Getting Your First Gig…
…is a matter of thinking from a talent buyer’s perspective and making promises you can keep.
The first thing you have to think about is which venue to contact. Reach out to a venue that makes sense (aka if you’re an indie band, don’t reach out to a club that does world music) that’s also within your reach. Don’t reach out to clubs that are huge. Find a venue you can fill with your friends and family because packed small club is overall better than empty larger club. If it's your first gig, there's a good chance you have no fans, so don't bullshit the talent buyer (more on that later).
The second thing you have to think about is what you say when contacting the venue. In an email from one of my blog readers, he asked how he can get an artist he manages their first gig. I sent him the following short response:
Less is more. Think from the buyer’s perspective. He/she doesn’t want to know everything about your guy nor do they give a shit.
Send the talent buyer the following in an email:
- link to the artist’s music
- 2 sentence description of the music
- date(s) you’re looking for
- how many people you can draw
- what you’re going to do to help promote
To expand upon that, many artists think the talent buyer will read long reviews, bios, or even longer explanations on your band's sound…WRONG. They honestly don't care. They’re inundated with scores of emails from every band trying to get there first gig who thinks they’re music is amazing (and some will irrationally dub themselves as the next Beatles, but that another pet-peeve of mine). There are a lot of bands, so being brief will get their attention and they'll genuinely appreciate it.
Since they get so many emails, don't give up after emailing them once. Follow up a few days later by email, but don't sound pissed off they didn't get back to you. Acknowledge that you know they're busy busy people and mention that you're contacting them again to politely follow up. ALl too often artists give up or get mad at talent buyers, which is a selfishly irrational point of view.
Now it's important I clarify by what I meant when I said, "making promises you can keep." Talent buyers have heard the song and dance of how bands can guarantee 23456432 people, so if they’re not an idiot, they’ll know whether you’re full of shit or not. So don’t lie or make empty promises. Execute on anything you promise and it will benefit you in the long run because talent buyers and venue staff will like you. Those are the sort of people you want in on your side because talent buyers will contact you to support out of town bands and sound guys will try harder to make you sound good.
The other key factor is that they want someone who has moderately good music that can bring a crowd who will buy booze. Booze keeps the light on, so please don’t forget that. That’s it and if you think anything differently then you’re kidding yourself. You may say that this takes the art out of live music or that I'm all business, but this is a harsh reality with which you need to come to terms. However, that’s not to say that playing good music isn’t important, but as far as getting the first gig, it’s less of a factor.
With this post, my intentions were not to make all talent buyers or promoters into angels and artists into monsters. All I'm saying is that talent buyers have the power to give you a shot at playing for the first time, so you can be polite and understanding of their perspective. And if you're wondering why you haven't gotten that first gig, there's a good chance you were being impatient or full of shit, which is often the view from many talent buyers.
David Chaitt is a consultant for bands, record labels, and music startups. However, he also spends his time as the Blog Editor for SoundCtrl and is currently developing a live music/culinary video series called the Backyard Brunch Sessions.