11 Tips for Booking Your Next Gig

Wondering what it takes to get noticed by mid-sized and smaller venues?

To find out, Reverb sat down with Mike LeMaistre, talent buyer at Jam Productions, the largest independent producer of live entertainment in the United States. LeMaistre has been buying talent for Jam for the past 18 years, and he and his team book all of Jam’s club shows at venues ranging from 200 to 2,500 people in Chicago. LeMaistre also teaches a course called Presenting and Booking Live Performances, at Columbia College where he is an adjunct professor.

LeMaistre pulled back the curtain for us to see how venues are booked and how bands can get noticed. He left us with these 11 gems:

1. Make sure you’re ready. You know what they say about first impressions. “The music has to be there,” LeMaistre says, quite simply. “You need to have a full set of songs that are presentable, polished and ready to go. Have some successful live performances under your belt, even if they’re small, before approaching venues.

2. Take the long view. Talent buyers are looking to build relationships with bands. Frequently, they buy talent for multiple venues, often different in size, and they like to “grow” bands — to start them off at smaller venues and help them grow their audiences. Landing the gig isn’t really the goal. The goal is to be asked back and ultimately booked into their larger venues.

3. A booking agent or manager helps. Most talent buyers have established relationships with agents and managers. So, getting yourself represented by someone in the industry can go a long way. But, LeMaistre cautions, don’t sign with just anyone to get signed. He says it’s extremely important to have someone represent you who is genuinely excited to work on your behalf. Someone who believes in you will work hard for you. Someone who doesn’t, won’t.

4. Don’t despair if you don’t have a booking agent or manager. LeMaistre said most talent buyers are willing to work with artists who don’t have agents or managers. As long as you’re responsive and honest, he said, they should be happy to work with you.


5. If you can, play conferences like SXSW or CMJ Music Marathon. Go to where the talent buyers go to find talent.

6. Play gigs where you can, even if they’re small. Getting out there gets you noticed by others. Most talent buyers are expected to be out seeing music all the time. You never know when a talent buyer might be in your audience.

7. Reach out, reasonably. LeMaistre said that most talent buyers are happy to receive the occasional email from a hopeful band saying that they’re playing an upcoming gig nearby and that they’d like to have them as their guest, or letting them know of a recent successful show at another venue. But, he said, keep it professional and to the point. And, please, no bribes or gifts.

8. Be honest about your audience numbers. Everyone wants a successful event, so don’t tell the talent buyer that you can fill a 500 person room if you can’t. Don’t hope that by booking a bigger venue, you will magically get a bigger audience. If you don’t pull in the audience, you most likely won’t be asked back, and you will have ruined your relationship with that talent buyer and possibly other venues.

LeMaistre said he’d rather have a band fill a 100 person room with great energy and everyone having a good time than have the same band barely fill a larger venue, which can result in a different, lower level of energy. Quite simply, it looks bad for everyone.

9. Understand that it’s not just the venue. In addition to finding talent and matching it to the appropriate venue, some talent buyers may need to factor in the time of year as well. Certain times of year, in some markets, are busier than others. LeMaistre said that good talent buyers will know how many other events in the area are competing for their audience members and use this information in their booking decisions.


10. Work hard on your own behalf. Once you’ve booked your gig, use your networks and social media to push your event. Talent buyers and their teams will notice if you work as hard as they do — or if you don’t — to promote your gig with them. And, of course, if they specifically ask you to push your event, do what you say you’re going to do.

11. Act like a professional, not a rock star. Take the long view so that you get invited back or, better yet, invited to their next larger venue. Be easy to work with. Be on time. Obey the house rules. Don’t sneak in guests. Be respectful to the staff. Don’t destroy the place. And play at the time you are supposed to play, even if it’s not a full room.

LeMaistre likes a sobering quote that's frequently seen posted backstage:

Listen to the stage manager and get on stage when they tell you to. No one has time for your rock star bullshit. None of the techs backstage care if you’re David Bowie or the milkman. When you act like a jerk, they are completely unimpressed with the infantile display that you might think comes with your dubious status. They were there hours before you building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs.
~ Henry Rollins

Finally, knowing that LeMaistre has seen a lot of gear over the years, we asked him, ”What’s the coolest piece of gear you’ve ever seen?” His answer: Rick Nielsen’s Checkered Explorer.

Photo by Roberto Taddeo

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