One of the biggest challenges musicians face is booking tours. Many bands don’t have a booking agent, so booking a tour can seem like a daunting task the first time out.
Here are some key things to keep in mind to help you book a tour without a booking agent.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed
The first thing to remember is that you are only one person. If you’re trying to book a one month tour, break it off into pieces and do little sections at a time. Booking a long tour takes months of emailing and waiting, and emailing and waiting. You couldn’t do it in one sitting even if you tried.
Write a Good Pitch
The average venue doesn’t need to hear from an actual booking agent, manager, or someone representing you. They just want to open their inbox and not be overwhelmed with your 2-page life story. Learn how to write a to-the-point, concise email that pitches your talent and worth to that venue.
Use Who You Know
Have friends in a specific city? Ask them where they go to listen to live music. Ask them where their friends go. Half the battle of booking shows is knowing the venues that are right for you. Why spend hours online if you’ve got a shortcut.
Use the Back Door
Sometimes you get into a venue because you know the owner or the booker. But there are other ways. Back doors. Connect with friends who are in bands and can have you co-bill with them. Know a promoter? Ask them to put you on a show. Reach out to the manager of an artist touring through town and ask if you can open the show for them. Use the back door. Back doors count. They also open future front doors.
…this is not a one-off. You are trying to develop a relationship with a venue so that you can keep coming back.
BE a Booking Agent
This doesn’t mean you begrudgingly take on the job. It means you actually need to embody the role of a booking agent. Be professional. Be clear. List dates. List links of your music. Be Specific: know that a song or video that might appeal to a club is not necessarily the same video that will appeal to an arts center. Also remember: this is not a one-off. You are trying to develop a relationship with a venue so that you can keep coming back. That is what a booking agent does.
Be Consistent, Not Creepy
Good booking agents are consistent but not creepy. Don’t email the venue every 3 days to check on the status of your potential show. Give your pitch the space it needs. Follow up after a few weeks. When you follow up, include a line that fishes for a response, such as, ”If those original dates (13/14) don’t work, another good date would be the 28th as I make my way back up north.”
Check the Calendar First!
DO NOT email a venue about a date that is already booked on their calendar. Do your research. Visit their calendar, see which dates are still open, determine if any of those work. Then reach out to the venue about one of those.
As a ”booking agent” your job is to sell the product - YOU. When you read your pitch, do people wanna ”buy” you? Are you appealing? You don’t need to embellish or lie. Just package yourself well.
Sell an Idea
Sometimes you’re not just selling you. You are selling an idea. Maybe you’re actually selling a Women’s themed event b/c it’s Women’s History Month. Maybe you’re selling a Veterans Day event with performers who are all veterans. Maybe you’re putting together a piano-themed showcase or a tribute show. Sometimes the idea is much bigger than you. Venues like that stuff.
Sell your data
Is your website getting a lot of traffic from the city you’re trying to book a show in? Mention that when pitching the venue. Also, be sure to take a look at your mailing list to see how many subscribers are from that city. That is tangible / actionable data that can be used to promote your show, and venue bookers will look kindly on it.
Sounds like a no brainer. But if it takes you 1 week to get back to the venue, they’re going to give that Hold to someone else. If it takes you forever to communicate your ideas to the show contact and get your act together, your show quickly becomes less important. Just be on top of it. The average music venue has 15-25 shows a month. If you don’t care, they won’t.
Joy Ike is a full-time singer/songwriter based out of Philadelphia, PA. She is also the founder and primary writer for Grassrootsy, one of the most-read music business blogs on the internet. She believes the greatest tragedy in the world is having a talent and keeping it to yourself.