Getting the Gig 101: Tips from a Manager

How to Approach Venue Managers if You Want to Get the Gig

Hey, this is the first article on my new website. That’s great. I say, let’s skip the boring part and discuss something practical that could really help you in your music career. 

I am one of the few people who have been on both sides of the industry: I’ve been the venue manager and the musician who looks for gigs. In fact, I used to be the wandering musician who then became a manager, but never stopped playing music. How does that work? Well, I’m just good at both business and music… 

No, it’s not that simple. You’ll see what I mean. What I’m trying to do here is open your eyes, at least a little, and help you understand how venues and gigs really work. This is your 101 in today’s live music industry, and I hope it proves to be a useful resource that you will always refer to.

Some Questions 

As I promised, I’ll dive straight into the topic; no intros or acknowledgements. Whether you’re a cover artist, a published musician, or whatever you are, I know how you’ve been struggling and sending numerous emails to venues, and how you get few or no responses, at all. 

I want to not only fix this horrible issue, but also make the process fun. Let’s fill out a questionnaire and then analyze the questions to see where they lead us. 

So, what’s your situation? You’re a musician and you want to get a gig. Good to hear. What’s next? You start calling and sending e-mails with your stories, pics, videos, EPKs, right? Unfortunately, that’s not how this thing works, as you might have already noticed. 

First thing’s first. Let’s answer some questions honestly. You need to sit down, concentrate, and answer this: “Who am I in the music industry?” A vague “I’m a musician” won’t do the job. Confusing as this might sound, before you even think about approaching venues, you need to figure out what your personal situation is (write down your answers because you’ll need them later): 

  • What are the obvious facts about you? What’s your artist name (use this OR your real name, but NOT BOTH; managers don’t like getting confused about who’s writing to them)? How old are you? Where are you from? That’s enough! Nothing more really matters at this point. This answer shouldn’t be longer than two sentences. 
  • What are the basic musical facts about you? Do you play the guitar, the piano, the ukulele, or all of these? Do you sing? Or do you do electronic music? Or dance? Keep it basic here – no genres, no repertoire influence, no pitching. Simply, lay out the basic music facts about you. Don’t talk about how you’ve played 5 instruments throughout the years. Mention only the instruments that you’re actually using. 
  • Avoid speaking about your genre. Tip: managers interpret genres differently. Don’t confuse them because you may end up in a very awkward situation. If you do want to mention your genre, however, be sure to explain it by using a reference from an authoritative source. For example, “According to Nielsen’s classification of genres, I fall into the category of world-music performers.” 
  • Stay concentrated on the topic of music. Nobody cares about your hobbies, interests, family, preferences, etc. All that matters here is your musical profile. You may have the most dramatic or enticing life story ever, but now is not the right time for it. Keep emotions away and be coherent. This is no X-Factor. 

What the F*** Is All That? 

Now, you need to know what the idea of these questions is, right? If you just answer them blindly, you won’t know what you’re doing, and I don’t want to put you in that situation. 

Let’s start with the last one. Why do I recommend basic, dull, and concise answers? Isn’t it a good idea to make this thing look like a real nice story? After all, we’re artists and we always want to be amazing, don’t we? 

Yes, we are, but that doesn’t really help us get a gig. We need to keep making amazing music, though! Note that, because I’m both a musician and a manager, I can say “we” when I speak about either. Hope you don’t mind.

The Indifferent Manager 

Unfortunately, venue managers don't have the time to read emotional and intricate personal stories. In fact, we always delete them. How about that? I told you: this is no X-Factor; this is no TV drama. Frankly, your ‘gig email’ is the worst place for you to share your emotions. 

We receive hundreds of emails every day. Even on Sunday. Even at night. We work until 7:00AM, and our phones ring at 9:00AM - pitch calls from unknown musicians, who want to share their life stories with us and get dates for gigs. If you’re one of those, you’re not getting the gig, and I promise you that. How do people know our personal phone numbers in the first place? 

