Getting gigs as a musician has never been easy.
The Beatles were only paid £5 for their first gig and Ed Sheeran spent 6 years playing in bars and clubs before becoming one of the best-selling artists of all time.
But the good news is that the arrival of the internet has also made it easier than ever for great musicians to be heard and seen. It’s no longer so much about million-dollar record deals and who you know – if you make excellent music and present it in the right way, you can reach the top.
But how do you win gigs in the first place?
At Encore, over the years we’ve helped thousands of musicians get booked for gigs. So we’ve pooled together all our experience and compiled the ultimate guide to help you boost your booking numbers. We’ll take you through how you can win gigs in four easy steps:
- Create an outstanding product
- Market yourself like a pro
- Delight your clients
- Invest in your future
Don’t get me wrong – there’s no single path to musical success. But whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, by the time you’ve finished this guide, you’ll have the essential foundation anyone needs to build a sustainable career in live music.
1. Create an outstanding product
At its most basic, the way to get gigs is to perform music people want to hear.
Become a master craftsman
Before taking professional, paid work like the kind booked through Encore, you want to be confident you’re offering an exceptional performance. When someone pays for music, they’re looking for an experience that will suit them – whether that’s being There’s no way of avoiding it – the best musicians have practised alone and with their bands for hours and you should make a habit of doing the same.
Music is an emotional art, but it is also a craft. Become an expert in your instrument, listen obsessively to the best musicians around, and discuss music with people you admire.
Once you’ve mastered the art of covering other people’s songs and pieces, you’ll begin to understand what makes your playing and style different.
At this point, test out your ideas in front of people in low pressure, low reward situations. Find local events like open mic nights or your friend’s parties and perform there. However, be careful not to become reliant upon these gigs though as they are typically performed at by amateur musicians and are unlikely to build your reputation as a professional. If too many people see you playing at these kinds of events, you may struggle to charge professional fees later on.
Recommended techniques for effective practice:
Think like an entrepreneur
So you’re confident the music you’re performing is good enough for others to enjoy and ultimately pay money to see. Now you need to get it in front of people.
An entrepreneur builds a product or service based on feedback from their first customers. Learn who your target audience is. Are you creating a niche experience for a small subset of listeners, or are you aiming to please the average person you meet on the street? Speak to these people regularly and understand what they like about your music.
If you’re an original artist, you’ll want to cultivate a fan base. But the function group Truly Medley Deeply provide a great example of how you can still deliver a unique service even when performing covers. They realised that their target audience was young couples, who loved hearing music that reminded them of their teenage years. So they peppered their sets with peppered with Disney songs, UK garage, and chart hits from the 00s hitting all the right nostalgia points and creating a word-of-mouth sensation. They now take hundreds of wedding bookings across Europe every year.
The function band Truly Medley Deeply have created viral growth in bookings
2. Market yourself like a pro
You’ve got a great product – now it’s time to get it in front of people and get the gigs rolling in!
Join a bookings platform
As you perform more and more great shows, you’ll begin receiving enquiries through word-of-mouth. But if you still have a few empty slots in the calendar, you’ll want to consider signing up to a booking platform like Encore which helps get you customers from demographics you would never normally have reached.
Some services will ask for a regular subscription for these leads, others like Encore are free to use and only charge a commission when you get booked through the platform.
Learn more about Encore here:
The best approach is either to be committed to setting up a good profile or not to sign up. Empty pages with no information look unprofessional and may hinder your chances of getting bookings.
Not sure about Encore? Watch our musicians describe the platform in their own words.
Invest in promo material
When it comes to winning gigs, your profile online is just as important as how you present yourself in real life. This is how people will research your music and form a judgement on whether you are a trusted professional or not. That means getting professionally shot video and photography.
The evidence for the impact of great video is everywhere. Justin Bieber rode to stardom via YouTube videos, the niche jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy turned into a household name overnight by releasing a beautifully shot video album. Brilliantly edited live videos by companies like Sofar Sounds, Mahogany Sessions, or NPR Tiny Desk Concerts also prove that performing live can garner just as many views as polished studio videos. Getting a great video shot of your act should be a top priority if you want to win gigs online.
It’s also important you make a good impression before someone even watches your video. For this, you’ll need quality photography.
Audio is also important if you are an original artist, but video is the medium that has the largest impact.
Promo materials can be a cost, but they will pay you back in gigs many times over. At Encore, we’ve made it as simple as possible for you to book in your video and photo shoots.
Learn more about the promo material you need with our guides here:
- 3 Video Showreels Every Musician Needs to Win Bookings Online
- 5 Essential Tips for Great Profile Pictures
Encore members also get access to exclusive deals with video and photography partners:
- Compare the Top 10 Affordable Video Recording Studios for Musicians
- Get discounted video with Motionsonic
- Get a professional photoshoot from just £39 with Perfocal
The next most important part of your promotional arsenal is your reviews. Almost everyone will read a few reviews before purchasing a service or product online – it’s an essential part of building trust with your future bookers.
If you get booked on Encore, we automatically email your client asking them to leave you a review. You can supplement these reviews with testimonials from your other clients as well.
- Learn how to add reviews to your Encore profile here.
- Check out the thousands of reviews of Encore musicians left here.
Understand your social channels
Yes, it can feel like a hassle sometimes – but having a social media presence is key to winning bookings.
