Should you really be playing gigs?

If you are a musician or a performer it’s pretty much ingrained in you that you need to gig.

So you rush about trying to find venues, promoters and booking agents to secure some dates.

But rarely do we stop to consider:

How, exactly, will I benefit from playing this gig? Is that aligned to my main goal? Is it most effective way to acheive that goal?

It costs time and money to rehearse.

It costs time (and often money!) to promote and market a gig.

It costs time and money to travel to a gig.

It costs time and money to eat and drink when you’re there.

These aren’t negligible things; when you add it all up, a typical gig set of 30 mins might have actually cost you dozens of hours and hundreds of pounds.

Is it definitely worth it?

If you are very clear on what you are gigging for, is that best expenditure of your precious time and resources?

Might there be other options to achieve the same result?

Given that London (and the UK) has lost over 30% of its live music venues in the past decade (and most of those were the grass-roots ones, open to new acts) there is more competition over gig slots.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a gig; it means that if/when you do, you absolutely must make it pay for the promoter, in order to get booked again.

And making it pay means bringing in a crowd of at least 20+ paying customers, who’ve specifically come to see your act.

If you are an established band with a following, this shouldn’t be too hard (though still not necessarily the best thing to do).

If you are a relatively new act, it becomes somewhat more challenging, especially on your second or third gig, when your mates and family can’t so easily be cajoled into coming out to support you.

Add the constraints the booking contracts usually place on you (e.g. no gigs in the same town/5+ mile radius in the two weeks before, or the two weeks after) and the poor-to-none payout from the ticket receipts (with the exception of a few venues), then playing a gig may not be your best choice.

Here are a few examples to reflect on:

  • If you are gigging to get stage experience, would an open mic be better?
    You have no pressure to bring people, you can just turn up and play on the night and you could play one (or even two!) open mics most nights of the week. You’ll get far better, far quicker, with that kind of regular live performance.
  • If you are gigging to earn from ticket sales and merchandise then you’ll need to be confident you’ll bring in fans. If you can bring in fans, would a private concert, organised by yourself, be better? How about a paid online concert, or one with donations?
  • If you are looking to get new fans are you sure there will be potential new fans in there, especially during your set? How many times have you been to a gig and seen the room empty when the band who bought all the fans have finished their set, or are drinking at the bar in the other room?
  • Even if there are people, are you super confident that your songs and live performance are strong enough to convert them into fans? Would you be better recording and promoting live videos on YouTube, or streaming on Facebook instead? Would busking be a better alternative?
  • Have you a got a strong mechanism to capture and follow up on any potential new fans (e.g. collecting emails in exchange for free music) or are you going to leave it to chance that they might remember who you are and check you out later?
  • etc…

There are, of course, many reasons to play gigs, and sometimes the gig will be exactly what you need. But not all the time; not by default.

So, before you plough ahead with booking as many gigs as you can, be sure you are clear on what you will actually gain by playing them.

And be even clearer if it’s worth your time and financial investment (not to mention emotional investment too!).