This is the 2nd part in "Get a Real Job" - designed at helping musicians get a grip on what it takes to get a start in the world of music!

Section 2

1. P.A equipment: This includes everything you will need to play out.

2. Finding places to play: Choosing the venues that are right for you.

3. Getting in the door: Initial contact with the venue, knowing who and when to call and how to get your promo into the right hands

Again, let’s break it down (Wah Wah effect not included).

1. PA Equipment

A small PA or power amplifier is all you will need for the majority of venues you play. Any music store, especially the larger chains, will have everything you need. As a reference, the one I am currently using which has proven road worthy and sounds great, is the Yamaha EMX 512 SC.  Along with this I have one set of speakers, Peavey PR 15’s (15 inch speakers). I am not trying to endorse any product, but I will suggest when shopping for equipment try to keep it simple and light. As a working musician, do yourself and your back a favor and think practical. One more suggestion on this topic, call me lazy or a mad man both hold truth, I almost never use more than one speaker at the majority of venues I perform at. Everybody calm down, you will all get a chance to speak. What about feedback? Do you have enough volume? What, no monitor? All good points, the key to making this work is the set up, the placement of the speakers.

I generally set the microphone stand three to four feet to the left or right of the speaker and three to four feet in front of the speaker. This close proximity allows plenty of volume (no feedback) and great tone without the use of a monitor, which is one less speaker and cable to worry about. If I need to hear a little more of my voice or guitar, I adjust the volume or physically turn the speaker towards me a little. I set up this way because its simple, quick, and I hear exactly what my audience hears. This method works well when playing inside smaller venues or places where I want to keep the volume low. I almost always use both speakers when playing outside and need more volume. Everyone is different, how you decide to set your sound and gear is a personal preference. Whatever works for you.

Let’s Get This Show On The Road

Here is a basic list of equipment to have before playing out:

1. Instrument, instrument cord, and tuner as obvious as this may seem I have played shows where musicians have had to borrow instruments because they have forgotten their own and please don’t leave home without your tuner. Everyone will thank you especially the audience and your buddy who forgot his.
2. The PA’s the basic set up includes power amp, two speakers, two speaker cords, microphone and microphone cord, and at least one monitor.
3. Microphone stand and guitar stand.
4. Miscellaneous, but mandatory:

Items that will only make life easier during any given performance include CD player or Ipod, extra cords including guitar cords and microphone cords, power strip, extension cord, duct tape and a small fan.

Tip Your Bartenders, I’ll Be Right Back

Even when a musician goes on set break the show goes on. I have a set-break playlist on my iPod of songs the crowd will enjoy as well as represent me. The iPod can be a great advantage when you’re playing out. It keeps the momentum going which makes your job easier and at the end of the night most people will just remember it was a night of great music. Whether it was the iPod or you, learn to work together.

My Number One Fan

Anytime you are performing outdoors, a fan to counter the elements is well worth the trouble. It is difficult to get into the music and look “happy” when there are actual bugs in your ear buzzing and sweat stinging your eyes. Let us not forget if you stop playing or singing to correct the situation, the music stops too. Playing through the song for the next two minutes is comparable to Chinese water torture. Back to point, please bring a fan. It will keep you cool, keep the bugs at bay and if it catches your hair just right it may be your next profile pic on Facebook.

2. Finding The Right Places To Play

Most cities especially college towns will have a weekly entertainment paper listing of upcoming shows. I recommend choosing a number of places from the paper and take the time to go to them. Actually showing up to these venues will help you decide if it is someplace you might like to play. If you plan accordingly you may be able to hit three or four venues in one night. Take personal notes (Yes, I want to play here great stage area, good crowds etc…) this will help you to remember all of the places you went to and the ones you plan to pursue. As you visit each place try to put yourself in the role of that night’s entertainment. If you decide to talk to the musician about the venue, arrive early either before the performer begins or during one of their set breaks.

3. Getting In The Door

It’s always beneficial to talk to someone who is already doing what you would like to do. Here are some simple questions you may ask yourself about playing the venue:

1. Do you like the atmosphere?

2. Do you and your set list fit in well with the venue? Are you leaning towards the younger scene- anything goes till sunrise? Or the older, mature audience enjoying a peaceful happy hour?

3. What are the days and times that the venue has live music? (Friday 7-10 or everyday including an acoustic brunch on Sunday)

4. Is the gig fun? If you are not having a good time, move on (don’t worry there will be plenty of others)

Quick Overview

Many of these questions will be answered as you make your rounds, just getting the initial contact number and a name is enough to set everything in motion.  Covering just a few places a week will enable you to blanket the town in a short time. Weeding out the ones you would like to play and those you would not. This also gives you a nice overview of the music scene. Knowing who is playing where, on what night, and so forth.  You can drop off your promo at anytime, but use your common sense when doing so. Every place has a different schedule as a general rule of thumb, I try to hand out my promo when the staff and the restaurant are NOT busy. The time that seems to work best is after lunch and before dinner. This is your best bet to actually meet a manager or someone who knows who you need to contact about playing music there.


There is nothing wrong with leaving your promo with a waitress or the hostess if the manager is not there, but always get the contact name (the person that actually does the booking)and the phone number of the venue. It’s all about dropping off your information and getting theirs.

