For brand-new bands, landing that first gig can sometimes be a catch-22 dilemma: Booking agents and talent buyers want acts that draw a crowd, but you're still trying to establish yours. How can you begin to cultivate a local following if you can't score a show?
Luckily, booking isn't so cut-and-dried. Maybe you can't convince a mid-size venue to take a chance on you, but there are other routes to building your fanbase for live shows. Here are five realistic options for working your way up to securing those bigger gigs.
1. Open for more established bands
Talk to local bands who are booking at the level you're reaching for about opening slots. If they're iffy about allowing you to join a bill, offer to perform a short set for free. Make the most of the opportunity by manning the merch table, where you can interact with interested attendees. Let them know how to find you on social media and to stay tuned for your next date.
2. Play free shows on slower nights
Venues aren't too keen on featuring fledgling bands on Fridays and Saturdays, which is fair, because even clubs that are true champions of their local music community are still businesses with plenty bills to pay. If you can't get in on a weekend, try organizing a show on a slower night, and offer to perform for free. Get a few bands to join you, so there are more reason for folks to come check out the show, or try a weekly residency for a month or two to help generate a buzz.
3. Hop on an existing event
This is different than asking to open for a more established band. Why not offer to play a set at an upcoming pop-up market event? If your music is danceable, you should try the same with a reliably well-attended DJ night. Any event that doesn't already feature live music could be an opportunity for your band to add that component – and earn yourself some new fans, too. Same with the previous two options, performing at no cost to the organizers is usually your best bet for convincing them to accept your proposal if you have no existing track record.
4. Organize a show at a nontraditional venue
If you can't book at a club, turn another spot into a temporary music venue. Know someone who's willing to host performances in their home? Can you convince the owner of a local business – a restaurant, a clothing store, whatever – that a one-off concert could be mutually beneficial? (It definitely could be!) A free event is ideal in these kinds of situations, but you can ask for donations to help raise funds for the bands and host.
5. Use your social media following as leverage
While venues and booking agents do want proven results in terms of show turnout, bands that haven't performed much or at all can use their social media followings to demonstrate their expected pull. (Tips for growing your following can be found here.) If this method doesn't help you land a Friday or Saturday night gig at the club you've got in mind, refer to the aforementioned four ideas for working your way up to that level.
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.