Posted: Mar 22, 2021
Category: Show Booking
**Guest post written by Dustin Drennen, DIY independent songwriter and musician.
"I took a long professional break, but I never could walk away from music. Coming back to writing, recording, and playing for crowds was nothing like when I started out as a teenager. There was no scene, no community, no best friend on bass, no high school drummer to recruit.
Of course, when I think about starting out, we really only had the music and our friendship. All the other stuff took time. It seems compressed now, as if it were one brilliant, sweaty, sometimes bloody, charge into the fray of rock & roll. But, it took time to find the right people, build a community, and shape a sound. There were exhilarating moments! And, there were hurt feelings, bad songs, weird shows, and dirty practice spaces. Back then, music and friendship were enough to keep us bumbling forward.
Shouldn’t music and friendship still be central to building a community and playing your songs? Absolutely. But, you don’t have to bumble along, you don’t have to loose direction or heart. That’s where this advice will come in handy. Here are four bits of advice for securing shows and building a reputation that makes it easier to do so.
Someone once commented that I played three hours without a break. That’s nothing. I never even thought about taking a break! I’ve played longer. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take breaks. There are good reasons to do so in a long show, or in between sets.
What I’m saying is the same imperative I used to hear in the Army -train like you fight. You don’t want to go into a firefight thinking you’ve got it. You want to know. You want to have it so well that there’s little question or contest when the real thing happens.
I know this is an intimidating thing for artists. It’s hard to put together a lot of material. Look, I hate covers and I don’t like to repeat songs of a night. If I play a three hour set, 75% of it is original music (and I’m working toward that 100%). It takes time, it takes practice, it requires discipline and intention.
How will this help you book shows? It won’t. Once you start playing them, you’ll have a much easier time landing future shows. The same places will book you again. People will talk. Promoters will reach out to you. You’ll be more confident to go out and do it again.
Train like you fight. Be a beast.
Take this or leave it. I know some of you feel too godlike to condescend. If you can make the asshole thing work, good for you (only, walk soft if you come round me). For the rest of us, let me propose that speaking and writing is as important as singing and song-craft.
You’re already a communicator. You may not realize it, but you ask yourself the most important questions when you write a tune, when you comb your hair (or don’t), and when you step up to play it front of people. What do I want to say? What do I want people to feel? How can I overcome my fears and deliver this the way I want to?
Ask the same questions when it comes to your emails, phone conversations, web and social copy, etc. You may have to put some work into it, take lessons or classes, bring in a friend, hire a tutor. Hey, you’re in good company. We all need help with this.
I promise, becoming a better communicator will help you land shows. Venue owners and promoters will take you more seriously. Crowds will become more attached to you. You will be more relatable, more memorable, more desirable.
Like songwriting, there aren’t any limits to your creativity in communicating with the people who support your music, whether they are fans or the folks giving you a platform to share it. Learn to talk. Make it a priority. Act natural and have fun with it.
Where are you going to be in six months? If you can’t answer that, it’s time to get your shit together. Every once in a while I get an emergency call or last minute offer. The local places (local meaning within 2 hours of my house) book me a month or so in advance. When it comes to most shows, I’m talking to the venue or promoter months in advance.
The point here is that you need to work in a way that may not seem very rock & roll to you. You need to know where you are going to be six months from now. You need to keep a calendar. You need to work well in advance to populate that calendar with shows. If you want to play in the summer, start booking in January, maybe earlier depending on the venue or festival.
A little side note on the keeping of a calendar, it begs the question, “Where am I going with all this?” Use the calendar as a way to measure yourself against your goals. You want to play so many shows in a month or in a year? You want to tour for so many weeks out of the year? You want to play bigger venues or festivals? You want to increase your earnings overall or per show? Your calendar can act as a record for you. All that info is easily noted there for future reference and review.
Keep your calendar. Keep your commitments! Show up early. Start on time. Don’t quit till you’re done. Review your progress, adjust your course. Push on.
A few parting words of advice from a guy still working it out for himself.
I don’t believe in meritocracy. I do believe in hard work. I do believe that a person’s worth is very much tied to the fight they put up in this life. It’s pretty easy to fool yourself in this department, as hard work is subjective. No matter how hard you work, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is owed you. Plenty of awesome musicians have come and gone, underrated and without deriving much of anything from their talents and tools.
You may have heard it said that young musicians need to pay their dues. Nobody can make you pay your dues. It’s not up to anyone but you. This isn’t the military. There’s no rank structure. As much as the music industry wants you to feel like you’re under one flag or one canopy, that’s not true.
Never underestimate yourself because you’re toiling in obscurity. Focus on the work. Enjoy the hell out of playing music for people and turning one head at a time. And, work smart. Think about where you want to take this musical adventure and be intentional about it. Refine your approach. Seek out good advice, strong advocates, capable and passionate compatriots. Play all kinds of places, but make sure to play the right ones. Put yourself in positions to be heard and be ready to take advantage of opportunity.
Luck is like the muse. You can wait for it to strike, or you can invite it. You’ll meet with it more often if you do the latter.
So, pay your dues. Pay them to yourself. Put in the time.
Now, go forth and book some shows. I use Indie on the Move. Let me know how it works out for you.
Why listen to me? I do all my own booking and promotion. I’ve supplemented my income by thousands of dollars a year (and growing), mostly from live performances and tips. I still work harder on music and creative endeavors than any other aspect of music “business” -I still do more of what I love. Oh, and I’ve got a wife, four kids, other work and hobbies to attend to. You can do it. I promise. Feel free to message me if you find yourself in despair -no sob-storytellers alright, just hard-working musical barbarians with real questions or hang-ups."
Related Blog Posts: