Marketing 101 for Performers

This post in the Educate and Entertain series is all about marketing your performances to schools, festivals, libraries, performing arts series, museums and such.

(Just want the summary? Build and use your email marketing list. That is it.)

Marketing and advertising are some of my absolute favorite things to talk about, and I get asked about them fairly regularly.

And while it’s true that I have a professional background in marketing from many moons ago, I have to say that most of what I’ve done to keep my calendar filled with great gigs has been made up along the way, through lots of trial and error.

I’m very happy to share what I’ve learned.

Let’s start at the beginning….

Marketing Basics for Musicians and Performers

You built it. Why didn’t they come?

You have a great product/show/band/act. You’ve worked super hard on your craft, putting in thousands of hours rehearsing, performing, and learning from others.

You’ve made financial investments too, in your equipment, your vehicle, perhaps in your costuming or stage props or training, or all of the above.

You’ve networked. You’ve done lots of freebies. You’ve been in a newspaper article or two.

But the phone doesn’t ring.

The emails don’t come. There’s a whole lot of silence coming from out there.

The reality is that you probably will, from time to time, hear from someone who’s interested, focused, and proactive enough to:

a) remember you
b) search you out online or elsewhere, and
c) contact you about a potential booking

It’s great when that happens.

But if you want to be working more than occasionally, you’ll need to be the one reaching out.

quoteContinuously, consistently, and through a variety of channels, we need to be reminding our marketplaces of what we do, how we do it, and what the benefit is to them.

If you commit to doing that, you’ll be ahead of 95+% of the musicians and performing artists out there.

Where to start

The first step is to define exactly what types of gigs you want to be doing.

This sounds simple, but may not be. If you need to be bringing in money from your performing right now, for instance, it could get a bit complicated.

You may need two lists:

  • types of gigs I can get right now to pay the bills, and
  • types of gigs I’d like to get (that I can actually build a career on)

Of course, if you have the luxury, skip the first type and concentrate only on the second. (See the article “Do You Work Too Cheap?“)

Shoring up your promotional materials

OK, so you’ve got a few lists filled with ideas.

Will you need some new promotional materials in order to be considered for some of these opportunities? If so, you’ll certainly want to start working on that.

The quickest way to get an idea of what you’ll need is to look at the websites of some other performers who are already being booked for the kinds of work you’d like to be doing.

What do their materials look like? How do they “sell” themselves?

Untitled design (2)Don’t assume you’ll definitely need a slick video, audio samples, a glossy brochure, new photos AND a new website. When I started marketing my performances to K-12 schools, I was surprised to discover that the buyers never asked for a CD or a video! What they wanted to know was what exactly I do, whether it’s age-appropriate for their students, where I’ve performed in the past, and what other educators have said about my work. It would have been a complete waste of time and resources to create an expensive promotional package for this market.

Start (or 10x) your email marketing list

Do you have an email list of booking contacts you can use to easily communicate with your marketplace?

Yes! Great. It’s time to make it a lot better.

No! Consider starting one today. (Do this whether your promo materials are ready yet or not; building your list is a daily, ongoing activity.)

This is not a fan list. This is a list of contacts at venues where you’d like to perform – the “bookers,” as it were (who may be wearing several other hats there too, such as “director,” “principal,” “board member,” “adult services librarian,” “PTA mom/dad,” “bottle washer,” etc.).

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Build your list slowly but surely. It’s your #1 asset.

It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of cultivating a great list of contacts.

Add to it every single day.

For each new venue you connect with, introduce yourself in a friendly, non-pushy way. By email, by phone, by pony express – whatever you’re most comfortable with.

(See also the article “No Reply: Why Don’t Venues Get Back to Me?“)

Ask some questions about how often they book performers and what kinds of things their audiences respond to.

If it’s a good fit, let them know you’d like to send them some things by email, and then keep in touch from there.

Treat your email list like your holy grail. It is the single most important marketing asset you have, and far more powerful than your social media channels. (See “Social Media ≠ Great Promotion.”)

Untitled design (2)No email list yet? Start one today by going through your calendars and piles of contracts from the last 3-5 years. Pull out all the desirable gigs (the ones you’d want to do again), find an email address for each of the people who booked you, and reach out to them today to say hello and let them know you’ll be keeping in touch (always giving them an option to unsubscribe if they wish). People who’ve booked you in the past are your very best prospects for new bookings.

