No Reply: Why Don’t Venues Get Back to Me?

Why don’t venues get back to you? Because they’re busy.

(You could stop reading right there, as that pretty much sums it up, except it leaves us without enough gigs on the calendar….)

Today’s Educate and Entertain post is all about the “how’s” and “why’s” of reaching out to venues – and actually getting booked.

Musicians wonder the best way to pursue bookingsI received the following message from a fellow musician and performer last month.

I think it highlights very well a frustration we’ve all had…

Letter From a Musician

letter from a musician about booking gigs “I recently jumped back in to the world of performing…and am trying to learn the art of sending emails to presenters to book gigs. I am astounded at how often I get no reply. Nothing. And I’m frustrated deeply by this. I have been at it for about a year and a half, and landed 5-6 gigs of varying degrees of satisfaction. 

Do you recommend calling a venue? This is something I have not tried. I honestly don’t even know what to say on the phone. Seems too aggressive, but maybe not…? Maybe I just need to keep at the emails.

I had a friend who is a presenter help me pick venues that might be appropriate for my music. I looked up the mission statement of these venues…and they mostly said they want audiences of all ages to come to the concerts…community, community. I’ve sent about 20 presenters my info and have gotten not even ONE reply—not even to say “go away kid.” I’ve gotten better at them—making them shorter (and will continue to work on that). 

I’d love your thoughts on this. I’m ready to throw in the towel of performing. I’m really feeling like this is ridiculous.”

Don’t Throw in the Towel!

I told my email friend that this “no reply” phenomenon is certainly not unique to her.

Back when I was assembling my very first mailing to generate some bookings in schools (some 20 years ago), I recall spending a huge amount of time and money creating a fancy brochure, more time/money assembling a mailing list and printing labels, and finally, more money to send those suckers out via US Mail.

MailingI could hardly wait for the next day, when (I was sure) the phone would begin ringing off the hook by mid-morning and not let up until sometime the following month!

I had compiled a great mailing list filled with people who, I just knew, would be wildly interested in what I was offering, hanging on every word of my carefully-crafted marketing piece as they rushed to the nearest phone to get me booked.

2016-03-29_17-15-16-minThe lack of response was crushing.

All that time.

All that effort.

All those mailing labels.

All that money.

All for one measly gig that barely scratched the surface on the debt I’d just rung up.

What went wrong?

As it turns out, nothing.

I had the right people’s names on that list, and I was offering programs very much in line with their potential needs.

why don't venues call me back?The critical marketing lesson didn’t reveal itself until the third, fifth, and twenty-fourth mailings.

How to Reach Out to Venues for Gigs

Here’s What I’ve Learned

First of all, I’m going to assume that you’re starting from a place where you’ve carefully selected your venues and you’re not simply “blasting” or spamming people who would never have a use for the type of performance you do.

(I’ve lost count of how many folk music presenters have told me they receive regular solicitations from rap artists and rock bands who somehow found their contact info online and neglected to consider the type of music they book. I’m sure the same happens in reverse too.)

email marketing for musiciansPLEASE don’t do that. It hurts all of us.

Got the Right List?

OK, let’s assume you’ve got a robust list of appropriate venues, as I did for that first school mailing I mentioned.

What I’ve discovered through sending literally hundreds of thousands of postcards, brochures, emails, social media updates, and maybe one or two phone calls (I never liked that part either!) to the appropriate people over the last 20 years, is this:

2016-03-29_16-36-04One “cold” (unsolicited) message sent to one person – or 100 people, for that matter – has a very very (very) low likelihood of affecting any kind of action on their part.

2016-03-29_16-36-04Two mailings, over time, to those same people? Just slightly better.

2016-03-29_16-36-04  Three, four, five, seven contacts with that same person, over the course of a year or two, or longer?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Why?

Same reason as before…

too busy to book me for a gigThey’re wearing many hats and juggling multiple projects, not to mention the fact that they may have never heard of you when you first touch base.

