With 65% to 85% of most musician's income coming from live performance, learning how to book gigs is an essential skill. Experienced agent, manager and author Jeri Goldstein helps to demystify the process.
Guest post by Jeri Goldstein
You called the venue and they were already booked… How many times have you had that happen? Turns out, having a great pitch isn't the only thing that matters. You also need to consider the booking schedule of the venue you're contacting. So today I’m going to show you how to book club gigs - specifically, we're going to focus in on timing your calls to club bookers. Do this, and you stand a MUCH better chance of getting the gig.
We're going to cover club gigs in this article, but if you want to know more about when to contact bookers for other types of gigs like festivals, colleges, and performance arts centers, download this free ebook where I break down the booking schedule for each venue.
When to Book Club Gigs
For the most part, clubs are likely to be filling their calendars 4, 6, or 8 weeks prior to the play date. This can be great for filling in last-minute gigs. But it can also be incredibly frustrating if you are planning your tours farther ahead.
So when is the best time to call a club? The answer is - as soon as you know you are planning a tour in the area. Give them a call and let them know about the tour plans. Try to get them to place a hold on your preferred date. After that, it’s your job to get back to them, check on that date, and find out if they are ready to firm it up.
Check with each club to see when they finalize their monthly calendar, prepare any strip ads, or start monthly promotions. This will give a clue as to how far out the booker plans and at what time in the month they actually start firming up dates. Once you know the deadline for the booker to have their marketing ready, then you can make plans to call prior to that deadline.
Check Back with the Bookers
As bookers start filling their dates, they look for hot tours that may have just announced their schedules. If they can book a hot act when they are coming through, it will take priority over any holds on the calendar. In other words, it’s important for you to keep checking back with the booker to make sure they are still holding your desired date.
If a larger act is vying for your date, that’s okay too. By keeping in touch with the booker, you might be able to score an opening slot!
Once you are in contact with the club, ask them for other referrals to clubs in the area. Look for clubs that would be far enough away to not interfere with their date but close enough to help build your regional following. These extra gigs could help solidify your tour in case the desired venue isn’t able to confirm their date.
As you can see, club dates are more of an ongoing process. Your tour schedule, your tour routing, and the club’s monthly calendar will be the determining factors, suggesting the proper time frames to begin your calls.
Getting into the Mind of Club Bookers
A few years ago, I wrote a column for Gig Magazine that was a series of interviews with club bookers across the country. My goal was to get into their thought process around how they select their acts and what kind of marketing materials helped them make their choices. As a result of that research along with my own booking experience, I have some helpful insights on how to book club gigs I’d like to share with you.
Be Aware of the High Money Nights
Since many clubs have multiple shows each week, they need to make sure their “money-nights” (Thursday-Saturday) are winners. They use these nights to help pay their bills. These are NOT nights they are willing to take a chance on an untested act.
Now you don’t necessarily have to be a national touring act to get a Thursday through Saturday gig. Regional or local favorites are fine, as long as you can sell tickets, food and bring in healthy bar revue.
Keep in mind, that for many clubs, they make their money from the bar and possibly the food. So they are interested in getting a crowd but are not wedded to the specific group. This sets up a dynamic where the competition for gigs is at a fever pitch, driving band fees down.
How to Book Club Gigs: Not too Early, Not too Late
Filling the calendar in a timely manner to meet deadlines is a driving force for the booker’s schedule.
That said, you may find they are more willing to “see who’s coming through town” toward the beginning of the month. And then, they set their dates rapidly as the calendar deadline approaches. You may find them more non-committal during the early part of the month because of this. But if you wait until the later part of the month, you may just find them booked!
It’s a balancing act. But again, here’s where placing a hold on specific dates may prove to be a very valuable tool.
Start with Weeknight Gigs
Many clubs look to the weeknights as a place to test new acts, so if you want to book club gigs, that’s a good place to start. If you have a growing following, you are more likely to get a more favorable night. And you may be able to work your way into one of the “money nights.”
Developing local talent tends to be something that many club owners and bookers love to do, especially when they can see the potential of future success for the act. If you fall into this category, you could discuss a regular night, multiple times a month with a club to foster this audience-building process.
Be Ready to Promote Your Gigs
Clubs want to know you have marketing tools and plans in place to help with any shows you do in the area. Most clubs do minimal marketing for individual acts. If you have a good mailing list, put it to use! That will be a plus for consideration and help you stand out from the competition!
How to Make Your Act More Attractive to the Club Booker?
Participate in Development Programs
Pay attention to any programs offered by the club for developing acts. Some have open-mic nights, others have a hierarchical method of growing the talent by strategically placing new acts early in the evening and as their audience grows, moving them up to more prime-time night slots. Participate in these programs if you are new to the club.
Keep Track of Numbers
Club bookers appreciate a growing fanbase! So take the time to develop your fanbase in each new market and use your numbers to leverage your value and book club gigs. Use your social networks and email lists to nurture your fan base. Make sure you share how many people on your list live in the area around the club. These numbers may mean more food and drinks sold along with tickets.
You can also track and share your numbers from past performances in the area. Remember how much merchandise you sold last time you came through town at this club or any others you’ve played.
Participate in the Promotion of the Gig
Marketing for club dates is often left to the act. If you rely on the club for your marketing, you may be disappointed with the shared strip add listing multiple acts for the month. So share your marketing plan with the booker to demonstrate your commitment to your audience development.
Offer to be on hand early enough to do radio or phone interviews prior to coming to town.
Be creative and willing to share marketing ideas that might create an interesting, unusual performance night. Whatever clever marketing pitch you can add to increase media attention or audience awareness will work in your favor to build your value to the venue and the area.
Be Easy to Work With
Make sure your set up doesn’t require any unnecessary expense or actions on behalf of the club or their technical staff. If you have unusual backline needs, make sure you carry those with you and are pro-active in creating an easy load-in, set up and sound check.
Also remember that club bookers are juggling a lot of dates. Sometimes as many as 6 different acts each night! So there’s a good chance the club booker will seem stressed. If you meet with a harried voice on the other end of the phone, it’s not about you. It’s the relentless pressure from the job. So your best approach is to be prepared and easy to work with. Prepare your pitch, send appropriate materials that are easy to read through and be prepared to make multiple calls to develop your relationship. Be accommodating, plan your call-back time and be vigilant but not obnoxious. If you don’t land your optimum date the first time around, keep at it and plan for the next tour through the area. Remember, it’s all about building the relationship.
Conclusion: How to Book Club Gigs
By now you should have a better idea of how club bookers approach their timetable. Try keeping everything we talked about today in mind next time you’re booking club gigs and you’ll be much more successful.
If you want more tips on when to contact different venues and performance opportunities, we have a free ebook for you where I break down the best times to contact bookers for festivals, college gigs, performance arts centers, and elementary schools. Click here to download the ebook for free.
By Jeri Goldstein. Copyright © 2019 Performingbiz, LLC.
Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, key-note speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.