Booking strategies for the indie artist

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One day, perhaps you’ll be touring as an indie or signed artist – getting on a bus while a tour manager handles logistics, accommodations, and meals.

But for now, maybe you're searching for a strategy to help extend your band’s reach by playing gigs in new towns. Perhaps it’s time to hit the road for a multi-show tour that spans hundreds of miles. Could be you're just getting off the blocks preparing for your first gig ever.

Merchly's Making the Most of Show Time has advice to get your indie band on the road and help build and develop a gigging strategy. Here's an excerpt with advice about booking gigs, big and small.

1) Start small

Whether you’ve drawn 75 people to a 150-seat club, brought 250 fans to a 500-seat theater, or sold 1,000 tickets for a 2,000-capacity arena, those vacant chairs can weigh on you. A concert promoter is not going to sing your praises for bringing in enough people to fill half the venue. On the flip side, “SOLD OUT” has a certain satisfying ring to it, doesn’t it?

Even if you’ve only packed a coffee shop that holds 40 people, the venue will invite you back, and word will spread that you packed the place. It might seem counterintuitive when you want to build a fan base and make money, but well-placed sold-out shows in smaller clubs can go a long way to building your name and reputation.

2) Playing the A room

Finding your way in to a premier club in your territory might take a little legwork and creativity.

1. Study the venue’s calendar. Do they book a standard number of acts on the bill every night? Is there a night during the week/month when they tend to give new bands a shot? Look for clues.

2. Fill the gaps. Once you understand a club’s booking patterns, you can recognize when there are holes in their schedule where they may need an act.

3. Make sure you're compatible. Once you’ve identified the shows where the venue might need another act, narrow it down to a show where your music is a true fit.

4. Pitch your band for a specific show via email or telephone. Now you are prepared to approach the club’s booker in a way that could be beneficial for him. Always include the show name and date in the subject line of your email and let him know why you would be a good fit to round out that bill. Your chances of getting a response – and a gig – just increased big time!

3) The five-pointed star

Before you book your dream show at a big out-of-town club, consider Martin Atkins’ (author or Tour:Smart: And Break the Band) "five-pointed star" strategy. Start by booking five shows in smaller cities/towns surrounding your big gig, all within reasonable driving distance. Do everything you can to make fans and friends at these shows, and get email addresses everywhere you go. Maybe this process takes two or three attempts at each of these venues before you’ve got enough legitimate fans, but once you do, you’re ready to book that big club and use your newfound fan base from all five points as a draw.

4) House concerts

A house concert is just what it sounds like: a concert in someone’s home. A typical house concert is an invitation-only event presented by a host, with all the proceeds going to the artist. As a general rule, house concerts are:

  • Intimate shows with 15-50 people sitting close to the performer
  • $10-20 per guest
  • Performed by solo artists or small groups with little to no amplification

A host is likely to feed the artist (a dinner may be part of the event for attendees as well) and may even include housing for the night. Booking house concerts in between club dates can be a great way to bolster your itinerary. It does take coordination to connect with a host and organize the event, and you are relying on your host’s ability to get enough people in the door to make it a success. But house concerts can be an excellent way to personally connect with fans, have fun, sell merch, and make decent money.


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Download Merchly's PDF, Making the Most of Show Time. This free guide is your road map to finding success and offers tips on how to earn more, stress less, and maximize your time spent gigging.