Perhaps they have a much larger title such as “librarian” or “school principal” or “parks director,” with scheduling performances as just one small part of their overall job description.

Or maybe they’re a volunteer with a full plate of outside activities.

The one thing you can be sure of is this: they’re fielding lots of other competing booking requests.

Some Perspective From the Venues

I asked Rick Davis, Executive Director of The 1891 Fredonia Opera House, how many solicitations he gets from performers on a weekly basis.

Here’s what he told me:

how to approach venues for a booking

Rick Davis

“I just went back through my emails and counted 53 email booking inquiries received in the one-week period between March 13 and 19. That is pretty typical for us for email … about 50-60 per week. Plus, we probably field a dozen phone calls in the same period of time, some following up on the emails, others just cold calls. These would all be from artists/artist representatives who are looking for us to book them/their clients.”

The Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance in Altamont NY attracts an all-ages audience of 3,000 friendly folks each June for a weekend of singing, dancing, workshops and performances (highly recommended!). Festival Director Andy Spence had this to say:

how to get bookings with email marketing

Andy Spence

“During September we receive around 100 applications from performers in a 4-6 week period. Every email request requires us to read the material and listen to the music attachment at that moment. This takes approximately 15-20 minutes if we’re really interested. Less if wrong genre for our mission. If we want to remember the applicant we have to print out the email in order to have the email address ready for the rejection letter which follows in December or January. No matter how you handle it, keeping it organized is key, or else the whole thing becomes confused.”

Sarah Craig, Director at the legendary Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs NY, told me this:

How to get gigs

Sarah Craig

“I get about 10-20 queries per week. It used to be a lot more, but I posted detailed booking guidelines on our website and that has helped to eliminate a lot of inappropriate applications. To review one application takes me about 20 minutes, so I don’t review them unless I think I’m likely to be interested. Indicators that it’s not a fit include messages that are obviously sent in bulk by a large agency, or a leading description that indicates the music is outside the genres we present.” 

The Cooperstown Concert Series (now in its 46th season) is a great gig with a wonderful built-in audience of music lovers, and it’s 100% volunteer run. When I performed there recently with my band, the Mayor of Cooperstown worked the merch table for us! Here’s booking coordinator Jim Hill:

how to approach venues for a gig

Jim Hill

In February 2016 I received 26 emails from agents and 15 more from independent/self promoters. Typically an agent’s email promotes 6-8 performers they represent. It does get overwhelming. Most wasteful are solicitations of bands which are far outside of our price range. Geez, do your research.”

As you can see, these venues are getting solicited for gigs non-stop, and it takes time just to sift through all the irrelevant ones.

The Importance of Staying in Touch

Now, occasionally, we contact the right venue on the right date at the right time of day when they’re not too busy with other things and they’re able to think about programming for a minute AND we’re offering just exactly what they want or need at that moment.

It’s wonderful when that happens.

reaching out to venues for a music gigBut mostly, it’s not going to be an immediate fit for them, and/or they’re just too wrapped up in other stuff.

Once our info gets “filed” or “saved for future reference,” it’s probably forgotten for good. That’s not necessarily intentional; it just happens.

(Have you checked your own saved emails lately – the ones you’ve archived so you can get back to them later?)

That’s why it’s really important to continue to put yourself on their radar; not TOO often, but enough that they remember who you are and what you do, and hopefully, eventually, they want to work together.

Consider This: The 2% and 80% Rule

Two enlightening statistics…

Sales figures by number of contactsWhat?

So, if I’ve reached out four times and gotten no response, I shouldn’t quit?

In a nutshell, yes, that’s correct (unless you’ve been told that you’re not a good fit).

While I can’t immediately find a reference to the source of that data, it is repeated as gospel in sales and marketing circles (you ARE selling something, right?), and I can tell you that in my experience, this is pretty much right on.

That doesn’t mean you should contact a venue six days in a row, or six weeks in a row.

how to reach out for gigsWhat it does mean is that, just like in all human relationships, trust and credibility are built slowly, over time, through repeated exposure.

