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  • Writer's pictureLoyd Van Horn

Nice work, if you can get it...

One of the tougher parts of being a part-time musician is booking gigs. In today's digital world, no one makes money by selling albums or singles anymore, it is all about the gigs and merchandise.

Get someone who loves your music enough to come to your shows and buy a t-shirt and you are good to go.

Not only do I know this as a musician but also as a fan of music. One of my favorite things about going to concerts is hitting the merchandise table. Many bands nowadays are using VIP packages as a lure to get super-fans in the door early to spend more money at the merch table. After a few concerts of passing on this opportunity only to find some of my favorite merch was gone by the time I got in the door, I decided I wouldn't be making that mistake again.

If you can find yourself a venue that is receptive to songwriters/original music, you hit the jackpot!

But that is an established band that does international tours and has label support....what is a little guy like me with no management or label backing supposed to do?

Gig like my life depends on it.

The hard part, in many towns and Charleston is no different, is that original music is a tough sell. Since Charleston is such a large tourist town, many of the people that might see you perform won't be here next week to come back to another show. Venues know this, so they prefer cover bands that the tourists can connect with and make them want to buy drinks and sing Every Rose Has Its Thorn about a whole step out of tune and about 50 decibels louder than should be humanly possible.

For a town some have championed as the next "Austin, TX" it is a hard sell sometimes trying to book a gig as an original act. That isn't to say it is completely barren out there. There are many venues that are willing to give you a shot if you prove you are willing to work hard.

My first gig in town was at a relatively newer Irish pub in North Mount Pleasant called Mcann's. Danny and Gianni were extremely generous in our first chat to agree to let me come play one Thursday night to give it a shot. They have been loyal ever since, offering up a gig or two a month without question.

You have places like Awendaw Green and their Barn Jam that are basically the holy grail for songwriters. They offer a chance for you to play to a large crowd, with professionally run sound, to people who largely are there for the music.

Most people will tell you an Open Mic night is your best bet at getting a following, and it definitely does help. But some are hit or miss. Danielle Howle has a fantastic Open Mic at Home Team BBQ in West Ashley called Holy City Confessionals. Andrew, the sound man, does an amazing job at dialing in the sound for these artists and they are pushing an 'originals only' mantra. The crowd can be hit or miss, but I have never had an open mic session there where at least one person didn't come up to tell me after my set they enjoyed my music. These are the moments we live for, where we get to hand them a card or copy of our music and hope that the music fairy sprinkles some fortune your way.

I mentioned earlier that many venues are willing to give you a chance if you are willing to work hard. For the part-time musician, that is the challenge. It isn't a lack of desire, it is either a lack of time or energy.

For instance, if I am going to try to book gigs, I always prefer to speak face-to-face. That means I need to come by when a venue is:

- Open

- Not too busy (not during dinner or another band playing)

- When the decision maker is there

Guess when that magical time tends to be? You guessed it, when I am at my day job.

Email and phone calls can be helpful. I usually take my laptop to a local Starbucks on my lunch break from work, just so I can conduct my music business: emailing venues, reaching out to media outlets, etc.

Most venues also want to see you put forth the effort to promote yourself. The redesign of my Web site enabled me to use the Bandsintown app to sync my gig calendar across Facebook and my Web site, saving me some time. But, still, you have to put in the time and in many cases money to promote yourself or your gig.

For instance, this weekend, I have spent nearly 20 hours of my weekend working on music business-related work. And that is pretty typical. Sometimes it is even more than that. When I was finishing my album, I did a marathon stretch over a 4-day weekend of 4 straight 18 hour days.

The key is I set goals for myself each week of what I want to accomplish, and then set a schedule of how I want to accomplish them.

Let's say, this coming week, I want to book at least 1 new gig. That means, I need to spend my next 5 lunch hours emailing and calling venues. I need to reach out to at least 10 venues to get even a nibble back that might turn into a gig. That is a strong commitment, especially knowing my work schedule this next week is full of all-day meetings and even some after work functions. It won't be easy, but anything worth it never is, right?

So if you are a part-time musician with a full-time job, here are the things that I use to help me stay organized, make the time to do the work and achieve the results I am looking for:

- Define your 'work' time: this is the scheduled time each day/week/etc. that you devote to your music business. This can be booking gigs, promotional work, social media updates, media inquiries, etc. Bottom line is; define your music work time, set the schedule and stick to it

- Set specific "at least" goals each week/day/month: i.e. "I will book at least 1 gig this week," or "I will make at least 5 new contacts at venues this month," etc. The point is to set specific goals you are shooting for. I like to use the 'at least' component in my goals so I have the room to go above and beyond on the goal and reward myself for that. If I set a goal with a 'dead end' feel, I usually just stop there ("I will book 1 gig this week" leads to exactly that, 1 gig). But with "at least" I shoot to not only hit that goal, but try to surpass it too. If I don't, no harm/no foul, I still achieved my goal. I am a HUGE believer in "at least" goals.

- Get into a routine and stick to it: Mine is my lunch-breaks at Starbucks. I go there, get my work done, and then go grab a sandwich and back to my day job. It not only helps me accomplish my music goals, but serves as a nice little break in my day from the rigors of my day job. It gives me something to look forward to each day! The point is, if you carve out dedicated time, and stick with it, it becomes second nature and you are able to avoid many of the distractions that can often lead to no productivity.

- Don't be afraid to MAKE time for your work: This is your business, plain and simple. We all got into it to play music, but if we want to keep doing it, we have to organize this as a business. So, that means when most people are taking the day off, you should probably be working. My weekends are SUPER productive times. Now, I do grant myself a weekend off here and there to keep my music from becoming a daunting task. And I will sometimes try to spice the work up by changing scenery. Bringing the laptop to the pool or the beach? Absolutely! Working from your favorite restaurant while listening to other bands? You betcha! The point is, make time to do your work but don't forget you own the rules here. You can do your work when - and where - you want!

All of this is to say, for the part-time musician with a full-time job, it might be a bit tougher to make it work, but if you are determined, establish a routine/schedule, set goals and stick to them, you can achieve success.

To paraphrase a former President of the United States, it just depends on what your definition of 'success' is.

Till next time,

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