How to get in the gigging circuit
Gigging is what most of us musicians live for, the chance to be performing live in front of anybody who will listen, the feeling of baring our souls on stage, the true abandonment of reality when you get to perform your favourite song. There is nowhere in the world you would rather be.
The 'gigging circuit' holds a different meaning to each of us, dependent on the type of gigs we want, are you looking for paid / unpaid / pay-to-play / free entry / private / pub / club gigs? Do you have your own equipment from pa to drum kit or will you need to share equipment or have access to the venues own equipment? Maybe you only own a basic amp? Do you own or have access to a van or car for transporting equipment or do you rely on public transport for only you and your guitar? Do you have a massive fan base with online releases or do you simply have 5 friends who think your tunes are OK. These are all questions you must think about and hone down before you look at getting into a gigging circuit. When you approach people you will want to be sure of what they can expect from you as well as what you expect from them.
A useful tool to have access to is 'The Unsigned Guide', although no longer published in print there are various subscription options online,. You can use this tool to search for details or promotion companies, booking agents and live venues in your local area.
If you have a favourite venue or local bar, feel free to contact them directly first to find out who organises their gigs or which promotion companies they work with. If you own your own sound equipment and backline and have transport you may chose to set up your own night, by getting friends or other bands / artists involved. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the gigging scene as you have full control over the night. If you are new to the scene you may want to make sure you can pull in a crowd by building up a profile with local promoters and booking agents first so you know you can make your night worth the venues time and space as well as your own efforts.
If you are looking for a pre organised gig, where (unless you are headlining) you will only be expected to bring minimum kit promoters are a good place to start. Make sure you have as much information as possible you can send to them, if you have an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) perfect, send that along with an email stating the kind of gigs you are after detailing your area and availability. If you don't have an EPK yet don't worry, just send a link to your facebook page and/ or twitter account and any music recordings you have available. Don't worry about the quality of these recordings if you haven't had the chance to record in the studio yet, its more so the promoter knows the style of music you play and who you would work well with on a bill if they decide to showcase you.
When choosing a promoter be wary of the type of gigs they offer you and be 100% honest with both yourselves and them. You will come across certain 'promoters' who are in fact simply booking agents, they may offer you the chance to play a great venue but only if you buy 30+ tickets which you are then expected to sell to your 'fans'. If you have lots of fans in the area, are a dab hand at your own promotions, have been gearing up for a high profile gig and expect to be able to sell 30+ tickets easily, then this is a great deal, you simply have to turn up while the agent has arranged the venue and equipment. However, the danger comes if you are new to the scene and unsure if you can sell this many tickets. You could risk losing a lot of money and playing to an empty room while the other bands are left annoyed at you for bringing no new potential fans to the night. If you have to think about it, its probably best to steer clear of these at least until you have a solid fan base and aren't twisting your friends and families arm to buy tickets from you. Whatever you do you don't want to look desperate in front of your fans.
When you hear back from promoters ask around to find out others experiences with them, whether they are reliable, if they pay on time, if they pay at all, if there tickets are overpriced in comparison to the talent the book and sound system they supply. If you are an artist or in a band you will most likely have friends in the musician community who are already gigging, if you don't, take to social media and local forums always look for real reviews and word of mouth.
Once you have had you first gig, be sure to speak with the other bands playing on the night, who do they usually gig with, where do they usually gig? Do they have a favourite promoter? Would they like to share a bill with you again? What's the best way to get in touch? Maybe you could offer to help promote their music and their nights in return for them to do the same. Chances are if you are playing the same night you will have similar fans, and so promoting each others music should work out well for both of you! Introduce yourself and speak to the promoter on the night, get their feedback, if the gig went well, perhaps arrange another. Dont overbook yourself. It can be exciting when you first become gig ready and you want to be out gigging every weekend. Unless you are able to travel and are playing in different towns / counties, do not make this mistake. When you are first starting out, look to have about one gig a month in an easily accessible popular but fairly priced venue. Its better to be sure you can bring in a crowd and play to a packed room, instead of playing every weekend to an empty space, this can be soul destroying and is a waste of everyone's time.
Most importantly have fun with it, make each gig a big deal, do something exciting and quirky like hold a competition or get people involved somehow, whether its as a street team or roadie. If you are only having one gig a month, this gives your fans something to look forward to and stops them from being inundated with invites. Once your fan base and demand increases then start playing more regularly, but make sure the demand is there. Now go get those gigs!