What original musician doesn’t want to play more and better shows? Making that happen, though, can be the most unpleasant part of what we do. Nobody enjoys the sting of those “no thanks” emails. Even worse is no reply at all! It can be a miserable, frustrating process, but it doesn’t need to be. You can make it easier on yourself by using some effective strategies that help me book 200 shows a year. I pay my bills exclusively with music, and I’ll tell you how.
First, be sure you have the tools necessary to make an effective pitch. If you’re prepared up front, you’ll avoid a lot of frustration. Preparation is important and makes a HUGE difference in outcomes.
1) A PRESS KIT IS ESSENTIAL.
In it, have everything pertinent about your band. It doesn’t need to be elaborate; in fact, the simpler and cleaner it is, the better bookers will like it. They wade through overwhelming amounts of email, so don’t make them search through a lot of information to find what’s important to them. Contact information and links to your music, videos, and reviews are the essentials that should come first, before additional information about band members, influences, etc.
2) PLAN YOUR PITCH.
Find an “in” to hook their interest and set you apart. If a friend has played there, drop that name. Tell them the good things you’ve heard about their venue and why you’d be a perfect fit. For the best result, pitch an exact date, rather than “hey we want to play.” It goes without saying that being polite is a must. Thank them for spending their valuable time to talk. And leave your phone number with them, in case they don’t like to email. The easier you make it for them, the better!
3) FOLLOW UP IS A MUST.
Don’t wait for them to get back to you. Even if they want to, most will not call you back. They may forget or get busy and not have time. Make it easy for them. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. You don’t want them to forget about you; but don’t pester either. About a week after your initial contact, follow up with something like, “Hey, just checking back with you on xxx date for my band _____, wondering if you had time to look at the date. Looking forward to hearing back. Thanks!” If another week goes by, it might be worth one more reminder, maybe asking politely whether a different date might work better.
4) DETERMINE WHAT TO ASK FOR.
Figuring out what you’re worth to the venue can sometimes be tough. If it’s a new market and you have no draw, they may believe you have ZERO value to them. In the end you must decide what it’s worth to you. You need to build a market; so the goal is to play these spots over and over till your draw improves. THEN, and only then, can you ask for a value that’s based on that draw.
A tour will likely cost you a minimum of $50 a day, just to sit still. No matter what you do on tour, it’s costing money. If you sit in your van on a day off, you still consume fuel, food and other necessities. As a rule, it’s best to shoot for double what your expenses are. That has worked well for me, which brings me to my next topic. . .
5) START WITH AN ANCHOR GIG.
Use that as your destination. Then route to and from that main gig. Look at a map and see which cities are on the way. Look at other bands’ schedules to see places they have played on those routes.
6) GET HOLDS.
Do not start booking a tour and confirm the shows. Get holds. Come up with a couple different small routing changes with different options, in case a show doesn’t work out. Then get a hold on a couple dates that work with your route.
7) KEEP ROUTING TO FIVE HOURS A DAY (or less).
This will ensure that, even with time changes and/or unexpected traffic problems, etc. you can make load in and not be rushed. More than 5 hours and an accident can make the drive tough. Plan ahead; allow for plenty of time to avoid stress. For routing and booking, I like to go old school with paper or a calendar. Laying it out on paper with pencil lets you easily see it and make changes as they come in.
8) KEEP RUNS IN NEW AREAS SHORT.
When going to an area you’re new to, only do a couple weeks at a time. This way, if it’s a bust and you come home broke, you have two weeks to make the money up at home, in your local market. Keep the business making money every month. Merch aint cheap! And the more you tour, the more merch you’ll need.
9) DON’T OVERLOOK PR!
Many bands skip it; but that’s a mistake. Going on tour means NOTHING, if people don’t know who you are or where you’re playing. Investing in PR and a targeted social media campaign for the area you’ll be playing is HUGE. And make sure local bands are on all the bills. Check out their draw and talk to them. They’ll be more likely to promote a show with your band if they’ve gotten to know you (and don’t consider you a bunch of assholes).
Tag the bookers, clubs, and bands in your social media posts! Promoters love to see bands care about the show. Nothing is more frustrating than booking a band and not seeing them share the show or invite. Tag them so they see you’re working your hardest. This will increase your value in their eyes, which means they’re likely to pay more in the future.
10) HANG POSTERS EARLY.
Your tour or weekend is booked. Now what? Show up and kick a metric ton of ass, so they see you are every bit as good as you told them? Well, sure; but first get posters out there! These need to be at the venue at least two weeks before the show. Three MONTHS out is even better. The more nights they hang somewhere, the more people see them. And the more often those people see them, the more likely they are to remember the date of the band.
11) ELIMINATE CONFUSION WITH ADVANCE SHEETS.
These are a HUGE deal and eliminate miscommunication between you and the booker/venue. It also works as a sort of agreement/contract to keep people honest. (Although a contract in truth is only as good as the person who signs it.)
What goes into an advance sheet? Date, venue, address, booking contact, compensation agreed upon, phone number, etc. Set times, load in, and all bands playing should also be on the sheet. This way, you won’t show up and hear, “What do you mean you don’t do four hour shows?” You can add parking info, whether the club has house sound or provides hospitality, etc. Basically any and all info needed to insure that you and the venue are on the same page.
These eleven steps have helped me plan great tours and effectively grow our band. I know from experience that the strategies work. Hopefully implementing these will help to improve your value and keep you on the road, as the Motorhead song says.
Good luck and stay safe out there!
Guest post written by Tom Jordan.
Tom is the singer/guitar player for the death blues band, 20 Watt Tombstone. 20 Watt Tombstone is an internationally touring band based out of Northern WI. They tour consistently with hundreds of dates per year. They have hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify, and a prominent following on social media. Tom is also endorsed by several manufacturers including Orange Amps, and Gretsch Guitars. Check out their website for more info: http://20watttombstone.com/