Establishing a career in the music industry takes a lot of effort. No matter whether you’re an artist, producer, venue owner, backing vocalist, etc. — it’s challenging. There’s a reason venue owners use these secrets to book better artists or many backing vocalists do it as a side job – it’s hard to establish yourself in an industry that has so much talent. This is especially true for artists. Essentially, you need to work ten times for the job. You have to go and find a Filming Site that is looking for artists. You have to persuade the person who books the club to hire you. You have to promote the gig once you finally get it to get people there. You have to find musicians who are available to do the gig, chase them down, and book them. As the band leader, you have to bring the PA, the music, all the cables, extra music stands in case someone forgets one, an extra microphone, extra cables, etc. In essence, you have to be your own roadie. Then, after all the preparation for the show, you finally get to go and play the gig.

But your work isn’t done at that point.

On the breaks and after the show, you have to work the room and make sure the club owner is to increase the chance that you’ll be given the opportunity to return. At the end of the night, you have to make sure that everyone gets paid like they are supposed to before finally packing up and loading out.

Then the next time around, you get to go through the whole process all over again.

It is a little overwhelming, so like most, you are probably wondering what you can do to ensure that this process goes as easily and effectively as possible.

There’s certainly a way to more efficiently go through each of the above steps (i.e. figuring out what works and repeating it as closely as possible). For example, you can develop a set list that you only need to make minor changes to depending on the venue, that way your music books can include the essential charts, notes and lyrics, you can pack most of your music equipment in ready-to-go bags/locations so that you can load in and out more quickly, etc. But I’ll get to that in another post. For now, I’d like to talk about the first step – booking gigs.

Things to Prepare When Working as Your Own Booking Agent

To start out with, you need to have an impressive press kit.

What is a press kit? What is in it?

A press kit is basically all the best things about you and your career in an envelope. It consists of your biography, a fact sheet including your name, location, age, important things that you have done, your CDs, your record label and your contact information, a testimonials sheet (really great quotes about you as a performer and about your CDs), press (articles/interviews on you), press photos 8X10 – black and white as well as color, a couple of your best recordings 2-5 tracks, and a cover letter introducing yourself. More often than not, promoters and radio stations prefer one-sheets to an entire press kit, so I suggest using your fact sheet for this (you can include a link to get more information on this just in case).

Once you have your press kit together, you’re not ready to start sending them out blindly. Sending out unsolicited press kits is usually a big no-no and doing so will get it tossed in the trash even if it is in an attractive package. Making a simple call or scheduling an in-person meeting in advance are the best option, but sometimes sending a postcard can suffice.

Are you wondering who you send a press kit to?
1. Booking Agents – if you aren’t interested as working as your own booking agent, you usually send professional booking agents a press kit prior to auditioning for them.
2. Newspapers/TV/Radio – if you want to be interviewed by any of the above.
3. Club Owners that have live music in their clubs.
4. Record labels.
5. Promoters – these are the people that book big concerts and festivals.

If you don’t know where to look, finding the right people to contact about gigs seems almost impossible. The easiest way to start is in your own neighborhood. The strongest way to start branching out into other venues is to be established in your own area. Think of restaurants, coffee houses, or other places near where you live that offer live music. Go in to those venues when there is live music and talk to people who work there about who books the music and what they are looking for – see if you can get a phone number for that person, or if they are even there that evening to speak to them. The next step is to call the person that you received the phone number for and tell them you are interested in performing at their venue. Offer to send them a press kit and invite them to your next gig to see your band play. It is key to be persistent and ask as many clubs/venues as you can until one or more says yes. If you do this enough times, you will slowly but surely start to build up work.

Be sure to remember that when you are sending out a press kit, you are trying to impress and win over whomever you are sending your kit to. So, make it professional. A press kit should be to the point – meaning anything that doesn’t ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE IN THE PRESS KIT SHOULD NOT BE IN THE PRESS KIT. Nothing should really be more than one page. A one page fact sheet, a one page resume, a half a page long or page long bio, a page of quotes about how great you are. I think you get the point.

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Part Two: The Audition

Once you’ve sent out your press kit or have met with the venue/promoter, you may be asked to do an audition (even if you’ve already sent/included a recording). Sometimes a club will audition you before booking you for a gig; they do this by hiring you for one night at their venue (sometimes this pays and sometimes it doesn’t), or they may have you come in when they are closed for a private audition, or ask you about another gig you have coming up so that they can see your act live. Either way, this is an often necessary part of getting booked, and you need to be prepared for it.

For more information about negotiating contracts and ensuring that your gigs that you book go as smoothly as possible, be sure to read Part I: Working as Your Own Manager.

Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.