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.).


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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