Getting booked to perform

PLEASE NOTE:  This article was written years ago when I still booked the early shows at The Bluebird Cafe. With its references to cassettes, CDs and press kits, some of the specifics are very much out-of-date, but the principles still apply.

If you are interested in playing at The Bluebird, please go to our website,, click on “How to Play” and read the section carefully. It will explain the different shows we offer, who is eligible to play them and who to contact to get involved in them.


Before I get into specifics, let me begin with a basic concept that can be very helpful if you understand it. That concept is, we are all the center of our own universe. As a singer/songwriter myself I know that, for me, my music is the most important thing in the world. But when I sit down to screen press kits, the most important thing is to bring great music and large crowds into The Bluebird Cafe. So, when you approach people to get bookings, try to remember that to them you are just a speck in orbit around them and not the center of their universe. If you think about what they need and approach them from an angle of “here’s how I can help you” rather than “here’s how you can help me” it is much more effective.

Now, some concrete suggestions:


Before you approach a venue, find out what kind of music they book. This may sound painfully obvious, but The Bluebird is a folk/acoustic songwriters’ club that features only original music, yet I regularly get press kits from jazz bands, country cover bands, show bands – you name it. I look at these packages and ponder the cost of the CD, the folder, the printed material and the mailing, and I feel bad for the struggling artists who just wasted the price of a hot meal, when a quick trip to our web site would have saved them the trouble. If a club you want to check out doesn’t have a web site, find the club listings in a local paper and see if any of the artists booked there have websites you can go to. If you have no other source of information, call the club and ask questions. But here’s an inside tip. Call during off-hours and talk to a bartender, waiter or someone other than the person who books. I am much more receptive to people who call me already educated about our club than I am to those who make me spend my time explaining our format.


Yes, I have actually gotten submissions with no contact information at all. Occasionally even from artists I liked. Obviously, this renders all efforts totally fruitless. Put your phone number and e-mail address on everything. If you could see the clutter on my desk right now, the reason for that would be apparent. Your beautifully worded cover letter may have disappeared, but if your information is on the CD I can get back to you right away.


I’d guess that at least half of the submissions I get come with no cover letter. Many of those are CD’s only with no other information whatsoever. Since I am hired to screen packages I feel obligated to skim through them and make a few notes in my database, but I rarely respond. Now, if you sing better than Wynonna and write better than Gary Burr, I’ll probably call you. But there are many decent artists who might have gotten a booking from me if they had let me know when they’d be available and what type of spot they were looking for (our shows have several different formats at The Bluebird.) And those I can’t use will at least get a response from me if they address me with a direct request. Amy Kurland, owner of The Bluebird Cafe has told me that she personally feels no obligation to listen to any submission that comes without a cover letter.

If your submission is not your first contact, it’s a good idea to refer to any previous conversations or correspondence. Rather than presuming that someone will remember you (I try, really, but I meet a LOT of songwriters), jog their memory with a statement like “As per our phone conversation of last week” or “It was nice running into you at The Just Plain Folks meeting.”


Just as it wouldn’t be a good idea to  show up for a job interview with uncombed hair and wrinkled clothes, it’s not a good idea to submit a sloppy package for consideration. A hand written note wrapped around a cassette recorded on a boom box with a snapshot of you on vacation makes the statement that you are not a professional. If you can’t afford a recording studio for a top quality demo, make the best possible recording you can at home or at a friend’s home. Or find someone with a studio and trade out for some service you can offer. CD’s are now the standard format for the music industry so submitting your music on cassette gives the impression that you are not serious about your career. If you can’t afford a professional head shot, at least have your best available photo printed in black and white on 8 X 10 paper with a white border around it and your name type-set at the bottom. And please, one photo only. I’ve gotten press kits with six or seven different ones, which only leads me to the conclusion that the performer is rather vain. If you are asking to play for free at writers’ night or some other type of performance open to beginners, sending a hand labeled a cassette and no photo can be fine. But at least show that you care about your music by typing your correspondence.


The standard tool for securing bookings is a press kit, also know as a promo package. The typical components of a press kit are:

1.       a cover letter (sorry, I had to say it again, it’s a pet peeve)
2.       a bio
3.       a photo
4.       a venue list
5.       press clippings
6.       a recording of the music
When I sit down to go through that pile of submissions on my desk, here’s what I want to know:

·         What kind of music do you play?·         What type of image do you project? ·         Where have you played before? ·         With whom are you or have you been associated? ·         What do other people say about you? ·         What do you sound like?

And what I really want is to get that information as quickly and clearly as possible.  When you write your bio or work with the person who’s writing it for you, keep that in mind. Okay, I have a confession to make. I really don’t care that you played the trumpet in your grade school orchestra or that you won the choral music prize your junior year in college. If you were in the original cast of Rent or have been touring New England for the last ten years, that means something to me. I don’t need your life story. I need to get an overall impression of your level and breadth of experience. And if you have done projects with notable people, by all means, drop names. If a successful  person was willing to work with you, I assume that you must have something to offer.

