You’re one of the lucky few who have found what they love in life, and now it’s time to pursue it. After practicing and perfecting your music, you’re ready to share it with the world. But what are the next steps to begin your music career and start booking music gigs? Getting the gig isn’t always easy, but with some patience and persistence, you can start turning your passion into a paycheck. Read on for GigSalad’s ultimate guide on how to get gigs as a musician.
In this article, learn how to:
How to start a career in live music
Are you ready to hustle? There is a lot of competition in the gig economy, especially for music gigs. But it’s important to keep in mind what competition can teach you. Paying attention to your competitors can help you learn things ranging from how to price your services to what not to do for live music performances.
Get some experience with live shows
Before you start charging for playing live events, you should get some experience in front of an audience. Keep an eye out for local restaurants looking for musicians and bands or offer a free set to your corner coffee shop. Use these opportunities to perfect your performance, gauge audience reaction to your music, and help determine a setlist.
Open mic nights or other experiences can also help you decide what kind of persona or performance type to exhibit in your live shows. Do you spend most of the performance time sitting and offering minimal commentary? Or do you rock an energetic performance moving around the stage and engaging with your audience?
Zeroing in on your performer-type can also help you determine what kind of events you want to be booked for. If you’re a high-energy musician, wedding receptions or corporate events may be a good fit. If you prefer a more laid-back live performance, then perhaps you want to aim your sights toward wedding ceremonies, cocktail receptions, or dinner parties.
Set your pricing
Once you’ve determined where you will find gigs and how you will perform, it’s time to start thinking about what you need to charge. Learning how to set pricing is an integral part of building your business. You don’t want to sell yourself short, but you also don’t want to price yourself out of a good gig. To give you an idea of where to start, we’ve gathered some national average booking dollars per 2-hour gig based on our internal data:
- Singing guitarist: $175/hour
- Acoustic band: $250/hour
- Singing pianist: $200/hour
- Jazz band: $350/hour
- One-man band: $200/hour
Remember, those numbers may vary depending on experience, location, and type of event. You should also consider any out-of-pocket costs you need to cover, like equipment and gas for travel.
Learn the business
If you truly want to be a professional musician and make a living doing it, you have to be a bit business-minded. Learning how to create solid contracts and communicate with clients is necessary to close more bookings for yourself.
Creating contracts for live music events
Closing live show bookings means you should have a solid contract in place, so make sure you have all the details covered and set clear expectations. While you may have discussed all the basics with your client, like the who, what, when, and where, it’s still important to have those laid out in the contract to avoid misunderstandings.
You’ll also want to outline the services you’ll be providing. For example, how long you’ll be playing (including breaks), your setlist, or any special request requirements like a covered stage or place to store personal belongings. Stating your services as clearly as possible will help ensure both you and your client’s expectations are met.
Your contract should also state the total cost of the booking, any deposit you require, your cancellation policy, and contact information. As you write your contract, be sure to consider these 6 things your booking agreement must have!
Communicating with clients
Communication is key. A great way to build client relationships and a good reputation is to offer effective and clear communication. There are a few essential steps you can follow to ensure that your communication stays professional and engaging:
- Communicate the client’s way. If they aren’t answering your phone calls, try sending them a text message.
- Keep it simple. Messages that are more than 4 or 5 sentences long risk important information being overlooked, so try to keep it short and concise. If a client is lagging in their response to you, it’s ok to follow up, but make sure you don’t overdo it and overwhelm them with messages.
- Be clear. Clarifying details is one of the most important parts of the booking process and the best way to ensure you have a happy customer who will leave you a positive review.
Don’t make rookie mistakes
It’s not always easy to close a booking, but there are some sure-fire ways to tank your chances of securing the gig. Here’s a brief overview of the most common mistakes that can cost you the booking:
- Lackluster introduction
- Badly constructed quotes or contracts
- Poor communication skills
- No human connection with clients
- A low-quality online presence
- No follow-through
- Not learning from your mistakes
🚩 See the solutions: 7 Avoidable Mistakes That Can Cost You Gigs
Get a reality check
Lastly, you’ll need to manage your expectations. As exciting as it is to begin pursuing your music career (so exciting!), it doesn’t mean that you will immediately be able to start paying all of your bills with the income you receive from your music gigs.
Instead, consider using it as supplemental income to start funding your original projects and brand marketing. Realize that many clients will want you to play covers, and you may spend more time doing singing telegram and wedding gigs than playing sold-out venues. Trying to get gigs as a professional musician means hard work, lots of hustle, and being business-minded!
How to market yourself as a musician
Your brand is exactly that, yours! How you choose to market your music is entirely up to you, but you must have a strategy to be successful. Showcasing your skills is the main focus, but there are several parts to the marketing machine that should work together to land you more business. Get started with our simple guide to online marketing.
Create your promotional materials
To get gigs as a musician, you’ll be relying on your stage presence, sound, and look. To show potential clients what to expect, it’s important to have great promotional materials! There’s no excuse for bad photos or grainy videos with today’s smartphones. Grab a friend to help you get some nice portrait shots as well as a few samples of your music on video.
You can also use free design sites like Canva to create marketing materials like business cards, gig announcements, stylized social media posts, and more.
💡 Helpful tips: 5 (Almost) Free Ways to Improve Your Media
Set up your social media
Social media is a necessary marketing outlet for getting gigs as a musician. Be sure not to spread yourself too thin, though. If you’re trying to manage too many media outlets, it can become challenging to maintain a professional presence on each one. Music promotion is key to growing your fan base, so be sure you’re regularly uploading new content. If you have recordings as an independent musician through Apple Music or Spotify, post them to encourage more downloads and shares.
