Finding gigs can be tough… We all know that feeling of just dying to get out and play somewhere, without there really being a place to play. Surely there is a coffee shop or hotel or even an old janky diner that NEEDS my music. Surely. I mean, is it really too much to ask to have a venue that lets you come in on a weekly basis to share your talents with the world?! Short answer – yes. And let me explain.
The Perfect Gig Will NOT Just Fall in your Lap
As sad as it may be, there are more musicians than there are jobs for musicians. It is truly an unfortunate statistic. To make it as a full-time musician (especially pianist), we have to outperform our brothers and sisters to ensure that THEY aren’t the ones getting gigs, but that we are. It is truly a competition that highlights the saying “survival of the fittest” – because it really is. But what does being “fit” in the music world even mean? This may surprise you.
Being “fit” as a competitive working musician means:
- You are persistently calling venues to get information on how to play there
- You are consistently seeking opportunities where others may not
- You are actively and ferociously social networking with other musicians, venues, and potential employers
Notice that I never said that you must be a better player than your competition. Interesting, right? Let’s talk about that.
How do venues book acts?
Another sadly unfortunate statistic that working musicians deal with is that venues generally do a terrible job at outreaching to find new talent. Hotels, bars, casinos, restaurants, and every other business in the hospitality/entertainment industry have a single, undeniable goal: $$$ – which leads me to my next point.
These sorts of businesses, which happen to be the biggest supporters of live, local music, use the all-powerful phrase “LIVE MUSIC” as a sales pitch. To them, this sales pitch means more people in the door, which translates to more food sales, drink sales, more rooms booked, etc., which – Ding! Ding! Ding! – means more money for them! So, if these venues can just throw around the phrase “LIVE MUSIC” willy-nilly and always bring in more paying customers, it’s obviously in their best interest to book live music as often as possible, regardless of how good – or bad – that live music may be.
All of this to say, don’t ever expect a venue to take time out of their day to research the best acts, pick up their phone and call, because…. well really, they don’t have to do that. They can pretty much bet that there will be musicians calling them left and right begging for a gig. And as long as the business can make a post on Facebook saying “LIVE MUSIC TONIGHT,” you can bet that this trend will continue. So, pick up your phone and start calling!
Finding Venues Near You
Now I’m going to share my own secret on how I landed the perfect residency gig at an upscale hotel in the heart of downtown Nashville, Tennessee.
Let’s say that you want to land a hotel pianist gig… how do you know what hotels even HAVE a piano? Try this right now: In a Google search, type “Hotel ‘piano'” – with the word “piano” in actual quotations. This will force Google to search for hotels while also finding the keyword “piano” in reviews, website info, etc. Then, Google will generate a beautiful list of hotels that, in one way or another, have the word “piano” linked to them. Look through photos and try to verify that they do in fact have a piano, and then start calling. In addition to searching “piano,” you can also try “live music” and it will force the same search finding where people have left reviews with the phrase “live music” in them.
What to say when a venue picks up
As soon as you get a “thanks for calling, how may I help you?”, reply with “Can you please connect me with whoever is in charge of music & entertainment?” Once they connect you, explain “I’m a professional pianist in the area and noticed on your website that you have a piano. I’d love to see about how I could audition and play regularly at your venue.” More often than not, they will gladly walk you through what they expect in a pianist, and, hopefully, schedule a time to meet and audition. In the case that you are immediately rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on to the next call. Once you do land that in-person audition, do your best to make the absolute best first impression, and that will pave the way for a successful, long-term relationship.
It’s a game of numbers
Call, call, call until you get a shot to meet them in person to audition. Add, add, add other musicians on social media. Join, join, join groups for musicians online. Constantly pursue opportunities despite any rejection you might face. The best way to never get a gig is to sit and wait on one to show up. You must actively seek out your aspirations as a musician. Seek and act on those opportunities for a long enough period, and you are guaranteed success. Be a “fit” musician, if you will.