Performing on a regular basis is a humbling experience. It requires a sense of dedication which comes as a result of hard work, making and taking opportunities, and a bit of luck. One lesson best learned early is that no gig is a sure thing. Just as the walls of a hallowed concert hall would be lucky to be graced by your talent, you are just as fortunate to be on stage in the first place. Whether a formal recital, opera, corporate event, house concert, or wedding – somebody else may get hired. Many things are completely out of your control. The bride may have second thoughts, there may be a rain check for an outdoor event, a performer may get sick, and the list goes on. Any number of things could happen that are entirely out of your control to make a gig fall through at the last minute.
The key to moving forward?
Understand that until you are sitting on a stage physically playing your instrument at said contracted venue, no gig is a sure thing. It’s only real when you’re there. Never count on others to follow through, never count on one “special” gig to come through and present itself to you out of thin air. Granted, those things are great when good fortune smiles upon you, but the rule is you need to be the one to make things happen. Book events, coordinate, arrive early, follow through, and play.
In the ever-changing world of music, the key to making a decent living in performance lies in two things: 1 – Taking charge of everything that you can control
Set up arrival times, send contracts, set rates, select repertoire, and bring CDs and business cards. The more details you can take care of – often only requiring a few minutes of emailing – the better, and you’re clients will remember you for it.
2 – Understand that nothing is set in stone
Don’t get frustrated when things don’t go your way. Have faith in your ability as a musician and understand that change is part of nature. Just because an event falls through or you get a lousy turnout, doesn’t mean you totally suck. After all, Led Zeppelin’s first gig was playing in a teen hall for a whopping 12 people, and the rest is history. Stick it out and chalk it up to part of the process.
Keeping a gig journal is something that really helped get my feet in the ground after moving to San Francisco. No, this isn’t a journal in the literal sense of the word. I don’t curl into bed after a performance and pen my thoughts and feelings into leather bound, tear-soaked loose-leaf. Instead, I simply log all pertinent information regarding a performance. I do this beforehand so when I arrive at an event I have who to look for, important phone numbers, how much I am getting paid, and how long the event lasts all in my pocket. If you’re serious about getting results, it serves as a physical reminder of past success and is a tool to track your improvement.
For my first dozen performances it served as a sort professional training wheels – instead of scrambling through emails for event details, I assign each client/event one page and write everything pertinent there. I’m a huge fan of writing things out by hand and having hard copies – I just don’t trust myself to keep track of a bunch of details crammed into an iPhone note. To me this seems pretty common sense, but you’d be surprised by the number of musicians who can’t keep track of their performance schedule. Pulling a Spinal Tap and getting lost on the way to an event is a surefire way to not get hired again. Remember: Take charge of everything under your control.
What to include:
Directions (including 1 alternate route – NEVER be late)
If you don’t already have some method of keeping track of your events, a gig diary is a great way to start. Again, it’s something you don’t need to do religiously; however, if you’re somebody who prioritizes professionalism and organization, it will go a long way to taking pre-performance stress out of the equation. I remember a time when I got ridiculously lost on the way to a wedding. I left 3 hours early because the event was in an old farm field that was only accessible from dirt back roads. I got so lost, and the weather was so bad I had to pull my car over for 45 minutes because I couldn’t drive due to the torrential downpour. It was the type of storm where it was near-apocalyptic in one area, yet a few miles away you can see the sun is out making its way through the clouds. I still managed to arrive on time, but after that I decided to never let that happen again and plan for everything. You may have done tons of weddings, but for the couples you’re playing for, hopefully they only have to do it once.
How do you keep track of events and your progress?
For years I avoided upgrading my phone. I hated seeing people out at restaurants giving their phone so much attention that they might as well have given it a menu and a chair. And I sure as hell didn’t want to become an iPhone zombie, inseparable from my fancy new device. However, after incessant prodding, I finally caved in, ditched my taped together, pink Sony Ericson (I miss you) and got an iPhone 4.
i don’t know what I was thinking…
My dad was right – since getting a smart phone, it’s way more convenient to respond if you get an urgent gig request than having to find a computer. Having access to email, websites, and Google Maps has a HUGE impact on booking gigs. Remember: time = $. Booking gigs = $. Gig = getting to perform. More gigs = reputation. Reputation = you’ve successfully put yourself out there.
Since getting a smart phone, I’ve consistently gotten 3-4 more gigs a month and have been able to respond to more leads WAY faster than I would have with just my laptop. As soon as I hear the email alert go off, I check my phone and if it is a gig I’m interested in, I send a short email right away. (The short, preempt email will be detailed in a post of its own.) And for bonus, even if I don’t end up getting the gig, nearly everyone who emails me back compliments me on my concise, timely manner. This is a good thing and can lead to future bookings.
