Trying to book my own gigs in the beginning was a lot like going door to door selling vacuum cleaners. Only I was telling the person they could have the vacuum cleaner for free. I just wanted them to take it and like it.
The problem when you’re starting out is that no one takes you seriously. You have some songs that you’re proud of but now what? The gatekeepers — venue owners, booking agents, DJs, critics — how do you go from a nobody to a somebody?
It’s easier now with social media (and probably harder in some ways, too) but back when I started, I needed a stage and a microphone to make anyone a believer. Once I’d recorded my first CD, however, I thought venue owners would listen and book me based on the music. But what they really needed to know was whether I could draw a crowd who would buy food and drinks. And I couldn’t. I could only guarantee that my friends Shawn and Gavin would come as long as Shawn could get his shift covered at Starbucks. This is not a great sales pitch, even though Shawn and Gavin are awesome.
But then one day I called a venue in Duluth, Minnesota. After the lady on the phone had let me down gently, I asked her if she recommended any place across the river in Superior, Wisconsin.
“Ewe, Superior,” she said, “Don’t go over there.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Superior is gross.”
Whatever. I was desperate. I’d quit college to try and make this music thing work. I felt like I had people counting on me. I didn’t really care whether it was Mars or Earth, I just needed a tour date on my website.
What I learned is that Superior, Wisconsin is not gross, but awesome. There’s a place called Red Mug, a coffee shop, owned (back then) by a lovely hipster type named Anna. She told me, “Sure, you can play here. When do you want to play?
She had no idea how much I needed a win. And I’ll always be grateful. The show was even a moderate success!
The thing about all this is . . . rejection is tough, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It teaches you to figure out how bad you want something and how much you believe in yourself. This is YOUR dream after all. Everybody else is dreamin’ up their own dream, so get to it!
And remember that everyone has problems. You can add to it or help solve it. A venue owner needs to book a musician who can bring in customers. You want to play on a stage. If you can’t bring in the customers to solve the venue owner’s problem you’ll just be adding to it or asking for a favor.
So get creative. Maybe you add somebody to the ticket, and maybe a third person? The three of you combined might have enough friends to lessen the risk the venue owner is taking.
Even if you don’t get booked, if you show the effort and hustle and that you’re thinking from the booker’s perspective, that goes a long way. People remember that. The next time they’re trying to fill a spot or need an opener for a national act, your name might come to mind.