How Do I Break Into Playing Shows in a Big City?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Hi there Fan,
I'm an independent recording artist in Joshua Tree, California, looking to make my debut after a successful Kickstarter project and my album being almost complete. Canvassing Los Angeles for gigs as an opening act is somewhat daunting, especially since my album isn't yet released. Do you have a word of advice on how to get my promo, such as it is, in front of more people?
Congratulations on your crowdsourcing success. That's certainly something--people liking your music enough to help you get 8g to bring it into the world is a good sign that people are connecting with what you are doing.
The bad news is there is no short cut. It's a slog and it sucks. You need to make a list of the venues and promoters that put on concerts within the genre you work, and just reach out. I imagine that part of the reason this is daunting is the looming fear of rejection, rather than the scale of the endeavor, as there are maybe a dozen places in LA that might reasonably host you.
A brief introductory email (four sentences maximum) with a link where some of your music can be streamed easily, like Bandcamp, and maybe a YouTube link to the music video you made, or you playing in front of an audience. Let them know you are in the mature contemporary folk singer songwriter genre, cite Joni or Rickie Lee Jones. Tell them you had a story in KCRW recently. Tell them you have an album coming out in X weeks and are looking for opening slots this fall in the city. Check back in 10 days and then 10 days after that. No phone, no mail. Everyone hates both. When you hit up venues or promoters, make sure it is the right place for you, so you are not wasting your time or theirs.
You play in restaurants and hotel bars in 29 Palms, which makes me think you would be suited for those types of places outside of central L.A., say Malibu? Surely you play your local shows with folks who are on this same candle lit wine bar circuit--find out where they play other than Joshua Tree or Indio. The singer-songwriter who is the equivalent to you in Santa Barbara is who you need to connect with. Tell them you are looking to start doing shows outside of the area and would love any hot tips they have, or that it would be great to do more shows together, that you have a new album to promote. Maybe they know the hook up for some good folky showcases that would be easy to hop on. ALSO? Find out what it takes to get gigs at wineries. I feel like that is going to be more your speed than say, knocking yourself out trying to get on Hotel Cafe bills. Though if that is your dream, keep dreaming it, you just have to network and you have to do the hustling.
Not having a record out is not going to be a real concern for most folks. Do you have a fanbase to speak of in LA? If not, then really try to hook up with someone who does, see if you can open. The best way to do that is ask directly. You are in a position to pay back a favor as you are beloved in your lil' town. Even though you feel like maybe you don't know where to start, or how can you possibly pry these other cities open, keep in mind what you have built for yourself already in your community. It's something real.