From the Practice Room to the Stage with Gigpromoter
🕑 March 15, 2022 👤 Peter Ciluzzi, creator of Gigpromoter
Building a career in the arts can feel like a complex and frustrating puzzle.
How does an aspiring songwriter become an established performer?
How does an artist bridge the gap between practice room and performance venue?
Is it possible to book shows, tour and perform without the assistance of a manager, booking agent and publicist?
How does an artist build a career from the ground up?
I’ve been trying to answer these questions for most of my adult life.
I don't have all the answers, but I've learned a lot. I've found that no one thing makes a career in the arts possible: there are no magic bullets.
In my experience, there are a wide range of elements that need to be present to help things fall into place, including:
In modern culture, the illusion that an artist needs to "be discovered" or "take off" in order to be successful is accepted by many.
Reality TV and talent competitions have cultivated a scarcity mindset that equates having a career as a performer with winning the lottery.
Finding one's place in the entertainment industry has become something that appears to be accessible to some, but unattainable to most.
The truth, however, is that there are many paths to building a career in the arts.
There's a long history of artists slowly piecing together a legacy over the course of their lives: many great works of music, literature, and other arts came to fruition well into the careers of their creators; and artists were working and performing long before communication avenues and entertainment options were dictated and dominated by television and the internet.
Walking the artist's path can be a gamble: there are no guarantees of success and the only way to find out is to try.
Devoting the time required to develop artistic talent and create a body of work demands that we question the importance of conventions that so many enjoy - such as the financial independence and stability that come with more traditional career paths; the personal relationships and experiences that give our lives meaning but require time and effort; and the leisure time that, to an aspiring artist, inevitably becomes time that could be spent practicing.
In reality, the artist's path is a lifelong journey. Regardless of the fast-paced, everchanging climate created by social media, streaming services and the internet, it is still possible, over time, for a performing artist to develop their talent, create a body of work, and connect with the public.
So where do we begin? We begin with the work.
The way talent is developed and a body of work is assembled and presented to the world is what ultimately decides how we are perceived.
Talent comes in many forms. An artist's greatest strength may be in the work itself, in their ability to compose or write; or maybe as a performer, in the form of a commanding stage presence.
Talent might present itself as technical ability, enabling one to captivate onlookers with feats of virtuosity; or an artist may have a gift for improvisation, creating novel and unexpected interpretations of the works of others.
Whatever the case, it's important to identify your greatest strength and focus on that. Do what you're best at, and get help with the things that challenge you.
Another important step in setting the foundation for your career is the development of your professionalism.
Being professional means learning to see art through the lens of commerce - as a dynamic exchange between artist, product, and customer. Your music (or other work) is your product, your performances are your service, and your fans are your customers. Without all three components, there is no exchange of products and services, and there is no career.
Being professional also means developing your act - your music (or other work) and live performance or set - until it's the best that it can possibly be.
To compete in your chosen field and have any chance of success, your work must embody and display excellence to the best of your ability.
Once you have assembled a body of work and developed your act, the next steps are building your team and identifying your audience.
The responsibilities associated with a career in performance typically belong to one or more members of your team, which can include: the artist (you), manager, booking agent, publicist, record label, and legal representation.
That doesn't mean you need to find people to fill each of the above positions, or that you can't do all of those jobs yourself. At the beginning of their careers, many artists have no other choice - and often those that find success in the long run are the same people that were willing to do anything and everything they could to achieve their goals.
But knowing who is responsible for each task as it arises will greatly simplify the wide range of responsibilities that come with creating and selling recordings; booking, planning and promoting live performances; and managing publicity and public relations.
Some of these roles could be described as follows:
The manager’s responsibilities typically include career oversight of A&R (artist & repertoire); promotion & marketing; networking and effective & professional communication; and business & finance management.
A booking agent's primary function is usually to book and coordinate all aspects of live performances, and the publicist's main responsibility is to maintain a comprehensive, consistent public awareness of the artist.
A record label's main role is to produce and promote a marketable product, and it is the responsibility of any legal representation to maintain a clear line of communication with the rest of the team regarding legal matters; though it is often in an artist's best interest to seek legal counsel when the need arises - such as in the case of recording or performance contracts, intellectual property rights, and the negotiation of royalties.
You might be fortunate enough at some point to work with a record label, but that doesn't mean they're going to plan and promote live performances for you. Likewise, you might have an opportunity to work with a great manager, but that doesn't mean they're going to shoot and edit your video or manage your social media accounts.
Having a clear understanding of the above roles, knowing your long-term goals, and always having a plan will greatly help keep things in focus as your career develops.
A network of contacts that know and support your talent, ambition and goals is crucial to the success of any performer.
Ideally, your network should consist of anyone and everyone that is involved with - or exposed to - the development, creation, performance, or promotion of your work, including:
Your network will also include your fans & customers, as well as anyone else interested in the style of music you play - that are, in turn, likely to attend a live event, purchase your music, or help to introduce even more people to your work.
Regardless of your style or genre, there are very likely people out there looking for what you do. The real challenge is finding and connecting with them.
