Trying to get booked for events when you are first getting yourself into the scene can be one of the most frustrating parts of being an artist or DJ.
When I first started, one of the things I wish I had hard wired into my brain is the fallacy of expecting of an equal amount of response, attention and effort to that of which you put in when you made a submission. A lot of the time you won’t get anything - but it’s not your fault!
Promoters and event organisers, especially for the larger scale events, get more submissions than you could imagine.
I once did some web work for a large festival. This involved going into the artist manager’s email account to fix something. There were literally thousands of unread and unanswered emails, all from artists wanting to play. Seeing this made me realise there is no humanly possible way to go through all of these without going mentally insane.
A lot of events tend to either approach people they specifically want, stick with people they have already worked with, or choose people whose submissions really stand out.
Below I am going to share with you some tips and tricks I have gathered over the years that could help you with getting your name known.
What can you offer that others can’t?
This right here is probably the most obvious point. Why should you get chosen to play over the other submissions?
Making awesome music sounds like the most logical answer - but it’s not always everything a promoter is looking for.
If you have managed to crack the magic code and your new sound is just too amazing for people to pass by, then you’re reading the wrong guide. If you’re like the rest of us - you need to show them that booking you is going to add value to their event.
Promoters want to give their punters an experience that leaves them talking well after the party. Something that creates hype and excitement about how special the event was, making people want to come back with all their friends.
Remember that promoters take risks when booking new and unknown acts, so there’s a good chance they are going to go with artists that can offer the maximum reward with the minimum amount of risk, both financially and reputationally.
So what makes you different?
I can’t tell you exactly what your niche should be, but here’s a few simple starting points that might spark something.
Be cheap or play for free! - If your act is awesome and you know it, consider playing for a very low fee, or no fee at all. Think of it like an investment. If you get given a slot that doesn’t pay but gives you an audience to show people why you should get paid next time, you’ve done well.
- If you do take this approach, make sure the promoter knows you’re cutting them a ‘special deal’ and to keep it private. Unfortunately there is a subconscious link between cost/value and quality - even in the creative industry - so the ‘free’ approach can slightly backfire for your image if word gets around (and promoters like to talk to each other!).
- Consider offering a two tier fee system. Cheap or free if the party doesn’t manage to do that well, but a higher fixed fee if they cover costs and make a profit.
- Have a gimmick in your set - learn to play a keytar, give away USB keys with your music while you're playing, dress up as something unique! One of my absolute favourite acts to watch is Daheen, who has a unique theme for every track he plays, and dresses up accordingly. It is so funny and brings so much value to a party.
- Choose a persona and stick to it. Crazy maniac geek, over the top cool guy/girl, super spiritual leader, silly goofy clown (my personal favourite) - be known as that person that has that thing that is fun to watch. Just remember whatever you choose will probably stick with you for the rest of you career.
Have a unique (yet short) bio. [artist name] is a [genre name] act from [country] who has been taking the [scene name] by storm for the last [number] years. So many bios are the same old regurgitated formula, try and be unique.
- Get someone else to write it. Writing about yourself can be hard (I SUCK at it) so find someone you know who has a flair for writing and offer them a 6 pack.
Here’s a list of some of the things I consider to be unique with my Tom Cosm sets.
- Silly, Fun, Not-So-Serious Sets. I usually get booked in the morning or as an ‘intermission’ type act because I’m known for playing funny, funky, silly multi genre music that people can just have a good time too. It’s an important role for a party, and one that I personally love fulfilling.
- The LIVE Element - because of the way my live set is performed, I can go on all kinds of tangents and do a lot of live work during my performance, meaning each set is unique to that party and no other set will ever be the same.
- The Pirate Box - I have a special little computer that outputs a WIFI signal that people can connect to while I am playing and download my music right onto their phones from the dancefloor.
- Additional Workshops - Because I teach as well, I often offer to do a workshop on the side on anything from production to live performance.
- Being Involved - I like to come and hang out! Sure I can’t do this every set, but I like coming early and leaving late, getting to know the people I work with and helping out where I can.
- Silly Face Competition - If I am playing during the day and the vibe is right, I like to get people to squish up at the front and pull a silly face while I take a photo, getting them to tag themselfs afterwards on Facebook.
Unfortunately, sending a Soundcloud link with a generic bio is just not going to pack the punch you need unless your music is absolutely groundbreaking - and even if it is some promoters may still not even book you if you look flat and boring.
They want a good show. They want excitement. They want to be the first promoter to book the new awesome, unique, upcoming act, that is you.
What’s the best way to approach promoters?
The way they want! Trust me on this…
1) Stick With Their System.
