One of the most important lessons for DIY musicians is how to properly book a show. This article walks you through the process from an initial pitch email to a booker, all the way to your follow up. I developed this “cycle” through experience, having booked almost 1000 performances worldwide for the band I play guitar in with my brother, White Mystery. To see a comprehensive listing of those concerts and venues, click here, and type Command F to search the database.
When you operate in a volume of shows, it helps to have a standardized approach, which I am glad to share with you. Either sit back on your laurels and hope a booking agent strikes a deal with your band, or read on for the best practices to book your own shows.
Your first step to book a show is a professional email addressed to the person in charge of the calendar at a venue. Obtain the booker’s contact through the venue website, or through a referral. Research the club’s website to see whether they list guidelines for submissions and whether the calendar date you need is available. Your goal here is to write a simple, courteous email pitch that communicates your message clearly to a booker who receives countless emails from agents and bands every day. Tailor your pitch to your unique reader, include a blurb about your band, and close with a “who, what, when, where, why,” question. I call this style of writing a “three-liner” because it is exactly that, and a system to mechanize email writing. Follow this template to write a simple, effective, pitch in three lines:
HOW TO WRITE A SIMPLE, PROFESSIONAL EMAIL TO A TALENT BUYER
Dear Person’s Name, or “Hello there.”
Line One: “You”-oriented:
Focus on the reader of your email to communicate that you are considerate.
Line Two: Value Statement:
Write a statement about the value your band offers, with a link to your website.
Line Three: Who, what, when, why, where question:
It is better to request qualitative information instead of a “yes or no” question.
Looking forward to your reply, best regards, or thank you work great for your outro, plus:
Your Contact information
Dear Mr. Johnson,
Looks like this is going to be your best Summerfest yet, and congrats on the 50th anniversary!
White Mystery has performed at Riot Fest in Chicago for four years in a row, and would love to play for you this year.
What is your availability for booking on July 1 or 2?
Looking forward to your reply,
Miss Alex White
Because you wrote such a great pitch, the booker replied to your, “who, what, when, where or why” question and confirmed that the date you seek is available. So what’s next? Your goal is to negotiate your value exchange, which is your performance in exchange for compensation. So the follow up to your three-liner email question can be as simple as, “What is your budget?” Depending on their reply, you can decide whether the show is a good fit for your band. For instance, a booker may offer you a low monetary guarantee plus overnight accommodations, which could be valuable to you.
When White Mystery first started, our goal was to play as many shows as possible for whatever sum of money was available. Next, we established a minimum guarantee per show and stuck to it. Over time, that guarantee increased incrementally and was based on the booker’s budget, plus hospitality, like complimentary drinks and dinner.
Once you negotiate the date and value exchange for your show, it’s time to confirm the upcoming performance in writing with the booker. It’s helpful to have all of the information for the concert organized into a single form as a Word document, or at the bottom of an email. I use an agreement template for every show we perform, worldwide, and tailor it depending on the event. Keep in mind that contracts vary and this is just a foundation for you to build upon according to your band’s needs. Click here for an example of a White Mystery performance agreement.
Hey, cool, your show is confirmed! Now it’s time to make your best effort as a DIY musician to support the success of the event through promotion. Here are five channels to consider:
Newsletter: Do you have a mailing list? Now is a great time to start one. MailChimp is free and you can collect email addresses through a “subscribe form.” We started with 40 email addresses from friends, family and fans, and continue to collect new email addresses in a notebook at shows. Our subscriber list has grown to thousands of people worldwide who receive monthly concert alerts and news.
Social Media: Use your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to tag the venue and other bands. Make sure you link to the event invitation to increase RSVPs.
Posters & Handbills: Ask an artist to design your show poster, or create your own. Print ‘em, hang ‘em up at local shops, and drop them off at the venue. Email the digital version of your poster to the booker with the request for them to print and hang on your behalf. Print and cut handbills to pass out to your pals. You can even mail copies to local coffee shops, record stores, and other spots that are open to letting artists promote their events on their community bulletin boards.
Advertisements: Trade complimentary tickets for advertisements in ‘zines or blogs, with the blessing of the booker.
Press: Pitch a three-liner to contacts at local independent radio stations, weekly newspapers, magazine, and blogs for publicity.
A concert “advance” in the music industry is basically an email check-in between the booker and the band close to the show date. Sometimes the booker sends the advance to you, and in the case of White Mystery, we advance with the club about two weeks before the show. This is your opportunity to make sure everything is on track, provide your stage plot, inquire about a merchandise table, and confirm your hospitality. Click here for the sample White Mystery production advance.
It’s show-time, baby! Arrive for your load-in (on time; call your venue contact if you’re going to be running late), set up your merchandise, soundcheck or line-check before your performance, and play. Sell your merch, and make sure you get paid according to the terms specified in your performance agreement before you load-out. Remember, while you’re at the venue, it helps to be kind and courteous to the club staff, all the way from the door person to the sound-person, and service people. The night of your show, you are a slap-dash team that makes the show awesome for your audience.
7. FOLLOW UP
Dazzle the show booker by following up to thank them for the opportunity to work together. Include a photo or video from the show, and a concert-review, in case you received press. Express that you would love to work together again in the future. Your concluding question can then be, “When is the soonest you would like to book another show?”
The goal here is to empower DIY musicians with clear steps to visualize success. Whether your performance is at a club, festival, basement, or record shop, follow these steps to confirm your concert in a clear way. The more shows you confirm, the more comfortable you’ll be with the process, all the while developing more and more meaningful relationships with venues and their staffs.