Here’s the strategy I used to book high exposure live music gigs opening for Rick Derringer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joan Jett, and many others. This same method will work for booking gigs at local venues as well.
Booking music gigs can be very difficult. Landing a gig on the first email just doesn’t happen. It takes persistence and follow up, and the process can take weeks – and usually does.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is the strategy to book gigs is the same whether you’re booking a small solo gig or an opening slot for a major artist.
First, don’t let the difficulty of booking gigs get to you. It’s actually a good thing. The barrier to entry means fewer people do the necessary work, so the long process of booking gigs weeds out your competition. If you remember to follow-up with reminder emails at the appropriate times, you will be a consideration and stand out to the booking agents. Let’s learn how to book shows as an independent artist.
A note about playing high-exposure music gigs
Playing for a large crowd is exhilarating, and it can be awesome exposure for you and your band. The audiences at these shows are fans of music and come specifically to be entertained by one of their favorite groups. They appreciate music and will give you their attention.
Almost always, however, these kinds of live gigs pay very little to the opening acts. That is the trade-off. You get exposure (and a chance to sell custom merch to a new audience), but you may not get much in terms of payment from the venue.
If you’re only looking for a paycheck, then book your own solo gigs and forget about the high exposure low paying shows with major artists.
Here’s the strategy I used to book high exposure music gigs opening for Rick Derringer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joan Jett, Fuel, and many others. This same method will work for booking gigs at music festivals or a local venue.
1. Find artists playing in your area that your style complements
One tool I use is Bandsintown.
- Go to settings and set your location. Narrow down the area you are looking to book live gigs.
- Enable notifications. Each week, Bandsintown will send you notifications of artists performing in your area.
- Track artists who complement your music. Search for independent artists your band would gel with. You don’t necessarily have to have the exact same style, but don’t try to book your R&B group as an opening act for Metallica.
When you find an artist playing your area who’s a good fit, get the ball rolling and reach out.
2. Find the venue contact information for the gig
This can be tricky and can get especially difficult when the live show is at a bigger music venue because many theaters will not list the booking agent or production manager on their website. If they don’t, email the general information address and inquire about who books the shows.
That was the exact scenario I ran into when I was trying to book my band for a Kenny Wayne Shepherd show a few months ago. I emailed something simple like this to the music venue’s general email address.
I see that Kenny Wayne Shepherd is performing on August 16th. Who is in charge of booking these shows?
Thanks for your help!
My email was short, detailed, and asked one question.
Most of the time, this short email will receive a response. If you don’t receive a response in a few days, follow up with another email to the venue.
Persistence without being annoying is the key to making emails work. I’ll explain more on how to do this later in the article
3. Introduce yourself
Once you have the contact info for the venue’s booking agent or production manager, it’s time to introduce yourself. Your introduction email should also be short, to the point, and only ask one question.
Imagine you just met the production manager on the street. You’d be polite, casual, and professional. Remember, there’s a good chance the booking agent for the live show is getting hammered with requests. Be a breath of fresh air.
Here’s an example of how you can introduce yourself and pique some interest at the same time.
Hi [production manager name],
I’m reaching out to see if you’d be interested in having a supporting act for [headlining artist] on [date of show]? We could play as short as 20 minutes or as long as you want.
Thanks for considering,
[Your band’s URL]
[One other social link]
Only include one or two links in your signature. Don’t overwhelm them. Keep it simple.
A few things you should notice from this email.
- It is clear WHO the headlining artist or musician is.
- It is clear WHEN the date of the show is.
- It is clear WHAT question you want them to answer.
- The email included links to your best stuff – could be a link to YouTube live footage, your website, Facebook, etc.
You may or may not receive a response from your introduction email. In fact, I wouldn’t expect one. Most people give up at this stage – which is good news for you!
4. Follow up
Even with the best intentions of replying to an email, the truth is, emails get read and then forgotten about. Life is busy, especially for production managers and event organizers.
Sending a follow up email is key to getting a response.
If you don’t get a response to the introduction email, send a follow-up that’s friendly and direct, but not pushy.
I sent this as my follow up when booking the Kenny Wayne Shepherd gig.
Just touching base to see if there is an opening act for Kenny Wayne Shepherd on August 16th?
We could play as short as 20 minutes or as long as you want.
Again, I included the WHO, WHEN, and WHAT, plus a couple of links to my sites.
At this point, the production managers or event organizers have heard from me twice. Since my GigCampaign was being tracked, I knew he had read the first email. He had, at least, seen my name before.
I was lucky enough to get a response to my third email. It was music to my ears.
His response was short and sweet: “It’s a possibility. Send me a link to your music or videos.”
As the story goes, I landed the gig and played the show. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t reached out and sent those emails.
Who is your dream gig with? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments section. I’m happy to answer your questions all day long.
Craig Kelley is the main gigmaster @ GigFaster.com. He recently released his eighth album, Live at Sellersville Theater and has supported GRAMMY award winning artists including Rick Derringer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Hoey, Joan Jett, Fuel, and many others.