Section 3

At this point you should have three or four sets of material that you feel comfortable performing, all of the music equipment that you will need, and your promotional packs that you are currently distributing. To secure your first bookings or gigs there are two areas to focus on call backs and your first performance   

Call Backs

As you pass out each promo, remind yourself to place a callback within a week. Club owners and managers receive promos all the time. Most are thrown onto a pile in the office with the possibility of being lost or forgotten. This callback step is crucial and the majority of musicians drop the ball at this point, because it involves work, responsibility, and persistence. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard, “well I dropped my promo off but I never heard back” and you won’t! You have to contact them and usually a lot more than once. Managers will procrastinate when it comes to entertainment. They have other items on their agenda that take priority.

And You Are…      

  • Be Confident: If they hire you they must feel they can trust you to do a good job. They don’t need to hear there are problems with tonight’s entertainment during the dinner rush. Do not mistake confidence for cocky.
  • Be Friendly: try to be yourself, feel free to joke around. It shows you’re just a regular person trying to play some music and it takes the edge off of this so called “serious conversation.”
  • Be flexible: If they say, “We don’t need anyone at this time.” (no problem) “Would you mind coming in for a twenty minute audition?” (no problem) “We just had a cancelation, can you come in tonight?” (no problem) Becoming friends or doing a few small favors can go a long way for anyone who is willing to put their ego aside.

Quick summary:

1. Ask who specifically is in charge of hiring the entertainment.
2. What is a good time to reach them?
You are trying to reach them when they are able to talk to you for a few minutes without interruptions. If it is a restaurant (avoid lunch or dinner hours.
3. Be persistent but not annoying. Once you have explained who you are and that you are calling in regards to the promo, allow them to talk and remember be flexible.
4. You are selling yourself. Personality goes a long way. If you can build a reputation of being easy to work with, the calls will come in.
5. Don’t be discouraged. All of this takes time. It may take twenty callbacks only to be told “no” and other times you may land the gig on your first call. Persistence, timing, and lady luck all play a part in this process. The upside, once you’re in – you’re in.

You’re on in Ten - First Performance

Your hard work, persistence, and push ups have paid off. You’re looking good, you have your songs down, you even bought a planner to book all of your dates. An excellent way to prepare for the event is to set aside one night and perform your entire show as you would on stage. This includes setting up your PA, microphones, and everything that you will use at the show. This will afford you the opportunity to fine tune your sound. If you know the size of the room, use this time to get comfortable with your set up to avoid hidden surprises at the show.

Play for your Audience

As a solo performer you can look forward to playing the role as (for lack of a better word) background music. Some places such as wine bars, coffee shops, and bistros will expect that you play quietly. An advantage to playing quiet venues like these is blending in with the background. This is a much overlooked blessing in my opinion. This situation affords you the opportunity to play your own songs or try out new material that you are working on, but haven’t yet played out. 

One of the big answers to the working musician puzzle is simply turning the volume down. I literally could write an entire chapter on this, but this is supposed to be an article not a book. So here are a few hints. How many times have you heard someone tell the band to please turn up? Exactly! That’s because it almost never happens. If you look at the volume knob as a musician’s ego you can understand why it is hard to turn down. I recently got into a great venue because the manager asked the former musician to please turn down; his response was “I am not background music” and walked out. Why would anyone do this? Lose easy money and burn a bridge (bad business all around). I have fallen into so many jobs over the years because I was practical enough to understand there is a time and place to melt faces and a time to play for the audience. When you walk into a venue always asses the crowd. Knowing who they are will dictate your song selection, the volume at which you will play, and overall interaction.

Hints and suggestions that have served me well over the years and other thoughts to help you save time, come prepared, and have fun:

Always arrive early to your gigs especially in the beginning stages. If anything goes wrong, you have plenty of time to figure it out. If this is to be one of your first performances, I recommend making a set list, choosing all of the songs you want to play in order. You do not have to stick to it perfectly but it can make life a lot easier. You can avoid any dead space by segueing one song into the other. This also helps to create momentum. If you play a slow song follow up with a fast one keep the tempos and keys constantly changing. A quick example: if you play a slow version of “Dock of the Bay” in the key of G, follow it up with a fast version of “Folsom Prison Blues” in the key of E. As mentioned earlier variety plays a great role when deciding on what songs to play. Keep the people guessing with your song list, take chances and try to have a few songs that are in left field.  Remember, have more material than you need. If ten songs are enough for a set, put down twelve. Musicians tend to play songs faster when they perform live; having songs to fall back on is always beneficial. Once you have your main set list accounted for, have a separate miscellaneous list of five or ten songs. This may include your originals or obscure covers, anything in the event that you need to play longer. Who knows, you may have adoring fans that demand on encore. Rather than disappoint them, come prepared to throw your loyal legions a few bones.

Thank you…Good night

This has been a presentation of Lanham Entertainment

Copyright 2011 Get a Real Job by Kurt Lanham

About the Author

Kurt Lanham has been a working musician for 20 years, playing in a touring band from 1991–2001. His experience as songwriter, musician, booking agent, and producer has paved the way to the information in this article. Kurt has since been performing as a solo acoustic artist and continues to write songs and jingles in addition to playing in several different musical projects. In July 2011 NASA’s “Wakeup the Crew” songwriting contest recently announced Kurt’s self pinned “Just Another Day In Space” as number 5 out of the 1400 entries, where he has performed live on several of the Southeast TV and radio stations.      

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