Whether you’re an artist or a promoter the key to success is keeping the calendar as full of dates as possible. If you feel like you have a great act to unleash on the world, but aren’t booking any shows, it may be because you are making one of these common mistakes.
Cold Pitching Venue Bookers
Do you read every email you get from an unknown sender or answer your phone when you don’t recognize the caller ID? Me neither. Why? Because we are bombarded at home and at work with noise. These days most calls are robo-calls, most email is spam, so who has the time to take it all in. Venue bookers are no different. They get all the normal noise plus acts and promoters pitching gigs. The best way to break through the wall of noise is to develop personal relationships with bookers and venue owners. Find them after a show and let them know you enjoyed it. Stop by with donuts and coffee. Follow them on social media (but, please don’t pitch them on Facebook). The goal is to become a human that they recognize, not just another reason to swipe left.
Failing to Follow Up
If you do send an email or leave a message with a booker (preferably one who knows you) and they don’t respond right away, don’t give up. (See everything I just wrote above.) It’s OK to send a follow-up note after a few days to make sure your message didn’t get buried. That said, don’t make a nuisance of yourself. If there’s no reply after a couple of follow-ups, it’s clear that your pitch didn’t land and you need to come up with a new strategy or move along.
Not Responding Quickly Enough
If you do get a reply from a booker, for hell’s sake, respond right away! Those first interactions tell the booker how responsive you will be throughout the entire process. If you are slow, they may decide that it’s just not worth the effort. Not to mention the fact that they’re not going to let dates sit open while they wait to hear back from you. When you are in the process of booking shows keep your phone handy. There are also some cool new software tools that promoters can use to ensure they never miss a message.
Choosing the Wrong Venues
There are a bunch of things to take into account when deciding which venues to pitch. If any of them are out of alignment, you won’t get the gig. The obvious first consideration is vibe. Is the atmosphere of the venue right for the type of show you will deliver? The gastropub with a beer garden isn’t likely to book your thrash metal band. The next thing to think about is size. You’ve got to be honest about the potential draw and find a location that you can fill. It’s far better to sell out than to perform to an empty house. You might also consider whether your act is a better fit for venues without age restrictions, or if you can appeal to the over 21 set.
Focusing Too Much on the Music (Yea, I said it.)
If you can’t figure out why just listening to the recording or watching the video of the best performance in the universe isn’t getting the attention of bookers, I’ll give you some bad news. Booking shows isn’t about finding great artists. It’s about making money. That’s why your pitch needs to focus on how many people you can draw and what they will pay. At some point, the booker will check the box that the act doesn’t suck, but money talks and people in the door are money.
Being Unrealistic About Payment
Acts that have a consistent track record of bringing people in the door can request a guaranteed payment arrangement. But for new acts, or artists that aren’t local, that’s a rather big risk that you’re acting the venue to take. If the audience doesn’t materialize, not only have they lost what they pay the artist, but they’ve also lost the potential revenue they could have made by booking someone else. That’s why, at least in the beginning, you’ll book more gigs if you lead with a ticket sales split offer, or book the gig without payment from the venue and relay on merch sales for profits. Keep in mind that these days, venue managers use music booking software that lets them estimate the profits from any show and model the best offer.
Not Booking Enough Shows (Wait, what?)
Yes, I am about to tell you that the reason you aren’t booking enough shows may be that you aren’t booking enough shows. The music business is one that is built on trends. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is interested in. If you don’t have a lot of dates scheduled around town, bookers may assume that you don’t draw. In this business, busy and “popular” go hand in hand. So how do you get busy? Do as many donation gigs as you can to fill up your schedule. This makes booking you a low-risk proposition. Once bookers start to see that you are in high demand, they’ll be more likely to offer you a split or guaranteed gig.
Earning a Bad Reputation
It’s a small world in the music biz. Bookers talk to each other and word will get around quickly if you are a pain in the ass to work with. Not returning messages or calls, being dishonest about draw potential, becoming belligerent about settlement, all will hurt your chances of booking more shows. Another thing that will hurt your reputation if you are a promoter is being sloppy with expenses. It’s a good idea to invest in a software platform that will let you track and manage expenses in real-time so that you become the easiest promoter to work with in town.
The short version of this is – put yourself in the booker or venue owner’s shoes. Communicate with them in a way that is helpful. Don’t suck up their time if the act isn’t a good fit. Respond quickly. Keep the bottom line in mind, and give them something to get excited about. If you do those things, you’ll be booking shows like crazy.