You don’t have to say yes all the time. “No” can be a freeing word. And sometimes, you’ll need to use “no” when deciding where to play gigs. But how can you figure out which venues to turn away and which to embrace?
In this post, I want to help you figure that out. I’ll encourage you to ask direct questions of yourself as well as taking The Perfect 30 Test.
Does the venue work for your music?
Through all the shows I’ve played, one thing I’ve learned is that my music does not fit dive bars. I make finger-plucky acoustic folk. The people at bars don’t want that stuff.
That’s an example of a venue that doesn’t work with my music. And it’s important for you to figure this out for yourself. Sometimes that has to happen through trial and error, but I’m hoping this post helps minimize that.
If you’re in a rock band, even an acoustic rock band, your music would work in bars and breweries. Blues, jazz, indie-pop — all good genres for that type of venue. But if you make acoustic folk, try coffee shops, house shows, and farmers markets.
Try this: check out the other acts performing at a given venue. If they sound like you, that’s probably a good place for you.
Will you be the featured entertainment or background music?
Maybe this one doesn’t matter to you, but some musicians have strong opinions. And that’s totally fine.
I personally prefer to be background music — I like to influence the atmosphere without being the center of attention. But some musicians just have a knack for entertaining. They want to be the feature of the night, and many of them deserve to be.
What kind of musician are you? An entertainer or room supporter? A Performer or a Presence?
Will you get paid?
Ari Herstand of Ari’s Take has a super helpful tool that can help you choose (or not choose) a venue. He calls it The Perfect 30 Test. It involves looking at three categories:
- Payment: Does the venue pay enough or at all?
- Career Building: Will playing there boost your career?
- Enjoyment: Will you have fun and enjoy yourself?
Here’s what you do: Rate the venue or event from one to 10 in each category. Add up all the points among the categories; the closer you are to 30, the more reason to take the gig. Herstand suggests taking shows that get an overall rating of 15 or above.
For example, here’s how I’d score playing a solo show at a brewery:
In my experience with breweries, payment is above average but not amazing, so I’d give the Payment category a 6.
My style of music doesn’t fit breweries that well, so the Career Building category doesn’t get a high score. People may not be able to hear me very well and may not even be super interested. I’d give it a 5 — it would neither hurt nor greatly helps my career.
The Enjoyment category also doesn’t get a high score because I don’t love playing solo shows. The more people onstage with me, the more exciting it is. Plus, if people aren’t really interested in listening to my music, I’d rather not even be there. I’d give it a 3.
That’s a total of 14. I’d pass on the gig, barely.
Try using this tool for yourself and see what you think!
Find venues looking for music like yours
Sonicbids is a place that helps musicians get the gigs that are right for them. So as you search for venues and events in our database, ask these questions.
- Does the venue like your style of music?
- Will you be the entertainment or in the background?
- Do they pay?
- Will performing there give you career opportunities?
Remember, you don’t have to say yes every time. Saying “no” can free you up for your “yes” venue.
Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.