Themed Shows Get Booked!

Want more bookings? For better money?

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned as a self employed artist is this – themed shows get booked.

In fact, I’m embarking on a little experiment over the next 12 months, and I invite you to join me…

how to make money as a musician, storyteller, performing artist What’s A Themed Show?

In short, if you put a bunch of music (or narrative pieces, or dances, or whatever it is that you do) together around a theme, and dig up some interesting stories to tell between pieces, you’ve got a themed show.

What kind of theme?

You name it. You probably have some things you do right now that could be grouped together around a topic such as “Irish,” or “American,” or “Blues,” “World,” “Roots,” “Medieval,” “The Grateful Dead!” (see below).

advice for musiciansTo generate a few quick ideas, imagine your college professor friend has asked you to come in and do a seminar for their students, performing and talking with them about your material. What would you want them to know?

From Concerts to “Shows”

Concerts are filled with music; “shows” (also known in many circles as “programs”) are filled with music, stories, and a bit of learning.

teaching through storyI’ve been doing far more “programs” than “concerts” over the last 20 years, and I can tell you that they sell really well, and for much better money.

Why? Well….

  • They’re useful
  • They’re unique
  • They have built-in audiences (affinity groups with an interest in your topic)
  • They’re easier to describe
  • They’re easier to market
  • There are WAY more places you can book them

In fact, at this point I have over a dozen themes that I offer as performances, and I can also combine all that material in unique ways to try to accomodate a special request.

The “Themed Program Challenge”

Now, for the experiment I mentioned at the beginning.

How to make money as a musicianRecently, my group The Canal Street String Band (CSSB for short) had some unexpected success with a workshop topic we threw together fairly quickly, and I’m now going to try to market it as a “show” to some brand-new (to me) venues.

Why not pick your own theme and try this right along with us? More on that in a minute.

Our “Theme”

We had the pleasure of performing at the Old Songs Folk Festival in Altamont NY recently, where, over a three-day weekend, each act performs one mainstage concert and participates in a handful of workshops.

How to market yourself as a musicianMonths before the event, the organizer solicits ideas from the performers for workshop topics.

(If you’re not accustomed to folk festival lingo, “workshop” often translates to a bunch of musicians who don’t know each other getting thrown together on stage for an hour and letting the chips fall where they may.)

I thought it would be fun to do a “Folk and Blues Roots of the Grateful Dead” session along with any other like-minded musicians who’d be at the festival. Since I didn’t yet know who else was booked, I had no idea who those other musicians might be.

How to Put a Themed Show togetherWell, the organizer liked the workshop topic, selected it, and put my group solely in charge of the whole thing. There would be no other performers, and we had 60 minutes to cover in one of the most beautiful and well-attended venues at the festival!

Now, that would have been AWESOME if it weren’t for one small problem – two of the three guys in the band never even liked or listened to the Grateful Dead very much….

Dilemma!

Do I go back to the organizer and say it isn’t going to work (whiny and high maintenance on our part, a pain in the butt for them), or should we suck it up and put something together?

How to Get Booked as a Musician or Artist - Dave RuchThat Distinct Sucking Sound…

Perhaps we’ll talk about how we put the show together in another post, but for now let’s just say that we rummaged through our current repertoire for relevant material, added a bunch of new things quickly, and researched the musical influences of Jerry Garcia and company.

The response was over-the-top positive! I can’t even explain it, but this program really resonated with the standing room only audience.

Canal Street Band Buffalo NYAll through the weekend, and afterwards on social media, people went out of their way to tell us how much they enjoyed that session.

Canal Street Band - roots of the greatful dead

Blues and Country roots

What really struck us was how many people came up and said they didn’t even LIKE the Grateful Dead, but absolutely loved hearing the music that influenced them, and the stories behind it.

I’ve Got a New Show to Book!

It didn’t take long for the wheels to start turning….

If people who don’t even like the Grateful Dead showed up to the session (when there were seven other choices for them on other stages!), and they were this happy with it….

Maybe this themed presentation has some “legs!”

