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Just how exactly do you get more gigs for your unsigned band? Well, if anyone is best placed to answer this question, it’s someone who played 214 gigs last year.
We spoke to Martyn Roper, a guitarist, singer and songwriter for two blues bands – Leeds City Stompers and the Washboard Resonators.
During Martyn’s 25-year career, he has performed in New York, Sweden and at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan.
We sat down with Martyn to get his top tips for unsigned bands on how to secure as many live shows as possible.
This might sound like an obvious point, but I have met some great musicians who aren’t prepared to do what it takes to get noticed.
They complain that they haven’t got enough gigs but they aren’t prepared to travel. If that’s your attitude as a live musician, you’ve hampered yourself. You can’t ‘make it’ unless you travel.
The big piece of advice I would give to other live musicians is have your own method of transport, because public transport is often slower and unreliable.
Having this flexibility means you’re more readily available if a big gig suddenly comes up. For instance, we often get asked to play gigs in London at the last minute because a band has dropped out.
The more gigs we get, the more we get our name out there and ultimately, the more food we put on the table by playing music!
Work out what makes you unique
Promoters aren’t just looking for a band to appear on the bill, they’re looking for somebody they can ‘sell’.
Making yourselves stand out and developing an image is massively important, because these days it feels like everybody looks and sounds like Ed Sheeran. If you want to make a name for yourself in the industry, how are you supposed to do that if you’re the same as everyone else?
Take Leeds City Stompers as an example – our music is founded upon the blues, swing and folk music of 1920’s to 1950’s America, but we also incorporate a bit of modern rock and roll. That, if you like, is our USP.
We’ve had people ask us to perform at shop openings, weddings, funerals and divorce parties. It feels like they’re looking for any excuse to book us, because our style is different to what’s out there.
Build relationships with fans
If you want to succeed in music, it’s all about building relationships with fans. There’s no quick fix for this – you’ve got to have a long-term mentality.
Every time you play live, if just one person follows you on social media or spreads the message about your band, night by night and year by year you’re planting the seeds of a sustainable career in music.
Music fans are hungry for a human connection with the act they’re watching. Therefore, you need to ensure that the fans you accumulate are emotionally invested in who you are, the music you’re creating and the message you’re communicating.
The message we put out to our fans is that we’re so happy to be going to all these different places and interacting with different people. We share that love of what we do and our fans connect with that and really root for us.
When people come up to us after gigs and ask for merchandise, that’s when we take the time to get to know them. Even if it’s just a couple of minutes of chatting to them, that’s invaluable to us.
Become your own booking agent
Of the 200 or so gigs I played last year, one came from an agent. In my opinion, most musicians don’t need to employ someone to book gigs for them.
We’re lucky enough that we get most of our gigs through reputation and ironically, the gigs often find us. This is because we’ve spent years booking our own shows and playing live.
Booking your own gigs as an unsigned band can be tough, especially in the early days. You’re lucky if you get a 5-10% success rate, which is why you need to be as proactive and direct as possible.
Because time is such a precious commodity, it helps to be smart in how you approach the venues as well. I’ve got more joy out of calling venues for three hours than I have by spending four days emailing them.
Make sure you’re insured
I get asked for proof of Public Liability insurance before gigs, so it pays for itself in that respect. It also pays to have your proof of Public Liability readily available for those last minute bookings so you don’t miss out on a potential gig.
As you can imagine, there are times when people have tripped over our equipment when we’ve played live. If they’d hurt themselves, they could have taken legal action against us and that can be very costly in fees. That’s why Public Liability is vital to people like me who play live for a living.
Equipment cover is equally important. As musicians, we’re targets for thieves. My collection of guitars is worth a fair amount of money and it would be very expensive to get these repaired or replaced without the right insurance.
Having music insurance gives me peace of mind that, if an accident or incident happens, I’m not going to be out of pocket and can concentrate on what I love doing – which is playing live.
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