To build a fan base or get repeat clients, you need to be present where they spend their time – and almost every one of the people who will book you in future will spend time regularly sitting at their computer or phone scrolling Twitter or Facebook.
Your social channels should provide entertaining content that doesn’t sell directly to your bookers, but ensures that your act is top-of-mind when they come to think about which artists to book for their next event.
Potential bookers don’t want to be sold to while they’re scrolling their newsfeed looking at their colleague’s holiday snaps. So instead of filling your social accounts with promo, you should use them as a means of showcasing some of the personality behind your act. Behind the scenes, videos are great for this, or last-minute announcements of gigs you have coming up.
We’d recommend adding a profile on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter then using the tool Buffer to manage the output of all three. How to use each:
- Facebook: announcements, behind the scenes photos/videos of gigs, informal interactions with fans/client
- Instagram: behind the scenes photos/videos of gigs, Instagram stories for announcements
- Twitter: announcements, informal interactions with fans/clients
QUOTE from Sam Burkey
Example of Encore band Fiddlin’ About using Facebook to share entertaining content. They reserve their website and Encore profile for ‘selling’ and promotion.
Networking: Don’t be afraid of the business card
3. Delight your audiences
The diary’s starting to fill up with gigs now. How do you make sure your clients love you so much they tell all their friends?
Become an expert communicator
At its heart, performing music to people is a form of emotional communication. People hire musicians who are able to perform music that speaks to them.
You’re much more likely to win bookings if you can convince clients that you understand them and their feelings throughout the enquiry process.
At Encore we spend every day talking to clients and helping them book musicians, so we’ve passed on our best tips in our communication blog series. We’d highly recommend giving it a read
You can level up your client communication skills with the Encore communication guide:
- Converting your Calls – 7 Effective Techniques for Dealing with Bookings over the Phone
- How to Write the Perfect Cover Note (in 7 Steps)
- Closing the Deal – How to Write Messages that Lead to Bookings
Learn to turn down non-ideal gigs
If someone comes to you offering to pay you to perform at their event, it’s easy to assume the answer will always be yes. But the best artists understand that delivering a performance which isn’t suitable for your client or venue is much worse than missing out on the cash.
In the short term, money in the bank is always great. But if you’re performing outside of your comfort zone at a wedding and it goes down like a lead balloon, then word will spread quickly that you and you may miss out on a booking opportunity from a client who’d be perfect for your style.
Learn to read your audience
People no longer want to hear live music that sounds exactly the same as recordings. If they were just interested in the music they’d stay at home and listen to Spotify.
You need to understand that you aren’t just delivering the music, you’re creating an experience. Sometimes it’s as simple as just talking to your audience about your music
Techniques for providing a memorable performance:
- Structure your set like a narrative. Plan out where the emotional peaks and troughs will be, take your listeners on a journey from start to finish.
- Surprise your audience. Simple techniques like mash-ups or song transitions can wow an audience.
- Ask for song requests. Nothing proves your musicianship like learning a client’s favourite song.
- Push your audience’s ‘emotional buttons’. Imagine your average audience member, and identify the kind of music which would really make their day.
- Interact with your audience. Bands like Vulfpeck or Slipknot have built a cult-like devotion from their fans by interacting with them at gigs and creating fan in-jokes. But simply dedicating a song to the bride and groom at a wedding gig can work wonders.
4. Invest in your own improvement
You’ve got a steady stream of gigs coming in – great work! Now you need to take a deep breath and plan for how you’re going to maintain your momentum.
Never stop learning
The best musicians are those who never settle for performing the same gig twice.
Make a habit of taking time after every gig to identify what went well and what didn’t go so well. It might just be 5 minutes, but it’s often the difference between an out-of-touch function musician who’s been playing the same way for 15 years and a world-class professional.
Watch performances of your favourite musicians. Understand what makes you admire them so much and let their qualities bleed into your artistry.
- James Clear’s blog is a great introduction to the impact of forming good habits. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Keep on top of your finances
Financial stability is the bedrock of your music career. If money if your number one concern, you’ll struggle to stand your ground when negotiating with bookers and won’t have the headspace to deliver great performances.
At Encore, we’re striving to improve the level of pay musicians receive in the UK, however given the high level of supply and relatively low levels of demand for live music, it’s unlikely freelance musicians will be able to guarantee a steady income any time soon.
That means you need to be smart with your finances. The good news is that there are many new apps and tools that have sprung up to help freelancers deal with the complexities of managing your finances outside of salaried employment.
Our 4-part series addresses the most common concerns for musicians
- How to get a Mortgage as a Musician
- How to Save for Retirement
- How and When to Use an Accountant
- How to use a Receipt Scanner to keep track of Expenses
Stay match fit
Once you’ve got a steady stream of gigs coming in you need to make sure you look after your body. If you’re in an office job and get a cold, you can continue working from home with your laptop. As a musician the stakes are higher – you need to be in peak physical and mental condition at every gig to make sure you deliver the best experience for your client.
Here are a few articles answer the most common fitness issues encountered by musicians:
Prepare for the unexpected
Every musician has a horror story about a time when a client didn’t pay them or trashed their gear.
On Encore, we make sure all clients pay online before the gig and that our musicians have Public Liability Insurance in the event that anything goes wrong.
But if you’re winning bookings elsewhere though you’ll want to join a musicians’ organisation who can advocate for you in the event of a client dispute like the MU or the ISM.
To make your equipment is safe, you’ll want to get PAT testing and PLI: