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Gig Booking Strategies & Checklist

One of the most important steps that one can take in order to continue on the path of developing their own voice aside from going out and listening to live jazz, is to actually go out and develop your own opportunities for performance. Here we attempt to outline few basic steps that one can take in order to develop new environments to play, learn, and share your music. This, of course, is not a comprehensive list, but rather a blueprint.

Please note that although somewhat similar to the process of booking a show at an established jazz venue with its own booking procedures, this primer is mainly intended for those who are trying to build something from scratch. If you are attempting to book a gig at a place that already hosts a roster of rotating bands, consult their booking manager for details and begin and step #2, respectively.

#1 - Create Your Own Opportunities

It's always good to get called and be in demand or get booked as a band at a place that has a roster of rotating bands (see above). However, long before that happens one needs to accumulate enough experience, learn enough tunes, arrangements, intros, endings, etc to be able to deliver at the expected level. Why not make the most of your time while you grow and develop your own avenues for performance instead of waiting for "the call"? This idea goes deep as the cornerstone that can guide you throughout this process. Be patient, think of it as running a marathon, not a sprint.

#2 - Play with people who are better than you

If you are able to do so (have contacts and enough budget), find players in the community who have the experience and the network that you don't. Hire them. You will learn on the bandstand from the best in the business about how to manage the band, repertoire, work on tunes, etc. How do you find great players? Go out and listen to some live jazz!

#3 - Develop Your Audience

It's great to play standards. But, having your own take is also important. How are you presenting yourself and who is your target audience? Are you playing selections from the Great American Songbook? Are you doing Latin Jazz? Are you playing reharmonized pop tunes or World Music pieces? However you decide to present your material -- do so clearly so that your target audience can respond: a business by hiring you, and your fans by coming back to your shows.

#4 -- Demo

Today, with so many technological advances recording a short 10-15 minute video and uploading it to Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube should be a no-brainer. If you can't do it yourself, ask someone who can do it for you. Present a sizzle reel that can portray to the prospective venue how you look, how you play, and most importantly what can they get out of hosting you in their business. If the venue can't recoup their expenses chances are they won't ask you back.

#5 -- Ok, but how do I find where to play?

You can go out to any local park now and have your first gig (pending city permits)!

But, everyone has expenses and musicians need to get paid. The best way to approach this is to develop a relationship with the local business community which helps them and you.

  • Start with your own contact book. Do you know anyone who has anything to do with entertainment industry, owns a restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore, etc? Is your old buddy from high school running a coffee shop two hours away? CALL HIM/HER!!!

  • Do you know any event planners within your community, municipality, etc?

  • Go on Yelp!, Google, or any other search and/or directory that has the listing of local coffee shops, restaurants and pay a visit to them. Would you have wanted to play there? Have you been there and wanted to hear some live jazz?

Once you locate the business, talk to the manager or, preferably, the owner and develop conversation. Look presentable, be courteous, have a business card with the QR code for that demo you did earlier. Present your idea and make them see your vision. Repeat.

#6 - The Book

Do you have a list of tunes that you can call that can fill a typical 3 hour gig slot? Start working on the tunes. Do you have the same book in Bb for trumpet, tenor and Eb for alto sax? The best books are the ones where each tune is called by a number, rather than name -- this avoids the necessity to add tunes in alphabetical order, but rather keep appending tunes.

#7 - The Band

Managing and working with the band and building lasting relationships with your band mates is an art onto itself and demands its own chapter in a book. However, suffice it to say that rehearsing the material, booking and communication with musicians, being professional and courteous goes a long way in helping you building lasting relationships with businesses and your audience.

There's a lot more that goes into booking and managing a band, but at the very least have a list of tunes that you want to play and make sure that everyone else is on the same page as far as versions, keys, arrangements, etc.

#8 - The Checklist

Last, but not the least, here's a short checklist that can help you get started:

  • Does your project have a name?

  • Do you have a Facebook or Instagram account?

  • Do you have project-specific email i.e. and not

  • Do you have a demo with good lighting/sound that shows the highlights from your repertoire and showcases your band in a professional light which will want the business to hire you?

  • Do you have a list of contacts/venues/businesses/restaurants/owners to contact?

  • Follow up by email, call, in-person visit. Be courteous. Businesses are usually very busy and emails go unnoticed, ignored, or simply go to spam. It is your responsibility to follow up.

And, finally, always remember why you are doing this. Don't forget to enjoy yourself, make new friendships, and CELEBRATE this great music! Believe you me, the audience can hear and feel if the band is having a good time and this energy is contagious! Good luck.

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