How to Get Gigs

Jules Beresford

How to Get Gigs

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Are you a budding musician looking to get gigs? Programme Advisor to Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Tony Dudley-Evans, shares some advice…

In this blog I want to share some of my experience as a promoter in dealing with approaches from musicians and to suggest some of the ways in which it might be possible to get yourself noticed. The whole business of ‘hustling for gigs’ is difficult and I think it is fair to say that neither the musicians nor the promoters particularly enjoy the telephone calls or email exchanges that have to be made. But it may be the only way to make progress in your career.

The first thing that any musician needs to take on board is that there are many excellent bands based in the UK and wishing to tour. Any good jazz promoter will want to achieve a balance between promoting more well-known bands and giving less known bands an opportunity, but the fact remains that there are many more good bands than there are gig opportunities. Of course, most jazz musicians make a living through the mixed economy of teaching, playing functions or pop gigs and playing the gigs they really want to play, i.e. good and well organized jazz gigs. But how do you get these gigs?

Well, promoters are all different and what works with one may not work with another. The following is what works with me; it may not work with others. But let’s start with some general advice:

  • Prepare a nicely laid out CV and have ready CDs of your work and links to a website with musical samples
  • Believe in your work and be assertive in talking to promoters
  • Do research into the programme of the jazz organization you intend to approach. There is no point in approaching a promoter who presents trad jazz bands if you play in a contemporary or free jazz style
  • Get yourself known. If you can’t get gigs, try setting some up off your own bat and make sure that people know about them. Moreover, a promoter is much more likely to be interested in you if s/he has seen a review of your band in a newspaper, magazine or blog site
  • Write about yourself on Facebook or Twitter

In Cheltenham we try to achieve a balance between British and international acts, between household names and major jazz artists and between established musicians and young up-and-coming artists. This means that inevitably there are relatively few slots for unknown bands. But they do exist and it is worth trying. Get yourself known, build a reputation for innovative work and make sure people know about it.

With year-round promoters, my advice is to make initial contact, possibly by phone, and ask whether the promoter is prepared to accept and to listen to a CD or to a link on the web. We have to accept that most promoters receive a lot of samples and many do not have the time or the inclination to listen to all they receive.

I suggest a follow up call to check that the CD has arrived and indirectly and politely suggest that the promoter listen to it. The call should be concluded by the musician asking permission to ring back after an agreed period of time to check on progress.

Two points: there is to my mind no harm in occasional but regular calls to follow up on the previous call, provided that they are done politely and with respect for the promoter’s ‘space’. I remember the singer (now teacher) Sarah Ellen Hughes doing this, regular calls that were always polite (if probably a nightmare for her!) that eventually led to my booking her Sector 7 group. Secondly, I am talking here of making telephone calls rather than sending email messages. I find that email messages are so much easier to ignore than a phone call.

So to summarise:

  • Make initial contact to ascertain whether it is worth sending a CD or links to a website
  • Make a follow up call to check that the CD or link has arrived
  • Arrange to have a follow up conversation after an agreed period of time
  • Always agree a time for a follow up call at the end of a conversation
  • Recognise that a regular failure to reply on the part of the promoter probably means ‘No’

Finally, if you are not getting gigs, try setting up your own. Many pubs or similar venues are willing to let jazz musicians have a room, often at no charge. Research from PRS for Music shows that for pubs live music is a very good way of increasing sales, 24% of publicans report an increase of 25 to 50% in sales on music nights and 71% reporting an increase of 10 to 25%. If the publican sees that your jazz night is bringing in customers, they may well be willing to put in a regular fee to support the night. For more ideas, have a look at the Musicians’ Union’s Live Music Kit.

Want to learn more? Catch Tony Dudley-Evans’ talk on How to Get Gigs at this year’s Jazz Festival, Monday 5th May.