(See also “The Email Junkyard: Why Your Booking Emails Fail“)

The Sixth Time You Mail

Once I’d found a way to streamline the cost of my school mailings (shifting from expensive brochures to quick-and-cheap postcards, and then to email), I was able to send information to the same people a handful of times over the course of a year or more.

That’s when the magic started to happen.

THEM  “Oh, we’ve heard of you. We’d like to see if you’re available to perform for us.”

ME (to myself) “Yeah buddy, the reason you’ve heard of me is because I’ve been mailing you stuff for the last three years!”

Why didn’t they respond the first time?

Wouldn’t that have saved everyone a whole lot of time and trouble?

Say it with me – because they’re busy. Or, they weren’t familiar enough with me yet. Or both.

advice for musiciansEach time you send out a mailing, you’re going to find different members of your list who are receptive to your message at that moment

My Best Recommendation

Start building a massive contact list of places you want to play.

Currently in my email database, I have 656 historical societies, 450 libraries, 341 folk music venues, 337 family-friendly events, 119 arts organizations, 97 museums, and almost 10,000 school contacts – all entered one name at a time over a long period of time.

compiling a marketing email list for musiciansThis way, when I send a marketing email, I’m guaranteed to hear back from multiple places and generate multiple bookings.

In other words, I will always be able to reach SOME small subset of my universe for whom the time is right.

It’s a long game, always keeping in mind that the last thing we want to do is create more clutter for them.

But the great thing is this: once you’re “in,” things can take on a life of their own with repeat bookings and referrals to like-minded venues.

email marketingThat first booking is, by far, the most costly to generate in terms of time and expense.

Do great work for them and you’ll be asked back, and recommended to others.

What Has Your Experience Been With Reaching out for Gigs?

Similar? Completely Different?

I’d love to hear about it. You can leave me a note in the Comments section below.


About The Blog

The Largest Online Gathering of K-5 Classrooms for Connected Educator MonthSince leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.

Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.

The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.

Please Post Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

39 Responses to No Reply: Why Don’t Venues Get Back to Me?

  1. Lydia

    Great Article! Thanks

  2. Missi

    Thank you for this post. I’m so absolutely frustrated with the process of booking our band. I often feel like I’m begging for a response — anything — from these people. One of the best eras of our development was when we had a booking agent who happened to also be very connected in the music scene of our city. She was GREAT and really believed in what we are doing, and enthusiastically promoted our availability. After she died very suddenly, we have been unable to regain the contacts she had developed for us. At first we wondered if we’d done something wrong, but all the feedback we’ve gotten has indicated just what you’ve described above: They’re busy and they don’t “know” us as well as they do a handful of people they’re comfortable working with.

    Anyway, thanks again for reminding us all that it’s competitive and mostly like not personal. 🙂

    • Dave Ruch

      I’m really glad it was helpful Missi. If you haven’t already, feel free to subscribe to the blog – I send out an article along these lines every Monday, and also offer coaching, webinars, etc. You can subscribe RIGHT HERE.

  3. Jess wine

    Thank you for the wonderful info! I am currently in charge of booking for an old time string band I play fiddle for in East Tennessee.

    When I reach out and do not get a response what is the appropriate time in between to send out another email? I was thinking between 7-14 days maybe but I’m totally new at this thing. Our group has been playing for 10 yrs and I want to really get us going!

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Jess – any relation to WV fiddler Melvin Wine?

      I don’t think there’s any magic formula we can follow, unfortunately, in terms of what steps to take and when to take them if we don’t initially get a response. In my experience, varying the “format” of your outreach can help (i,e, if you sent an email, try calling to follow up). Some people like to call first and let people know there will be an email coming. 7-14 days sounds reasonable, or if they’ve clicked on one of the links in your email, it can be a good idea to follow up right away while they’re still thinking about you.

      What kinds of gigs is your string band looking to do?

