Here’s the strategy I used to book high exposure 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.
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 gigs pay very little to the opening acts. That is the trade-off. You get exposure (and a chance to sell merchandise 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 local venues as well.
1. Find artists playing in your area that your style complements
One tool I use is Bandsintown. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some tips I shared in a post on GigFaster for making the most of the platform.
- Go to settings and set your location. Narrow down the area you are looking to book gigs.
- Enable notifications. Each week, Bandsintown will send you notifications of artists performing in your area.
- Track artists who complement your music. Search for 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 show is at a bigger 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 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.
This simple email will get you a response most of the time. 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 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 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.
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.
Thanks again for considering!
Again, I included the WHO, WHEN, and WHAT, plus a couple of links to my sites.
At this point, the production manager had 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.
I put together a checklist for booking high exposure gigs, including my favorite email follow-up template. This is the checklist I used to book gigs with big names like Kenny Wayne Shepherd. You can download it for free.
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.
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6 thoughts on “How to book high exposure music gigs as an independent artist”
This is a great article, talking about an important and very overlooked necessary part of our music career.
I am a beast when it comes to getting media attention in my city and state for my music. However, I have become a little jaded and maybe grouchy even, after performing a number of times in the past, being promised a percentage of the bar verbally and then getting stiffed. And most times, asking for written contracts to open for others is gonna get you laughed out of the room or off the phone. The promoters here will act as though they are doing you a favor even talking to you, let alone offering you a written contract. I realize it would be the proper way. But when did the music clubs and venues ever make things legit or easy for musicians!
So I have two issues personally,
1st is, I don’t particularly care to talk to music/venue owners promoters. And I am a solo artist, who doesn’t have much help. What are your thoughts on ideas for me to deal with this.
2nd, you are right, many of these venues pay little for openers, so when they stiff you without any pay at all, how do you suggest you deal with that? I personally feel the promoter should be confronted about it, or at least let them know that you are aware they stiffed you. And that you will not ever work with them again or recommend anyone else does. One thing that desperately needs to change with independent music artists is this belief we must give our music away for free, because we are not big enough, or good enough, etc…
What are your thoughts?
I’ve been in your same position several times in the past myself so I can definitely relate. Sadly, it comes down to the person you’re dealing with and people will be people.
For me personally, the best route was creating a small contract to ensure you get (the little) money you’ll get as an opener. Ultimately you want to be the headliner so it’s often worth it to pay your dues until you get that opportunity.
Also, always think merch, merch, merch. When I opened for Kenny Wayne Shepherd I was an unknown to 95% of the people there. My band was prepared and rocked the house.
Here’s what people never share… our pay was $250. That is really, really, good for an opener. I had a 5 piece band with me that night so my personal take home was nil. BUT, I sold a ton of CDs and made a bunch of new fans.
It comes down to what your ultimate goal is. For me, I wanted to leverage the headliner’s audience and hopefully make some of them my own. It’s hard to build your own audience so when you get opportunities to showcase to another band’s fans go for it.
As for your 1st question, I’m right there with you. I spent years calling venues to book shows. It was a major pain. Luckily for us, times have changed. Most booking agents and promoters don’t want you to call. They all prefer email.
In all seriousness (self-promo plug warning), that’s why I created GigFaster. In GF you create a GigCampaign using the venue contact information. Using our templates or customizing your own, you contact the venue through email. We track your campaign and automatically send the follow ups until you get a response.
Hope this helps!
Great article! Definitely gonna try this out. How many times do I follow up if I don’t get a response? I dont’ want to be annoying
Hi Dylan, great question!
In a nut shell, it depends. Our GigCampaigns (at GigFaster) are set to follow-up 4 times at a various times. For a high exposure music gig, you may need to run a few GigCampaigns one after the other in order to get a response. The big thing is that you are consistent with your follow-ups. Don’t be pushy and keep them short.
Hope this helps!