If they say through their website booking form, do it through their website booking form. If they ask for emails, email them. If they want a carrier pigeon, go down to the local pet store.
Sneaking your way past their system is most likely going to backfire on you. As I said earlier, the work of going through submissions is very difficult. These people are having to systematically judge people’s creativity on a large scale, its a hard job.
If they have a system in place, it’s a sign they need it so they can get through everything in a nice clean process - you will be rewarded if you stick to it.
2) Keep it Clean and Drama Free
Make sure you give them everything they ask for. If you don’t have an electronic press kit, make one. If you don’t have a Facebook fan page, make one.
When they go through the list of submissions, ones that are complete are going to instantly be the ones that stand out as being the most attractive.
The initial stage of selection is usually not the time to hit them with every special detail about yourself. You initially want to show them you are prompt, professional and punctual, with a nice clean list of what you can offer. If they want to know more, they will ask.
You definitely want them to know you are special, but going off track and filling your submission with an essay could make you look like you’d be hard work to deal with.
Be leading, be direct, make them curious to find out more.
3) Back Up Your Claims
Another important thing to consider - is there anyway you can get some sort of reference or backup to help them realise how good you actually are? Do you know any other artists that have played for them that can slip in a good word? If they hear words from someone they trust their filtering mechanism gets lowered, as someone else has already done the confirmation part for them.
Some larger festivals I have played and worked with have a pretty strict unspoken policy on this. I do get asked a lot by other musicians to ‘put in a good word’ but sometimes it’s just not the right thing to do.
Some events just have so many options available to them it’s just a waste of everyones time (and cashing in favors) to try and recommend others. I’m not saying all events, but this does happen. It might seem brutal and unfair, but all you can do is keep trying without being annoying.
4) Niche Approach
Alright, so you have some crazy idea that you really do think will grab their attention and won’t annoy the shit out of them. If you’re not going to piss anyone off, I personally say go for it.
My first ever international gig was for Boom Festival in 2006. I was this little no-name Kiwi guy and it was totally and utterly unexpected when I got the call.
What I did was send out about 15-20 letters (yeah the things that you put in a post box) to all the larger festivals around the world I wanted to play at.
This letter was from a garden gnome called Jerry. Jerry explained how in New Zealand, garden gnomes had equal rights to humans, and therefore have to do part time voluntary work in order to claim their dole money from the government.
He was stuck with working as a part time agent/manager from this Tom Cosm dickhead, someone he really didn’t like (however he was a grumpy gnome and really didn’t like anyone).
He hated his job and kept complaining about everything, especially how he had to send this stupid letter to all these festivals.
When the promoter called me up, he said it was really funny and it was the primary reason why he decided to take this risk flying someone with no image half way across the world to perform at his event.
When's the best time to approach promoters?
Again, you should stick to what they speicify with this. If its an established event, they most likely have a date for when applications are open. Check their previous event history and see if you can find out when applications opened for the last one then note it in your calendar.
Follow the event on Facebook or consider opening up a Twitter account specifically for just following events. Check it each day to see if any of the events you wish to play for have opened for submissions.
If it’s a not so large scale event try to avoid directly approaching people right after they have thrown an event. Let them wind down and finish up all the things that need to be done after something has finished before giving them options.
Another great way is to introduce yourself to them at an actual event when they are not busy. Go up to them, introduce yourself with a good elevator pitch and hand them something. I have had great luck with USB keys as it’s something they can use afterwards as well. Tell them here’s some music to listen to in the car on the way home, give them a firm handshake, smile and leave them to their job.
What is an elevator pitch? Taken from the Wikipedia Article...
"An elevator pitch, elevator speech, or elevator statement is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.
The name "elevator pitch" reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. The term itself comes from a scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important in the elevator. If the conversation inside the elevator in those few seconds is interesting and value adding, the conversation will continue after the elevator ride or end in exchange of business card or a scheduled meeting.
A variety of people, including project managers, salespeople, evangelists, and policy-makers, commonly rehearse and use elevator pitches to get their point across quickly."
Remember there’s a human at the other end having to treat all these beautiful and uniquely creative units as a process and it can be very hard work.
If they don’t get back to you, don’t take it personally. Sometimes all you want is a simple “no” or a brief explanation why you didn’t get accepted - but it often does happen. Usually with rejection comes sort sort of substance you can digest to better yourself, but don’t get your hopes up for the larger events. I am sure they would love to be able to get back to you with feedback, but it sometimes just isn’t logically possible with the amount limited time running such an event takes.
Keep trying. We both know you should be playing at this party, they just haven’t had the time to realise how awesome you are yet. They will, just keep trying.