Some email logistics

Here's a peek at some of the 78 different contact groups in my email software.

Here’s a peek at some of the 78 different contact groups I’ve created in my email software. 

For your email campaigns, you’ll definitely want to use one of the many email service providers (ESP’s) out there (Mailchimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, etc) rather than sending right from your personal account.

With an ESP, you’ll have lots of options for personalizing your messages and creating beautiful communications, along with the ability to keep and sort multiple groups of contacts (very important!).

Some ESPs have a free plan to get you started; others will require a small monthly fee to get up and running.

Either way, it’s going to be worth it.

Building, building, building

At the risk of overstating this, you are never done building your contact list.

For me, I’ve made it a habit to always be on the lookout for new possibilities. Anytime I have even five minutes, that’s what I’m doing. (See “What Do You Do When You’re NOT Performing?“)

I read websites. I subscribe to concert listings. I do searches for things like “performing arts series (my state or region).”

I watch announcements from all the various arts and humanities granting organizations to find out which venues have received grants to put on a series of performances.

I look at the calendars of other performers who I know are working in similar markets and charging similar fees. (The venues that book these performers would potentially be good contacts for me.)

Are you ready to mail?

Here are a few things to think about before you hit “send” on your next (or first) marketing email to potential bookers:

Target your message – if you’re working in several different markets (schools, festivals, museums, etc), create a different email for each type of venue so you can really speak directly to their needs.

DearPersonalize the email – you already have some relationship with everyone on your list, so even if you’re sending to 200 people, or 2,000, might it make sense to address each contact by name in your email? Could you effectively use the name of their organization in your subject line? (This will always boost the open rate.) These things are easy to accomplish through your ESP software.

Write for one person – compose your email as if you’re writing to just one person. It might help to actually picture one of your contacts in your head as you’re typing.

Benefits first – as much as we all like to talk about ourselves, what the venue is actually buying is the outcome of what we do – – a happy (or educated, or gratified) audience. Write with that in mind.

Be consistent, but not obnoxious – as consumers, we don’t always need or want what someone has to offer, but when we do, we do. This is why we need to keep ourselves in front of people consistently – just don’t do it so much that you become an unwelcome entity in their inbox.

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

Ready for Marketing 201, 301 and 901?

I can talk about this stuff all day!

Let me know in the comments section (below) if this was helpful, and what you’d like to see covered next.


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.

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21 Responses to Marketing 101 for Performers

  1. Abi

    HI, I am in Scotland……so some of your stuff, is not relevant…..but a lot is.! Thank you. I am going to spend some of the next few weeks digesting this and seeing what is relevant to me. I am both a kodaly holistic music educator for pre and primary schools and an emerging singer song writer ( I have had some interest from international music folks), but as yet have done little performing, have no online or marketing skills and i am new to the business…a challenge as a mum, at 46 and living in rural scotland! However, the interest I have received is fuelling me on to make this journey a successful and interesting one. I really welcome this blog, in my situation, as a teacher and emerging performer.

  2. Danny

    Hi Dave! I absolutely love all the advice that I read in your posts! This is priceless material for me. Most of your posts deal with people who are already performing at the schools and how they can improve what they do. I would really love to see some advice for those of us just starting out from ground zero. The start ups. Do schools have a particular person in charge of booking performances and do they have a fund set aside in their budgets for such things, or can it be just your average teacher who thinks what you do would help her or her students? Any other bits of advice for those just getting their feet wet would be fantastic! Thanks again for all this valuable info!

    • Bill Ceddia

      Hi Danny. I’m a juggler from NJ. I do quite a bit of school work, so I might be able to help. Most of my school gigs have been booked through the PTA, so that’s a good place to start. Virtually every school has their own website. Go to each schools website and try to locate a link to the PTA. Some go by different names… HSA, PTC, PTO. Here you probably find some good contact info… President, assembly coordinator, fun night coordinator, etc. If the pta doesn’t book problems, they will pass along your info to the principal or someone else. Dave has written an excellent article on school gigs. You should read it. Good luck!

    • Dave Ruch

      Thanks Bill for jumping in here. Danny – here’s the article on school gigs that Bill mentioned

  3. Richard Martin

    Thanks for your post, Dave.
    I already use quite a few of these ideas re. my mailing list, but it helps to be reminded and to take a fresh look at how I manage this side of promotion.