Look, I’ve been a professional musician for more than 20 years. I know you, and you know me. But until you realize that music has nothing to do with the music industry, you won’t become a successful, independent, self-governed musician - if that’s what you want to be. If you don’t want to get involved in this, get an artist manager and stop thinking about marketing. 

But this article is for those who want to make it on their own. Let me remind you this: if you can think of something, that thing is possible to achieve (or is it?). That’s the mindset I am looking for. That’s the mindset that will get you to the top. Don’t lose it.

False Beliefs and Obstacles 

If your ineffective communication with venue managers is stopping from being what you want to be, start implementing a new strategy TODAY! My advice will cost you no money or stress. I’m not selling anything here. I just want to help you remove the obstacles that keep you from being a successful musician. 

What you’ll need to do, though, is give up your false beliefs about the music industry. It’s a great industry but, just like any other, it lives off profits (huge profits, by the way). A profit is the difference between revenue and expenses. There’s nothing amazing or artistic about that. The music industry is about business – as crude and dull as you can’t even imagine. 

Music, on the other hand, is about feelings and changing people’s lives through melody, harmony, and rhythm (and lyrics, of course). Is it purely emotional? That’s up to you to decide. You’re either going to do it for the money or for the sensation of music itself. That’s another interesting topic, but it’s not relevant to our current issue, so let’s move on.

Who is Who? Who Gets Paid? 

Going back to our initial question: “Why should I not use an artistic voice in my pitch email to venue managers?” Because if you do, you’re in contradiction with the main point of your e-mail.

Let me put it this way. You are the musician. Therefore, the music you play is your product: it’s the thing you want to sell or play live in order to get paid. Well, this is where you’re wrong. 

What makes the live music industry unique is that both you AND the music you play comprise your business product. People don’t pay to listen to your music – they pay to experience you playing this music. 

So, when you’re approaching a venue manager, what are you proposing to him/her? You’re proposing both your music AND yourself! Here’s another question: if you and your music are the product, who is the client? Your listeners, right? Wrong again! 

Your client is actually the venue manager. Your listeners are his/her clients. These are the facts. The client is always the one who gives the money. Get this? Your listeners pay the venue manager, and the venue manager pays you.

The Mid-Person 

Things should be getting a bit clearer by now. When you send emails to venues, you offer yourself AND your music to venue managers. They, on the other hand, decide whether or not to present your product to their clients – your listeners. Seems kind of confusing, doesn’t it? 

In fact, it’s not that hard to grasp. You are in a business situation, and the venue manager is the intermediary between you and your listeners. Because he/she is the intermediary (the mid-person), he gets a cut of what your listeners pay for you and your music.

In other words, the people that you think are your clients are actually the venue’s clients. Your client is the venue manager. The bad news is that, if you want to play at a venue, you usually can’t go without this intermediary. It sucks sometimes, but that's how things work.

So What? Tell Me Something I Don't Know Already.

So, what’s next? Here comes the practical part. The venue manager is a business person and needs to be approached as such. Yes, of course, he/she is into music, and is more or less artistic, but he/she is still a business person. As such, he/she prefers to be contacted by other business people, such as artist managers or entertainment agencies' employees. 

I assume that you already see what I’m getting at. Speaking to your listeners is not like speaking to venue managers. Your listeners care about you as a person, as an emotional entity. But things are different with managers. Often, they see you as a product, not as a person. They also see your music as a product, not as your dear creation.

I want to prepare you for that. I want you to be tough, not offended. Business is a game, so I want you to not only play it, but also win it. Your music deserves to be out there. However great your music is, though, it can’t do it on its own. It’s you who has to pave its way to the top. This article is about the basic skills and knowledge you need in order to start playing the game of ‘music industry’.

Your Decision 

If you’re not officially represented by an artist manager, you have no other choice but to learn how to conduct business conversations in the music industry yourself. This is what I’m trying to teach you here. Of course, there’s a lot to this whole thing, but let’s start with the 101 for now. You either accept the facts, or not: music is music, but everything else - related to money, in any form - is business. 

And things get even harder, because music is not an ordinary industry. You can’t just act like a real estate agent and expect feedback or results. The music industry is peculiar and complex. You need an extraordinary set of skills to survive there. 

