How To Get Singing Gigs
Everything you need to know about how to get singing gigs locally, and how to book national or international gigs too.
How do you get singing gigs? This is the big question that I get asked by so many singers and the short answer is…
I get my gigs through a variety of sources.
You see, it really depends on what TYPE of gig you want to get. Here’s a little article I wrote about the ‘Gig Matrix’ on CD Baby which explains the types of gigs you can get and how each type can benefit your career in different ways. It’s all about whether you want to build an audience or make money. When you’re starting out and don’t have much of an audience, the way it works is that usually, the highest paying gigs are the worst at generating you new fans (and vice versa). Have a quick look:
Each of these types of gigs require a different approach and some are a lot easier to get than others. For example, to busk you just take yourself off to a street corner and start playing. To get a festival, you need to have an audience, or a solid performance track record and some tunes released.
So I’m just going to assume you want HIGH PAY, LOW FAN BUILDING GIGS. With that said, let’s talk about how you can bring home the bacon off the sultry tones of your voice.
How to Get Cafe/ Restaurant/ Bar Singing Gigs
Step One – Find Your Venues
Find venues in your area that regularly have live music and make sure the type of music they put on is similar to yours. Great ways to find suitable venues is by checking out:
- Street press music magazines. Live music venues advertise their acts every week so you can go through the list and see if they put on an artist who is similar to you. That way you know they will be receptive to your style of music and the crowd at the venue will most probably like your stuff. There are usually online version of street press magazines. Get to know the local music media in your area and start noticing which artists pop up again and again.
- Other singer’s websites and have a look at where they are gigging. Then add that venue to your list of places to call. NOTE: This is NOT stealing gigs. An example of stealing gigs would be to target a venue someone was playing at regularly and offer to undercut their price. Please don’t get into doing that because it lowers the fees musicians can charge and hurts everybody…plus its just bad business. Here’s how to work out how much to charge for cafe gigs.
- Event eNewsletters for your local area. I subscribe to a bunch of these to keep informed of festivals, new venues or any call outs to artists to perform.
I like to keep a spreadsheet of all the venues to keep on track of everything.
Step Two – Call the Venue
Yes you will need to pick up the phone and call. There is no way around this step. You need to find out who books the music and make friends with them.
Most people are actually pretty cool and are really open to new musicians so don’t be afraid to pick up that phone. PLUS if you have done your homework (i.e step one) and picked your venue properly, you’re no longer just ‘Cold Calling’, you are now ‘Warm Calling’ which means you have a reason to call them and you know that they are looking for what you have to offer.
WARNING: Leap frogging to step three without doing step two is a waste of time!! (Because you’re email will most likely end up being deleted if you have not established a relationship with the booking agent first.
Here’s what I usually say when I call up a venue:
Me: “Hi, its Nicola Milan calling. Can I speak to whoever books your live music please?”
Them: “Yeah sure, that’s Chris. Hang on for a sec”…..
…… “Chris is actually in a meeting at the moment but you can leave a message if you like”
(NEVER leave a message – they won’t call you back)
Me: “Oh no problem. Would it be easier if I sent him through an email so he can hear my stuff?”
Them: “Yep, his email is xxxxxx”
Me: “Great! Thanks so much. Do you know if everything is booked up at the moment, or if there are still some spots open?” (Always try to get more time with them on the phone to establish that relationship and find out what the venue is up to)
Them: “We’re pretty booked for the next month or so but we have spots open in xxx month”
Me: “Ok cool, thanks so much for your help!”
Tips for phone calls:
- Always be friendly
- Try to get as much information about the music bookings as you can because you can use that in Step Three)
- Get the name of the booking agent/ manager or whoever books the music
- Get the name of the person calling too because you can use that in Step Three too.
- If you do get through to the booking agent first time, then read out your email pitch (below)
Step Three – Send Your Pitch
Now it’s time to send your email pitch. This should be friendly, to the point and have a link to your music online. I like to hyperlink it so the booking agent just has to click on it to go to your website. Make it as easy for them as possible.
The basic structure of your pitch should be something like this:
- Reintroduce yourself – casual, friendly but polite.
- Say what you do and the type of music you play.
- Ask for the gig. Its really important to state clearly what you want.
- Provide a link for them to hear your stuff online.
- Give them your phone number and sign off politely.
Here’s one of the pitches that I am using at the moment. Its not perfection in a pitch but it will give you a good idea of how to write yours:
Hi (name of booking agent),
I am a local singer/songwriter and I perform easy listening jazz music; think early Norah Jones/ Melody Gardot/ Eva Cassidy type stuff with my own original material thrown in.
I would love to perform at (venue name) if you have any openings available soon. You can hear my music here: nicolamilan.com/epk
Please let me know if you need any more information – my bio, media reviews, video and pics are also available on my site.
I hope to hear from you soon!
(email signature has my website and phone number)
Step Four – Follow Up
Follow up by phone. Yep, get back on the phone and call them up if you haven’t heard from them. Why follow up? Well there is no point spending all that time and effort calling them in the first place just to let an opportunity slip by because you didn’t follow up.
