6 Simple Steps to Get Your First Paid Gig

With global ticket sales for music at a record high, now is a perfect time for musicians to build their live portfolio and grow a fan base. People love to hear live music and artists love playing to audiences, so it’s a win-win situation for the creator and consumer.

The dream for any musician is to make money from their live shows but how do you do this if you’re starting out? In this blog post, we’re going to give you six simple but effective tips to help you start turning your music ambitions into real business.

1. Research Your Venues

While the pay will be less at first, it’s wise to start with small, local venues to get experience. Compared to larger places, it’s easier to generate an audience for smaller ones, and they can help create a closer, more engaging connection with your audience when performing directly to them.

Find pubs, clubs and similar venues in the area that host bands and solo acts. Venues often specialise in certain genres or put similar acts on the bill, so choose wisely to attract a crowd that would regularly attend and share your tastes in music. Open mics are also ideal for networking with venue managers, promoters and musicians who could keep artists on their radar. 

Don’t limit your options to standard venues

Busking is one other way to hone your craft and get exposure in public. You never know who could be watching. Three years ago, Seal invited local buskers in the cities he was playing in to perform at his shows, and some of them have enjoyed successful music careers as a result. 

House concerts have also made a comeback. Musicians often say that they enjoy doing these because of their intimate location and atmosphere. Artists play a live set in a host’s house and audience members make a suggested donation (usually negotiated with the host, although people can pay extra). While there are some spots at house concerts you can apply to play at, they are usually limited so alternatively, host a show either at yours or ask a friend if you can do a set or two at theirs. 

Use digital to get paid gigs

As musicians now latch onto digital to promote themselves, another option is to book paid gigs with one of just many apps out there such as Gigtown, ReverbNation, SonicBids, Gigmor and Encore. If you’re looking to secure a gig this way, be prepared to be offered eclectic venues and functions to play at from corporates to weddings. If you’re committed to a music career, any opportunity to get out andget paid is better than nothing. 

2. Make a Presentable Press Pack

In this digital age, it’s a no-brainer for any musician to have an engaging EPK (electronic press kit) to send to agents, promoters and venue owners. This usually has a short bio, 5-10 high resolution photos, audio/demo links, music videos/videos from shows, previous/future shows (if you have any), quotes from gig/record reviews/fans and links to your socials. 

Quality over quantity

Don’t worry about how many followers you have – what’s more important is the quality of your press materials. So check spelling and grammar. Make your bio creative yet specific, with no waffle. Don’t undersell your achievements but don’t be arrogant. Record your music samples with professional equipment – don’t upload a tinny phone recording to your EPK. And never use a drunk selfie as one of your publicity pictures.

Gig organisers often use the EPK as a key factor to decide whether to give artists a slot so ensure it’s the best you can make it to increase your chances of standing out in this competitive market. There are many free, professional standard templates such as Bandzoogle, Music Glue, even website builders (e.g., WordPress, Squarespace) to get you started on creating your EPK.

3. Sell Merch at Your Gigs

The music merchandise business is still thriving, with last year’s sales at nearly US$3.5bn, up from $3.33bn in 2017 and $3.08bn in 2016. Together with the move towards streaming, merch has become a tactical way to generate revenue but it’s one further opportunity to sell your brand. No one wants to buy another mass-produced white tee unless it’s worth it. So spend some thought on a design that represents not just your USP as creative, individual musicians but something that people would buy even if they didn’t know your music. Perhaps work with a graphic designer or buy more expensive items than you’ve done in the past. 

At the end of the day, merchandise can be very profitable so don’t cheap out on it. If you make something that is visually pleasing, good quality and overall a strong product, you can end up charging more and people will still happily invest.

“Connecting with fans” and a “reason to buy”

Merch is also a way for artists to “connect with fans” and gives them a “reason to buy,” according to Mike Masnick, President and CEO of insight company Floor64. “Connecting with fans” concerns practical ways to distribute and promote your music using digital, while the “reason to buy” is all about adding value to your products. An innovative example comes from Nine Inch Nails. From 2005-2010, the band sold various physical products such as T-shirts and hidden USBs at concerts, which embedded secret codes to IP addresses, websites and unreleased songs. These viral links were shared by the online community and fans submitted remixes of tracks to the band’s website. 

Taking this success story, including social handles, QR codes or hashtags on merch is a simple but effective way to initiate “raving fans” who will invest in your music regardless.

4. Keep it Polite and Professional

Venue managers and staff will be busy on the day of the gig and don’t want to be annoyed. As with any job, people expect all the standard things – timekeeping, good communication, being presentable on and off stage, an ability to get on with others and rehearsing your set well in advance. Be polite to everyone from the tech team to the bartenders. Thank your audience from the stage; if they want to approach you at the show, be genuinely nice and authentic towards them as no one wants to meet a stuck-up musician. And leave the partying until well after the show – your focus is to give a show worth paying for not on free drinks. 

The same applies when you’re contacting club owners, bookers and publicists over email, phone and now social media. When approaching them, send a short, succinct cover email requesting to play at the venue, with the basic info (e.g., contact details, links to your demos/EPK, what your music is about). They’ll be bombarded with emails everyday so if it’s too long you’re likely to be ignored. Don’t be desperate either and spam them with DMs.  

If you’re negotiating fees, you need to be honest and direct with yourself and whoever is in charge of the deal. But don’t come across as needy – it’s important to accept the offer for what it is, whether that’s a pre-agreed fee, a door split deal or playing for free. Money should not be your main driver as an artist but the music so it’s good practice to be grateful for any opportunity to play.

Conducting yourself in a polite, positive manner at gigs will make a long-lasting impression on venue staff and publicists, who could invite you back to play and offer a fee or increased pay so make not just what you do but how you behave count.

5. Get Out and Network

You won’t get paid gigs by being a closet musician. The industry is as much about who you know as well as raw talent. There are many avenues for music industry networking but you don’t have to be the most extroverted person as people will see who you are and your passion for music by being authentically you. Networking can be as simple as attending gigs to support fellow artists and talking about your musical ambitions to the person in the audience next to you – you never know who they might be or who their contacts are. 

Additionally, you can contact bands and artists in the area if they’re looking for support acts, or if they’d like to hook up to do joint shows. Apply for battle of the band competitions, open mics, festival slots, airtime on local radio shows and music podcasts to increase your chances of exposure, even if they’re unpaid. It’s always handy to have some professionally printed business cards on you to give to venue staff whether you’re performing or watching gigs.

Connect on socials

Today, using social media is a must to build a fan base who will take an interest in your live shows (even if they can’t attend personally), and to connect with industry professionals who could hire you for paid gigs. While it’s important to post regular updates across your channels, again, don’t fret over the number of followers you have at this stage as this will grow over time as you develop your career and get more people to hear about your music. 

6. Start When You’re Ready

It’s better to not be so desperate for money but spend time refining your craft before going out in front of a paying public as it will be a waste if you don’t know what you’re doing and give a mediocre performance. So get some music coaching to improve your skills if you feel that’s what you need to prepare for your shows. Find any occasion to perform your material whether that’s in front of friends, family, or flatmates and ask them to give you constructive feedback. Make sure that you’ve got some tried and tested songs or covers you can suggest to gig organisers so they can trust you to deliver a cracking set.

In Conclusion…

With patience, persistence, research and creativity, it is possible to generate income from gigs but you also need to think about other ways to make money from your music, especially in this digital age. The opportunities to get paid from playing live are out there but they won’t come to you unless you have some initiative so take advantage of the 6 steps stated above and you will gradually be able to bring in money that will allow you to enjoy the rewards of being a strategically-minded musician. 

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