Finding the right show opportunities at the right venues can be trickier than one may expect. Outside of major cities like New York City and Los Angeles, many rising musicians are limited in the number of venues in their area, especially ones that are conducive to their particular style of music. The bigger venues tend to ignore the little guys who have smaller fanbases and lack the resources offered by labels and booking agents. However, just because you don’t have national tours and years of experience under your belt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to great performance opportunities.
Being a great performer is the first and most essential step in getting the chance to show your worth onstage, but there are several strategies you can use to boost your resume with great first gigs.
1. Contact local colleges/universities
We’ve written about the numerous benefits that come with performing at colleges and universities, such as reaching a young demographic of frequent music consumers and the potential financial gains. Too many artists don’t take the time to email student organizers with performance inquiries, and they're missing out.
Having a well-respected reputation and local buzz will play a large role in being selected for college opportunities, but it's worth pulling every string to show curators why your music would make a great fit for their event. The size of the audience may vary from show to show, but colleges are one of the best locales for music outside of your standard bar/restaurant type venue, and dedicating the time to contacting them will pay off.
2. Collaborate with boutiques or apparel stores
The relationship between music and fashion has only strengthened over the years, and this intersection of cultural collaboration exists in many forms beyond the big brands known around the world. Local boutiques and apparel stores are always looking for new ways to draw in potential customers, and many times, this involves promotion beyond the items stocked on their shelves. Organizing small shows fitting for the store space result in an intimate listening experience for the attendees, and there's no reason why you can’t be the artist providing the entertainment for the night.
Visit different clothing stores in your area that are aligned with the type of music you create (e.g., hip-hop/street wear), and try to develop a genuine relationship with the managers who own the business. (That doesn’t involve you begging to perform!) Not every apparel shop throws events, but do your due diligence and find out the ones that do. If you can connect with them on both a personal and professional level and they like your music, a show opportunity is bound to open up for you.
3. Research house parties
It's commonly assumed that house party music comes from the person with the aux cord and a Spotify playlist fitting the vibe of the evening. However, the trend of people craving to be show curators continues to grow, and many folks are opening up their own homes to act as the venue for performances.
Attend one of their shows and see if you can trust how the party operates; the last thing you want is for the police to knock on the door right before your performance. Once you experience one of the shows as a fan and it passes the test, prepare a performance that involves a lot of engagement, because these kinds of shows thrive on human interaction. No stages, no pedestals, just a great opportunity for you to gain fans. If you have a band you can rock with, the performance will be even more powerful!
4. Visit youth centers
Children have the most creative minds of all, and they have a constant desire to learn and experience new things. Believe it or not, you hold the power to inspire the youth and future of our generation by sharing your gift with them as a musician. And because youth centers are often overlooked as a potential destination for live performances, there tends to be more potential for putting together events that can be appreciated by people of all ages and musical tastes. So many kids aspire to be like the artists they idolize, and you can show them that taking the steps toward your shared dream is attainable through hard work and being a good person.
Getting in tune with your younger self can be an invaluable experience, and performing at youth centers, schools, or any location where children are present is something you’ll be proud to share and will be a vital part of your artistic growth throughout your career.
5. Find outdoor performance opportunities
Hitting the same stages over and over again will eventually bore your fans who come out to support you, and the summer months provide a great opportunity to switch things up and deliver a fun social gathering. The process of finalizing the logistics of outdoor shows will be a longer and perhaps more stressful process, but it proves to be worth it when you can bring people together in a fitting setting – and they’ll remember you for it. Sharing your music in front of smiling faces is certainly an ideal scenario, so be sure to research all of the outdoor music events occurring in your area and take all the steps necessary to submit a performance inquiry.
Eric Bernsen is a marketing/public relations professional and music journalist who specializes in the genre of hip-hop. You can find more of his work at HITPmusic.com (where he is an editor/writer) as well as HipHop-N-More.com, where he contributes album reviews. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebernsen.