Is there a secret handshake?

September 8, 2012 7:08 AM

You'd think as a professional musician, I'd know how to get booked...

So, after taking year or so break from working steadily, I'm ready to start playing gigs again. The problem is that the new group I'm in isn't really getting any. We've got a demo, we sound good, and the singer is putting in a lot of foot work. She's just new to running a group (she's been a musical theater person), and is asking for advice.

Anyway, I've never really been the one responsible for booking gigs for the group. So basically I gave her a list of places I've played, and told her to contact the booking managers at least once a month. That's all the advice I had.

What advice do you folks have?
posted by Gygesringtone (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

This is a tough one because I am terrible at this kind of shit. I think the answer is, you have to find someone who's good at it. I have a friend who can do it in his sleep -- I don't know why he's never ended up as a manager. I'm sure there are tips and tricks that would improve your average but in the end you just have to be the kind of person who can do this stuff, or find someone who can.
posted by unSane at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2012

Hire a publicist.
posted by dobie at 8:19 PM on September 8, 2012

It might help to know a little more about your particular situation, like, what city you're in, what kind of music are you playing (although I note now the jazz tag on this post), what sort of venues are you trying to get booked into... stuff like that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:39 PM on September 8, 2012

Sorry, it took a little to get back to this. Had some unplanned emergencies...


It's a jazz quartet: female vocalist, guitar, bass, drums. We stick pretty close to the standards, but on the more obscure end of things, we also tend to do more creative arrangements and\or do things in a different feel than usual.

Right now, we're looking mainly for the small clubs and restaurants that do live jazz. Although I think she might be trying some of the country clubs around town too. We've talked about festivals and that sort of thing too, but I don't think that's what the focus is right now.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2012

I may sound like I know what I'm talking about, but this is totally based on what I've learned from friends who do what you do. I have no first hand experience.

That said, I'd put together a simple press kit to go along with your demo. (Group photo, some personal facts/experience/education if it applies. There are templates on the internet.) Google up every restaurant, piano bar, club and hotel in your area that has live (Jazz/Upscale) musical performances and send them your material. Keep a list and make follow up phone calls.

Having a little press kit is important because it shows some professionalism on your part. Looking good, looking prepared and looking like you know what you're doing is half the battle and allows you more bargaining room. It makes you much more attractive to a bar/club/restaurant owner/manager...whoever you're dealing with.

If you're interested in other kinds of gigs and most importantly, gettin' paid, there are many other kinds of gigs you can do. For that I'd place ads in corporate/trade rags, and every other paper under Event Planning/services/music. Every rag is different, in fact I'm not even sure about the details. The idea is to get the word out to the events people, both customers and coordinators/planners.

In many places, here in San Diego included, Jazz scenes (restaurants/bars/clubs) have really been picking up over the last few years, but, and I'm pretty sure this has been mentioned before either on AskMe or here on MeFiMusic, the rent/bill paying money is still in corporate events and weddings and the like.

Good luck! Play your hearts out and make some money!
posted by snsranch at 6:09 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Google up every restaurant, piano bar, club and hotel in your area that has live Jazz

Yeah, start here, and it might take a little extra searching (including looking at print ads in your local paper and/or free alt-weekly, if your area has one), because not all of these venues are gonna make a big deal about live music.

'Cause my take on it is that you're basically looking at two types of gigs; one is at a dedicated music venue (club or bar or festival or whatever), where people are there to actually listen to you play, the other is where you're basically background music. Most music venues these days are for rock or maybe blues - jazz clubs tend to be pretty thin on the ground. So you should be able to identify the jazz clubs in your area pretty easily, and it might be worth contacting rock or blues clubs to see if they might be interested in booking your jazz act just to change it up a little, especially on "off" nights, like Monday or Tuesday. Use the press kit snsranch mentions.

But as a jazz combo you have some "background music" options that other bands don't have, and often these can pay better. Here I would count restaurant gigs, hotel & hotel bars (good one, snsranch), country clubs, often "party centers" have bars attached. These places may or may not have "booking managers", you might just have to contact the general manager. And for these kind of places you might have to do a little extra searching to see if they even have live music - since they're not "music" venues, they might not make it obvious that they have live music.

The thing about these gigs is you have to remember you are background music. Keep the volume low. You can actually get pretty adventurous with your choice of material & arrangements, as long as you're not too loud.

Another suggestion is to hook up with a booking agent or two, especially ones that book wedding or "all-occasion" bands - note that sometimes this is just someone from the wedding band doing a little extra side work as a booking agent. From what I can tell, you don't sign any sort of exclusive arrangement, it's just that the agent gets a percent if they find you a gig. It's not uncommon for weddings & corporate events to have a second group of musicians doing a "cocktail hour" set or two in another room before the main show or reception. And these agents might have an in to the hotels & country clubs since their wedding bands have already played there.

I don't know how much good ads in the local corporate/trade mags will do - I mean I literally have no idea. I get the impression they're kind of pricey, but it's an idea worth investigating.

Maybe try sending your demo kit directly to wedding planners & event planners.

In some ways I would think about putting some emphasis on the "background music" gigs, not only because they may pay better right off the bat, but they're a good way to make some connections. Like the kind of people who can pay for or attend a fancy wedding with a whole different jazz group playing a cocktail hour are the kind of people who are on corporate board of directors, or volunteer as entertainment director for a local arts festival, or are helping to organize a big fundraiser for a non-profit, stuff like that. And often those kind of gigs aren't just background music gigs.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the advice. I'll pass it on. It's pretty frustrating because we're all pros, we're just all used to playing the role of sidemen for other player's groups.

I do actually have a pretty good list of venues in town already, both places I've played with other groups in the past and places I've seen others play, or saw that they were playing at (those mailing lists that groups have are great for this, as is face book). It's harder to poach private gig connections this way, but I do have a couple of people I'm in contact with.

I think the promo kit and websites may actually be the missing pieces of the equation, are the options here for websites still the best available?
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2012

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