So you or your band have got some decent material together, you’ve practiced until you don’t miss a beat and you think it sounds pretty bloody brilliant. It’s time to get your music out there to the masses and hit the gigging circuit. But where to start?
Making your first tentative steps into the real world can be quite daunting at first, especially if you’ve never played in front of an audience before. But never fear, below are some tips for making some waves on the scene and developing your musical ambitions.
Note: A lot of this advice applies to solo musicians as I mostly play solo myself although some of it does apply to bands as well.
Don’t underestimate the power of an open mic night
Open mic nights are often a great place to start performing your songs as you can just turn up and play without too much messing around. They’re especially good if you’ve never played solo before and you’re feeling nervous; a lot of the time (depending on the ‘vibe’ of the venue) people won’t be listening that hard and are basically happy if someone is up there making some noise. I’ve played in a couple of bands before but playing solo is a whole other kettle of fish and my first solo performance was at an open mic whilst blind drunk.
Once you take the plunge and finally take to the stage don’t stop there, play as many nights as possible as regularly as possible. It’s all about practice and getting used to being on stage on your own. Like with any fear, the more you do it, the easier it gets. You may never stop feeling nervous before playing but you’ll be able to handle it better and hopefully make less mistakes.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
Every time you go out and play, talk to as many people as possible. Sometimes people will come and talk to you after your performance and (in a completely non-cynical way) you should subtly find out if they run a night you could play at or know someone that does. They may be willing to give you a slot if you ask and they think you’re good enough. Talk to the other musicians and glean information from them about the places they play and the people they know, they may be willing to introduce you to someone who can help you out. At one open mic I played in Brighton, the guy running it offered me a live slot on his local radio show, all because I just turned up randomly and played a handful of songs. You never know what you might find until you get out there and get talking to people.
Make a demo CD and hand it out
Get hold of some recording equipment from somewhere, anywhere! Beg, borrow or steal what you need to record your tracks and burn some demo CDs. Not having any money is no excuse at all, everyone knows someone who knows someone that can help you out. It doesn’t have to be a fancy recording, in fact it’s better if it’s not; you want a true representation of what you will sound like on-stage so have as little layering as possible.
Once you have your CD burn a load of copies and hit the streets. Go to every venue, pub, bar and anywhere that has live music you can think of and give the manager or events organiser a copy of your CD along with your name and contact details written on the sleeve. Make sure you speak to the manager and give the CD directly to them. If you give it to anyone else it will likely lie forgotten somewhere until the end of time. Most places are pretty open to the idea of you just waltzing in and handing them a CD as it saves them the trouble of having to source and book acts for themselves; you’ve done a chunk of work for them and they may even pay you for it. Ooooo.
Also research your local area and find out if there are any promoters or labels that you could send your CD to. If they like it enough they might throw the odd gig your way. Even labels that mainly take on bands will be interested in a solo musician as they often put solo artists on as warm up acts.
Some extra bits
Be tenacious and don’t stop going out to play if you believe in your music. It can take a while to build up a reputation and make the necessary contacts but as long as you keep playing you’ll get there.
Don’t be discouraged by a bad gig. Sometimes things just don’t go the way you want them to like when equipment breaks down or the venue is basically empty. On the plus side, you might still get a free drink out of it.
You could think about getting a manager or joining a PR company. I don’t hugely like the idea myself as you won’t have much control over where you play and it’s expensive. If you find things are going really well then it’s something to think about further on down the line and definitely not when you’ve just started out.
Don’t play ever play Wonderwall, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. Ever.