During the follow up call, you really want to get a booking or some definite confirmation from them that you are in for a later date. This is also when you’ll need to have your rates ready. Ask friends what they charge as a starting point and always stick to your local musician award standard rate or above. Please, please don’t get into cutting rates because this just hurts everybody.
On the flip side, the follow up call will let you know whether the venue will come through for you or not. If not, then scratch them off your list and move on.
I actually never really remove venues from my list, I put them into a separate page so I know for later that that venue is a dead end.
How to Get Booked for Support Acts and Shows
Let’s say you want to get more of the fan building type of gigs but you don’t have an audience so you’re hesitant to book your own show at a venue.
Here are some ways you can get onto a larger line up or some show opportunities that also pay a bit of cash.
1. Make friends with other singers
Tip #1 – Get a support act
It is common practice to have two to three bands in a line up for a show and the best way to get in front of potential fans is to do a support act for another local band with an established following. Get involved in your local music community and get to know people because friends book friends for support gigs. Simple as that.
Tip #1 – Join forces with them to create a show
I’m a jazz singer and in the jazz world it is rare to find more than one band on a bill, but I still managed to pull together a gig with not one but two other jazz singers. (It is different for pretty much every other genre where you will often find three bands per night doing one set each to make up a three hour show.)
We decided to create a gig and called it ‘Jazzdezvous’. We didn’t want to rehearse (jazz musicians are lazy) so we each booked two instrumentalists each to accompany us which made for a grand total of nine musos up on stage.
We each invited fans on our email lists to the show and people were really interested because they would get to hear three jazz singers in one night plus the novelty of nine musos up on stage each improvising with eachother’s songs attracted a bit of media attention.
We got quite a good crowd but financially we had to split the takings nine ways so it didn’t end up being a big earner. What I would do next time is just to book one band to play for all the singers and it would work a treat.
Your local music industry association is a great info source for gigs. It’s their job to promote local music so they will have a bunch of opportunities throughout the year PLUS they will know all the people who mean anything in music to your local area so get in there and make friends.
Our association puts on street festivals each year which is a great opportunity to score some paid time slots and play to new people.
You can expand your networking to café owners, marketing and events staff and venue booking managers who can book you for a gig. I made friends with the owner of a lovely café called the Wild Fig and they booked me for a gig every week for three years.
3. Get a Booking Agent
Booking agents get the lions share of corporate work and have established relationships with better performance venues. Corporate work is awesome because it pays really well, usually comes with a sound guy and PA (so you don’t have to set anything up) and you get a decent meal out of it. Plus they are fun and you meet a heap of new people.
Now I bet you’re thinking ‘Sounds great! Where can I get me one of those?!”
Weeeelllll, to get a foot in the door you need to have a few things organised including a link to a well recorded audio track of you singing (or even better, a YouTube video so they can see you and hear you), have a few great photos for them to use and a short bio.
Even if you have all this stuff ready, booking agents have their favourites so you have to get to know them a bit before they will trust you enough to throw you some work. Just check in with them once a month until they give you work. Once you do get that work, just make sure you do a good job because the agent will seek feedback on your performance from the client. A glowing review = more gigs.
4. DM Venues Directly
This is quite acceptable now, particularly for smaller venue. I’ve managed to score a few gigs through social media by contacting venue owners directly or musicians I want to perform with. Twitter is awesome for this. For some reason, it just seems to make everyone accessible and you can approach bands you want to gig with really easily. (Instagram is second best.)
You get 140 characters to make your pitch so use something along the lines of:
‘Hey @(add band), I’m in your area on (date) and I’d love to gig with you. Any chance?”
It seriously works really well. Just give it a try (and don’t forget to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ that band in the process. It shows you care and are open to being buddies.
How To Book National or International Singing Gigs
If you’re looking for national or international gigs, the first thing to realise is that these are going to be either support acts or shows that you put on yourself and sell tickets to. You may get lucky and score a festival booking, but getting a paid slot in a cafe is less likely. (Don’t get me wrong; it’s possible, especially if you have built up knowledge of the area you’re travelling to, but less likely).
You can basically repeat steps one through four of how to get local cafe gigs… but just do this in the area you’re looking to travel and do it for performance venues instead of cafes… BUT… some venues don’t like this approach. If that is the case here are a few ways you can break in:
1. Use A Booking Agent
How you go about getting the gig depends on where you’re heading to. Places like London for example are really organised and most gigs run through booking agents. You can still go direct to venue, especially smaller venues, but for the more prestigious venues they will only go through booking agents and won’t accept calls directly from artists.
You will need to plan WAY ahead (ie at least 6-8 months minimum) and send the booking agents your info and dates of travel. Many will just ignore you which is why, if you have a friend who has made a connection, its a good idea to use that to try to break in, otherwise keep shopping around until you make a break.
