November 6, 2017 How to Get the Most out of Unpaid Gigs

My favorite thing in the world (in the most sarcastic voice I can muster) is when someone tells me that they want me to perform at their amazing event and how great it will be but then they say the pay is exposure.  Why yes, I’d love to? NOT! I’d much rather get paid. If you’re reading this I’m sure you would to.

I’m not the type to pass up a good opportunity, so I do at least consider these gigs. But, the ‘exposure’ MUST be worthwhile.  I wrote an article all about determining the value of ‘exposure’ to see if the gig will be worthwhile for you here. Check that article out if you need help figuring out when to take on unpaid gigs for exposure.  When and if you decide that the gig IS worthwhile, the next step is figuring out how to get the most out of this gig and possibly even get paid after all.

Just because it’s unpaid, doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get paid if you play your cards right.

This article will help you MAKE THE MOST of every opportunity before, during, and after your unpaid gig, to gain new fans, sell merchandise, and book follow-up gigs at the show.  

The first thing you should do is make a list of tangible things you want to get out of this gig.  This means you need to have a clear understanding of what you want. I’ve listed some examples below. You can also come up with some other things by looking at your music goals and your mission statement. Items on this list should be helping you reach your goals and execute whatever your mission statement is. Here are some basic goals you should be reaching for with an unpaid gig:

  • Add fans to your mailing list.
  • Book follow-up shows
  • Get paid (merchandise, tips, etc.)
  • Make/strengthen contacts to help you advance locally

I.e. Will a radio dj be there? Any celebrities, politicians, business executives, other event planners, etc.?

You can work toward achieving these objectives starting with negotiations. One benefit to performing for free is that you get leverage. So use it to your advantage, within reason.

Make the Most out of an Unpaid Gig – During Negotiations

Find out what’s important to you and what you want out of this event. Ask for these things first before agreeing to do the show. Get everything in writing.

You will want to make sure your performance is competing with the least amount of other activities as possible. I know sometimes this can’t be avoided, but you should at least know how your stage and performance will be located and positioned in relation to other activities going on at the same time. Who will you be performing for? Will it be a captive audience? Is it before everything starts, in the middle of everything, or after everything is over? Me personally, I’d rather not have other activities going on during my performance pulling potential listeners away. I may not be able to get exactly what I want because well it’s not just about me and it’s not my event, but I at least want to know what I’m up against and possibly minimize potential problems if I can help it. This is one of the things I would be asking about during my initial talks with the event planner. Since you’re playing for free you have some weight to pull around in these negotiations. So be sure to ask a lot of questions about your performance positioning and make it clear where you’d like to perform, what general time you’d like to perform, and so forth. Ask the event planner what time he thinks is best to reach your goals.

Remember, if you’re playing for free, then you are actually a sponsor of the event. So look at yourself that way and speak to the event planner as though you are a sponsor.  If applicable, compare your cost of doing the show or your performance rate to what other sponsors are paying and see what they are getting for their sponsorship. If you think you would benefit from those features as well, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Keep in mind there is a balance. You can’t always get everything you want so be flexible and be ready to look at some alternative options as well.

You will want to negotiate everything, not just your performance. You can also ask for other things that are important to you such as e-mails of all the attendees and space to sell your merchandise. You can ask for preferred parking and loading so you can get in the building more easily. You can even go as far as asking to have a table in the exhibitor area along with the other vendors if that’s available. You could also ask for a couple comp tickets to give-away as part of your promotions.  Whatever you really need from this event should be addressed before you formally agree to doing the show.  That’s why it’s super important to list out all the things you would want to accomplish with this event so that way you will be prepared to ask for everything you need.

See if you can get listed with the other sponsors on their website with a link back to your site. Not only will this provide more advertising for you, but this will also help your website gain more search engine optimization (SEO) through link building. Find out more about SEO for your website here.

Once everyone agrees on the terms then it’s time to make the deal. Get everything in writing. You’d hate it if you were promised wonderful things, but they didn’t keep up their end of the bargain especially since you’re investing your precious time, equipment, and vocal cords.

Make the Most out of an Unpaid Gig – Before the Gig

Promote. Keep your event planners accountable to their word. Promote some more.

Now that you have an agreement in place, it’s time to get to work! Before your gig even starts you should be actively working to promote it trying to get as many people to come to this event as possible. The more people that come, the better your results will be. You should also be checking to see if the other side is keeping their promises. If not, you can gently remind them. Make sure the event planner has all of your marketing materials such as your photo, bio, websites, and live video footage. Here are some other things you should be doing:

  1. Add the event to your website and all of your show calendars.
  2. Get active on social media. Follow the event everywhere they are and start commenting and include your pic and website. Comment on the facebook event page, retweet tweets from the event hosts and interact with people who are engaging on those posts.
  3. Let your list know that you will be there and why they should come see you. It could be worthwhile for you to promote some kind of special giveaway relating to the theme of the event you will host during your performance to add some extra incentive.
  4. Here are some other ideas for promoting your performance

How to promote your event on FB
How to fill seats at your show

Make the Most out of an Unpaid Gig – During the Gig

It’s your big day! Make it count. Bring a supportive friend to help you stay on task and accomplish your goals.

