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Musician’s Guide to 3 Uncommon Gigs

by Head Above Music

Musician’s Guide to 3 Uncommon Gigs
Chicago, IL

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Trying to make a living as a solo acoustic guitarist with an unusual playing style, I’ve had some difficulty fitting in with some of the more popular types of venues. Coffeehouses are fine, but it doesn’t pay the rent. At the bigger clubs, I seem to spend more in promotion than what I get at the door (maybe I should read some articles on promotion). Local bars tend to pay well but since most of my material is original, doing the human jukebox thing really isn’t me. I certainly haven’t written these kinds of shows off. I still play them on occasion and even walk away with a little money in my pocket. Although over time, I’ve made a living focusing on three not so ordinary places to play. These are gigs that I enjoy, have built in audiences and ones where I can make a decent buck. Maybe one of them will work for you. In this article I’ll try and share some info and perspective on each one for you.


Yes, your read that right, libraries. This is by far my favorite venue to play at. If you’ve never heard of libraries putting on shows, chances are one of the libraries near you has a concert series going. I just discovered them a few years ago. You can expect to make between $200 to $1000 depending on the libraries budget, the size of your group, and your savvy negotiation skills. Don’t forget about those CD sales! I’m pointing this out because these shows are set up as a listening concert. Unlike at a bar, they hang on your every word and note. Your music will have a chance to emotionally affect them, which in turn will result in a fair amount of CD sales.

The location of the concerts could be in the library’s meeting room or outside. Performances are 1 to 1 ½ hours and generally fall on a Sunday or weekday afternoon. This is especially good for those who tour. How often do you find a gig on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon? It’s a great way to fill in those empty dates.

If you want to try and give it a go, locate a library that has a monthly concert series and find out the name of the Adult Program Coordinator.  This is your contact. Treat him/her like you would any other person you’re trying to book a show with. Send your press kit, make your phone calls, emails, etc..

Helpful tip… Library Program Coordinators rely heavy on other local coordinator’s recommendations when booking. Getting that first library gig might prove to be difficult. Once you do get it and after you play the gig, ask the Program Coordinator to type up a letter of recommendation and mail it to you. Now you can include this letter in your press kit to other libraries as a stamp of approval.

Street Performing (Busking):

If I had to choose one thing that helped me transition from sad unhappy Warehouse Manager to happy go lucky full-time musician, it would have to be street performing. In less than a years time I sold about a thousand CDs (they were home made sample cds at $5 a pop), got a butt load of tips, a three page color news article written about me in a major newspaper, was interviewed for a show on the Discovery Channel, and so on. A lot of great things started to happen as a direct result of street performing.

Although my busking experience was positive one, it’s definitely not for everyone. But I would encourage anyone to give it a try. If anything you’ll learn to engage people which can only help you during the real shows on stage. As for me, my playing style is some what unique so it grabbed people’s attention and cut through all the visual and audible noise of the city. Not that you have to be in the city to street perform. You don’t even have to be on a street. The 1st time I ever did it was in a suburban park at a folk festival. I kept trying to get booked as a schedule performer at this particular fest with no luck. Out of frustration I decided to set up my battery powered amp under a nice shady tree and start playing while the festival was in full swing. Soon I had more people under that shady tree listening to me than at most of the other tents. Also, the guys who run the festival took noticed and booked me for the following year.

It takes some pretty big balls to go out there and play to strangers on the street. There is nothing glamorous about it. You attract every weirdo that passes by, every thief is eyeing your cash, and about every 30mins there’s a guy who calls out “Free Bird!!” and thinks he’s funny. But in all, it can lead to some wonderful opportunities and a decent amount of cash.

Helpful Tip… Check for any possible ordinances before starting. It might be necessary to buy a license and/or for there to be restrictions on where you can play. If you don’t you could risk paying a fine.

Afternoon Café Gigs:

OK, maybe playing at your local café’, or bar and grill in the afternoon isn’t so unusual. Also, it isn’t a real big money maker gig. But as a full-time musician I rather be making a little money in the afternoon than watching Bonanza reruns.  I look at it as getting paid to practice. The upside is if you land 3 or 4 of these kind of gigs a week with a few CD sales and tips, it really starts to add up. I think you’d be surprised as to how many business owners are willing to try the idea of live entertainment for their lunch crowd. I typically charge $40-$50 and play for 2 hours. If I’m lucky I’ll get a meal out of it to.

I hope you found this article helpful in some way.

Best of luck,

Jim Green




Jim’s Recommendations:

1. One book I would recommend. Rough Mix by Jimmy Bowen
2. My favorite piece of gear. Sunrise Pickup
3. One thing I can’t live on the road without. Lots of gum

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