A great way to create those connections is to collaborate with similar artists, with those that perform in a similar genre or style - whether it's by joining a record label, submitting music to playlist curators, being part of compilation recording, or performing in a showcase or other multi-artist live event.
By being associated with similar artists, you gain exposure to a potentially huge pool of followers that are already looking for what you have to offer.
Creating and promoting a body of work will help you build contacts in the music industry and related fields; booking live events will help you build contacts in performance venues; promoting your live events will help build contacts in the press and media; and those that follow your work online or attend your performances will comprise your local, regional, and eventually national or even global fanbases.
It took me some time to write enough strong original material to make a few albums and perform it well enough to put on a memorable show; but once my set was developed enough to warrant actually booking some live performances, I began my search for venues best suited to an emerging artist that plays my style of music.
Depending on the sort of music you play, the type of venue you'll probably want to perform in can differ greatly. Rock clubs and bars that feature live music might be among the best choices for rock and blues bands; a singer-songwriter might prefer a quieter listening-room or coffeehouse-style venue; and a jazz quartet would likely want to look into performing at jazz clubs or festivals.
It's important to be realistic when determining whether or not a venue is a good fit.
More well-established venues might seem more attractive to new and upcoming performers, but are likely going to be more selective and potentially more difficult to book - because they're going to want to be sure an artist will sell a certain number of tickets.
But that doesn't mean there aren't a wide range of other possibilities for independent and emerging performers, including food & drink establishments that host live music; open-mics, songwriting competitions and other showcases; rental venues; and more unconventional performance spaces such as college and university facilities, public and private libraries, commercial spaces e.g. music stores & bookstores, house concerts, church rectories, and outdoor spaces like public parks or even your own backyard.
Having a booking agent and publicist to work with can simplify the process of planning a live event - but you don't need an agent to book a show, and you don't need a publicist to promote it. What you do need is a solid commitment, a strong performance, and a comprehensive plan.
Once I was able to book performance dates at a few venues near where I live, the next step was figuring out how I was going to promote them.
If you haven’t tried to put together a few live events on your own, you might not realize how challenging it can be to get people to actually show up at a concert - and one of the only ways to really learn the ropes has always been to learn the hard way, by just getting out on the road and playing some shows.
Over the years I read just about every book and blog, watched every video, and listened to every podcast I could find on music marketing and concert booking & promotion. I had also been fortunate enough to be included in a number of tours and live showcase events with other artists.
From these experiences I began to develop a sense of how to effectively promote an event, and I assembled a rough outline of the promotional calendar that would eventually be used as the basis for Gigpromoter.
I learned from experience that the best way to get the word out is simply to do everything you can - to utilize every resource that you have access to, and take advantage of every possible avenue of outreach.
The promotional calendar I developed was essentially divided into two halves.
The first half consisted mainly of planning and preparation: gathering info about the event and venue such as technical & contact info and soundcheck times; coordinating on event specifics with the venue and anyone else associated with the event; and assembling marketing materials and press & publicity resources.
The second half dealt more with direct outreach to local & regional networks and correspondence with press & media resources and other influencers, as well as the placement and distribution of marketing materials and advertisements.
Over the course of many concerts I found that different types of promotion were more effective depending on the location and circumstances; in areas where I had more of a local following, hanging printed flyers and posters was great promotion because it was more likely to get people's attention. In areas where I didn't have as much of a local following, I might do much better with an event calendar feature or spot on a local radio station.
Ultimately the most effective avenues of promotion for your events will vary depending on a lot of factors, but the best way to find out is to try - by doing everything you can to promote your event, and learning from your own experience what works best.
I'm the kind of person that prefers using software over pen and paper to organize things; so as I got deeper into my career as a performer, I looked for an app to help keep track of the huge amount of stuff involved with planning and promoting shows and tours, but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted.
Over the years I've tried lots of different approaches to working in music-related fields, including everything from building guitars and teaching guitar to doing graphic design and building websites.
I enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill and I’ve always loved to build things, so I completed an online coding bootcamp and started building myself a simple app.
As I continued, it got more complex, and I began to realize that other artists might find something like what I was building really useful.
In the end, I built the app I wished I'd had when I was getting started.
When I began booking and promoting my own shows, I had to piece together a plan from books and blogs on music business and my own very limited experience.
I needed to figure out how to get people to show up at my concerts, and the best way I could find to do that was to hit the pavement and just learn through trial and error - by doing everything myself.
A lot of great musicians never quite make the leap from aspiring artist to working performer - maybe in part because there's so much to learn about marketing, publicity and the live event industry - and also because it can be incredibly challenging to see how all the pieces fit together.
I wanted to build an app that would not only help artists learn those skills, but also make it easier to get help planning their events - by giving collaborators access to all the same training and organizational resources - so those that prefer to focus on the performance itself can leave the promotion to someone else.
I wanted to build something that might help others bridge the gap between practice room and performance venue, so I created Gigpromoter to help emerging artists and their collaborators learn how to plan, book and effectively promote live events.
Try it for free today at www.gigpromoter.com/signup