How to Get Your First Music Gig

You’ve got the nuances of your set list ironed out, practiced, and practiced. Now you are ready for your first music gig.

getting_your_first_gigMy first gig was sort of a get together of my friends and family. We booked the clubroom in my apartment facility for the night, brought some refreshments, and invited every one we knew. It was a free show. I did a few cover tunes and several of my originals. I put out a tip jar and my mailing list sign up sheet. I didn’t have any albums yet, but I told them that I was planning on releasing my first album soon and to sign up to my mailing list to get details about it. About 20 people came and it was a wonderful evening!

Your first gig may not be glamorous or well attended, but if you set attainable goals, you can make it work for you and jumpstart your career.

Here are some ideas on how to book your first gig…

Organize and book it yourself. 

You can do what I did and book a rental facility, your apartment clubroom, or ask a friend or family member to host in their living room or backyard.   You would be in charge of all the set-up/tear-down logistics, the food and drinks, the sound, and any other details relating to putting on the show. While you will be responsible for all these details, you also maintain authority and autonomy on how you want the show to look and feel. Whether you will charge, sell food, have an opening act, time and length of your set – all these things will be under your control. You can use that to your advantage and create something fun that fits your brand. If you get a friend or family member to host your show, they will more than likely let you do this for free. However, if you book a rental facility, be sure to find something that fits your budget. This is your first gig of hopefully what will be many more to come, don’t break the bank over this one.

Book at an established venue.

For this, you will need booking materials to pitch your act to a talent buyer or a person in charge of booking. You will need a link to your music, promo photos, a decent bio, live footage video, and you may even have to prove how many people you can draw. You can try coffee shops, art galleries, cafes/restaurants, or stores (record stores, book stores, boutiques, specialty shops). These types of venues will be interested in you because of your appeal to their patrons and your ability to attract people to their business. If you can show that you can do these two things, you have a shot. This means that your pitch materials must present you or your act in the best light possible.   Send an e-mail or call them on the phone and remember to follow-up. Don’t be afraid to follow-up once or twice. These folks are busier than you think. They may need a little help in moving things along.

+ How to get people signed up to your mailing list
+ How to sell more merchandise at shows

Book with a group, club, event, or meeting that is already taking place.

Is there a group or event already taking place where you can attend and perform a short set? Maybe a church service, or a meet-up group with a special interest related to some of your songs? Maybe your friends are hosting a get-together or a party? Maybe someone you know is having a family reunion? Book club? Rotary club meeting? Sorority/Fraternity events? Birthday parties? The list can go on and on, but you get my drift. See if you can add on to an event that is already going to take place. You may not get paid for this, but it’s a first step. You can bring your merchandise to sell or mailing list and have people sign up. You can also leverage the event to get future paid gigs, by having business cards and promotional materials pitching your act as “Affordable Entertainment for Your Next Event.” If you do decide to take on this type of show, keep in mind what your goals are and work with the group to ensure your goals are being met. Always have goals when performing shows. When you are first starting out, you may not make money at your first several gigs. However, you will be laying the groundwork in order to make money in the near future. Your goals will be more toward expanding your network and getting fans.

Final thoughts…

Beware of the bloodsuckers.

There are people that prey on new artists. They come up with businesses and gig opportunities for the purpose of taking your money. They don’t really care about your art or advancing your career despite what they may say. Beware of pay to play shows. Don’t be fooled! Unless, you’re hosting your own show at a rental facility, if you have to pay to play, you may lose out on your hard earned money and also not get what you want out of the deal – real fans. These “promoters” require you to sell advance tickets without telling you other details such as what other acts will be on the bill or what time your set is. They take a very large cut of the ticket sales and only give you leftovers, which end up being less than half of the earnings from your ticket sales or sometimes nothing at all! Most of the people who attend these types of shows are friends and fans of the other acts. They will come mainly to see the other act perform and leave before you get a chance to play. They will not pay much attention to you and they will not buy your merchandise. Variety showcases, battle of the bands, and contests all have the potential to be total rip-offs. For more information on this, do an internet search for “pay-to-play” and you will find scores of articles written on the subject.

Getting gigs is not easy, but with a little knowledge and creativity, you can enjoy a full calendar eventually of paid gigs! Be patient, follow-up, and treat your fans like gold!

About Anitra Jay

Anitra Jay is an acoustic soul singer-songwriter based in Houston, TX. She tours regularly up and down the US from Vermont to Texas and everywhere in between. Her music is a sultry down to earth blend of soul, pop, and gospel. After being laid off from her job in 2007, Anitra decided to pursue a career in music. She took her educational experiences in Public Relations and her professional background in marketing and applied it full force to her music. She's found significant success in establishing a lasting fanbase using her special brand of marketing techniques which she shares freely with other artists. In addition to being a full-time performer, Anitra runs, a blog for indie artists sharing actionable tips and advice on how to promote, develop, establish a fanbase, and more. Her passion is to inspire other musicians and build a community of like-minded independent artists to encourage and promote successful careers in the arts. She appeared on HGTV's Tiny House Hunters in May of 2017 to share her music story and her Tiny House Journey with the world. Follow Anitra on Twitter - @IndieArtistsDIY and @Anitra_Jay. Join the mailing list to get practical DIY tips and tricks in your inbox -

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