      • Jess wine

        HI Dave!

        Mel is my great uncle. At his funeral I promised to carry on the fiddling tradition and as far as I know, I’m the last member of the family fiddling his style and tunes.

        Thank you for the response! We are looking to play anything really as long as it is family friendly. No seedy bars, events etc. I chose to leave my full time job to pursue old time music….I believe Mel would’ve wanted me too and I love it!!

  4. Jerrye Albert

    Great article. Thanks. When I did classical piano many years ago…it used to take me 40 phone calls a day to get one gig…usually at rest homes and similar places. Now I do guitar and voice…and am honing up to perform soon…mostly folk music. Although am not looking forward to sending out lots of emails and then doing follow up phone calls…it’s that game that needs to be played, so to speak.

    How would one go about getting an agent? Any information on this subject would be appreciated.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Jerrye – “it’s that game that needs to be played” indeed!

      Sorry to say that I really don’t know anything about getting an agent, as it’s not something I’ve ever done. I have always booked myself. Hopefully another reader can chime in here with any experiences or advice for Jerrye on how to go about getting an agent…

  5. Wall-E

    This was really helpful Dave. Thank you so much.
    Now, what about the “email subject”: do you have any advice on that?

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Wall-E, thanks for the comment. I have lots of thoughts on email subject lines – in fact, you’ve given me a good idea for a future post!

      If you want to get more specific, feel free to shoot me an email to dave “at” daveruch “dot” com.

  6. Kris

    This was very helpful! Thanks a lot.

  7. Jaz

    Over the last few years I have successfully managed to book gigs via Facebook. I get faster response times and people are more likely to book me because they can go directly to my FB page and I send them a link to my reverbnation page so that they can see and hear me in videos and songs from my CD as well as see my booking schedule. Reverbnation is absolutely critical if you are hoping to get booked. I have found that emails fall flat a lot. Right now I am almost completely booked out for the first 1/2 of the summer and 95% of those came from talking to venues on facebook.
    Cheers!

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Jaz – thanks for sharing your experiences here. What region/state/country are you booking gigs in, and what kinds of shows do you do?

      It’s funny, for the kind of performing I do, Reverbnation is completely unnecessary, and yet I know that it’s so important for others.

  8. Jeri Goldstein

    Nicely done Dave! I might also add a referral based strategy to the mix. Starting with a gig you’ve gotten or a venue booker you know, ask for 1-3 referrals of like type gig bookers. Then when you call or email, a reference to their friend or colleague often opens doors quicker with far better results. Referral bookings save tons of mailing expense, time and frustration. It really is all about building a know, like and trust relationship. Nothing does that better or faster than a great referral from a respected colleague. The old “Joe sent me.” Works wonders in booking scenarios.

    • Dave Ruch

      Great points Jeri – thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. I agree that relationships, along with word of mouth generated from those relationships, are gold.

  9. Alexandra

    Hello Dave, I’m enjoying your postings and emails so much! A pleasure to read, presented in a fun lively way, with lots of great useful information. Thanks so much!
    Alexandra Frederick

    • Dave Ruch

      Thank YOU Alexandra for the kind words. I hope you’ll feel free to add your two cents when you disagree or have an experience to share.

  10. Rocio Rodriguez

    Thank you for those great tips for freelance musicians like me, i have been working with Orchestras all my life, i am a harpist but i am on my own now swimming in the rough ocean of gigs, and learning how to catch one!
    Rocío

  11. Leslie S.

    Your insight and expertise is greatly appreciated by me in this article. Refined persistence pays off, and don’t take a lack of response, personally.

  12. Alex

    Thanks for posting this! These are great lessons to be learned for any musician/artist looking to get booked.

  13. Steve Featherston

    Lovin’ your Monday blogs …

    Between my truck broker business, music business & writing, I’m making a living!

