How to Get Gigs: Questions from Performers

I sent an email recently to subscribers of the Educate and Entertain blog asking for a marketing question they’re stumped with.

It’s been really fun to see what everyone’s up to, so I think I’ll make this a semi-regular feature open to all subscribers.

Not subscribed yet? Just click here and you’re in!

Do You Work Too Cheap- (10)Here’s a sample of questions I received, along with my best attempts at some answers! There seems to be a similar theme to this first batch, though the markets are different.

What’s everyone wondering?

How to Get Gigs!

If you’ve got something to contribute to the conversation, I’d welcome that. You’ll find the Comments section just below the article.

Question #1

Robert Van Horne, Pianist /Composer / Entertainer from San Jose, CA wrote:

Business of music question

Robert Van Horne

“My target audience are seniors. How do I market and find venues for my piano concerts consisting of light classical and standard songs with music, stories and audience participation?”  

Hi Robert,

Thanks for this question. I imagine it could be hard to find enough work on a local level unless you were targeting senior centers and senior communities, where budgets are notoriously “humble.”

Are you willing to travel a bit for gigs, say, within a two to six hour radius of home?

What I’m thinking about is things like:

  • subscription concert series (jazz group one month, dance troupe the next, solo piano the next, etc)
  • arts council gigs (many arts councils present their own series of performances throughout the year)
  • public libraries (see How to Get Gigs in Libraries)
  • museums (can you tie your music to a particular historical or cultural theme?)
  • community arts centers and presenters (here’s an example of one from my area)
  • outdoor/summertime festivals

This will take some digging on your part, but if you spend some time with Google I think you’ll be able to cultivate a whole new network of “listening audience” gigs that pay a whole lot better than senior facilities can. I’d suggest building a database of these kinds of venues, looking closely at who they book and reaching out to them individually to explain what you do. The fact that you tell stories and get the audience involved is a MAJOR plus for these kinds of gigs.

Here’s a great tip for finding more of these opportunities: track down the websites of your local, regional, and state arts councils and find the page detailing the “presenting” grants they’ve awarded over the last few years. These listings will show you which venues have received arts council funding to put on a series of programs. Many of those will be ideal candidates for you to get in touch with, if not for the current year then for their next planning cycle.

I have another idea regarding live streaming your events to multiple libraries, senior centers, etc. where each pays a fee to access it. That’s a bit more involved, but I’ve done it for libraries and arts centers and do quite a bit of it for schools, and it works great. I might write a future post on that if there’s interest.

I hope that helps.

Question #2

Robert Rogers of Robert Rogers Puppet Company in Castle Creek, NY asked:

Puppet show marketing question

Robert Rogers

What do you think about mailing brochures?  Back when I began my career (1980), I’d send out an annual brochure in August, and the phone would ring throughout the year.  I booked at least 250 performances a year.  Over the years, things changed to where I would send out a second brochure after January, and then specialized mailings other times to libraries, recreation departments and theaters.  They all seemed to have their own schedules.

Frankly, I got kind of road weary and burned out and took a break from performing.  Now, I’m back in the business, but with all the changes in social media, the budget cuts and the pressures of Common Core, when it comes to schools, I think that market has largely dried up.  Still, I’d like to send out a brochure for a new assembly program and see what happens.  What do you think?”  

Hey Robert,

I too remember the days of sending physical mailings to schools. I was in a musical group that would send copious amounts of postcards in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and yes, the phone and email response was pretty terrific.

I think it would certainly be worth testing again now, as so many people have moved AWAY from sending physical mailings. You might be the only performer in their mailbox! Postcards are cheaper; brochures and mailers can hold more information – kind of a trade off there. It looks like you’re down around the land of DCMO BOCES, where their wonderful arts-in-education division will have your brochures hand-delivered to each school at no cost. I assume you’re in touch with them, but if not, let me know and I can get you their info. My marketing to schools is 100% email and word of mouth now, so I’d be curious to know how this works out for you.

One last thing I would say is that many schools are still spending good money to bring in arts-based programming, but it’s no longer the case that they have a large roster of people coming throughout the year as they once did. In my experience, the closer you can tie your program to the needs of the school, the more work you’ll get, but having done this for so long, I’m sure you know that. More in the article How to Get Gigs in Schools.

Question #3

Kate Kunkel, The Harp Lady, Markham, Ontario, Canada said:

Musician question on marketing

Kate Kunkel

“I’ve been in the game a long time, but generally as an entertainer in Las Vegas. Now I’m back in Canada doing therapy and playing weddings, but I’d like to do more in schools. I just don’t know how to approach the libraries and schools here.  I think that’s how I found you in the first place…. looking for ideas!”

Hi Kate,

Thanks for the question. It’s funny, I live no more than ten minutes from the Canadian border (right across from Fort Erie), but it’s like an unknown world to me up there in terms of playing schools and libraries. I’ve played folk clubs and festivals in Ontario, and presented at an education conference or two in Toronto, but have never done a school or library show north of the border (yet!).