Once again, I remind you: it’s up to you to either start working on the things I give you here, or get an artist manager and focus all your efforts on making music. Neither one of these two options is better or worse. But you definitely need to choose one. You can’t just float in between. Nobody’s going to have mercy on you, so you’d better take a while and make your final decision: one path or the other.

Back to the Questions

As I promised, I will now analyze and explain each question from the first section.

What Are the Obvious Facts About You? 

Excuse me, are we in kindergarten? No, that’s not what I mean when I advise you to write “your name, age, and country.” What I mean is that, in business, every word has a psychological and monetary value. For example, imagine I own a small venue in Manchester (a totally random choice) and receive this: 

“Hello!!! You wanna know who I am? I’m your night crawler MJPT…. I’m gonna make you shake and shiverrrrrr! Look at my pics, watch my vids! I’m the man for your club and I’m gonna get around every lady in townnnnn…give me datess and I’ll come and play for you…won’t regrtet it I promise….” 

That would probably be the worst thing I’ve ever seen. This guy is getting neither a response, nor a gig. His email gets deleted, and his address gets blocked. Here’s why. 

I deal with customers and incompetent personnel every freaking day. In fact, the whole worldwide live music industry is fading, and I know about that. Venues like mine, which are not in the center of London, are facing extreme difficulties, and I’m struggling to get customers in every night. In fact, London is also not doing too well (now that’s bulshit, but keep imagining). 

This is what happens in my head every day. This is my micro-environment. These are my problems. But I have run this venue for many years, and I know the business pretty well. And I will save my bar. That’s why I put my e-mail address out there and started implementing a new events-and-marketing strategy. 

Remember: if you know my e-mail address, this means that I am looking for musicians. Otherwise, you won’t know it. 

I receive many pitch e-mails every day. Most of them come from agents and artist managers. I am already in contact with most of them, and we work together. We have contractual agreements. They bring in the bands and customers, and I organize the drinks. So far, most of my dates are full. However, I’m interested in independent artists because they could freshen up the atmosphere in my venue. 

That’s great, but how often do I think about independent artists? They’re definitely not on my list of priorities. If I’m going to invite an independent artist, I must like him/her and believe that he/she is worth the investment. Also, when I invite such artists, I will get frowned upon by the artist managers, because they want to own my schedule all the time. 

Nevertheless, I know what kind of snakes these managers are. They get 50% of my profits. You think I want to work with them? Hell no! But I have to… Otherwise, I’m going to fail. I know that because I’ve been in business for a long time. I have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. Once, there were good times. But now, we have to survive in any way we can… 

Okay, back to reality now! Do you realize what this imaginary man goes through every day? How does he feel when he receives e-mails? He hopes to find something good but ends up deleting everything. He receives loads of spam. He feels tricked by useless e-mails. He has probably begun hating the Internet. Then, one day, he receives the e-mail from MJPT (the imaginary musician from above) – the most horrendous message in history. 

But let’s see why MJPT doesn't actually stand any chance. I’m giving you an example with a small venue because that’s the easy situation. The larger the venue, the more crucial it is to have business communication skills – because it gets harder for you to be noticed in the mailbox. 

All business people, as I mentioned, have one thing in common – they prefer to be contacted by other business people, because of the common language they share. Business people speak about products and about how these products will bring profits. Business people use data, statistics, plans, strategies, and numbers. 

Therefore, if you sound like a random scam, you stand no chance. If you want the venue manager to open your message, you have to sound professional. Only then will the manager think twice before pressing the delete button. The first step towards sounding professional is, of course, your first sentence. 

The First Sentence 

And here comes the professional structure of the first sentence – your name, age, and country. Do not put anything more here. Nobody has the time to read more. Venue managers have too much to deal with, and your emotional bio is not on the to-do list. That’s why, your first sentence should be a simple introduction. Let’s use MJPT as an example and start fixing his message. 

Dear [venue name] management team: 

I am MJPT: musician, 27 years old, based in Argentina. 

