So it's time to book a gig. Maybe this is your first gig, maybe you haven't played a gig since high school or college, or maybe you have always been in a band, but you haven't been the businessperson. Well let's get started. First and foremost, have a solid product. Make sure that you have a show, or a production that demonstrates your compelling talent, your abilities, your gear, your appearance, and your repertoire. Be sure to demonstrate compassion, and commitment. Exhibit a strong sense of reliability, drive, and be flawless in the overall delivery of your product. If you need to test your material in front of people for a while, before you book your band, then look for a coffee shop to play for free, or volunteer at local community events. Of course, you should be charging money once your show is ready for prime time, but it makes sense to charge a small amount of money, or no money at all, while you are putting your show together.
One thing that I did when I was working on my Doctorate Degree in Classical Guitar was to hold house concerts. That's a great way to get exposure. It's is a lot of fun for the people that are attending. You can ask them for advice and constructive criticism. It's great for everyone. Of course my wife and I provided food and beverages for our guests. If you do not have much money, then keep your house concert very informal. You could offer to play at a friends house - let them put on the house party and you provide the entertainment. I have even heard of people doing house concert tours. You can eventually charge good money for your house concerts once you are in demand.
Learn everything possible about your prospective clients. You need to study the venues and the booking agents of the places where you would like to perform. Make sure that you are offering the correct product for the correct client. Your product should be attractive, exciting and financially competitive. Study your competition. If you have a rock/pop band, then solicit all of the venues that specialize in your music. Once you have gone through all of those venues, then begin to think outside of the box by approaching theaters and stages that rarely feature your style of music - they might be ready for it!
Let's talk about your product a little bit. If you are looking to perform on concert stages where people are paying specifically to see bands and stage acts, then you need to specialize and have a unique show that will draw attention and get people talking and buzzing. If you play an instrument in a unique way, or with a lot of speed, then focus on that. If you are more of a smooth jazz guy, then showcase that. Just make sure that you present your music with a modern, and relevant twist. Specializing might mean being really outrageous in your clothes like Lady Gaga. It might mean a sexy look like Madonna. Then again, it might be as simple as adding a banjo, an accordion, or a harp to your band for variety and spice. It is up to you. Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are; figure out how to be innovative and fresh, and go for it.
You might form a band and notice that you have a unique sound and look from day one. Some bands will require extensive work. You might go through a number of musicians before you find the right combination of people. Pay close attention to your compositions, the music, and the lyrics - make them relevant. Focus on your clothing, stage presence, order of songs and solos etc. You might want to add some video screens, or a light show. Find a need in the music world and fill it! People don't know what they need until someone like you comes along with something new and exciting that they realize that they can't live without.
If you don't have the time, or the desire to pursue concert gigs, then you might consider playing in a small group, or as a solo act at a local restaurant, or hotel. If you play at a rock, or dance club, then you can follow the same format as mentioned above. But, if you play at an upscale restaurant, or hotel, then you will have to tone it down a bit. Make sure that you fit the atmosphere and ambiance of the room that you are playing. You will get hired because of the way you look, because of the way that you interact with people, how you play, what you play, the fact that you are always on time, and the fact that you spend most of your time playing, and not eating or drinking. Believe me, you will be considered unique if you achieve an A rating in all of those categories, You will work all the time. But, you need to be versatile in your repertoire, have the ability to function in the background when necessary, and in the forefront when called upon. You are really close to your audience so you need to have a warm and happy personality. You will have to act on the nights that you feel really cranky, cynical, and jaded. Everybody has to be an actor to be successful at work, so learn how to do it, and get used to it.
