Getting The Best Gigs


© 2011 Vinny Ribas

I recently asked a singer/musician what he was up to and what he needed next to move his career forward. He knew exactly what he needed:

“Some friends and I are putting together a 9-pc. folk group reminiscent of the folk groups of the 60’s. We will be singing songs that relate to and comment on what’s happening in the world today. We are looking for performing arts centers of 5,000 seats or more that will book us.”

My first thought was, ‘Who is really going to book an unknown act into a 5,000-seat performing arts center?” The answer is practically no one! The reason is that these theaters depend on the act to be popular enough to fill the seats. Otherwise, the act will be playing to an empty house. The only time that an experienced entertainment buyer will hire an unknown act is if the venue itself has it’s own draw and doesn’t rely on the act to fill seats.

Does this mean that this 9-pc. folk act will never get hired? Of course not. It just needs to target more appropriate venues. For example, a theater inside a sizeable amusement park might be a good fit because the park has its own attendees who just need to be entertained. Other appropriate venues that have a built-in audience include folk festivals, some larger casino theaters and cruise ships.

I have heard similar scenarios over and over again where artists have unrealistic expectations about the gigs they want to play. In most cases it is because they simply haven’t thought their goals through. That’s not to say that it is unheard of that an unknown with exceptional talent gets and takes advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shine on a larger stage. However, for most artists, getting to that level is a process that requires a sometimes lengthy period of time, a very concentrated effort, a knowledge of the industry, a few key connections, the development of a large fan base, a barrage of positive publicity and a spotless, well-deserved reputation as a top-notch, extremely professional act.

So take a serious look at your act and where you want to ultimately land. Is it the best that it can be, or is there room for improvement? (The right answer is that there is ALWAYS room for improvement!) Are you strong enough, rehearsed enough and tight enough to compete with the acts that already have these gigs? Are there any things that you need to tweak or put in place to make hiring you a no-brainer? Is everyone in the act mentally ready, professional enough, competitively talented enough and serious enough to move to that level, or are there challenges that need to be addressed before you step onto that bigger stage?

Now ask yourself if you really are a perfect fit for the venues you want to perform in. As in the example above, do you have the right draw (or do you even need one)? Is your price point within the average budget of your target venues? Do you fit into the range of music styles that they hire? Can your act fit and look comfortable on their stages? Do these venues have an appropriate sound system to handle your act? Can you handle performing for a larger or different kind of audience? (Some acts are great in intimate settings but don’t do well with large, more impersonal audiences.) All of these pieces and more need to fit in order for you to be a viable candidate for hiring.

Now, let’s say that you are given the opportunity to present or showcase your act for the entertainment buyer of the ‘big stage’ you’ve been waiting for. Are you in a position to take advantage of it? Do you have a great looking website for them to look at? Do you have a strong social network presence showing your popularity? How about a professional EPK (electronic press kit) and physical press kit to send them? Do you have anything that would show that you are ready for this step up in your career, such as positive press clippings about the act and endorsements from the venues you’ve performed at? Are you performing at venues that you would be proud to have another entertainment buyer see you at? Would the venue think of hiring you as a natural career progression from what you have done so far? Are you prepared in every way to do a live audition if necessary?

Lastly, should the venue of your dreams say ‘Yes, we’d like to hire you!’, do you have the systems, team, product etc. to take advantage of it? For example, if you were offered to go on tour opening for a major act beginning in 2 weeks, would you be able to get enough CDs and merchandise to sell within that time? Are you prepared to capture emails or at least text message subscriptions to your newsletter from thousands of potential fans? Is your music on iTunes and on all of the other most popular online retailers? Are you set up to be able to get physical distribution into brick and mortar retailers in the cities you’ll be performing in? Can everyone in the act free themselves up this quickly and feel comfortable with this new kind of hectic schedule? In other words, you need to take this kind of break seriously and have all of your ducks in a row before it happens.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors involved in matching an act with a venue. These are much more important as the venues get bigger and the financial stakes get much higher. If you have your sights set on performing in a particular venue or kind of venue, do your homework and find out what it is that makes them hire the acts that they do. Then do everything you can to make yourself attractive to them. Prove your worthiness to step up to the next level. Next, put yourself in the way of opportunity by getting extensive positive publicity, getting great reviews, creating a buzz and basically making your act impossible to ignore! Then, when it is your turn to shine, you will be ready, willing and able to make the absolute most of it!

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.