Herd Media
Arts and Entertainment,  Series

The do’s and don’ts of booking gigs

Republished from Build Your Own Career: a music student’s guide to “making it” in Nashville, February 15, 2023.

Sending a booking email is a lot like a job interview for musicians. The difference is that nine times out of 10, there was no “Help Wanted” sign on the venue door. Because of this, musicians rarely have regular gigs. Instead, they bounce around from place to place. Naturally, the material played, pay and length of gigs will differ, but hey, you signed up for this. Since nobody is going to pay you minimum wage to play 9-5 every weekday, here is what you need to know about booking yourself gigs.

Let’s start with the do’s, shall we?

Do: attach videos of your work to emails.

Including examples of your work in any booking inquiry email cannot be overstated. No booking agent or venue coordinator is going to take the time to stalk your social media, hoping to come across your work.

Think of it like this: your friend texts you and asks if you will proofread their paper, but they never send you the file. Instead, you would need to find their file on the internet (assuming it is even available), download it and read it that way. Personally, I wouldn’t go through that trouble.

The same principles apply when trying to book a gig at a venue. If you don’t show them what you’re working with up front, they are just going to assume you aren’t worth the trouble.

Do: list relevant experiences.

This is not to say that you should list everything you have ever done, but you should include a brief list of experiences that may be relevant to the venue you are reaching out to. For example, if I were emailing a bar that generally hires full-band blues acts, I probably wouldn’t write down that I play in local coffee shops. Instead, I would cite my four years in a blues band and some of the larger shows we played.

There is no need to list every cool thing you have ever done; you should just pick a few good gigs you have played to help solidify your image as a professional rather than a campfire singer.

Don’t get discouraged if you do not have experience relevant to the gig you are trying to book. It may be more challenging to get a venue to give you a shot, but you have got to start somewhere!

Do: follow up.

I used to be terrified to email a venue more than once. If I didn’t hear back, I would figure that they saw it and weren’t interested. The reality is that talent buyers (especially in Nashville) are flooded with requests daily — some are bound to fall through the cracks.

Once I realized this, I would wait about a week for a response and then re-send the original email. If a venue was annoyed by your emails, they would respond and tell you they weren’t interested. Don’t give up just because of an unread message!

Now that we have a few guidelines to go by, let’s talk about what we shouldn’t do.

Don’t: write like you are texting.

Always remember that booking inquiries should sound professional. Do not write to a booking agent or venue the same way you would write to your friends. Keep things short, sweet and formal.

Don’t: forget to check the website.

Before you reach out to a venue on their social media platforms or email the first contact you see, do some digging on their website. In places like Nashville, almost all venues with live music have a talent buyer or event coordinator that handles booking inquiries directly.

It is much more efficient for you and the venue if you go straight to the source instead of jumping through hoops to get to the right person. Sometimes venues won’t have people like these, but be sure to check before shooting off requests!

Don’t: count anything out.

It is easy to look at a venue and assume it is “out of your league.” You may think that the other musicians that have been hired are much better than you or that the crowds the venue brings in are too big, but you never know until you try.

I put off emailing a local hotel for that very reason, but one day I decided to go for it, and now I have a paid gig there! There is no harm in asking.