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 that leaves us without enough gigs on the calendar, so read on….)
Today’s Educate and Entertain post is all about the “how’s” and “why’s” of reaching out to venues – and actually getting booked.
I received the following message from a fellow musician and performer recently.
I think it highlights very well a frustration we’ve all had…
Letter From a Musician
“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 23 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.
I 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.
The 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.
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.
Please don’t do that. It hurts all of us.
(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.)
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 23 years, is this:
One “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.
Two mailings, over time, to those same people? Just slightly better.
Three, four, five, seven contacts with that same person, over the course of a year or two, or longer?
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Same reason as before…
They’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:
“I just went back through my emails and counted 53 email booking inquiries received in a recent one-week period. 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:
“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:
“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 50th 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:
“Last month 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.
But 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…
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.
What 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 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.
Each 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 10,000+ school contacts – all entered one name at a time over a long period of time.
This 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.
That 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
Since 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.