I am doing a solo guitar gig at a local restaurant right now. I use it to keep my chops up, and it's nice to have a place where my friends and family can hear me play. That's the only way most of them would be able to see me perform. My gear includes an FBT full range powered speaker, a Line 6 HD 500 pedal board, a Line 6 JM4 Looper pedal, a Line 6 expression pedal, a James Tyler Variax 59 guitar, a Gibson ES-335, and an Ibanez Classical Guitar. I loop chord changes and use drum beat grooves with the JM4. I use the 335 for the fat Wes Montgomery jazz guitar sounds, and I use the variax for blues and rock. I am able to perform music from the romantic and baroque eras as well as neuvo flamenco, pop and jazz standards, blues, and rock. I can play loud, or really soft. Another really cool thing is the fact that I can easily add live musicians to my show if someone wants a trio or quartet. We play the same tunes that I play on my solo gig minus the looper. You can view pictures of some of my gear and as well as my solo and band gigs on my website at www.ilexstudios.com
Last, but not least, I would like to tell you how I got my solo guitar and band gigs over this past year. I finished my Doctorate Degree in the spring of 2010. I had spent almost four years on my research paper and the final lecture recital. My jazz chops were all but gone. So, I set out that summer to find a local restaurant that was low key and out of the way. The point for me was to get in front of people to put a little pressure on myself to sharpen my chops and learn some tunes. I did cold calls and left business cards with restaurant owners. That seemed like a dead end. It seems like you always have to know someone, or someone that knows someone. It is tough, but not impossible to find a gig without a reference. So, I did a little brainstorming and remembered that one of my neighbors who I hung out with periodically is super tied into the social scene in our area. He and his wife eat out quite a bit, and they knew a lot of people. Plus, my neighbor Lou, really digs my guitar playing.
You have to let people know what your goals and aspirations are so they can help you. So, I tracked down Lou and told him that I was looking for a steady solo guitar gig at a local restaurant. Lou got a look of interest on his face, then, he told me that he had some ideas. Lou said that he would scout out a number of restaurants and let me know where my guitar playing and personality would best fit. He was going to attempt to match me with the correct venue and management - brilliant! Lou came back a few weeks later with a particular restaurant. He had done some business with the owner of this restaurant so they were already friends. In addition, Lou found out that the restaurant had only been open for a few months and they were looking for live music.
So, my wife and I went to the restaurant to meet the owner. We ordered dinner to get a feel for the atmosphere and the customer base. We wanted to make sure that I would be a good match. Everything was a thumbs up for us. I opened up discussions with the restaurant owner to see if we could settle on a deal. I offered to play one night for free. It wasn't really free. I got a killer dinner and some fantastic wine. My wife ate for free. They hired me on the spot. I performed there for almost a year every Wednesday night from 6:30-9:30.
My latest solo guitar gig came through my daughter who is a waitress at a great little restaurant that we can see from our house. The owner has been there for thirty years. They have a lot of regulars. They have never had live music. The owner knew that I was a professional musician. My wife and I eat at the restaurant two or three times a month. I decided that it would be cool to play there on Friday nights so my daughter and I could work together. Besides, I could take a break and my wife and I could eat dinner. We have a very social neighborhood. I knew that a number of our friends would walk down the street and see me play - it was a great idea. So, I approached Phil and asked him if I could play on a Friday nights - he said yes with enthusiasm. It is great to work side by side with my daughter and my wife loves to come down after work on Fridays. Neighbors come down and hoot and holler - it's great.
In conclusion, find out what works for you and your stage of life. Do you want a full blown band gig, a regular restaurant gig that pays, or a place to play for food and beverages where you can come and go as your schedule permits? Research what the pay is for local clubs and restaurants and negotiate a deal that works for you and the management. My highest paying gig was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. I was there five nights a week for three years. The money that you can get for gigs usually increases the closer you get to major cities. You might be able to barter as a band, as a soloist, or even as a music teacher. I need a new website, but I have no idea how to build one. I met a painter who worked for a video game company for a few years. He is great at building web sites and he has a great eye for design. He needs guitar lessons. So, we are trading lessons for web site design. Consider using twitter, youtube, and facebook to set up a national house concert tour. Maybe you can sleep in the houses where you perform and have them feed you. Sell recordings and t-shirts, and charge enough money to pay for gas and maintenance on your vehicle. Think outside the box! There are so many ways to navigate gigs and to make them fit into your life style, needs, and desires. Remember, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
- Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD