Touring Tips: Choosing the Right Gigs

Have you ever noticed that gig opportunities can quickly go from exciting to confusing? When you first start playing shows, just about any gig sounds like a good one.

– Playing a 15 minute open mic night at the local coffeshop.
– Performing one song at a local talent show.
– Jamming at a friend’s birthday party for free.

Anything is good, because it gives you some performance experience and gets your music in front of people who can provide valuable feedback on your show.

But as time goes by, you’ll probably find yourself less inclined to do certain shows that don’t pay much (or at all) or don’t give you your ideal set length. There are probably a couple main reasons for this.

1. You may have grown a little weary of the time and effort that goes into gigging, both physically and emotionally. You want to make sure that for all the work you’ll be putting in, the show will be worth your efforts.
2. Your fan base and reputation may have expanded to the point where you have outgrown certain performance settings such as open mics and pro bono gigs.

Whatever the cause, as you get further in your music career, a gig opportunity tends to transform from an instant, no-questions-asked “yes” to a “what’s in it for me” situation.

Once you get to this point, it becomes increasingly important to choose your gigs wisely.

But how do you decide which gigs to take and which to turn down? You certainly don’t want to turn down a gig that could further your music career, but you also don’t want to keep accepting gigs that offer little benefit to it.

In a recent poll of musicians by Tunecore, they asked if artists would rather play a show to 20,000 people but lose $1,000 or play to 10 people and make $5,000. The response was split 60/40 in favor of playing to lots of people and losing money, which isn’t a huge difference. This perfectly illustrates the conundrum of gig selection.

Playing to 20,000 people could be fantastic exposure, but losing $1,000 isn’t always an option for artists operating on a shoestring budget, especially if they’re on the road and paying for travel expenses. Making five grand could benefit just about any musician—studio fees, promotion, van rentals, etc.—but playing to 10 people doesn’t exactly blow up your mailing list numbers.

This poll shows the two sides to the gigging coin:

– On the one hand, you want to be playing to as many people as possible, even if it means no financial gain (or losing money).

– On the other hand, you are at least trying to offset the many costs of life as a gigging musician, if not trying to make a living from music.

Every musician needs to learn how to choose their gigs wisely at some point.

There’s no specific rule when it comes to picking a show, but your situation may help dictate your choice. You might want to record a demo soon, so you lean towards the cash gigs. Or you may want to promote your album by playing for lots of people and not worry about the money. Overall, I think the 60/40 split in opinion might be a pretty good percentage for your decisions: most of the time more exposure is better. But don’t count out a gig that pays just because it may not be artistically satisfying.

Make sure at your next gig you’ve got a product to sell your new fans.  Submit your music to our free project consultation and you’ll speak directly to a Studio Pros producer about your next recording project!