To keep your social media marketing relevant and in front of more people, you should spend time scheduling interesting posts using your high-quality photos and videos. Try using a free tool like SproutSocial to save time and plan your posts ahead of time.
Rather than blindly posting content, learn how to play the social media game. The Digital Marketing Institute does a great job explaining the algorithm of some of the most popular social platforms and how you can use it to be featured in your followers’ feeds and amplify engagement. Pair that strategy with our social media tips for entertainers and you’ll be on your way!
Build a website
While social media is a great marketing tool, you may want to send potential clients to your website, too. Creating your own website is a big deal because it’s where you get to showcase who you are as a musician. And don’t forget it’s all about you and the image you want to present to the world. You should get creative and have fun piecing your website together!
Be sure your website has the following pages:
- Homepage: Include a large, high-quality photo, reviews from past clients, and a “Join our email list” form so you can begin building a mailing list.
- About: Talk about your background, interests, and why you love being a musician. Include one for each band member if applicable.
- Shows: Share your upcoming shows so new fans can come to see you play.
- Setlist: The first thing most clients want to know is what songs you cover, so this page is important.
- Contact: Give potential clients an email address or contact form to get in touch for upcoming events. Also include links to your social media profiles and Apple music or Spotify songs.
How to get gigs as a musician
Not everyone can afford a booking agent and it’s not always necessary to be successful in the music business. Now that you have your music promotion tools in place, it’s time to start knocking on doors (literally and figuratively) and working to secure more live gigs.
Contact local venues
Contacting venues and participating in local performances is the first step in booking a live gig. Music venues are an obvious place to start – seeing if they need support acts or opening acts for touring musicians. But to potentially get even more performances, try expanding your search to other types of venues.
🍺 Bars and restaurants: While they may not be actively searching, most bars and restaurants are open to the idea of booking live music as a way to bring in patrons. These smaller venues are usually on a budget, so it’s the perfect opportunity for a new musician looking to gain exposure.
🏨 Hotels and casinos: Hotels and casinos can be an excellent resource to book gigs since they have live performances and events most weekends. Find the contact for who books the shows to find out what you need to do to get on their roster of performers. Remember, those larger venues may require vendors to carry liability insurance.
🎓 Campus events: Colleges and universities regularly plan events and always want fresh ideas and talent to share with the students and faculty. Reach out to their Student Activities Committee to find out how to get booked for their next campus event.
Think outside the normal music venue
After you’ve talked to the right person at the previous venues, it’s time to really start thinking outside the box! Be creative and consider new places to land a performance or two.
👔 Trade shows and expos: Corporate gigs are usually the most lucrative, so keep your eyes peeled for new expos or conventions coming to town. Most big shows will usually have a wrap-up night party that may include live entertainment. Some even feature performances during the shows to help drive in customers. Sign up for your local convention center’s newsletter so that you can book a gig at a trade show.
🚢 Cruise ships: A mini-vacation plus a couple of weeks’ worth of bookings? It doesn’t get much better than that! Contact any cruise line’s Entertainment Director to see what it takes to get a paid gig on a cruise ship.
🧓 Retirement communities: Event coordinators at retirement communities are always looking for new and exciting entertainment for their residents. Performing for these fun-loving groups is a great way to gain experience and shouldn’t be overlooked as potential venues for gigs.
Once you land a gig at a public place, whether it’s paid or not, be sure to spread the word! Share it on your social media accounts and drum up excitement for the event. Helping the venue owner or promoter bring an audience won’t be soon forgotten. Building relationships is key in the music industry, so do what you can to contribute (and secure repeat clients).
Network with local musicians
There’s no one who understands the struggle of being a professional musician like other local artists. Get to know other bands in the area and even think about working together on some performances.
🏡 House concerts: Landing a house concert can be a great way to practice your live show and grow your local fan base. Consider including another band or fellow musician if you’re asked to play so you can both get the chance to showcase your talent to new people who appreciate music.
💻 Virtual concerts: When the pandemic hit, many musicians turned to the computer screen for their live shows. It’s still a popular way for artists to promote and share their music. As you’re working on improving your social media, ask fellow bands to participate in a virtual concert to help gain new fans for both of you. Virtual events take a bit more preparation, so check out our guide to make sure they go smoothly.
Create a GigSalad PromoKit
One of the easiest ways to promote yourself is to join GigSalad. You can reach new potential clients in your local area (or beyond) who are looking to book musicians for their events. Your PromoKit will act as your personal promoter by showcasing your best photos, videos, and reviews. Past clients can post reviews to help you book gigs.
While the dream may be to headline your own concert tour, why not get paid to perform at corporate gigs instead of waiting tables? Clients using GigSalad are looking to book performers for birthday parties, weddings, community events, and more. Once you’ve got your profile started, check out these 6 tips to optimize it for more leads.
Breaking into the music industry may not be easy, but with some patience, persistence, and lots of passion, you can turn your dream of a music career into reality.
Get more gigs as a musician with GigSalad. Create a free profile today!
Sonia is a Customer Happiness Agent at GigSalad and uses the knowledge she’s gained from helping both the vendor and client through the booking process to give her best event planning advice. When she’s not at work she enjoys the outdoors, a good book, trying new recipes, and spending quality time with her husband and their furbabies.