I know that in general terms, things are more similar than they are different in terms of desire for the arts (high), time and budget for the arts (not quite so high), and the fact that there continue to be opportunities for performers who really speak to the needs of the schools and libraries. There will be some parallels for you in the articles I wrote on How to Get Gigs in Schools and Libraries.

I guess my best recommendation would be to do what I did when I first got interested in pursuing those kinds of gigs here in the US: start Googling around to find other performers who seem to be doing this kind of work in your region. Pay close attention to who hires them, how they describe their shows, who they quote as satisfied “customers,” how much they charge, any references they make to available sources of funding (“book us through the XYZ arts council grant”), etc. Get in touch with the performers directly to network and ask questions. Generally speaking, educational performers are a friendly lot.

Look for “arts in the schools” or “arts in education” showcases that you could participate in, and “library performer showcases.” Go volunteer a few times in some local schools so you can get some experience (if needed) and, just as importantly, to get some quotes from happy teachers/librarians. Those will be really important as you approach others for bookings.

And finally, get in touch with arts organizations in your region to inquire about funding for artists in the schools, professional development opportunities, etc. Pick their brains and ask their advice. One organization I am aware of is Prologue in the Toronto area, but there are undoubtedly others.

In terms of marketing, email might be a good way to start approaching the schools and libraries, or if you have the personality for it, make some calls (not my cup of tea, but for the right person, this can be far more effective than an email).

I hope you’ll let us know how it goes for you Kate.

OK, three questions down…

Thanks everyone for the great emails. More Q&A to come in a future post!

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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13 Responses to How to Get Gigs: Questions from Performers

  1. To Kate in Markham,
    I’m also in York Region (just north of Toronto) and perhaps I can offer some suggestions.

    To access the schools, you must go through the school boards. York Region and York Catholic are very welcoming – call or write to find the person in charge. With York Catholic, ask about a space at their annual Principals/Vice Principals Conference. It’s money we’ll spent. For TDSB contact their Educational Partners office – there are a lot of hurdles there – but it could be worth it for you in the long run. The TDSB P/VP conference is expensive and I haven’t seen a potential for ROI.

    York Region Arts Council – I (as you may have read last week, don’t fall into their “priority” groups – but you do). Contact them because they do give grants.

  2. Please provide a post about how to do a live streaming event to multiple venues. Sounds overwhelmingly complicated. I’m sure you can explain it well. Thanks. I always read your posts.

  3. HI Dave,

    I was wondering if you’ve ever performed at weddings and what’s the best way to get those gigs? I perform clean stand-up comedy.

    • Hi Tom – I only perform at weddings very occasionally, and don’t seek out those gigs, but other readers of the blog certainly do. There has been some good discussion on the topic in the Comments section of some of the other posts here.

      • Please take my advice regarding weddings and clean comedy. Steer clear! Remember … you are not the center of attention at a reception, and I have even done a gig where you could just feel the discomfort. That being said … a pretty good-sized market along those lines is actually funerals. Never actually done one but I’ve heard from other comics that the audience loves it. Good luck and keep us all up-to-date. I’d be curious to hear what path you take and how it goes.

  4. I have a question– I work with Activities Directors in Retirement Communities. If an AD leaves a given community, and a new one takes over, I have to start over again to build a relationship with that AD. If that person moves to a new community they MIGHT remember me for shows in the new community. But the new AD, if she is not familiar with my work or who I am, there is no guarantee that i might ever work at that retirement community again. Is this a thing? I can’t depend on residents to ask for me–many residents don’t remember me from time to time and each new AD wants to develop their own shows and resources. Writing doesn’t seem to work, and in truth, very few of these people use Facebook. They get so much email that i can’t shout through the crowd. So How do I attract their attention? I’m open to any ideas at this point. There is a lot of turnover in this position which means I’m starting over a lot. Many of them do not go to AD meetings unless it involves their organization (like Brandycare). So what do I do? I’ve thought of just trying to go out there to see a new AD or trying to make an appointment to meet them but I’m interested in what you all think.

    • Hi Rochelle – seems like a phone call or face-to-face meeting to re-solidify the relationship (letting them know you’ve worked there successfully in the past) would be the way to go.

  5. Thank you very much, Dave. I appreciate your terrific suggestions for finding more venues interested in the type of concerts for seniors. I’ll certainly investigate your excellent suggestions. Your idea of contacting the local, regional, and state arts councils is a very good one. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Thanks again for all your help. You’re a great help to performers.


  6. Thanks for adding the link to Prologue to the Performing Arts for performers who would want to perform in Ontario schools. We will read your blog with great interest!

    All the best,

    Nathalie for Prologue

    • Glad to do it Nathalie; it’s great to have you commenting here for Kate K. and any others who would like to be doing this kind of work in Canada.

      I wrote an article recently for American artists on how to get work performing in schools – I wonder how much of the advice would carry over to somebody in Ontario? Would love your comments. The article can be found at this link.

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