PRO TIP: Booking agents will also have a list of great musicians on file that you can hire. So if you’re doing jazz and you just rock up to a new city with your jazz charts in hand and pull in completely new players (like I do), then asking the booking agent for a few names is a great way to start putting your band together.
Also – very important, once you’ve asked a player and they say they are unavailable on that date, make sure to ask them for a recommendation. Most piano players will know a couple of others so get the names/ numbers and before you know it, you will have built up a nice little resource list of musos in your touring areas.
PS: Insist on rehearsing before you perform. Most professional musicians will be fine with a 2 hour unpaid rehearsal for a paid gig. Here are a few other tips on touring you need to know.
2. Fill up space with home concerts, busking, or mic nights
Let’s say you’re heading to London for five nights. You’ve scored a gig at a decent venue for Thursday and Friday night but you still have a few nights either side to fill up.
There is no reason why you can’t do some mic nights or put the word out you’re open for a few house concerts while you’re in town. No, these aren’t as glamorous but they’re still fun to do, it gives you something to post on your social, you will meet cool new people (both fans and musicians), and you can sell your CDs/ merch and get ppl on your email list.
It’s really a win win and means you feel like you’ve covered that city properly. Of course, we all want tours that span over several cities or countries performing at killer venues with a staff to support all our administration…. but that requires having an audience and trust me, even massive bands started off this way.
How To Promote A Concert
Do all the free stuff first
- Upload Gig to Songkick (pulls the shows to the gigs widget on my website/ tells ppl on the Songkick platform and Google)
- Add a banner to the home page of my website
- Create a blog post around the show (text and pics)
- Email newsletter out about the show to my list
Do paid stuff next and stick to a budget
- Create FB Event
- Create FB Ad promoting the show.
- Create FB posts for my music page (schedule them in advance to make it easier)
- Create Instagram picture to promote the show (or a flatlay of the posters)
- Take a photo of your outfit/ hair/ makeup for the show
- Do a quicky video of you singing to promote the show
- Do a couple showing lyrics, or sheet music or your posters… be creative!
- Insta live of you talking about the show
- VLOG: Shopping for my outfit/ rehearsing with the band (or whatever – just vlog something!)
- Create A5 flyers: send to venue
- Create A3 posters: get a street promo team to distribute them for you
- Send a press release to your key list of media
- Upload your event to free gig listing sites
- Send a personalised invitation to key media
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Thank you so much for this. Im a jazz/soul singer and looking to up my gigs this year 2014. This was so helpful.
I need help. I dont know any other acts. I need more and I am willing to give my all into music. Whatever you need: written songs, duets, another act etc….
I recommend joining local music organisations and start going along to their social nights to meet other musicians. Its a great place to start.
I hope that helps!
Im a singer and im looking for somebody to work with heres my number if you want to talk 07919177327
Sounds like a whole lot of advice that would work anywhere but Los Angeles . lots of luck getting a booking manager with no experience here. three times the luck trying to call up a cafe or club and just get a gig like that. but none of this advice will work in the real world
Hi Chris, Thanks for your comment, but I have to ask; have you actually tried using the strategies I’ve spoken about? I am a working musician and have performed all over the world – the USA included and I only post advice on things that I’ve tried myself and know work. If you’re not having any luck maybe rethink how you are approaching people. Its all about relationships at the end of the day. Nicola
Thank you very much for sharing these tips. I’m a jazz singer and where I’m based (London) there’s lots of singers and little jazz circles and it’s hard to break through from one to another, especially if you’re unknown. I stopped trying to get gigs – it was so depressing – just worked on improving my voice and expanding my repertoire. I think your ideas about building relationships are really helpful and am definitely going to try some of these tips and see if they make a difference.
I would love to pick your brain. I’m a full-time jazz vocalist, between one thing and another. It started out doing odd senior homes with a friend in those circles booking me here and there, then I got desperate between the crappy flexible jobs I was doing while auditioning (as an actress, mostly, was always told I was too heavy to be a singer. By jerks I listened to). So I started taking it to the streets, busking in a nice, safe area (Laguna Beach) and that led to more gigs. I work with tracks and my own system and I book enough to pay the bills, between two weekly restaurants, four senior homes a month, and private parties. But I’m starting to get a little “is that all there is?” about the whole thing. It’s been eight years now and I feel like I’m standing still. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful to be working so much, especially as I’m not what you’d consider commercially attractive. I fear I am getting complacent and even a little bored. Getting gigs isn’t hard, but reaching a wider audience feels impossible. I feel like there’s a next step I should be taking to up my game, my asking price, bigger and better venues, even getting a real band behind me would feel great. But with this being very DIY and solo on my part, I don’t have connections or know where to start. It’s not an industry I’d ever thought I’d be in, realistically. I often meet musicians who say they want to jam or people who claim they “know people” and take my CD. But everyone flakes out in the end. I mean, it’s not like I’m depending on them. I just keep busking and gigging and hope for the best. But I just feel like I should be more proactive.
April, this is a FANTASTIC question. Its exactly how I felt about 2 years ago. I’ll do a video answering this for you soon. xx