the moment you strike that first note, but as long as you are on that stage your job is to steal every fan that came there to see someone else.
Step 8: Take care of your venue staff! Merch for the bartenders and shoutouts from the stage. A tip for the soundguy because without them you could suck. A handshake conversation with the other bands and promoters at the show… supporting each other is your greatest tool.
Step 9: Don’t let anyone leave empty-handed. Hopefully you’ve got a strong merch game, otherwise you must have an inexhaustible touring budget saved up. Either way, make sure you peddle swag to every fan at the show. Walk the crowd with CD’s. Hand out quarter-sheet fliers for your next few shows. Make sure they all have something with your band name on it so they can connect with you later.
Step 10: Do the follow-up work. Take notes on the venue so you remember what to expect next time you tour that way. Stalk the show on social media and tag all the photos you can find. Try to lock in your next tour date before you leave the venue that night. Trade cell #’s with band members you enjoyed talking to. Pick out your best new superfan and get their number too. It’s all useful, and it all helps to build a bigger better show your next time through.