So, who else might want to book it?

  • Colleges? I have no experience doing programs on college campuses, but this sure seems like something they might be interested in, right?
  • Jamband Music Festivals? Kind of a no-brainer.
  • Larger Folk Music Venues? They’re always interested in bringing a younger crowd into the folk scene, and/or keeping the younger, hipper members of the audience happy at their events.
  • Other Music Festivals? Why not?
  • Arts Centers? Sure. This is going to have a bigger draw than a straight-up concert by a regional string band.

The truth is, it would normally be an uphill battle for CSSB to secure a booking at some of these venues.

how to get gigs for your bandBut the Grateful Dead have a much bigger name than we do. With this new “product,” it’s not just the CSSB I’m offering them – it’s the show as performed by the CSSB.

OK, How To Promote It

It would be really nice to have some video clips of us doing this show, allowing potential bookers to see the audience reactions, hear snippets of the stories along with the music, etc.

I don’t have any of that though. (We’ve only done the show once.)

Themed Shows Get Booked - Dave RuchWhat I do have is as follows:

  • a band website
  • a written description of the new program
  • screenshots of three great comments from social media (captured with Snagit)
  • a relationship with the festival we performed the show at – I can see if they’re willing to provide a recommendation

Here’s What I’m Going to Do

#1 – I’ll create a new page on the CSSB website dedicated to this “special presentation,” and probably mention it on other pages of the site with a link to the new program page. I’ll include the program description and the warm quotes from social media, along with a few photos and a link for “booking information.”

#2 – Go through my existing email database of venue contacts and create a new group out of the ones that could potentially be interested in this program.

#3 – Reach out personally to the contacts I have strong relationships with to let them know about the new show.

Themed Shows Get Booked - Dave Ruch#4 – Create a promotional email that I can send “en masse” to other venues (perhaps making two or more versions of the email with slightly different language targeted to the type of venue – festival, college, etc)

Getting gigs on college campuses#5 – After I’ve made my current network aware of the program, it’s time to find contact info for a lot more likely venues, many of which will be new to me. That means lots and lots of online research, outreach, and networking.

#6 – Analyze the results of all the above on an ongoing basis, adjust accordingly, and continue working on next steps (more new venues, getting listed on touring rosters, showcase applications, arts presenters groups, etc).

This is Not Limited to Folk Musicians!

Not by any stretch.

In fact, I can’t think of a single category of performance art, from hip hop to juggling to opera to spoken word to dance and beyond, that couldn’t put a themed presentation together and start marketing it to new venues.

How to Get more bookings as a musicianWant To Join Me?

I’ve just set up a private Facebook Group for any performers who’d like to try putting a new themed program together alongside this one that I’ll be working on.

Inside the group we can compare notes, share resources, talk pricing, kick your ideas around, etc, and I’ll also be posting all of the various new materials I create. (Feel free to modify them for your own marketing.)

Dave Ruch article for musicians and performing artists Join the “Themed Shows Get Booked!” Facebook Group

Wrapping Up

Musician friends on both sides of the Atlantic have told me that putting themed shows together has gotten them bookings at venues and festivals they simply couldn’t get into otherwise.

The wild thing?

Much of the material – including the banter and stories between songs – is the same as what they’d be doing anyways! But, by packaging their material around a theme – and, of course, learning some new material to flesh out the topic – they’ve become much more marketable.

What could your theme be?

Jump into the Facebook Group, or the Comments section is 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.

 

 

 

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26 Responses to Themed Shows Get Booked!

  1. Carolyn Stearns

    Your blogs are both helpful and inspiring thanks!

  2. Bill Ceddia

    Hey Dave. Adding theme shows to the mix seems like a great idea. Here’s my situation: I was recently contacted by an organization who is putting on an environmental festival in September. They asked if I could incorporate a recycling theme into my juggling show. Should I charge a higher fee for this? After all, it will take some work. I’ll have to put everything together from scratch. Research, new patter, and some new routines would have to be put together. If I should be asking for a higher fee, not sure how much. I’ve never been asked to do a theme show before. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Bill – For me, this would come down to whether the new material will have a life beyond the one gig, i.e. is the show I’m putting together for the gig going to be marketable afterwards? If yes, then I’d use the first gig as motivation to get the show together (at no extra charge), then start thinking about where else I could book it. It seems to me that a recycling themed juggling show would have legs long after the one gig, at schools, libraries, around Earth Day, environmental centers and events, etc.

