Seeking advice for singing/playing gigs

I’m hoping to have a secondary career as a “folksinger,” playing in restaurants, bars, etc. I’ve had a few gigs over the last several years, but now am planning to pursue it more. I’m looking for advice on several aspects of this.

I think my voice is good, my guitar skills adequate, my personality adequate. I see my strong suit as my repertoire, over 200 songs through a wide variety of genres, many of them not commonly done by other performers (“songs that don’t get heard enough”). I play acoustic guitar, and have amplification equipment.

Suggestions on places to approach? I’ve thought of certain bars and restaurants, retirement homes, and maybe coffee houses.

Any guidance on what to charge? Should it be more if I need to provide sound equipment than if I just bring me and the guitar? How about the difference between playing, say, two hours vs. playing four hours?

Any insight into approaching the owner/manager of an establishment? While a number of people I know would make a point of coming to hear me (at least once, anyway), I don’t have a following. Aside from a following, what would the owner be hoping for?

Any other thoughts or suggestions, or questions for me?

I know a guy who makes more money from the senior circuit than anywhere else. He has to tailor his repertoire to what they’ll enjoy, of course. And there are more senior centers going up every day, it seems. And you’ve got a built-in audience.

My impression is that a lot of coffee houses have an open stage night where new performers can show up and play for a bit. You might also get some gigs as an opening act for better known performers until you do acquire a following.

Yep - a great way to get visibility with a new establishment.

Get yourself recorded and burn a few CD’s or DVD’s - so you can leave them as a calling card; many club owners ask for them, but that is a club for a band vs. a coffee house for a single player.

God, I have been doing stuff like that for so long, I can’t even remember what I did to break in - basically the hardest part is to play the numbers game, i.e., to get one gig, assume you need to go to 20-50 places, get rejected outright from the majority to drive to maybe 10 possibilities, where you’ll get to audition for a few or play an open mic - and then you’ll get a gig. Assume they are going to treat you like shit and that they have dozens of offers from dozens of other players and are not inclined to give you the time of day. Assume you will have to be persistent just to get a listen.

Life is sales - so is getting gigs. And sales is a numbers game.

Buy either contact management software (e.g., ACT!) or just use a spreadsheet and track all the places you are networking with - and keep your last contact with them up to date, and set a reminder in your calendar to bug them again in the short term if they sounded like a possibility and in a few months if they didn’t bite but you want to keep workin’ them…

Record yourself and watch yourself - and ask people you know for honest critiques. As a rule, there is always something you can be doing better.

Charging money - well, that may not happen much at first if you are playing open mics or giving freebies to get exposure. Show you can get more people to buy more drinks - coffee or booze - and you can start charging real $$…

All for now.

The most productive method for getting solo gigs for me has been through performers who already had gigs. In most cases, this has involved asking friends who had a regular spot at a bar or coffee house to introduce me to the owner and to let me play a few songs during one of their breaks. This gets you an audition and a recommendation all at once without you having to haul your PA around.

Open mic nights are also good, but you need to make sure that the person who hires for paying slots is present and paying attention. There’s no point in doing it, other than experience, if the person who hires isn’t around. If they are present, you should make sure that they know that you are interested in a paying gig so that they will make a point of listening to you. Many open mic performers are just doing it for the thrill. Don’t count on your blinding brilliance to make them pay attention. :slight_smile: Talk to them before you play.

Knowing, or getting to know, performers who already have gigs is also a good way to find out about pay. Most venues will have a basic fixed amount that they will pay a solo performer, and most performers will discuss pay pretty freely. Most venues will be pretty open about it too. It’s hard for me to make any statements about what you can expect without knowing the market you’re in.

Bars would definitely prefer performers who can bring a crowd. If you can’t fill the place with your following, be honest about that, and mention that you can augment the existing regular crowd with a small group of friends and family.

Good luck.