That’s it! That’s your first sentence! Now, the manager is more likely to read the rest, because he/she knows that there's probably a decent person on the other side. This introduction shows that the person on the other side is not someone who’s going to write a long, boring, useless email. The manager might spare 5 minutes to check what that person wants. 

You’ve probably noticed the very first sentence, too. Yes, that’s how you start a business email. You address a specific person or a group of people (you don’t address the venue itself, because the venue is just a building). You start with ‘Dear’, add the venue’s name, add the person or people you are writing to, and end with a colon (my favorite style; the comma is informal and clichéd). 

You now have your first sentence. I know that anyone can write this intro, but the point is that you understand why it should be so simple.

You Music and Your Genre 

As you might remember, I advised you not to talk about your genre. You will often need to mention it though. To do this, use an authoritative reference. Let’s look at the proper way to do that, and then analyze.

Dear [venue name] management team: 

I am MJPT: musician, 27 years old, based in Argentina. I play death metal tunes on the accordion. By death metal, I mean a sub-genre of ‘Metal’, as described in Nielsen’s list of genres. I have played the accordion professionally for more than 10 years, and I have received excellent feedback on my performances from listeners in Argentina, USA, and the UK. 

Ok, so what happened here? After the first sentence, the manager already knew that MJPT was a musician. Then, subconsciously, the manager raised the questions “What kind of a musician are you? What do you play?” MJPT answered promptly. 

You see, in business communication, it’s all about keeping the other person interested. Business communication is quick, consistent, and clear. If you don’t answer the question before the other person asks it, you are very likely to lose the deal. In such communication, everything happens within a few seconds – the brain is at full speed. 

Now MJPT has a shot – he described who he is and what he does in just a few words. This gives him a huge advantage, compared to all other competitors in the manager’s mailbox. Moreover, MJPT wrote a well-organized, professional introduction with no unnecessary details. So far, MJPT’s chance of being hired is 100%. It all depends on what he’s going to write next. 

Now, the Thesis

What’s next is the most important part. It’s about the actual deal. The manager is already asking, “Okay, so what do you want? And what do you offer?” 

In business communication, no matter what industry you are in, stating the purpose of your message is the single most important thing you must do. DO NOT EXPECT the person on the other side to guess what you want! Even if it seems obvious that you want a gig, state it! Don’t let the manager answer questions himself. You are the one who must give him all the answers before he even has the time to ask questions. 

If you let the manager guess what you’re getting at, you sound like a delusional prick. Forget about implications. In business, you need to be straightforward and concise. 

Dear [venue name] management team: 

I am MJPT: musician, 27 years old, based in Argentina. I play death metal tunes on the accordion. By death metal, I mean a sub-genre of ‘Metal’, as described in Nielsen’s list of genres. I have played the accordion professionally for more than 10 years, and I have received excellent feedback on my performances from listeners in Argentina, USA, and the UK. I found your venue via Facebook, and I instantly decided to get in touch with you. I think that my music will appeal to your audience, and so I would like to apply for a gig. 

There it is! The first paragraph – polished, professional, and coherent! MJPT stated the purpose of his email. He didn’t imply anything; he stated the facts. Now, the manager is satisfied. All the subconscious questions have been answered. In fact, whatever follows in this email, the manager has already decided whether or not this musician will be hired. MJPT’s chances are extremely high: he stands out because he sounds professional and answers all questions before they're asked. 

In school and college, teachers would call this thing ‘the thesis.’ And they’d be absolutely right. Whatever you write, you must have a thesis. The thesis informs the reader about the whole text. The thesis alone IS the whole text; the rest is only support. The thesis is the ‘why’ and 'what' of the text. Why are you writing to me? Because I want a gig. That's a thesis.

If this is missing from your message, you stand absolutely no chance. You must be clear and consistent about what you want from the other person. That’s the most fundamental principle of business communication. Don’t be rude, though. Just be straightforward and concise. Nobody has the time to read long and confusing emails. 