      On the other hand, I’ve been commissioned to put shows together around very specific historical themes that may not ever be marketable beyond the one gig – in that case, I charge more for my time and effort.

      Does that help?

      • Bill Ceddia

        Thanks Dave. I think a recycling juggling show could be marketed to other venues. I haven’t decided weather or not to accept the booking for September. I need to let them know soon. Not sure if I will be able to come up with something on such short notice. Whenever I put together a new program, I want it to be of the highest quality. I have a program called “Juggling Around the World.” It took me almost a year to put together! When it comes to theme type shows, I feel you should be enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter rather than doing it just so you can make more money. Just my thoughts.

  3. Gary Ward

    Thank you for posting and taking the time to pass these ideas along. I am 53 and play in an acoustic based duo named 2Peace here in Florida. My song list is well over 300 songs mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. We have been working on a sort of theme painting our gear in psychedelic colors, I often introduce the year and writer/artist of the song, and we intend on working on a relevant wardrobe. I look forward to your FB input for more specific angles to take it up another notch. Thanks again I look forward to the interaction.

  4. Thom Moore

    wonderful information…I would like to know more…I write original instrumentals on the banjo for accompaniment by strings, guitar,etc that are thematic, trying to paint tone pictures about the mountains where I live.. some are banjo and string quartet, some banjo and many instruments like guitar, bazouki, mandolin, slide guitar,percussion….have done one album “That Evening Sun” Thom Moore

    • Dave Ruch

      Sounds great Thom – why not jump into the Facebook group where there’s lots of good discussion and brainstorming going on,

  5. Terry Collins

    Like your philosophy…I have two main “Themes” I prefer to perform these days. Looking to become more active in this area now that I’m retired from my “Day Job”

    Looking forward to more info…

  6. Ben Wood

    Brilliant Idea – Especially about the landing page.
    My wife’s band has this going already; And I guess i need to work on one for my group as well.
    applied to the FB group.
    Love the idea about playing for schools and libraries but just don’t have the contacts to even try that here in my new state of MO; any advice about how to get that info?
    Thanks,
    B.

  7. Garrison Wells

    I am about to play an American Legion, Vietnam Vets group at the post. You think an all Vietnam war era song theme would be too broad?

  8. Amber Gillogly

    I agree. Themed Shows have some traction. We decided to go with Piano Music Show and Comedy. We are also working on developing a character Stan Baloney.
    I joined the group.

  9. JohnnyMack

    Looking forward to checking out your blog and seeing how your themed shows progress. I just turned 58 and have been doing this a long time. That said, the music business has changed completely since I started playing full time professionally, for many different reasons. I’m just trying to stay relevant while surviving and doing what I know an love doing. Thanks again.

  10. Legendary Frank

    I know someone who had a song called Chocolate Kisses and when she sang that she thew out chocolate kisses sweeties. Whilst not exactly a themed show it was novel.

    Could shows be themed around food I ask myself? I could make confections that reflect a particular band but hmmm.

    I went to a Burlesque evening and that was fantastic a mix of music and vaudeville and worked great and the varying music styles fitted in perfectly even though they were modern.

    • Dave Ruch

      Hey Frank – why not? I’m happy to toss some ideas around with you inside the Facebook group.

    • JohnnyMack

      I’ve seen a show by a cat who called himself the Sauce Boss, an his deal was to literally make a pot of gumbo throughout the evening as he and his band sang an played Louisiana blues, cajun, zydeco and swamp pop. When the show was finished, the gumbo was served and that was included as part of the program. Big hit. Stayed booked. Good gumbo, too, which was essential to his program.

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