So you have your favorite monthly gig. You’ve been playing there for two years, always get an appreciative crowd, and there is never any haggling over the price at the end of the night. And then you get the call, “Hey man, we’re gonna stop bands and instead have karaoke. Come in for a beer sometime, maybe you can get up and sing a few songs!” Another gig bites the dust!
It’s happened to all of us. Maybe karaoke wasn’t the culprit. Perhaps it was DJs, Texas Holdem Poker, saving money or a new owner. Either way, you’re out of a good gig and it sucks.
It’s part of life for a working musician. Good gigs come and go. When you lose a good one, you hope to find a new place. Eventually you do but you sometimes think, ‘I wish I had both of these gigs to fill out my schedule.’ As a musician you may feel somewhat helpless. You’re not the bar owner, what can you do?
Read: 21 Side Hustles for Musicians
What if I tell you that you can do something about it? Not only that you can do something, you should do something. Not just for you and your band but for other bands as well.
I’m talking about saving live music! As musicians we can’t be passive about this. We love playing music, first and foremost, because of the pleasure it brings us. We also know that our music brings pleasure to others. But if we can’t just sit by and watch gigs dry up. Complaining bar owners and the non-live music competition won’t get us gigs. So don’t be bitter, create some gigs!
Having a Party?
Where do we start? Let’s start at home. What events do you have in your life that could have live music? Parties, cookouts, your wedding!
Let’s start with your wedding. Or your kid’s wedding that you are paying for. Live music is so common at weddings traditionally that it has become a cliche. Unfortunately, more often than not, most weddings opt for a DJ to save money and have a greater variety of music. Both of these excuses are both weak. The average wedding DJ is making about the same as the average bar band. At the weddings I’ve been to, there wasn’t variety. Basically it’s starts with a few gigs songs for the traditional dances, then some classic Motown dance music followed by three hours of rap and pop music that the bride and groom hand picked. Basically the wedding turns into a middle school dance with all of the people over thirty watching the wedding party dance. Unfortunately, many modern day couples forget that the music at their reception is supposed to their guests as well as them.
Wow, that was a rant! But seriously, if you are involved in planning a wedding, why not make it so there is some live music. A reception can have a DJ and a band. How about a small combo for the cocktail hour? Live acoustic guitar is a great touch for the ceremony. Chances are this is not going to be a gig for you or your band but that is OK. We are paying it forward.
How about your yearly Memorial Day Weekend blowout? You already invite all the neighbors, fire up the grill and tap two kegs. Why not hire a live band too? You don’t have a Memorial Day Weekend Blowout? Maybe you should.
So these are just two examples of how you personally can make gigs for musicians. Grant it, these will cost you money but sometimes it was money you planned on spending anyway. What about using someone else’s funds?
Get Involved in Your Community
There are many ideas to follow. The key is to get involved in your community. You’re on a mission to make your community better and while you are at it, you are going to support live music.
Start in your town. It doesn’t matter if you live in a small town or a big city. Chances are you have a parks and recreation department. One of their goals is to increase attendance at their parks. If your town doesn’t have a summer concert series, suggest it. Don’t just suggest it, be an advocate for it, fight for it! Remember, we are being proactive here. We’re not just going to send an email or make a post on a social media site. We are going to attend the Parks and Recreation Committee Meetings and explain how live music will bring residents out to the park. Maybe we’ll even volunteer to join the committee. Many municipalities are required to have private citizens on their committees. Chances are, they’ll be happy for your help.
Your local municipality may already have some events throughout the year. An Easter Egg Hunt, a Community Day, a street fair; all of these could benefit from some live music. Most towns have money in their budget for these events. Others may get support from local sponsors.
Do you live near a downtown area? Often Main Street businesses are looking for ways to bring people into town. A weekly concert series is a great way to bring a buzz to downtown. Reach out to the local Chamber of Commerce or business organization. You can also go directly to the businesses who would most benefit from foot traffic. The local ice cream shop may not be big enough to have a band inside, but they would probably love a band outside that has fifty or so people watching them in warm summer weather. The great thing is the business can pool their money to pay for the bands.
Go to Church
Another organization that is always looking to increase attendance in your local church. Now I am not suggesting you take up religion to get gigs for musicians! If you do regularly attend a church, think about what events they hold that would benefit from live music. Maybe a spring fair or carnival has room for a band. If you’re not a regular church goer, consider talking to a church about using their facilities.
Many churches have great facilities that are empty most of the week. For the greater good, a church may be willing to partner with you on a concert series. Some music lovers cannot or prefer not to go to bars, therefore they have little opportunity to see live music. People who are too young to drink are always looking for things to do. Also, people who have struggled with addiction still like music even after their bar days are over. You could charge an admission or seek sponsorship for musicians.
Back to School
Schools are another opportunity to create gigs for musicians. Most schools have budgets for assemblies that have an educational purpose. Teaching students about live music can be a great opportunity for musicians and students. Check with music teachers to see if they are interested in small group workshops. Again the school will probably have some money in their budget for this type of event.
Many schools are looking for events to reach students who aren’t usually involved in activities. Maybe an after-school jam club for high school students? Or how about a Battle of the Bands? Some battle of the bands have a house band who supplies the equipment and guarantees there will be some good music. These are often done as fundraisers so they may not be lucrative but it is a gig, plus anytime we can create opportunities for young musicians, we are helping the artform.
Its Not Always Quiet in the Library
Your local library is another place that is looking to increase attendance. Many libraries hold events to benefit the community. A monthly concert series may be appealing to your local librarian. This would probably work best with solo musicians but some libraries can handle full bands. If the library does not have money in the budget they may be willing to help seek sponsors.
The library can also be a great spot to offer adult guitar classes or classes on any instrument. While this may not exactly be a performance gig, it is still a gig for a musician. Students will be paying for the class and may be showing up at your next bar gig too!
Another opportunity to make gigs for musicians are fundraisers. This may or may not provide income for the musicians, but sometimes one freebie can lead to multiple paid gigs. Fundraisers could be for any cause, a sick person, a charitable organization or any other situation. Think of a beef and beer. Rent a hall, get some food and sell some tickets. Perhaps there is a local organization in your town that is always in need of funds. You can partner up, they get the proceeds in exchange for helping promote the event. If successful, this could be an annual event.
Create a Club
If you are really ambitious about saving live music and helping working musicians, consider forming a music society. Throughout the country there are local and regional societies dedicated to different genres: blues societies, jazz societies, folk societies and even dance societies focused on a type of music like swing. This type of endeavor could live on long past you as it will take on a life of its own. A blues society can bring in touring musicians that may not normally play in your area. As a non-profit organization, the society can seek grants and donations while also charging for the shows. An added benefit would be to have a local band open up for the more popular touring artist. Truly a win, win for all.
Finally, let’s go back to where we started. Do you have a favorite pub that currently does not have entertainment? If you are a regular, your suggestion may be seriously considered. Perhaps an open mic night or jam session on a generally weak night for business may be appealing to some owners. At the end of the day, bar owners are there to make money. If the increased crowd attracted by the band covers their pay and more, it helps the bottom line. Sometimes you have to make a gig!
So keep this in mind when you hear your band mates complaining about the lack of gigs. What are they doing to get gigs for musicians. It’s a change in attitude. We don’t just have to wait for someone to call us. Imagine if every musician worked on creating playing opportunities.