    Been playing for seniors (4 gigs last week, 1 tonight), kids (1 this past Saturday), & coffee houses, festivals, churches, as they come up …

    Trying to make the “jump” to better paying venues. Your advice is helping me to see what I need to do. I have tried GigSalad (1 gig booked over 15 months) & I’m listed on Wedding.Com (total waste so far).

    Thanks again & I really appreciate what you do. When I finally get my website up, Lord willing, I’m planning to add a link to your site also.

  14. Legendary Frank

    Hmm I bet if musicians said they wanted to HIRE the venue for their own gig they’d reply by return!

    Sorry to sound so cynical but I don’t buy this we don’t have time to read emails crap. If that was the case it would show great inefficiency on their part- in other words if they weren’t reading emails then they might miss money making opportunities.

    Also if they weren’t reading emails why would they read it on the fifth time? And if they were reading emails why do they wait until the fifth time to respond? All they would have to do after the first email is reply with a “Not interested” messages which takes about 30 seconds at the most.

    It would seem they just like making musos jump through the hoops. Same thing happens where I work, they automatically reject your first application when jobs are advertised. I think that’s stupid and time wasting and smacks of some sort of control freakery.

    Now on the other hand if the venue has made it clear (like many publishing houses) that they are NOT interested in unsolicited submissions then it’s the fault of the musos if they email said venue.

    Also what Davey O says about building relationships is spot on.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Frank – the point I was trying to make is not that they don’t read the email, but that there is rarely time to carefully consider every single booking request that comes their way.

      • Legendary Frank

        True but it doesn’t take more than 30 seconds to hit the reply button with a “not interested” message.

        If the musician’s message is snappy, RELEVANT and to the point this enables the venue to make an instant decision as to whether they want the band or not. And if not then as I’ve said a “not interested” message suffices and saves time for everyone.

        • Davey O.

          I must add this frustrating aspect of booking – I cannot tell you how many times I have sent an email requesting a specific date, and in the next sentence stating “if this date is unavailble, I would love to discuss other availabile dates with you” only to receive a short reply of “sorry, that date is filled”. That in and of itself tells me that the emails was not fully read. Conversely, I have also had experiences where venues have told me that there series was booked for the year and to please reach out again in for example, January of next year. So, I wait until Januaray of next year comes around, and send another email, and guess what? I receive another reply saying “sorry, but our series is booked for this season.” In that regard, some venue presenters make it unnecessarily more difficult than it needs to be. At that point, I would much rather receive a “not interested”, “you don’t fit the programming needs of our venue”, or the dreaded “we simply don’t feel that you have enough of a draw”. I rather hear that than get a yearly runaround. Rant over!!!!

        • Tania

          First of all, let me say I discovered this “Dave Ruch University” and the fabulous “course” educate and entertain about 6 days ago. I’m completely absorbed in reading everything. Thank you so much Dave!
          Legendary Frank, I do have a response for you (and it’s a good reminder for me, too). Awesome name, by the way! I don’t know how much experience you have had on either side of the game, but once you start making those cold calls and emails in either direction, you quickly find that everything Dave posted is 100% accurate. I encourage you to have an open mind about the conviction that you flat-out just don’t believe people are too busy to respond. My experience as the performer: the venues do indeed get inundated with too many requests from performers offering every manner of cultural programs, and a lot of venues are strictly tied into their upcoming themes (Olympics, Antique Cars, Fitness…don’t know about you but my fiddle music doesn’t tend to cover those genres), plus what they already have booked and the other 1200 things they were trying to get done that day, all of which greatly reduce one’s odds of getting in. Timing has so much to do with it! If they only got a handful of requests each month, they can manage a canned “no thanks” email, 30 seconds each. But when you’re only one person receiving 4 x’s the amount emails you can respond to in the single day in addition to all your other job responsibilities, eventually you turn yourself off and you also know that they are simply going to go to the next place. The ratio of 5+ responses is because your name starts to look familiar so you increase the odds of them even opening up the e-mail. On the other side of the table, I signed up with a babysitter website and got a bazillion responses. At first, I actually took the time to get back to each one of them individually (even with a pasted response) and it was exhausting. So much volunteer work just telling people no thank you and now I don’t have time to get on with my day, just being married to getting back to people I’m not going to hire. “30 seconds to reply” turns into a time-consuming chore. How many baby-sitters does one family need, and how many musicians does a library need per year? (Answer: not many.) And anyway for all my effort, there were hundreds more emails the next day. If you think a person has time to respond to everyone when the needs ratio isn’t even that large, you’re not picturing someone who is already overwhelmed. Whether you’re a baby-sitter or a performer, you put your feelers out everywhere and hope for a bite. It’s just the nature of the game. Maybe not when you are a big fish in a small pond or have a solid gig, but I live in Chicagoland; I’m a minnow among thousands. P.S. I recently acquired a librarian as a violin student. She’s not only super booked with more than she can handle during the day, but special programs spill into her evening and she frequently has to cancel our lessons. If she’s too busy for her own personal hobbies, how much time do you thin she has to manage a flooded inbox? Same answer as before: not much. It’s a tough business to get off the ground.

