When you’re just starting out, getting gigs can be tough. Whether you’re trying to book your band on a small stage, or you just want to sit in a coffee shop with an acoustic, venue managers need to know that when they book you at their place, they’re getting something out of it.
In a sense, getting your own set booked becomes something of a “Catch-22”; if you don’t have experience, you won’t get gigs, but if you can’t get gigs, then you never get the experience. And since playing live is undoubtedly one of the best ways to improve yourself as a guitarist, we at Guitar Planet have put together a few tips which will have you playing crowds in no time.
Whether it be Joe’s Café or Radio City Music Hall, the manager is always going to want to hear what you’ve got before he or she even gives you the time of day, so the first thing anyone who’s played local gigs will tell you is to make a demo. Without some kind of sample to show up front, the odds of you booking a stage will drop significantly. And given the technology available to almost every musician out there, there’s no excuse not to have one.
Lucky for you, gone are the days of every guitarist being forced to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a studio session just to put down a few tracks. If you don’t have that kind of cash (and most of us don’t), there are plenty of alternatives. At this stage as a guitarist, investing a few dollars in a USB audio interface is never a bad idea and the price of getting your hands on one is constantly getting better. The Line 6 Pod Studio UX2, for example, is an amazing, feature-packed USB interface that will get you professional sound quality for around €150.
You don’t have to be a sound technician to manage a simple USB interface, but the finished product might suggest that you are. The few extra dollars spent can take you a long way in booking the venues you want, as you’ll be sure to impress anyone who hears your recording.
Never underestimate the value of playing open mic nights at a local pub. A lot of guitarists scoff at the chance because they want exclusivity over a venue and the crowd’s attention. Or because they showed up a little late and have to wait an hour or two to get on stage. But the reality is that there’s simply no better way to become a great guitarist than to throw yourself at the mercy of strangers in a bar. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performing.
You might even find that you’re not as ready as you thought you were to play in front of people and be thankful that you figured it out before attempting the feat for a crowd of friends and fans. Take the opportunity to tame your nerves.
At the start, no gig is too small and you’re likely to not get paid for your first few exclusive gigs anyway. Pubs with open mics book gigs on the other six nights in the week. It’s one of your best chances to get heard by the manager.
The internet is your number one resource and, if you use it correctly, it won’t be long before you’ve got venue managers coming to you. How do you do that? Social media.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had my hesitations over Twitter. With all the yuppies out there tweeting about taking a shower, it’s easy to get jaded. But the truth is Twitter and Facebook are both tools with massive potential to get you noticed. Take some time and learn about using “hashtags” and “mentions” to get the attention of the people that can help you. Chances are that even the small venues like pubs, cafes, or local clubs already have Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. Look them up and start marketing yourself.
Once you’ve got your social media set up to promote yourself, make sure you’ve got something to promote. If you haven’t already got a YouTube or MySpace account, sign up and record some music. You’d be surprised at what catches people’s attention, so don’t worry if you haven’t got 13 original songs lined up. Just make sure you showcase your talent, whether it be with original tracks, your favorite covers, or just jamming out.
Similar to the USB audio interface, invest in a portable HD camcorder and you can start shooting some 1080p videos from your living room. Combine a professional video recording with the digital effects and mixing possibilities of your audio hardware and you’ll have sounds and visuals that might have been shot by a film crew. Again, picking up some good recording hardware can be an extremely valuable asset in having people take you seriously and it doesn’t have to break your bank account; many portable HD camcorders go for little more than €100, which is a small price to pay on the road to getting booked for paid gigs.
The music world is full of famous musicians like Justin Bieber or Boyce Avenue who got their start with nothing more than a YouTube account. If you’re after gigs, use your social media tools to link your videos to venues, or even just to your friends. If you’re good and gig-worthy, people are going to notice.
So you don’t know any bar owners or experienced musicians to vouch for you? Everyone has contacts, whether you’re aware of them or not. Regardless of your age and circumstances, you’re bound to have a friend, classmate, or coworker who can put in a good word for you with someone else. Think hard about the people you know and how they might be able to help you.
If the people already in your life can’t help you, commit to making new contacts that will help you get booked. Set a goal, like meeting two people per month that will help you get the gigs you want. Go have a beer at the local pub and chat with the bartender. Or a coffee and introduce yourself to the barista. Maybe they’re not the ones that make the decisions, but they can certainly put in a good word with the people that do.
Aside from everything that can be accomplished via the internet, a good old fashioned handshake and smile might get you further than you think.
Once you begin to market yourself and meet some people who can help you book venues, never have any apprehension in asking for something. For the moment, you’re as much in the business of meeting people as you are in playing music and one thing you should always remember is that people are generally willing to help. All you have to do is ask for it.
And if all goes well, hopefully in a short time you’ll be able to do the same for someone else looking to get their own start.
Be sure to check back for Part Two of our guide for more tips on commanding the stage!
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