Besides trying to land gigs at the best venues alongside the best bands, what else can you do to book better gigs? We've outlined five points that speak to the process of getting the show together in the first place: how, where, when, and with whom. If you follow these rules, you'll give every show optimal potential for greatness – and give a boost to your fanbase-growing efforts.
1. Understand your market
Knowing your fanbase can help you grow it. If your crowd skews younger, playing all-ages venues is a must. Bands with audiences chock full of fellow musicians should make it a high priority to book at venues with top-notch sound quality. Got a lot of college students following you on Facebook? Organize on-campus gigs.
Some trial and error is inevitable here, especially when you're just beginning to play shows. An effective way to learn more about your fanbase is to engage with them on social media. You can start by following them back on social media, rather than simply collecting likes and followers, and actively checking out their posts.
It's important to keep in mind that a band's audience can be flexible. It may evolve organically as your sound shifts, as a result of exposure to a new market or something other reason entirely. Understanding your crowd is a continual process. You shouldn't shut out the possibility of new unexpected fans, of course. If you have the opportunity to book at a club you'd never imagined playing, give that gig some thoughtful consideration. But a good grasp on who's already into your music will help you better appeal to those followers – as well as attract more folks like them who might also love your tunes.
2. Check your timing
You won't always have the luxury of getting choosy in booking your gigs, but when you can, take a look at other events on and around that date. If you're playing the same night as another like-minded band, for example, you're at risk for a crowd split that results in low turnout at both shows. Why not avoid that altogether by choosing a different date? Or – even better – maybe you could join forces for an even stronger lineup.
What if there's a massively popular festival happening near the date you had in mind? You'll want to be near the action; playing a club in close proximity is ideal. And if it's a free event, a low-cost cover could be helpful.
3. Don't oversaturate your market
Are you playing too many gigs too close together? If you're playing more than once a month, the answer is most definitely. It's tempting to take every gig you can get, but spacing out your shows is key in creating buzz around your performances. Why should someone go see you on X date when they can see you the following week? Instead of two less-hyped shows in a period, go for a single stellar one.
On the same note, try switching up venues if you're playing the same spot time after time. Give your fans a new perspective on your show by playing a different club for the first time – or even consider organizing a show at an unconventional venue.
4. Work with your local scene
Strength in numbers, right? The independent music realm is at its best when it functions like a community. In terms of booking, that means organizing lineups that feature a variety of bands within your local scene. Don't just stick to aligning with bands in your own genre, and don't think you're rolling solo in any of this.
Collaborating with all kinds of fellow musicians to build strong lineups encourages the sharing of fanbases (and ultimately their growth). And when you work together – rather than seeing each other as competition – you can pool resources that will help everyone involved thrive.
5. Value your booking relationships
A major part of maintaining good relationships with booking agents, talent buyers, and venue owners is following up post-show. Thanking them for the opportunity and a mention of future dates is standard. But there's more to cultivating a partnership than that. How things go before and after the show matter hugely, too.
Make sure you're doing your part to make your shows a success. Follow the appropriate steps to advance the gig, and prepare a thorough and effective plan for promotion. Be punctual on the day of, and during. (Read: Don't get too wasted, don't trash the backstage, don't damage venue-owned equipment.)
Be nice to the employees there, be cool to the sound engineer, and thank whoever booked you, the management, and the owners in person. Kindness goes a long way with most.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.