I’ll tell you another secret about me. I get really bored by long, involved descriptions of your style and artistry. If you give me a concise description of what you do, like “pop-alternative” or “acoustic blues” or “Madonna meets Allison Krauss”, that’s about as much as I need to know to determine if you’re appropriate for my venue. Let the music tell me the rest. You may be fascinated by in depth analyses of the psychological overtones of your lyrics or flowery descriptions of the resonance of your guitar tunings (as many people who submit packages to me seem to be) but that’s because you are the center of your universe. Me, I have twenty-five more press kits to screen before I can take my dog to the park and it’s a really nice day. (He’s a Border collie named Ralph.)

It also doesn’t do a lot of good for you to tell me about how good you are. Of course you think you’re good. But press clippings, print or on-line, carry a lot of weight with me. I am not a fan of all types of music and someone’s style may leave me cold. But as long as the music is well presented I may book that person based on opinions of others who do like their style. Quotes from appropriate people are better than nothing if you don’t have anything in print, but I always wonder a little if the person quoted is a close friend or felt put on the spot or was just being nice (been there, done that). But if an unbiased journalist is willing to print his or her name next to a favorable review, I take it to heart. And if you are working hard to get reviews and articles about you published, it tells me that you are a dedicated, serious professional who realizes the value of promotion.

I also look closely at where else you’ve played, and when and how often. If you played once at a prestigious club three years ago, I wonder why they didn’t have you back. If you have played regularly at a place, even if I haven’t heard of it, I assume they must really like you and you’re good for business. I am more impressed by a well-chosen synopsis of your playing history than an exhaustive list. And I love to look at your current schedule so I know where you are in your career right now. Don’t be afraid to drop names. If you’re a Kerrville New Folk Finalist or went on tour with  Nancy Griffith, I’m impressed. On the other hand, a long list of famous names you’ve opened for once doesn’t impress me as much as you might think. I know that opening acts are often sacrificial lambs sent out there to kill time. And I think (maybe I shouldn’t admit this) “If you’ve been around that many famous people and you haven’t been discovered yet, why not?”

Of course, while I’m skimming through your bio, press clippings and venue list, I’m popping your CD in to give it a listen. Please note that I said CD, not CD’s. I am amazed by people who send me two or three full length CD’s. I guess they don’t realize how badly Ralph wants to get to the park. The truth is I’m only going to listen to enough to make a decision. If I love what I hear that’s probably going to be one or two complete songs and parts of a few more. If I hate it, that might be half of a song and small bits of a few more to be sure. If I’m on the fence I may listen to three complete songs and part of a couple more. If you knock me out, I’ll keep the CD and listen to the rest later. (Uh-oh, did I just let it slip that I throw most of them away when I’m done. Sorry – I know it hurts.) If you haven’t yet produced a full length CD, choose three to five of your best songs and put them together on one CD.


Remember how I said that what I really want is to get your information as quickly and clearly as possible? One-sheets are a great tool for that. If you put your photo, bio, venue list and a few good quotes on one nicely printed page, you can save yourself a lot of money on printing and postage. I love them because they give me the information I need in a focused, concise way and Ralph loves them because he gets a longer walk. Some performers don’t put their photo on their one sheet but include an 8 X 10 instead. Some also send separate printouts of press articles.

Another way to simplify the process is by posting everything you’d put in a press kit on your website. I know there are a lot of talent buyers who don’t like them and want the package in their hand, but find out what someone’s preference is. I personally have a very fast Internet connection and a very small office, so if you can save me the clutter I’d much rather just check you out on line. I prefer to be able to listen to complete songs, but will be satisfied with short samples if the lyrics are made available.


After you’ve made your initial submission if you don’t hear back from the club, follow up with a phone call or e-mail. I can attest to the fact that no response doesn’t necessarily mean “no thanks.” Often if you haven’t heard from me it’s because I haven’t listened to your package yet or because getting back to you hasn’t yet been more important than all the other things I’ve had to do each day. If you will only be available to a club during a certain time period it is doubly important to follow through promptly. Sometimes I take a long time before I listen to a package, but if I’m almost done with July’s schedule and you let me know that you’ll only be here in July, I will dig yours out of the pile and listen to it in time. You may have to call or e-mail several times before someone responds. I know what a drag that is, but most talent buyers are probably like me in that they’re juggling a dozen other duties as well as booking performers. Try to strike the balance between being persistent and being a pest.


Whatever type of gig you’re after, you’ll get booked more easily if you can convince the talent buyer that you will be good for business. If you’re looking for a gig at a local bar and your softball team comes out to hear you whenever you play, tell the bar owner that. If you’re wanting to play a music festival and you have a mailing list of 1000 people who love that kind of music, that’s a good selling point. If you always hold the crowd and create high sales for the clubs where you play, emphasize that in your communication with club owners you contact. Or better yet, ask club owners you’ve done well for to attest to that in a letter and include those letters in your press kit. It’s that basic principle. The people you want to get booked by are the center of their own universe. They will book you because of what can you do for them.

I realize that this article is nowhere near a comprehensive discussion of all the factors that go into booking a career. I haven’t even touched on the subject of money, but that’s because the shows I book don’t pay and I have no insight at all to offer in this area. I hope, though, that seeing things from my point of view will help you accomplish your goals. I know how difficult and demanding the life a performer is and I have tremendous respect for all of you striving to express yourselves to live audiences. I wish you well.