          • Legendary Frank

            I understand what you’re saying, Tania. However if a website encourages musicians to email their relevant and appropriate details then they not only have a duty to read those emails but respond to them accordingly.

            If they don’t have the time or staff to read and respond to emails then they should put up on their website “no unsolicited submissions” and then both musicians and venues can go through booking agencies.

            To mislead people that their emails will be read and responded to is imo wrong. If a musicians takes the time and trouble to email a venue then the venue should reciprocate.

            Of course a lot of the time it’s the musicians’ fault as they contact venues who have no interest in the genre or type of entertainment that they (the musicians) provide and subject heading of the email is very important. The subject heading should make it easy for the reader to instantly decide if the email is worth reading.

            If it isn’t worth reading ie the musician’s genre is not what the venue is about then no reply is needed not even a “not interested”. However if what the musician is offering is what the venue is interested in then a response is at least courteous even if that response is “sorry we are booked up for the year” or whatever.

            Sadly as it’s a buyers’ market the venues don’t give a damn but it would be different if it was a sellers’ market. Then any venue that did not respond when needed might get the reputation of being a venue to be avoided by musicians offering their services. Would be nice to see a sellers’ market but I doubt it will ever happen!

            • Dave Ruch

              That all makes good sense Frank, and as you said, it’s definitely a “buyer’s market.” This is one of the many reasons why I think it can be a great move for artists to also pursue “non traditional” performance venues such as schools, libraries, museums, etc.

              • Legendary Frank

                Yes doing non traditional venues is the way forward. The pay may be crap or non existent but the networking possibilities are huge if the musician handles it properly ie prepare himself for any queries he might get and have good promotional material with him, not just business cards which people often lose.

                Also get any prospects’ contact details. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen musos handing out business cards and then forgetting to get the person’s contact details!

                • Dave Ruch

                  Great tips Frank – super important to get their contact info when you give them yours.

                  On another note, I would hardly call the pay “crap or non existent” for non traditional venues – people are making great livings playing the kinds of places I mentioned (schools, libraries, etc).

  15. Davey O.

    Hi Dave –

    Davey O. writing. All true examples in this blog – well done. It’s ego crushing and disappointing for sure, but I have learned the same thing, and that is a lot of success in booking takes time. It’s about building relationships – whether that is through attending conferences, volunteering at festivals, etc… but I have found that once I have been given that initial opportunity, I usually get a return booking, or I’m offered house concerts opportunities by audience members. If I look back at where I started to where I am now, there’s an incredible difference in the amount of steady work I receive. That’s not to say that some of the venue presenters I have come to know over time have been receptive to booking me. Sometimes you have to realize that some things are just not going to happen, and move on.

Get Dave's News, Discounts, and More
Join Dave's Mailing List
Quick Contact

Have questions or looking for booking information? Call Dave at 716-884-6855, or send him a message below.

*Required