It’s time for the gig! Put on your best show ever! Seriously, this is your time to shine. You need to try to impress as many people as possible with your live show. Be energetic, engaging, and amazing. Make the event planner want to hire you for their next event. And make everyone else want to hire you. Here are some things to consider:

  • Bring a banner to display your name, website, twitter handles. You can get a cheap banner printed at VistaPrint. People listening to your live performance want to know who you are if they like what they’re hearing. Don’t make it hard for them to figure it out. They could be just walking by trying to get somewhere else and only have a few minutes to watch you. Whatever the case may be, you should make it easy for people to find you online and connect with you during your live performance. A banner would do just the trick. I have this banner.  

But honestly, I’m looking into getting a stand up vertical banner.  My horizontal banner only works with certain set-ups and I can’t use it all the time. A vertical banner can stand alone anywhere and can work in any environment.

  • Be sure to have some way of collecting e-mail addresses. You can do it as part of your giveaway like I do here which works like a charm! E-mail address are super important to have because they allow you to extend the conversation, take them along with you on your music journey, sell to them and potentially convert them as a superfan later on.
  • Introduce yourself to important people. As I mentioned earlier in this article, there may be other event planners or vendors that would be interested in hiring you for their events. There may be a local celebrity there or other people who can help you get further along in your career. It would be very beneficial if you can introduce yourself to them and start a rapport with them. Don’t forget to bring enough business cards.
  • Sell your merchandise.  This is a great way to earn back your investment from doing the event for free. You should create an attractive display and it would help if you had someone manning your table. Give people a reason to come to your merch table such as signing your guestbook (where you can also collect their e-mail address) or picking up a free small gift from you, or even something as simple as candy or tea can do the trick. Take a look at these ideas to sell more merchandise at your shows.
  • Book follow-up shows. You should print out some postcards advertising your music services and/or promoting your house concerts. Pass them out to everyone you speak to immediately after your show. If anyone shows any interest in hiring you for an event get their phone number and do follow-up with them later on (more on this later). Here is a sample postcard you can use as a template.
Here’s our postcard we use to book follow-up shows at current gigs. This is the front side
We use this for the back of our postcard.
  • Have someone take lots of pictures so you can have documentation of the event and how well you did. Be sure to take fun pictures of you and other people at the event. You will need this later on.

Make the Most out of an Unpaid Gig – After the Gig

Strike while the fire is still hot. Follow-up with everyone. Make your last ditch effort to sell something to make more money. Set yourself up for next time.

The show is over, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. There’s still potential to earn more money and your new fan relationships are just getting started. Here are some things you can do after your gig is over:

  • Add all new e-mails you collected at the event to your mailing list
  • Follow-up with the e-mails you received from the show.   Include an offer and a call to action with a deadline. Try selling digital copies of your CD.
  • Send a thank you note to the event planner including a picture of your performance at the event. It’s a personal touch that will keep them remembering you. You can do this easily with TouchNote without ever having to leave your comfy bed the next morning. Touchnote lets you design a postcard with a personal picture and then you can tell it who to send the postcard to. You pay a nominal fee and boom, the recipient receives a beautiful personal note from you in their mailbox. You might be able to use this opportunity to also mention your performance rates and get them to start thinking about how they should HIRE you next time. You see the subtlety there?
  • Follow-up with people who were interested in hiring you or hosting a house concert. Get on the phone and call everyone who expressed any interest in hiring you for an upcoming event. The phone is old school I know, but it’s way more effective than e-mail. Like 1000 times.
  • Follow-up with new contacts you made. Ask them to share what they thought of your performance. You might get a good high-quality quote out of it especially if it was a politician or local celebrity. Be smart about how you approach them with any requests you might have. Don’t be too forward, but also don’t be afraid to make the ask. Feel them out and go with your gut. You may decide to save your request for a later date and in the meantime try to be more helpful to their needs so you can continue building a positive rapport with them.
  • Write a blog about the event using pictures you took from the event. This will do a few things for you. 1. Bring people to your site. If you use keywords and tags associated with the event, it is good SEO for your site. Your site will come up in future searches done about the event. 2. It will give you something to write about on your blog. 3. It will document and show social proof that you are actively performing and it will show how much your fans love you. This is good for other venues and event planners who might be considering hiring you for their events.
  • Go back to all the social media sites and post comments about how much fun you had. Include your squeeze page into the post as well saying something about what they can find on your website. This will be your last ditch effort to collect more e-mails and make more money. Include an offer and a call to action with a deadline. 

As an independent musician you will get solicitations ad naseum for unpaid gigs promising exposure. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to take the gig. There are pros and cons for both decisions. But if you do decide to take on unpaid gigs, don’t settle for sloppy seconds and being pushed aside in a corner. Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Hopefully you got that reference. Take control of this opportunity and milk it for everything it’s got. You may not be getting money from your event planner, but you do have the power to orchestrate things so that you can make money and recoup your investment. Yes, unpaid gigs can be a lot of work but depending on how you play it, you can get some handsome rewards.

NOTE: This article may contain affiliate links. This is where you can make direct purchases from the links I provide and for a commission, those companies offer me a percentage of your purchase. You don’t pay anything extra by clicking on my links, but you sure would be helping me out! It helps me keep this blog going and continue providing you with loads of fun information about running a successful music career – DIY style.