Want to play your first show as a band, musician or producer? Here are some important things to bear in mind.
Ready to book your first gig? As an independent artist, once you’ve written a few songs that you feel proud of the natural next step is playing in front of someone other than your cat. But how do you convince venues, promoters and other bands that you’re worth putting on the bill?
Wait until you’re ready
Try not to let your enthusiasm run away from you. Don’t rush to book your first live performance until you’ve got a decent set of tracks and remember all your lyrics, you know your DJ setup with your eyes closed, or are gelling as a band. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
That doesn’t mean everything has to be perfect – some rough edges on the night are what having personality as a live performer is all about. But going in feeling confident and super prepared will help to smooth out any nervous jitters.
Spend some time getting to know the local music scene before trying to book a show. Go to the venues you’d like to play in. Support other bands of a similar style, too – they’re more likely to come out to see you play in return, and could let you open for them another day.
If you don’t feel ready to play a venue, consider playing at a house party or busking first. It’s a great way to get experience playing live in front of people.
Open mics are similarly a way to get a feel for playing a gig, a more anonymous option that will help you grow in confidence – or let you know what you still need to work on in your songs.
Know who to contact
Ready to book your gig? Time to research. Look into your local bars and clubs that do live music, find out what shows have been put on before. Find out the name of the person who deals with booking acts, so you know who to ask for and address your email or message to. Look online to find local music promoters.
Don’t just copy and paste the same email to everyone. Keep it brief and personal, and put together a pack of your songs, social media links, and videos of you playing live, even if that’s practising in your living room.
Whether you’re contacting a promoter or a pub, remember they’ll have dealt with countless musicians in the past. It’s good to come up with something original to convince them to book you, rather than a generic email. If you know you can pull in a crowd, tell them – otherwise don’t exaggerate.
If you can’t think of anything that makes you a unique prospect, and can’t guarantee you’ll bring a crowd, just be honest – say why you want to perform there specifically, and send them your music to prove you can play and that you’re a good fit for the venue.
Keep active on social media so that your character and ambition gets across, but don’t worry if your social media follows aren’t as high as you wanted. Promoters know that numbers online aren’t as important as the actual music. After all – the people who like your Instagram posts will be spread out around the globe, and none of them are guaranteed to show up.
Don’t make demands
Realistically for your first performance, you’re not going to be paid much, and most people won’t know who you are. The venue, who no doubt been dealing with music artists for years, will be unimpressed if you start asking to headline the night, including an elaborate light show.
Treat the venue with respect. Speak to them beforehand to ask if there’s any last minute adjustments or gear you don’t need to bring. Turn up on time, don’t get in the way, stick to your time slot, and follow up after the event to thank them for letting you have the stage.
BONUS TIP: Returning to playing live after the pandemic
In many parts of the world, live music has been off the cards for a large portion of the last 18 months. Playing your first show after pandemic restrictions lift will be a challenge even for the most confident artist.
Even if you’ve been playing livestreamed shows throughout the year of lockdowns and venue closures, the run up to the gig and the first time stepping out onto a stage will be an adjustment.
Booked a show? Check with the venue if they have any Covid-safe procedures that you’ll be expected to follow.
Don’t forget that the crowd has been starved of live gigs for as long as you’ve been. That might seem like more pressure – but arguably, it lowers the bar. They’ll be excited to see music being played for the first time in over a year. Let the atmosphere carry you through.
Want to get your music online so you can build a fanbase before your first gig? Check out RouteNote. We distribute tracks to streaming services for free so independent artists can get their music online easily and quickly. You can even make some money while you’re at it. Find out more here.