Anyway, here are the huge bonuses to having a smart phone:
• Check and respond to email = give better service, book gigs faster
If you use a site like Wedding Wire or Gig Masters, this is an ENORMOUS advantage, as most performers’ response time falls between 1 and 2 days.
• Look up directions and Maps
No excuse for getting lost on the way to an event.
• Access to websites
You can keep track of your website and email links – all things that can’t be done with a phone call.
It’s amazing how much one small device can save your ass if put to good use.
not like this
2013 Wrapped up to be a great year for me. In fact, it was the busiest year I’ve ever had. While I’m still a fulltime student, I managed to book 46 private events and about 10 formal concerts. I finished recording a CD project of Spanish guitar music with a friend and we’ve just about sold the first batch of CDs – the good ol’ fashioned way – at concerts. The best concert was the Fayetteville Theatre in West Virginia. Not only was it a great show, but we were the first guitarists to EVER play that venue – the whole town showed up simply out of curiosity. Oh, and we stayed at a haunted mansion…
My teaching has been going great and my students are doing well, however, it is starting to bite into my performance opportunities. I got a new job at a private arts school and have two job offers from other music organizations to consider so 2014 has me weighing the benefits of each position – it’s nice to have choice.
In private bookings, I already have 10 concerts booked for 2014 and a short concert tour of Texas thanks to my good friend Jake who’ s the founder of the Aranjuez Outreach Series – they are a KICK ASS music nonprofit that puts on concerts at free master classes at universities throughout Texas. In the coming weeks I will be posting in more detail about how to book events including email and networking techniques.
I’ve managed to break the $700 barrier and $1000 barrier for a single event which is great progress! My average amount of gigs in 2013 was 3.33/month. Not bad, however, I had some months like March and June where I had no bookings, but then had tons of events in August and September. My goals for 2014 are to start my own event business, average 4+ gigs/month and break the $1500 barrier!
Setting high but attainable goals has been a huge part of my process. Even simple things like “wake up, figure out how to update blog email” is a step forward for me (I’m quite technically inept) and that old motto of “a really freaking long, crazy journey starts with a single step.” Or something like that.
What are YOUR goals for 2014?
Part of being a professional musician – which implies a successful musician – is keeping a contact list. Every time you perform or exchange business cards, whether playing a wedding or meeting somebody backstage, add their information to a master document. This master document could be as complicated as an Excel spreadsheet complete with names, dates, and venues or as simple as a Word document that lists current email addresses.
Music, like all business, is about networking. You never know what could end up in your pipeline because of a brief exchange at a gig you played months ago. This gets you more performances, more exposure, more fans, and more money – win, win, WIN! Personally, I’m not fantastic with technology. That’s probably part of the reason why I’m a classical guitarist…But anyway, I find that keeping a Microsoft Word document is the easiest way for me to keep track of my contacts.
Keep It Simple
Add the new contact to your list as soon as you possible. I find it’s effective to write where you met as well and I’m in the habit of logging the info as soon as I get home from an event. Some will advocate keeping your entire list updated of any and all of your activities. I find being effective – emailing those who have a greater probability of buying your CD, hiring you again, or coming out to a performance – to be a better use of time than forwarding a mass email.
Compile a List of Prospective Venues
Another overlooked aspect of the contact list is keeping track of venues and concert promoters. These can be people you have never met or played for, but may be interested in contacting about performing at their venue in the future. Have a new CD to sell? Have an exciting new program to debut? These will be the people to contact to set up that event and send your press materials to since most venues book out months in advance. It gives you an immediate feel of any and all musical activity in a given location, as well as a bird-eye view to laying out a potential string of concerts.
- Keep a list of all contacts from any event you perform
- Update the list regularly for email changes, new additions, and new phone numbers
- Keep a separate list of local concert venues and promoters
- Target members of your list for emails relevant to your career
Let’s face it, if you’re not world famous – you haven’t been doing enough to put yourself out there. This is what separates a moderately talented musician who achieves fame and success vs. the best pianist you’ve never heard, who sits alone in his room practicing all day. Part of making money as a working musician comes down to the amount of value you can add to your student’s, client’s, and audience’s lives. Practice and playing just for yourself is a hobby at best and selfish at worst – music is gift to give to others.
I started this blog as a means of keeping myself accountable and continuing to improve my success as a musician. Over the years, many friends and students have asked me for advice regarding teaching jobs, practice habits, emailing event planners, and booking gigs. The biggest part of the process is staying humble and living in a constant state of learning from your mistakes, trying new things, and from interacting with the world around you.
Gig Smarter will show you how to give others that gift and make money in the process.