Playing Out: How to Book a Gig with your Band

The idea of a band getting gigs can get pretty daunting. Many a nerve has been frayed at the prospect of standing on a stage in front of perfect strangers and performing music for them. Learning how to book a gig for the band is probably just one of a zillion questions you have at the start.

Booking gigs for bands can be challenging, especially early on when your band has little or no experience and hasn’t established itself. But don’t buy too much into the hype here—getting gigs is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. And we’re hoping this guide explaining how to book a gig will help you navigate the trickier bits!

Is your music act ready to start gigging?

You shouldn't worry about getting gigs until your band is fully prepared to play them, and that means rehearsing your set ... a lot.
You shouldn’t worry about getting gigs until your band is fully prepared to play them, and that means rehearsing your set … a lot. Image by Al Sampang from Pixabay

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s first make sure your band is ready to start gigging. You’ll need a well-rehearsed set list—a list of songs your band can play together in a live setting—before we starting worrying about how to book a gig.

First off, let’s think about set length. How many songs do you need to start gigging? Ideally, you should have at least 60 minutes worth of well-rehearsed material your band is comfortable playing on stage. Eventually, you’ll want to build out a repertoire of four hours of songs. But don’t worry, you’re not aiming to play for one to four hours per gig just yet!

In a perfect world, your earliest gigs should usually be super short—we’re talking 20 to 30 minutes, tops. This not only lets your band shake out those stage nerves, but you can also rotate the songs in your set and gauge how audiences react to them. And when the band starts booking 45-minutes to an hour, you’ll have a better idea of how each songs fits into your set and how to better create your set lists going forward.

You’ll want your set to be fully rehearsed, too. Each band member should know the songs inside and out and be capable of playing them consistently well. If this isn’t the case, figuring out how to book a gig can be put on hold. You don’t want to show up to your first show and not be capable of wowing a crowd!

How to book a gig in 10 steps

With your set list prepared and thoroughly rehearsed, it’s time to get into the finer details of how to book a gig. Let’s explore the steps involved in getting gigs and learn what else your band will need, apart from awesome songs, decent equipment, and some stage flair, of course.

Step 1: Have an audio and/ or video demo ready

Your band doesn't need a cutting edge studio-recorded demo, but you definitely need an audio or video demo of decent enough quality to land those early gigs.
Your band doesn’t need a cutting edge studio-recorded demo, but you definitely need an audio or video demo of decent enough quality to land those early gigs. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Rarely will a booker, promoter, or venue owner book a band without having first heard or seen them. Having a decent-quality demo on hand makes getting gigs a whole lot easier than trying to get the booker to visit your band’s rehearsal space … another thing that never happens.

We have a guide on how to record a full band for as little money as possible that’s worth a read. But not everyone can afford to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars buying recording equipment or booking recording studio time. So it’s definitely a good thing that nearly every smartphone on the market today has a decent camera capable of recording video!

Three songs ranging from two to five minutes should be enough to get gigs. You can submit them as an audio demo, a video demo, or (ideally) both. Each song should be presented individually. Keep in mind many bookers and promoters are busy, so try and include songs that are fun to listen to right out of the gate, and never expect them to listen for longer than 20 seconds. If they do, it’s because they’re enjoying what they’re hearing. Bangers only, folks.

If you’re presenting your demo songs as videos, stage presence matters. Set up the camera as if it’s the audience, and have everyone in the band perform with the sort of energy they’ll have on stage. Clunky videos of zombie guitarists meandering in and out of frame while the bassist’s cat is licking her unmentionables in the middle of the room probably won’t land you the gig. You want each member of the band clearly visible and audible, performing in a clean space.

Step 2: An electronic press kit, or EPK, is crucial for getting gigs

An EPK, or electronic press kit, is essentially a digital resume and portfolio for your band that bookers and promoters will use to get a sense of who your band is. And it’s something every single band needs to have, too. Some bookers won’t even consider your band if you don’t have an EPK, and many of the materials you’ll create while making your electronic press kit will be useful in marketing and promoting your band, your gigs, and your future releases.

We have a full guide explaining how to make an EPK that walks you through each step of the process and explains what each portion of the electronic press kit is used for. We definitely recommend not only creating an EPK, but keeping it frequently and regularly updated too!