    • Dave Ruch

      Thanks Richard.

    • Bill Ceddia

      Thank you Dave for sharing such valuable information. I am a juggler from NJ. I do quite a bit of Email marketing to promote my services. You mention the need to be consistent without being a pest.. How many contacts per year do you recommend for schools and libraries? What months during the year are best? Any helpful suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

      • Dave Ruch

        Hi Bill – glad to hear this was helpful. If you or anyone else settles on a magic number of contacts per year, I’d love to hear about it. After 20 years, it’s still kind of a trial and error thing for me. I think if you’re contacting them with the exact same information each time, probably twice a year is good. For me, I vary my messages, subject lines, etc, and contact people several times each year (and sometimes just offering something of value without “selling” anything). Many of the libraries in my region write grants each fall to the state arts council (and its local affiliates), so it can be helpful to touch base with them within 4-6 weeks before the application is due. The article Why Don’t Venues Get Back to Me? talks more about frequency of reaching out for bookings, and might be of some use. Let me know how it goes for you!

        • Bill Ceddia

          Hi Dave. For most venues, I try to make at least 3 contacts per year. In my experience, more than 3 contacts per year tends to alienate some potential clients. Case in point…A few year ago, I tried 5 or 6 contacts with the libraries.
          One of those libraries wrote back saying they would keep me in mind if something came up. In other words, don’t call us we’ll call you! As far as timing is
          concerned… For libraries, I make one contact in September, one in January,
          and one final one in April. In my neck of the woods, some libraries bring in entertainers for Halloween, Columbus Day, and Teacher’s Convention in early November. I’ve gotten some of these gigs. January’s contact plants the seed for
          Summer Reading Programs, and April’s contact is to remind them that I still have some open dates available. For schools-Late September, mid January, and mid April. You mention the fact that some of your contacts are not designed to sell anything. Could you give me a few examples! Keep up the great work! Bill

          • Dave Ruch

            Bill – the timing of your contacts makes great sense; thanks for sharing that here. As far as emails that aren’t selling anything, I have created some free resources for teachers and others who work with kids, such as an instructional video on how to play the spoons, an article on how to write songs with kids for the completely non-musical, and a piece on livestreaming and videoconferencing for schools called “Three Ways to Bring the World Into Your Classroom.” I’ll send one of these out every so often just as a great way to keep in touch and offer some value. With any luck, they also serve to establish me as someone who’s committed, professional, and in it for the right reasons. And when their kids have a bunch of fun with a video I’ve created or an activity I’ve suggested, that’s all good for future bookings. You can see a library of these resources here – arts resources for teachers.

  4. Karen Chace

    Great advice, well worth reading. Thank you for sharing your expertise Dave.

    Karen Chace

  5. Michelle

    Thank you for the article! I am a musician (harpist) and just moved to a new location for my husband’s job. I need to start from scratch to build contacts. I have contacted with several places but haven’t gotten a performance offer yet. I’ve never done promotional emails and want to start.
    How does the ESP work? I have a website and an email linked with my website. If I get the ESP email , will that be a separate email address or can I use my email account linked with my website? Hope my question makes sense! I am really struggling with promoting myself and the business side of being a working musician.
    Thanks for all your helpful articles!

    • Dave Ruch

      Hi Michelle – yes, you use your existing email address with an ESP – it is simply a platform allowing you to keep a database of all your email contacts, design promotional emails using their templates (or your own), send marketing emails to any subset of your database that you choose, and track the results in their reporting section. I believe that most of the major players (AWeber, Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, Emma, etc) offer free trials now so you can take them for a “test drive,”

      I answered a question from a harp-playing subscriber in a post a few weeks ago – this may (or may not) be helpful for you: How to Get Gigs: Questions from Performers

      Keep us posted!

  6. Joel Glaser

    Great ideas, Dave. Thank you for sharing.

    I’m looking to expand my live sound business (targeted toward theater productions) and I’m finding some very useful ideas amongst your articles.

    Again, thank you for sharing.

    Joel, Studio 52

  7. Matt W

    I appreciate the embedded links.

  8. Jay Mankita

    Hi Dave, great post – thanks for helping to keep these tried and true ideas in my head. I’d much rather be outside playing in the snow right now, but these things must be done. Nice to know that while I may be alone doing them here, I’m not alone in the wider world!

  9. Daniel Wangelin

    Great tips Dave, thanks for sharing!

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