Female vocalist doing a live performance. She is holding a microphone above her face. Wearing a white singlet and black pants. The background is black and dark except for some yellow lights that are twinkling in the background.

August 10, 20226 mins read

How to book a live performance as an independent musician

By Leesa

Booking a live performance as an independent musician can be overwhelming and hard to navigate. Here are some helpful pointers on how to book a live performance.

What is a live performance?

A live performance is when a singular or group of musicians plays their music at a venue or premise publicly in a live setting. Playing and watching a live performance is an experience that is shared between the performer and audience members. The live aspect means there is room for new kinds of sounds and improvisation, that you can see the person or people performing the music and there is a more personal interaction able to be had. Live performances can be eclectic and inspiring, a raw display of talent and excellence. Most definitely something all musicians should consider doing regularly in order to build a career in the music industry.

Who is in charge of booking a live performance?

From the venue perspective

Depending on the size and capacity of the venue, the person booking the shows may be a specific employee who handles the booking schedule – this is called the Venue Booker. Names can vary from band booker, bookings manager, and so on. (If the title has the word booking in it, you can safely assume you have the correct person!) This is generally the case when the venue is mid-sized. When the venue is large and holds capacities of 800 or more people, the venue may employ a team of bookers to handle its extensive calendar. Bookers can be part of the internal staff team at a venue and can also be an external booking company.

Venue bookers for smaller venues with less space and less budget are likely to be the owner of the premise itself.

From the independent musician’s perspective

When you are starting out, you will need to book your own shows. You will liaise with the venue booker, handle the deal negotiation, book the support acts, promote the show and be the point of contact for final payment. That’s a lot for just one person or band. However, as you become more well-known, build an audience and start getting some experience under your belt, you may reach a point where you can afford a booking agent.

A booking agent will book all the shows for you! Sounds great right? The catch? The industry standard for booking agents is 10% of gross income. What does that mean? You won’t pay a booking agent out of pocket, but every time you play a show and earn $1,000 the booking agent will get $100 of that amount. A little piece of the pie. Booking agents are extremely helpful because they often have connections to venues and festivals that they have cultivated over the years and can often book performances for you that you would never have had a shot at before. It’s only beneficial to have a booking agent once you start playing bigger shows and getting paid more. If you are only getting paid $100 a show, it’s unlikely a booking agent will want to do all of the show organization for $10.

How to find the right venue for a live performance

The best way to know is to go! Go see a bunch of shows at the venues you are considering booking. Ask the musicians who played how they found the booking process, the name of the booker, and how they got in touch. You can look online, but seeing it for yourself and being able to visualize whether or not it is the right place for you is invaluable.

Think about how many audience members you brought to your last show. 50? 100? If you are pulling less than 100 audience members at your performances then you may want to stick to venues that are between 50-100 capacity. If you find that easy, move on up! Find a venue that has 150 capacity and see how you go filling the room. Make sure you don’t get too overconfident and attempt to sell a 300-capacity room when your biggest show was 150 people. Be sensible and strategic. Venue bookers are more likely to book bands several times if their shows go well. They want to see that you sold out the show, not that you played to an empty room. An empty room can be very intimidating for other audience members too. Avoid large spaces as much as possible! Try to pack out all of your shows.

What you need before you reach out

You need to carefully curate an email before you send it to a venue booker. The email should include a link to your music, links to your social channels, and any impressive information such as playlists you were added to or other shows you sold out.

Make the email short and sharp. Venue bookers are busy people trying to fill their calendars at least a month in advance. Tell them who you are, where you are from, what dates you are available to play and a snippet of your music with social links. You can include YouTube links to music videos if they are high quality. Be careful of being too chatty over email and of sending low res. imagery or videos. Represent yourself in a professional manner so that you make a great first impression.

Lock in the date of your show

Once you lock in a date with a venue booker, a number of things will happen. The venue will likely send you an agreement to sign. You will then receive some paperwork/ a worksheet that will tell you the following:

  • set times
  • backline available (this is the gear the venue provides – amps, drum kits etc.)
  • rider available (how many drinks each of your band members get)
  • who the sound engineer will be or if you need to hire your own
  • remittance information, how to collect payment (cash or invoice)
  • how to get to the venue
  • load in time
  • curfew (when the music must end)
  • sound check time
  • door time
  • ticket price
  • Any extra insurance info you may need to complete
  • request for assets

Understanding different deals

Door Deals

Every venue has a different deal and they often change deals based on who is playing. A common deal is a ‘door deal’ where you set the ticket price and the venue takes a set amount off of the top of each ticket. For example, you may set the ticket price at $25 and the venue will take $3 off the top of each ticket. The venue will often keep all bar sales as well in this kind of deal. These deals can be risky if you don’t sell enough tickets. If you have promised a specific amount to the support acts and the sound engineer, you need to sell enough tickets to break even.

Percentage Deal

Other deals include the musicians getting a percentage of all bar sales (sometimes 15%).

Guarantee Deal

Some venues have a guarantee, which means no matter how many tickets you sell, you will be paid this flat amount.

Versus Guarantee Deal

A versus guarantee deal is similar but with a twist. Say you are guaranteed $2,000 to perform and then promised that if you sold higher than the value of the guarantee, you will receive a percentage or agreed-upon amount for any extra on top.

So, if each ticket costs $20 and you sold 100 tickets and hit your guaranteed target of $2,000, any ticket sales after that would be available to you as a bonus (depending on what deal you struck initially). If you sold less than 100 tickets, you are still guaranteed $2,000 no matter what.

Venue Hire

Many venues may offer a door deal but instead of a few dollars off the top, they may require a flat venue hire fee. This is deducted at the end on the final invoice after all the sales have been tallied.

Promote the show

Once you have negotiated a deal that works for both you and the venue, you need to promote the show. The venue booker will expect you to send through some assets like a bio, press shots, event blurb, and event poster. They will also expect you to create a Facebook event or accept a co-host invitation after they have made one. After that, share and talk about your show. The more dedicated the venue booker sees you being with promotion, the more likely your tickets will sell and there’s a higher chance that the venue booker will have you back to perform again.

Get paid for your performance!

Don’t forget to follow up with payment. Often the show is not officially finished until all the venue gear has been accounted for and put away by the venue manager or sound engineer on the night. If you agreed to a door deal, you need to get the door person to count up the tickets sold. In some venues, the bar will pay you this amount in cash if it’s on the lower side. Other mid-sized venues will supply a door person who will count up the sales at the end of the night and send them to you along with a summary of online pre-sales in the form of a reconciliation report. You will then be required to invoice for the amount that is owed to you, so make sure you have an invoice template ready to go!

Want to know more about live performances? Check out Vampr’s latest blog a live performance checklist for every musician >>>

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