Don’t Lose Focus 

Now you probably understand why, on top of everything, I also advise you to focus only on the relevant topic of the email – in this case, the topic is ‘you and your music.' MJPT’s first paragraph is now perfect. He wasted no time, he covered no unnecessary details, he answered all questions, and he stated the purpose of his message. That’s it! The manager needs nothing more from the first paragraph. 

As I said, the rest of your email is simply support for your thesis statement. In the upcoming paragraphs, you will reassure the manager why you are a good fit for his/her venue. You will do this by using facts and data – topics covered in my Getting the Gig 102 article. In my 102 and 103 articles, I’ll explain how this guy – MJPT – can convince a manager from Manchester to give him a date. MJPT is from Argentina, remember? That’s a lot of flying. MJPT must sleep somewhere, and so on. How is a gig even possible then? Once again, if you can think of something, that thing is possible to achieve. Don't worry, 102 and 103 are also fun. 

What’s more important is that your first paragraph is the most crucial thing in your email. This is when you either win or lose the gig deal. If you sound professional, you win. If you sound exotic and ‘scam-like’, you lose. It’s that simple. I hope you are beginning to understand why. 

Additional Tips 

If it’s going to be perfect, let it be perfect. I will give you some general tips that are valid for any business email. 

  • Keep all formatting to ‘Normal’. Don’t play with the formatting tools. Use bold or other stuff only when you really need to emphasize something. It’s better if you don’t, however. I don’t think there’s anything so important to emphasize in your first email to a venue manager. 
  • Watch the lines. Each new paragraph must be separated by a blank line. This is also valid for the ‘Dear…’ sentence (which can also be followed by two blank lines if you prefer). 
  • Watch the spaces. There must be a space after each comma, full stop, colon, dash, etc. However, there must be no spaces before these. Also, each word must be separated from the other (in case you don’t know). Use only single spaces. It's so ugly when someone doesn't know how to use spaces... 
  • Watch you grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. Learn English. Nothing else to say here. 
  • Never apologize. Things like “I am sorry for my language but I are from Buindijbssdfb…” or “I wrote this on a phone so there might be typos…”: these are utter bulshit. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it. Don’t apologize for it in advance. If you don’t know English, you don’t know it. The manager can already see that. An apology will only make you look pathetic. 
  • Keep everything short. Before the manager starts reading your email, he/she always checks how long it is. If it’s too long, you lose. Therefore, keep all paragraphs short (3-4 short sentences each). Finish at three paragraphs. You don’t need more than that. 

I Don’t Agree With You 

If you don’t agree with me, that’s great! I love people who don’t agree. I love people who have the balls to disagree and defend their opinions. Please, if you don’t agree with me, don’t hesitate to post a comment below. It will be great if this thing turns into a wild discussion. Wild discussions often give birth to great ideas.

Free Help From Me 

With the knowledge you have gained so far, as well all the additional tips, you are ready to write your first serious email to a venue manager. What about the second and third paragraphs. As I said, I cover those in the 102 and 103 articles. But, honestly, the first paragraph is what really matters the most. 

To help you even more, I can offer you my personal help - for free, of course. If you are planning to write a message to a venue manager or just want to practice writing the ‘gig email’, send me a draft via the contact form.

Don’t explain to me why you are writing, just name the thing ‘Gig Email’, or something like that. I will know what the message is about. Once I read your draft, I will get back to you with some personal feedback, which will hopefully be helpful. 

Don’t try to scam me with some offers and so on. Also, if you receive an email from me that tells you to do something unusual, that’s not me. Stay safe! 

I’m really looking forward to receiving some drafts from you! What’s in it for me? Well, I believe that by helping individual musicians, I help the music industry as a whole. If the music industry is okay, we’re all going to be okay as musicians. That’s my perspective on things. Rather broad, isn't it?

Read through this article as many times as you want and ask me anything you want. And don’t forget to send me that draft - don't be lazy.

Go ahead: study, keep trying, and keep making great music. That last one is the most important thing, after all. Remember that, if you want to do something, you will always find a way. If you don’t want to do it, you will always find an excuse. 

I wish you a great day, or night, or whatever! See you soon!

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