Step 3: Research your area’s music venues and learn how to book a gig at each one

Most (but certainly not all) music venues specialize in specific genres of music. So knowing what audience your music appeals to, and knowing what sounds the various music venues around town are known for showcasing, will go a long way toward learning how to book a gig at each potential spot.

It’s a good idea to visit these venues to get a feel for what sorts of genres are on offer at each one. You can also ask around, especially chatting with other musicians with gigging experience in your area. Social media and Reddit are invaluable tools for this sort of information.

Once you have a good handle on which venues are most ideal for your band, it’s time for some outreach. Call or email each venue and ask them specifically how to book a gig there. Maintain a friendly, clear, professional tone (sound friendly and serious, not “cool” or “rockstarish”) and ask them where you can submit your EPK.

Step 4: Following up and following through are critical when getting gigs

Bookers are pretty busy. They may not get back to you the very next day, and in bigger markets like NYC or Los Angeles, their response might take a while. It’s possible they’re waiting to find a slot for you in a lineup where your music fits in, or perhaps they have more pressing matters to deal with and haven’t had a chance to review your materials yet. So it’s important to follow up with a call or an email … and to not be annoying about it.

If you haven’t heard back, contact the booker three or four days after submitting your EPK and politely ask if they’ve received your EPK. Don’t be pushy, impatient, or rude. And if the booker turns your act down, you’ll want to maintain that same decorum too. Just because they’re saying no today doesn’t mean they’ll say no in the future. And the last thing you want to do is douse bridges in kerosene and chuck a cigarette at it. The booker is way less likely to give you a second chance in the future if the most memorable thing about their first contact with you was your shoddy attitude!

If they do book you, it’s important to follow through and deliver in a way that meets—or preferably exceeds—their expectations. Remember, you’ll want to leave a good impression not just on stage, but off stage too. Show up on time (or better yet, early). Be friendly and professional. Knowing how to book a gig means knowing how to stay in the good graces of bookers and to prove your commitment.

Step 5: PROMOTE!

Getting gigs is one thing, but knowing how to promote your gigs is a whole other can of worms
Knowing how to book a gig is one thing, but knowing how to promote your gigs is a whole other can of worms. Image by AzamKamolov from Pixabay

Getting gigs is one thing, but promoting them? That’s a whole other beast, one we plan on tackling in a future article. It’s simply not enough to know how to book a gig. You also need to learn how to promote them and make sure your fans know what’s coming up for you.

You’ll of course want to report the upcoming show to your fans using every platform available to you. This includes your band’s website (seriously gang, keep your websites updated!) and all of your social media channels, like Facebook and Instagram. You should also check to see if the venue has created a Facebook event for the show, and if they haven’t, create one yourself.

Most of our readers hail from the Binghamton music scene, and if that’s you, definitely reach out to Parlor City Sound so we can add your live music events in the Greater Binghamton/ Southern Tier/ Central New York regions to our events calendar. Otherwise, find out if there’s a similar website or magazine dedicated to your own local music scene where you can showcase your upcoming gigs. Local newspapers, radio stations (especially public ones), Subreddits, and entertainment-themed social media groups are all great avenues for (usually free) promotion. We’ll have articles about getting gigs in the Parlor City in the future, too.

Related: How to make a band website

Now that you know how to book a gig, let’s see you get out there!

Hopefully this guide showed you everything you need to know about getting gigs, at least your earliest ones. But learning how to book a gig was only your first step here. Now comes the fun part … actually playing it!

Performing your music in front of a live crowd is one of the most rewarding experiences most of us will encounter in the music industry. Bopping around stage is tons of fun, especially when the crowd is really digging your music. There’s something almost magical about knowing songs you’ve written are directly contributing to the good times and positive vibes of others. It’s a feeling you never really want to go away. Enjoy it!

One final bit of parting wisdom for you: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Practice the set list you’ve put together for your upcoming gig and put it on repeat. When the songs are etched in your muscle memory, you can keep rehearsing and work on stage presence to keep the crowd engaged. There’s literally no such thing as knowing a song too well. And yes, you might get sick of some or even most of your songs. But hey, that’s showbiz baby!

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